Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 10

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. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader.

This week in the poetry blogs, the still-unfolding invasion of Ukraine, and war in general, remained on many people’s minds, but made room for other topics as well, including dying or departed fathers, questions of identity and mask, and varying approaches to levity and grief.


Now’s not the time to tell your story. They said. Not when the
skies are ablaze, not when we wonder if the edges can be pulled

together again, not when a contrived dystopia keeps spawning
reasons for the anticlimactic end. There is a hierarchy of suffering,

a taxonomy of hurt, your role now is to pause, to witness, to
gather shards of cloud-grief and sew them into the first rain.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, They said

Even in the earliest literature, exile is a fate akin to death. A man without a community will die a slow death of some sort.

(Romeo does return from exile, but that wasn’t really a great decision.)

But how long can a blind man wander the desert in exile before he stumbles onto something venomous? But Oedipus didn’t go it alone. His children led him through it – to another town, where he was accepted. Then the earth swallowed him. Sophocles didn’t write about the years of wandering. He wrote a happy ending: death in the bosom of a community.

Maybe I will write about the desert years. What dies out there, what doesn’t.

I will write about what and who we bump into out there. How we can reach out to people we once knew – but, now feeling the contours of their faces with our fingers, we know them intimately for the first time. It is possible.

Ren Powell, What We Take Into Account

I’ve felt heartbroken by current events, as well as frightened, and not just for the Ukrainian people. Even if it is contained, the ramifications of this war will be felt by all of us, and who knows where it will end: are we, in fact, going back to the Cold War years? Will all the diplomatic, economic, and collaborative progress of the last forty years be lost? What about nuclear containment? What kind of weapons will be unleashed? Will nuclear facilities be protected, or will there be another horrific event like Chernobyl? Will the conflict spread to Eastern and then Western Europe? It’s unthinkable. The scale of the risk is so much greater and more complex than the well-meant but naive yellow-and-blue flags and sunflowers cropping up all over social media. If you send aid, please do it through established and reputable channels where it has a chance of getting through.

It is a very sober time: a time when I feel called to silent reflection, learning, and meditating on history and on the present, as we still deal with Covid and climate change and all the other pressing problems of our personal and shared lives that seem dwarfed by each day;s news. I haven’t been able to write much, but I’ve tried to draw. I hope you are finding ways to cope, and would be glad to have you share your thoughts.

Beth Adams, Day by Day

Palm trees in El Paso
are haloed in snow

rarer in mid-March
than the Russian tanks

bombarding a Mariupol shoe
factory, the psychiatric

hospital, a maternity ward,
apartments emptying to

missiles. A hotel sauna,
a subway — deep space

underground — targeted
humanitarian corridors

hemmed with smoking autos,
plastic bags and rolling

luggage left behind.

Maureen Doallas, Late Winter (Poem)

The Apocalypse feels like it’s knocking at the door. Are we going to answer?

The picture at left was taken this week after 1) spending two hours getting four fillings in my front teeth and 2) getting my hair cut and colored. These things are a total waste of time if a maniac ends the world in nuclear war or the pandemic kills me. Yes, I think about weird stuff like that. How do we respond of existential despair and threats of war and pestilence? Do we think harder about how we spend our time, our money, our love, our votes?

So, in a way, every act – going to work, kissing your spouse, petting your cat, is an act of rebellion against nihilism. Stopping to take pictures of trees – something I started doing when I was diagnosed with terminal cancer over five years ago (I was told I did not have six months, FYI…always get a second opinion, kids!) – is to make a record of the beauty as the world continues.  Until I stop, or it stops. My philosophy.

Speaking of that, I saw the first cherry blossoms this week in Kirkland, and I also photographed another early spring bloom, quince. Quinces look like ugly shrubs in the winter, and then they have these beautiful blooms and fruit. I’ve always liked those kinds of things. Apple trees with their twisted arms and shrubby height, how fragrant their blush petals are, their fruit that hangs on ’til September. Bulbs that when you plant them seem like nothing, brown little lumps, then bring their tulip petals and daffodil trumpets during the cold early spring. So here are some pictures of March flowers. Are you writing poetry, or sending it out, or getting ready for AWP? Good job. I have been struggling with poetry’s relevancy in the last week or so, I admit. It feels…frivolous. Extraneous. I know that it is good for the soul, but maybe my soul is feeling a little fractured right now.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, The Apocalypse is Knocking, First Cherry Blossoms, Cats From the Past and More History Repeating

Once a fox, feeling sad, looked up at the sky and waned to be a cloud, distant from the concerns of foxes  and casting only immaterial shadow over chickens. Then it began to rain and his small fox heart, no larger than a tulip, squirted water everywhere. The fox, his suffering now intense, ate a chicken and so was sad no more. 

Gary Barwin, Fox Fable (from a MS of Fables)

Yes, yes, I know. My promises to resume posting regularly here have been about as reliable as the Tory government’s…no, I’m not going to go there. I have the urge to blog, and to write more generally, and I suspect one of the main reasons is the utter chaos out there at the moment. So, I’m going to restrict myself to talking about poetry, and literature more generally, and birds, and history, and maybe some cricket (although, there’s not much about England that inspires me at the moment). I can’t guarantee it will be upbeat, exactly, but it will definitely be more fun than the news.

Matt Merritt, I’m back (again)

s l o w l y
lowering the volume
thick snow

Jason Crane, haiku: 10 March 2022

Next, have you read Ledger by Jane Hirshfield? If not, I highly recommend it. In fact, I did recommend it, on a recent CBC Edmonton radio program. You can click here to listen. (Alternatively you can watch me recommend another book of poetry on the CBC Ed news at 6. Just scroll to about the 28 minute mark here.

One poem in Ledger by JH begins, “All day wondering / if I’ve become useless.” And this speaks to me right now. Lord I do feel quite useless.

Shawna Lemay, Even an Angel Needs Rest

We buried my father, Marvin Wolfe Barenblat z”l, on Friday. He was eighty-seven years old. He was generous and funny and opinionated. It will be a while before I really understand the spiritual impacts of the fact that that both of my parents are now gone.

There are so many stories. How he grew up in San Antonio with immigrant parents. How he met my mother. Work and travel and parties. (Everyone agrees that my parents knew how to have a good time!) The places he went, the stories he told, the bargains he struck. His gregariousness. His smile.

Mine are small stories, the stories of a youngest daughter. Just as the photos above are photos that are not necessarily representative of the whole: these photos show my parents as newlyweds, then my father and me, then my father and my child. These vignettes are the picture of his life that I can most easily paint. 

Rachel Barenblat, Marvin Wolfe Barenblat z”l

On the road’s verge, geese stand looking unctuous,
vaguely irritable as I pass them
going 50 on the route I’ve taken for decades
and this time I recall two years back, when my dad
was failing, how eagerly I sought any sign
of seasonal change—
early-flowering witch hazel, or crocuses, quince,
swells in daffodils’ green emergence
while inside myself the slow emergency of his dying
began to open from probable to imminent.

Ann E. Michael, Synthesis

My dad sings “Sweet and Low”:
his doctors advised him that singing 
would strengthen his voice. It’s a song from a songbook
already old when he was a boy: we’re drifting backwards,
as old men do.

His voice wanders back and forth across the notes,
hitting some by accident. We used to sing in the car, 
driving home at night from a day on the mountain,
and I’d watch the snowflakes in the headlights:
they’d fall sleepily into view, and speed up
suddenly into white streaks that flickered away:
somewhere in the dark behind us 
they must have settled softly to rest.

Dale Favier, Sweet and Low

Emotional ups and downs these days with family and world. With weather and woe. Spring interrupted by snow. Books and poetry steady me, and sunshine! When I woke up today, it was 9 degrees. How will I walk in the parade? I wondered. In layers! It worked. The sun was shining, and I was toasty warm in boots, several socks, and various green and other layers, under a glittery green hat, handing out sunflower seeds for Ukraine on behalf of a candidate in the local St. Patrick’s Day Parade. In Chicago, they dyed the river green again. Here, we had a small but lively crowd, who knew to stay on the sunny side of the street. Dates and duties, tasks and meetings, appointments and worries–it all crowds my mind. Then I visit my folks, play cards, and we love each other into a state of calm. Each morning, I write a poem. Each evening, I fall asleep on the couch, reading.

Kathleen Kirk, Sharin’ of the Green (and Pink and Blue)

My last AWP was in 2019 in Portland, OR and I loved it. I loved the time spent with writers, fueled by coffee and creativity and late nights talking about writing and poetry. So while this year will look a little different, I’m still hopeful I’ll get that high from being around my people. […]

I need this time with poets and writers and presses. I want to wander the book fair and have authors sign their books – last time I bought 15 books, which I felt was a reasonable amount since I had to fly home and needed to fit them all in my suitcase without it going overweight. This year, I’m driving so I’ll have no such limitations. I wonder how many I’ll buy…

Courtney LeBlanc, AWP 2022

I mentioned on Facebook that my new glasses finally came in, and earlier than expected! The instant I got the text from the optometrist, I took off from work, dashed over to the eye doc’s, collected my new and glorious specs, and came home to pop out my contacts and try them on. The first thing I did was test out an old paperback poetry book that I’ve had on my list to read forever, but haven’t been able to with a 15-year old prescription. Voila! I was actually able to read the print. I wanted to cry. The new specs are so nice that I’ve even overcome my vanity enough to wear them to work a few times a week. Also, unbeknownst to me, it turns out that the frames are Kate Spade, so not only can I see, I’m also fancy. Look out world. I’m watching you—through my new, properly-prescribed lenses. I can see everything.

Kristen McHenry, Lessons from the Squat Rack, Farming Simulation Hell, Glasses Glory

One of my poems has been included in the Hope Rage Sunflowers anthology to raise money for Ukraine. Like many I am shocked and saddened and have been doom scrolling the past two weeks, so it feels good to have a way to help, even in a small way. 

From the editor: Hope Rage Sunflowers, the FFS Fundraiser bookje (PDF) is out now! Please donate directly to https://ukraine-hilfe-berlin.de/spende/ Send a screenshot of your donation to annickyerem@gmail.com or in my DMs with your email & you will receive this beautiful anthology of poems & artwork.

Gerry Stewart, A Way to Help Ukraine: Poetry Anthology

Yesterday morning, I headed over to my church to help at the food pantry.  Along the way, I stopped to get some peanut butter and jelly; the woman who runs the food pantry told me that of all the donations they get, peanut butter and jelly are the items they get the least.

I was amazed at how the food pantry has grown.  We now offer used clothing and other items (some toys, some backpacks, that kind of thing).  A local Girl Scout troop also runs a closet which offers trendier clothing for teenagers.

Our church has 2 fellowship halls, and the food and clothes pantry has taken up most of one of the fellowship halls.  Once, this would not have been possible–we would have needed that space for something else, like Sunday School classes and fellowship/outreach (like a women’s group and a men’s group).

As I bagged food, I thought about the news stories of people driving truck loads of supplies and food into Ukraine.  That is not our ministry.  We have people who come to our food pantry on such a regular basis that the woman who runs the food pantry knows about food allergies. In a way that makes me sad; we all want a food pantry to be a stop-gap measure, a response to an emergency.  In a way, this ministry feels like one of the more vital ones that we do as a small, neighborhood church.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Food Pantry Portents

Their children lived, somehow, through two wars:
the first one an invasion; the second, a war of liberation.
Because they hid in the church, they know that underneath
new tile and blood-red carpet, there used to be a crack
right down the middle of the aisle. When they left
their homes, running from the rain of bombs, one of them
carried a pair of socks but forgot his shoes. Another
couldn’t explain how it came to be that he’d lifted
the rice pot off the stove, still warm and steaming.

There are ghosts inside every bell tower, or walking
the now clean hospital halls. In front of every
flagpole in every square, pigeons peck at shadows
where prisoners were lined up for execution.
Every stone: an old name, a story.

Luisa A. Igloria, War Stories

Whether we like it or not, absolutely everything we write has its origins in our identity. Even when we use a persona, a context that’s far from our own lives, a filter of fireworks or devices, we are always writing out of who we are. That process might be more or less overt, and we might well be reluctant at times to recognise it (even to ourselves) but our identity runs through our poetry as if through rock.

Of course, over the last few years, many poets have emerged who’ve wielded their identity to terrific explicit effect – be that with an aesthetic, emotional, social or political aim. However, I also enjoy poetry that assumes, assimilates and textures its identity, using it more to enrich the genre’s capacity to create a whole new emotional world that casts fresh light on previous ones.

As a consequence, I’m especially drawn to Tamiko Dooley’s new poems on Wild Court (see here). They’re so similar yet so different, so strange yet so familiar. This is very much the effect that I seek in my own poems about life in Spain.

Matthew Stewart, Writing out of who we are

I just finished re-reading* Judy Blume’s Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret in the context of a manuscript I’m working on. In the work-in-progress, the speaker confides in and seeks guidance from an alter ego named Gertie, similar to how Blume’s protagonist Margaret talks directly to God throughout the well known novel. “Luckily for Margaret,” as the synopsis on the back cover says, “she’s got someone to confide in… someone who always listens.”

Like Margaret, the speaker in this new manuscript has a built-in sounding board and companion. Gertie, however, isn’t any kind of god — that’s not my thing. Instead, what I’m trying to do is to bifurcate the speaker’s internal dialogue. Instead of the speaker talking to herself or to God, she’s having conversations and exchanges with an “other” (a persona: Gertie) and exploring what that may offer by way of protection, comfort and confidence.

Speaking of confidence, I’m not 100% convinced I can pull it off, but I’m following where it goes anyway. That includes consulting this terrific throwback, which I originally read when I was in middle school along with a bazillion other preteens.

Carolee Bennett, “luckily for margaret”

The following is the sixth in a series of brief interviews in which one Terrapin poet interviews another Terrapin poet, one whose book was affected by the Pandemic. The purpose of these interviews is to draw some attention to these books which missed out on book launches and in-person readings. Lisa Bellamy talks with Jeff Ewing about what’s it’s like to write in multiple genres, his use of point of view, and his unique writing process. […]

Lisa: In some poems, the narrator views characters from a different perspective, as in “As the Crow Flies,” or from a third-person perspective, as in “On the Death, by Trampling, of a Man in Modoc County.” What does this change-up do artistically for you, as a writer?

Jeff: It’s very freeing to get away from the constant “I.” Seeing the scene from an abstracted point of view—in “As the Crow Flies”—or a third person, really does allow me to put myself at that vantage. To get a wider, more objective view of the action. The default “I” point of view of a lot of poems—mine included—does convey a certain intimacy, but it’s also constricting. Claustrophobic. I get itchy and anxious after a while. It’s clearly the point of view a writer has the most authority over and experience with, but there’s a danger of coming to see it as genuinely authoritative. As a reader, it makes me suspicious and a little resentful. Like most people I get tired of myself, and it’s a relief sometimes to break out of that.

Diane Lockward, Terrapin Books Interview Series: Lisa Bellamy Interviews Jeff Ewing

I like being an old man, but friend,
I have no intention of being a quiet old man.
I am going describe everything,
The sun, the moon, the North Star,
Even boring things like my family, politics,
And the sounds that trains make at night.
My ‘I’ poems will be like death;
Inescapable. I feel another coming on me.
Even as I am just finishing this one.

James Lee Jobe, the inescapable ‘I’ poems

Yesterday, at a NeMLA panel called “Hybrid, Feminist, & Collaborative,” the writer and artist Mary-Kim Arnold talked about “feeling like a hybrid” as a child born in Korea then adopted into a New York family. Explore her whole amazing website if you have time, but here’s one piece that literally stitches image to text in a stunning way. Anna Maria Hong, who organized this panel, read “Siren” and showed a clip from a forthcoming Bennington musical theater production of her hybrid novel H&G, which looks extraordinary. Scheduled to speak third–and read for the very first time from Poetry’s Possible Worlds!–I revised my prefatory marks on the fly, having realized some things. First, I don’t feel like a hybrid. I often feel monstrous, though, like Anna Maria’s “Siren,” particularly in moments of apparently unwomanly anger. And I’m always deeply interested in who gets monsterized and how and why. Second, I’m interested in genres and the spaces between them because I have a powerful drive to understand the rules. This comes partly from watching my immigrant mother studying to be a middle-class American; it’s probably also true that I’m an observer by temperament. Maybe even more importantly, I’m the eldest child of an alcoholic father whose moods were unpredictable, intense, sometimes violent. I needed to figure out what genre I was in every day to navigate the plot twists.

March has already had a lot of ups and downs, but that panel was a peak for me. That’s academic conferencing at its best: you’re rattling around in your own head then a good conversation rings you like a bell.

Lesley Wheeler, Fairy monster godmother gets the chair

We think we create our own personalities, that we have the freedom to create our selves, but this is another lie of capitalism and (often anyway) of white supremacy.  On some level Kerouac himself understood that, though he would never have framed it in those terms.  I’ve been rereading his Book of Dreams (1960), an often-overlooked novel(?) in his oeuvre, and it’s a compelling text, not least for its insight about the functioning of the mind.  Kerouac attacks Freud for his mere interpretation of hidden motivations (“Freudianism is a big stupid mistaken dealing with causes and conditions instead of the mysterious, essential permanent reality of Mind Essence” [Book of Dreams, 2001 edition, p. 282]), and instead (influenced by Buddhism) sees dreams as part of the same mind-matter that constructs the waking world as well as the sleeping world.  I think there’s an obvious component to subconscious dreams that do lend themselves to interpretation of/connection to daily quotidian conscious life, and clearly I subscribe to a certain degree to materialist “causes and conditions,” and I’d suggest that Kerouac’s unfiltered confessions in this book are in fact open to a variety of interpretations.

But again, these dynamics are perhaps merely the surface overlay of personality.  Though most of Book of Dreams is just that (the actual dreams, without attempt to explain or interpret), Kerouac at times does make comment about the nature of existence, consciousness, and art.  He writes,

words, images & dream are fingers of false imagination pointing at the reality of Holy Emptiness—but my words are still many & my images stretch to the holy void like a road that has an end—It’s the ROAD OF THE HOLY VOID this writing this life, this image of regrets—— (pp. 280-81)

We can’t escape these particulars or dynamics; they are the stuff of the world and inevitably of art.  We might perhaps be able to turn off the conscious mind’s investment in them only sometimes, through meditation, say (which Kerouac apparently was not very good at).  We (or I) might wish that Kerouac was sometimes better at negotiating the shit that the world threw his way; the alcohol didn’t help.  But before it all turned bad, and coexisting with the regrets (his or mine or everyone’s), Kerouac throughout much of his poetry (by which I mean also his prose) demonstrated tenderness for all living things, through his poetics lived deeply in the world, and elaborated an innovative style out of which good things came, and which is delightful in itself.

Michael S. Begnal, On Kerouac’s Centennial

And so I stood there, staring at it,
For too long, in an otherwise dull
Museum, wondering if Pound
Ever played the trombone, not
Just this one, any trombone,
In all of his long, weird life.
The guide hovered ever closer
As if suspecting I’d rumbled them.
I tapped the glass to alarm her more
And, seeing her jump, moved on
To a case of prehistoric pots,
Most of which were broken.

Bob Mee, EZRA POUND’S TROMBONE (SOMETIMES YOU JUST HAVE TO HAVE FUN)

If my nerves were sturdier,

if I could let your apocalypse talk
roll off my back,

if my favorite nightcap were plunging off a cliff
and being pulled back,

if I didn’t like to kick off my boots

and the Ultimate Fight weren’t your morning caffeine,

if you didn’t love to troll and tease me,

if I didn’t ask, for the sake of beauty and continuity,
Is there time to slice the cucumber,

we might roll together in bellylaugh when you predict, They’ll
just take out New York.

Jill Pearlman, Armageddon Blues

This is a terrible thing to say out loud, but here it is; judge me as you wish: I’ve found myself in a reading quagmire of not-very-good poetry.

These are collections that have risen in contests to be accorded the winning spot. By not-very-good, I mean, the poems are, for example, boringly obvious, drearily strident, frustatingly short-falling of what they seem to be reaching for, inert, so coded to some inner key that they’re inaccessible. Yes, there are some cunning turns of phrase here and there, some good sound work, some lively choices of images or words, some poems that work, by which I mean, transport me beyond themselves. There may be, and I’m being generous here, a chapbook-length (like 18-20 pages) of decent poems in each of the three full-length (and by that I mean, over 75 pages…) collections I’m referring to here. Maybe.

What am I missing? Is it just down to personal taste? Am I reading too fast, reading too crabby? Is my aesthetic too damned narrow? Do I just not know good poetry when I read it?

It brings me huge distress, because I feel I have to question what I think I know about poetry. And I have to question what I think I know about my own poetry, and how to make it better.

Marilyn McCabe, I’m on the dark side of the moon; or, On the Perils of Reading Poetry

I’m learning it’s quite easy to become the hermit I’ve always been, sleeping and working strange hours.  I am getting a lot done.  Getting the shop ready for the update next week and keeping up with daily freelance projects. Catching up on things like orders and author batches and getting new layouts polished off in the afternoons. Even with a lot of stuff to accomplish in any given day, it is more purposeful and less chaos, which has changed so much about how I feel and done wonders for my general baseline anxiety levels. Even printing is more orderly and systematic and much less tearful than it used to be (this has to do with some outsourcing, but even in the interiors are less stress-inducing when I am not constantly past my deadlines already). I did not expect quite this much of a change, but I should have. 

As for creative work, I’ve stalled out a bit on my collage series, not really liking the results just yet, but need to spend time with the poems they accompany to get unstick. The poems I am happy with, the art, not so much. I did manage to finish up what will hopefully be the final proof on animal, vegetable.. monster, and barring any significant issues, should have it under wraps a couple weeks into April.  Which of course, means I now turn my attention to promo and trailers and such. 

Kristy Bowen, hermit life and abroad

trying on dream clothes
that of course always fit well
and are tailored to perfection
I talked jazz with the assistant

there are worse ways to pass a night
than buying threads
but you wake
unsatisfied with your tactile wardrobe

no matter how hard you try
on successive nights
the tailors shop eludes you
in that vast city inside your head

Paul Tobin, A VAST CITY INSIDE YOUR HEAD

The latest from Cobourg, Ontario poet, writer, editor and publisher Stuart Ross is The Book of Grief and Hamburgers (Toronto ON: ECW Press, 2022), a blend of essay, memoir and prose poem that moves its slow way through and across an accumulation of grief and personal loss, attending the personal in a way far more vulnerable than he has allowed himself prior. As the back cover attests, The Book of Grief and Hamburgers was composed “during the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, shortly after the sudden death of his brother – leaving him the last living member of his family – and anticipating the death of his closest friend after a catastrophic diagnosis, this meditation on mortality is a literary shiva, a moving act of resistance against self-annihilation, and an elegy for those Stuart loved.” The form of lyric homage and recollection certainly isn’t new, although one might think it not as prevalent as it might be, and I can only think of a handful of examples in Canadian writing over the past thirty years, such as George Bowering’s book of prose recollections, The Moustache, Memories of Greg Curnoe (Toronto ON: Coach House Press, 1993), James Hawes’ writing Peter Van Toorn through his new chapbook Under an Overpass, a Fox (Montreal QC: Turret House Press, 2022), Erín Moure writing her late friend Paul through Sitting Shiva on Minto Avenue, by Toots (Vancouver BC: New Star Books, 2017) [see my review of such here], or even Sharon Thesen writing Angela Bowering through her Weeping Willow (Vancouver BC: Nomados, 2005), a chapbook-length sequence that later landed in her full-length The Good Bacteria(Toronto ON: House of Anansi, 2006).

The difference in the examples I’ve cited, of course, is that each of these were composed around a single person, whereas Ross explores the layering and accumulation of grief itself, one that has built up over the years through the deaths of his parents, and a variety of friends, mentors and contemporaries including David W. McFadden, Richard Huttel, John Lavery, Nelson Ball and RM Vaughan. While this particular project was triggered by the sudden and unexpected loss of Ross’ brother Barry in 2020, twenty years after the death of their brother, Owen, and through hearing of the terminal cancer diagnosis of his longtime friend, the Ottawa poet Michael Dennis (one shouldn’t overlook, as well, the simultaneous loss of their beloved dog, Lily), all of these relationships are referenced, explored and layered through an attempt, through the narrative, to come to some kind of, if not conclusion, an acknowledgment of how best to allow for this space, and to move forward.

rob mclennan, Stuart Ross, The Book of Grief and Hamburgers

Outside my window, there’s a murder of crows that would rather you call them a choir.

For a small fee, they’ll sing a song to keep your heart from exploding.

The war of the week channel shows me that those once considered the salt of the earth can sometimes turn into quite the lousy seasoning for your slice of life.

Rather than reaching for another snack, I keep all fingers crossed.

Perhaps good fortune will arrive any moment at the local greyhound station.

Rich Ferguson, On the War of the Week Channel

Not surprisingly, the terrible destruction in Ukraine is on my mind right now, a bloody livestream in my head and heart as I go about my safe, ordinary life here–feeding my cats, doing the laundry, shopping for groceries, going for a walk.  I was at one extraordinary event, a reading via zoom earlier in the week, with Ukrainian poets and their English translators–and 850 people there to watch and listen.  There was, not surprisingly, a lot of weeping, and some of mine was for the gift of being in that group, sharing the grief and the beauty.

With Ukrainian citizens arming themselves and joining the fight, it’s hard to draw a clean line between them and designated soldiers, but I’ve when I read any battle story I’m drawn to the lives of civilians, the impact of war on them.  It only occurred to me today that might be because I am one of those affected civilians.  I was born during World War II, and my father was away in the South Pacific for the first three years of my life–something that shaped my childhood and has left ripples through my adult life.  My family didn’t suffer any of the horrendous effects of having war on their home ground, but they were affected by it nonetheless. Wars touch everyone in some way.  Those of us who write poems have to find our own vantage points, what only we can say about the unfolding events.

Sharon Bryan, Civilian Life in Wartime (via Bethany Reid)

Despite the doom-and-gloom-scrolling I do from my Hong Kong apartment, I’ve found solace recently in writing more light verse in response to the news. Reading, writing, and publishing light verse in response to current events has kept my spirits buoyed — knowing that my words are in the company of other wonderful writers of light verse who are staring into the face of tragedy, loss, suffering, and war and responding with humor and wit offers a strange kind of comfort.

It is easy to watch the news and despair. However, we all do what we can and give the world what we can. At this moment, what I can offer is not something weighty, but something light and witty. Basically, writing in response to the news has both helped me return to the comfort of the writing desk and kept me going.

Scot Slaby, Wagging news doggerel

some of my favourite movie posters
find a healthier balance
make things right
world-leading and deliberate cruelty
my new collection
women cannot send their sons to die
every day is a memorial day
increase the vegetable patch
exclusive member deals

Ama Bolton, Lines from my Twitter feed #2

Each week we talk about how to recognize and respond to the earliest hints of conflict, from the interpersonal to the global. We begin to see myriad creative, collaborative ways to respond. We also begin to recognize some of the things we’ve heard about, witnessed, or done ourselves have actually been examples of nonviolence. At the end of each session, I ask participants to share stories of peace in action. These stories strengthen our bones, build our world anew.

One day a woman describes driving home when she comes across three young teens hunched with menace over a fourth. One holds a length of wood at his side and it appears he’s used it on that boy. She finds herself pulling the car over, standing at her door, yelling leave him alone.

All four look up, incredulous. Why you stop for him? one boy jeers. She comes closer till the cowering boy stands up straight, his face impassive, and walks away.

She says, Does it matter who I stop for? Next time it might be you.

Laura Grace Weldon, Peace In Action

Any two things
are related,
the old monk says,
once you see both.

Tom Montag, TEN OLD MONK POEMS (57)

baffled
along the long groynes
the sea’s roar

Jim Young [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 9

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. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader.

This week found many poetry bloggers wrestling with some variation on the question What good is poetry in times of war? And several linked to Ilya Kaminsky’s interview with Leah Asmelash on CNN, which I also highly recommend.


This morning, an unseen wind illuminated by an unseen light source manifested as a great bright spume of snow lifting from the peaks across the bay. The mountains lay, as they always do this time of year, like a pale bulwark against a sky that starts indigo and brightens. Wind has smoothed the snow-covered mountains, filling vast folded valleys. The morning was quiet except for the sound of melt water sluicing through the creek below my home.

Almost five thousand miles away, Ukrainian people were (and are) fleeing from an invading force. Lives are being destroyed, uprooted, shorn. This is not invisible. We can watch it happening. And yet where I was, quiet. One thing does not blot out the other. Holding two dissonant thoughts is a challenge. The world can be beautiful and people can do violent, horrible things.

What can we do? We can stay open, we can hold two things. And we can try to help.

One of the things we can hold is that the violence in Ukraine is wrong, but also wrong is the violence in Palestine, the violence that is perpetrated in this country against Indigenous people and all people of color. We can help the people in Ukraine in many ways. We can also help other people who are being systematically harmed. Our hearts can accommodate caring for many people.

Another thing we can also do is breathe. Watch each day’s amazing light show. Go for walks. Plant a garden.

And read the work of many people who are telling of their pain. Open your heart to loving many people so that you cannot look away. Let your heart lead you to support others in whatever way you can.

Erin Coughlin Hollowell, Holding two things

radio talk
what sort of spring is it
where bombs fall

Julie Mellor, what sort of spring is it …

From Warsan Shire’s brand-new book Bless the Daughter Raised by a Voice in Her Head, a stanza from a poem called “Assimilation”:

The refugee’s heart has six chambers.
In the first is your mother’s unpacked suitcase.
In the second, your father cries into his hands.
The third room is an immigration office,
your severed legs in the fourth,
in the fifth a uterus–yours?
The sixth opens with the right papers.

I’m teaching Twenty-First Century Poetry to undergrads right now under the theme “Spacetime,” and we’re reading some Black British poetry next to Jahan Ramazani’s arguments in “A Transnational Poetics” that English Studies too often siloes literature by authors’ nationalities (and by period, as in “Twentieth Century British and Irish Poetry,” which I’m teaching next year). Plenty of people writing in English have deep affiliations with multiple regions and nations; they do hybrid and border-work through their powerful poetry, in conversation with other authors who do NOT write in English. Professors do have to carve the massive sea of writing in English into related chunks to design courses and curricula, but as Ramazani says, we don’t have to imitate immigration and border officials–might there be other ways of grouping books? […]

I didn’t know, when I devised the syllabus long ago, how these poems would resonate within and against Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, but it’s also true that atrocities are always happening. Sometimes U.S. media covers them with insight, inspiring people to feel with and maybe eventually even help the victims–and sometimes it doesn’t, especially when the refugees are brown and black and poor and queer. I’ve been struggling with how to frame my response to that media coverage, because while what is happening to Ukraine’s people is heartbreaking, it’s not a country whose government I can admire. Check out what Amnesty International says, for instance, about Ukraine in the last couple of years: “Allegations of torture and other ill-treatment, particularly in police custody, continued. Security service officials responsible for secret detention and torture in eastern Ukraine from 2014 to 2016 continued to enjoy complete impunity. Attacks by groups advocating discrimination against activists and marginalized minorities continued, often with total impunity. Intimidation and violence against journalists were regularly reported. Domestic violence remained widespread…” (This is true of the U.S., as well: how many of the countries claiming to be democracies really are?) Russia is run by a dangerous lunatic, but there are other, insidious kinds of violence he and others have been perpetrating, without most people calling them emergencies.

Someone said to me yesterday, “I changed my syllabus to teach Ilya Kaminsky today, of course,” and I fell silent. Aside from receiving it as passive-aggressive–ah, academia–I found myself thinking that this was not the only right response to the invasion. I love Ilya Kaminsky’s work. It’s amazing and everyone should read it. But I was glad I was teaching Warsan Shire. And I’m so glad to finally have her first full-length collection in my hands. It looks amazing, too.

Lesley Wheeler, Reading Warsan Shire during a Russian invasion

There are shoes in the streets
of Kharkiv, feet herding

to shelter, children in pink
snow suits handed off

to strangers for safekeeping,
the speech of goodbye tears

breaking the silence
that follows the shelling.

Occupied and occupier

cleave the meaning
of war in Kharkiv,

break it down
into fragments of sound —

one, the whistles of rockets;
one, the louder testimony of loss.

Maureen E. Doallas, War Language (Poem)

It continues to be hard to concentrate.

I’ve been reading little but poetry and the news this past week. We are familiar with the lines by Auden, “poetry makes nothing happen.” But “it survives, / A way of happening, a mouth.”

Have you read the interview with Ilya Kaminsky? I would highly recommend it if not. […]

Poetry can hold nuance so well, it can hold irony, it can hold joy right beside horrifying loss. And isn’t this what our lives look like right now, those of us safe and privileged, witnessing from afar but also maybe dealing with our own private anguishes, illnesses, difficulties (or maybe just relatively minor discomforts)? Today I took a book off my shelf, by Julia Hartwig. (A case for owning poetry). In Praise of the Unfinished is the book, the poem I opened to is “Who Said.” It begins:

Who said that during the massacre of the innocents
flowers weren’t in full bloom
the air breathing intoxicating fragrances
and birds reaching the heights of melodious song
young lovers entwined in the embrace of love

But would it have been right for a chronicler at the time
to describe these and not the street flooded with blood…”

Does our watching the news and scrolling twitter change anything? Does reading poems change anything? Does witnessing in this way change anything? How is it possible that we can have one line of poetry about the massacre of innocents and the next about flowers? But of course we can.

Shawna Lemay, Reading Poetry

In the context of events elsewhere, my thoughts turn to Auden’s statement, made in 1939, that ‘Poetry makes nothing happen’. Leaving aside the potential layers of nuance that we could read into his statement (e.g. whether he’s implying that it shouldn’t have to do so), it’s an important point of departure for any discussion of the relationship of poetry to war.

Like any theme, poets (and by extension, readers) can meet it head-on, in political and moral terms, or they can come at it aslant. Both approaches are valid, of course, but I personally prefer to find emotional refuge in poems that at first glace seem to have nothing to do with war.

At first, in the opening days of the war, I felt guilty and self-indulgent for admitting this to myself, for sharing poems on Twitter that appeared far removed from the context of Ukraine. However, as these poems lent me their support, I realised that reading them wasn’t an act of cowardice, nor was it turning the other cheek.

Instead, by treasuring the human significance and ramifications of simple, everyday acts, we implicitly celebrate love, which is the counterpoint to war. And therein lies one of the key roles that poetry can play in our lives, reminding us of what makes us who we are, of the values that keep us sane and might just lead us out of this mess.

If poetry helps us keep our humanity in the face of evil, its importance is beyond doubt.

Matthew Stewart, On reading and writing poems during the war

I think of the watches in Hiroshima that stopped at 8:15…what
does war do to time? That it is frozen, yet flowing? I look up at

the sky. A black kite circles, a cloud waits, the late-morning sun
slants at deliberate angles. 200 miles to either coast, then open

sea. There is nowhere to go. A second kite enters the frame.
They float together. Orbits only they can see. A student is dead,

far away from home, in a battle he wanted no part of. Still. Yet
moving. The cloud stretches. Straightening. A shroud. A moment.

