Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 35

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, poets seemed to be taking Rilke’s directive to heart: “You must change your life.” The onset of autumn will do that to you. There’s art and geekiness and trees, books and diaries and new writing projects galore. Enjoy.


A change is coming. It’s in the season – I am readying myself, need to prepare physically, mentally, for some experience or action. 

And so, I’ve started to read again. It’s not that I stopped, but that I’ve been consumed by work, so eaten up by its immediate demands that I could hardly look at poetry, fiction, non-work-non-fiction, for the pain its absence causes. I think this shying away has been a sort of self-preservation too: to read great poetry and great fiction is to encounter the world in truth not found in sociology texts, rarely expressed in academic articles. To read what’s written from the heart of experience is to know without doubt that freedom does not come from working harder, smarter, having what’s been cited to me as a ‘can-do attitude’ (as if unquestioning obedience were some sort of virtue). […]

And I went swimming again this week in the reservoir. I had been waiting all August for the clouds to clear, the temperature to rise. The sun has been elusive, but when I turned to friendship, to LJ (who never shies away from experience or action), I found I could risk the plunge, even in 16 degrees under cloud. I went in not hot but bothered, came out cleansed. We sat afterwards in our usual spot, drinking tea, and the clouds cleared enough for there to be blue and gold. I carried the water’s coolness into my evening, to the warmth of a poetry picnic in the park with friends. I began to remember who I am being, why I am doing.

Liz Lefroy, I Ready For Change

This back to school season feels nothing like the 31 others I’ve lived. The return to school each year has always been a time marked by dread. While each year (except the last) always contained things I looked forward to and was excited about, there was also always sadness and resignation. It meant returning to imbalance and exhaustion and ethical compromise–all of which stemmed from simply never having enough time to do all that needed doing. Important parts of me that opened during the summer months shut down when I returned to school. This year, in spite of all that is unknown and likely to be challenging, I feel only light, happy, and open. I cannot remember a time in my life that I have felt as down-to-the-bone good as I do right now.

I feel that way because I’m returning to work that is a better fit for me. I feel that way because it is my choice to do this work; I didn’t feel trapped by economic need. I feel that way because I will have a manageable work load that gives me enough time to take care of my personal and family needs, as well as time for things I simply want to do. I feel this way because I get to do work that aligns with my values and that I know I can do well.

Think of what a difference it could make to our children if all their teachers felt light, happy, and open as they return to school! Think of what a difference it could make to our world if everybody felt light, happy, and open about their work, able to do the kind that is a good fit for them, in places where they feel safe and accepted and able to be the best version of themselves. These insights I’m gaining about community, belonging, competence, choice, and meaning will definitely inform my practices with students this year as I facilitate their work of learning, as well as choices I continue to make about where and how to work, live, and be.

This post is already too long for a deep-dive into a critique of work in a world driven by capitalism (that others are doing so much better than I could, anyway), but on this Labor Day weekend, I am full of ideas and wishes and longings for how work could be different for all of us, and what that could mean for our planet and societies. I am so grateful for new colleagues who feel like my people and who have welcomed me into their community. I can’t wait to work beside them and to learn from and with them. I wish they were not going to have to carry the kind of weight that I did for so many years, but I know that most of them will. I’m wishing that all of them and all of you and everyone I know could work in the way I now get to, so that we might all bloom where we’re planted–because blooming isn’t just a matter of your attitude or desire or effort. (Just ask my raspberries.) It’s about having the conditions you need to live, grow, and thrive.

Rita Ott Ramstad, On blooming (and not)

In that Book of Life names are written, then sealed. The concept carries serious weight, but this year I’m giving it a different spin. The turning that we do, teshuvah, turning over a new leaf, returning to true and better selves is like turning or stitching of material that poets indulge in. We thread one thing against and into another. Bursts of strong emotion or image might end a line to be met with contradiction on the next. All paradox, all voices welcome! I can understand our contemporary turbulence as voices breaking in on each other. Beauty is stitched with grief, and against the tragic bursts the intimate. Dark absurdity is patched with innocence. And personal failings open onto something bigger, a collective standing together. That stitching, that turning to the whole is the next ritual I’m falling into.

Jill Pearlman, The Closing Rituals of Summer

The summer heat broke at last after the “remnants” of hurricane Ida crashed over us. If those were just remnants, I have deep respect for the people of Louisiana, who felt the initial force. We got 7″ of rain in less than a day, and the flash floods affected many of our friends. My basement office on campus is drying out during the 3-day weekend–our building’s drainage system was not quite up to the task of directing water away from our doors. Now, the brown crickets are noisier than the katydids, the grasshoppers have grown large, the days are shorter. Tomato harvest has slowed, and gardening consists mostly of pulling up weeds and dead plants. It is as though the downpour swept away summer, despite my knowing that the hot days will return. (September can be steamy here in my valley.)

I’m reading A.E. Stallings‘ collection Like and relishing her new takes on traditional poetry forms as well as her facility with establishing a sense of place in the poems. I appreciate her images and thought-provoking ideas, too. Her work does the things that I think poems are supposed to do.

