Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 13

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: world-building and destroying, drafting and revision, travel and homelessness… “How do we go on, heart open, in the presence of mortality?” as Jessamyn puts it. Let’s join Josephine Corcoran in toasting: “Here’s to poems, wildflowers, insects and weeds.”


My mother was the earliest form of Google I knew.  People called her with questions all the time. She kept files of clippings with financial advice, addresses of agencies, lists of experts, research findings — all updated with her ballpoint wiki. She had her travel skills to reference, her training as a registered nurse to summon, her experience with the dying to share when, inevitably, people needed her counsel.

Before the Internet, people were our search engines.

Laura Grace Weldon, Humanity is a Search Engine

I spent most of last night on Mars. All of it, actually. And the night before that. And the night before that. And the year before that …….

Colonizing Mars, actually, although that sounds grander and empowering than the experience. Let me tell you, Mars feels a lot like Kansas or Nebraska during the Dust Bowl. Well, except for spacesuits and cold.

There’s this grinding isolation, which I’m okay with, surprisingly, but it flattens everything. A numbness that comes with having a really predictable daily experience. I guess kids can adjust to all kinds of things as long as it seems normal to them. It was normal for me to study, do my chores, watch threads of wind scour the flat plains, lift the dust, and drop it back down.

PF Anderson, Mars Memories

In Los Angeles, I had to forget that entire tent city I’d seen five minutes before arriving at a gorgeous art space, Hauser and Wirth, forget the waste spaces of highway with people like driftwood, to get to the art.  The scale of homeless population reflected the west – vast, long vistas I wasn’t prepared for.  We’d landed an hour earlier.  Welcome to confusion.

The art, fortunately, didn’t exclude life – Annie Leibovitz’s retrospective was excessive and marked by raw vital messiness, mostly of another era of culture clash, the 70s, both seemingly more violent and more innocent.  The humanness of desire and struggle was poignant, marking a swath of human history.  In the maelstrom was music, drunkenness, ecstasy, sadness, communion.

It took me a while to get onto the thing about LA – the wastespaces and no-places are the thing, and the places where people gather to eat, drink, play are little happenings.

Jill Pearlman, One Big Tented L.A. Thing

There’s a story here:

Something was built.
Something was broken.

That’s the essence of story, but I have no idea of the particulars.  Make them up for yourself; the possibilities are numerous.

Ellen Roberts Young, Spring Walk and Story

I find whenever I’m in Portland and especially in Old Town, someone interacts with me–all the interactions have ended up okay, but there have been some odd moments (Note: not all the interactions have been homeless/drug user related, there is just an energy to this city I can’t describe, but it usually shows itself by feeling as if you’re in one big impromptu improv event.)

An example of what I’m talking about is once I was standing at a crosswalk and a man jumps out of nowhere, puts a cup of “water” ?? (I hope) over the head of a friend I was with and then directly in front of my face and yells, “You are hypnotized!” before deciding we were not hypnotized and wandering away. While these moments make me laugh afterward, the “that was weird” part of the trip, they remind me to tell you to keep your eyes open and do travel with a buddy, especially if you’re a woman.

Again, I have been to Portland numerous times without incident, but every. single. time. It’s something. Someone wants to dance with me on a sidewalk, someone is yelling something my direction from across the street, someone is shouting “let me hold your kneecap” out a car window, someone is blowing bubbles at everyone who passes by, someone has decided to ask random people their favorite type of shoe. It’s both inspiring and tiring. It’s “I’ll use this in a poem” and “I think we’re done here.” 

Kelli Russell Agodon, #AWP19: Need a break? My Favorite Things in Portland

On a flight crowded with sleepy creative writing professors—the kind with teaching-intensive jobs who can’t escape to the AWP convention until late on Wednesday—I probe for existential dread the way you tongue a loose tooth. No, not sore, not yet.

This surprises me, given how my children’s current transitions have predisposed us all to panic. My daughter is applying for jobs plus finishing her senior honors thesis at Wesleyan; her adviser is moody and keeps missing meetings. My son will hear about the rest of his college applications while we’re at the conference, and he’s anxious, too. I’m not actually worried about either of them, not in the long run, but suspense is keen.

This is my first AWP since stepping off the Board of Trustees and even though I have a few residual duties, I feel giddy. Or is that jetlag? On Thursday morning before heading to the convention center, I pull out a small sewing kit I’d packed, intending to reattach a button on my favorite velvet jacket. The needle has rusted from disuse and I can’t thread it. I’m having issues with orderliness and containment.

Lesley Wheeler, Time out of joint at #AWP19

Last Sunday, 3 members (myself and two others) of our poetry club, Casa los Altos, collaborated with the PoetrySlam group of our city in their annual “Grito de la Mujer” (Woman’s Scream) live performance event. This year, it was held in our Central Park.

Guatemala consistently ranks, unfortunately, as one of the worst places in the world to be a woman. This annual event invites poets from our city and the surrounding region, both men and women, to give voice to the often invisible and unspoken fears, heartbreaks, hopes, desires, experiences, spirit, anger, and more that we are often called upon to suppress. The power of the written and spoken word to shine light into places that affect us, cannot be overstated. This event is not for poetry that is merely “pretty” or that sounds “nice.” Our presenters this year talked about being mistresses, about balancing motherhood with career, about being accosted in the streets, about being young, about being men trying to navigate a world where power dynamics are changing.

Marie Anzalone, “A Woman’s Scream” Live Poetry Event

The first session I attended in the afternoon was Revelation or Resistance:  Form or Narrative at the End of the World.  I was less interested in the authors reading their works than in the discussion that followed.  It was a good discussion, but if you know me, you know that my Apocalypse Gal self can talk end-of-the-world for days and never get tired of it.  I wanted more conversation about what to do in terms of retirement planning and the knowledge that the world is seriously screwed, but I understand that not everyone has floor boards that are 2 feet above sea level.  One of the presenters did early on present information from the latest, most serious climate report that came out a month or two ago; I’ve only heard from a few people who have actually read the whole thing, and he’s one of them.  He mentioned 20-30 feet of sea level rise in the next few decades, which is a much more compressed time frame than originally thought and a much greater volume of water.