The news is incessant. Time reaches for it with long arms. Have
you heard a kite cry into the quiet? Like a whistle. Like a siren.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Black Kite

Lent begins today: the Christian season of repentance, reflection, and renunciation. I went to the noontime services at the cathedral, and when the priest came down the aisle with the bowl of ashes, I rose — but only reluctantly — to receive them. It probably would have been more honest to stay in my seat.

After two years of a pandemic that has taken so many to an early grave, and convinced most of us of our mortality if we didn’t accept it before, I felt resistance to this reminder, symbolized by the ashes and the accompanying words “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.” In a time of aggression and horrific war, I do not need a reminder of the human lust for power and too many rulers’ disregard for life. When we are told that we come from the dust of the earth, and will return to it, I already know all too well the intense pressure the earth is under because of human behavior, and what the future is likely to hold because of climate change.

Furthermore, all of these things are related. Like many of you, I’ve been reflecting on the failures of institutions and governments, as well as the behaviors of individuals, for two years now. I’ve felt helpless, and also tried to see where I could be of help, extending myself to others, and feeling immensely grateful for the people who have extended themselves to me. Many of us have tried to do this, and a lot of those efforts have been successful: building and nurturing supportive relationships and groups who have met and sustained each other in creative new ways.

What we do not need right now is guilt, and unfortunately Lent tends to go either in that direction, or toward the superficial, as if giving up chocolate is really going to melt human hardness of heart. Sincere reflection on how we can be more courageous, more loving, more open to each other, and more aware of the interconnection of all living things is always needed and welcome. But as I looked around the sanctuary today, the people I recognized in the pews were people who already do this, and try to live their lives responsibly and lovingly.  These are not people who think vaccines should be withheld from poor countries, or people who don’t recycle and drive massive vehicles, or who support white supremacy, or think that despots who want to overthrow legitimate governments are admirable.

And yet these are precisely the problems we are facing, along with many others. What would make me feel some movement this Lent, instead of turning to individuals and saying “This is on you, admit your faults, repent,” would be to hear our institutions and governments say, “We have been reflecting on how we have failed in our tasks and our mission to you. We have been self-serving, short-sighted and hypocritical, and we want to repent, to reform, to change, to do better.”

Beth Adams, Ash Wednesday, in this Time of Perpetual Lent

Photos of chirpy milkmen
in the Blitz: ciggy in the corner of the mouth,
stripy apron, delivering pints;

photos of the children of Aleppo
and all the other cities under the sun,
the sound of planes high up, the crumpling
of exploding shells a distance off, where people
go about their business among broken stones
in the footings of lost civilisations

and somewhere in a corner
there will be rugs and carpets,
tented blanket walls, and women
who tend small fires, shape flatbreads, patting
soft discs of dough from palm to palm,
and somewhere there is a call to prayer,
and always small boys intent on a football.
In repetition of small things
is our salvation […]

John Foggin, Pressed for time….

A lot of us approach Ash Wednesday as a kind of wake up call, a reminder that we all die in the end, and so we better get on with what we plan to do with our lives.  Because we live in a secular culture that wants us to forget this reality, in many ways the Ash Wednesday message that we’re returning to death is an important one.

But the pandemic has driven that point home in a way that the symbolism and sermons of Ash Wednesday services never quite managed to do.  Almost everyone I know, from all walks of life, is making different life decisions than they would have made three years ago.

The eruption of war in Europe has shifted our attention to the ash part of Ash Wednesday.  We may be thinking of the futility of all that we do, when it will all end in ash and decay.  With nuclear saber rattling happening and mass bombings in Ukraine, do we need to emphasize the “Remember that you are dust” message of Ash Wednesday?

Our church will have a prayer table with candles to light as we pray for Ukraine, and to me, that’s a potent Ash Wednesday symbol too. We are asked to remember that we are dust, but we are not told that our descent to ashes gives us license to forget the tribulations of the world.  Many of us are old enough to have seen that iron curtains can come down, that freedom fighters can emerge from prisons and go on to win national elections. 

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Ash Wednesday in a Time of Plague and War

In July 2011, a terrorist detonated a bomb in central Oslo before travelling to the island of Utøya to commit a mass shooting. That day 77 people lost their lives (8 in the bombing and 69 on the island) and a further 209 were injured. Many of those killed were teenagers. “Utøya Thereafter” is a collaborative project using court documents and other research, with concrete elegies from Harry Man, where each poem takes on the shape of a portrait of the person the poem is about, and “Prosjektil”, Endre Ruset’s poem presented bilingually in its original Norwegian and English translation, plus a conversation between the two poets. The aim was to foreground the victims and survivors. On the island itself the learning centre has 69 columns of wood as a tribute. Not all of the 69 poems are included here so the names are not used. […]

Endre Ruset observes, “Watching the trial and listening to the names of the victims and the places being read through, all in the order in which the victims had died, it was incantatory, like poetry, but the saddest, most profoundly awful and gut-wrenching poetry that I had every heard. It went right through my nervous system and into my body. I had a bodily reaction to it.”

Poetry is a natural response to extremes of emotion. It can carry the heft of trauma in a condensed form and offer a sense of controlling what seems too vast to grab or get a handle on. Harry Man’s portraits and Endre Ruset’s litany of trajectories offer a respect exploration of the resulting grief and trauma from that day for both the lives that were stopped and the ones that continue, bereft or surviving. “Utøya Thereafter” is packed with compassion and tributes that rightly centres the victims over and above the perpetrator. A remarkable achievement.

Emma Lee, “Utøya Thereafter” Harry Man and Endre Ruset (Hercules Editions) – book review

What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?

In some ways, I think public-facing writers have a huge responsibility and if your platform is large enough, you can really enact change in people’s hearts and minds. Reading is a great creator of empathy. But I also love the idea of writing being a personal process. Even if it just changes you from the inside out, I think there’s still a lot of power there. I come back a lot to Ursula K. Le Guin’s Bryn Mawr College speech from 1986, in which she says, “People can’t contradict each other, only words can: words separated from experience for use as weapons, words that make the wound, the split between subject and object, exposing and exploiting the object but disguising and defending the subject.” We can only write from our own personal experience, but that experience can transcend space and time, a great dark gulf, to get to the reader.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Holly Lyn Walrath

Times like these, all your tongue wants to do is coat itself in white-out and go hide out; permanent hibernation in a din of white noise.

Times like these, bad juju in a pretty dress seems a far safer bet than that horoscope you bought at the 99-Cent store and ended up using as a brokeass drink coaster on the coast of unmagical thinking.

Should you say everything feels so heavy, it’s not hyperbole.

These days, the clouds above look more and more like battlefields than a case of the feels.

Rich Ferguson, The Feels

Today is the fifteenth anniversary of the bombing of the booksellers’ street in Baghdad on 5th March 2007. I was not able to be at the reading/badgemaking event on Thursday at Bower Ashton campus, organised by Sarah Bodman and Angie Butler, but thanks to Sarah I was able to Zoom in and sit for an hour on a book trolley. I read the poem below (from”Flowers of Flame: Unheard Voices of Iraq”); the city is Baghdad, but it could be anywhere. The threat of bombardment never goes away entirely. A ceasefire may last 20 years but is not the same as peace. I made a quick collage at home while those present in person made badges on the theme of Reparation and Repair.

Ama Bolton, Remembering Al-Mutanabbi Street

I’ve been reading the work of a Polish poet whose mind ping pongs, Czeslaw Milosz. A witness of multiple 20th century cataclysms, Milosz followed the tortuous turns of his fractured consciousness.  After he arrived in Berkeley, California, he wrote, “Who will honor the city without a name/If so many are dead and other pan gold/Or sell arms in faraway countries?” He was remembering his hometown, Vilnius, then in Lithuania, later a part of Poland in the poem, “City Without a Name.”  

Blink in the poem, then ask where are we now? We’re in Death Valley.  We are lost in wonder.  Also at the zero point for the imagination.  A place of not extinction but a low buzz, imperceptible murmur, desolate, alien.  A place of immersion. As is true with all darknesses, it is alive with potential. 

I thought of the zero point as Orthodox Christians were celebrating “Forgiveness Sunday.”  To be a fly on the wall in the Orthodox churches! Imagine the buzz inside the heads and consciences of Russians and Ukrainians alike. What are Russians murmuring to themselves? I imagine a descent down to a void, wildness, to experience the howl, a cry of anguish. Radical insight, a shock of recognition.  To be a fly that could make a swerve, a turn in action. The small voice longs to be heard. 

Jill Pearlman, The Ping Pong Mind

You’ve also felt sad and as if incapable of wonder, piteous
and needy in your everyday suffering; forgetful of those
small, uncountable deliverances that came just in the nick
of time when you wished for a door, any door, opening with
the clarity of early morning— But what does one do
with so much grief? O countless hands, pressed
against train windows. Overnight, fields turn into plots
for burying. Smoke billows from wreckage of buildings.

Luisa A. Igloria, Poem with Lines from Czeslaw Milosz

As Ilya’s piece shows, poetry can stay important even in a time as fraught as ours. I’m currently reading Dana Levin’s upcoming book from Copper Canyon, Now Do You Know Where You Are, for a review and her work is apocalyptic in its own way and it delves into her move to St. Louis, where my father grew up. Of course, with the title, I immediately staged a photo picturing Sylvia the kitten going on a road trip with the book as reading material. Ah, some of us have different ways of dealing with stress!

In a way, reading her work was able to transport me and made me think about what poetry is and isn’t able to do. I’ve been writing poems about nuclear war, about the Doomsday clock, about being in a pandemic as a disabled person. Are these poems that will help other people? I can’t tell. But I can say they are what I need to write right now.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Finding My Way with Poetry and Trumpeter Swans in a Week of War and Anxiety, A Change in Perspective

Life in hills and farms goes on
more quietly than before,
difficult situations held
as they usually are
like a straw between teeth.

The last things lost
are nonetheless changed:
a bounty of curls
on the pillow of a once-shared bed
turns grey.
Linen closets, kitchen cabinets,
the child’s pale room
have altered, become simpler,
more desperate.

When infrastructures fail—
rails, roads, electricity—
we are merely afraid;
it’s when simple things leave us
we have lost all our wars.

Ann E. Michael, What poetry says

fence dances
in the wind
sun on my hat brim

Jason Crane, haiku: 6 March 2022 (#2)

What has changed since my last blog in January? Well, the world has changed dramatically, hasn’t it, but, here in my small corner of west Wiltshire, the news is less distressing. Since I last wrote here, there have been two in-person Trowbridge Stanza meetings, after a break of two years. Our monthly gatherings, on first Saturdays at Drawing Projects UK in Trowbridge, have started up again. It’s been a treat to catch up with old friends and make some new ones.

In February we viewed and talked about the selected drawings in the 2021 Trinity Buoy Wharf Drawing Prize and, on 5 March, we met to share the beginnings of poems some of us had written in response to the exhibition. We also had the chance to hear artist and novelist Roma Tearne, one of the exhibitors in the prize, talk about her creative process which often begins with an image, a found photograph or drawing, picked up from flea markets and stalls. Roma shared some of her notebooks, spilling over with lines of text, sketches, and pasted in photos – beautiful objects in their own right.

Josephine Corcoran, Towards Spring

Old barrel keys are heavy in the hand. Most have a round or oval bow, though two brassy ones sport criss-cross shapes instead. All have rounded shafts, pin holes of varying diameter, and idiosyncratic teeth. Shaped entirely unlike the keys I can get copied for a buck-fifty at the local hardware store. One is stamped J. MICHALIK PRAHA. Did that key travel with my mother and her parents in 1939? So did the sideboard where I keep china, the one with a cabinet to which I long ago lost the key. I try every key twice, but the Czech cabinet remains locked. Maybe it’s better that way. I know it contains the silver goblet from my wedding, a marriage long ago undone. No one gets to know what else might be inside.

Rachel Barenblat, Keys

This week in teaching my Latinx Literature class and discussing Rhina P. Espaillat’s poem, “Bilingual/Bilingüe,” I found myself musing briefly on how this poem is a microcosm of some of the controversies surrounding Latinx poetry and the different practices in publishing work in both English and Spanish.

Specifically, I have learned and seen over the years within the Latinx community arguments for and against italicizing Spanish words in a text; arguments for and against including definitions and/or translations with a bilingual text; arguments for and against even mixing the two languages. These arguments hold a nuanced weight and the conclusions are different for each writer because they strike at the core of one’s identity and agency.

In terms of identity, there is much to be said about representation, how having un poco de Spanish can make one feel seen, a little less alone among a sea of English. A decision to include or not include Spanish is often one that factors in audience. Who is this work for? Who has access to it?

In terms of agency, being able to represent one’s full authentic self on the page is essential. More importantly, having the power to make that decision is key to feeling respected as a writer. Often the decision to italicize Spanish used in a text is the choice of an editor or publisher; when this happens, a writer feels othered, made to feel different and exoticized. One need only look at the unquestioned, unothered use of Latin and French phrases in texts to see how these feelings naturally arise.

José Angel Araguz, Latinx Poetry: opportunity and some thoughts

We (myself and Steve Nash) are currently reading submissions for issue five of Spelt Magazine, the magazine I founded just over a year ago. Spelt is a print magazine in which we seek to celebrate and validate the rural experience through poetry, creative non fiction, author interviews, columnists and writing prompts. We’ve made it through a whole year, which is a huge milestone, and we are excited about our second year, which will involve further growth, more platforms and, hopefully, some extra funding. Starting and running a magazine, especially a print magazine, is definitely a labour of love. But It is also incredibly rewarding. It’s a thrilling feeling to be part of the writing and publication journeys of other writers, and to provide a platform for people, and to create something that is so very aesthetically pleasing, it is a great source of joy for me, and something that we are very proud of. It seemed crazy to start this magazine during a pandemic, but it really has helped to give purpose and stability in times when there was none. if you are thinking about starting your own lit. mag, here are ten things that really worked to help us reach our goals and stay motivated.

Wendy Pratt, Ten Things That Really Worked to Help me Set Up a Literary Magazine

I see that more and more magazines are in trouble: closed for a year or more while they deal with piles of submissions, getting more and more aggressive in an effort to discourage wrongdoing (‘any work sent outside of the reading window WILL BE DELETED WITHOUT BEING READ’). On more than one occasion I’ve approached editors of magazines I admire, but that are clearly struggling to cope with submissions, and offered to help them put in place some really simple, cheap/free systems that would benefit both them and those submitting. Or even offered to be a reader, to help reduce the slush pile, or just help with the dreadful feeling of overwhelm. I have never had a reply, not even ‘thanks but no thanks.’ I’m no expert at running a magazine. But I know about marketing, systems, time management, delegating and customer service.

I understand that running a poetry magazine is often one person’s dream, and they want to do it their way. But if the ship is sinking, why not take an offer of help, however modest? More importantly, why not approach (or even just observe) how other journals do it? Not everything is down to funding. Some of the smallest publications have methods worth emulating.

It looks like this is turning into a rant aimed at magazine editors. I don’t mean it to be – some of the nicest people I know edit poetry magazines! And I wouldn’t get so exercised about it if I didn’t care. But I’m asking the question generally. There are many magazines doing a brilliant job; I just don’t understand why there aren’t more.

Robin Houghton, A little tough love for poetry magazines

As presses close and lit journals shutter, especially post pandemic when everyone has been struggling,  there is much talk on the internets about what happens to our work when the things that used to seem inviolate–publishing houses, presses, lit mags–are in flux all the time. I’ve had two presses fold on me, one after publishing one book and accepting a second (girl show, which later found a great home at BLP ) and another (little apocalypse) that made it to the final proof stage and the press, which had published another project, had to close.  (that one I do eventually intend to put into print, but right now, it’s just a freebie read on my website.) My young poet self would have been frustrated with all the uncertainty of this world we call publishing, but now I just figure the work is also fleeting and shifting. There’s a certain amount of responsibility I feel l should take in making my work available if other avenues fail or end. 

There are, of course, poems in the fever almanac I cringe to read, mostly ones that seemed ever so brilliant at age 30 that seem kind of unspectacular now.  But then again, sometimes I cringe when things are published and later soften toward the work.  I remember hearing poets talking about how your work of any given period is simply an example of what you were working on during a give span of time. If it’s not perfect, and you’ve thrown it out in the world, it’s still important in your development and scope of artist.  Even if you hate it sometimes.

Kristy Bowen, her daughters become diction

This is quickly becoming one of my favourite techniques: running a poem multiple times through Google Translate in a variety of languages — sometimes chosen by their first letter, their region, jumping around to unrelated languages, or randomly. What comes out is often very interesting. I then sculpt the results, tinkering with phrasing and images, but usually there are several surprising and arresting images that have turned up and my job is to highlight them, or get the less interesting stuff out of the way. Sometimes I do a little associational thinking,such as changing the line to a line that has some of the same sounds through a kind of homophonic translation, or else changing images so that they rhyme with each other. In the poem below, there were some lines about olive oil and some word beginning with M. I cut out the olive oil line and changed the M word to “Merlot.”

I find this technique very generative. It jumps me into a place where I am exploring and playing and also, feeling this kind of creative looseness. This enables some interesting and surprising form and content but also opens me up to putting in things that are hanging around in my mind or in the zeitgeist. I guess because my role is to “find” the poem in the text that I’ve generated, I’m open to what that might be—what it might refer to and what it might look like. Also, I’m piggybacking on the backs of giants, or at least their word choices and their forms and structure. I’m not tied to either but all of a sudden I’m in conversation with them. And my sense of the original, the sense of the writer, the sense of moment all get folded into it. I find this a very fruitful place to be.

Gary Barwin, After Hopkins

When I was eleven years old, a friend of my parents gave me Diane Wakoski’s 1968 poetry collection, Inside the Blood Factory. Needless to say, the poems were far over my head, but some of the lines stood out to me, even at that young age—from “House of the Heart:” “The sun is being born / with shaky legs, slender as new beans” and from “Rescue Poem,” “You have an invisible telephone / booth around you.”

When I was older, I read the book again, and some of Wakoski’s other work. I was struck by the tone of the speaker in the poems—that of a slightly baffled outsider, trying to negotiate a generally hostile world with opaque laws (I admit, this is how I feel much of the time). Wakoski writes in uneven lines—some short, some long, wrapping across the page, some indented. Her phrasing is unmistakable, original, and still seemed fresh as I read the poems again after all those years.

I would not recommend reading Wakoski to anyone under the age of thirty. Her poems are rich in lived experience, deeply personal, and long—many span pages and require dedicated concentration. It’s difficult to write a poem that keeps the reader’s interest over more than one or two pages, but that’s one of Wakoski’s skills. Her poems weave a powerful spell, and, in spite of their length, seem to end quickly.

Erica Goss, Diane Wakoski: An Appreciation

Robin Rosen Chang: I loved The Feast Delayed, Diane. Congratulations on this gorgeous book. While reading it, I noticed what I consider a tension between the act of living and the act of grieving. On one hand, poems such as “The End of Grief” or “Last Day of September” offer the idea of hope and moving beyond grief, whereas in “Orientation,” the speaker, who is married to an astronomer, reflects about living “in a state of constant orientation.” Is acceptance of where one is oriented at a particular moment, even if it’s somewhere painful, a central concern in The Feast Delayed? Of course, this also relates to the notion of “the feast delayed.”

Diane LeBlanc: I’d love to turn that question back to you because your collection, The Curator’s Notes, particularly the title poem, reflects on the dynamic tension between living with wonder and grieving. Reflection ideally examines the past, analyzes experience, and imagines how we respond to new experiences based on the past. The tension in “Orientation” is between hyper-awareness of where I am and the confusion caused by lack of orientation, or living in rooms painted the same shade of white that blur into one another. So in a way, yes, acceptance of where one is oriented is a central concern. I wrote many of these poems between 2015 and 2020, when the U.S. political landscape shifted, science deniers influenced public policy, and I no longer understood who I was in the changing narrative of America.

Throughout the book, I explore responsibility and my place in a web of being, hoping to measure how my choices move or disrupt other strands of the web. Perhaps the feast is delayed, but the poems find agency in doing things to salvage and to disrupt.

Diane Lockward, Terrapin Books Interview Series: Robin Rosen-Chang Interviews Diane LeBlanc

I remember my publisher referring to books as “ferske varer” – produce that goes quickly out of date. And I get that – in our market-driven system – that is a fact. But I figure there has to be another way of approaching art. A way to avoid being swept up in the attention economy, the consumerist throw-away society.

I don’t think I am advocating preciousness. Just attention.

This is my problem. I’m not making blanket statements about the state of the arts.

I know there are artists who strive to make that one beautiful thing. And there are artists who are driven by other (legitimate) impulses. I think that I have spent years waiting for inspiration, in the sense that I have been expecting that the outside world would cause a worthy reaction: “The artist responds to their culture”, “Art needs to be relevant”. Relevant to who or to what? My culture – our culture changes so quickly. Maybe change itself is the only thing one can honestly respond to.

I need to slow down. Step away from social media’s armchair generals, and the what-I-ate-for-dinner photos. I need to turn off the podcasts I’ve been listening to for hours a day. I need quiet.

Ren Powell, On Not Being a Reactive Artist

I was going to write something about how Flo had finally picked a poetry book up off my bookshelves. It was the collected work of Dannie Abse. However, it turns out she wanted something to help her with a sore back while she stretched out on the floor. Still, he was a doctor, so there’s that.

I was going write something about how it’s possible to construct a fairly helpful poetry writing/performance tutorial from the lyrics of American Music Club’s song, Johnny Mathis’ Feet. (check the song out. Mark Eitzel is an amazing songwriter).

But I didn’t, and now I probably never will.

So much has happened in the last few weeks, the world is all at once a different place to the one we inhabited a month ago. It’s also entirely the same (and that is both good and bad). There’s nothing I can add to the news coming out of the Ukraine (other than solidarity with the people of Ukraine and condemnation of President Putin for his actions) without it sounding like sub-GCSE-level politics, so I’ll spare you that.

I will point you to the work of Charlotte Shevchenko Knight. She is a British-Ukranian poet. I was lucky enough to read on the same bill as her at a Resonance poetry evening, and really enjoyed her work. I will also point you at the evening of Poetry for Ukraine fundraiser she is part of next week. Go, sign up. Donate.

Mat Riches, Clearing The Decks

It’s quite possible that kindness is the answer to everything. Human beings, driven like nails into moldy, rotten wood, into boards that exist for no reason at all. The old, cataloged and hidden away, where the not-so-old don’t have to see what it is that they will themselves slowly become if they can only avoid death for long enough. The young are taught lies and half-truths in order to ensure conformity and compliance. The talking snake, the virgin birth, the resurrection. The white Jesus. The white heroes. Loaded weapons, lying in piles in the streets for anyone to use. Death, at a wholesale price, a bargain rate, or even free. Life, lived at half-mast. Not emotion, but token emotion. Not strength, but anger. Rage. Turn out the lights, it will be better for us to sit in the dark, it will be better if only we can reach out without needing to see, if only we might clasp our hands in the darkness. 

James Lee Jobe, the answer to everything

this morning
the sun is early again
fat buds

Jim Young [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 7

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. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week: night cities, dreams and apparitions, wake-up routines, books of nothing, alter egos, the future of lit mags, orgies and book proofs, and much more. Enjoy.


Night settles over the park, shadows have rolled themselves up;
the sky, a flat translucence behind cut-out branches
casts a blue light on the snow.

In the hedge, little lights glow like forgotten fireflies,
the sparrow-flock has flown, a leaping squirrel
leaves sculpted waves of white along the rail.

Now, only furtive shapes move on the white path:
runner, skier, the eager dog
pulling his master further into the black trees.

Beth Adams, Winter Night

Amidst hardly blogging at all last autumn (can you do something amidst not doing something?), I sadly neglected to apprise my more-faithful-than-I-deserve blog readers of a new poem publication. 

My poem ‘Return to the Night City’ appeared late last year in The Crank, a new-ish online poetry journal edited by Humphrey Astley. This journal is trend-minimal (or words to that effect), and thus inclines more to formal or formal-adjacent poetry than my work often does, although I do think my poetry likes nodding to form. 

You can download the PDF of issue 4, where my poem appears, here: https://www.thecrankmag.com/issue-4

The past issues are very much worth reading, and I think another is on its way soon. 

‘Return to the Night City’ was specifically inspired by WS Graham’s ‘The Night City’, one of my favourite poems about London. My tribute came partly from reading ‘The Night City’ and thinking of all the associations, particularly literary, that I have with this city. It also came from a slightly stupid incident a few years ago when I flew back so late from somewhere in Europe (Portugal, maybe?) that I could only get a train to Blackfriars, and I then started hiking along the Thames with my suitcase at about 2 in the morning. I came to my senses after about fifteen minutes and got a cab, but this poem is sort of the magical realism version of that incident. Tonally, I tried to approach the original Graham poem, without turning my own poem into pastiche. 

Clarissa Aykroyd, New(ish) poem in The Crank: Return to the Night City

We are unable to accept
these poems

We are on fire and possibly
infected. The Poetry Editorial Board responded

strongly, admiring your craft and total rage
but disagreed about how to extinguish

fire or end infection.
Eat the rich.

They’re not infected. The poems struck
like bowling balls in a flu

knocking readers down.
We coughed. Our flesh burned.

Gary Barwin, THANK YOU, a poem based on a rejection letter from a literary journal

Sometime near Christmas, it might even have been Christmas day, a black pheasant appeared in the woods and tree-lined lanes round the village. I say it was black, but in actual fact it was the most lustrous dark green/black, an oily, moss black. I was out walking the dog when it appeared from the grounds of the manor house: elegant, watchful, picking and placing its feet among the beech leaves, moving forward in that slightly hunched-shouldered way. It had with it a brown, bog standard pheasant and they were moving through the murky, rainy dusk of winter without knowing how beautiful they were.

It felt like some kind of ornithomancy, I kept reading into its appearance a dark mark. But it was/is so beautiful, I was always pleased to see it. I kept seeing it around the village when I was out and about, sometimes with its friend, sometimes on its own. I saw it after a flurry of snow had set once, it seemed to grow more elegant against the white. I wanted to write a poem about it, tried to write a poem about it and have been trying ever since. Nothing seems to quite do it justice, it slips from me, slips away from the poem and ends up being some Christmas card depiction of a pheasant. I can’t quite seem to find the way into the poem, the direction of it, the purpose of it. There have been some great poems written about pheasants, perhaps I should stop making myself feel bad about my own by reading them, but when I come across poems like this one by Graham Mort, on the Poetry Society website, it makes me want to read every poem ever written, and strive to create something better. Here it is on the PS website: Cock Pheasant. […]

I have been trying to write poems since January, not just poems about pheasants, but poems specifically for a new collection to be published by Smith-Doorstop. I’ve struggled a bit to push through imposter syndrome and also to remember how to write a poem. I heard this week that the collection has been put back a little, as have many other collections. I think the pandemic has had a big effect on the publishing industry and I do think the canaries are always the smaller, indie publishers. I thought I’d be disappointed, but all of a sudden, with the pressure off, knowing I have more time, I started writing more poems; in fact I started writing better poems and started to see how to edit and adapt the poems already written, how to push the boundaries in them. This week I finished the first draft of a sonnet crown I’d been working on since December, and whilst it needs fettling, needs the judders tuning and the angles sanding, I’m pleased with it. I’ve ended up writing about twenty sonnets in all, but my aim was seven, and I can see that the other thirteen sonnets are the tools I’ve been using to dig down to these seven sonnets, this sonnet crown.

Wendy Pratt, The Black Pheasant

Waking from a dream that was both strong and strange
I quietly slip outside to the patio. The house is dark and cold,
and the patio is wet from an earlier rain, although the sky
has now cleared. Lifting my arms, I reach for heaven like one
might reach up for a book on a high shelf. Can I see the title
of the book? No, I can’t, not from here. But I reach for it anyway.

James Lee Jobe, Reaching for heaven, or a book.

The hazel’s buds are about to open, first yellow of the season; red-winged blackbirds have returned; this morning, several flocks of snow geese in Vs high above me. Then, a brief but crazy-wild snow squall. Yes, it is February.

What I find myself assessing lately is “the need to publish” thing. I feel a reckoning coming on, personally, in which societal changes are implicated–and my age, as well.

Let me backtrack.

When I first started writing poetry seriously (reading, studying, crafting, workshopping), publishing was a paper-only endeavor that involved typing and retyping poems, sending them with SASE (self-addressed, stamped envelope) to various literary magazines and journals both Major and minor, and waiting for up to a year for rejection or acceptance. The acceptances were necessary if I wanted a book publisher to take my work seriously, or to have an academic institution consider me as worthy of hire, or to apply for higher-stakes literary grants and opportunities. The game, as it were, operated on those hierarchies: journal publications, chapbooks, solo collections, college stints.

I did a bit of that, though not enough, I suppose. I got my chapbooks and solo collections (see books here) and a fair number of poems in actual (and, now, virtual) print. But ambition ain’t exactly my middle name; my college work has not been tenured and doesn’t fall under the creative writing category–I run the writing center at my university, where it’s all about grammar, spelling, documentation, essay structure. I enjoy the work, but it is not poetry.

Back to poetry publication: the new assessment is about whether I care anymore.

Ann E. Michael, That need to publish? –eh…

books of nothing
a chained library
not an invitation

huge dead thistles
where blue butterflies breed
a flat-pack beetle

Ama Bolton, ABCD February 2022

Here’s a thing. I’ve just checked, and found that since early November last year I’ve written only two appreciations/reviews of other people’s poetry.

How on earth did I end up like this?After all, I started the great fogginzo’s cobweb precisely to share and celebrate work I’d just come across and couldn’t wait to tell you about. Part of the answer to this is obvious..like many others I’ve been locked out of the everyday world of trips and visits and chance encounters. And in this context, particularly I’ve not been able to go on retreats or to readings or to open mics for over two years. I’ve not been well for most those two years, and I’ve not heard new poems being performed. I’ve not bought books at a reading because of the poems I heard, and brought them home, and reread them, and got to know them as friends .

Let’s throw into the mix that, apart from missing the frisson, the buzz of company and of new experiences, I’ve been putting a collection together and trying to lay some nagging half-written poems to rest. I’ve been turned inwards. It might work for some, but it’s never worked for me, because, for me, poetry is performative, feeding on the to and fro of people’s reaction. For months now I’ve not been able to hear the poem on the page; its meaning drifts away in a jumble of words. 

I thought it was all coming back when I wrote about Kim Moore and Carola Luther, but then I lost track of it again. You’ll be familiar with the idea of Writer’s Block. I never imagined that there could be such a thing as Reader’s Block, and it’s truly alarming to be in the middle of it.

Anyway. Maybe it’s something to do with the early onset of spring, the urgency in the air and at the tips and edges of things, but the buzz and excitement is coming back, bit by bit. I’m reading poems aloud to myself again, relishing the texture and brush of another mind. The words are coming alive off the page for the first time in ages and ages. I found myself absorbed in other folk’s poems, and hearing them rather than just looking, nose pressed to the window. Loved re-reading Samantha Wynne-Rydderch’s Banjo. Ditto MacCaig favourites, and David Constantine……never thought it would come back, that music.

John Foggin, My kind of poetry: Jean Atkin’s “The bicycles of ice and salt”

My kind is doomed
but since when was I a partisan of men?
My country is ruined
but since when was I a patriot?

My loyalties
are elsewhere. To the violet
swell of the sky against the east:

to the long pull of words
muttered by soldiers going
to pile their bones by the lake.

I have Du Fu for company,
and Ovidius Naso; 
you could travel further
and do worse.

Dale Favier, A Northern Bank

Dizzy this morning. Waking again in a shirt so damp it borders on wet. Oh, these growing pains. I remember when growing pains were the deep throbs behind a breast bud, an ache in the femur that felt like the sharp edge of cold.

Now there is the ache in the femur that is the sharp edge of cold, a deep throb likely a straining bubble of panic. A night sweat: a who-knows-what. Don’t google it.

I remember when taking a nap meant crying. And here we are again.

Since I have stopped worrying about the truth of the details and focused on letting the memories surface as they will (still half-submerged, like the Loch Ness monster, more suggestion than shape), my sleep has been crowded with sensual details. Mostly from the desert.

Cinder block, a metal slide at noon, a scraped and weeping knee – the wound full of sand. Dry heat filling the lungs. My lungs. My knee. My fingers running over the porous, snagging surface of the cinder block wall.

Ren Powell, Opening Letters to the World

Since I live in a bat cave, only to emerge for work, the gym, and a weekly grocery run, until recently I was blissfully unaware of the “That Girl” YouTube trend. I came across it while I was perusing videos by Abby Sharp, a common-sense dietitian who I watch now and then. Abby was very fired up about the proliferation of “That Girl” videos, which I have come to learn are self-improvement videos, usually made by models, minor internet stars or fitness gurus, detailing their uber-healthy morning routines. From what I’ve seen from my relatively shallow dive into these videos, these routines invariably involve a “gratitude journal,” a green drink, fruit, a workout, and a skincare regimen. The idea is that these routines will lead to a healthier physical and mental mindset, improve your productivity, and allow you to be “the best version of yourself.” The problem is that they are laughably unrealistic for the average person, which is why Abby took umbrage with the whole thing while reviewing a “That Girl” video by someone named Vanessa Tiiu. I have no idea who Vanessa Tiiu is, but she certainly seems to have some leisure time on her hands. Her morning routine is lovely. She gets up early, spends about fifteen minutes rubbing various products onto her face, drinks a big glass of lemon water, and then writes in not one, but two journals, followed by a breakfast of some sort of oatmeal-looking thing topped with berries, and the inevitable green drink. She follows all of that with a full workout and a long walk, all while encouraging her viewers to do the same. Personally, I think how out of touch Vanessa is with the average working person is hilarious, but Abby is a bit of a perfectionist and I could tell it got under her skin and made her feel inferior. It didn’t make me feel inferior in the least. I found the whole thing quite inspiring, in fact. I shall now present, for your edification, my own “That Girl” routine. Feel free to take from it whatever works for you:

Switch alarm off at 5:45 a.m. and cover head with blanket, trying to stave off creeping existential despair. Fall vaguely back asleep until jerked awake by the terror of having possibly overslept. Check clock and groan. Throw off blanket and head to the bathroom for morning pee. Vacillate on whether or not to weigh self, scrutinize body in contact-lens-less eyes, and decide against it. Stumble to kitchen for cup of coffee and head to computer room to look at news. Give up in horror after about three minutes and switch on video game instead. Play video game for too long in attempt to tame cows so I can trade milk to the local tinker for weapons upgrade. Reluctantly switch off video game and go to living room to get dressed. Hate what I picked out the night before and creep into bedroom (if Mr. Typist is still sleeping) to get new clothes. Pick out another wrong thing in the dark and decide to just give up and go with original wrong thing. Suck down another cup of coffee while getting dressed and debating whether or not to do morning ab exercises. Ultimately negotiate with self to do them at work on my lunch break knowing full well I likely won’t do them at work on my lunch break. Decidedly skip the gratitude journal, as it dulls my anger and I need my anger for fuel. Mindlessly wolf down a few breakfast pickles while deciding whether or not to make my typical fried egg over tuna or just get something quick from the case at work. (This one is 50-50.) Head back to the bathroom to brush teeth and slather on makeup while feeling vaguely resentful about the professional necessity of slathering on makeup. Do final face check and decide it will have to do. Suck down one more hasty cup of coffee before popping an Altoid (coffee breath) and shambling into coat. Grab purse, adjust headphones, fire up a podcast so I don’t have to be alone with my thoughts, and head out the door.