Finally, I have been drafting a few poems, or at least hoping these drafts will turn into poems. I’ve also begun examining some older work for revision and, maybe, collection into another book. But that’s looking perhaps too far ahead. After a challenging couple of years, maybe just living in the moment serves me better.

The taste of fresh pears. The sticky sweetness of fresh local peaches. The smell of basil.

Ann E. Michael, Moment(s)

Rain pelts the roof and the rivers rise. Roots push
out of the ground—outspread, they thicken: not fall.

We’ve lined up for shots but still hide our faces behind
masks; the moon wears a gauze of stars before it falls.

I’ll write to you in every dream, fill notebooks with loops
through which we engineer escape before the fall.

Luisa A. Igloria, Fall

Some writers go to writer’s residencies and retreats frequently. I am not one of those writers. I haven’t been to a writer’s residency in six years. The last time I went, I was working on the manuscript that became Field Guide to the End of the World. I’m coming to this residency to write poems, yes, and send out poems, yes, but also to wrangle three (!) unruly poetry manuscripts that need to get out into the world. This takes more time and concentration than I usually can muster at home. I just finished a first last week – my first ever Virtual Breadloaf (TM) and now I’m taking time to be a writer at a retreat for a whole week!

So what to do? Well, you pack up, get in a car and drive for an hour and a half, then sit in parking lot for the ferry for another hour, then ride the ferry over for an hour, and then, bam! You’re there! Your little cabin in the middle of a university’s marine biology lab center on San Juan Island is ready and waiting to be aired-out and re-cleaned (covid days, of course) and then safely entered into. The skies are blue. The ocean is literally steps away. You can hear crickets. There’s no television. And though many young marine biologists and other scholars crowd the grounds you barely even see any of them except in a distance. You literally interact with no one except a friendly biologist who points you in the direction of the cabin key on arrival.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A Week Away at a Writing Retreat in the Pacific Northwest – with Foxes!

My plan is to spend the mornings writing, from day-break to lunchtime, Hemingway style, though without all the excessive booze. The afternoons are for reflective practices – beach walks, research, journalling, reading, looking out of the window, absorbing, being. I have never been in a position to do this before. Like most writers I’ve always shoe-horned writing in at five in the morning before work starts, after work, in five minute breaks between work. So I don’t know how well I’ll do with it, it’s a different way of working, a method that puts me and my practice first, as the priority; something that the voice of imposter syndrome is not liking. Oh no, that bitch is Up. In. Arms. I’m not listening to her. I’m doing it anyway. […]

I chose September for my writing month because it is the time of year when I feel most at peace, before the melancholy of winter. As I sit here now, the clouds are low, the light is fading and there is a chill to the evening air, and yet earlier I wore sandals and no cardigan to walk the dog. The scent of straw and hay and harvest is lingering on the breeze, the swallows are leaving, the swifts have left and the geese are starting to fly over the house, heading south along the coast line. What a beautiful, still, time of year, what a perfect time to be creative.

The out of office response is set, all I have to do now is write.

Wendy Pratt, The ‘Out of Office’ Response is On

One of the truly deep pleasures in writing a novel, or any book, is the accumulating of inspiring sources, the delving into a subject, being refreshed by it and pulled to it. There is a real joy in seeing how looking at something in a prolonged way from many angles, through time — and this alone is one of the profound rewards of writing. […]

When you write a book, you allow all those joyful sparks while delving deep. There’s a point though when you realize how vast the material is. Trust me, it’s always vast. You go in thinking, oh I’m sure no one has written much on X, and you come out with a truckload of books already written on the subject. The trick is to let that inspire you rather than to be intimidated or overwhelmed by it. I always knew I wanted to do some kind of riff of the story by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings, but guess what? Amanda Leduc had already done so, and it’s an amazing book. At first, I was deflated, but in the end, I just did my thing.

Shawna Lemay, On Writing Inspiration

The act of drawing/painting is often a meditation for me — even a kind of prayer, if you will — in which I allow myself to be led by intuition in the choice of objects, the medium, and how I depict them. There are a lot of “no’s” on the way to the eventual “yes.” In the case of the seemingly innocuous still life here, I now realize that there was more going on than a clichéd “bowl of cherries”: the deep red color of the fruit, the memory of their bloodiness on my tongue and hands, the sense of sudden interruption of a meal represented by the torn, partial piece of bread. Looking at it later, I recalled a passage in Nadezdha Mandelstam’s book, Hope Against Hope, where she describes the evening when her husband, the poet Osip Mandelstam, was taken away by Stalin’s henchmen – he would later die in a concentration camp. But she writes about how he was eating a hard-boiled egg, which he had just dipped into salt — and that image is what stayed with me. Probably what the viewer sees in the still life is simply moment of calmness and beauty — and that’s also as it should be. I just find it interesting to realize that for me, the maker, there was quite a bit going on, and whatever healing or calmness I found in the making also had to do with the choices and subterranean current I followed, but barely recognized at the time. I felt satisfied with the result – it felt right and somehow complete, but I couldn’t have explained why.

Does this subconscious process impart some ineluctable quality to the finished work? I don’t know the answer to that question, and I’m not sure it’s my job to know. I feel like my job is to show up in response to the inner prompting, and do the work.