I made lots of notes of my own thoughts during this session, and they ran along the lines of future generations who will be aghast at the fact that we spent lots of time and money in fancy conferences talking about narrative form and planetary destruction and not much time actually working on the issue.  I do agree with the one presenter who observed that this slow motion apocalypse on many fronts is moving so slowly that it’s impossible for us to react effectively.  It’s not like a world war that might galvanize and mobilize us.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, AWP:  Report on Day 1

What an inspiring day! The March meeting of Bath Writers and Artists was co-chaired by Sue Boyle and Peter Reason. Sue began the morning workshop by reading a thoughtful and passionate essay by Chrissy Banks, “The Place of Poetry in a Time of Catastrophe”. Are we fiddling, she asks, while real people burn? […]

I came home with an altered (less anthropocentric, I hope) perspective and a heightened awareness of “hyper-objects”: things that are everywhere but too big to see — like anthropocentrism and other habits of thinking and feeling that lead, not deliberately but inevitably, to disaster. I think I have already demonstrated that I can morph into a fictional post-apocalyptic unicellular extremophile, but it’s time to face the apocalypse head-on and do something about it. The expression it’s not the end of the world has gained a horrible new relevance.

Ama Bolton, Of Trees and Tygers and Catastrophe

From one perspective, the idea that art needs to wallow in the ugly that we want to avert our eyes from is condescending in terms of respecting the life experiences that other people have and how they choose to deal with them.

Not everyone needs to be confronted with a mimesis of each of life’s horrors, nor do they need to be overwhelmed with expressionistic/exhibitionistic sharing of other people’s feelings in order to “understand” or “appreciate”, or feel empathy for other people.

Not everyone is healed by a performance of their pain.

Isn’t the drive to create a beautiful moment from the complexity of such an experience as real and as authentic as it is to focus on the ugly? Can’t a glam shot of a new mother in her clean sheets also be interpreted as an expressionistic portrait of the joy inherent in the moment?

Staged is staged. Regardless of the fact that we seem to unconsciously hold up the “ugly” as authentic, and the beautiful as false or narcissistic. Could a case be made for our fascination with our own flaws as being more honest than our filtered selfies?

Ren Powell, March 31st, 2019

Of course, there is no real risk. I know that. I can save each and every draft, if I want, and trace my way back if I get lost. But reason has no standing where irrational fears hold sway. What I am really fearing is that I’m not up to the challenge. No longer a careless writer of what comes to mind, no playing child, but an editor, choicemaker; which words will I befriend, what voice will I take on?

And will any of the strangers I meet like the result? In editing mode, that question rises, grim as the sun on the hot sidewalk on the walk to the first day of school.

I wonder if other people share this editing dread. It’s normal to fall in love with a fresh draft of something exciting and new. Why mar the lovely face of this beloved with some virtual red mark of the editing pen? Surely it’s brilliant as is. First word, best word. And maybe it is. Maybe it is. But I won’t know until I voyage into the process of questioning what’s there — does this belong? does that sound best or is there a better way? does it contain more vitality if I turn it upside-down? — and come to the destination on the other side.

Marilyn McCabe, Off We Go Into the Wild Red-Penciled Yonder; or The Hesitant Editor

And what do we do as writers but build worlds? I suppose this applies to poets as much as fiction writers, maybe even creative non-fiction.  Some writing may have more in common with the non-created world, may live and breathe inside it, may exist alongside it simultaneously and occasionally wander back and forth.  Things may be plucked from reality and stretched or bent into the shape, even amongst the most autobiographical work. These are perhaps the most interesting kinds of worlds, the ones that disorient you somewhere along the way, not sure where you are–in fact or fiction, and that confusion is part of the point. 

Kristy Bowen, worlds within worlds

I’ve been waiting in my writing, setting poems aside, picking them up again, panicking because I might not have the most recent draft. Sometimes, the poems grow on me, and I see opportunities for nuance, for the subtle shadings. Sometimes, I grow tired of them, convinced that they are terrible. Time for waiting is running out, with just over a month before I turn in my thesis. But I can still get close to the ground of them, inspect their stems and blades, their rhythms and imagery (and I suspect that imagery is at the root of my worries). A garden is always in revision—something for me to keep in mind as I keep working at these poems.

Joannie Stangeland, Rye diary: Day three

Once I get past the initial rush to lay out images or the plot, I love the fine tuning, the balancing of all the finer points of writing, playing with the language, weighting words by their placement, drawing out imagery. I try to keep the reader in my mind, what they need, how much I want to lead them and how much I want them to run off on their own with my words. But also giving precedence to what I want the poem to do and say. It’s a delicate act of balance above the poem while stepping within it. 

Sometimes it works and sometimes I focus too much on what I want, the ‘thing’ I’m trying to make the poem do that I force it into shape and it shows in its reluctance. This is when I need mentors, writing group companions and other readers to step up and tell me something isn’t working. I find it so helpful to have these dialogues because I am mired deeper within my own writing than another reader and often I cannot see where the problem is, even though I may have a sense of their being one.

Gerry Stewart, Finding Balance

Go easy on yourself: NaPoWriMo is a bit of fun, not another chore. If you miss a day, start again the following day. If need to take a day to catch your breath, same. Don’t write off the whole challenge because of a couple of missed days. At the end of the month, you will still have achieved much more than you normally would or had even thought possible.
Manage your mindset: The challenge is derived from NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month in November, where the focus is on quantity, not quality. Think of it as a 30-day scavenger hunt – you want to spark an idea, capture the essence of it and move on. Switch off your critical voice. Knowing that these are fast first drafts takes the pressure off. As Jodi Picoult says: ‘You might not write well every day but you can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.’

Angela T. Carr, Surviving NaPoWriMo: Tips for a 30-Day Poetry Challenge

Among other things, I’m teaching ancient Near Eastern epics this semester. I don’t often get to do this, and it’s my favorite.