I don’t detail all of this to make you feel inferior. After all, as Abby points out, we must all do what is best for us personally and not compare ourselves to others. I’m just telling you what makes me my best self, that’s all. It has taken years of practice to cultivate this routine, and you shouldn’t feel bad if you can’t achieve those heights right out of the gate. Start small and build up! Before you know it, you too will be That Girl.

Kristen McHenry, I’m That Girl!

I am thrilled to have had my poem “Birthday Fires” chosen as the winner of the 2022 Neahkahnie Mountain Poetry Prize. This is an annual contest held by the Hoffman Center for the Arts in Manzanita, Oregon, with this year’s judge being Lana Hechtman Ayers.

This poem began after I read the line in a poem from Henri Cole: “I came from a place with a hole in it”. As poems are wont to do, it found its own story to tell, its own feelings to express.

Having learned to read and write at Garibaldi Grade School, I am thrilled my words have returned full circle to this part of the Northern Oregon Coast. I have fond memories of living at the Coast Guard Station in Garibaldi, learning to swim at the Nehalem pool, and having the ability to roam this small town with the freedom of an earlier era.

You can check out my poem and the 2nd and 3rd place winners here: Hoffman Center for the Arts.

Carey Taylor, Neahkahnie Mountain Poetry Prize

I’m re-reading Kim Addonizio’s Bukowski in a Sundress. I needed something refreshing and grounding, and her straight shooting memoir came to mind. Her honesty about the messiness of life helps me accept my own missteps and shenanigans and work with them from a writing standpoint. Plus, I’m a sucker for feisty little nuggets of writing advice, like this:

“Have an uncomfortable mind; be strange. Be disturbed: by what is happening on the planet, and to it; by the cruelty, and stupidity humanity is capable of; by the unbearable beauty of certain music, and the mysteries and failures of love, and the brief, confusing, exhilarating hour of your own life.”

The ending there — “brief, confusing, exhilarating hour” — brings to mind Mary Oliver’s line about your one wild and precious life, but that’s not the part that grabs me. It’s the opening: “Have an uncomfortable mind. Be strange.” That’s a sweet spot for me (and for many others). I do my best work when I’m agitated in some way.

*

It’s perfect timing to be reminded of the generative power of disturbance. After growing my hair long during the pandemic, I’m now trying to rediscover the spit and vinegar of my signature short, short, short red ‘do and to tap into the spunky, edgy version of myself I used to rely upon so heavily. I’ve grown weary of feeling so “meh.”

I’m also pushing a bit harder on my Gertie poem project. I wrote some about it here, but the gist is that Gertie is a persona (an alter ego, I suppose) to whom I turn for protection and comfort. It’s a true story. I started talking to Gertie in my head while taking walks at the start of pandemic. Then she found her way into my poems. I was delighted by her presence on the page and also a bit spooked. I’m less likely to reveal my uncomfortable, strange mind now than I used to be. I am not sure why and hope it’s not a long affliction because I can see it holding me back.

Since Gertie is a direct representation of that discomfort and weirdness, I fall sometimes into the old bear trap of doubt: Is this silly? Will I seem ridiculous? Does this voice have anything important to say? Is it of value to anyone but me? Is this thing even going to work? Those questions are fine to ask once the poems are written, but they’re deadly as the drafts are trying to be birthed. I’m grateful for writing pals (Jill, Sarah and the Madwomen) and for amazing examples by other writers I admire, like Addonizio. Their words shake me by my shoulders and send me back in to do the work.

Carolee Bennett, “an uncomfortable mind”

Somewhere, a vein.
Little tributary encircling

a lower region. A calf,
perhaps. No, lower:
an ankle. Who dipped
their foot in the same

river twice, three times,
uncountable; and emerged
hypostatic.

Luisa A. Igloria, Diagnostic

The issue of notes is a thorny one. I recently read a poetry collection containing lots of end-notes which were often more interesting than the actual poems. (I realise that is subjective and what the poet chooses to include and what to omit from the poem is up to them.) Other poems seemed all but nonsensical without the notes; a feeling familiar to me from being in galleries looking at pieces of art whose labels were essential to be able to grasp the significance of the images / constructions. Equally, I’ve read poetry collections where the poems have been crying out for end-notes, as though not to include them constitutes a deliberate withholding of requisite information. Yes, we all have access to search engines and reference books, but it is arguably an act of generosity to the reader to provide notes where they are needed.

Matthew Paul, On ‘The Rupert Man’

After the storm
we go out
to survey the damage
reflect on whether
we could have prepared
better, differently.

But some trees will fall.
Some places
where we believed
we were safe, protected
can sometimes
disappoint.

We could
Ignore the debris
for as long as possible
and nurse
the unfairness of it all
or get on with

clearing the ground
repair what we can
a little less fearful
perhaps
of the next gust
when it comes.

Lynne Rees, Poem ~ Clearing the ground

now is that a storm moon
far away above the restless harbour
is it beguiled by the colours
seduced by the moods of
the houses riding the palette
of the town sloped away
far above the rash of buoys

Jim Young, tenby evening after a storm

CNN did an article this week, surprisingly, on the future of literary magazines, particularly smaller mags: Long-standing literary magazines are struggling to stay afloat. Where do they go from here? – CNN Style.  They talk about the lit mags going under – even big ones, like The Believer.

In the fifties and sixties, the CIA, among other government agencies, sunk a surprising amount of money into literary magazines like The Paris Review, The Kenyon Review, and many others, in order to fight the cold war, so the speak, in the art world.

For a while, universities seemed willing to foot the bill for literary magazines for the prestige, but now, they’re shutting down MFA programs and their accompanying literary magazines left and right, as unbusiness-y, unprofitable.

So what is the future of lit mags? I joked that maybe it’s in the hands of some of the richest people in the country – the ex-wives of Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos, aka Melinda and MacKenzie. I met MacKenzie once at a writer’s conference, not knowing who she was, assuming she was just another struggling writer. I think she might be open to a solicitation for the right kind of magazine – she’s giving away her fortune at astounding rates, which: good for her. Their husbands were never going to do much for the arts out here, even though they live here in Seattle (and the Eastside). You’d think they’d do more for local culture! But their ex-wives will be big contenders in shaping where Seattle’s non-profit scene is at, and not just that, but the whole country’s non-profit scene.

When I volunteered for several lit mags, I begged them to try to raise subscription numbers, to take adds from local businesses, to hold more creative fundraisers, anything so they weren’t so attached to either a) a university’s funding or b) a single angel investor. How can a literary magazine make a profit, and do we even want to worry about that? My answer is, if you want to keep them around, then yes. Often, lit mags are very expensive compared even to the fanciest “regular” magazines. Younger readers expect to get their content for free – even regular mags are struggling with subscriptions. So we have to give readers a reason to buy the magazine. What would that be? What do you think? Are lit mags doomed? Can someone start throwing awesome parties that might attract billionaires looking to share the wealth with the literary arts? And invite me?

Jeannine Hall Gailey, The Future of Lit Mags, Birds and Blooms in February

The Journal has, I’m pleased to say, reached Issue 65 – or 75 if, as it says in the welcome, you include its former life as The Journal of Contemporary Anglo-Scandinavian Poetry. Edited and published by Sam Smith, who somehow keeps up his enthusiasm for the job year upon year, it usually provides me with something unusual, something that takes it out of the ordinary.

This time I was drawn to a four-page piece by Estill Pollock, Night Watch, ostensibly about Rembrandt but as you’d expect about far more than that; and Julie Maclean’s fine How We Love A Dead Scribe, an imaginary podcast interview with Marianne Moore. (For those who don’t know, Moore died in 1972, aged 86.)

It says so much for Sam Smith that he would happily give Pollock four pages of his magazine for this one poem. Most editors would frown and think Pollock unreasonable for submitting such a thing. I like long poems, so I suppose I would be more inclined to take to it than some, but it’s far more than ‘another ekphrastic poem’, many of which I find a bit tiresome. It could be seen as a run-through of Rembrandt’s life, using the famous painting as a hook, but Pollock writes so well it rattles along, full of conversational phrases and vivid images. Sometimes the style is loose but never uneconomical, as in Rembrandt’s apprenticeship:

Rembrandt, eighteen, yawns – drudge Apprentice/ To still-life squibs of pelt and pear, to infill/ Landscapes with distant hills, windmills or/ The lowering skies favoured by the Master for yet/ Another version of Apocalypse, the genre/ And his screw-loose boss both
Long out of fashion

Pollock captures a kitchen-maid perfectly – her root-vegetable features – and Rembrandt as a jobbing young painter picking up commissions where he can – the patrons, their wives/ And butterball daughters. He has fun, too, with the image of Rembrandt up in his studio having some kind of accident: Crashing lath-and-plaster, Saskia shouting up the stairs/ For God’s sake you blockhead you ruined the stew. / Rembrandt, white with dust, coughing. (Saskia, his wife and sometime model.)

It’s this kind of detail that gives the poem its life and vibrancy. Yes, it tells of Rembrandt’s life, and is therefore a biography, which can feel a bit wooden: In 1638, he buys the Breestraat house… but it’s as if even in this Pollock is playing with the subject, with the task he has set himself. By including the incident of the insane 1985 attack on the painting Danae, he takes the poem on to a new level, a consideration of the fragility of what we achieve, if we attempt some kind of art and puts words into, or quotes, the perpetrator: I warned her to atone – she is mine, and mine alone.

There is sadness, inevitably, as Pollock finishes off with Rembrandt’s decline into poverty: For the burial, no tolling bells at Westerkerk, no stone, the pallbearers/All strangers, paid in day-rate ale.

I enjoyed the poem, its images and language, and it set me off in search of an old book of Pollock’s, from 2006, published by Cinnamon Press, called Relic Environments, which is well worth exploring if you can find it. I’ll try to review that soon. He had a book published in the USA recently but I don’t yet have that. It may be easier to find.

Bob Mee, THE JOURNAL: ESTILL POLLOCK’S NIGHT WATCH & JULIE MACLEAN’S HOW WE LOVE A DEAD SCRIBE

The latest from Sydney, Australian poet and editor Pam Brown is the pandemic response poems of Stasis Shuffle (St. Lucia, Queensland: Hunter Publishers, 2021), her second book to appear last year, after Endings & Spacings (Sydney Australia: Never-Never Books, 2021) [see my review of such here]. Stasis Shuffle is a book directly responding to the restlessness of uncertainty, health measures and remaining in place. In this way, Stasis Shuffle adds to a growing list of pandemic-response poetry projects, a list that already includes Lillian Nećakov’s il virus (Vancouver BC: Anvil Press, 2021) [see my review of such here] and Lisa Samuels’ Breach (Norwich England: Boiler House Press, 2021) [see my review of such here]. Brown’s poems appear to be composed in the quick-sketch form of the poetic journal, attempting to capture, through the long form of the book-length poem, a particular period of time from her home in Sydney; composed in an accretion of short lines, phrases and quick turns, in a kind of perpetual ongoingness, akin to a lengthier structure of what might be called “Creeleyesque,” after the late American poet Robert Creeley. “the / it’s-interesting / bla-bla,” she writes, near the beginning of the collection, “question is – // is your slowly accreting poem / morphing into a larger cloud yet – // a major poem / ghosting in to sydney / past the heads, / making its way to ashfield // darker & darker / birds swirling around in it – / leaves / rubbish & debris / full of menace & meaning?”

She writes of memory and nostalgia, situating herself and her thinking through an assemblage of playful breaths and breaks, collage and accumulation, phrases and visuals. While the poems here offer an ongoingness, they also provide a sense of a gathering of fragments collected over an extended period, something reminiscent of American poet and translator Joshua Beckman’s Animal Days (Seattle WA/New York NY: Wave Books, 2021) [see my review of such here]. Her poems accumulate, offering a portrait of a space, of a time; and a texture across a singular lyric.

rob mclennan, Pam Brown, Stasis Shuffle

An intriguing idea: take a collection of postcards and the messages written on them and publish with the message alongside the front of the postcard. The full name and address of the recipient is excluded so readers have to focus on the messages for clues. The reader is drawn in by questioning why the sender picked that particular card, why they chose to focus on those particular details – in a brief message there’s no space for small talk and pleasantries – and what the relationship might be between sender and recipient. One of the first is a seaside postcard with five images from the English costal town of Newquay, three of the images show small yachts in the harbour, one shows holiday-makers sitting on the quay wall and the last shows the beach with the town in the background, the message,

“One night, a cat bit Dan and Raz on the thigh. They were fined for biting the cat back. If anything, it is too peaceful here. One feels that there is something wrong. Perhaps there is.”

Emma Lee, “Life Here is Full of Tomorrows” Mélisande Fitzsimons (Leafe Press) – book review

Just like last night,
the stars and their stories,
the old monk said.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (135)

I know, we’re in the second month of 2022 and I’m only now talking about the journals I filled in 2021? Yes, I am woefully behind the curve and I have no excuse other than *waves hands wildly about* life.

In 2020 I filled six full journals and started on a seventh before the calendar flipped into 2021. In 2021, I continued and filled six journals with poems. As you can see, I tend to prefer a slim Moleskin with a blank cover I can then cover with stickers — because who doesn’t love stickers?! My sister sent me the unicorn/mermaid journal while I was recovering from meniscus repair surgery and so of course I filled it with poems.

Now, two weeks into February and I’m pages away from filling my first journal of the year (that last one in the photo, on the bottom right). Which is good because I just ordered a bunch of new stickers from Redbubble and I need to put them somewhere.

I’ve started a poetry exchange with a friend – she writes a poem and then I respond to her poem with one of my own. Back and forth we go, using one another’s words to prompt more poems. It’s a wonderful exercise, it keeps me motivated, it gives me inspiration, and it allows me to fill my journal. It’s a pretty great thing.

Courtney LeBlanc, Journals of 2021

–It is delightful to have time to cook, especially on days that would have been heavy with meetings if I was still employed at the full-time job.  Last week, I made lemon muffins.  This week I’ll take the pumpkin butter that I made and experiment with turning it into pumpkin bread.  My pumpkin butter recipe is essentially cans of pumpkin, spices, and sugar.  Next week, I’ll try turning pumpkin butter into a ricotta cake.

–My pumpkin butter recipe makes WAY too much for one household, and I make it so seldom, that I always forget.

–I am delighting in lunch dates with friends.  It’s good to reconnect with people, while at the same time sad to realize how unconnected I had become.

–I do like having time to walk, although there are days when I feel like Dorothy Wordsworth.  Of course, a life of long walks, cooking, and journaling about it all does not seem like a bad deal to me.

–I am reminded of a friend who was reading a biography of Wordsworth and came away convinced that British citizens in England had gobs more time in the early 19th century regardless of social status,  She may be right. 

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Bits and Pieces from the First Thirteen Days of Underemployment

“You’re home from the hospital,” we prompt
our father, back in assisted living.
“No I’m not,” he insists. “This isn’t home.”
I wonder which house he’s remembering.
He thinks he’s somewhere temporary.
In the end, does the body feel
as extraneous as the oxygen tank
he keeps forgetting he’s tethered to?
But there’s country music at happy hour
and he tells himself stories
that turn his nurses into old friends.
He knows he’s somewhere temporary.
A mezuzah gleams on the final door.
We don’t know when he’ll go through.

Rachel Barenblat, Through

Today, a snow storm and the really amazing realization that I do not have to go out into it unless I want to (and I certainly do not.) Instead, I stayed tucked inside with a writing assignment on Slavic Mythology I was finishing up. On the subject of further proof that Christian missionaries ruin all the fun, I had a hard time,  since I know the lesson content is written with high school kids in mind, trying to convey that some celebrations involved orgies, without actually using the word, ya know, “orgies. ” I settled on “fertility rites” but it loses something in the translation.  The myth and fairy tale content is a nice break sometimes from the lit, esp since yesterday involved  an in-deep piece on confessional poetry, and earlier in the week, the rabbit holes of Lillian Hellman and her testimony in front of the House Committee of Un-American Activities (something easily I could have spent many more hours reading about but had to stop before I went too deep into 1950’s nonsense and the evil figure of Walt Disney.)

A couple days ago, my proof copy of animal, vegetable. monster arrived, and there is the usual adjustments on the interior, but am very happy with the cover. I should be able to get the whole shebang finalized in early March, which pushes back the release a bit later than I intended, but April is my birthday month, so it seems propitious to bring it out then. In the meantime, I plan to start making some videos, including some for the artist statement pieces that open the book. Also some other promos for reels and such as we get closer. I went with a slightly smaller trim size and am really liking the look, as well as the creme paper instead of the usual white.  

Kristy Bowen, orgies and book proofs, oh my!

when colors die are they laid to rest :: in a bliss as white as the moon

Grant Hackett [no title]

Geraldine Connolly: What central themes haunted you in the writing of Ghost Dogs?

Dion O’Reilly: The mind grappling with a world full of both exquisite beauty and also unimaginable evil pervades Ghost Dogs. We shy away from what we call the cruel facts, but if they can be balanced, almost in the way a painter balances light and dark in chiaroscuro, then the poems come alive with insight. I believe such juxtaposition of supposed opposites ignites the lyric moment, an experience of deep connection with the Living World. So I guess I would say connection haunts the book–how to connect, which I feel is the work of poetry.

Gerry: The California landscape is very vivid in your work. How does the landscape of your childhood inform the poems?

Dion: I grew up in a beautiful place–the Soquel Valley, on an eighteen acre ranch with two streams running through it. So I write what I know. But I think it’s a mistake to think we are separate from the world around us. A landscape is a self-portrait; a self-portrait contains a world. I would hope if I grew up in Detroit, I would be able to write about it the way Jamaal May does.
 
Gerry: Can you tell us about your writing process?

Dion: Ghost Dogs contains stories I carried for many years. The difficulty was in seeing the narratives differently. For example, writing about my sister led me to express a new compassion for her. I struggle not to be the heroine of the tale, not to write revenge poems, not to reinforce tired grudges or viewpoints. Gotta say, that’s hard to do, and I don’t know if it’s any easier now than it ever was. Nowadays, I work less from my old narratives and more from prompts, word lists, and form. I think that’s a common evolution for poets. Still, word lists often excavate memories related to those in Ghost Dogs. I think it’s good to allow yourself to be obsessed.

Diane Lockward, Terrapin Book Interview Series: Geraldine Connolly Interviews Dion O’Reilly

I started this blog in March 2011, during a Fulbright fellowship in Wellington, New Zealand, as an intellectual diary during one of my life’s biggest adventures. My forthcoming book, Poetry’s Possible Worlds, is in many ways this blog’s culmination. I’ve always read to survive my life, and in the blog, then called “The Cave, The Hive,” I chronicled what I was reading and what I thought about it. This book puts reading under a microscope: how do poets create little worlds, and why does it sustain me to dwell in them?

I began conceiving and drafting this hybrid essay collection–criticism blended with personal narrative–in 2012. I had NO IDEA it would take this long to deliver it to the world. I started with questions about audience, wanting to write a book that non-poetry-insiders might enjoy: hence each chapter begins with a contemporary poem reprinted in full, so you can have your own feelings about it before I bring my professorial wonkiness to bear. I dialed the wonkiness way down, for that matter, although I researched the hell out of many intersecting fields: narrative theory, poetry studies, the cognitive science of “literary transportation,” and more. And I got pretty personal. I read these poems as my parents split and the astonishing scope of my father’s lies came to light. He died; my kids grew up; midlife crisis slammed me; my mother got sick. Poetry helped me think through harassment at work, the repercussions of sexual assault during college, and my struggle to accept life in an aging body. It’s all in there, my intellectual, artistic, teacherly, physical, and spiritual selves in collision. I gave the book everything I had.

That emotional work made the book hard to shape, but so did trying to invent a form. The chapters braid story and argument, a mixed art plenty of people practice, but I had to ponder what proportions of each would serve each of my goals best. I have scholarly standards–you need to read every text you can find that bears on your topics!–but then I sublimated that research in service to pace, suspense, and readability. I thought a memoiristic book might be easier than writing straight-up scholarship like Voicing American Poetry, but ha! It was at least as strenuous, just in different ways.

Lesley Wheeler, On the threshold of Poetry’s Possible Worlds

To those wearing three-piece suits of demagoguery. Those who deforest landscapes of possibilities.

All the politicians who’ve hollowed out mother nature‘s womb and created a war room.

To those who turn dance floors into killing floors. Those hooked on the apocalypse jukebox, continually tuned into the static of crashtastic demise.

To those who slaughter the bebop of birdsong with the sounds of one bomb drop after another.

Those who bully blue skies to black and blue. Those who separate the light from the dark and then enchain the bright, enslave the bright—

above all your noise and destruction, there is still a wondrous song ringing in our ears.

A song that remains the steady core of our dizzily spinning world.

Rich Ferguson, Not a Dear John Letter, But Close

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, 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. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week saw poets saying goodbye to long-time jobs, grieving the dead, going for walks, collaborating on poetry videos, getting grouchy about new books or their own poems—or even the flow state in which they write, and much more. Enjoy!


It’s February 3, and I just went through the house, changing the calendars from January to February. We are snowed in. Last night’s rehearsal was cancelled, and perhaps tonight’s will be, too, which is really a preview performance, but, egad!–we have barely had a dress rehearsal. Anxiety balanced by yoga. I did not see any groundhogs in real life or on the news (because I wasn’t watching the news), but I did see what I thought was a large owl, hunkered down in the snow, scanning the yard for small prey. It transformed, via head movement, into a rabbit, a huge rabbit, just sitting out there in the snow, flicking its now visible ears.

Kathleen Kirk, No Groundhogs

All this desk work has meant I’ve been walking the dog later in the day and often catching only the last sliver of daylight. This is a good time of day to be walking – the air smells of earth and damp, grass and sheep, hedgerows filled with shouty sparrows preparing to roost. Sometimes the sun catches the tops of the beech trees as its setting, and the branches become rose gold in the light. The windows of the cottages are warm squares and the train, if I see it run through the village, is a gallery of empty seats, sleeping heads, newspapers, books and laptops slicing into the black. This winter we’ve been spoiled by some wonderful sunsets. I like to catch the sunset from a hill at the far end of the village, watch it slide down the valley, then turn and walk back as the dark encroaches, pulling the colour out of it all until the lane is silver, the hills charcoal, the village a brightness of lamps and warm living rooms.

The tax return this year was probably the worst I’ve had to submit in terms of complication and stress. […] Doing my accounts […] is a bit like travelling back in time, I can feel the anxiety and stress and weekend working leaching out of the numbers. It made me ill with stress, but also helped my business (my business being me, effectively) survive the pandemic. I lost work in lots of face to face areas and had to drive up business in the online areas and I’m proud to say that after seven years of being self employed and edging sideways towards making my living from creative writing with some tutoring and teaching, I earned the same in 2020/21 as I did when I left my job as a microbiologist. It was hard, hard work, but I have reached a bench mark that I set myself years ago, and that makes me happy. I’m still working out how to manage my time to give me more writing time, but it is happening. Small goals, small steps with an image of what the main goal is. I’m getting there. Sometimes I am so stuck in the stress I forget that the outside world exists. As soon as I’m out in the weather, though, it’s like I feel real, as if a papery version of me exists in my office, but the real me exists only outside in the dusk and the weather.

Wendy Pratt, Walking at Dusk

The ladder serves the myth
that elevation is a need. Because stars and gods
live in the sky. Because the higher you go, the

further it still is. You move seven squares forward,
dodging a venomous fang, not quite at the
lowest step. It has been raining for days. If

there was a sky, it has collapsed into the ground.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Paradox

It’s winter, nights are in the low teens, and the ground out here is covered with snow. I’m still hiking in the local woods most weekends. My class at Rosemont college is off to a good start–brilliant and insightful students. My monthly local workshop is still going strong after more than 10 years. We’re on zoom at the moment, but we all hope to be back in person soon, as soon as it’s safe.

The writing has been going well, and publishing hasn’t been too bad either. My book manuscript has been a finalist about 5 times so far. I’ve had new poems published by Greensboro Review, UCity Review, Cider Press Review, and some others. Later this year I’ve got poems coming out in Sand Hills Review, Kenyon Review, Louisiana Literature, and Verse Daily, with hopefully more to announce soon.

My 2020 book, Muddy Dragon on the Road to Heaven, received a very positive write-up in Broad City Review, which you can read here. If you’re interested in checking out the book, you can find it here.

Grant Clauser, 2022 Update

I stared into the sun.
The last thing I remember, tears

were simmering in my eyes and your name
had frozen on my tongue.

Karen Dennison, Poetry and science 9 – Leaving

I am elated to announce that Mother Mary Comes To Me: A Pop Culture Poetry Anthology has been selected as a 2022 Book All Georgians Should Read by Georgia Center for the Book. Karen Head and I worked for seven years to find a home for this project, so this honor is a testimony to perseverance and to the brilliant poets who contributed their work. And, of course, to Madville Publishing who loved the anthology and has made the whole publication process a pleasure. 

Collin Kelley, Anthology named 2022 Book All Georgians Should Read

I’d like to say a public thank you to Presence for sending me books to review from time to time, and for having faith in my haiku. Sometimes it feels like I’m working very much on the fringes (probably no bad thing). Lockdown enabled me to follow some new routes too, but that has also led to me feeling a bit out of the loop (again, that might not be a bad thing). Nevertheless, Presence has linked me to the haiku community and I really appreciate that sense of fellowship.

Another poetic community is The Poets Directory who have invited me to read at their ‘virtual stanza’ event. So:

Join us on Sunday February 13th at 19:00 for the December Poets’ Directory Live! Virtual Stanza event via Zoom. The event is part of the Poetry Society’s network of Stanza groups and brings poetry into your home every month. With readings from the excellent Chaucer Cameron, Julie Mellor, Damien Donnelly, Rory Waterman and Pascale Petit.

I have to say I’m in awe of the poets I’ll be supporting. Anyway, I’ll be taking a deep breath and hoping for the best! The free online event takes place on Sun 13th Feb at 7.00 – further details can be found here. Hope some of you can join us.

Julie Mellor, Reviews and readings …

A nightmare crossdresses in lullabies.

A hesitation builds dirigibles of yesness.

A quiet, quarantined heart manages a highway hum.

A fleeting second impersonates forever.

Rich Ferguson, Once Upon a Moment’s Noticings

How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to translation)? What do you see as the appeal?

Translation of poetry is on a continuum with writing it, even if, in a sense, it’s also unwriting (taking things apart). Having “translated” only a small number of poems, with only the most rudimentary knowledge of the language of the original (Russian), I can have little to add to what real translators think and do. Even the occasion of my first involvement with translation was a bit of happenstance: In 1989, Lyn Hejinian and Arkadii Dragomoshchenko paired five American poets, of whom I was one, with five Russian poets for a sort of experiment in translation. This was during Perestroika, so before the fall of the USSR, and the enthusiasm for communication across what was left of the iron curtain was high. The idea was to do it transpersonally, not just transtextually. So the ten of us met in Stockholm and Helsinki, and then Leningrad, to talk face to face and, with that dialogue as a kind of substrate, to read and translate each other’s work. “Translation,” on these terms, involved a great deal of talking, eating, drinking, smoking, reading, walking around, guessing, second guessing—being—all activities (except smoking) that figure into my own process. […]

David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?

All of the above. Definitely every instance of culture I consume, plus human conversation—the sound of people talking—really anything that crosses my perceptual bow. Lately I’ve been interested in what John Rapko calls “proto-art”—what you might think of as “found” objects in nature (or culture), naïve works, things that were once thought “primitive” or were at one time thought important, now not. The attraction is the lack of finish or determined meaning—the fact that meaning can occur unintentionally or quasi-intentionally. That there can be an unadulterated, unfiltered perceptual reward in something that didn’t mean to be art. Perhaps a weird thing for someone who makes art to say.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Jean Day

why are children who will never bear a child :: the lullaby that i sing

Grant Hackett [no title]

Destiny
is rhyme
and spring

nine hells
three heavens

our
remains hard
and sweet sugar.

Ernesto Priego, 3. La calavera

I have begun to think of Higher Ed as a bad boyfriend, who breaks one’s heart again and again, and apologizes profusely and each time, one thinks it might be different. Not an abusive boyfriend, in that one’s face isn’t broken and it’s not bad enough that one knows to run away. There’s potential–one wants it all to be different. But the Higher Education bad boyfriend breaks one’s heart in so many ways.

Let me hasten to say that I feel fortunate in so many ways.  Since we spent much of 2021 thinking I would lose my job, we made alternate plans.  I am so grateful to Feb. 2021 Kristin who went ahead and applied for seminary and candidacy.  I am so grateful that we have sold the house.  I am so grateful that I have a vision of an alternate future.

While I will miss many of my colleagues, I am also grateful that someone else will have the task of leading the campus through the accreditation visit in 2 months.  I was not looking forward to many of the changes that were barreling towards us.

I will return to the campus today for a final time to box up books and load up the car.  When the HR person asked if I had any questions, I thought, I have so many questions.  But the one I asked was “I have more personal stuff in my office than I can get home today in my little car.  How do you want me to handle that?”

This morning, after a night of restless sleep, I woke up with a Meat Loaf lyric in my head:  “I want you, I need you, but there ain’t no way I’m ever gonna love you.” Thanks Higher Ed Bad Boyfriend! Now listening to Jimmy Buffett’s “Breathe In, Breathe Out, Move On.” That man doesn’t get enough credit for his skillful lyrics.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Play List for Job Loss: Higher Ed Bad Boyfriend Strikes Again

On Friday, people at work, as goodbye-for-nows were exchanged and tiny celebrations hatched, kept asking me how nice it must be going to be to have my time be my own.  I laughed, of course and said I’d probably be busier than ever, which is no doubt true, but it will feel different.  Especially since, for one, I have the freedom to set my own schedules and routines in a way I have not for, well, really since ever. College was something dictated by class schedules and play rehearsals. Grad school at DePaul had a little more free time when I wasn’t in classes, but was largely a time of full-time study and some writing. Since, I’ve been working full-time in addition to fitting all my more creative pursuits around it (and there was that crazy 4 year span where I was also getting my MFA.) My outside pursuits happened largely in the in-betweens and in odd hours either early or late in the day. My course was entirely dictated by work schedules, which is what will change. 

Over the weeks since I decided to leave, I’ve been thinking about how I want to structure my day, now that I am free to choose when and where to focus efforts.  There will be the freelance stuff…maybe 3 hours a day. The press/shop which will now get 4 hours daily which will be so much more generous than the previous 1-2 and weekends. (which means more on-schedule dgp releases, more time to clear the inbox, better marketing,  faster order turnaround, and new shop offerings.)  Daily writing, time my own writing and art projects, maybe 1-2 hours rather than hits and misses all week or manic sprints to finish on deadlines.  I’ll have the discretion of nights, when I can either do more work if I want or chill as needed.  Same with weekends (this is one thing I am looking forward to..a little more work/life balance…because I have never had it.)  I’ll also be working maybe 8-9 hours daily and not 11-12 so that will be great.  Also, no commuting, but much more ample time for walks. 

Kristy Bowen, of work and time

The present is still raucous

as vaudeville, or extravagant with drama:
clumsy actors stepping into wet cement,

falling on their knees; raising their eyes
to a tarpaulin sky as a calliope whistles

a carnival song, not quite drowning
the sounds of funerals and thunder.

Luisa A. Igloria, Soundtracks

I’m wrangling with a poem right now that was sparked by an interesting tidbit of science research. This is often how poems begin for me. I spun that out a bit and then tried to bring it back home, to me, to my life, and then spun it out again to include a “you.” I liked the movement of it. (Sidebar: I got a sciency poem rejected recently because it was too personal. I thought that was funny. I’m nothing if not a science experiment myself.) But in the end it felt sentimental, that is, there was a superficial emotionality to it that was unearned.

Was it in how the poem landed? Was it a question of language? Was it some problem inherent to the poem’s…what…journey or something, its heart or something?

A friend took a squint at it, rearranged it some, took out a line, made some suggestions. That helped smooth the sentimental edge but the poem still didn’t quite…what? It didn’t do whatever it is I want a poem to do: Transcend its details or ask an unanswerable question that needed to be asked or flip my thinking on its head or suddenly rearrange the world in a new way or…well…any of those magical things a poem can do.

It’s funny, isn’t it, what a poem can do, and how a poem can fail to do “It,” that poemy thing. Such a small figure, a poem, and how vast it can be. And how confounding.

Marilyn McCabe, Cruisin’ with a six; or, Anatomy of a Revision

If I pick up a new poetry book, I want to find images, language, meaning, that provokes me into sensing or knowing something I didn’t sense or know before I began. This is a fairly basic and generalised summary, yes, but it’s a fair test. I don’t mind a lot being asked of me – in fact, it can be thrilling to find yourself immersed in poetry or writing that challenges you on several levels. I’m happy reading experimental writing where you sense the poet isn’t even sure where the poem is going, or where some images connect easily and others are hard to pin down, or is doing something that at times is just plain mad. (See previous reviews of the work of Peter Finch and Michael Kriesel.) Part of the fun of reading poetry is having to work at it. I want to sense that a writer is really trying to work at their craft – and not just in a technical sense. More often than not I find the restraints of ‘form’ tiresome.

It’s also plain that not everyone can produce something extraordinary, even once in their lives – and even the best writers can and do release stuff that is sub-standard, that is published because of who they are, not how good it is. That happens in all areas of publishing: look at Bob Dylan’s Self Portrait album, for example, when as I understand it he had fallen out with his record company and just bashed something out that he knew very well was a long way short of what he could do. People still ran out to buy it. Me included. So, to a certain extent, if you want to go on reading poems, you have to allow for some forgiveness and tolerance.

However, I think the problem I found was that all six of the books I read felt similar. It felt as if they were all coming out of some kind of collective mindset, that ‘this is what poetry is and this is the way to write it’ as if they were a part of some kind of club where everyone knew what the limits and boundaries were and created collections that sat safely within them. It felt as if they had all read the same ‘How To Write Poetry’ manuals.

Bob Mee, I BOUGHT SIX POETRY BOOKS. NONE OF THEM INTERESTED ME.