Beth Adams, The Truth in Ordinary Things

stealth bombers
a cluster of magpies
strut their stuff

Jim Young [no title]

Those 33 poems meant that I wrote a little more than one poem per day, but this year I didn’t even try to write one every day; I almost always wrote them in clumps of three or four and then took a few days off between writing sessions. I’ve done this in the past, too; it makes the “poem-a-day” thing less of a chore for me. And as I’ve said in past PoPo recaps, writing several poems in one sitting sometimes makes them more interesting; often I’ll riff on the subject of one poem and expand it into others. This time I had a series of poems about eavesdropping, since I seemed to be overhearing a lot of conversations and was fascinated by the relationship between the loud talker and the unwilling listener, and the incompleteness of the information you overhear—Is that person always like that? Did that person bring this problem on himself? How reliable is the narrator of this story? I also had a few poems about painting (more on that below), and lots of small scenes from around my town of Ashland, Oregon, which was plagued by hazardous wildfire smoke all through August.

Looking back through the poems, I can see a few that seem like keepers, like something I might end up getting published if some editor likes them. A few fizzled. My favorite one is about my bathrobe, which had nothing to do with eavesdropping or smoke and just sort of flew in on its own, as the best poems sometimes do. 

Amy Miller, Poetry Postcard Fest 2021: Both Sides Now

This month at Canary Wharf in London, the Le Sorelle river barge will host the Sea Reconnection exhibition (part of the Totally Thames Festival 2021), featuring my poetry and work by the visual artists Darren Hewitt and Miles Taverner. 

The exhibition has been in the works for a long time – since 2019, in fact, although I joined the project at a slightly later stage in early 2020. Originally it was planned for spring 2020, but sadly due to COVID, all plans were off. We are delighted that it is finally happening and particularly that we have been able to join the Thames Festival.

Darren Hewitt‘s paintings are focused on expansive, light-filled seascapes and human interactions with these perspectives, while Miles Taverner uses materials recovered and recycled from the sea to create tactile, colourful, often large-scale pieces. 

Several of my poems appear alongside these artworks and bring together the themes of the sea and the Thames. In new works such as ‘Great Eastern’ and ‘Pool of London’, I have written about historic connections between London’s river and the ocean. ‘Great Eastern’, below, was inspired by the ship of the same name, designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, built at Millwall and eventually destined to lay the first lasting transatlantic telegraph cable in 1866. 

GREAT EASTERN

At Millwall, an iron hull
like a fallen star.
Brunel with his fierce eyes
fixed on the future.

Grey Atlantic fought and held
the telegraph light.
Great Eastern, a meteor,
ploughed into the night.

The exhibition is free to all and is open every weekend from Friday to Sunday in September – details below. Please come if you can.

Clarissa Aykroyd, Sea Reconnection: an art and poetry exhibition in London, September 2021

I’ve used this blog before as a place to record workshop ideas, so I’m adding a post about some visual poems I’ve made as they would also work very well in a workshop. Here I’ve substituted flowers for syllables, words and rhymes in a few poetic forms (haiku, couplet, quatrain, end rhyme) but any found material could be used in place of flowers (one teacher I know used objects found in the classroom to construct visual poems) and there are many more poetic forms to engage with! I’ve posted these pieces on Instagram @andothermaterials where you can find more of this kind of playful and experimental work.

Josephine Corcoran, Making visual poems with flowers

I’m not sure how, exactly, this happens, but when I see just the right painting, it feels as if the artist is stirring her paintbrush inside my head. Photographs move me similarly, as do installations—collections of objects, or a looped video, for example, can have the same effect on me. I never know what will do the trick, what will wake up different parts of my brain, stimulating thoughts and pulling up memories. This is, of course, all part of the fun.

We write ekphrastic poems not to describe the art, necessarily, but to glean some truths from it, to see connections, to uncover things in ourselves in the intersection between words and pictures. 

Erica Goss, Words with Pictures: Ekphrasis

The octopus was a popular part of the so-called ‘Marine Style’ of pottery, which originated on Crete in the late Bronze Age and was embraced by potters on the mainland. Monsters, some more cephalopod-like than others, abound in Greek mythology. They are not all creatures of the sea. The Hydra, which appears in a number of myths and sources such as Hesiod, had several heads. Cerberus, or Kerberos, the hound referred to but not actually mentioned by name in the Iliad, had two, three, or even ‘many’ heads. 

The first open lecture I attended as an undergraduate at Newcastle University in 1979 was given by Dr John Pinsent of Liverpool University on this unusual theme. He had authored a paper called The Iconography of Octopuses: a First Typology (BICS 25, 1978) about the development of octopus representations in late Mycenaean vase painting. 

More recently I came under the influence of a large blue graffiti octopus known locally as ‘Digby‘. Digby, designed by John D. Edwards, is part of the Never Ending Mural community arts project in Ipswich and a popular local icon (see here). 

There may well be a nod to the spirit of Digby in my poem. And, as I hinted earlier, the impact of squid and octopus representations on ancient artifacts should not be overlooked. There is something very fluid, fascinating and changeable about these marine animals.