My students read the Enuma Elish. They read the Hymns to Inanna. They read my beloved Epic of Gilgamesh. We study archetypal character and archetypal story, the role of catharsis in human survival, the integral nature of creation/destruction and eros/thanatos, sacred marriages and descents to underworlds, hero’s journeys.
 
I say, and say again:

The question at the center is: how do we go on, heart open, in the presence of mortality?

Heart open. Not numb.

In the presence of suffering and death.

At the intersection of medicine and Humanities, heh.

How?

JJS, Two Years: An(other) Open Letter to my Surgeon

When Depression Talks Over Me by Lannie Stabile in Kissing Dynamite – This is one of the most expressive poems I’ve read about depression and anxiety that doesn’t slam you like a sledgehammer. No, it’s calmly desperate which is a large part of its strength. Lannie is a poet to watch.

“I remember the first time I unhinged my jaw,
            vomiting the swollen stories,
            watching them gurgle in the open air”

*

Burn Barrel by Allie Marini in The New Southern Fugitives – This poem begins with how to assemble an actual burn barrel. It caught my attention because when I was a kid in rural Mississippi, we had a burn barrel and it was my chore to burn the household trash. As the poem progresses the barrel transforms, becoming a metaphor for the poet’s own suppression. It’s so very skillfully written.

“refashion yourself

into something clean & less—become a grate, a burn cover, become hardware cloth & trap hot cinders in

your mouth. limit the risk of combustion. just swallow everything down.“

Charlotte Hamrick, First Quarter Favorites: The Poets

Never passed it on to me
who watched her pinching
pastry: butter, sugar, flour;
how it fell from her fingers,
how it fell through the air.

She tried. She did. But grew impatient
with the way the mix would clump
and stick. O, give it here she’d say.
The pastry would flake, and fall.

You need cold hands she’d say.                    
Yours are too warm.

John Foggin, On Mothers Day, for my mum, Marjorie 1911-2007

At the end of shiva I wrapped myself
in your monogrammed sable stole

and walked around my neighborhood,
blinking like a mole bewildered by sun.
Like my child, still wrapping himself
in the plush blanket from your funeral

carrying you with him from bedroom
to living room sofa and back again.
As I prepare to leave this first month
I’m still learning how to carry you.

Rachel Barenblat, Four weeks

Editing poems at night
Under the influence of hot chocolate.
Life opens like a flower.

James Lee Jobe, ‘Editing poems at night’

When I was much younger, I considered myself “spiritual.” I stopped using the term once I began a more serious exploration of my life and began to study philosophy, psychology, aesthetics, phenomenology, and consciousness more intentionally. But the crucial components–connection, relation to and with others (sentient and not), and love–those I have always understood as necessary. Even though my ego has never “dissolved” quite the way [Michael] Pollan describes [in How to Change Your Mind].

So maybe I can go back to considering myself somewhat spiritual. At this moment in life, Nature and Others matter more than accomplishments and outcomes.

Welcome Spring, welcome Spirit. Namaste, Amen.

Ann E. Michael, Book review, mind review

I’m not taking part in #NaPoWriMo as such but I am going to make a concerted effort to sit down with my notebooks every day and work on some new poems. […]

Meanwhile, we’re trying to encourage more pollinating insects into our garden so we’ve abandoned our lawnmower for the time being – although we (I really mean Andrew since he is the chief gardener in our house) have mowed a sort of path around our wild lawn.

Roll on April – here’s to poems, wildflowers, insects and weeds.

Josephine Corcoran, #NaPoWriMo

Poetry Blog Digest 2019: 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: aging, mortality, ambition, procrastination, and books; preparing for the AWP; preparing for spring.


I don’t remember the first time I read W. S. Merwin’s work. I feel as if his words and spirit have always been with me. I do remember the first time I met him in person. Another student poet I knew, Andie, from Pamela Alexander’s weekly poetry class (held in Pam’s living room outside Central Square) had heard that Merwin would be at Harvard for a reading and reception. This very quiet poet and total rule follower asked me if I would attend the reading with her — and then crash the reception.

My friend and I (young, awkward, and brave) sidled up to the very small group where Merwin was chatting and joined in. Was it a Harvard Review event? The fancy pants people (dresses and heels and perfect make-up) stared at us. We did not fit in. My friend addressed Merwin telling him in a flash flood of words how important his poems had been to her, how they allowed her to believe she had permission to write her own. Andie went on for awhile. I had never heard her talk so much.  And when she was finished, perhaps believing that we were both about to be ejected from the premises, she stepped back. And then I remember — as if it was not 34 years ago though it was — Merwin smiled broadly and said, “Thank you. That makes me feel useful.”

And there was no doubt that he meant this. Andie’s effusiveness, her awkward praise, visibly filled him with a humble gratitude. There were so many ways the conversation could have gone but this gentle thanks from Merwin altered the universe of poetry for me. This poetry god had just ambled down the mountain and spoke to us as if we were his trusted friends. He was the only one in that stuffy room who welcomed us in and made us feel as if we had a right to inhabit the poetry world. Or at least try.

Susan Rich, Remembering W.S. Merwin (1927-2019)

At 76, I’ve lived longer than anyone on the male side of my Dad’s family (and all his sisters, too). Sometimes I’ll do the maths, and think something like, “well, with a following wind I could probably have five or six or seven years left. Four would be good. Every day’s a bonus. You’re a lucky man.” It’s not for a moment depressing, but it’s made me notice that I’m reading poems I might not have taken much notice of before. Life enhancing poems that didn’t seem that relevant or interesting at one time. Your stories will be similar, I imagine. When I was in my 30s and my Dad was dying I found myself reading and re-reading Tony Harrison’s sequence of sonnets from The school of eloquence… Book ends(especially), Continuous, Marked with D.They gave me a vocabulary, a language to shape my grief. In the break-up of my first marriage, and in finding a new love, it was A kumquat for John Keats, that midlife thankyou for coming through, for love, for survival. I remember him reading it when it had just come out, the relish with which he read the lines

I burst the whole fruit chilled by morning dew
against my palate. Fine, for 42

I loved the way it came after:

Then it’s the kumquat fruit expresses best
how days have darkness round them like a rind,
life has a skin of death that keeps its zest.