I first met Dana Gioia at the West Chester Poetry Conference somewhere between 2008 and 2012. I was wearing a name tag that included where I lived at the time, Frederick, Maryland, a small city north of Washington, D.C., most famous for being the resting place of Francis Scott Key.

Immediately after we shook hands, Gioia launched into reciting “Barbara Frietchie” by John Greenleaf Whittier. It was a delightful connection to have made! I knew that Gioia had been head of the National Endowment for the Arts and had founded (with Michael Peich) the poetry conference I was attending. What I didn’t know was how his precise recitation in that slow baritone could at once captivate and soothe.

In high school when I first decided that the rest of my life would be this lifelong journey with writing, I cherished the book Letters to a Young Poet, given to me by my sophomore English teacher as a graduation present. I’ve carried that book with me everywhere I’ve lived and worked — from the east coast of U.S. to the upper Midwest to Shanghai, China and most recently here to Hong Kong. This is part of the reason I share Dana Gioia’s six-part series below. In the same vein as Letters to a Young Poet, Gioa’s new YouTube video series is a good place to start if you’re embarking on a writing life or simply beating yourself up for not writing as much as you would like. Unlike Letter to a young Poet, Gioia’s series provides practical wisdom on engaging (or reengaging) with a writing life given the busy demands of working full time.

Scot Slaby, If you want to help anyone start their writing journey, show them this

One of the best things about sharing creativity online is when other creative folks make something beautiful and new, arising out of / inspired by / in conversation with something that I created.

Like this right here, created by two longtime blogfriends:

The Gifts from Allan Hollander on Vimeo.

The audio recording is by Allan Hollander, and the animation is by Alison Kent.

The poem was originally published in my first book-length collection of poetry, 70 faces: Torah poems (Phoenicia, 2011). If you don’t have a copy, I hope you’ll consider picking one up wherever fine books are sold. 

Rachel Barenblat, The Gifts – video

Some years back my old high school friend Hilary McDaniels Douglas invited me to write some music for her aerial dance company Project in Motion, based in Las Cruces, New Mexico. She requested that I set a poem by Rilke and of course I couldn’t resist. I also included a poem whih appeared in my book Moon Baboon Canoe that I’d written and that felt appropriate. The overall theme of the piece was to be about water. 

Last night I began exploring a video clip of moving letters. (Full disclosure: I stole it off the Internet.) I transformed it: I layered it, expanded and contracted it, changed the colours and the movement and generally played around with it. It was riverine. It reminded me of the flowing letters in Justin Stephenson’s spectucular film about bpNichol, The Complete Works. 

I loved how the letters moved and replaced a poem that I’d stuck over top with an audiotrack of a funky distorted saxophone-based track that I’d made with a video of my hands moving. I realized that I’d need a much more flowing audio track and remembered the Rilke track that I’d made for Hilary. It was all about flowing, movement, and in my poem, it mentions hands. The whole thing worked so well together. I began transforming the video to be all about the Rilke track. I’m really thrilled with how it turned out. From a series of associations and accidents, this lovely thing that I stumbled on. [video link]

Gary Barwin, On Fishes: a video setting of a poem by RIlke and another guy

My uncles worked the Ship Canal
tugmen, exempt from The Call Up
free to drink each St Monday dry.
My mother was at war with them
the hostilities endless.
I could never fathom the reason
and she was not the kind to ask
even when I was grown and she frail
with aching hands of knotted oak.

Paul Tobin, DRINK ST MONDAY DRY

This morning I learned that 65 species of animals laugh. A few years ago I wrote Are You An Anthropocentrist? with examples of our fellow creatures making tools, doing math, demonstrating altruism, and so much more. Pretty sure laughter is just the iceberg edge of what we don’t yet recognize…

Laura Grace Weldon, Where I’m Finding Delight This Week

it’s about opening your mind
unbotting the furnace
raising the sluice gates
watching the leaves rush
down to the sea’s page
too fast to stop
too fast to review
emptying the lake
that never empties
screaming the silence
of devil may care
the never ending cataract
of clenched teeth in rictus

Jim Young, flow ~ now what’s to know

For those poets who aren’t on Instagram yet, or do not feel confident using it, I have to say, I was so grateful for this Instagram book review yesterday – and unlike some reviews, this generated sales – at least as well as I can measure on Amazon sales rank – right away! What a shock!

Thank you to TheBookshelfCafeNews for the shoutout and poets, go get on Instagram and let’s start talking about poetry books there. I am still getting used to the medium (sometimes I forget hashtags, and I’m still not confident in my ability to post “stories”) but think it is definitely worth being on there. There’s less of the negative vibe that can sometimes get overwhelming on Twitter, plus as many pictures of baby animals or cool art as you want to include in your feed. Yes, it’s still owned by evil overlord Facebook (or Meta) – but seems slightly less evil? Maybe this is because I only follow poets, Ina Garten, and a lot of red panda, fox, and zooborns accounts. Anyway, I encourage you all to give it a try. You can follow me there at @webbish6 – I mostly post pics of birds and flowers, the occasional selfie and poem – a lot like the blog, without all the words. Also, if you have helpful tips for others (and me) who are writers on Instagram, please leave them in the comments!

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Happy February, Inching Towards Spring, Hoping for a Better Month, A Nice Review on Instagram (and Thoughts on Instagram for Poets)

The world iced, every inch glistening in the sun.

Zigzag tracks of our house cat that has walked away.

Across the bay, a tanker moves at a glacier’s pace.  

V is talking — the garage door pasted shut,

my eye straying to those lights, frozen droplets

in the branches — champagne.  

If I didn’t have myself, where would I be? 

A moment deep and wide for drinking.

Jill Pearlman, driveway Olympics

I’ve been reading proofs for Poetry’s Possible Worlds, so this is a busy and stressful moment. I’m always mildly panicky at this stage, wondering what errors I’ve overlooked, but it’s about time to type up my list of necessary fixes and send it back to the designer. It makes me think of my mother’s advice on housework: just keep the counters and other eye-level spaces clean, nobody looks at the floor. What would the floor be, the bibliography? Sigh. Some reviewers, especially any scholars who may read the book, will TOTALLY call you out on a dirty floor.

Proofing this particular book makes me think of my mother in other ways. It’s about reading poetry during a time of crisis, especially focusing on my father’s implosion. I only realized late in the game that it’s also very much about my mother, and not only because she was the one who discovered his string of affairs and called quits on the marriage. She was the person who gave me piles of books as well as the habit of reading for pleasure, consolation, education, and imagining future and alternate lives. Poetry was always in the mix, too, often long poems like Tennyson’s Idylls of the King. I read Chaucer in the Penguin translation as a middle-schooler, not knowing I should be intimidated. They were just stories.

Lesley Wheeler, Pretending the house is clean

When winter is over,
then we will grieve.

Wait for the rains of spring,
the buds on the tree branches.

James Lee Jobe, hold it all in for now

My friend Jon Appleton died on Sunday evening at the age of 83.

Yesterday afternoon, a brilliant blue day, we drove to Mont St-Bruno and took a long walk around the Lac Seigneurial; it was the right thing to do. I may write more about this eventually, but for now, I’ll let Tomas Tranströmer speak for me. Jon loved Sweden and poetry, and although he also spent a lot of time in warm places, such as California, Hawaii, Tonga, southern France, I always think of him in the north: Vermont, Sweden, Moscow. One of my most vivid memories of him is from a visit to us in Montreal some years ago, when there was an absolutely huge blizzard, one of the heaviest and stormiest I can remember. Being Vermonters at heart, none of us wanted to stay in, so we bundled up and decided to go out and see if we could find a restaurant that was still open. I can still see Jon, wearing his Russian fur hat, cavorting in the snow-filled street and laughing with delight: “This is aMAZing!”

He was a person who lived life as fully as possible, and who for many of his students and friends was — as this poem says – “a half-open door leading to a room for everyone.” Like Tranströmer, Jon suffered a stroke toward the end of his life. It affected his speech, which he gradually recovered, but he wasn’t able to continue composing music. During our last visit to him, he showed us the art studio in his retirement complex, where he said he was enjoying doing some painting. And even in the last two weeks he was writing with great pleasure about a new recording being done by Yoshiko Kline of some of his piano works, and working with an editor on the final draft of his autobiography. The creative spark never went out, and the best way I can remember and honor him, and what he gave me, is to try to do the same.

Beth Adams, The Consolation of Snow

I didn’t know that my cousin’s favorite food was pierogis. My aunt Darlene is making a batch of them to take to the dinner after the graveside service. “She won’t get to eat any, but it’s the last time I can make them for her, so I’m doing it.” I remember my aunt Violet’s cabbage rolls (they are one of my specialties). But if I ever had pierogis, I don’t remember. So, I told my aunt I’d make them, too. She told me how she makes them — in great detail —  and then said, “You can find a recipe on-line.”

I thought of that poem by Grace Paley, “The Poet’s Occasional Alternative,” about making a pie instead of writing a poem.

Bethany Reid, Pierogis

I have definitely entered a new phase of life. Where people I love, from 25 to 70 are grappling with mortality. And there are people, too, whom I do not love, but featured in a few revenge fantasies. I’m seeing how poorly written my fantasies are, how unrelated they are to real emotions. Thin storylines with hollow characters.

The wonderful – literally wonder-filled – thing about this is that I see how unfinished I am. It’s like I have opened the door to a new world. Moved from black and white to color, from a sunset projected onto flat walls, through the doorway to the “real world” which is too big to take in, and too immediate to ignore.

I want to hold someone’s hand, get my feet wet, and listen.

I read the chat messages in a quiet moment. I pay attention to the few songbirds that have overwintered near the lake. I almost wrote, “lonely songbirds”. I figure if I can learn to stop projecting, I can better see the world as it is: its brooding, its illness, death, and its love.

Ren Powell, Existential Helplessness

One last line opens,
the old monk said,
and one last line closes.
It works either way.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (126)

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 4

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. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week, I made the questionable decision of trying to set up a new phone at the same time as I was compiling the digest, so what follows may seem more of a jumble than usual. If so, my apologies. All I can say with confidence is that there’s a lot of good stuff here.

Snow covers the beach
and drifts over dunes
like a ghost sail. It falls
without a sound,
without an echo—
shapeshifting summoner
that locks hundreds
of travelers for hours in
their cars, on the black
ice stretch of highways
from south to north.
Even in this world, light
can have a thousand
names. Cypress and pine
and fir link arms,
reminding me of green.

Luisa A. Igloria, Say Winter Without Saying White

“Make it new!” It’s been over 20 years since I got my MFA, but that command still resounds. I remember learning it from Liam Rector, of blessed memory, then the director of the Bennington Writing Seminars. Liam was big and brash and often urged us to “make it new,” though the thing he said most often was “Always Be Closing” — words that took on new resonance after his suicide.

“Make it new” comes from Ezra Pound, or so I learned at the time. It turns out those words are quite a bit older, and I’m glad to know they originate with Ch’eng T’ang, since Pound turns out to be a fascist and an antisemite.  The poets to whom I most frequently turn are masters of taking the familiar and making it new. Naomi Nye, Jane Kenyon, Mary Oliver: they make it look easy. 

This requires both noticing (like Moses at the burning bush) and craft. I want to do what they do. I want to weave something luminous and lasting out of the threads of daily life, like the cloak of mitzvot the Zohar says the righteous will wear in the world to come. But sometimes I sit down at my loom, as it were, and the threads break in my hands. This week is one of those times.

My father’s been in the hospital with COVID. I’ve been bracing for a death that has miraculously not come. (The miracle is the vaccines; his doctors said so repeatedly, as though we needed convincing.) It’s not clear what “recovery” will mean, but I’m not racing to Texas for a funeral. A week ago, I was sure I would be. Finally I can exhale. But I don’t seem to have poems in me now about that.

I don’t have poems in me now about the terrorist attack at the synagogue outside of Fort Worth, or about how it’s rippling into Jewish community life. I don’t have poems in me about what it feels like to sit with my community and talk about what we would do if. Someone can probably make great poems out of balancing spiritual vulnerability with a panic button, but not me, not now.

I don’t have poems in me about the spike of adrenaline every time my child has a symptom, or I have a symptom, or a loved one has a symptom, after two years of pandemic. I don’t have poems in me about the constant sense of living in Schrödinger’s box: is that an ordinary virus or is it COVID? Should I use one of our few at-home tests to find out? If I use a test, can I trust the results? 

Rachel Barenblat, Making it new

For this poetry prompt to help you write a love poem to a word, start by reading “Lover” by Ada Limón and give some thought to what you like/admire.

My affection for this poem starts with how Limón manages to write what reads to me as a pandemic poem* — as many of us have tried! — without mentioning the pandemic at all. She adeptly describes feelings I recognize as the despair and haze of lengthy social-distancing practices and lock down:

– “nothing, nothing is funny”
– “an oblivion-is-coming sort of way”
– “this gray waiting”
– “I trust the world to come back”

Limón’s instinct here is brilliant: the pandemic can’t claim sole ownership of those ideas about the world. As much as I hate to say so, there are and will always be plenty of reasons to despair. If Limón is in fact writing a pandemic poem, she wisely limits those references to subtle gestures, extending the shelf life of this poem. The poem is vaguely set in our current pandemic moment, but it isn’t about the pandemic.

The poem also isn’t about the narrator’s lover/s. It’s not really about lovers at all. Instead, it’s about the word lover.

Carolee Bennett, choose a word and write a love poem to it

gentle in January
folding and sticking
it’s an ideas month

a genetic thing
a revelation
most reviving

Ama Bolton, ABCD January 2022

In “Notes on the Danger of Notebooks,” an essay in Synthesizing Gravity, Kay Ryan writes, “Isn’t it odd to think that in order to listen we must be a little bit relieved of the intention to understand? This, of course, is the danger of notebooks. They are the devil’s bible. They are the books of understanding later.”

Notebooks are “a shell to protect us from loss,” Ryan declares, in an existence where “almost everything is supposed to get away from us.” As beings constantly moving through time, we keep notebooks as letters to our future selves about what’s already happened. 

Ryan, a practitioner of what she calls “derichment,” the opposite of enrichment, advocates radical simplicity. Only then, she says, will we really notice change, which leads to ideas and creativity. “Change will enter and twist like a drop of ink, the tiniest bit of new per old.” About enrichment, Ryan asks, “Children, it is often maintained, must be enriched; bread must be enriched. Weren’t they rich already? Wouldn’t you have to degrade them somehow in order to make them need enrichment?”

It’s not notebooks, or “spiral hinged objects,” as Ryan calls them, but “getting stuck in them.” We write things in our journals that strike us at the moment, but upon reflection, these notes to our future selves may or may not—usually not—deliver on the promise of a new idea. 

I say this as a dedicated journal-keeper for many years, with stacks of notebooks filled with my jottings, lists, sketches, and freewrites to prove it. I absolutely advocate and am a practitioner of journal-writing, but, as Ryan notes, with some caveats.

Erica Goss, The Danger of Notebooks

I will admit to mixed feelings about prompts. Prompts can act as shortcuts to the process of composing, but I am the kind of writer who prefers the long haul; for some reason, the struggle of finding something to say, and an interesting way to say it, assists me in writing poems. I’m not in a hurry. I revise frequently. If it takes a long time to get to the finished poem, so be it. Sometimes I’ve followed a prompt and produced quite a nice poem, but maybe the voice or style or approach does not feel like my own. That’s a potential downside to prompt use. I have read poems by other writers that sound like prompt-produced poems. Some of them are fine work and yet…

This isn’t to suggest prompts lead to inauthentic or cookie-cutter poems (though that can happen, especially with inexperienced poets new to the task). I think it depends on how the prompt is presented or written and, in addition, the environment surrounding the process of thinking about writing. What works best for me is a prompt that makes suggestions I have to complete or devise for myself. Ambiguity with specifics, if that makes any sense–or specifics with ambiguity.

The environment in which I’m currently working includes a group of seven people, with whom I had not previously been acquainted, meeting online, and a moderator/leader who makes observations non-judgmentally and asks questions concerning where this poem draft could go next. And yes, there are also prompts. What I like about Elena Georgiou’s prompts is their open-endedness. Because none of us are beginning writers, we feel free to disregard any part of the prompt that doesn’t appeal to us–or to follow it closely to force us out of well-worn poetry habits–depending on our internal environment on the day we happen to be tuning in or trying the prompts. We are a group of independent people who are collectively thinking about writing. That’s something of value.

Ann E. Michael, Prompted

For me, midwinter is a time of introversion. I’m three weeks into my university’s winter term, so I’m planning and leading discussions and meetings constantly, but they’re usually based on study and solitary thinking–not extroverted stuff, even though there’s a social, performative aspect to the work.

The class based on NEW reading and thinking is an upper-level seminar on Contemporary Poetry. I think of it as a spiral: we start locally, broaden out to work from other countries, and finally cut back to North America again to end with Joy Harjo. The first four weeks are based on books I’ve never taught before: the anthologies Literary Field Guide to Southern Appalachia and CounterDesecration: A Glossary for Writing Within the Anthropocene, and the very new individual collections White Blood by Kiki Petrosino and The Adjacent Possible by my near neighbor, Julie Phillips Brown. (You’ll see below a poster for a reading this week pairing Julie with my colleague Brenna Womer; February readings are only advisable in iffy winter weather when the authors are REALLY local!) All this was a little ambitious: 10-20% revision of a syllabus is advisable to keep things fresh, but 50% means a lot of work, and it’s not like there’s criticism yet to guide my thinking. Teaching White Blood last week, I didn’t find any reviews that extended my ideas, although they were good. There was, however, an interview with Petrosino in The Adroit that helped enormously. Since the book contains three erasure poems based on an ancestry test, I also had my class try their hands at erasure based on a segment of the university’s website explaining why Washington and Lee is still named after the leader of the Confederate army. One of my students created a particular cutting one, implying that the decision was all about money. His was much better than mine!

Lesley Wheeler, Mind of winter (not)

The fun of digging out is that we are digging out from what we are seldom digging out from.   We are not working our way out of spates and chains of email, nor piles of snail mail, nor escaping oppressive debt, nor solving social tangles of our own absurdity, nor pulling back from excess of adjectives or superlatives that have piled up in a crush of ecstatic emotion, a dizzying sense that this equals that — therefore the more metaphor, the more alike the underlying structures of the whole world.

Phew! We are digging out from snow.  Two glorious feet of it.  With shovels and muscle and terrifically repetitive motion.  Some with snow blowers, and some with plows attached with pickup trucks with brackets. We are scraping off layers to get to deeper layers that will eventually yield a familiar bottom.

We are digging out. The spinning that we often do, as poets, is calmed. Replenishing, never static. We can feel ourselves like birds gathered in trees, shaking off the branches, thinking of nothing but delight.  

Jill Pearlman, Digging Out, Literally!

We are living in a new Age of Authoritarianism, and it is incumbent on all of us to fight its oppressive spirit wherever we find it, even when it is within us. Technology has created new tools for state surveillance, mass disinformation, and capitalist exploitation, but it has also given us new means to highlight injustice, organize resistance, and express solidarity. The Civil Disobedience Movement in Myanmar does not concern just the Burmese, but all of us. One year after the military coup against a democratically elected government, if we permit the Burmese dictatorship to legitimize itself, we reinforce the powers of totalitarianism and weaken the forces of liberty everywhere.

We need to heed the voices of resistance in this vital anthology, Picking Off New Shoots Will Not Stop the Spring: Witness poems and essays from Burma/Myanmar 1998–2021. The voices are many and various, but they all say, Courage! Fatefully, eight days before he was shot dead by Myanmar security forces in a protest, the acclaimed poet K Za Win wrote, “The fuse of the Revolution/ is either you or myself!” The gauntlet is thus thrown down to all, like me, who would claim to be poets. A schoolteacher too, I cannot help but be moved by Min San Wai’s poem, dedicated to Pan Ei Phyu, a 14-year-old girl who was killed by a bullet that penetrated her home. “There’s a hole the size of a pencil tip,” Min writes, “in the bamboo wall of our house.” Pan Ei Phyu will never hold another pencil, but we can hold it for her, by writing her story large.

Gaudy Boy is honored to publish this necessary collection of witness writings in the US—together with ally publishers Ethos Books in Southeast Asia and Balestier Press in the UK—and pledges to donate all profits to the Civil Disobedience Movement in Myanmar. We will take to heart the courage of these inspired defenders of democracy.

Jee Leong Koh, “Tyranny Needs No Companions”

No God but capitalism,
the new religion, fascism disguised
as businessman, always male,
always taking what is not his.

Brute heart, not enough stakes
to keep you dead.
We thought we had vanquished
your kind permanently last century
or was it the hundred years before?

As our attics crash into our basements,
what soft rains will come now?
The fire next time,
the ashes of incinerated bodies,
the seas rising on a tide
of melted glaciers.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, International Holocaust Remembrance Day

I watch the presenters on wildlife/nature programmes, walking through the empty countryside, enjoying the beautiful views, the flora and fauna, and I think: I want to be there – or at least out and about. Some people can get out into nature. Some can’t. Access to nature is a topic covered in numerous articles and official papers and is a vast subject. This is just my view, doubtless coloured by how I feel right now. 

It’s not a straightforward issue, because different people want different things, obviously. For example, how do we protect the feeling of actually being in nature? If everyone has access to nature and uses it, then you could find you’ve gone out into a crowd rather than into nature, unless you go somewhere really wild, and, oh yes, less accessible. Difficult to reconcile the two. There’s also the issue of protecting nature, not damaging it, while out enjoying it.

I am very lucky in that I live near the sea, on an island with wonderful habitats for nature, where, theoretically, I could walk for miles or just sit and observe. But I can’t walk for miles – I have MS, my legs are not as strong as they were and I have real balance issues and can fall very easily. Many of the places I want to see I need a car to get to, and some places now charge for entry too. There are other issues as well, which I’ll get to. But I’m still one of the lucky ones, because, with help, I can still get out and about, but oh, how nice it would be if I could do it on my own. Oh, and I have a small garden, so I can go there.

But large numbers of people don’t have a garden, or a local green space, let alone access to nature reserves or the wide open spaces of the countryside. And if they can get there, will they be able to get about independently? Wheelchair users and people with disabilities of all kinds may find navigating open spaces difficult, if not impossible, on their own. Many places are not accessible by public transport and most places where you go by car, if you have one, now charge for parking and/or entry, so it’s also a question of whether you can afford it.

Women often don’t feel safe alone on the streets. There is no good reason why they’d feel any safer in natural open spaces. You could go in a group – which can be great, if you’re a group sort of person – but what if you’re trying to get away from everyone and everything? You just want peace and quiet and nature. Some people like groups, some like crowds, but some want to be on their own, at least some of the time. And if you don’t feel safe, you can’t.

Sue Ibrahim, Access to nature

Years ago, I was involved in a long, drawn-out poetry competition wherein one poet was eliminated each week over twelve weeks. It caused me a fair bit of literary trauma and it is an experience that I shall not deem to repeat. It was frankly quite vicious and soul-destroying, and it’s when I first learned that poets are cruel. That having been said, I came in fourth overall, and I won a few of the weekly challenges. This poem is one of the winners. I can’t recall all of the specifics of the assignment, but we had to write a poem about Dolly Parton using phrases from some of her songs. My poem was deemed by the All-Knowing God King of Poetry Judges to be the best one that week. The following week I got completely brutalized, of course. Nothing like a little psychological abuse to keep me on my toes. Enjoy! […]

When did you love Dolly most?
When she was a raven,
bedraggled with sorrow,
and I sought soulfulness to borrow.
My first in-love-with, Lady Lament.
We sang together of sweet descent;
baptized anguish, but never drowned.
Little sparrow, little sparrow,
your voice has that high, lonesome sound.

Kristen McHenry, Poem of the Month, Ah, Memories

[YouTube video]
About 25 years ago, I wrote music to a childhood poem one of my closest friends wrote when she was in her early teens. At her funeral a few years before — she committed suicide in her early 20s — this was the poem that was used to memorialize her.  

I’ve been wanting to make something with this poem and this tune since then as a tribute to her and to somehow capture something of my memory and grief over her loss, now about 30 years ago. I still think of her often. I hope this captures something of the beauty, sensitivity, and bittersweetness of her words and that there is something of her in the music. My sister-in-law sang the beautiful vocals for me and I’m grateful to have this tune sung so hauntingly after all these years.

Gary Barwin, Geese of the Wild: In memoriam Margo Sim

Yes, she is a poet made of bird feathers and truth. 

She writes on the blank page as if she were creating 
the flag of a new nation, as if she were drawing 
the sky from memory. 

James Lee Jobe, creating a flag for a nation

My tip for today is to mine your curiosities (and obsessions!). What are you thinking about a lot? Listening to podcasts about? Reading books about? Perhaps, like me, you may have a range of things catching your interest right now (mine are Puritans, Pokemon, MFK Fisher, Wendell Berry-esque homesteading).

So, let’s take Pokemon for example (gotta catch them all). Let’s say you are interested in all the different little creatures, and how did they think of so many, and what inspired the show, and why are some of them really close to animals but some are more human like, and isn’t that weird for a trainer to train the more human like ones (like Mr. Mime)?

Research the crap out of all that stuff! Then start writing poems about it. And maybe you write like three pokemon poems, and it’s over. Obsession faded, something else prettier walks by.

But maybe not! Maybe you write 100 poems about Pokemon! And you start sending them to journals, and you make a collection, and all of a sudden you have a poetry book “Gotta Catch Them All!” that wins some hoity toity prize.

And it all started with your obsession. Actually — your curiosity. So want to write more? Get curious!

Renee Emerson, Tips for Writing Productivity: Follow your Curiosity

A few weeks ago I received an email from the American Jewish Historical Society (AJHS) that an occasional poem I wrote for the Emma Lazarus Project: Poetry Contest was the first of two finalists, along with a winner. I was most delighted due to the fact that my poem “Dear American Lady” will be archived with Emma Lazarus’ original sonnet “The New Colossus.” 

In her acceptance email with the AJHS, Manager of Programs & Operations Rebeca Miller wrote, ” Our judges had an incredibly tough time choosing from hundreds of incredible entries made from across the country. Only two finalists were selected for each category, and in honor of this accomplishment we have posted your poem on the AJHS website in our Poetry Gallery…[and]your poem will be placed next to the work of Emma Lazarus in the AJHS archive to be appreciated for generations to come.” (italics mine) 

I have to say those are pretty stellar digs for my poem to be archived with “The New Colossus.” 

And coming on the heels of my intentionally taking a break from writing/publishing the whole of 2021. 

As defined by the Poetry Foundation, an occasional poem is one written to “describe or comment on a particular event…,” and generally not considered the most pleasurable of endeavors to execute, as the subject matter is handed to a poet on a prescribed platter and while not distinctly uttered, a party line is courteously insinuated. That said, “I acknowledge” the latter half of the last line of “DAL” is a party line. I felt the need to wrap it up, and I was sorely limited to 14 lines, a truncation of my natural narrative poetic voice.

Cynthia Schwartzberg Edlow, Onward 2022

We come from the stone age:
the magic happens here.

It is medicine,
nutrients, seed,
sauce

cornerstone

sediment of history
the centre
holds

heavy
cold, totemic-
it is everything

multiple
make, serve,
be.

Ernesto Priego, 35. El molcajete

One thing I did do this week was think about cover art! BOA sent me an author questionnaire and also some forms about cover art for my upcoming book, which sent me into a deep dive and thinking about what the cover of “Flare, Corona” should look like. First, I found out there’s an anime character from a series called “Fairy Tails” named “Flare Corona.” So that was a discovery. Then I found out it’s sort of hard to find a perfect picture of an eclipse with a corona and solar flares, and even if I do, does that really convey the ideas that the book contains? In other words, does it do what good cover art should do – make you want to read the book? I also thought about using a close up from an MRI of a brain lesion, which is only black and white but sort of cool, a black hole with a white halo, but ultimately nixed the idea as too depressing. Most of my books have an identifiable human female on the cover, so going more abstract would be a departure.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Still Sick with Ice Fog, Thinking About Cover Art, And When Will the Pandemic End?

Many decades ago, there were places in the US/UK that published snippets of prose – I think Readers Digest had little pieces for example. But these outlets dried up so the authors of these short texts, if they wanted them published, had to send them to poetry magazines. Putting in line-breaks helped. Of course, prose-poetry existed, but that term was reserved for surreal, discontinuous works. Also popular was the idea of making all the stanzas of a poem the same size of rectangle, as if there was a metrical/rhyming pattern. Read Paul Durcan’s poems to see how it’s done.

Then Flash emerged, providing a natural home for short narratives again. Various other short prose formats became popular too. Authors of short pieces no longer needed to add gratuitous line-breaks. Some authors have taken advantage of this. Carolyn Forché has re-published her famous “The Colonel” poem as prose. […]

Nowadays poetry readers seem capable of not caring about line-breaks. When they start reading a poem I think they decide whether it’s the sort of piece where line-breaks matter and read the piece accordingly. Neither do they care much if there’s obvious prose in a poetry book. I suspect it’s been going on covertly for a while. I read a U.A. Fanthorpe book recently. It looked like a mixture of poetry and prose. Her famous “Not my Best Side” is like the prose I try to write. I doubt if the Trades Description Act can be applied. That said, I think Poetry judges could be braver.

If you can’t beat them, join them. I have prose and poetry versions of some pieces. I’ve short-lined and long-lined versions of poems. I’ve even (shame on me) taken a paragraph from a story of mine, added some line-breaks, and had it published in a poetry mag.

Tim Love, Mixed genre poetry books

My hiking shoes punch into the crusted snow. I’m not hiking, just walking across the landscape of what might be my next stop. The barn is empty. The education center is empty. The bathrooms are open. The lights are on in the welcome center, but the sign in the window has been flipped to CLOSED. No matter. I want to get the lay of this land and I don’t need to talk to anyone to do it. At the end of the plowed path are two hopeful solar panels, pointing up through the clouds. An act of faith. A sign tells me to watch for beavers. I don’t see any.

spiked soles
pull the ground up
through the snow

Jason Crane, A hopeful haibun

I ran before writing this morning. Heading out, we heard a songbird along the trail, and turning back I saw her in a beam of light from the trail lamp. A chaffinch. I think it’s another six weeks before they all return. Another three months before we see the sunrise on our runs. Until then, the crows squabble in the dark. And on occasion, a duck laughs and splashes.

A lonely chaffinch chatters.

This morning there is something tight in my center. A clenched fist shoved under my diaphragm, and I have to keep my mouth closed. I am still not sure how I feel about observing this separation of emotion and intellect. I know this is something I am cultivating for a reason. But often I just want to rebel against my intellect and scream. There is a steady stream of soft curses coming from my mouth these days and it surprises me. My vernacular is unnecessarily colorful, though impassioned. I used to tell my kids not to curse unless they needed to. That powerful words lose their cathartic magic when they are overused and worn thin. Yet, here I am now. Under my breath, on the breath, rolling through my inner monologues.

I blame the darkness and the cold that makes a body tense.

Leonard is curled on the rug. Part of his body slipped under the desk. He loves lying under tables and in corners. Like most dogs, I suppose. Why can’t I be more like him? To curl into the darkness and cold, tucking into himself. Relaxing. If I could I would head off to a dark cabin and light a fire and curl up with a notebook. Womb-safe.

Ren Powell, Prayers and Curses

The thing is, I don’t have a problem with titles. What I do have a problem with is the business of working on a full collection. Because (I think) I’ve just finished one. I realise that it’s the first time I’ve admitted it in print and that it’s the first one that I’ve done that wasn’t the result of winning a competition or of putting stuff together to submit for a competition (or the one that I had to do for an MA that I hated doing). Quite simply, it arose from the realisation that I’m running out time, and the accompanying sense that I’d like to tie up loose ends and leave everything neat and orderly. It’s the kind of urge that had me stripping my classroom at the end of each term, cleaning, sweeping, ready for a new term and new ideas, or, if I was leaving, a new occupant. It’s a collection that includes a sequence that’s taken me at least five years to fettle. Whether it works or not, I can’t say, but the two authors I shared at the beginning made me think I’d like to reflect on why it took so long. Here we go.

Nearly six years ago I wrote a post called “Please, Miss, I don’t know what to write.”

I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now, a lot less sure of myself;  I said, brusquely enough, that if you can’t write right now, if you’re blocked, or whatever, it’s because there’s nothing you urgently need to say, and you’d be better off going out into the world and collecting memories and experiences.

I need to rethink this, because the problem as often as not is not having nothing to write about, but possibly too much.

John Foggin, Watching the river flow…..

Yesterday, I put the final touches on the galley and cover for animal, vegetable, monster and uploaded it, which means it is one step closer and I should have a proof copy within a couple of weeks. No doubt there will be much tweaking once I see that before it’s finalized (margins are always a beast) but I am getting speedier on the process than I was a year ago when I was working on feed, which took significantly more trial and error to come into being (and even the end result still had a couple errors I plan to fix when I order a new batch of copies, but for the moment am well-stocked..) dark country was definitely better, despite the changed up trim size that made it trickier.   I am getting the hang of it, which, if all goes well might mean some anthologies might be possible on the horizon (that is, once I am able to knock out the book art-ish one devoted to mermaids I may actually finally have time to make happen now that I won’t be at the library so much of my days.

I am also getting more comfortable in this strange world of self-publishing (well, longer books, I’ve been issuing my own work for a couple decades now in smaller installments.) There is something great about working with a press to bring a book into [the] world, but also something singularly enjoyable about this. (I wrote a comparison last year that sums it up.) I hope I will continue to be able to do a little of both–I have many, many projects and some earmarked to submit / already under consideration elsewhere. Someone asked me recently if I wasn’t worried a little about that nasty little hobgoblin “legitimacy” but really, at this point, I really just want to get things out there for interested readers, which blissfully, since I am not tied to tenure tracks and other limitations is how I conduct this crazy little thing called po-biz. I’m not saying I don’t occasionally need an editor’s fine tuning hand, but also it’s finally middle age is paying off in how many limited fucks I really give about what people might say. Which is all a little hilarious since I spent so much time in my baby poet days fretting about it and now it feels exactly like it should be. 