It is worth remembering that while the wine-dark purple colour from the Murex shell (see also here) was prized as a costly dye in Ancient Greece, humans have been writing and drawing with cuttlefish ink, known to us as ‘sepia’, since times of antiquity. 

Caroline Gill, DRIFTWOOD BY STARLIGHT: Questions from Maria Lloyd (3)

In 2001, so many poets poo-pooed the web and the doors it was opening up to reach readers.  When I tried to solicit poets for [wicked alice], the response was often that they didn’t want to “waste” their good poems on internet publication.  I found most of my potential authors in discussion boards/ list servs  (later replaced by blogs). People who already spent a lot of time on the computer.  (I also just realized that many of the poets who said no are no longer writing or publishing (though I wouldn’t know it…maybe their work is only in print journals few subscribe to.) I’m sure some have surrendered wholeheartedly to the beast, especially once budget strings closed up so many print publications completely or forced them to the web. I sometimes laugh hysterically when I see someone who once told me I was unwise for publishing on the web totally publishing madly  on the web. It’s the best kind of self-care.  

I’d be the first to say that without the internets, I don’t think I’d be a poet.  Or at least the poet I am.   Sometimes even publishing on a platform of millions feels like dropping a dime in the ocean.  Print culture would intensify that. I love me some of my fave print journals, and have been a part of many over the years, by submitting or solicitation, but I usually go for web publication in most circumstances when sending out new work.  It feels more immediate and far reaching. Like someone is actually reading and responding, which is really all writers want to feel. 

Kristy Bowen, 20 years

Most festivals request subtitles in English, which is not an issue for my video poems, since the text is an integral part the video design itself. However, some of these festivals have asked for subtitles in Spanish. The challenge here has been, first, to come up with a good translation into Spanish, and, second, to fully integrate the Spanish text into the video.

I don’t know Spanish, although I can read French reasonably well and I studied Latin for 6 years at school. I’m also familiar enough with Italian to grasp the general idea of what is being said or written. So Spanish didn’t seem totally out of reach.

However, the translation for The Life We Live is Not Life Itself – La vida que vivimos no es la vida misma was a special challenge, since the original text and the spoken word here is in Greek, which I can more or less read but not understand well. I did have an English translation that I worked on with the author, Tasos Sagris, and this provided the link for a good Spanish translation.

I used two machine translation systems for this: the well-known Google Translate, and a recently released AI system, DeepL Translator. The first trick here is to generate sentence-by-sentence multi-way translations: Greek to Spanish; English to Spanish, along with their back-translations: eg Spanish to English to Greek compared with Spanish to Greek. The results were compared until they converged on a common set of phrases. Luckily this usually occurred, indicating the underlying accuracy of the machine translation systems.

The second trick is to thoroughly investigate other variant translations that are suggested in order to pick up subtle, but important shades of meaning. Again back and forward translations are critical here. But even more important is to use native language dictionaries to check the meaning of words or phrases: what do native speakers think this word or phrase means, at least as recorded in their dictionaries. Of course, this also required several iterations of translation – back-translation.

The final thing is to get the translated text checked by a native speaker if possible. In this case, I was lucky to have someone do this and they found only a couple of things to change, both of which I’d flagged, which was a great relief!

Ian Gibbins, Videos screening in Latin America

During lockdown, our local poetry group didn’t really meet up, so my contact with other poets in my area hasn’t been as frequent as it normally would have been. Plus, I’ve sort of defected to the haiku camp – I don’t write much in other forms at the moment, or read them for that matter. Having said that, I don’t feel it’s narrowed my field of vision, quite the opposite. It’s led me to discover new magazines like the one above, and my other UK favourite, Presence. And then there are all those fantastic American journals, many of which are online or publish a selection from their current issue online. I’ve been lucky enough to have two poems published in these this year. It’s not the reason I write, but acceptance does help keep the momentum.

Julie Mellor, Blithe Spirit

Until I saw the work of Sarah J. Sloat, I hadn’t thought of combining erasure poems and collage.  I loved her book Hotel Almighty, the erasure poems with collage that Sloat created from pages of Stephen King’s Misery, and it made me want to do something similar.  But this past summer hasn’t been a great time to do that, what with getting ready to move, then moving, then having art supplies in various places.

And there’s the issue of intentionally destroying a book.  I don’t have that many books I don’t care about.  I thought I might use John Naisbitt’s Megatrends, once I glanced through it again to see if it had been correct about its predictions.  But when I saw my notes from so many years ago, I just couldn’t damage the book.

So, I made a photocopy of a page that had potential.  I blocked out some words that seemed to go together.  And then I clipped some pictures from a December copy of Oprah magazine. 

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Information Economies and Collages

I like blogging because I like writing but publication is slow. It’s nice to have an immediate outlet for thoughts I’m not ready to cast as essays or poems. I’m not about to stop in favor of more strategic writing behavior, although one day I might. But I do regret a little having channeled time away from truly private writing. What’s really on my mind is often not mine to share–this week, “worrying about a friend in trouble” doesn’t even remotely cover it–so I end up misrepresenting aspects of my life in my blog, probably most often by projecting coherence I certainly do not feel. I don’t know if any entry is really better than a verbal selfie, in which I “show” my writing, reading self at a deceptively flattering angle. As [Edna St. Vincent] Millay said at one of the many moments she castigates herself for not writing, “A diary of this kind is neither authentic nor satisfactory.”