I saw him reading last summer, still going strong at 80. And I wondered how those lines sound to him now. I think he might give them a wry smile. It’s the same kind of wry smile I reserve for young men’s poems about their imagined end. Rupert Brooke, for instance

If I should die, think only this of me:
That there’s some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England……….
a pulse in the eternal mind, no less

I don’t imagine for a moment that he had any intention of ending up like that; he just thought he did. Since he never got to the Front he never got to rethink it, unlike Sassoon, or Rosenberg, or Owen and the rest. But I’m pretty sure it spoke to me differently when I was 16, when I believed sincerely (because of the H Bomb) that I’d not see 21. We read who and where we are. We change and the poems change with us.

John Foggin, Staying Alive: me and Mr MacCaig

In 62 years this body has become worn;
Lumps and bumps and bald spots. Aches.
Places that hurt and I’m not sure why.
Other things have changed with age, too;
I spend more time thinking about the sun and moon,
The trees and watersheds.
Much less thought goes to the curve of a shapely thigh.

James Lee Jobe, ‘In 62 years this body has become worn’

I have been reading Hayden Carruth’s poems, admiring the breadth of his experiments in styles from sonnets to jazzy free verse to prose poems and extremely short poems–even haiku. One thing becomes clear after awhile: his appreciation of song, of the poem as song, of the need to create song as an expression of life and against the things one wishes to resist, even when (especially when) it is impossible to resist.

His poem “Mother” says all of the things I wanted to write about my mother-in-law’s death, and more. It is achingly honest and achingly sad and deeply loving.

After reading it, I thought to myself, “You do not need to write those poems; Carruth has achieved what you are trying to accomplish.” But we compose poems under individual circumstances and for personal reasons, and I suspect that reading “Mother” will help me to revise my own poems in probing ways.

This is why we read other poets’ work. One reason why, anyway.

Ann E. Michael, Come let us sing

It’s only as “swift” sank in, and I felt the distance of “landscape” that I “got it.”  The paved path is a road; I’m on that Interstate, if it is one, not beside it.

Because she doesn’t name it as road, and because she delays the fact that the pines are gone and doesn’t spell out why or how (removed for farming? cut down to build the road?) I have wandered inside her poem and so find myself complicit at the end in all that taking the fast road ignores or denies.

Thank you, Carol Barrett, for this reading experience.  Carol has two books, Pansies, just out, and Calling in the Bones.  I’m looking forward to reading both.

Ellen Roberts Young, Reading a Poem: Barrett’s “The American Dream”

This morning I was feeling like a dried out husk, with no ideas for writing, a poet who would never write a poem again.  I thought about approaches that often work:  taking a real or fictional character and writing a poem from a different angle or taking a minor character and giving the character a voice.  Nothing.

I scrolled through my blog posts that get an “inspiration” tag so that I can find them when I need inspiration.  I went back several years and again, nothing.

Then a line drifted across my brain:  I keep this garlic press although it only has one purpose.  I thought of my juicer, which also only has one purpose but takes up more room in the cabinet.  I was off–and I finally wrote a poem.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Of Poem Composing and Travel Fretting

I happened upon this great piece from Susan Minot this weekend and it got me thinking about not so much how we write, but how the world, in fact, opens itself up to us in possibility every day.  I’ll be sitting on a bus, or pushing a cart of books through the library, and there it is, that shimmering idea.  Or in that weird morning space between waking up enough to look at my phone to check the time and the alarm actually going off.  Admittedly, so much is lost because I didn’t write it down.  Didn’t force myself to commit it to memory for later when I had time to consider it as creative impulse.  This week, one night, I was up in the stacks and heard strange inexplicable noises a few rows away and got to thinking about the plot of a horror movie or novel where a woman is haunted by the ghost of herself from the future. She would then have to solve her own death like a puzzle.   Or a title for a poem, or a concept for a book will come to me. Friday, I was tweaking the dgp website and for a second “&nsbp” or “non breaking space” seemed like a great title for a book of poems written in html code style.

Kristy Bowen, sometimes the world writes itself

In a desert zoo, a jaguar slashes a stupid tourist who felt entitled: all I can think of is her cage, her pacing, her desperate desire to kill something. I nightwalk on ice, in dark, on thickly beaten-down snow. It’s exhausting, how fast it slips out of our hands, claws, teeth. How hungry we are. To be ourselves. All things are happening at once, they say, as though this is news.  All the endings. All the beginnings. Vitality and decay, simultaneous.

JJS, March 10, 2019: jaguar stars

If we’re to be nothing after death
let it be nothing like nothing on,
like a dress you take off
on a very hot night
to feel the slightest breeze,
a dim light that gives you goosebumps.

Magda Kapa, Like Nothing On

I took the train from Paris to Chartres.  It was a Friday in Lent, and on those Fridays, they take the chairs off the Labyrinth, which is designed right into the cathedral floor.

Not too many other people there.  I walked it.

Later, I wrote this poem:

Thin Place

I walk the labyrinth at Chartres.
The subtle knife can cut the veil.
I hear the whisper on the other side.
I stretch my hand and touch the air.

The subtle knife can cut the veil
where walls are thin as plastic wrap.
I stretch my hand and touch the air.
Heaven and earth just feet apart

where walls are thin as plastic wrap. […]

Anne Higgins, On this day last year

The picture of my cats contemplating the excellent Joanna Russ’s How To Suppress Women’s Writing is here to inspire some pre-AWP reading – of course you’ll come home with a bunch of new reading material, but I’m trying to warm up – trying to place a review of a new book, Ilya Kaminsky’s Deaf Republic, (excellent!)  and I’ve been trying to mix up my feminist reading material – sometimes being outside of academia I feel I miss out of some books that are familiar talking material in the academic world, and this book is one of them. (It was mentioned heavily in Sophie Collins’ Who is Mary Sue?) It’s a fascinating, fairly easy read, sharp and funny in places. Joanna is a science fiction writer as well as a critic, so I’m going to look for more of her work.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Getting Ready for AWP, Part I: Schedule, Packing Tips, And How Not to Panic

Speaking of the bookfair– The bookfair has become SO LARGE, you actually need to spend A LOT of time there… AND it’s worth it.