Kristy Bowen, the self publishing diaries

I’m charmed by the prose sweep of Davis, California poet Katie Peterson’s fifth poetry collection, Life in a Field: Poems (Berkeley CA: Omnidawn, 2021), winner of the “Omnidawn Open,” as judged by New York poet and essayist Rachel Zucker. Peterson is the author of This One Tree (New Issues, 2006), which was awarded the New Issues Poetry Prize by judge William Olson, Permission(New Issues, 2013), The Accounts (University of Chicago Press, 2013), which won the Rilke Prize, and A Piece of Good News (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2019). As her author website writes, Life in a Field is built “as a collaboration with the photographer Young Suh,” a photographer who also happens to be Peterson’s husband. As Rachel Zucker begins her piece to open the collection: “I found the book you are about to read delightfully easy to enjoy, and yet I find it difficult to explain what I love about it, and why I knew, with conviction, that from among a group of extremely strong entries, I would pick this manuscript for publication. Like most great poetry, Life in a Fieldis impossible to summarize or paraphrase. More than most poetry, it eludes formal categorization. Life in a Field is hybrid, mongrel—part allegory, part parable, part fable, part fairytale, part futurist pastoral set in the past or an alternate reality. In this short collection, Peterson has created her own original, heterodox form.” Peterson’s texts exist as the best kind of collaboration, in that the connections between text and image aren’t obvious or even replicated between them. These aren’t pieces depicting in photography or written word, for example, what is offered in the other form; it is as though the text and image exist in a curious kind of conversation with each other, each in turn reflecting upon and building beyond the other. As Peterson offers, herself, towards the end of the collection: “I have always thought that the opposite of chance was focus.”

In this story there is a girl and there is a donkey. The girl approaches the donkey because the girl has something to say. What is it?

Through blocks and stretches of contained prose, she writes the narrative of the donkey, and the narrative of the girl: two threads that run throughout, occasionally meeting, mingling and spiralling out again, in among the other elements. One could offer how Life in a Field is a story of how perception works to telling a story, or how narration shapes perception, whether the truth of the donkey or the truth of the girl, or the truth of the girl within her church, and the boundaries such offers, contains and constricts. “Because we are so far past this story,” she writes, “I wish to linger on it. This story is not your story. You are not meant to relate to it. You are meant to pitch a tent inside this page like a down and out person might do by the American River, under the trestle tracks, where the outgrowth and heat and greenery and shade in proximity to water makes a drought as unlikely as a marriage of equals in a century where women can’t read. You are meant to believe you can live there.” Between text and image, this is a book of mood, tone and shifts, writing far more than the writing might first offer, and threads of narrative that float, rather than hold, hang or pull.

Peterson writes of a donkey, and of a girl. One could almost suggest the collection as a whole—prose poems, poems and image—is constructed not as a narrative-per-se but as a collage across a large canvas, one that speaks around privilege, love, labour, time, decay and empathy. The book, Life in a Field, is simply the final, completed single image; one simply has to stand back far enough to get a good look, and take it all in.

rob mclennan, Katie Peterson, Life in a Field: Poems

I’ve been feeling bad for poets whose books were released during the Pandemic, poets whose book launches were cancelled or never scheduled, poets who haven’t been able to do in-person readings. I asked myself, Aside from buying lots of books, what could I do, especially for my own Terrapin poets? So I devised an idea for an interview series. I invited all of my Terrapin poets to select one poet whose book had come out during the Pandemic. They were invited to choose a poet whose book they’d read or wanted to read and then to come up with five questions for that poet to respond to. The response was wonderful! Thirteen poets offered to do a Q&A. Some of these were poets with a Pandemic book themselves but some were poets without a Pandemic book. Lots of generosity among my poets! Yvonne Zipter was the first Terrapin poet to volunteer; she chose to interview Heather Swan about her Terrapin book A Kinship with Ash.

Yvonne was also the first poet to complete her interview. Here is that Q&A.

[…]
Yvonne: Your love of nature is evident throughout A Kinship with Ash. Have you always loved nature? From where does this appreciation spring?

Heather: I feel like I have always been a part of the natural world. I spent so much of my time outside as a little girl. The studios where my mother and father worked were luckily near spaces I could explore with my dog. I moved from the prairies and woodlands of the Midwest to Colorado where I lived in the mountains. Later we moved again to a town on the east coast by the ocean. Because I moved so often, my human friendships didn’t last long, but my dog was a constant companion with whom I explored these landscapes and this allowed a deep connection to the birds, the insects, and the land. All the beings we encountered in those spaces led interesting and important lives and spoke in languages I didn’t understand, but recognized as valuable and mysterious.

Yvonne: A number of the poems in this collection grapple with the effects of pesticides and climate change. They are all both heartbreaking and beautiful. What does writing such poems afford you?

Heather: The experience of loving this beautiful, fragile, miraculous planet at this historical moment also means being in touch with enormous grief as so many species are going extinct, as forest after forest is being killed, as fish are struggling to survive in toxic waters, as frogs and insects are disappearing. When I write, it is part elegy, part plea. When I write, I want to remember that while so much is being lost there is also so much to be grateful for. I hope that my poems are an invitation to readers to pay attention to the outrageous beauty and vast number of different intelligences out there as well as to question our impact on the world.

Yvonne: Your sweet motherhood poems also showcase your love of nature. My sense is that this entwining is part of what fuels your anxiety about the state of our world. Can you elaborate on this?

Heather: Funny, this question made me tear up. Yes, of course. I am a parent and a teacher. My children have grown up on trails, in trees, in canoes spotting birds, insects, and frogs. A part of their community. They ache knowing so much of what they love is at risk. I invite my students to connect with each other and the planet, so they will be invested in the work of care. I think all the time about the next generations. Will polar bears still exist? Will the oldest trees survive? Will the coral reef thrive? I want so much to be a responsible ancestor, not just to my children, but to all humans and non-humans. I would like my work to offer an invitation to intimacy with the earth and also hope that we can change things for the better.

Diane Lockward, Terrapin Books Interview Series: Yvonne Zipter Interviews Heather Swan

Yesterday was the memorial service for my poet friend Bill. What a lovely event, and we read several of his poems aloud. His wife and sons spoke, colleagues, and a close friend who is a retired Unitarian minister. Bill was not a churchgoing man, but he wanted her to say his eulogy. His son and grandson, opera singers, sang! Laughter and tears. Cello music. Veterans presenting colors. Masks. Exactly what was needed. Life goes on, and loss is part of it.

Kathleen Kirk, Bathsheba and the Stinkbug

Today I want to talk about making marks, making your mark, mark-making. If you’re an artist or writer or creative person, you’re making marks on a regular basis. But everyone makes marks, even if it is on a screen. I’d like to make a case for the simple joy of making marks on a regular basis.

I love what Lisette Model said of the snapshot (photo), “We are all so overwhelmed by culture that it is a relief to see something which is done directly, without any intention of being good or bad, done only because one wants to do it.” And then there is the Andy Warhol quotation that gets a lot of airing out: “Don’t think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it’s good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding, make even more art.”

So I believe that that is extremely true and useful at the same time as I believe that we need to hold art and artists up to the highest standards. Art is not easy; art is not hard. Don’t let yourself off the hook. But also, just make your marks, and worry later if it’s just for you, or which ones you want to discard, which you want to show to your circle of friends, and then possibly a larger audience.

Shawna Lemay, Make your Mark

Beneath the four-count of a jukebox moon, we strip down to our underwear, bras and panties.

We navigate the slap and caress of cool summer waters, a feeling of liquid electricity shocking us crystal clear despite the smoke and booze in our blood.

We paddle through the post-pubescent murkiness:

blossoming acne, body hair, raging sex drives.

We push one another under; we lift one another up.

We swim away our blues.

We swim away the future.

We swim to outrace that strange feeling inside us, the ache of a deep blue empty.

Some of us glide effortlessly through the water; others swim with all their might—

caged birds discovering their first flight beyond the bars.

Rich Ferguson, Teenage years of nightswimming with friends in our small-town lake.

to dive into that wave
not the next one
but this one now
to gasp at the grasp
of a life resurfaced
seething in angor animi
ashore being assuredly
as absurd as this sea is
home to that thought

Jim Young, the sea swimmer

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 3

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. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week: redefining productivity, being formless, emulating crows, stealing Jesus’ wallet, beginning with the stone in the shoe, writing like you believe your voice is worth hearing, painting the chaos, joining a drum circle, feeling the winter blues, building synagogues in Minecraft, learning Japanese, celebrating William Stafford, and more.


snow drifts, thick
and slow past
the window

each day
the death count
rises

i am glad to be old
to not witness
what is coming

Sharon Brogan, even in sleep

Time is of the essence: not a premise to justify acceleration and a headless chicken rush towards mindless ‘productivity’, but one to frame a culture of thoughtfulness and generosity. A form of active resistance to the commoditisation of everything we hold dear, not as a draining effort or a daily grind, but through reflective thought and meditation. Better things must result from careful consideration; the ongoing, permanently panicked emergency-response mode of the 24/7 switched-on mode only leads to collective burn-out and shortcircuits any important projects’ goals. This is more a mission statement than a new-year resolution; an ambition more than a promise. To make more space where there is little; to re-own the time perpetually robbed from us.

A type of via negativa for personal and professional life (because it remains important to separate them, particularly in fields such as higher education, or the arts), where that which we don’t do leads to positive, productive outcomes. To define ourselves also for what we decide not to do, rather than for all the things we do, or for doing all the things. This would mean re-defining “productive”, and, importantly, resisting auto-exploitation. Auto-exploitation is never purely individual- overperforming hyperachievers do also create more labour for others who are likely to be in less privileged circumstances, and who are already overwhelmed within their own exploitative conditions of production. Less can be more, much more, in a different sense to usual quantification. A different way of being with ourselves and the Other would require to stop turning ourselves and the Other into means to ends. We need to start from our own positions.

Ernesto Priego, Switch It Off and On Again

My student is researching wolves for a role I wrote for him. He tells me that wolves howl as a form of grieving. I don’t know where he read this, or if it is true, or how we could ever know if it is true. It does make sense to me. The sound tugs up a fear for us because we recognize the vulnerability inherent (probably a prerequisite) in grief.

Loss. Aloneness. It is all a matter of perception, really. The recognition of our disconnection. Nothing is really lost. Except perhaps the illusion of having had. What do we ever have/own/possess? We experience, and cannot possess experiences. We can’t even possess the memory of experiences, because memories are also impermanent: morphing and reassembling, like metal shavings following a magnet.

I am formless at the moment. Even memories of my former selves are formless. I’ll run now and something within me will howl at the moon. Something in me will change shape, pulled by the earth’s magnetic field. Every cell in motion, rearranging, experiencing the morning before dawn.

Ren Powell, Butterfly Goo and Moonlight

Because dawn comes as I write 
and in the stillness before the first bird 
there is a restlessness, and the trees rock, and trail their fingers
over the fence tops; and the last bit of moon 
is eaten up by cloud.

Dale Favier, Because The Tuning

Outside the crows are cawing, cutting up a ruckus amongst the magnolia branches. Squirrels are on the ground eating peanuts, laughing at the crows in squirrel-talk , chitchitchit = hahaha!

Crow flap their large black wings, fanning the flames of outrage to each other, Can you believe this shit? Caw!

Crows leave nothing on the table. They take the dishes, forks, strawberry jam and biscuits and throw it all up in the air, clatterclatterclatter = listen to me!

Were that we all were like the crows. Letting it all out, leaving nothing inside to fester and mold.

Charlotte Hamrick, Morning Meditation: Crows

It’s been a strange week here in the UK. The pantomime that is our political system appears to be thoroughly broken. The government seems to be totally incapable of doing what they tell us we must do. Perhaps it is due to that sense of entitlement public schools appear to imbue these second raters with. Some Catalan friends of mine were saying how funny the actions of our crime minister and his troupe of clowns are. I had to reply that they do not have to live with the madness that their actions generate.

A poem about stealing Jesus’ wallet. It arrived nearly fully formed.

lifting Jesus’ wallet you confessed
was easier than you ever imagined
the real mystery was locating it amid those flowing robes

you continued by describing the contents:
four crisp ten shilling notes
a religious medal of St John the Baptist
a return tram ticket to Barrio Alto
various coins of different denominations and epochs
all too perfect to be kosher

I began to wonder if He
had let you steal it so
you would have something to worry about in the night

Paul Tobin, SOMETHING TO WORRY ABOUT IN THE NIGHT

“Poets dwell on death,” some fool will say.
Because they are blind.
And so the evening passes,
And one by one or two by two the people leave,
And so return to their own eternities,
To the depths of their own being.
Finally it is just you and your death.
And neither of you speak.
The silence is magnificent.
And then, with a tired sigh,
Your death stands up and walks toward you.

James Lee Jobe, The Grand, Wide Evening of You and Your Death.

Back in October, when I decided to play a bit with some short fiction writing, I told myself not to worry about poems. I was, after all, between projects, having wrapped up the collapsologies manuscript with the grimoire poems.  I toyed with a couple new things that are still on the horizon, but I wanted a shift.  I also wanted to figure out my life and writing poems wasn’t on my top list of things to be worried about in the grand scheme of things.  I gave myself permission to sit October out on my daily writing.  Then November. By December, I had taken on some freelance writing, which I was trying to squeeze around my regular obligations to see if I liked it, so my mornings, what time there was (it’s harder for me to get up early-ish in winter) was devoted to the drafting and research necessary for that.  I actually extended my poem vacation through early February, when I would then be working on my own and my schedule (and concentration) much kinder.

I wasn’t going to write poems, but then Monday night, somewhere between washing the dinner dishes and going to bed, I had a first line and just went for it.  For one, it was unexpected to be writing at all, especially in the evening, when my brain is usually on low battery power.  Granted, I’d been home all day for MLK day and mostly just folding chaps. Also, odd when specifically I said I would not be writing poems, and yet, there I was. I went back in once before bed and tweaked some things, but haven’t looked at it to see if it’s any good since. It may be the start of something, though it may also just be a snippet of a dead end, but as I wrote it, I realized how much I missed it.  This is, of course, after whining all summer and into fall about whether or not poetry felt worth it, or whether anyone was even reading, or why I kept doing it, even thought the effort / compensation  ratio is kind of dismal.  That maybe I should focus on writing for paying markets. Or who the hell was reading any of this anyway?  I always long to be one of those writers for whom process is all important, audience be damned, but I actually want readers, however they get there. As someone who, in the fall, was adjusting financial income streams, poetry seemed a  poor place to fixate my efforts. Especially now, when I should be seeking out things that actually allow me to, you know, pay rent.

And yet, like the ex that occasionally shows up at 3am, there she was. A poem.  Maybe not a good one, but still.  I think I’ll keep her. 

Kristy Bowen, poeting in winter

I love drab birds and in winter I love the trees, sugar frosted.
Coffee and milk. Moss in the forest, the cool shady spots where it grows.
Morning light. Pink-apricot rose petals.
Daughter’s smile. So many poems.
Leather sandals. Pale blue sky. Suitcases. Home.
The chair in my garden where I can sit and no one can see me.
Daydreaming and night dreaming —

and poem dreaming.

Shawna Lemay, I Love, I Hope; I Hope, I love

So this is a bit spooky. All week I had in mind these marvellous final words from Lucille Clifton’s poem of grief and acceptance ‘The Death of Fred Clifton’. They’ve been going round my head for a while now. Last year I came close to using them as an epigram for the collection I was working on. They gave me the wild idea (it’s January, grey and cold and I am still grieving) to do a riff reminding myself of the things I love, both in poetry and the real world, and the overlap between them, just, well, because.

And then Shawna Lemay goes and pretty much writes the blog post I wanted to write. Which isn’t just fine, it’s great, because Shawna is the best and one of the main reasons I keep going. But just to add to the love and the hope, if I may, for a moment, here are some of the things, as in things that I love and need to have near me just now:

blethering on the phone with Josephine Corocoran about all the poets she is reading and I am not reading and who is accepting and not accepting our poems and how to keep going in spite of all of this

the Frank O’Hara book Shimi gave me for Christmas which inexplicably I did not own and have been gobbling up ever since a bit like when I first fell in love with him 123 years ago

the very tender poems of love, memory and grief in Adam Zagajewski’s last book, Asymmetry, beautifully translated by Clare Cavanagh

Anthony Wilson, The things themselves

2 – How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?

Nursery rhymes would be the accurate answer, and my immersion in the Yorùbá culture that included ewì, poems that were mostly orally delivered. As I learned to read by myself, an early anthology of delightfully-illustrated poems fascinated me. I do not remember the title, but it included such poems as Wole Soyinka’s “Telephone Conversation” and Christopher Okigbo’s “For He Was A Shrub Among The Poplars.” In my first three years of secondary school, one of my favorite subjects was literature-in-English, in which Mrs. Ukpokolo helped us dissect poems and find their internal life. Studying the anatomy of poetry this way, especially  the poems in West African Verse, an Anthology edited by Donatus Nwoga, gave me a poetic framework I still draw on today.

3 – How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?

I tend to feel my way around new projects. I do not start off knowing what a project is about. But because there are “eras” in my thought life, I tend to ruminate on particular topics for months at a time, while my mind grapples with paradoxes or things I do not understand. The poems that I write in these periods tend to be equation proofs that help me know what my questions are, and give me some answers, which raise further questions, and so on. The shape (and using another mathematical analogy, the slope) of the initial poems help me intuit the direction of the project. This tends to take 3 to 5 months. I then pause and try to structure my thoughts, outline as much as I can, and continue with a firmer idea of what my current exploration is.

4 – Where does a poem usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a “book” from the very beginning?

It begins with the stone in the shoe. The stubborn notion. Or the poignant phrase that drops in my mind. I don’t know how my brain draws associations that become the often-arresting realizations and images many of my poems present themselves with, but I have learned to respect them, and put them in my Notes app. Sometimes, I can develop these phrases into a stanza or an entire poem (if I have thought about it for long enough), but more frequently, I accumulate several fragments that help me sketch out a poem. I then take some time to build it out. I don’t often start off writing a book. I tend to discover after a while that what I am writing is a book. This is easier when older manuscripts are “complete,” and the new poems stay afloat till I can decide what to do with them.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Tolu Oloruntoba

David Cooke’s poetry might be rooted in anecdote, but those roots are simply his point of departure for words that reach up towards the light. In this respect, his new collection, Sicilian Elephants (Two Rivers Press, 2021), builds on his previous work.

Many of these poems, all written from the perspective of a U.K. resident, were probably crafted prior to the consequences of the fateful referendum. However, their openness to Europe now grants them a fresh impetus in the context of Brexit. At first glance, excellent poems about gardening and DIY might seem geographically limited and limiting. In fact, the opposite is true.

Matthew Stewart, A reflection on who we are, David Cooke’s Sicilian Elephants

Just a quick note to let you know that the new issue of Constellations: A Journal of Poetry and Fiction arrived in my mail today. A loooonnng time ago — in my writing group — I shared a poem called “The Rule of Three” about an encounter I had with a student/veteran (some of you may remember). It’s one example of how I always learned as much or more from my students than they ever did from me.

No, it’s not on-line, but I may be persuaded to share it with you. Constellations is now open for submissions.

Also — drum roll, please — my poem “Even in Winter, You Must Marry It,” will go live January 19 at Cordella.org. Look for it under “Field Notes,” or click on the poem’s title (above).

I first learned about Cordella when I was searching on-line for poems by the late Jeanne Lohmann. If you’re unfamiliar with her work, follow this link to read a sampling. It’s an honor to have my poem published at the same site.

At this rich on-line venue, you’ll also find Cordella’s newest issue: Kith & Kin.

Bethany Reid, Poems, poems, poems

We read words but we also hear silence. This is what I love about poetry, those two things at work. The word works with and against the word next to it, and above and below it, but also with the silence laced through the poem by punctuation and breaks, and sometimes the imposition of        

Ha! See what I did there? I’m not saying anything new, of course. And there’s much more to be said and that has been said on rhythm, on how words rub up against each other to create emotion. I just felt moved to share again my wonder about this stuff. How we bundles of chemical equations and biological impulses have this crazy thing called emotion that is conjured up out of relations: one note to another, one word to another, one silence to another, you to me.

Marilyn McCabe, Looking at the river, thinking of the sea; or, On Poems and Blank Space

“Extended Release,” now in Guernica, is one of those poems that came to me in a rush, the kind that writers sometimes refer to as a gift, in that it arrives in near-final shape. I jotted in a dim living room during my mother’s last weeks, when she was in and out of hospitals and nursing homes as we sought a diagnosis and, we hoped, a cure. I had been taking care of her in the house she shared with my brother when she suddenly couldn’t hold a spoon steady. I called the home nursing service; they said to call an ambulance. My mother’s reproach when she saw the EMTs–“Oh, Les, what have you done”–will haunt me forever, I’m sure, as well as the difficulty of negotiating treatment for her pain. I think she trusted me to be ruthlessly kind, if you know what I mean, and she was disappointed that I didn’t catch on that she could have slipped away without fuss that night. Days later, I would be the person who discovered her death, and I have a gut feeling she waited to let go until I was on watch because she thought I could take it. She always told me women were stronger than men and seemed to think I could endure anything the world would throw at me. I guess I have, so far–not that I’ve had the hardest life by a long shot, but I’ve kept plowing along. Maybe that’s just what I need to believe, that she thought I was strong.

The balancing force to my regret was our exchange about what comes after pain. My mother was spiritually all over the map, sometimes describing her many reincarnations and other times saying, “When you’re dead, you’re dead.” But she really did talk, as I recount in the poem, about what people wear in heaven. We compared notes on what heaven might be like, for us, if it existed. That was one of the best conversations we had during those last difficult weeks. She seemed peaceful and curious. It was a gift to be there and mull over possibilities with her. People’s kind responses to this poem have been gifts, too. So many people have been through this with loved ones. I wonder if it’s any better when someone dies suddenly, without that month of pain and uncertainty. I suspect not.

Lesley Wheeler, Literary sources and afterlives

Working on my collection of poetry Church Ladies, I sometimes would read through poets who do similar work (persona poems from the perspective of women of faith…it is a little niche), and then that little nagging voice says “oh why even write this, This Poet does it better!”.

Let’s be totally honest: maybe they do.

However, they don’t do it the Same.

Unless you are straight-up plagiarizing them, you do have a unique voice that will come through on the topic, whether you want it to or not. I’m a believer that voice doesn’t have to be found so much as it needs to not be suppressed.

So when you are finding it difficult to write because So-and-So and their perfect iambic pentameter on the exact subject you write about in less than perfect somethingmeter, just stop it. Stop it! Turn off the social media, skip out on workshop (if you aren’t in a class that is), and just buckle down to work on your own stuff. Maybe take some time to read poets who have completely different obsessions from your own writing. Then write like you believe your voice is worth hearing too.

Renee Emerson, Tips for Writing Productivity: Eyes Forward!

Just an image:
an old man,
thinner, his
trousers loose,
belt tightened
as far as it goes.
An old man
in a check shirt
open at the neck,
one hand on
the door frame
the other raised
in a wave of
farewell.
Is he smiling?
It’s up to you.
The image began
as mine but
it’s yours now.

Bob Mee, IS HE SMILING?

sweaty plaid dad had a gadabout

Jason Crane, haiku: 20 January 2022

Sometimes you can’t
get far enough

away to see it,
the old monk said.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (111)

I propped my watercolor box on the chair near my knee, and started painting directly, laying down one color after another, as quickly as I could, to try to capture the energy and chaotic over-crowding of the scene before me. The terracotta pots and wooden table gave the picture a little bit of unification and structure, but basically there wasn’t any overall composition to be had. Nor were there strong shapes – just the big fleshy leaves of “Fang”. The geranium in the background, the butterfly-like triangles of the oxalis, the succulents, and the busy needles of the rosemary plant were all similar enough in size to compete with each other, but not stand out. I just kept at it, adding brushstrokes, dashes, lines, dots. Once all the color was on the page, I went back with a pen and sketched in some loose shapes and lines, and finally added the vertical window blinds in the background with watercolor.

The only solution, it had seemed, was just to go for the visual clutter. Feeling dubious, I posted the image on Instagram, with the slightly apologetic comment, “Once again, fascinated by the busyness of plants.” A little while later, my friend Michael Szpaskowski and I had this exchange:

Michael: “And that that ‘busyness’ becomes the compositional imperative here is great. Both truthful (I’m not saying that artistic truth is always of this nature of course) and very beautiful.”

Beth: “It is both the compositional imperative and its greatest obstacle. The urge is to bludgeon the busyness into some sort of submissive order, but that wouldn’t be true. So then what do you do?…I like aspects of it, but it still doesn’t entirely work for me. Tonight I was thinking maybe if I tried it from a high angle, the ovals of the tops of the pots would give a compositional rhythm that might unify the picture a little more. But not sure if I have the energy for another try!”

Michael: “Oh it is precisely its ‘awkwardness’ that I find so winning!”

This was a very helpful exchange, because when I studied the image again with his words in mind, I realized that it was actually OK not to have a strong and obvious composition or structure; instead there’s color and life dancing all over the image, and the loose horizontal and vertical lines do just enough work to hold everything within the frame.

Beth Adams, Making Sense Out of Chaos

the chaos is real
tangled inside and out
you try to iron it like a shirt
but it creases against skin
over every warp, every scar,
over the forgotten, the elapsed —
like the delusion of stretched blue sky
that turns as it comes closer,
into viscous cloud, into grimy light,
dead stars falling into unopened eyes:

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Chaos

What is it about January? You have to trust that living things are asleep and not dead. The garden is brown and damp. In January I examine any magnolia tree I come across, looking for buds: signs of life. Even though days are getting longer it happens so slowly. Generating every extra minute of daylight seems a huge effort for Gaia.

On the other hand, I was in the British Museum recently looking at the Parthenon marbles, and I was so struck with the energy and verve that still shines from these 2,500 year old carvings. Despite the difficult relationship between humankind and the natural world, I’m uplifted by the way that the creative energy of humans channelled into art can endure, and still have the power to amaze and inspire people hundreds, if not thousands of years into the future.

Here’s a bit of joy in a dark month: this evening is the online launch of Sarah Barnsley‘s excellent first collection, The Thoughts (Smith Doorstop). I’m a bit biased as Sarah is a good friend and a Telltale Press buddy – I’m proud to say we published her pamphlet The Fire Station in 2015. The Thoughts is compelling, and a bit of a page-turner (if poetry can be described that way); it’s formally inventive, sometimes a painful read and sometimes painfully funny. I’m so pleased to see Sarah’s name up in lights. She’s a fine poet and it’s so well deserved that she’s been picked up by Smith Doorstop. Buy, buy!

Robin Houghton, Nature sleeps. Thank goodness for art

I was delighted to get a surprise call this week from my long-time poetry mentor. Long story short, he encouraged me to start sending out work again, so the plan of publishing new works on this blog has now transformed into a plan to write and submit one new poem a month. I’ll still post a previously published poem once a month, but I’m going to save the new work for sending out. It feels like a strange journey to be embarking on again after all this time. I can’t pinpoint exactly why and when I stopped sending out submissions, but at some point, I just lost patience and got sick of the gatekeepers jealously guarding their insular little lit mags that are only read by a niche group of other poets, all bowing to each other in their exclusive mutual admiration circle. I want to write poetry for the people, man. Seriously though, I never had any patience for the snobbery and academic parochialism that pervades the poetry world. There is a reason why most non-poets are fearful and distrustful of poetry, or just plain find it incomprehensible. First off, the way it’s taught in school is awful. For people who do not naturally resonate with metaphorical language, bashing them over the head with a “gotcha” about the meaning of a poem is just cruel, not to mention unimaginative. And these weird little “schools” that proliferate for the sole purpose of encouraging incomprehensible poetry that only other academics can understand is the height of pretension if you ask me. The bottom line is that normal people want to read musical, ear-pleasing, relatable work that has a surprise or two thrown in. Maybe one day I’ll start the lit mag equivalent of those jumbo crossword puzzle books and call it “EZ Poetry.”

Kristen McHenry, EZ Poetry, Busted Bubble, a Vision of Vision

I’m struggling with
my clown ear

and on the other side

I’m also struggling
with my clown ear

Gary Barwin, Need to Know & Clown Ear

Last night, we went to a drum circle in the Arts Park.  They happen every month, but it’s on the night of the full moon, which means that if I’m in class, I can’t go.  If it’s rainy, I bail out.  Last night it was chilly, but that wasn’t a deterrent.

It was led by a group from Resurrection Drums, which was a pleasant surprise.  It helped to have leaders to get a rhythm going.  They also had drums, which they passed out to people who didn’t have one.

My spouse and I had brought a drum of our own and a shaker, so we didn’t need the drums.  I was happy to have the bits of instruction that they scattered throughout the night.  For someone who has listened to as much music as I have, as wide a variety of music, I am still staggeringly bad at picking out the beat, and I can be even worse at maintaining it.

What I love about a drum circle is that it doesn’t matter.  The stronger drummers carry the rest of us along.  All of the beats get incorporated into the larger experience.  It’s a metaphor for our larger lives, but I realize it more fully in a drum circle.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Full Moon Drumming

snowflakes
falling through
my open hands

Jim Young [no title]

My heart keeps breaking. A friend just died, not of Covid but of Parkinson’s, and though we knew it was coming, and he and his wife had time to prepare, it is still a shock and will be an ongoing sadness. Some of us mourners will read some of his poems at his memorial service later this month. You can donate to the William Morgan Poetry Award here.

Another friend feels “done.” It’s not quite despair but a kind of retreat into “winter blues.” He expresses himself here and encourages our response, in words or the wise use of our time.

My parents are tired of the brutal cold, though grateful for the recent sunshine, as am I. They are very old: as of January 15, the same age, 89, for about a month, till Dad turns 90 in March. They have lived miraculously healthy, productive, creative, lucky lives, right up until now. More gratitude! But the end of their lives has been shadowed by this pandemic, as you can imagine, since we are all under the same shadow. Like my friend Basel, above, feeling the winter blues, I am weary.

Meanwhile, I continue to rehearse Life Sucks, a sort of perfect play for our times, given its title, and we are in that stressful time moving toward production week and an opening in early February. I am in the “What was I thinking?” stage I encounter with every play, but all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well, no doubt.

Kathleen Kirk, My Heart Keeps Breaking

In my son’s Minecraft world
there is no pandemic.
No one spits at nurses
or lies about elections.
No one’s father has dementia.

My son thinks I’m playing
for his sake. I build
shul after shul, and in each
I pray for a world
where evil vanishes like smoke

like the mumbling zombies
who go up in flames
every time the blocky sun rises,
gilding the open hills
and endless oceans with light.

Rachel Barenblat, Tending

The one good thing about being sick all week is I caught up on my reading! Pale Horse, Pale Rider is Katherine Anne Porter’s semi-autobiographical account of living through the 1918 flu as a single journalist in Denver, when the hospitals were overcrowded and they couldn’t just order an ambulance as they were too busy. Her vivid hallucinations while sick for a month with the flu are unforgettable (she sees the nurse’s hands as ‘white tarantulas’), as is the ending. I also read Katherine Mansfield’s short story “Garden Party,” about an upper-class family organizing a party as their poorer neighbor falls down dead in front of their house. Again, feels so relevant.

To add to the cheer, I’m also reading Osamu Dazai’s No Longer Human with my little brother, and though it is bleak – written in 1948’s Japan, about an individual who suffers multiple childhood sex abuse traumas,  grows up to be a cartoonist, tries to commit suicide, is put in an insane asylum – my brother made the astute observation that it shares a lot with Kafka’s Metamorphosis. It’s been read historically as thinly-veiled autobiography, but I’d argue it’s more ambitious than that – it’s Dazai’s attempt to embody the suffering, corruption and dehumanization of Japan during the WW II years.  It’s the second-best selling book in Japan of all time, and you can see why – despite the bleak subject matter, Dazai’s writing is stunningly beautiful, even in translation (he writes with a different pronoun that the Japanese “Watashi” for “I,” except in the prologue and epilogue, but that can’t really be translated into English, which is a shame). If you want to discover Dazai but want something a little more upbeat, read his warm and funny collection of modernized fairy tales in Blue Bamboo. I’ve been teaching myself Japanese for almost a year now, and I’m sad that I’m still not fluent, but I am starting to pick up a little more on the slight variations of words – pronouns, seasons, puns. Some part of me wish I’d picked something easier, like Italian, but Japanese literature is kind of an obsession of mine, and I’d love to read these books in the original, eventually. Or at least be able to have a really simple conversation in Japanese.

The other accomplishment I’m proud of is that my NEA application is in and done. I mean, I did it with a fever and on a lot of cold medicine, so it may not be the best application I’ve ever done, but it is finished! I was in isolation while waiting for my PCR test (two of my doctors told me that I for sure had covid, based on my symptoms, so better safe than sorry) and the only thing that is good for is reading and getting grant applications done. Wishing you health and safety this week, but if you do get sick – either this nasty flu or covid – I hope you have a good window view, a stack of books, and someone to bring you unending soup and hot tea.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Signs of Spring, a Week of Illness – Covid or Flu?, Hummingbirds, Hawks, and Deer, and the NEA application

I wonder why there are far more books than time to read them.

Or if forgiveness can ever be given freely, or is it only offered on the installment plan.

I wonder if miracles ever need manicures or what happens to the many thoughts and feelings of those who pass away.

I wonder what weapons will look like in fifty years. Or our government, or how we’ll relate to one another.

I wonder what wonder will look like in fifty years.

Rich Ferguson, World of Wonder

Once I thought even a small garden
could multiply my hopes. I planted

bulbs in a plot. Citrus and persimmon, purple
streaked verbena. But never again the ridged

yellow of ginger flowers, never again
the ghosts of white-throated lilies declaring

their own thirst.

Luisa A. Igloria, Greenhouse

I have long thought of myself as an apprentice to light, which also means, I am an apprentice to darkness. Not opposites but a necessary union.

I suggest to students that in their poetry there must be joy in order for the sadness to have depth. There must be love in order for loss to have meaning. Shadow gives shape to light.

And so I remind myself.

I am an introvert, an introvert’s introvert. And yet to keep that solitude from being overwhelming, strategic forays into community. This week, it was a bright evening as one of the featured readers for a celebration of William Stafford held by the Lake Oswego Public Library and the Friends of William Stafford. For anyone feeling that poetry makes nothing happen, I suggest listening to the tenor of those lovely people reading poems by a beloved poet who has been gone almost thirty years.

And then wave after wave of sadness for the passing of Thich Nhat Hanh on Friday.

Erin Coughlin Hollowell, A Handhold

Not so fast, walker
on the winter beach

under a shrouded moon.
Desire far outstrips

your first unsteady steps.
No sight, no fixed points:

Recalibrate. A roar answers
your question before it’s asked.

Jill Pearlman, Le Noir (Winter Beach)

i beheld a bell breaking into light :: but what did the sleepers hear

Grant Hackett [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 1

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. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This first full week of the year found some poets still looking back at 2021, some looking ahead with goals and writing strategies for 2022, and many looking within. I have a bit of brain fog as I recover from a mild, breakthrough case of COVID, so the arrangement may be less coherent than usual, but as always there are so many interesting and surprising posts, it almost doesn’t matter what order they’re in. Enjoy.


To net the light before it escapes
our horizon, stretching
in the expanse between us; stars
migrating like geese.

To learn the language of distance,
pull the furthest past into focus
like a new-born child her mother’s face.