Well, poets are experts at the simulacrum of presence, creating an illusion of voice through dry printed words. Millay certainly was. “What kind of beast would turn its life into words?” Adrienne Rich once wrote. Me, I guess, over and over again, trying to be authentic enough to satisfy myself.

Lesley Wheeler, “A diary of this kind is neither authentic nor satisfactory”: Millay’s journals

I have a thing for dead trees resting in the branches of living trees. I’m sure forestry management types consider this a potentially dangerous situation, but I find them beautiful. I cherish the music these tree partners make in the wind, almost like whale songs rising from the woods.

When I shared some pictures on social media, poet friend RC Wilson responded, ”Mark Twain indicated that a tree limb in the river that oscillated up and down in the current, like the arm of a man sawing wood, was called a sawyer. Seems like some of the music you describe is a rubbing sound caused by the wind moving the living tree so that the dead tree rubs against it like the bow of fiddle. So how about fiddlers? Yeah, ‘widow maker’ acknowledges the deadliness of that arrested potential energy, so watch out for widow makers when you set up your tent, but also listen for song of the fiddlers that trees have sung forever.”

Friend and former colleague Shay Seaborne wrote that she sees the living tree as a “tree death midwife.” I think she’s got something with that midwife observation.

Laura Grace Weldon, Sister Trees

Reading through The Book of Mirrors (Winner of the Twenty-Sixth White Pine Press Poetry Prize, 2021) by Yun Wang, I find myself marveling again and again at her facility with the poetic image. Across poems ranging in theme from feminism, dreams, literary figures, motherhood, and the universe, Wang’s use of the image is nothing short of illuminating while also being instructive. Note how even in this one line from “Sapphire” creates a whole world:

White swans in flight dissolve into a dark sea punctured by stars.

This inversion of color in the move from “white swans” to “dark sea” is masterful and moves imagery beyond mere description. Across the collection’s four sections, Wang incorporates images to suggest, provoke, interrogate, narrate, and elegize the experiences of living in a world where one only has what they can sense and intuit to guide them forward. A good example can be seen in the short lyric “Regret”:

If I were a tree
I would never have shed
all my leaves
for the caress of sunset

and stepped naked
into that moonless
starless night

A trap embraced me
I had no voice

Here, the logic and mutability implied by the word “If” is pursued through descriptions of tree life, a move that juxtaposes the experiences of tree and being human. Through this proximity, tree and human are seen in stark contrast while also embodying distinct vulnerabilities. The poem implies that while the fixed and voiceless tree would naturally be thought of as the more vulnerable of the two, it is the human decisions made by the speaker that have left her, ultimately, “trapped” with “no voice” despite having one. One feels distinctly the weight of the title and how much of it stems from conscious human awareness and human error.

José Angel Araguz, microreview & interview: The Book of Mirrors by Yun Wang

Yesterday, telling you about Men, Women, and Ghosts, I also told you about my dream of a wild, baby pig. Strange and delightful to encounter [Jon] Tribble’s poem titled “Long Stories About Short Pigs.” In the first story, a beggar boy takes a wild ride on a metal pig. Then my heart broke when the poem shifted to “the last Vietnamese family / pressed into the metal belly of the cargo / chopper” and made the connection, as many have been doing these last few days, of the exit from Vietnam and the exit from Afghanistan, leaving people behind. More heartbreak in “Banner Days in America,” a poem that starts with burning a flag and ends with folding one.

Indeed, for all the delights in this book, heartbreak, injustice, trouble, or irony are right there in the background, perhaps in a restaurant, enjoying Chinese food, while a boy and his grandmother talk about things you’d rather not have to overhear. “A pig is never only a pig,” Tribble reminds me, and, alas, “a fairy tale is only a fairy tale.” Sometimes there are no happy endings. In “Lucky Life,” about the need for riverboat casinos, “[a] few spindly antennas” in small towns are “shaping these lives to All-American mold.

          Huddled about the pixilated fire,
     cartoon promises guarantee That’s all,

     folks! with piggish glee, but is it?

Ah, yes, the pig of my childhood. But this is a grown-up book.

Kathleen Kirk, And There is Many a Good Thing

From Winnipeg-based poet Colin Smith comes Permanent Carnival Time (Winnipeg MB: ARP Books, 2021), furthering his exploration of civil discourse, neoliberal capitalism and chronic pain amid Kootenay School of Writing-infused poetics. Permanent Carnival Time engages with the prairies, including the historic Winnipeg General Strike, writing a wry engagement of language gymnastic and ruckus humour. “Labour is entitled to all it creates.” he writes, as part of the second poem, “Necessities for the Whole Hog.” Sparking asides, leaps and fact-checks, Smith’s lengthy poetic calls out culture and capitalism on their nonsense, deflection and outright lies, composing a lyric out of compost and into a caustic balm against capitalism’s ongoing damage. “Money with more civil rights than you.” he writes, as part of “Folly Suite”: “Luckless bastard.”

rob mclennan, Colin Smith, Permanent Carnival Time

Hades seems to be a state of mind, not just a place, and takes readers on a tour through politics, history, love, boredom and other human conditions in a variety of forms. The opening half is a collection of casual sonnets that don’t strictly follow the rules but allow the underlying structure to give the poems a framework, a reason not to wander too far off into digressions. The first poem, “Barbarian”, starts,

“Fey provincial folk played guitars
and zithers, slowly farmed the days
they read books and sat through plays
lived their lives creatively
(crochet, writing and pottery)
oblivious to the barbarian hordes
surrounding and then they noticed.”