Here’s why–while sitting in on a panel, may feel like “wow, I am learning important things,” walking around a bookfair actually connects you with people and publishers and poets and presses. You will make connections, you will learn about the presses you want to publish you, and you will meet the editors behind the scenes.

This is SO important as a poet or writer. You will have the opportunity to hold the books they publish, look at the covers, read the words and decide if this is a press you’d want to have publish your work. 

So take the time. Buy books. Support presses and poets. Look at the books and educate yourself in what kind work presses publish. Ask questions. Present your best self. Be professional. Learn about all the presses and what they do.

Kelli Russell Agodon, AWP 2019: Tips from an Introvert #AWP2019 #AWPTips

Looking awkward is one of my natural gifts. I probably look awkward in photos because I am awkward in real life. Like the time I was attacked by vegetation. Or the time I threw myself into a cute boy’s locker while trying to play hard-to-get.

But now, to my horror, I’m told I need an author photo to promote my new book. Although I successfully eluded requests to put my picture on the back cover, I’m told I need such a photo for publicity materials. Whaaa? This is my third book (or fourth, or fifth, depending on how you count) and I’ve never had to assemble anything resembling publicity. But book reviewers, apparently, want to check the flesh-covered skull I smile from before they consider cracking open a copy.

In an effort to put this off longer, I have procrastinated by looking up what sort of photos truly laudable writers have gotten away with over the years. [Click through to view examples.]

Laura Grace Weldon, Author Photo Angst

I’ve been making a lot of stuff lately, not just found poems but collages to compliment them, even a found poem in a box (see below). I loosely term all this stuff ‘composite fictions’ and last week I started to realise I’d got quite a number of these pieces. So, I’ve created a gallery page on this blog where you can view them under that heading.

Sometimes, the cutting and sticking has felt like it’s taking over from the poetry all together, but I’ve kept at it, in the belief that that you learn through doing, and completing, things. That’s not to say I’m happy with every finished piece, but completing is a stage in the process. Unfinished work makes me feel uncomfortable. What would it have been if I’d got round to finishing it? Good or bad, I’ll never know – unless I complete it. And it’s reassuring to be able to put one project aside in order to concentrate on something else, then go back to the first one later.

Julie Mellor, Side projects and procrastination

Not really a blog post but an ageing woman cycling on a static bicycle half crying, half laughing listening to an old George Michael song and thinking that she used to imagine George was singing to her about

oh there was so much unrequited love in those days! and she never imagined anyone wasn’t straight, she was very young

now Paul McCartney is duetting with George, she didn’t know about this version, the wonder of spotify, looking sideways through the windows she could almost be cycling down a country lane

it would be a good idea

Josephine Corcoran, Not really a blog post

What’s it all about? The tendency of “life” to want to live in the now and onward. The meaning of life? Well, I don’t think there is intrinsic meaning to this random fallout. You want meaning? Make it yourself. We just flail around, a bunch of bacteria and dividing cells, and then it’s over. Well, except for the bacteria.

Which brings a certain amount of perspective on the idea of success, something else about which I’ve been thinking.

I’ve tried a number of pursuits in my life. Had a number of ambitions, both realistic and outlandish. Numerous fancies. Many dreams. One by one, all these things fall away. Pursuit falters; ambition lapses or faces the grim reality of oh-just-forget-it; dreams, well, dreams are forgotten, tossed aside with regret, relief, bitterness, or remain clutched in the hand like a magician’s coin, invisible but caught in the fingers.

I thought I’d be this thing, do that thing, or be that kind of person. With each passing life phase I’ve tried to get clearer who I am, what I’m here for, and how I define success. It’s an ongoing project.

Marilyn McCabe, Pass Go; collect $200; or, On Success…or Successishness

I am always smoldering
like a stubborn campfire
or a pair of new lovers
two months into their affair
I am not a flickering candle
fearful of the wind
or even a strong set of lungs
I cannot be snuffed out
blown out

Bekah Steimel, Lit

Look, Mom, he’s taking up

needle and thread to be like me, and I’m
taking them up to be like you, to finish
the canvas you started. Isn’t that what

we all do, in the end: add clumsy stitches
to the unfinished tapestry of generations?
He’s trying to make something beautiful

from hard work and yarn. I told him
I’m proud of him. I told him
wherever you are, you’re proud of him too.

Rachel Barenblat, First letter

This morning I dawdled more than usual and was a half-an-hour late to hit the trail. But it is spring now, and the sun is catching up with us. For now, a half-an-hour is the difference between running in the dark, and running in predawn’s pink and blue watercolors. Next month the sun will beat me to the trailhead every morning.

The lake is still edged with ice and roughly textured in the soft light.
The ducks’ calls can sound like mocking laughter, but I no longer mind.
They are a promise (and a reminder) for the day to come.
Let it come, and go – and keep it easy.

For now, there are sunrises.
There will be sunsets in the autumn
when it comes.

Ren Powell, March 11, 2019

Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 5

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. And if you’re a blogger who regularly shares poems or writes about poetry, please consider joining the network (deadline: February 14).

Books, books, and more books! Writing them, reading them, collecting them: That’s what I found in my feed this week, even more so than usual. Maybe it’s the inevitable effect of a long winter. Other themes included listening and therapy, vocabulary and rhythm, getting out and about, and learning from Sylvia Plath. Enjoy.


Alfred Edward Newton, author and book collector (Not to be confused with Alfred E. Newman of Mad magazine fame)  is quoted as saying, “Even when reading is impossible, the presence of books acquired produces such an ecstasy that the buying of more books than one can read is nothing less than the soul reaching towards infinity … we cherish books even if unread, their mere presence exudes comfort, their ready access reassurance.”  In this context, Tsundoku appears to be a positive thing. Alternatively, I have heard it used to describe book hoarding. The latter is a less flattering description of the pastime.