Karen Dennison, Poetry and science 1

I haven’t been doing too much poetry writing lately, but one morning this week I drafted a poem called “Lying to Myself,” that sort of veered off topic as if to demonstrate the title. Furthermore, when I flipped the pages of the poem-drafting notebook, I saw that I had been drafting poems all along, just not doing much further with them. Sometimes I typed them into my computer, revising a bit, et cetera, but some just sat there languishing… 

Then a friend sent me a text with a link to a New York Times article on languishing as a state of unfocused mind during Covid, not depression but also not flourishing. Yes, it clicked. Thanks, Chris! It was an article from April 2021, revisited in December 2021, and I couldn’t read it on my phone, and I hope can see it via this link, but I could read it on my computer, thanks to an electronic subscription given to me by a friend. Thanks, Scott!

It was comforting to learn that I’d intuitively found ways over the past year and a half to both comfort and focus myself, and that I didn’t have to see all my tactics as escape or avoidance but rather as real strategies to fend off too much languishing. I could create temporary “flow”—that state of time both suspended and flashing by during intense focus on a creative project or sports—when drafting even the poems I forgot (or didn’t revise or submit later). I could get steady satisfaction from small daily tasks and goals. I could, as I did, immerse myself in other stories than my own, every time I read a book or watched a movie, and I did a lot of that. 

Kathleen Kirk, Lying to Myself

For a while a white softness
would rub out the dirt of the streets,
the remains of this year’s
half-hearted celebrations.
And then, soon after,
we’d be thirsty for colour again,
our mind would shovel away
the heavy burden
from green bushes and red cars,
we’d long for the blue sea,
the moonlight in a warm night
when the cicadas cannot sleep.
But to make it all worth it,
first the snow must come.

Magda Kapa, No snow here

January 6th is Epiphany, when Christians celebrate the coming of the Three Kings from the East to the cradle in Bethlehem, led by a star blazing in the heavens that “stopped over the place where Jesus lay.” It’s always been my favorite Christmas story, in spite of the fact that I hardly believe a word of it. Like all the Biblical narratives, it probably has seeds of truth. The Greek word magos (of which magoi is the plural, later shortened to magi) gives us “magic” and “magician”: the magi were generally thought to be priest-astronomers who were well-versed in astronomy and astrology, alchemy, and other types of esoteric practices. […]

I thought about the Magi again this past weekend as we watched a documentary about the James Webb telescope, launched on Christmas Day and now well into its journey to deep space, where — if everything goes as hoped and planned — it will send pictures and data of unprecedented clarity and detail back to earth, furthering our knowledge of both the near and far reaches of our universe and its origins. The telescope will be able to “see” infrared light from over 13.5 billion years ago, when the first stars and galaxies were forming, and it will also give much clearer data and measurements of planets in other galaxies which might harbor conditions conducive to life.

In some ways, it’s easier for me to believe in wise men from the East, following a star to Bethlehem to search for the infant King of the Jews, than to wrap my head around stars coming into being from a Big Bang 13.8 billion years ago — what does that number even mean? Let alone the concept of some sort of ultra-compacted super-heated Density suddenly expanding into the Somethingness that eventually gave rise to Everything. But I do trust science, and mathematics, and the observations of astrophysics, and I am prepared to be amazed many more times in my life by the explorations and discoveries of space science. I hope I live long enough to see some proof of what I have always believed: that we are not alone in the universe, and that Life probably exists in many other places and forms.

Beth Adams, Stars

what to do but
trace the hollow
of the moon
taste the air that once
held your name
and know how
one by one
inch by inch
shadows lengthen
inside you

Rajani Radhakrishnan, What to do

Stanza length happens to be one of the aspects of a draft I am most likely to change when revising. Stanzas being the little rooms of the poem, it seems the spaces between stanzas play, usually, a more than visual role in the best poems…well, that got me thinking about space in the poem and somehow led to thinking what poems offer. Why we read and write them, even in the 21st century.

Explicitly: The poem is a space for reflection. In the space of the poem, a reader can expand perspective or feel resonance, as in a concert hall; or find a mirroring of the reader’s self (reflection); or, in a critical sense, the reader can reflect upon the poem’s topic, context, argument, content, imagery, craft, language, or beauty. The space of the poem urges response and responsiveness. Poems are not rooms built solely by and for the writer but built of the circumstances and for the reader, too.

What poetry means, in terms of reflection, is that the response can be reflective of the reader’s space, as well as the writer’s. I know that I have had different responses/readings of the same poem depending upon the place I was in while reading it (emotional, physical, contextual “place”). Different kinds of mirrors reflect different visual images. The lighting matters. The time of day. The mood. All of those are spaces, metaphorically or actually. Different stanzaic rooms, different poetic rooms–ready for a reader’s exploration.

Ann E. Michael, Reflective spaces

by what power does the dark pull of the moon :: become our silver light

Grant Hackett [no title]

We adjourned to the courtyard for our evening worship.  There’s a Native American group that we’ll learn more about today who came last night.  They had a smudging ceremony in the courtyard.  We each stepped forward to be smudged with sage that smoked in what looked like a giant shell.  The elders swirled the smoke around us with big feathers.

I wish I could have heard better.  At first I thought the same words were repeated with everyone, but as I watched, I realized that wasn’t true.  I was second to be smudged.  The female elder of the tribe said, “Oh, such strong shoulders” as she touched them with the feather.  She said, “And a good heart.”  I’m not sure of the rest, although at one point, she did say, “We’re getting rid of all negativity.”

Later she told me that there are 4 types of smudging smoke:  tobacco, sage, sweetgrass, and cedar.  I wonder if those smudging ceremonies are different.

The one we experienced last night was very powerful.  Many of us cried a bit, and a few of us were deeply shaken, and I’m not sure whether it was in a good way or a bad way.  Once again, I was reminded of how cerebral most of our mainline Protestant worship services are, and how it might be much more powerful/effective to do more embodied practices.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, The First Full Day of the 2022 Onground Intensive

The mushrooms kick in and your brain grows feathery wings
And flies right out of the window, into the exploding green sky.
You hear bassoons and oboes. Someone is singing the poems
Of Emily Dickinson quite loudly, and without any particular melody.
The smell of french fries. Aah. And flowers fly beside you
Like small birds. Chirping. Any hard feelings you were harboring
Are now gone. You love your enemies, just like Jesus said.

James Lee Jobe, Jesus and the French Fries.

Almost wisdom,
the master said before

he dismissed it,
the old monk’s poem.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (98)

Is it nerve-wracking meeting with other humans during Omicron’s numbers, overrun hospitals, and daily news? It was! Was it worth it? Well, neither Glenn and I (who tested before and after) got sick, our guests didn’t get sick, and everyone was vaccinated (most triple-vaccinated, except me) and we were running four air purifiers and kept windows open (circulation still important!) so definitely yes. I have missed other humans! It’s just not the same over the phone or over Zoom. And Glenn really enjoys cooking for humans who aren’t quite as jaded to his excellent food as me and the cats have become.

While Rose and Glenn bonded over Seahawks and cooking, Kelli showed me how to share an Instagram story (Instagram is still a new skill set for me) and we talked poetry, PR, the problems of launching books during a pandemic…you know, typical girl stuff! Seriously, family bonding and writer-friend bonding felt really life-affirming. It also felt unfamiliar – seeing people in person. When this pandemic is over (someday soon, hopefully,) I’m going to have to re-learn my socializing skills. What is it going to be like to do a poetry reading in public again?

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Late Holiday Celebrations, 10 Questions with Massachusetts Review, After the Snow, Floods, and Next Week, a Speculative Poetry Class

wandering poet
in the catacombs of mind
a thousand coffins

Jim Young [no title]

Today I am grateful for the poetry books of others as well as for the wonder of my own deep revision. 

This afternoon, I’m halfway through Disappearing Queen by Gail Martin, winner of the Wilder Prize by Two Sylvias Press and I don’t want it to end. The different narrative threads include the life of bees, the life of an older American woman, and the accrued losses implicit in both. […]

And somehow, the day is almost gone and my poem “architectural digest, reboot” is nowhere near done; neither is “The Pickle Barrel at Morse’s”. Maybe they never will be. When working on new poems there is simply joy at  attempting something new; a deep feeling of gratitude for the creation.

May your creativity flair in unexpected and exciting ways; may your creativity swerve sideways or even take a small rest. I feel so lucky to be living this life as a writer and a secret painter; to be creating community and also to love the solitude. 

Susan Rich, Happy New Year, One Day Late

the letters on the gravestone
became letter-shaped pools where
letter-shaped moss grew

Gary Barwin, PO(E)TATOES

This year was another big reading year for me – I read 319 books, down from last year’s 332 books! Of those books consumed, here were my favorites:

Poetry

~ No Small Gift by Jennifer Franklin: Poems with themes of betrayal, mothering a severely autistic and epileptic child, battling cancer during a divorce, mythology, and eventually, hope.

~ Where the Water Begins by Kimberly Casey: Poems with themes of loss, grief, addiction, hope, health, and figuring out how to keep moving forward.

~ All Sex and No Story by Laura Passin: A chapbook of poems that focus on the body, desire, sex, relationships, and the boundaries in between.

~ Green by Melissa Fite Johnson: Poems with themes of loss, teenage angst, hope, love and forgiving yourself for the mistakes you made in the past.

~ Borrowing Your Body by Laura Passin: Poems with themes of death, dying, loss, space, science, the infinite universe and surviving it all.

Courtney LeBlanc, Best Books Read in 2021

The band announces itself with a flourish
before fading into the soft white of the piano.
It sounds better because it’s old,
a half-remembered audio phantasm
floating just out of reach.
Sure it would be nice to hear
every nuance, every breath, every
subtle shift in tone or timbre.
But given the choice, I’ll take
the crackles and static,
the muted highs and lows,
the mid-range heard as if
underwater, perhaps from
the bottom of a pool
while the band
plays on the
patio
above.

Jason Crane, POEM: Listening To Claude Thornhill’s “Snowfall”

A couple things changed in the last 6 months–even the last two months.  I began to feel a little more smothered and hopeless at the Library as things continued to be too much weight and my enthusiasms that used to buoy me waned.  Remedies for it seemed even further on the horizon if there at all, with pandemic budgets and hiring freezes.  I was trying to hold on to the side of the boat, scared to swim, but I was still drowning somehow.  I started looking for wreckage, a door, a board, anything I could build a raft with.  I didn’t want another ship (ie another library job), though nearby ships were aplenty in this land of the Great Resignations, but I did need something that could keep me out of the water should solid land be further out than I thought or the sea more treacherous than it looked.  

I found a good one in the form of some freelance work, maybe even comfy as a rowboat, in  November and its proved to actually be pretty enjoyable, but is not so heavy that I can’t control its weight.  Enough to make up the lost library income (that’s actually not that much, also part of the problem) and get me somewhere safely.  By leaving, I realized that I could parlay funds from unused vacation hours (months and months b/c  we could never actually take time off) into a nest egg of savings should I need it for emergencies (this was another thing, as single person household I worried about.) . I figured things like health insurance premiums and self-employment taxes and other things that seemed scary. 

All I needed was to let go and start rowing…

Kristy Bowen, onward, across the sea

At the behest of a long-time poetry mentor and friend of mine, I made a commitment recently that I’m both nervous and excited about. I’ve agreed to write and post one new poem per month on this blog. There, I’ve said it publicly and now I’m accountable. For a number of reasons I’m not going to detail here,I’ve been in a hopeless funk for a long time about writing poetry and have struggled to find the calling. So I appreciate this nudge—or more like the light kick in the pants I needed to get going again. Because I am me, of course I decided to re-start this endeavor by writing a sestina about the Burr vs. Hamilton duel, but quickly discovered that this was far too ambitious a plan for my weakened, out-of-shape poetry muscles. It’s like when I go ham at the gym after a long absence and end up debilitatlingly sore the next day. So I’m going to start with something a little simpler and work my way up. I can’t guarantee when the first new poem will show up, but it will be some time in January. I also offer no guarantees as to the quality or literary worth of any new poem. However, if you insult one of my poems, I shall challenge you to a duel!

Kristen McHenry, Affairs of Honor, Poem Promise

The great thing about the first week of this year: I dedicated a substantial chunk to poetry. I discovered that although I’d revised older work, I hadn’t drafted a new poem AT ALL since summer 2021. That’s really rare for me. I tend to throw down drafts during spare hours and come back to them during academic breaks, but honestly, October through December were remarkably short on spare hours. In retrospect, it was right to commit to what felt like countless conferences and conventions to get word out about my 2020 books, and I have no desire to put aside my Shenandoah editorship, even though it can be an overwhelming amount of labor. I received edits on my forthcoming essay collection later than I expected, so mid-fall involved a full-court press on enacting them. I also put scads of creative energy into teaching, and I don’t regret it. But I said yes to too much other service/ committee work. My brain was always revving at top speed, which made sleep difficult, and that created a circular kind of tiredness. Pandemic anxiety and grief for my mother were also operating like background programs, slowing my machine. My PT person told me to walk less to let my tendonitis heal, but that’s bad for body and mind in other ways.

I know what to do with myself to recover from months like that, and as best I can, I’m doing it: more downtime and fun reading, non-homework evenings, plus physical pleasures like sleep, good food, hot baths. I took my respirator mask to a couple of art museums during those few days in Savannah–looking at art restores me, maybe because it’s slow and silent or because it always fills me with a sense of shared effort. The flow experience of writing lifts me, too, but it wasn’t happening. Re-approaching my poetry ms-in-progress felt like hard work I was reluctant to begin.

By dint of ruthless will, though, I made myself shift poems around, add, cut, and revise individual pieces to bring the book into cohesion–the usual arithmetic of solving for the book–and I called in a friend for advice. I can’t say I achieved flow very often last week, and the book still needs more time and thinking, but I do feel better after making real hours for the efforts most important to me. And I wrote two new pieces, one at the crack of dawn this morning!

Lesley Wheeler, The work + worry equations of winter 2022

You’ve seen the plot before. The local police have been told not to apprehend a criminal but keep him under surveillance because Interpol want to catch the whole network. But an ambitious, impetuous young cop who’s unaware of the big picture arrests the criminal because he thinks the criminal’s getting away.

Apprehending a poem can have the same plot. Committing yourself to the first interpretation ensures that you get the bird in the hand, but you might miss out on many more that two other possibilities in the bush.

So follow at a distance. Wait for it to make contact with more significant agents. Try to picture the whole network. The first idea you have may be the easiest to find because it’s the most superficial. Don’t think that the title says it all. Don’t think that the rhymes are what it’s all about. Remember that even low-level operatives are cunning enough to lead you down blind alleys.

Tim Love, Apprehending

I’m currently reading, and very much admiring, the excellent Nine Arches Press book, Why I Write Poetry, edited by Ian Humphreys, in which 25 contemporary UK-based poets address aspects of their poetry practice and motivation. The subtitle, of sorts, of the book is, ‘essays on becoming a poet, keeping going and advice for the writing life’. These words from Rosie Garland chime precisely with attitudes to artists like [Louis] Wain:

‘Outsider’ is an opinion, imposed by those who regard themselves as ‘inside’, and impose their arbitrary norms.

Yesterday was the seventy-fifth birthday, as it were, and tomorrow marks six years since the death, of the person who did as much as anyone to give licence to outsiders in the UK and beyond: David Bowie. Later this year, it will be fifty years since his incarnation as Ziggy Stardust changed many people’s lives forever. His first gig as Ziggy took place on 10 February 1972, at the Toby Jug pub at Tolworth roundabout, a mile away from the house in Old Malden that my parents, brothers and I had just moved into. We got our cat, Puzzle, shortly after. I read the other day an excellent piece, here, about Bowie’s northern patrilineage.

The sense of being an outsider, of ‘othering’, is, perhaps unsurprisingly, a recurrent theme in the book. Nine Arches, like increasing numbers of others, is a publisher which specialises in bringing to the fore poetry by diverse voices who would undoubtedly have been marginalised, if not entirely unpublished, in previous generations, and the much longer established poetry publishers seem to have started to respond too. I’m very glad, incidentally, that Nine Arches will be publishing Ramona Herdman’s first full collection this year. Of late, I’ve also been (re-)reading Caleb Parkin’s Nine Arches collection, This Fruiting Body, which is full of riches – even his most straightforward poems, such as his magnificent ‘Ode on a Black Plastic Compost Bin’, are so lush that each one needs properly savouring.

There is much to relate to, to be inspired by, and to reflect upon in Why I Write Poetry’s essays. Each is heartfelt and I know I will come back to them again.

Matthew Paul, On Louis Wain and Why I Write Poetry

Comprised of seventy-three large full-colour photographs of visual poems comprised of a combination of object (leaf, bark, branch) and text, is Toronto poet, editor and publisher Kate Siklosi’s full-length debut, leavings (Malmö, Sweden: Timglaset Editions, 2021). leavings is a collection of visual pieces composed through a combination of printed text, visual poems and letraset combined with leaves, twigs, branches and fir to reveal, in close detail, the physical interactions between nature and language, and the impact of absolute brevity. […]

The pieces are structured in four titled sections, with a single large image per page: the twenty works of “a leaf,” the twenty-three pieces of “a leave,” the eleven pieces of “a left,” and the nineteen pieces of “a mend.” By section titles alone, Siklosi’s quartet hints at an echo of bpNichol’s infamous eight-line poem etched into the concrete of the Toronto lane that now shares his name: “A / LAKE / A / LINE / A / LONE [.]” Just as in Nichol’s poem set in concrete, Siklosi’s poems are uniquely physical, and deliberately temporal; the delicate nature of some of these pieces suggest that most, if not all, might no longer exist in the forms shown in the photographs, leaving the photograph as both framing and document of an object that can’t easily, or ever, be archived. Is her purpose, then, through the exploration, the object or the documentation? There is something fascinating in the way the pieces in leavings also suggest an approach in tandem with her found materials. These pieces exist, one might say, in collaboration between Siklosi and her materials (leaves, branches, etcetera), as opposed to her simply dismantling and repurposing whatever materials she may have found as part of her walks (her acknowledgments include a “Thank you to NourbeSe for our ravine walks, on which many of these leaves and thoughts were collected.”). Instead, Siklosi appears to respond, from her collaborative corner, as a way of shaping to and around the materials-at-hand. It is no accident, I would think, that her dedication reads, simply: “for the land, our wisest poet [.]” As she writes to preface the collection:

a life is composed of leavings: the remains of crusts and skins, the remnants of night in a dawn sky, the residue of mourning, loves too deep and too shallow, the hard words left unsaid, the time taken, the dust in our tracks. in our tiny expanse, things pass and things grow. we kill and we cultivate. we hurt and we mend. we pick up the pieces and create. we do better and we fail. we thread ragged beginnings from the trodden decay of our pasts. beginnings still. we collect, windswept and tired, in piles against a fence. in our shared fragility, we quilt a being, warm and enough.

rob mclennan, Kate Siklosi, leavings

Ivory, ecru, massed
petals on three heads
of hydrangea. After three
days, each begins to sport
a light ochre outline. We know
what it means: everything
goes into decline. Yesterday,
a communion. Today, a wedding.
Tomorrow, blooms falling
like snow into the open earth.

Luisa A. Igloria, Life Cycle of White

“Reading IS writing”

Well, actually…it isn’t.

Sorry to disappoint you! But only writing is actually writing.

Reading however is an excellent tool for your writing. Along with writing everyday, I try to read at least a couple of poems everyday. I like to think of it as “filling the cup of creativity.”

Reading gets good rhythms and sounds in my mind, topics I want to dialogue with, jumping off points, arguments. Reading / Writing is a conversation between two people who may never meet.

It can be comforting when going through a dry spell of writing to hear that Reading is as good as writing, but don’t let that idea hinder you from bravely meeting the page.

To be clear: you shouldn’t feel any shame about taking a break from writing to just spend time reading. Maybe life has taken a lot out of you, and you really need some filling up! And, in my experience, the more I read, the more likely it is that my reading will spill out into writing sooner than later.

So go read! But don’t ONLY read if you want to hit your writing goals.

Renee Emerson, Tips for Writing Productivity: Read (but not too much…)

The birds return in one of the final poems, “The Un-flight of Porcelain Birds”,

“Spillikins of feather,
your wings are kept by clay.
Roost in my palm, echo of wild things.
You have never trembled evening from your throat.
You have never known
the blue sail of sky.”

There’s a note of regret: these representations of birds will never be wild but can be kept and domesticated. They aren’t sentient beings so won’t know they’ve never known flight, but there seems to be a transference: the narrator is transferring her feelings of confinement and lack of freedom to the birds. The lack here is not having the same freedoms as neurotypical people, the restrictions of suffering domestic violence and the fear that keeps her checking her reactions and actions appear “normal” to others.

“Be Feared” are poems from a poet taking back control of how she expresses herself, how she centres herself, not to dominate others, but to assert her boundaries and encourage others to accommodate her. They acknowledge her suffering from abuse, from being neuro-diverse and how she moves from surviving to coping and thriving. She draws on folklore and myth to make sense of a world that is strange. Jane Burn has created a series of poems of resilience and remaining true to oneself in a world that demands compliance and capitulation.

Emma Lee, “Be Feared” Jane Burn (Nine Arches Press) – book review

A year ago, I wrote, “Since there’s no guarantee 2021 is going to be any less pandemic-y than 2020, I’ve opted for a no nonsense approach to the year’s poetry goals.” The statement introduced a super simplified poetry action plan* for 2021 I thought I’d pared down enough to help me feel productive without applying too much pressure. However, 2021 required more rest and restoration than I’d anticipated. Every activity (writing-related or not) required a recovery period. While that may always have been true, I became acutely aware of the swing of the pendulum.

In looking back at the year, I also realized that most of the writing activities I did were in social/group settings (virtually, of course). I spent far less time with solo writing efforts, like crafting new poems, revising existing drafts and submitting work. It’s possible that my temperament throughout the year — never before have I needed so much mind-numbing downtime — made that true, but it’s also likely that so much engagement with others required more recovery than anticipated (and in comparison with solitary activities).

When I set goals for 2022 in the coming days, I’m going to take that into account and aim for a quieter, more inward-facing writing year. But I have no regrets about what I did/didn’t accomplish in 2021. I rested more than I wrote (2021 was also full of some huge life changes), but I showed up for workshops and readings that will inform and inspire me for years to come.

Carolee Bennett, revisiting 2021 poetry goals: more rest than writing

How do you want to live, now? That has been the question asked by countless writers and I ask it of myself all the time. The Canadian writer Elizabeth Smart once asked:

“Isn’t there some statement you’d like to make? Anything noted while alive? Anything felt, seen, heard, done? You are here. You’re having your turn. Isn’t there something you know and nobody else does? What if nobody listens? Is it all to be wasted? All blasted? What about that pricey pain? What about those people. They sit outside this story, but give it its shape. If it has a shape. What about all the words that were said and all the words that were never said?”

As for me, I do want to make of my life art. I want to be a witness to splendour. I want to get as much down as possible, whether by the light of photography or by the light of my weird noticing. I want my presence to be art. I don’t want to waste anything, not a moment. I want this blog to be art and I want to inspire you to make art of your life. I want my peanut butter sandwiches to be art, and I want the flowers I arrange in a vase to be art. You’ll remember this quotation by Anne Morrow Lindbergh from her lovely small book, Gift from the Sea.

“Arranging a bowl of flowers in the morning can give a sense of quiet in a crowded day- like writing a poem or saying a prayer.”

I look around at all the people I know navigating this pandemic life with grace and fortitude and the way they parent and work from home and do all these things that we would have thought to be weird in the beforetimes. So weird and so impossibly difficult! And yet though so many are stretched so thin, processing a ton of unevenly disseminated information on how to stay safe, keeping their loved ones safe, working in non-ideal situations, and etc, they are often doing it with a sense of humour, with elegance, with an amazing make the best of it attitude. Sure, we’re all crumbling from time to time; we’re struggling. In the last two years most of us have felt pretty much every emotion under the sun. But if this isn’t art, the lives we are leading right now, then I don’t know what is. If, as Li-Young Lee says, the self is the final opus, then how do you want your soul to look when all this is said and done?

Shawna Lemay, Your Life and the Work of Art

There is no map to show me
where clouds go.
Exactly where do clouds go?

Wind blows its hail
across the field.
In the darkness of the shed
the pigs bury themselves
in fresh straw.
I shut myself in the cabin,
watch trees bend and water
gather itself in old tracks
I’d forgotten were there.
In the end is the beginning,
in the beginning, the end.

Bob Mee, BEGINNING OF THE YEAR

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 52 + New Year’s 2022

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. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader.

The last week of the year always has a kind of aimless, limbo-like feeling, as several bloggers observed, so I was impressed by how many still managed an end-of-the-year post. The selection below doesn’t quite reflect how many of those posts included favorite book lists as well, so really, quite a lot of riches for those with the time to click through.

Here’s hoping 2022 brings a bit of peace and sanity, but if not, there’s always poetry. Happy New Year.


Years ago, I worked for an organization that always closed down during the week between Christmas and New Year’s, and as such I became habituated to taking those days off and have made it something of a tradition. Nothing is going to get accomplished in that time anyway. It’s an informal national “down week” as it should be, because these are frozen, dead, throw-away days in which humans are not meant to be functional. Hence no post last week. I’ve been off since December 23rd, doing nothing but loafing around and making a full-time job of trying to keep warm in the 15-degree weather in our under-insulated apartment, shivering in a turtleneck (thanks, Mom!), a hoodie, a knit hat, and double socks.

Kristen McHenry, Days of Loafing, Re-Discovering Dorothy, History Buff

It’s the break of day, New Year’s Eve. I’m writing from the warm, night-morning-darkness of my living room, the only light is that of decorative twinkle and the snow glow outside. My holiday boon is scattered on the nearby table, gifts that are already page-tabbed and folded open. I’ve finished Amy Butcher’s Mother Trucker, and working through Robert Hass’s Time and Materials by day and by night, Ken Gould’s mystery, Death’s Grip, along with Kerstin Ekman’s Scandia Noir read, Under the Snow. As is the case with readers, these are 4 named titles. Waiting in the background sit short stacks of 24 additional titles, patiently awaiting their own cracks in spine. There is a new blank book awaiting rough writings in chicken scratch scrawl, bright beaded earrings, magnetic haiku and coffee poetry sets, and real coffee from a friend to accompany all of these wild ways to spend winter time.

Kersten Christianson, New Year’s Eve: Closing the Book of 2021

at the end of every verse
leave a promise —
what shall we do with sleep
without a morning to wake up to
what shall we do with rain
when skin cannot endure the wet
what shall we do with all this
longing, without the grammar
of hope —

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Leave a promise

I have begun and started this post so many times in the last week. Usually I really look forward to writing the end of year blog, to look back at the good things that have happened. But this year it fels really different – every time I look at my 2021 diary at the months that have passed I feel sadness at all the things that didn’t happen, all the people I didn’t see, all the times when my daughter missed out, when I missed out.  And I also know that I’m lucky because I am healthy and I’ve been able to do some things.  I can’t stop thinking about friends who are still isolating, still unable to leave their houses.

It’s hard to look back on a year that has been threaded through with a low hum of anxiety, but I have had some lovely things happen this year. Probably the most obvious one of those is the publication of my second poetry collection All the Men I Never Married.  But perhaps more than any other year, it has felt like a year where I’ve been able to try out different ways of my work reaching a wider audience – so I’m going to list a few of them here, just in case there are other people out there with slightly more time on their hands than usual, in this strange gap between Christmas and New Year.  

Kim Moore, END OF YEAR BLOG

Today I undertook one of my favorite and also least favorite projects of the year–transferring all my random slips of paper and no-longer sticky post-its into a new sketchbook/planner for 2022.  Good because its bright white blank pages are sort of exciting, least because it just makes me remember all the things I never got a chance to get to.  I started the post-it system after years of lost to-do lists and actual planners and trying to understand bullet journaling and a million things that did not work to keep my mind organized.  The premise was simple..the front pages sort the days of the week, the coming weeks, the coming month, the coming year.  As things arise, I write them on the 1 inch post-its and stick them to the corresponding day.  Obviously stuff gets moved and transferred to coming weeks and I suppose gets done eventually if if ever does. 

I have spreads for dgp projects in the works, including columns–layout-cover designs–proofing–so that I can see at a glance what is happening with each book. I have a section for monthly goals, though as the year goes on, I usually lose track of filling these pages out, but occasionally they help me finish up things. The worst, though, is a section titled “PROJECTS’ where every idea I have –for poems, for art projects, for shop lovelies–usually just sort of go to die, only to be moved to the next planner every late December. I also have pages for the library and things happening there. Admittedly, I didn’t even change books between 2020 and 2021, since so much was just lingering from the previous year. There are ideas for art & design projects that I’ve been moving from book to book since 2013.  Also writing projects.  Occasionally, like unusual creatures, I finish them eventually, but more often not. I might seem productive on occasion, but not half as productive as I’d like.

Kristy Bowen, new year, new planner

The fae character in my novel Unbecoming was, I now understand, incredibly fun to write because in imagining her, I got to inhabit the person I might have been if I were thoroughly, deliciously selfish, unworried about anyone’s future. I rarely consciously knew what she would say or do next; instead, I would take a break from writing and hear her whisper her next lines. The last dictation I received is her last quotation in the book: “I don’t know what I want, but I want it very much.” Word.

Speaking of traces of the past: one last magazine issue with a poem of mine slid under the old year’s wire. “You Know Where the Smithy Stood by the Clinkers” just appeared in the new National Poetry Review. It’s based on a lecture given several years ago by W&L archaeologist Don Gaylord. It immediately helped me see the buildings I work in in a different way, but I had to revise the poem many times, mostly by paring it down, until its architectural bones became clear. The past is always present, even when you suppress difficult memories.

Lesley Wheeler, Sacrifices, gifts, and a year in reading

It’s become a tradition and a privilege to spend New Years Eve with L. and B.

L. is the one who invited me to eat 12 grapes at midnight. She and B lived in Spain for a few years. I believe that to make a wish with each grape is her own twist on the Spanish tradition. Today I reread the blog post from 2020 and realize that my 12 wishes last night were nearly identical to those two years ago: synonyms and shifted specifics. New perspectives. New approaches.

I’m not sure what to make of that in terms of my personal growth. Walt Whitman contradicted himself because he contained multitudes. I repeat myself. I think that is because I contain a multitude of threads as well, and am on a dialectical path. Where it ends doesn’t seem to be as important anymore. Only that I keep moving towards something.

The word “ease” had come up a lot over the past two years. Maybe the past three years. But this morning I read the word “gentle”.

I lingered on the word gentle.

I read Dylan Thomas’s poem again this morning with more empathy – and a different understanding – than I’ve had before. It’s wonderful, because for the first time I see the specific context of the speaker’s perspective. I see the words “old age” (would that Death allowed us all that experience), and the speaker’s projecting his own fears onto his father, and onto every other old man’s evaluation of their worth in the world. I think I’ve read this poem always making way for the poet/speaker’s greater wisdom, and I read the advice in the poem as a kind of sutra. I am thrilled no one deprived me of this discovery: that this (projected) perspective is not wrong, but is only one perspective. A true perspective, but not the true perspective. And that is not to say that no one has ever analysed the poem this way, explained it, described it to me. But if they did, I wasn’t able to take the lesson in.

Long live the hyper-realistic beauty of the unreliable narrator.

Ren Powell, What Falls Away Gently

As 2021 stumbles to a close, it might be obvious to anyone who was paying attention (and I don’t know if anyone was) that I was not writing in here much in recent months; to be precise, since September. In many ways, September and onwards was a big improvement over the rest of my life since the start of the pandemic in early 2020. I got a new job working with children’s literature – so far, on course to be my best job ever – and before starting, I had time to visit my family in Canada. I also spent September weekends as part of the Sea Reconnection exhibition, which as an art-and-poetry exhibition was a first for me and certainly a highlight of the year.

I haven’t felt much like writing, though. My pandemic experience has avoided the worst that many have experienced (severe illness, death of loved ones, prolonged unemployment, etc) but at times I feel like it’s sort of flattened me out. I hope to get back into more of a writing frame of mind in the months to come, even in small ways, which I think will help.

Clarissa Aykroyd, Ten years of The Stone and the Star

Pull out the drawers,
and balled-up socks
sigh of their own accord.

Throw open the windows
and huddled shapes
of air unfold

forgotten wings. Old
beds of ash retire
into the soil so flint

or a match could strike
a small yellow flame
to brilliance.

Luisa A. Igloria, Encadenada

Yesterday we went for a long walk at Parc Jean-Drapeau, site of Montreal’s Expo 67: this geodesic dome, designed by Buckminster Fuller, was the United States pavilion for Expo, and is now a museum dedicated to the environment. But yesterday we were pretty much the only people on the two islands in the middle of the river, and even though it was a grey day, it was just what I needed. Lots of wildlife tracks in the snow, many birds including a huge flock of robins (what are they thinking?), the St Lawrence roiling along in its winter mood, red rose hips against the snow, junipers loaded with blue berries, overgrown plantings, a greenhouse where large tropical plants were being overwintered, and many odd graphic images from the desolation of winter and the decay or remnants of structures built for Expo that have fallen into disuse. I hope you’ll enjoy taking this walk with me, and I wish you all the best for the year to come.

Beth Adams, A New Year’s Walk

I have got a great deal out of writing this blog this year. The feedback is as immediate as social media, and far more fulfilling. There is always a chance someone will read it, so it never feels pointless. I write about whatever I want, however I want: that anyone is listening at all is a luxury! Yet, having had a month or so away from blogging, I can see how my relationship with it might have some things in common with submitting poetry to magazines, or using social media: that feeling that I need to just keep publishing; that fear of rejection, which only feeds the desire to publish more.

Is there a solution? Jonathan Davidson suggests we broaden our understanding of what sharing poetry entails to include a greater focus on different kinds of reading (e.g., out loud, at special occasions), and on reaching more non-poets. I agree. Davidson’s focus is largely on collections, but I think the insight can be extended to individual poems. Why should the default ‘end point’ be publication in a magazine?

For most people I know, poetry is a marginal art, so it’s a fair assumption that by placing a poem in a magazine you will have a greater chance of finding an appreciative reader (i.e. another poet) than sharing it with someone you know. But the end result of this way of thinking isn’t just a self-fulfilling prophecy which keeps poetry on the margins: it effects our idea of what a poem even is.

There are ways of rethinking how we share poetry among regular writers, too. I suspect a lot of writers engage with poetry groups and workshops, at least in part, as steps towards publication. But there is no reason why they have to be. I attended a regular poetry evening when I was at university. I have never produced so much rubbish in my life, but I have rarely felt so much like I knew why I was writing.

My own solution over the last few years has been to try to publish less poetry, and more writing about poetry. I can see this wouldn’t appeal to everyone. It may end up with me not publishing any of my own poetry at all (which isn’t necessarily a disaster). But I’ve also found that I appreciate poetry – writing it and reading it – more, not less.