Each turns to prayer only for them to be replied with disaster after disaster as “the home audience stare/ at shiny screens.” Being good is punished by reduction to entertainment to keep the barbarians on the right side of the screen.

Emma Lee, “A Happening in Hades” S K Kelen (Puncher and Wattmann) – book review

Because the enemy sleeps with eyes open and heart closed.

Because our heads and hands don’t always get along.

Because the belly of the beast sometimes resembles the interior of our past apartments.

Because there’s a memory tied around our finger that won’t allow us to forget the broken parts of our past.

Because it’s hard for arms to embrace shadows, because shadows sometimes wear our bodies better than we do.

Because wounds come in all shapes, sizes, and kisses.

Because fire is at the heart of our yeses, and yeses don’t always survive the rain.

Because sometimes the only language we can skywrite in is falling.

Because falls don’t always follow summers.

Because there aren’t enough desert winds to eliminate sorrow’s footsteps,

we continue to be that air in search of a clear blue sky.

Rich Ferguson, Eyes Open, Heart Closed

I used to wake every morning and spring out of bed: I’d be on my feet before I really knew I was awake, eager for the day, intent on my breakfast and my book and my brief ambitions. Now I wake slowly, even if my bladder is full and urgent. I look at my hands in the morning dark, open them wide and clench them curiously into fists, to see if they’ll do it. Still alive: still strong. I’m still here, for some reason. Or for none. I hear the cry of gulls, in my mind’s ear. They don’t really come this far up from the river: it’s some trick of my gimpy auditory processing. I turn on my side, throw off the covers, swing my legs forward into emptiness, freeze my core, and push myself upright with one arm. From there I can stand without any particular stress on my lower back. I sway slightly, reassuring it: see? I can move that much, and no sirens go off. A new day. Thus.

Dale Favier, The Cry of Gulls

once the coast was clear
all the humans gone
the gulls moved in to
scavenge
salvage
savage what remained

night was falling
change was in the air
they had been here before
all might perish yet

Paul Tobin, NIGHT WAS FALLING

Open the gate. Let the cows roam,
Following their own free will.
Open the door. Let the children play
However they wish to play.
If the house and the grounds are both silent,
Shape your cool tongue into a single white flower.
Perhaps a camellia, fat and full, bursting
With life. Lick the silence clean.
Move through your silence
Like you might move through an entire life,
If only you could; and do this without shame.

James Lee Jobe, Lick the silence clean.

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 34

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week: the changing season, remembering and dismembering, bibliophilia, obsolete office equipment, mountains, labyrinths, pedagogy, and more.


Besides gardening, I gave myself a writing challenge. To write every morning, which I did faithfully at the start of summer, and was successful in completing poems, 100 word stories, lyric essays. As the summer progressed, I had to divide my attention. Big garden commitment. Of course, the gardens need the care of small children. I mean things can get out of control pretty fast. So I fussed over everything every day. You guessed it, in the morning, before the sun got too hot. A chunk of writing time spent in the garden. But not lost time, I think I was writing in the garden. Loose thoughts coming together in my head. Lines repeating as I weeded. It was good work. I am grateful for this life on the farm. How it restores me. […]

I wanted to create several manuscripts this summer, and I was successful. I have a micro-chapbook of prose (lyric essays and a prose poem) called In a Silent Way; a chapbook of  twenty-four 100 word stories called Rock. Paper. Scissors.; andmy fifth full-length poetry collection called The Weight of Air. I have submitted these manuscripts to chapbook competitions and presses. 

On 8/6/2021, I submitted The Weight of Air to Kelsay Books for possible publication.  It was accepted on 8/19/2021, with publication scheduled for May, 2022.  I am thrilled by this good news. 

Soon, the air will change, and shadows will grow longer, and autumn with be upon us. Another change of season.

M.J. Iuppa, Last Days of August: Looking Back on Summer

The rasp of my knife
against charcoal, smell of fire:
an autumn hunger.

Liz Lefroy, I Scrape My Toast

A few days in London was a real tonic. And it’s still pretty quiet and tourist-free. We visited some more of the fascinating City churches, also the much-revamped Museum of the Home, and just enjoyed exploring London on foot.

We also went to the David Hockney exhibition at the Royal Academy, The Arrival of Spring. It’s two (or three?) rooms of the paintings Hockney did in France during Spring 2020, recording the same trees, plants and landscapes as they transitioned from bare and cold to full greenery and colour. I was quite taken aback – the colours are just indescribably beautiful, and the whole idea of Spring and how it always comes back, no matter what… I don’t know why but I started welling up and before I knew it I was standing in the middle of the room completely in tears. I’ve never had that kind of reaction to any art, so it rather took me aback. I guess the last 18 months have been harder than I thought. […]

[M]y bedside reading is currently A Length of Road by Robert Hamberger. It’s an utterly absorbing and very personal account of Rob’s walk in the footsteps of John Clare. It’s a meditation on Clare’s poetry, and also nature writing but mostly a beautiful and honest memoir, and perfect reading for the quiet night time journey down into sleep.