Let me say that  I am guilty of having more books that I have read. Or at least completed. I have a fairly extensive personal library. I make no bones about it. 

I confess that I love the feel of books. Not so much the feel of e-readers. I love the sight of books. And yes, I love the smell of books. […]

According to statistician Nassim Nicholas Taleb, unread volumes represent what he calls an “antilibrary,” and he believes our antilibraries aren’t signs of intellectual failings, but the opposite.

Alberto Manguel puts it very lovingly – “I have no feelings of guilt regarding the books I have not read and perhaps will never read; I know that my books have unlimited patience. They will wait for me till the end of my days.”  There may come a day in which I am no longer able to add books to my library. I hope that is not the case, But I keep reading. And yes, buying. For the time being.

Michael Allyn Wells, Confession Tuesday – Tsundoku – Pronounced sun-do-ku / Illness or Healthy?

The man who’d died, Raimond, was a bibliophile. The majority of his books were in German so I skipped the novels and history and went for art and photography, though I did surrender to some particularly beautiful books, whether for the covers or subject or gothic font. I don’t have much shelf space left at home so I tried to be disciplined and discerning. I even turned my back on his ample poetry collection. 

I did give in to one small book, though. I felt like a voyeur leafing through something so personal, but in a flimsy floral notebook, Raimond had pasted poems he chose from newspapers and magazines. Some clippings were still bunched together at the back of the book. In pasting, he grouped a poet’s work together — there’d be two pages of Günter Eich, for example, before moving on to Sarah Kirsch, whom he obviously loved.

The notebook appealed to me because I have one in which I’ve done exactly the same thing. The difference is I pasted only one poem per page, accompanied by an image. I remember the hours spent carefully choosing and arranging, and enjoyed thinking of my kindred out there doing the same.

Sarah J. Sloat, The golden notebooks

Q~You mentioned that you are finishing up your MFA. What are the best/worst parts of this for you?

A~I completed my MFA in January 2019, and it was an amazing experience. I wrote so much over the past two years and finished with a full manuscript. Being in an MFA program forces you to write and to read – both fellow student’s work but also your instructors and everything that gets assigned. I felt fully immersed in poetry for two years. It’s very bittersweet to be over – I already miss the program, but I found my community there, and it has been a wonderful experience.

Q~Who are you reading now? According to your blog, you read A LOT of books. How does this inform your own writing?

A~I do read a lot; in 2018 I read 221 books which was a personal best for me! I read a little of everything – a ton of poetry, literary fiction, genre fiction (fantasy is great for audio books!), CNF, memoir, etc. (Friend me on Goodreads to follow what I read: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6611777.Courtney_LeBlanc) I get recommendations from friends and Twitter (shoutout to DC Public Library for running great book chats – https://twitter.com/dcpl). I just finished Seducing the Asparagus Queen by Amorak Huey, which is a gorgeous collection of poetry and a great way to kick off 2019. Next, I plan on reading some of Mary Oliver’s work since she just passed away, and I’m already missing her words. I recently read The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang and really enjoyed it (fiction). My favorite fantasy is Strange the Dreamer (book #1) and Muse of Nightmares (book #2) by Laini Taylor, which I recommend to everyone, haha.

When reading books of poetry I’m often inspired to write my own poems – either by something I read or just the general feeling I get from a book or a poem. I think the better read you are, the better writer you’ll be. As poet Jane Kenyon said, “Read good books, have good sentences in your ears.”

To My Ex Who Asked If Every Poem Was About Him / an interview with poet Courtney LeBlanc (Bekah Steimel’s blog)

In September, I was notified that my full-length manuscript, Fabulous Beast, was the runner-up for the X.J. Kennedy Prize and that it was selected for publication in the fall of 2019. The contract didn’t arrive until January, but it’s finally signed. (Yay!) And now we’re moving into book cover stuff and that’s making everything feel more real.

Most of the first section of this manuscript was published as a chapbook by Hyacinth Girl Press in 2015, as Fabulous Beast: The Sow. Having that little book out in the world has meant so much to me — Margaret Bashaar, the editor, creates beautiful books and supports her authors with a tireless energy. I’ve been so grateful to be a Hyacinth Girl author, and I’ve been introduced to (both in-person and electronically, over social media) a supportive community of fellow poets through the press.

But now it’s really exciting to think of the second section, a ten-chapter fairy tale written in Spenserian stanzas (hahaha, it sounds AWESOME, doesn’t it?) and the third section, poems employing the imagery of Norse and Greek myths, being out in the world, too. I worked so hard on this manuscript, and put so much time and energy (and yes, money) into submissions to various awards and calls for publication, it’s really gratifying to know the entire book will be a real-life object soon.

Sarah Kain Gutowski, The Full-Length Fabulous Beast is Going to Be A Thing in the World. Which is Pretty Cool.

Last autumn I pulled together a manuscript of poems written since my first collection was published. I know it takes a long time to find a home for a book of poetry. And since I can’t afford to submit it to publishing houses that charge reading fees or contest entry fees, the list of publishing houses I might approach is smaller. But I pulled up my optimism socks and sent it to my first choice, Grayson Books. This is the publishing house that included one of my poems in their beautiful Poetry of Presence anthology last year.

Their submission guidelines warn they only publish a few books each year, so I expected to send the manuscript along to another publisher after I got the inevitable rejection. I didn’t even open their emailed response right away in order to postpone the disappointment.

Instead I got an acceptance! (I’m pretty sure I heard trumpets.)

I am strange about my own good news, suddenly more shy, and have only told a few people since signing the book contract back in October. Each step of the process —- editing, choosing a title, approving art commissioned for the cover — has been a testament to the professionalism and patience of Grayson Books publisher Ginny Connors. I still cannot believe my good fortune.

Laura Grace Weldon, My New Book!