Jeremy Wikeley, A Year in (Not) Publishing

Imagine how it feels when the sky is dark and you’re the first star. That’s Frank’s trusty Tree Service. You’re the first tree. You’re reborn. You’re a tree and you’re reborn as a tree. And soon you’ll be surrounded by a forest of trees reborn in a forest reborn and filled with trees.

Gary Barwin, Rise Up, Trees: Frank’s Tree Service.

year’s end
bald pines hold
the sky in place

Julie Mellor, year’s end

I was sad to read that Kirsty Karkow had died, on Christmas Eve. She was a fine haiku and tanka poet. I had some correspondence with her twenty or so years ago and had been in online kukai groups with her in the late ’90s. She’d lived in Maine for many years but was born and educated in England. On Curtis Dunlap’s old ‘Blogging Along Tobacco Road’ blog, which was always a pleasurable read, you can still find Kirsty’s admirable contribution, here.

Matthew Paul, On Sylvia Kantaris and Kirsty Karkow

I cannot recall where I learned of Byung-chul Han, but I’ve had the pleasure of reading one of his books of philosophical essays (The Scent of Time) recently, and seldom has a philosophy text resonated so immediately with my circumstances. In this book, Han argues for contemplative time. He says it is essential for humans and human society and claims the “acceleration” of everyday life robs us of the value of reflective thought and “slow time.”

Raised and educated in Germany, where he now teaches, Han invokes the works of several German philosophers to provide a starting-point regarding the acceleration of time. He draws on Nietzsche, Arendt, Husserl and, to a larger extent, Heidegger…but Derrida, Aquinas, Aristotle, and others as well. He also quotes from quite a few poets, such as Celan, Hölderlin, Büchner, Handke, Ch’iao Chi, and spends two chapters on Proust (but of course…).

Han posits that the point-like, algorithmic availability of information runs counter to knowledge and wisdom, which require experience, which in turn requires duration and connection rather than arbitrary retrieval: “Promising, commitment and fidelity, for instance, are genuinely temporal practices. They bind the future by continuing the present into the future…creating a temporal continuity.” He criticizes the very technology that permits a person like me to learn about his work (I am certain I heard of him online somewhere). That criticism says the faster we go, the further we are from our earthiness–the airplane removes us from earth’s gravitational field as well as from the soil, “estranging the human being from it.” He adds, “The internet and electronic mail let geography, even the earth itself, disappear…Modern technology de-terrestrializes human life.”

Strong opinions, large claims. But oh, I thought at once of Whitman and his long expansive drawling poems when I read, “Instead of leisurely strolling around, one rushes from one event to another. This haste and restlessness characterize neither the flâneur nor the vagabond.” The whizzing about leads to anxiety and a lack of durable relationships. People hover instead of connect, swiping left or doomscrolling, feeling bored–which is a kind of empty-mindedness. I observe this trend of rushing and hovering in my students and among my colleagues. I have not found much Whitman-like lounging in current poetry publications, but a great deal of anxiety appears in contemporary poems. Writers reflect the times. Context shapes us.

Ann E. Michael, Slowing time

year’s end
waiting for candy
in the rain

Jason Crane, haiku: 31 December 2021

Field Guide to Invasive Species of Minnesota by Amelia Gorman

This gorgeous chapbook explores the ecological dangers of Climate Change and the emotional impacts of human nature. These poems flirt with the speculative, presenting a near future that feels nurtured by the here and now, offering visions of what could be while feeling anchored in what has been. The pairing of botanical illustrations with these lush poems is the kind of book I love to have and hold in its physical form, so that I can flip through its beautiful pages.

Andrea Blythe, Books I Loved Reading in 2021

The end of the year rolls near and I am just lifting my head towards my blog. It’s been forgotten in the shuffle of working life and as that end-of-year-in-review feeling rolls in I have to be honest with myself about several things. 

Where I am at geographically, career-wise, with a view to my family and my energy levels means I cannot place much focus on my writing. And 2022 will be even more difficult. I’m starting my teacher training course in January while working full-time at a school and raising my kids. I’m currently fitting writing in at the weekends, but soon that will be taken over by my course. I will continue to try and do a bit of writing, but compromises will be made. 

And it hurts to think I will have to put it aside or squeeze it into the cracks. I would love to be working as a writer even part-time, but I need to focus on a career that I know will give some financial security. I’m finishing off a commission for some poetry this week and coming to the end of an editing job. I hope other small opportunities present themselves, but I will have to protect what little time I have to study and spend with my kids as much as I can.

My book will obviously not be published in 2021. I knew this was the case from early summer as nothing seemed to be moving forward, including communication. Maybe something will happen next year, but I no longer hold out much hope. My book was accepted about the time my decades-long relationship fell apart, so it felt a positive part of my renewal, a reason to look forward and celebrate my hard work. Then Covid and Brexit and Time bulldozed on through and here I am, still waiting, trying to be patient. 

Gerry Stewart, The End of 2021 Draws Nigh

2021 was also the year I launched a book during a pandemic! What fun! Strangers came out in April, and was formally launched in May, with an online event featuring Sadiqa de Meijer and Sue Sinclair, and hosted by my editor Luke Hathaway. You can view that here. Unable to tour the book, this summer I took my tour local, with readings around Vancouver (even those were fraught – one was canceled by a record-shattering “heat dome,” another was rained our and had to be moved into the overhang area of an elementary school playground… normal stuff!). I loved getting to hear new poems from fellow pandemic-launching poets – eleven total guest readers over the course of the series. Readings at the Vancouver Writers Fest, Word Vancouver, and the Real Vancouver Writers Series kept me busy all fall, and helped me feel like it might really be reaching readers out there in the world! Reviews of the book and also interviews about the book kept me afloat despite the lack of in-person connections. Thank you to everyone who spent some time with Strangers in 2021 – it meant a great deal to me.

Rob Taylor, the 2021 roll of nickels year in review

I’ve been thinking as I look at my stats for the year that there’s some sort of link between my running this year and my writing. Correlation isn’t causation, etc and I don’t have the charts to hand (the wherewithal to tally up each month to make the chart),but I know that up to June this year I finished 10 poems and was roughly averaging 40-50k a week, and between July and now I’ve finished 5 poems and am averaging about 20K a week.

I’ve also run less overall. Last year it was 1600K, this year it’s just over 1500. I was aiming for 2000K, but

I think the reason behind these declines are that I was up a lot earlier in the first half of the year, and using the time after the runs to work on poems. I was training for Race To The King, and when folks mentioned I’d be struggling for motivation after that I didn’t believe them. How right they were. A combination of injury before the race, and exhaustion after has left me struggling to get back into the right frame of mind. It’s been the same with writing, the mad kick bollock scramble of the second half of 2021 has just left me with no interest in picking up a pen. I have no doubt it will come back. I can see a draft I started a coupe of weeks ago staring at me and I know I want to get to it, so I have faith.

Mat Riches, Run on lines…

When I look back at previous goals and roundups from around this time of year, I can see that pretty much every year I say I am going to cut back work, live a healthier lifestyle, live a ‘less chaotic life’ and have never quite managed it, until this year. My favourite mantra of this year, and one I’ll be taking with me into next year is ‘Everything in your life is a reflection of a choice you have made. If you want different outcomes, make different choices.’ Changing habits, changing learned behaviour, thought habits, unhealthy coping strategies etc is not about will power. Will power plays its part, but rather than being a shield you use to protect you from cravings, will power is tool you can use to reinforce the positive habits, affirming to yourself that you are worth change, that you are worth nice things, good health, a happy work/life balance. This year I managed to over work myself to a point at which I triggered an underlying heart condition and very high blood pressure. In fact, what I’d thought was the menopause turned out to be my body struggling with what I was doing to it. The doctors I spoke to told me I needed to cut down caffeine, alcohol and stress to manage it. Reader, I did not know who I was without caffeine, alcohol and stress. I cut back caffeine consumption to just first thing in the morning and the occasional afternoon cup of tea. Knowing I could still get my Wendy strength coffee first thing meant I was happy to cut back for the rest of the day. The stress and the booze were much harder to cut down. I enlisted the help of a personal health trainer to help me change my terrible relationship with alcohol, which you can read about here and reader, it worked, it continues to work. I had my first hangover in four months this week. I’ve taken the brakes off a little over Christmas and drunk more than I have been doing and amazingly found that I don’t really want to drink much anymore. Which makes me a cheap date and a complete and utter lightweight. This is my biggest achievement of this year. I know there will be people who don’t really understand that cutting back booze is a big achievement, it’s not like I have gone Tee Total, but the change in my health, my happiness, my anxiety and my self confidence is noticeable. I’m not going back. I’ve done this before and never quite managed it because I gave booze up completely without changing my thought process around it. This time it really does feel different. I have altered my thinking, altered my motivations.

Wendy Pratt, 2021 – My Year in Review- Best Books, Best People, Best Moments, Best Foot Forward

even when I did not know your name, sparrow,
I knew your song, the particular way
you break the silence

Han VanderHart, Bird Song Sounds Out of Tune Only to the Human Ear

Do you remember at the beginning of the pandemic there were all the jokes about the line “I hope this email finds you well.” And let’s face it, for the last couple of years, we haven’t been well, or at least not all the time, and certainly not in all the ways one would wish to be well. What even is wellness now? I don’t want any easy and pat wellness advice myself because this stuff is hard and recurring and complicated and we can be more than one thing at once, anyway. One thing I do know, is that what we normally think of as wellness is not this steady stream. Sure we can be resilient but we also get to take breaks from being resilient. (Which is perhaps a form of resiliency). So what I hope for you in this coming year is that you find your way to a wellness, and in the times when things are more crumbly, you find ways to return and return to a space where you feel okay and sometimes even content and happy.

Shawna Lemay, Keeping Your Appointments in 2022

Let me be the photographer staring down into the lens
of a Box Brownie, let me really see my mother’s red hair,
my father’s best trousers, my brother’s barely lived in skin,

our white socks and Start-Rite sandals, or deeper still –
the cotton handkerchiefs in our dress pockets, Dad’s tattoos
hidden under his long sleeved shirt, the sand beneath

the soil and grass under our feet, the scent in the darkness
when we opened the coalbunker door, what we knew then,
what we didn’t know, what we were unable to even imagine.

Lynne Rees, Poem ~ 1963

Palpable: what else to call poems with lines such as “I RUB MESSAGES INTO THE WALL B/C I KNOW / SOMEDAY I WILL BE DELETED.” The urgency implied in the typographical choice to use all caps (here and consistently throughout the collection) brings with it the implication of presence. Words in all caps are emphasized, given more presence before the eye. Such emphasis and presence are more often associated with brand slogans, protest signs, even text messages–a set of seemingly incongruent examples that yet are totally in line with the world interrogated by Abi-Karam. Only that these are poems, and the poetic space is flexible enough to hold a human pulse despite these implications, and resilient enough push back, to voice and be a voice.

José Angel Araguz, microreview: Villainy by Andrea Abi-Karam

The first poems in Danger Days by Catherine Pierce (Saturnalia Press, 2020) lead one to expect that this book will be all about end times and apocalypse.  The fourth poem dispels this idea: “High Dangerous” is the name her young sons give to hydrangeas.  But there is danger there too: the bees in the flowers.

Pierce finds danger in many supposedly ordinary places.  In motherhood, for instance, in “How Becoming a Mother Is Like Space Travel.” (Both find themselves rearranged.) “Abecedarian for the Dangerous Animals” covers five kinds of animal: bees, bats, the cassowary, the golden dart frog, and humans. […]

One set of poems addresses the history of words, in a series she calls “From the Compendium of Romantic Words.” In each poem she explores, deconstructs and plays with a particular word.  My favorite is “delicatessen” which begins:

Noun.  Notable for a sibilant elegance heightened
by the suggestion of cured meats.  Not deli,
a vulgar nickname, a fly-den, a swing-by, but
a long sigh of syllables, a time machine.  Inside
its languid hiss: flannel suits, stenographer glamour.
When the word is uttered, a skyline materializes.

Ellen Roberts Young, Recommendation: Danger Days by Catherine Pierce

Love Letter to Who Owns the Heavens [by Corey Van Landingham] brought back to me memories from January 1991. I was visiting friends at the University of Maine in Orono (UMO) and trying to rekindle a romance with a boyfriend from high school. He refused to see me, so I met friends in the Bears Den where we ate and watched TV. It was the night coalition forces launched the attack on Iraq. A screen in the corner of the room in the student union broadcast the bombardment. Here’s what Wikipedia says about the moment: “The war marked the introduction of live news broadcasts from the front lines of the battle, principally by the US network CNN. The war has also earned the nickname Video Game War after the daily broadcast of images from cameras on board U.S. bombers during Operation Desert Storm.”

I can’t recall if we were horrified but know for sure we were mesmerized. And, even though I was just 18 at the time, I’m ashamed to admit that I was more pained by the romantic abandonment than by what I saw on TV. Even though the scenes from my UMO visit have stuck with me, I never bothered to include them in a poem. If I had, I’d probably have written about the boy and not the televised introduction to war in my lifetime. It’s a daunting task to consider even now.

I’m still not writing much about world events in my poems, but thankfully my interrogation of our complicity in them has evolved, and Van Landingham’s poems support this necessary and difficult line of questioning. In “{Pennsylvania Triptych},” she writes, “To participate in the demolition is to be a part of history. Is what I tell myself…” She goes on, “As if, ante- / bellum, white and wealthy, with your father’s / father’s sprawling fields, you wouldn’t have let the / house staff serve you pheasant.” We must come to terms with our participation in dehumanizing others if we are to understand how to stop it.

Carolee Bennett, “the body becomes a downloadable thing”

How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
It was completely administrative! I decided to apply to MFA programs last minute and the deadlines were coming up. I had to put together a portfolio and figured it would take less time to write poetry than to write prose (ha!). I became a poet thanks to early deadlines. But I kept with poetry because I love its sparseness— it’s a form in which what you don’t say is as important as what you do say. Absence speaks, it’s mystical— a fairytale in itself. […]

What is the best piece of advice you’ve heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
In writing: act as if everyone is enlightened but you (Sandra Alcosser).

In general: “Dlatego dwie uszy jeden język dano, iżby mniej mówiono a więcej słuchano.” It”s a common Polish saying, loosely translated: “you got two ears and one mouth to speak less and listen more”. In fact, come to think of it, this applies perfectly to writing too.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Anna van Valkenburg

An interesting poem shows consideration-in-process. To “consider” means “be with the stars,” doesn’t it? Who doesn’t want that from a poem?

Poems in which the poet knows too much at the outset can tend toward flatness, I have found. The movement, if there is movement, in such a poem is of a busy person through a room who gives you a brisk nod. “Oh, there goes old whatsisname. Hunh,” you think. And that’s that. A more interesting poem wanders in, sits down with you, says something unexpected, ponders, ask you something, maybe, tells a tale, perhaps, shows you something, and in some way you share the moment.

You still might think, Hunh. But it’s a lingering hunh, a “I want to think more about this” hunh, or a “I never looked at that way before” hunh. You might want to call that poem some late afternoon and see if it wants to go get a beer.

Marilyn McCabe, Don’t stand so close to me; or, On Poems That Know Too Much

I am feeling forlorn this New Year’s morning.  Forlorn weather –  53 degrees and pouring rain, and likely to do so all day.

Last night I went to a New Year’s Eve gathering with eight other old folks –  55+ on the menu at Perkins Pancake House.  Very subdued.  It was a long table and I was the last to arrive and I didn’t get to sit with the friends I enjoy conversing with.  Not even any wine.  We closed the place at 8PM.  Sigh.

I drove home, remembering the New Year’s Eves of my wild youth:  in Philadelphia several with Patrick and his friends, in Baltimore in the apartment at Wellington Gate, and on Barclay Street, even a few in the early years of life in the Daughters.  Sigh.

So it goes.  I keep teaching Slaughterhouse Five to my Modernity class, now on Zoom due to COVID.

Anne Higgins, The times are nightfall; look – their light grows less

But for today, let me not focus on all that is coming at me/us in January.  Let me enjoy one more day of tropical drinks by the pool.  Let me focus on reading fiction, since I won’t have a chance to do that much once my seminary classes get underway.  Let me enjoy meals with loved ones and views of a different coastline.

And perhaps I will write a poem.  A few days ago, I made this Facebook post:”It is oddly foggy on the west coast of Florida this morning. It looks like it snowed overnight–or that something dreadful has happened to a lot of mermaids.”

Since then, I’ve continued to think of mermaids and sea foam and the death of mermaid dreams–or is it the resurrection of the girlhood dreams of mermaids?   I came up with this line to begin a poem:  Some days it is better to be sea foam.

Yesterday, the morning fog that looks like sea foam was tinted in different colors, which made me think that maybe sea foam doesn’t represent one eternal idea, but many.  

A poem is percolating, and I want to remember.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, A Soft Ending to Vacation

I know it’s a little cheesy, and harder during a pandemic year, but I still went through the steps of doing my yearly inspiration board, and using my hands to cut and glue things makes me feel like a kid again, and there’s something innately…optimistic about putting up words and pictures that make you feel happy and hopeful. This year, words like “friends,” “inspiration,” “magic,” and “happiness” made appearances, along with images of foxes, pink typewriters, blooms and butterflies.

Anyway, I encourage you to try it yourself, even if it’s just a temporary one on a corkboard, or posting inspiring things on your fridge. What could we look forward to? What are the best possibilities? I’m far too good at looking at the dark side.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Happy New Year! Snowed-In Seattle, Inspiration Board for 2022, Variant Problems, and Late Celebrations

We are born into this life with all its bombs & birdsongs, diseases & deities, poverty & purity. Born into criminals & kissers, debtors & creditors, greed & generosity. Born into freedom & detention, flowers & fault lines, climate change & genocides. Dancing, singing, weeping, raging. Slaving, building, crushing, creating—the beauty & brawl of it all.

Rich Ferguson, Into This

The lines of this poem are a factory that employs
the dead. Ghosts of people that walk
on concrete floors, their eyes
like blank sheets of paper. Do you
have a pen? Me neither.

What is a day? Rows and lines
of broken things – dreams, hopes, love.
No, that’s too hard and I reject it.
A day is you with your shoes off.
You are running toward me
laughing. You are telling me
about some poet from The Gaza Strip
or Kentucky.

James Lee Jobe, Their eyes are like blank sheets of paper.

How lucky the kitchen was stocked with tiny marshmallows and French chocolate
waiting in dishes for guests that would never come…
a list of movies, a fireplace with stacks of crackling logs
six-point crumpled Kleenex fluttering as paper snowflakes in an infinity of patterns
tables littered with bottles —- cough syrup, elderberry, zinc —
and cake vying for room with white test kits

We laughed into delirium when time was a stream of barely noted
notches in the inevitable: 
and talked of dreams, Rebbe Nachman, how to organize notebooks
not optimists but expecting each day would get better

New Year’s Eve was a muted affair; 
even if historic and global, we could say we did it in our pyjamas
in our own creaturely language
although we were still stuck in the indeterminacy

Jill Pearlman, Merry Quarantine

In spite of this, I’m starting this year feeling more optimistic than last year. Perhaps misguidedly. It’s not as if there’s a safe pair of hands in charge in the UK. But there are signs that the covid virus might be becoming less dangerous, which is something to feel hopeful about, even though we are still far from being in the all clear. On top of this, I have my own creative projects ticking away, and time to work on them, and my husband, Andrew, and our two grown-up children are well, we’ve navigated our way through the past two years and we’re still talking to each other and supporting each other’s plans. I’m so glad we’ve all been here for each other, at the end of a phone, if not always in person.

Josephine Corcoran, Light Ahead (maybe)

So, there we are. A year of recycled poems, stocking fillers, stand-ups, long-delayed appreciations and reviews, and far too much about being unwell and sorry for myself. And let’s be fair. In the world ‘out there’ it was a truly horrible year, a sleep of reason beginning with a failed putsch by morons led by a moron in the USA, and ending with tsunamis of incompetence, criminality and sleaze in what passes for government. What keeps me sane? You do. You and the poets whose work makes the world a better place. Go well. Stay well.

John Foggin, 2021: That was the year that was

You find the edge
of the wind right

where it ripples,
the old monk says.

You can almost
taste the sand.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (93)

 the extravagance of sun after a swim

Jim Young [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 51

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. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week, a special winter holiday edition. Enjoy.


Shortest day of the year.
All the clocks are wrong.

Overhead is a dull seashell.
Clouds cover the sun.

I have to trust
what I can’t see.

And my heart —
a worried compass needle

yearning
for your light.

Rachel Barenblat, Solstice

The snow absorbs sound waves. But the magpie’s bellies chatter like shakers in an improvised concert. The front yard is filled with tension. A drama without narrative.

The magpies are quiet now.

Wait.

They will begin again. Like barren Shakers, they’ll gather and make something beautiful.

Then they’ll be gone. Again.

Just wait.

Ren Powell, Magpies and Snow

Of course, it wasn’t as if Santa actually existed. All rosy cheeked in Mrs Santa’s bed, he was always the sentimental love child of advertising campaigns and folktales. Didn’t stop his attempts at merriment with what he irritatingly called his “elf.” There’s a reason he could travel around the world so quickly. And then she’d begged him to do the inevitable and sell to Old Jeff Bezos, so she could gather the elves around her, the real elves, each with their small childlike brightness, and, dressed in the warm skins of reindeer, set out into the tundra, the real tundra, and find the winter sun.

Gary Barwin, Two stories about Mrs Santa

Since moving to Torquay four years ago I have not seen the sunrise on the shortest day, this has been partially due to bad weather. Traditionally I would drive to Avebury to celebrate the New Year, but these days it is too far. 

Having a beach hut on Meadfoot Beach is the next best thing. We went down and watched the sun hide behind the clouds. It was high tide and there was quite a swell.

Here’s to a better year ahead. Peace, love and unity to you all.

Paul Tobin, MEADFOOT 21.12.21

Oh no! I can see I haven’t posted for several weeks, has there really been nothing to talk about? Let me see…

First of all, nothing to do with poetry but my Covid experience was pretty mild in the end. So as far I’m concerned the jabs were worth it. Plus we’ve made it to Christmas without having to cancel a single concert, which is a result, and in fact I’ve just got back from a bout of rustic carol singing on the outside terrace of the fantastic Chaseley Trust. So a big yay for Christmas. […]

The newest episode of Planet Poetry is in the bag and coming out tomorrow. It’s a Christmas special featuring an interview with Di Slaney (Candlestick Press) and Sharon Black (Pindrop Press), both of them poets as well as publishers, talking about their writing and their publishing practice. Peter Kenny and I are proud of the fact that we are now 5 episodes into our second season – I think that makes us veterans in poetry podcasting terms! We’ve already got some brilliant guests lined up for 2022 so if you haven’t already, please do subscribe ‘wherever you get your podcasts’, as they say.

Robin Houghton, So this is Christmas, and what have I done?

No, this isn’t inspired by Johnny Mathis blaring out at all hours, but my Christmas Eve trip out into the Peaks. I caught the Hope Valley line from Sheffield and walked along to Brough, with the intention of finding the site of the Roman fort Navio, before taking an anti-clockwise route up Win Hill.

Navio, first established around 80 CE, was strategically important for the Romans because it was the next fortress across middle England from Templeborough, remnants of which now stand in Clifton Park, Rotherham, just down the road from where I am now. In his Roman Britain (1955), the first volume of ‘The Pelican History of England’ (sic), I.A. Richmond outlined its economic importance also: ‘Yet another exploitation is the lead ore from stream deposits found in the Roman fort at Navio (Brough on Noe), from which the district was in part policed.’ Lead was invaluable to the Romans as a source of silver by the process of cupellation, and no doubt a major reason why they hung around in this distant island for as long as they did.

There are all but the slightest traces of the fort on the site. Buxton Museum contains the artefacts recovered from it. It must’ve been a bleak place to be stationed, even with the view across the River Noe towards Lose Hill, and Mam Tor to the west. Auden’s couplet sonnet ‘Roman Wall Blues’, with its memorable opening, comes to mind:

Over the heather the wet wind blows,
I’ve lice in my tunic and a cold in my nose.

Matthew Paul, Return to Hope

How much heaven
can we stand?
Even the stars
don’t know,
the old monk says.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (89)

Yesterday was dark, as in dark all morning with rain and then just dark.  These days around the solstice are usually not just literally the darkest, but also heavy somehow in a way I never feel in other parts of the year. I slept very late, spent both days in my pajamas, working on various things through most of the weekend.  My past couple of weeks have been pretty busy, finishing up batches of chaps to get out before the holiday and  taking on more freelance copy work to get a feel for how well it will make going it alone should I decide to do it.  

Which is of course a lie because I have already mostly decided to do it, at least in my heart, if not having worked out all the logistics just yet.  I’ve been thinking about it probably since early  October, but only in the last few weeks has it become a safe enough and desirable endeavor to make happen. Once the decision was made, there was this rush of relief and happiness I don’t think I’ve felt in years, and that feeling alone is perhaps my answer. There are times when I don’t want to leave, but it’s gotten to the point where I can’t–for financial reasons, for burnout reasons–afford to stay. Not even figuring in potential increased shop offerings and income (which will happen when I’m not working 40+ hours a week elsewhere) the freelance work devotes half as many hours for twice the pay. And its actually kind of fun.  Or at least a sort of work-fun,  It gives me hope for days that can be half spent working on that stuff, half spent on the shop and the press. The ability to dial back and take on less if things get crazy. Not all day spent at the library and off hours, late nights weekends spent on other things, which is how it has always been since the beginning. 

I can’t even imagine having time to put into action all the projects and ideas I want to do without having to always work around the giant hulking beast of a full-time job that grants stability, but drains your energy. I don’t dare think it will be easy or without sacrifices (financially), but at this point, it hurts more not to try to make it happen. I keep telling myself this is what I’ve been preparing for all these years. Now I just need to take that step. 

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 12/19/2021

We are expecting 2-5 inches of snow over the Christmas weekend, then several days below freezing, so we might be stuck on our hill, which would make getting supplies tougher, so we are prepared to eat leftovers and after that, our supply of potatoes and pumpkin seeds. But I love seeing some snow.

But we did have a cherry tree with one branch blossoming, right on Christmas Eve; seems symbolic, like beauty’s triumph over death, life over winter , or something like that. We need anything that gives us hope these days.

The generosity and apparent ferocity of nature is always surprising. We should pay closer attention. [….]

Thank you to the Massachusetts Review who included my poem “Things I Forgot to Tell You About the End of the World” in their end-of-the-year Climate Issue. I feel lucky to be in such a great issue, and the fact that it’s the closing poem of the issue.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Happy Solstice/Christmas/Holidays, A Poem in the Climate Issue of Massachusetts Review, Poetry Book Recommendations from 2021, and Things to Remember About the Last Year

At a certain point one stops caring what makes sense and what doesn’t, going instead on animal knowledge of what is true, resonant if reasoning isn’t. In Greek, xάνω ελπίδα sounds permanent, rather than transient, as losing hope should, and απώλεια means both loss and waste. I do not mourn the death of Joan Didion, screamed into every nook and cranny, but neither do I say in public spare me, she was the original Karen; I prefer not to, this hue and cry, and my own savage wit so pointlessly sharp. Let people love who they love. Let them not. We have our reasons. I make a mixtape, though electronic, called sparklegothfolk: it goes on and on. Dead Can Dance. Cocteau Twins. Peter Murphy. Kate Bush. Wicker Man soundtrack, burning. The darkest people have the radiant love of harmonies, have you noted? Always in the barley and the fire.

Solstice, and the sky cracks open, just as it was too late.

JJS, Systrophe

christmas eve rain
the wood pigeons are preening
in the silver birch

Jim Young [no title]

I love the turning of the year toward light at the winter solstice. It makes up a bit for winter looming ahead. This year was tough for everybody, it seems; as Eric Tran said when he visited to give a poetry reading here, we spent the pandemic borrowing energy from the future, and now we have to pay it back. My mother died at the end of April and she’s very much on my mind as I perform seasonal rituals: recent stuff like sending her a zillion gifts at Christmas 2020 to distract her from going out and taking risks; old stuff like mixing up Christmas pudding to steam and flame it (we always did that as kids, although I riff on borrowed recipes and she just bought Crosse & Blackwell). I need to find a quiet moment to think about her.

I don’t know what that viking-druid I spotted on the trail yesterday portends. He’s looking toward the new year, but I’m mostly looking back. For a conference, I went on a binge of reading related to fairies and Faerie, old tales people keep making new. I discuss some of them here, in the annual “pleasures” column hosted by Aqueduct Press. They make me remember my mother, too, who was the teller of fairy stories in my house, as her Irish father was to her. He used to take her on walks to a Liverpool park in the 40s, where they’d put their sugar ration in a matchbox and leave it for the fairies. You have to propitiate them with sacrifice, or–what? It was always clear to me that Enid Blyton tales of brownies making “mischief” were euphemistic. Fairies are more dangerous than that. Thinking about all this sent me on a weird late night Google binge last week, asking questions about why sacrifice is so central to so many religions and legends. Google didn’t know, but I’d welcome your theories.

Lesley Wheeler, Weird tree-person looking east

So it will be a different Christmas, once again…we have a tree, and lights, and the smells of baking; there’s snow outside and warmth inside, but the holiday will be a quiet one. I’m sure we’ll check in with friends and family via zoom. My daily task is to keep my own spirits up, and to face the seemingly-interminable pandemic, and uncertainty about the future, with courage. It’s not easy for me, and takes conscious intention. Today before I got up I thought quite a bit about gratitude. Later I baked a complicated cake, made some five-pointed origami stars, wrote letters, took a long vigorous walk in the park, and still, I felt the presence of discouragement and anxiety in the background. The predictability of the solstice is ancient and steady, though — and I took comfort in that.

Beth Adams, Lights on at 1 pm: Winter Solstice

this blue-washed evening
lighthouse beams sweep the sky clean
again and again and again

Ama Bolton, Shortest day

My sister, Catherine, has always been Santa. She’s the kind of Santa who shops deals all year and stashes baubles away in the linen closet until it’s time to wrap them. She is a loyal adherent to the philosophy of more is more when it comes to gifting—she sent me a similar box that contained fifty presents for my fiftieth birthday–which is why I know there will be at least five presents for each of us, plus the dogs, inside that box. We can all reliably predict the contents. Among other, more unexpected things, there will be fleece pajama pants for each of us, chocolate bars for each of the kids. Chew toys for the dogs. For me, Walkers Shortbread cookies, the kind in the red and black plaid box, and for my husband, hot sauce. Always and forever, hot sauce.

For most of our family life, we’ve lived far away from loved ones, so holiday gatherings have usually meant just the four of us. We don’t like the traditional Christmas meals of ham or turkey. We don’t go to church. So, there is great comfort in the anticipation and surety that surrounds the Santa box. It signals, not unlike my mother-in-law’s (excellent, really!) fruitcake, the arrival of Christmas, connects us with family and continues one of the only real holiday traditions we have.

Sheila Squillante, Sister Santa

The outline of this lawn in the back garden remained unchanged throughout my childhood. Its corner – in the image, its apex – falls neatly behind the youngest boy’s head. Perhaps there is some composition here? I’d guess it was my father pressing the white button on the black plastic box of a Kodak camera. Taking such a picture was more the father’s job in those days. His clumsiness in framing the image ought not to be judged too harshly (these were still relatively early days for mass photography) but it stirs in me the thought that he was always a man more at home with objects than words or people. I wish he’d taken the picture again, a little lower, filling the chosen frame with his three children. Forty years later, setting the scene behind the large window in the image, sat around the dining table that (for fully 50 years) looked out onto the back garden, I wrote of him when forgetfulness and confusion troubled him more and more:

Past ninety and still no books to read
your knuckles rap the laid table

gestures beside a stumble of words
so much aware of their inadequacy

it hurts us both in different ways
since a man without language is no man

finding too late the absence of words
builds a prison you’re no longer able

to dominate objects as once you did
the world turns in your loosening grip

Martyn Crucefix, The Unlikely Wound Inflicted by a Photograph

It was only a matter
of time before security showed
then blue-lit us across town

to some kind of safety,
a ward I used to know
from before supplies ran out
and prices rocketed.
Of course, they vanished.

Ran, more like it.
There’s fear, and there’s fear,
if you catch me. Something
about papers, the border. Those eyes.
Her silence. The baby anything but.

Anthony Wilson, Call the Midwife

I would have been happy to spend the Christmas Eve service in silence and candles, just soaking in the beauty.  

But we had a service of readings and singing and a homily, and the Eucharist.  We had to pivot here, too, with soloists out because of sinus infections and COVID exposure.  I thought of all the weeks of drama about who would sing which song, and in the end, we had to switch some of the music.

I am not immune to the life lesson contained here: the ability to pivot, the beauty that is possible if we can let go of our preconceived notions of what the experience and the space should be.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Pivoting on Christmas Eve

In the thrift store before closing,
on Christmas Eve, a handful of people
thumb through trays of vintage
jewelry, crushed hats, shoes of worn
leather, hunting for a clasp, a bit
of rubbed velvet. Looking,
listening for signals of another act,
an encore. Not flourishes, though,
or any of the intricate caprices;
the single line of music delivers
the sharpest pang. Cantabile,
meaning songlike. Meaning
what wakes the deepest silences
before you even become aware.

Luisa A. Igloria, Beyond measure

And there’s something else. A gift which couldn’t be wrapped. And it’s this — that it’s possible to dance to Handel’s Messiah, and that joy when doing this is inevitable. After we’d opened our presents, we’d push back the  coffee table and prance around: And the Glory of the Lord. All We Like Sheep. His Yoke is Easy. Hallelujah! 

Here he is, wearing a coat made by Gabriel. Here he is. My beloved friend. Here he is – Graham, GKA, Gray: half fallen angel, half risen dervish. 

Liz Lefroy, I Unwrap Three Gifts

We’re in our bedroom. I’m standing behind them, arms around their waist. I ask whether there’s anything we could do to fix things, to be together. They smile sadly but don’t answer. That’s when I awake, my brain saving me from another crushing reply. Christmas slips the knife back in. I know it takes time, but hasn’t there been enough? I’m ready for the part where it hurts less. Mostly I just want them back so damn much and I want to stop wanting that.

the kettle is on
in someone else’s house
Christmas

Jason Crane, A Christmas haibun

Do I dream of you or you of me?
What is it we’re afraid of?
Mist brings back this and that.

Owls live here. House martins, bats.
The blue cobalt crust fungus.
Orchids are early this year.

A hare slips past a fallen ash.
A squirrel stops and stares.
Tell no-one. Let me stay.

Bob Mee, A POEM AS A NET

Mary knows George would never understand they live in a snow globe that gets taken out and shaken once a year. That the life he’s been longing to escape has a finite border, and for a moment, as he clutches Tommy to his chest and Janie plonks away at the piano, he knows it too. This place where it’s always Christmas Eve, where the difference between life and death is $8,000 dollars that always goes missing and returns tenfold, and Zuzu’s sinister flowers bloom in the wintertime. Quick! Ring a bell.