Robin Houghton, Meet-ups, currently reading & other distractions

Fewer people come to the cemetery service each year. When I began serving this community, ten years ago, we would have at least a dozen. We’d set up a circle of folding chairs and pray the afternoon service. And then people would take pebbles and quietly walk through the cemetery, leaving stones to mark their visits to parents or grandparents or great-grandparents. Some members of my shul are fourth or fifth generation; they have ancestors to visit here.

These days only a few people come. Many of those who used to attend the cemetery service each year are now buried in that same cemetery. I like to think that I am still davening with them each year when we convene on a Sunday before Rosh Hashanah. There was one gentleman who always used to come to the cemetery service and then quip, “Rabbi, don’t forget, you’re doing my funeral!” And I’d always say, “No time soon, please.”

The custom of visiting our ancestors at the cemetery before the new year feels old-fashioned. It comes from a time when people didn’t migrate much. Today most of the members of my small shul are not fourth- or fifth-generation members. They’re transplants, like me. I’ve been here now for almost thirty years (and have served as the rabbi here for a decade.) This is my home, and my son’s home. But our beloved dead aren’t here.

Rachel Barenblat, Paying respects

Second: when we ask “where is everybody?” we assume that everyone will be interested in space travel. But here again, we are the odd man out among the intelligent species we know. We are colonists. Other intelligent animals, except possibly corvids, show no interest in moving into other ecological niches. They want to stay where they are. We have the odd notion of going outside our biome: to other creatures I’m guessing that this will be a very weird idea. Possible? Maybe. It might also be possible to take our brains and nervous systems, flay off everything else, put them into tanks, and take them to places our bodies couldn’t go… but why would you want to do such a thing? To more sophisticated creatures, I suspect that’s how leaving their ancestral biomes may strike them. We have no idea if we can create an off-world human biome, over the long term. Maybe we will be able to eventually. But maybe the idea is just plain nuts: biological nonsense. Maybe no one is visiting because no one wants to scrape the brains out of their bodies and fling them somewhere else. Maybe everyone else has a clear picture of how miserable a creature would be, outside its biome, and we haven’t quite figured it out yet.

Dale Favier, A Lonelier Thought

in those days he was expected to wear a suit and tie   over time the act of knotting his tie became a measure   for the thickness   the weave   the stiffness of the silk presented unique challenges   if it knotted easily then it would be plain sailing   if repeated attempts were required to achieve the desired effect then the day lay in ambush

but that was then

that job does not exist any more and he only needs one tie   black   like his suit for funerals

Paul Tobin, THE DAY LAY IN AMBUSH

A present memory and a much older re-memory are bleeding from a nightmare into my days. I suppose this is where the idea of repressed memories comes from? As though the present sends a hook down into the past and pulls up a fragment of a story along with the will to make sense of it.

This dark and stormy night. Fill in the blanks. But I know that – I believe that – there will never be a way to know the objective truth of a re-constructed memory. So I let it be. I admit I am tempted to try to name the atmosphere, a bit like recollecting a taste – the sweet, the umami, the mouthfeel – to shape it into something that can be put safely in a box. Identified and controlled. Like an ingredient in the recipe that makes us who we are. In this case: This darkness. This ambivalence. This vague childhood fascination of knowing there is an unknown something present in the energy that is as explosive, rich, and mesmerizing as death.

Is this a wisdom that only exists in the lifetime before rationalization becomes a habit? A trigger for sense that ushers us to a different kind of innocence/ignorance? A mature and willful distance. The illusion of control that we are so afraid to lose.

If this atmosphere of my memory is real, maybe it has no name because I had no name for it: for a sense memory connected to a psychological process but not to language. So it slips around the traps in my mind and flows into moments of my day, unexpectedly. Darkly.

And I am still fascinated. Like touching a wound. Like sticking a finger deep into the bloody gash to expose the mystery as… mystery.

Here is something as dark and textured as mushrooms. As sickness and birth and sex. Something true that cannot be contained.

Ren Powell, Trying Not to Dismember the Present

We got back from our camping trip last week and I’ve been busy ever since, not in a bad way, but busy all the same. My holiday read was The Essential Haiku – versions of Basho, Buson and Issa by Robert Hass (Bloodaxe Books 2013, f. pub. 1994). It’s a very readable book and Hass offers some clear and concise versions/ translations. Here’s one by Buson, picked at random:

Calligraphy of geese
against the sky –
the moon seals it.