So apparently, one of the magical transformations of midlife is that a poet can become a novelist. I have moments of elation about that, and moments of alarm. My turn to novels is a way bigger change than anything that’s happened in my writing life since I won a prize for Heterotopia ten years ago. It’s NOT a turn away from poetry, which is still very much at the center of my daily life, but it will be a turn away from traditional scholarship, I think. My novel, Unbecoming, and my next poetry collection, whose title I’m still fiddling with, will be out in 2020 (there’s a small chance of late 2019 for the novel, but I’m not banking on it). AND I have a book of poetry-based nonfiction, a hybrid of criticism and memoir, scheduled for 2021 (more details on that soon!).

Creative writing across the genres, full speed ahead!–I’ve been drafting a lot of micro-essays and some micro-fiction this winter. Reviewing, too. But I can’t do everything. And I know where my heart lies.

Learning to write a novel has been hard and surprising and wonderful, but now I have to learn about publishing one. PLUS do my best job ever at getting the word out about my new poetry collection, simultaneously, while revising the essay collection. It’s a lot. I anticipate a big pivot next year from the introversion of writing/ revision/ submission work to the extroversion required for traveling, reading, guest-teaching, panel-surfing, and all the other stuff. Some of it at SF conventions! And all this will happen right at my empty nest moment–this is also the winter of helping my son get college applications out and waiting for the verdicts. I mean, really–what’s the appropriate cheerful-but-scared expletive for THAT?

Lesley Wheeler, Change of (literary) life

I finished three fantastic poetry collections this month. Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric is a justifiably lauded collection of poetry and essays. The collection offers an unflinching look at the everyday realities of racism in America, with the second person narration drawing the reader directly into the experience. The blend of writing styles and art make for a powerful and necessary read.

My Body Is a Poem I Can’t Stop Writing by Kelly Lorraine Andrews is a beautiful little chapbook published by Pork Belly Press. These poems explore the physicality of existing in a body, with a blend of mortality and eroticism.

Ivy Johnson’s Born Again dives into the ecstatic expression of religious experience. With its confessional style, it gives power to the female voice, rending open that which would be hidden behind closed doors. Check out my interview with Johnson on the New Books in Poetry podcast.

Andrea Blythe, Culture Consumption: January 2019

It’s not a social norm–real listening. Despite the recognition that human beings are social animals that require communication, despite the recognition that “talk therapy” (which at its foundation employs active listening) and writing therapy can heal broken psyches,  even though many studies over decades have demonstrated how relationships rely upon partners’ openness to listening–listening stays a bit unconventional.

So many people think listening is passive. No, it is an active verb. Bombarded with information from numerous sources, the processes of discerning what one should listen to get tattered and confused. Our brains want to chunk information, to ignore, to elide, to suppress and glean and separate the various threads so the mind can prioritize.

Listening is difficult.

~

William Carlos Williams famously claims it’s difficult to get the news from poetry–and, in the same poem, he asks us (by way of Flossie, his wife) to listen:
…Hear me out.
Do not turn away.
I have learned much in my life
from books
and out of them
about love.
Death
is not the end of it.
There is a hierarchy
which can be attained,
I think,
in its service.

the mind
that must be cured
short of death’s
intervention,
and the will becomes again
a garden. The poem
is complex and the place made
in our lives
for the poem.
[I am not html-savvy enough to code the spacing of this poem on my blog, but you can find it here (p. 20) or here; the excerpts are from “Asphodel, That Greeny Flower.”]

Ann E. Michael, Hear me out

[…]
Birds whirl around your room, and then you die,
even though you’ve swept them from the roof beams
out the window. Birds have taught you to fly
through this world, stitched with invisible seams.
Even though you’ve swept me from your roof beams,
I come to ask you where you’ve gone and why
this world is stitched with invisible seams. […]

One of the last times I met with my therapist, a beautiful elderly woman who became like a mother to me, she was seeing clients in a home office. She had suffered a car accident, and she thought the accident was contributing to her memory loss.

That day in her office a bird flew into an adjoining room, so Joanne (a made up name to protect her privacy), got a broom and swept it through the open springtime window.

And around the same time period, we had a bird’s nest near our bedroom window, probably a wren, hence this poem.

Christine Swint, Nests in the Wall

I wrote a poem this morning that came to me yesterday as I walked across the campus of my parents’ retirement community.  I reflected that it was the feast day of St. Brigid; I wondered if a retirement community was similar to a medieval abbey in significant ways.

The poem I wrote this morning was a bit different than the one I thought I would write, but it made me happy.

I also read a bit of poetry that made me happy.  When I sent my book length manuscript to Copper Canyon, I got to choose 2 books, and I chose Time Will Clean the Carcass Bones by Lucia Perillo, mainly because I loved the title.  It’s a new and selected collection, and wow–what powerful poems.  I had no idea.

It’s been a good writing week.  I could feel my well being filled by my traveling and by my reading.  On the plane ride back, I finished Old in Art School by Nell Painter–what an intriguing book.  It made me want to go home and paint.  I did sketch on the plane, but I felt constrained by the space and the bumpiness, so I made it a quick sketch.

Kristin Berkey-Abbot, Back to Regular Life, Sweetened by Time Away

[…] Her mouth moves in prayer,

her tongue runs along the soft palate, the molars extracted after years
of the root canal: it is a soft mound like the grave at the edge of the village

she saw him dig. Her breasts produced the extra ounce of milk
at every childbirth to be squeezed into the mouth filled with soil.

Uma Gowrishankar, The Feed

In the structure of a poem, each word, as an I-beam or a column, needs to be carrying weight and be balanced with the others, or be deliberately off-balance. Multisyllabic words have to be used carefully because they can visually and sonically outweigh or overshadow other words, rocking the whole enterprise, and not in a good way. They also run the risk of sounding self-conscious. (Why use “utilize” when “use” will do, except that you think it sounds fancier?) (Or maybe you need three beats in that line, I suppose. That might be a justification…but a pretty shaky one.)

Similarly, grand and abstract words can weigh too much: love, for example, soul, universe. Even “moon” has to be handled with care. (I was advised once to not use the moon at all, as it’s been soooooo overdone. But, I mean, geez, I can’t NOT talk about the moon.)