Collin Kelley, New Poetry Project: Poem 3 – “What Mary Bailey Saw”

It has been a while since I’ve seen a poetry title by American-Vietnamese poet Truong Tran, so I was intrigued to see his collaboration with San Francisco poet Damon Potter, 100 Words: Poems (Oakland CA: Omnidawn, 2021). The poems that make up 100 Words: Poems are very much composed via a collaborative call-and-response, as they each respond to the prompt of an individual word, set as each poem’s title. As the book asks: how does one see the other? Composed through one hundred words-as-prompts, the project is reminiscent, somewhat, of Kingston writer Diane Schoemperlen’s debut novel, In the Language of Love(1994), a book composed in one hundred chapters, each chapter prompted by and titled “based on one of the one hundred words in the Standard Word Association Test, which was used to measure sanity.”

Composed as a process of vulnerability and exchange, there is something curious in Tran and Potter’s shared poems, uncertain as to which poet wrote which section, a process more open and interesting to read through than had each section been credited. The point, I suppose, was entirely to bleed into uncertainty, and a closeness of reading. In terms of potential authorship, some sections appear rather straightforward, and others, less so. As they write as part of “perhaps an afterword or a new beginning,” a sequence set at the end of the collection: “i am documenting a way of getting to you. it is a map to be shared in the / hopes that one day should that day come that you can use it as a way to / get to me.” There is something quite compelling in the depth of this conversation, into the bare bones of being, speaking on elements of race and privilege, belonging and othering, difference and sameness, either perceived or actual, and how perception itself shapes our lived reality. Opening an endless sequence of questions, there aren’t answers per se, but the way in which each writer responds, both to the prompt and to each other, that provides the strength of this collection. It is the place where these two writers meet, in the space of the poem, of the page, that resounds.

rob mclennan, Daman Potter and Truong Tran, 100 Words: Poems

I’ve been once again trying to learn to play the piano, blessedly for the household, on a keyboard with headphones, as it’s a painful tune.

Plunk…plunk…plunkplunkkerplu…crap…plunk…plunk… You get the idea. I like learning, even as I sometimes beat on the keys like a chimp in my frustration. Like that’s going to help. One loses control sometimes.

It’s the trying, the practice, the let’s see how it’s going to go today. Nothing like being a beginner to keep the ego at bay. Bay? Nay, swamp.

There’s a freshness in my approach to this beast that is often missing from my approach to writing poetry.

I had an idea this morning and boop boop wrote a poem. I kind of liked it. But I distrusted how easily it came.

I don’t mistrust all easy things, but I know enough about my own process to have sneaking suspicion that I’ve written not out of the difficult place of questions but rather the often more-satisfying-in-the-moment place of knowing. I knew how to write that poem, and I knew what I was going to say. And there it is, grinning winningly at me.

I shake my head. Sorry, pal. You’re cute. You’re one-night-stand cute, sure. But I’m after the real thing, baby, the messy, what the hell am I doing, what’s going to happen next thing. And you ain’t it. Plunk plunk…plunk…plink…crap

Marilyn McCabe, An ordinary pain; or, On Writing and Knowing

Silence is never completely silent. Something somewhere moves, it might be birdsong, a distance car, the clank of a heating system, a breeze making leaves dance, even snow crunches underfoot. Not responding to someone’s question can be an answer. When not speaking, we are rarely still. We fidget, tap feet or fingers, fold arms, fiddle with clothing or hair, jangle jewellery, clothes can squeak or rattle, we hum, swallow, sniff, breathe. If you’re attuned to body language, you pick up someone’s mood and learn to anticipate their response.

When I read my poems to an audience I look for
a smile of recognition, the stillness of true listening,
a fidget of boredom, a clue into how I’m heard.

(“Tracking Sounds, Crossing Borders”)

When you can’t hear your own voice properly, you compensate. I’ve also started a sequence of poems following Rose Ayling-Ellis’s dances on BBC’s “Strictly Come Dancing” and how she manages to dance despite not being able to fully hear the music. It drew out all the compensatory measures I use without thinking about them. I pass as hearing and was nervous that I wasn’t “deaf enough” to qualify for Arachne Press’s anthology “What Meets the Eye”. I am delighted to be part of the anthology with my poem “Tracking Sounds, Crossing Borders”, even if I still don’t know where the border between hard of hearing and deaf lies.

Emma Lee, The Art of Anticipation

Sometimes my sadness is like a symphony that only I can hear.
The beans are done and the rice is done
And now I am slicing bell peppers so that we can dip them in hummus.
An editor told me recently that he doesn’t like poems that begin with ‘I.’
But I don’t really care what he likes.

James Lee Jobe, Poems that begin with ‘I’

So I keep returning to dormancy, and how that might work for a large mammal who cannot sleep underground for 12 or more weeks.

I’ve decided to take the winter off from things that make up too many of the hours I spend on my phone. I’m taking the social media apps (other than Messenger, which I use to communicate with folks) off my phone and I’m not going to write here again until Sunday, March 20th, the first day of spring. I’m not going completely off-line, but I intend to be much more intentional about being on. What I want is to clear some space and be purposeful about what I let into it. I think I need some arbitrary restrictions and some public declaration to make a necessary quiet happen.

I have been wary of writing that last paragraph because there are things I know I will miss, and because writing here has become a thing I count on for several different kinds of good things. I have been avoiding it because if I didn’t write it I could more easily change my mind about the whole thing. I was avoiding it because there’s some fear in this for me.

But I’m saying it and am going to do it because last week, when I went into Powell’s, a bookstore that covers an entire city block and was once one of my favorite places, I felt overwhelmed by the cacophony of voices shouting at me from the shelves. There is so much clamor in the world, and so often lately all I can hear is a grating din. I want to see if I can create a pocket of quiet within it, if I can make my way back to some part of that young girl who loved to make a grilled cheese sandwich and a bowl of canned chicken noodle soup and eat them slowly at her family’s kitchen table in the company of a book, able to hear nothing in her mind’s ear but the voice of one other person speaking to her. I don’t know if this experiment is as much about becoming some other kind of writer as it is about becoming a different kind of reader. All I know is that somehow, I’ve lost my way, and I want to find it again.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Dormancy

All human suffering reduced to a tickle in the back of the throat. Hearts worn on sleeves, both as a fashion statement, and to allow your love to get some fresh air. Play checkers with your freckles, Twister with your lips. Spend some time in the music world twilight zone—somewhere between “Lust for Life” and “There’s a Light That Never Goes Out”. Fold and refold your DNA into origamis of better tomorrows.

Rich Ferguson, Better Tomorrow Beatitudes

The winter rolls over the land
like a cold carpet.
It’s soothing that seasons
haven’t forgotten their job yet.
As the days get shorter
we shrink a bit more in them too:
less steps, less words, less thoughts.
Only desires are still growing.
How to forget those bonfires
we’ve lit ourselves behind us?
The dancing shadows we watch
are ours.

Magda Kapa, Low Light

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 50

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. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This edition was compiled in a bit of a rush, so I apologize if it seems a bit more disorderly than usual. Some posts about childhood led me to posts about the holiday season, favorite books (and blogs!) of the year, writing advice, po-biz pondering, and more. Enjoy.


The field was a living space. We walked through the field to get to the woods. Its edges were important to the shape of our days. Other children had parks, community centers. We had our field and a good half-hour of driving in any direction to reach a gas station.

As a living image, as personal history with land, the field to me is pure potential. It is unmarked by play structures. There would be fields in my future that my father fenced for our goats and chickens (I remember how impressed my parents were, when I was in college, and I told them my friend fenced—they thought only of farm skills, not athletics), but this field was different. This field was unfenced.

If you got down low in the field, there were field mice in grass burrows. There were wild tomatillos growing, tiny green fruit in their paper lantern wrappings. If you crouched or lay down, you could disappear from sight, the sedge grasses waving in the wind above you. There is a specific sound of wind through the grass before a storm—the sedge billowed like a copper sea.

I can trace my poetics back to this unfenced field. I spent five or six years practicing meter and formal poetry, until I could write iambic pentameter without thinking about it. Paradise Lost was like home to me. That is the fenced field. I return, as I must return, to the field of pure potential, unmarked by wire and posts. The only electricity that hums there is that of the person in the field.

Han VanderHart, The Field and Poetry

childhood running
we caught all the butterflies
and killed them

Jim Young [no title]

To Mr. Typist’s great bemusement, I went down a John Denver rabbit hole this week thanks to a casual comment on one of my Facebook posts. I hadn’t listened to John Denver’s music or thought about him for many years, but the comment inspired to me go and watch his concert footage from the 70’s, and I was awash with memories. I tried to explain to Mr. Typist that when I lived in Alaska as a young child, during the summers hippies would emerge in the early evenings on porches with guitars and play John Denver songs, and all of us children would gather around and sing along. We had no idea what the lyrics meant, but we knew they felt good to sing. I don’t know why there were hippies on an Air Force base in Alaska, but there were, in greater numbers than you might imagine. And they have an unerring instinct for twilight and children and catchy, emotionally compelling songs about mountains and nature, so there you have it—spontaneous 70’s John Denver porch concerts on an Air Force base in the middle of Alaska.

Kristen McHenry, John Denver Rabbit Hole, Bike Embroilment, Frozen Shoulder

Charlie, bald head, sullen sage, you say our lives are cartoons to be puzzled over again and again. What are we equal to and what do we translate? Like Schrödinger’s Dog, the dog is always there but what about us? Sisyphus and Lucy kissing in a tree. The kite’s a twisted bird in the branches. Ancestors, Charlie. All these years. What’s the best thing about rhetorical questions? 

Gary Barwin, Charlie Brown’s Body

A prohibition….

….lifted on the stroke of midnight
on some special Eve, Midsummer, say, or Christmas.

Then, it’s said that stones, or trees, or owls can speak.
Or toys piled pell-mell in boxes kept in lofts, in attic cupboards;

and also things that hang in Christmas trees,
like fairies, snowmen, angels, and wind-up clockwork toys.

What is it, do you think, they say, just once a year, just for one day,
This is the truth of it. The dark that lasts all year, the silent dust

that settles bit by bit, grows coarse and gritty, will clog their tongues.
Listen. They’re as mad as stones and deaf as owls. They’re let to speak,

have forgotten how, and what, to say. Stay silent
till the twelfth night. And then they’re put away.

John Foggin, Christmas stocking fillers

It’s all really depressing. I won’t be eligible for a booster until early January. More restrictions are likely to be imposed, and in my opinion, far too late. The federal government of Canada is requesting that all international trips be cancelled, and it sounds like border restrictions will be re-imposed soon. “Rethink your holiday parties,” is both lame and ineffective, but people are desperate to be with their families, too. Sadly, we had already cancelled our plans to be with my father in upstate New York today for his 97th birthday, and obviously we won’t be seeing our American family members for Christmas. I have to just try not to think about what that means. Meanwhile, in the U.S. and many other places, people seem to be doing whatever they feel like, and counting on their vaccinations to protect them from serious illness. I hope it works, and wish them well.

So, all I can say, from this interior space where I will be for most of the next few months: color helps. And reading. I’ve been working on a new print, which you’ll see eventually: the carving was complicated and absorbing, and the repetitive process of printing is calming. I’ve been grateful for it.

I want to think not about breakthrough infections, but about breakthrough color: the way primary red and yellow, and gamboge and intense cobalt blue and viridian push aside everything else we’re obsessing about, and make us stop and look, make us feel something emotional and positive.

Beth Adams, Christmas Fruit, and Breakthrough Color

As night falls, no one
says crepuscular or eventide.
As the orphaned child sobs under
the mother tree, no one blames
patriarchy. The crone isn’t wise, only
bitter. The young are either desperate
or lost. The last page delivers a verdict
reputed to be the will of the gods.

Luisa A. Igloria, Reasons to Disrupt the Narrative

This past week I’ve been flashing on Penelope Fitzgerald’s scintillating descriptions of preparing a house. Her novel “Blue Flower,” set in the 18th century, is full of the bright crush of domestic detail, the half-laborious, half-ecstatic ritual of organizing a home. As I was dashing around, making way for my grown kids and friends to migrate, I heard Fitzgerald’s echo — “great dingy snowfalls of sheets, pillow-cases, bolster-cases, vests, bodices, drawers, from the upper windows into the courtyard … into giant baskets.” I’m not firing up the old Maytag with anything but a switch; still, I note my excitement to make a nest, a safe haven through methodical hands-on work. I bent my head as I came down from the attic, carrying unrolling stored mattresses, shaking goose down through the corners of comforters, slapping pillows to life so they seem just born, cutting flowers for vases.

Jill Pearlman, The Home Groove

how can night air on a branch of december :: have turned its face to me

Grant Hackett [no title]

My first idea was for a haunted house and I would put all the regrets that haunt me on the boards of the house. But I made the house too big, with no room for all the ghosts and monsters that I envisioned circling the house. And then these other aspects appeared: the woman on the side of the house, the stuff going on in the attic (not exactly sure what’s going on there), the plants and pumpkins and cats and the table inside that’s ready for tea.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Six Weeks of Sketch Responses to “Crisis Contemplation”

Out from the corners of night, shadows gather like hungry soldiers at mess. To the west, these shadows slowly eat the Vaca Hills and roll down easy to the ocean to drown.

Veterans sleep in front of TV sets, numbed by beer and weak programming.

From the south, a chill breeze races up the delta lands and marshes, the estuaries. Herons shiver in the cold water, wading and hunting. Dragon flies race; they are fighter pilots in a Hollywood movie.

This breeze makes a lonely sound, like a saxophone on the radio. Like a child crying for something it cannot have.

The corners of night square off into a box. The lid is shut now. It will not open until morning.

James Lee Jobe, numbed by beer and weak programming

red barn     long shadows
rust-colored hawk descends
and vanishes

Ann E. Michael, Few words

Last week, my daughter, who is planning a Christmas celebration across a continent and ocean with a young man she loves, asked me about our Christmas day traditions. “I remember the advent calendar and decorating stockings before Christmas, but I can’t remember much about the day itself other than opening presents,” she said.

“Oh, honey,” I said. “I was always so wasted by Christmas day I didn’t do much more than make a breakfast and clean up the wrapping paper and take a nap. And some years we spent the day in the car.”

I told her about staying up long after everyone had gone to bed, wrapping gifts. I told her, laughing at myself, about the year her dad and older sister had built a train table for the Brio set, and I was painting the little town scene on the base of it until after 2:00 AM on Christmas morning. I told her about the year I made her a dress-up trunk. “I had to find a trunk, and the clothes to put in the trunk–which I got from multiple visits to Goodwill–and the flower and letter decals I put on the lid of the trunk.” I told her about how my favorite moment of Christmas was often the one that happened in those middle-of-the-night hours, when everything was finally done and I would sit by myself in front of the lit tree in our dark living room and sip a glass of wine and relish the calm. I even told her the story of the laptop year and the afternoon at the dentist.

“Well, you know why I wanted a laptop,” she said. I told her I didn’t.

“I wanted to be like you,” she said. “Every morning when I got up, you’d be downstairs on your computer.”

“Really?” I said. “I never knew that.” I remembered those years when I used to get up at 4:30 in the morning so I would have time to write, and how that time often ended when she, like me, always an early riser, came down our stairs to find me sitting on the couch, tapping away. I both loved and dreaded the sound of her footsteps.

She paused. “For someone who’s so aware of so many things, how could you have missed that?”

“I don’t know,” I said. I suppose it’s because missing things is what we do, especially when we are in the thick of it.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Not exactly a Hallmark holiday movie

Although they are two very different debut collections, Inhale/Exile by Abeer Ameer and Mother, Nature by Aoife Lyall share a number of similarities when considered together, the most obvious being that they are both concerned with notions of Home. In Inhale/Exile, Home is Iraq, or perhaps the more ancient Mesopotamian homeland, ‘the land of two rivers’, from which her own family and many of the characters in her poems fled during the days of Saddam Hussain’s totalitarian Baathist regime. But Home is also the UK for a poet who was born in Sunderland and raised in Wales; and so, much of the work is suffused with both a refugee’s paradoxical longing to return to what is now an ‘alien land / called home’ (The Fugitive’s Wife (vi) return) – Ameer uses the evocative Welsh word hiraeth in her acknowledgement of gratitude to the Iraqi diaspora community – and an understanding of non-belonging in a land which remains foreign: language errors, for example causing a recent exile, who I take to be the poet’s father, ‘an awkwardness he’ll know well’ (The Waiting Groom). The awkwardness is not Ameer’s as a second generation Iraqi immigrant to the UK, but that of her parents’ and her grandparents’ generations, for whom Inhale/Exhale stands as an impressive tribute. For Lyall, simultaneously celebrating the birth of one child and mourning the loss by miscarriage of another, the speaker/poet herself is Home to her surviving baby: ‘I am your home / Hold me close and you can hear the ocean’ (‘Hermit Crab’). The ‘I’ and the ‘you’ of these poems exist in a state of symbiosis, their mutual dependencies are the fabric that binds them and protects them from the outside world. They are the universe drawn inwards, and for a time (painfully short for the mother) they are hermetically sealed and yet all-containing. But this is no smugly beatific Earth Mother; the Mother-as-Home in Mother, Nature bears all the pain and responsibilty of nature’s personification: ‘…I tried not to cry. I felt your stomach fill / with the violant sting of golden milk. / My body bled for you.’ (‘3oz’); ‘There is no room for error / (…) / …If I open / my eyes to the chance of falling / I will fall. And down will come baby, / cradle and all.’ (‘Trapeze’). And the grief of a mother’s loss, Lyall shows us, is an emptiness which is far from metaphorical; it is of course the all-too-physical reality of an unoccupied womb, ‘this house your home in me a hollow place’ (‘Ithaca’). This is a truth we may have already known, but Lyall’s language begins to make us feel it.

Chris Edgoose, Two debuts: Abeer Ameer and Aoife Lyall

Over the last dozen years or so, Angela France has developed into a seriously good poet. I was thinking about the collections I’ve read this year, wondering which I preferred – and then her book, Terminarchy (Nine Arches Press, £9.99) dropped on the mat with the bills and early Christmas cards.

Within a few pages – I have a strange habit of beginning books I don’t know at the back as well as the front – I thought this seemed so confident and assured I wanted to read it all, there and then. As is so often the case, it wasn’t possible. For a start, hens had to be cleaned out and fed, the home-made pig-sty, known to family as Pig Ugly, needed to be upgraded to deal with winter, given the arrival of four new inhabitants at the weekend. I was also writing a (bad) long poem, which eventually failed to survive ‘Delete’, and which took up a stupid amount of time before its demise.

So, when I finally settled to read Terminarchy, from front to back this time, it was with a fresh eye. And after two readings, I’ve found it the most pleasing new collection of my 2021. By that I mean that so much is published each year it’s impossible to read everything. I also have a tendency to re-read old, familiar books that have been on the shelves for decades. Nevertheless, acknowledging the limits of the statement, Terminarchy is top of my relatively lengthy list.

Bob Mee, POETRY COLLECTION I’VE ENJOYED MOST THIS YEAR – TERMINARCHY BY ANGELA FRANCE

The highlight of my recent reading continues to be Gillian Allnutt. I love the polished simplicity of her poetry, which makes much contemporary poetry look and sounds overwritten in comparison. Take these lines from ‘Tabitha and Lintel: An Imaginary Tale’ from her 2001 collection Lintel: ‘Snails have crossed the doorstone in the dark night / secretly as nuns, at compline, in procession’. Probably not everyone’s cup of tea, but I like it.

Matthew Paul, It was twenty years ago today

I’ve been reading in that want-to-underline-every-sentence way (not that I’ve ever been an underliner, except in college when it seemed like that’s what everyone did and so I thought that’s what “studying” meant, a skill I had never learned) an essay by Daniel Tobin in the anthology Poets on the Psalms (edited by Lynn Domina, Trinity U Press, 2008). Tobin, whose poetry I only recently encountered, speaks movingly — and so eruditely that I have to really slow down my usual impetuous reading pace — of how the psalms are the crying out of the human need to be heard and seen, in this case by a God who has seemed to have removed itself.

But he’s also indicating that communicating itself, speech, writing, is an incantation to create an other, or an Other, as a way of becoming oneself, of confirming being. Or maybe I’m going too far here, but it interests me, this idea. I think of hearing coyotes howl in the woods at night. I thought they howl after a kill but that’s apparently a misunderstanding of this act. It’s a “sounding,” that is, the individuals of the pack locating themselves and each other in the dark. So the psalm — and the poem, and the song, the story — are how we say “I am” and ask “Are you?” (And if the coyote howls and there’s no response?)

Marilyn McCabe, Captivity required from us a song; or, On Daniel Tobin and the Psalms

I simply don’t believe that poetry blogs are anachronistic in 2021. What’s more, when compiling my annual (subjective and incomplete) list of the Best U.K. Poetry Blogs, I was reassured and reminded by all these amazing bloggers’ efforts that the medium is very much alive and kicking, offering a more substantial and less ephemeral format than social media.

This year’s list even includes several top-notch newcomers, some of whom have been blogging for years but have only appeared on my limited radar this time around. Let’s start with them…

Matthew Stewart, The Best U.K. Poetry Blogs of 2021

As far as retreats go, it was a small group, just eighteen people plus myself and, surprise surprise, all women. I’m not sure what it is about me that puts the men folk off working with me. (because I refer to them as ‘men folk’ perhaps?) I do get the impression that I’m not really taken seriously as a writer or workshop facilitator by some men, perhaps because I write about, or have written about baby death and pregnancy and infertility. Traditionally ‘women’s issues’. Maybe it’s because I am ‘friendly and approachable’ which seems to translate as fluffy and inconsequential in some circles. There are, of course, women writers who don’t take me seriously either. Although it irritates me slightly; this feeling of not being taken seriously as a writer/facilitator, I have an inkling that it might well be more about my own insecurities. You can’t please all the people. And I know I carry my working class background on my shoulder, not like a chip, more like a parrot; always telling me that I don’t fit in and am not good enough. The same parrot tells me all sorts of awful stuff about how ugly and fat I am and how I won’t fit in because of that too and how I am totally unlovable. I’m not going to lie, the parrot is a nasty little bitch. But I’m sort of used to it now, the parrot, and mostly it is fairly inconsequential to me, mostly it doesn’t rule me, mostly I find that a bit of kindness to the parrot goes a long way. Maybe it just wants a cracker and a dark cover and some sleep in a safe place, I don’t know. I have stretched the analogy of the parrot too far now. It is dead. It is no more. etc. Anyway, back to the retreat. To be honest, to be able to share the week of the retreat with an all woman group was something very special indeed. What I’ve learnt as a facilitator is that to be able to provide a safe, warm, welcoming place where people, and in particular women, can just be, is important. And that’s what the retreat was like. We had people from all backgrounds, people with all sorts of personal life difficulties, all looking for something special to them. I wanted to create a place that felt like a retreat in the true sense of the word, where just for a few hours in the day, people could come and prioritise themselves and their writing. There were opportunities to hone writing skills, to be prompted to write new work, but there was also plenty of opportunities for quiet, no pressure, group activities, just writing together, talking, sharing our thoughts. And, of course down time/writing time. The evening reading events were a real highlight, in particular our last guest of the week, Jonathan Davidson, who’s honesty about the writing world, about the working class poets who never got their chance, about his own journey and the people who he had met on that journey was filled with love and humour.

Going back to the deceased parrot- I’d happened to mention that I was feeling a bit bruised by my book not having made it onto any lists – not award lists, not book of the year lists (It is continuing in great strides to not make it onto any lists at all by the way) – and how, even though I knew I had done what I needed to do with the book, that I felt it covered what I wanted it to cover in a way that made sense to me, it still stung a bit, but that as writers you are not meant to really say that out loud. As writers we are supposed to be slapped in the face by rejection after rejection and just get on with it, because it’s part of the job. And we do, but do you know what, it hurts still. Why wouldn’t it? Every poem has a sliver of yourself in it, especially the personal ones. What I got back from sharing this was such good, solid, kind, appreciative feedback, because the people on the course had read my book. They had heard poems from it in workshops, stuff I didn’t know anything about, and I can’t tell you how much it lifted my spirits to hear that the book, the book that launched in a pandemic, was finding its way around the writing community and being used in workshops and doing good stuff for people. I do not need the lists, I need this, these moment of recognition from readers. I had been a bit blocked and that seemed to free me to be able to work on new poems for the new collection. It shut that god damned parrot up.

Wendy Pratt, Retreating from the World

38. Recognize the Value in Silence

This one at first will not sound heartening. C.D. Wright has written a piece called “If one were to try to describe the heed that poetry requires.” (And I honestly thing you could replace the word poetry with and art making process). It begins, “Barbara Guest called it orchid attention. She felt the poem should tremble a little.” She talks about the “uncountable hours” a poet will spend in their lives on their tender observations, on their craft. She compares it to scientists spending a lifetime cataloguing and observing one small niche subject. Wright says, “As with most scientific papers, silence may be all that is at the other end. Maybe silence itself has value beyond being humbling. Maybe the record being made is its primary worth, and the rest of our temporal span is meant just for living and for the attention it commands.”

The truth is that even if you receive some attention for your books, the great majority of writers live mainly in obscurity. We live with a lot of silence on the other end. We do our work knowing that it may very well be met with silence. So it’s good to figure out what the value of silence is for you. Yes, it’s humbling. But it’s more than that. And the deeper you go into it, the greater the value.

Shawna Lemay, 20 (More) Pieces of Advice for Writers

I just finished writing a poem, and I’m worn out. 

For days I walked around in that weird stage I call “pre-poem anxiety,” which feels almost like a period of mourning: what the hell have I been doing with my time, not writing a poem? I’m plagued with morbid thoughts: what if I died tomorrow and I hadn’t written the next poem? What if the last thing I did before (awful thing happens) was NOT write a poem?

This catastrophizing mood comes over me when the interval between finishing a poem and writing a new one has dragged on too long. I search through my journals, make word lists, read poetry, looking for anything to spark an idea and get me writing again. 

Eventually something starts to gel. This leads to the next phase, where it almost feels like you have an itch in your brain. It’s a physical sensation, this itch. It comes over you while you’re going about your daily tasks. I walk around in a semi-daze, forget where I am, ignore my to-do list filled with deadlines and commitments. Before I’ve written a word, I enter a state of hyper-focus. 

Then I write the first line. I think it’s the most beautiful line ever written; I’m in tears, struck by its brilliance. I can’t believe it came from my brain. There it sits, on the page in front of me, vibrating, fresh, and unlike any line I’ve ever written before. I read it over and over. I’m as proud of it as a new parent whose child has just uttered her first word.

One line leads to the next. I’m in a state of semi-mania, writing hundreds of words, most of which will be deleted and rewritten.

Erica Goss, The Emotional Stages of Writing a Poem

The main way that I have been able to continue writing while homeschooling and being home with five kids is the “Open It Everyday” method.

EVERYDAY open your writing notebook. Even if you just glance over what you read last, or put it down and read something else, pick up the book and open it and look at it, Every Single Day. I used to say “five minutes a day” but honestly even less than that can still work.

Inevitably I write something in the notebook (maybe just a line or a few words). Inevitably a poem forms.

Over the past 7 years, amidst having babies, losing babies, three moves, and many, many classes taught, I was still able to write enough poems to produce two poetry books I’ve published (or are forthcoming– Church Ladies!) and one manuscript unpublished (as of yet). And also a middle grade novel, and the countless poems I tossed out because they weren’t good enough for a book (hundreds).

I’m not really a fast writer, I’m just persistent and consistent. Being persistent will get you further than you think.

Renee Emerson, Tips for Writing Productivity: #1 Open It Everyday

I’m also watching poetry Twitter, as usual, and recent posts about some beloved poet, unnamed, who paid $25,000 for a publicist to promote their first collection and, as you’d suspect, did pretty freaking well. (It’s probably terrible to ask you to message me if you know who the $25K person is–I’m just crassly curious.) I don’t have that kind of money burning a hole in my pocket, but I have thought about smaller-scale consulting with a publicist, and I know other friends who have, as well–it’s suddenly an open secret that many writers find audiences by investing cash upfront in the process. It’s one way of managing another huge time commitment, I guess, as well as a way that the publishing playing field will never be level. Certainly applying for reading series, festivals, etc. is work I strain to get done. It’s the usual quandary of whether to play the system as it exists or step aside into an alternate artistic economy. I get the arguments for both strategies. I like to think that if I spent some money and gained prominence from it (which can’t be a given, right?), I’d use any power I gained to help other writers. In some ways I already do, but that is certainly a rationalization–if your real goal is to help others, you don’t start by hiring a publicist. Anyway, as I slow down and look around, it’s one of the things that seems to be on my mind.

Lesley Wheeler, Shenandoah, #DisConIII, biobreaks

I think the bulk of the negative reactions were 1) a purity test for poets that we don’t hold fiction and non-fiction writers to (they often hire publicists with no static) and 2) a class envy response – who has $25,000 to spend on promoting a poetry book? Most of us do not. My first thought was “$25,000 is a car!” I didn’t grow up wealthy, and don’t consider myself someone who could easily justify coming up with that kind of money to promote my books. Heck, I have trouble spending $150 on an online ad for my book!

But, having interviewed a few publicists for my book PR for Poets, and having researched book publicity, there’s really no reason a poet can’t hire a $25,000 publicist – although most publicists don’t work with poets, don’t know poetry’s markets or reviewers, or just don’t see enough money in it to do it.

Am I pretty excited to have a publisher for my seventh book who has an in-house marketing and PR person at last? Absolutely. I’m used to doing everything myself, with varying results for varying amounts of time, energy, money, and hustle. I think that’s the experience of most poets – getting together their own mailing lists, asking bookstores for readings, maybe even sending out their own review copies. The prospect of marketing a book during a pandemic – which is something a lot of my friends have already had to do – is daunting indeed. There are already whispers of cancellations of people and publishers who had been planning to go to AWP 2022. I already took a class on Instagram to get that account going before my two new books come out. I do take this stuff seriously.

I am hoping AWP 2023 – which is, yay, supposed to take place in Seattle – will be safe. I really enjoy seeing my old friends – and I’d love to meet my two most recent publishers in person – the editors at Alternating Current and BOA Editions. And do a reading or two, take friends out to see parks, bookstores, and coffee shops.

So, when I wrote my book, PR for Poets, I said for most poets, spending more than $5,000 – the going rate for a publicist for one month – on promoting their poetry book probably doesn’t make sense. Most royalty rates and poetry sales will rarely net more than $1,000. (It’s happened for me on a couple books, but certainly not all.) But if someone has the money lying around, and they really want to advance their poetry careers – big fellowships, tenure track jobs, visibility that makes them more likely to get well-paid speaking and teaching gigs – I mean, who am I to say they shouldn’t?

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Finding Holiday Cheer, a Few Thoughts on Poetry and Publicity, and a Few End of the Year Book Suggestions

David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?

As a dog owner, I do a lot of walking. I don’t listen to music while I walk or look at my phone. I pay attention to the dog and the natural world and lines come to me. That happens whether we’re on city streets or in the woods. In Fredericton, the dog and I walked often along the Wolastoq river. Fredericton has a wonderful system of trails that are usually almost entirely people-free. I learned that the river is different every day, even in the winter when it’s frozen. The river didn’t necessarily make its way into my poetry, but those walks helped me to think and allowed lines to come to me. Now that I live in Victoria, the dog is very old and can’t walk as far or as fast. We do make it fairly regularly to the off-leash dog park on Dallas Road though. There, I let the dog take his time sniffing weeds and grass and other dog’s butts, and I enjoy the view of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Olympics across the strait and the sun on my face. And lines often come to me.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Sharon McCartney

hill farm
the curlew’s long call
over the lambing shed

Julie Mellor, Presence

I haven’t been to Texas since the unveiling of mom’s headstone. The backpack I use when traveling has been in the closet a long time. In its pockets I find paper remnants from the Cuba trip in 2019.

I also unearth my pocket Koren siddur which I had given up for lost, and a wooden coin that reads (after Simcha Bunim) on one side “for my sake was the world created” and on the other “I am dust and ashes.”

Flying for the first time in almost two years was always going to be strange. Flying for the first time during a global pandemic, even more so. Thankfully no one is belligerent about wearing a mask.

To make the day even more surreal, it turns out my local airport has been redone. New parking garage, new traffic flow, new everything. Delta still flies out of the B gates; at least that hasn’t changed.

On the first plane I watch Roadrunner, the Tony Bourdain film. I loved his writing, and the way he brought the world into our living rooms. I loved how much he seemed to love the wide world.

There’s a sense of dislocation in the film. The dislocation of travel, especially the kind of travel he did 250 days a year. The dislocation of a world where his light shines now only in memory.

Rachel Barenblat, Dislocation

maybe it was only about
that moment of knowing, enduring,
of that certainty of surrender —
knowing the sun would melt our wings
knowing that falling was another
becoming,
remembering that within the clouds
we too smell of unborn lake —
but that wasn’t the plan, was it?

Rajani Radhakrishnan, No way back

In other news, I’ve been greatly enjoying the bit of freelance work I’ve been dipping my toes in.  Last week, I got to write about installation art, this week, a short story I had not read previously by Kate Chopin.  Next up, fashion in the Great Gatsby. I don’t know what next year will bring, but a little extra money around the holidays is a great help. I’ve been doing these other types of writing instead of poems in the morning, along with some more work on some short fiction, but I am getting itchy to get back to poems after the new year (or possibly during the brief holiday break. Tonight, I attended the release reading for Carla Sameth’s WHAT IS LEFT, and her work and the guest readers left me incredibly inspired to get back to it.  This week brings much assembling the last round of releases and new layouts on the very last chaps of 2021. I will also be finalizing details on next year’s selections, sending out agreements, and getting started on some other little bits I have planned. I am also in-deep on my advent project, which develops a little more each day. 

It gets dark so early, especially on weekends when I tend to sleep in and then have only a few hours before the night descends.  I light my small tree and the faux candles and try to do cozy things like make cookies and soup. Last night, a feast of stuffed pasta shells and garlic bread and holiday romance movies. I try to be festive while also still being anxious. 

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 12/12/21

I hear the voices of loving defiance refusing to perish.

bell hooks once said, “I will not have my life narrowed down. I will not bow down to somebody else’s whim or to someone else’s ignorance.”

Before that, Paul Robeson:

“… I belong to the American resistance movement which fights against American imperialism, just as the resistance movement fought against Hitler.”

All the voices of benevolent intransigence will forever transmit across history’s airwaves.

Far beyond my life, they will grace the ears of others.

Courage is timeless. Intransigence, ageless.

Rich Ferguson, What Echoes Through the Ages

When I’ve filled
the emptiness

with poems,
I’ll be done,

the old monk said.

Tom Montag, TEN OLD MONK POEMS (46)

the ferry departs
to the whistle’s shriek
morning snow melted

Jason Crane, haiku: 18 December 2021