It takes patience (and humility), I think, to not get caught up in my own extensive vocabulary options, to instead wait for, or mine for the often more simple utterance that says more than its parts.

And then to have the courage to surround it with silence, the vital partner of speech.

Marilyn McCabe, Shunning the Frumious Bandersnatch; or, Finding the Right Words

I was reading my Christmas present, The Letters of Sylvia Plath, Volume 2: 1956-1963, when I came across a mention of syllabic verse. Plath’s poem “Mussel-Hunter at Rock Harbor” is written in stanzas of seven lines, each line containing seven syllables. In a letter to her brother Warren, dated June 11, 1958, she writes about the poem and the form she used:

“This is written in what’s known as ‘syllabic verse’, measuring lines not by heavy & light stresses, but by the numberof syllables, which here is 7: I find this form satisfactorily strict (a pattern varying the number of syllables in each line can be set up, as M. Moore does it) and yet it has a speaking illusion of freedom (which the measured stress doesn’t have) as stresses vary freely.” (247) 

According to The Handbook of Poetic Terms (every writer should have one on her desk), “Writing in syllables is a terrific way to ‘even out’ a poem, and is useful also to writers who feel stymied when deciding where to break their lines.”

For a poet whose “mind was brilliantly off-kilter, its emphasis falling in surprising places,” to quote Dan Chiasson’s review of The Letters of Sylvia Plath, Volume 2: 1956-1963, which appeared in the November 5, 2018 issue of the New Yorker, this “satisfactorily strict” form worked very well.

I just tried this with a recent poem. It started as a free-verse poem, then morphed into a prose poem, but is now a series of bouncy, mostly seven-syllable lines. I like the odd breaks this form imposes, and I think it gives the poem a kind of energetic forward motion it didn’t have before. 

Give syllabic verse a try. You might be pleasantly surprised.

Erica Goss, Syllabic Verse

A few days with cold rain and a cold have given me time to catch up on my reading, specifically Virginia Woolf’s letters and now I’m dead in the middle of Sylvia Plath’s letters, Volume II. I thought this quote might have about today’s poetry publishing world, instead of 1959’s:

Here’s a quote regarding not getting the Yale Younger Prize in Summer, 1959:
“I am currently quite gloomy about this poetry book of about 46 poems, 37 of them published (and all written since college, which means leaving out lots of published juvenalia.) I just got word from the annual Yale Contest that I “missed by a whisper” and it so happened that a louse of a guy I know I know personally, who writes very glib light verse with no stomach to them, won, and he lives around the corner & is an editor at a good publishing house here, and I have that very annoying feeling which is tempting to write off as sour grapes that my book was deeper, if more grim, and all those other feelings of thwart. I don’t want to try a novel until I feel I am writing good salable short stories for the simple reason that the time, sweat and tears involved in a 300-page book which is rejection all round is too large to cope with while I have the book of Poems kicking about. Nothing stinks like a pile of unpublished writing, which remark I guess shows I still don’t have pure motives (O-it’s-such-fun-I-just-can’t-stop-who-cares-if-it’s-published-or-read) about writing. It is more fun to me, than it was when I used to solely as a love-and-admiration-getting mechanism (bless my psychiatrist.) But I still want to see it ritualized in print.”

(She’s referring to George Starbuck, a neo-formalist who went on to run the Iowa Writers Workshop and may have had CIA connections…please read Finks: How the CIA Tricked the World’s Best Writers to learn more about the CIA’s deep connections to the literary world and all we hold dear…Oh Sylvia, if you had only known how deep the cronyism and favoritism went back then for male writers…you might have been less bitter, but maybe not.)

Jeannine Hall Gailey, The Winter Witch Arrives in Seattle, New Poem up at Gingerbread House Lit, Queen Anne and More Sylvia Plath, and Looking Towards Spring

In terms of poetry, things are going great. A poem I wrote for Malala is part of a multi-art performance in March. I was asked at a candlelight vigil for a murdered police officer. I was asked to read at a city council meeting, a county board of supervisors meeting, and for Martin Luther King day. Original, new poems for everyone. Also, I was part of a poets-on-posters project for downtown. I want to do a broadside project, and I seem to raised the funds for it.

I have been trying to cut down my time on Facebook and Twitter. It isn’t really good for my Buddhist practice; at least it feels that way. I am trying to cut down to just posting my poetry links (to my blog and event notices), but like an addict I get pulled back in. Working on it.

“Hi, I’m James, and I am a social media addict.”

My work with the homeless shelter has been affected by my health, but I am still on the board of directors and doing what I can. I can only be on my feet for so long at a time.

What else? I’ve been focusing on shorter poems with an emphasis on place, using Basho and Li Po as my prototypes. For years I did deeper image, somewhat ecstatic poems, and every so often one comes up, but I enjoy this a lot more. Very satisfying, these little things.

James Lee Jobe, journal update: 31 January 2019

In Miami, I had a brief residency at The Betsy. The Writer’s Room program is amazing (in return for a reading and a meet-the-artist reception, they give you a place to stay and a $50 / day tab at their restaurants). That said, one has to get past the strangeness of the entire staff knowing who you are and why you’re there. SWWIM was kind enough to host our reading, where I finally got to meet Vinegar and Char contributor Elisa Albo. (Have you signed up for SWWIM’s daily poem? You should!) I read four books in two days–Jessica Hopper’s Night Moves, David Menconi’s Ryan Adams: Losering, a Story of Whiskeytown, Alexander Chee’s How to Write an Autobiographical Novel, and Porochista Khakpour’s Sick–lounging whenever I could by the Betsy’s rooftop pool. I checked into a cat cafe for an hour. And I walked down to the South Pointe Park, a walk that brought me comfort so many days back when I was living in Miami in February 2011, as part of a now-defunct artist residency. I’m working on my next nonfiction book, and this was the perfect setting. But that’s all I’ll say about that for now.

Sandra Beasley, January Tidings