Of course, one poem can’t represent the whole book, but I don’t want this post to be a review, so I’ll move on to my main point, which is that it’s been wonderful to be able to borrow this from the local library. As the ticket on the front cover says, ‘Borrowing from your library is the greener alternative to buying and you’ll be amazed by the selection.’ I’ve been trying to thin out the amount of books on my shelves over the last few months and the last thing I want to do is fill them up again, so for me, borrowing is a good way of saving space. It’s also a great way of trying a book without the commitment of purchasing it. […]

In terms of my own writing, I’ve found some inspiration in the Hass versions and if time allows, I’ll go back to his book and reread some of the poems. The books are on loan until the end of this week, so I’m relying on being able to renew them. I suppose this is the slight drawback to borrowing, although the plus side is that it does give you a gentle push to read them within a time frame, rather than putting them on a book pile (as I’m prone to do) and then taking months to get round to them.

Julie Mellor, Reader’s request

summer
through the two doors
one breeze

Jim Young [no title]

I’ve been listening to a lot of Ricki Lee Jones lately. God, I love her music. I’ve seen her in concert twice, both fantastic performances, if tinged occasionally with bad behavior. (To an accompanist who had apparently missed a cue: “Are you gonna play or not?”) I, who can’t remember the words to songs I memorized in order to sing myself in my own concerts, can remember every word of her songs, so often did I sing along in all those years of my fandom. I’m amazed at my recall. She’s got it all, as far as I’m concerned, jazz, soul, r&b, blues, all wrapped up in great stories. She’s always her own unique self. She’s so freaking cool. She’s got style, man.

And I thought about this when I read this quote somewhere or other from letters between Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West. Here’s something Woolf wrote: “Style is a very simple matter; it is all rhythm. Once you get that, you can’t use the wrong words. But on the other hand here I am sitting after half the morning, crammed with ideas, and visions, and so on, and can’t dislodge them, for lack of the right rhythm. Now this is very profound, what rhythm is, and goes deeper than words. A sight, an emotion, creates this wave in the mind, long before it makes words to fit it.”

Isn’t that interesting? And it seems true that I can have vague ideas about what to write, but it’s when words form with a certain order and beat, then I feel like I’ve got something started. It may not come to anything in the end, but I’ve got a start. With some words and a rhythm I’ve got a pathway, a cadence to get me moving along it. But then there’s the rest of the time, “crammed with ideas and visions” or just, as now, lax and languid, empty of words and music. Come on, Cecil. Gimme a dollar.

Marilyn McCabe, I’m in a halfway house on a one way street and I’m a quarter passed alive; or, On Style

Feeling guilty at the continued failure to Catch Up as planned. I went to see a doctor last week, and discussing after-effects of chemotherapy, and the business of withdrawal from steroids. We talked about the downsides of continuous low-level pain/discomfort. One of them is that to various degrees, you can’t concentrate; in my case it includes not being able to read for any length of time before it all becomes meaningless. Writing is a frustrating slow business…the words simply don’t line up and fall into place. But I’m heartened to find that it’s not just me, and that my doctor has a blanket term for it. She calls it ‘brain fog’. That’ll do for me. It explains why the collections waiting for me to write about (one in particular) are piling up, but it explains why I can do little about it for the time being.

What I CAN do is to keep the Cobweb ticking over.

I just stopped and stared at what I’d written. Can a cobweb tick? I think not. Mixed metaphors? Jeez. Possibly I meant to say that I’d keep on spinning. I’ll settle for that.

John Foggin, Stocking fillers [6 ]: Birds of the air

This fall, I return to school as a student.  I’ll be an MDiv student at Wesley Theological Seminary.  […]

I’m intrigued at my responses to the course requirements.  Once I got the textbooks for the classes, I wasn’t as worried about the readings.  And I have continued to write in a variety of ways in the years since I graduated from college, so I’m not worried about that.

I am relieved that the course papers don’t seem to require access to a research library, but I’m also relieved that the Wesley library will ship books to me, at least according to the new student orientation course materials.

In fact, what’s strange for me is that I’m looking at the page requirements and worrying about my ability to be concise.  When I was in grad school for my advanced degrees in English, I fretted the other direction:  how would I ever write 10-20 pages?  Now I think, hmm, only 4 pages required?  Can I really develop these ideas in just 4 pages?

I feel fortunate that I’ve been writing daily during all the years between undergraduate classes and now.  Not everyone will have that part come so naturally to them.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, A First Look at Seminary Classes

A grasshopper jumps through the window into the van, drawn by the lantern. He isn’t the only jumpy one. I’ve been having a mild but persistent panic attack since I picked up the Vandura on Sunday. My minivan slinked across the landscape like a cat in your peripheral vision. This big beast roars like a lion. You’d think more room would be better, but the minivan wrapped me like a cozy blanket, kept me safe, and gave me only as much space as I was comfortable controlling. There’s probably a question for a therapist in here somewhere. For now I’m going to trust my gut.

Jason Crane, Grasshopper

It is work to write, and to write your best work, and it is a different kind of work to send that work out into the world, maybe to be rejected and forgotten. This all while trying not to worry about the world, dying of covid right outside your door, or how to pay your bills, or why you are writing in the first place and not doing something to fix all the problems of that world outside your door. And yet, a butterfly outside your door appears, and momentarily, help and hope. And you feel you can write, and send out your work, again. […]

My husband is recovering from a paralyzed vocal cord, a fairly serious and maybe permanent problem. We are planning to take some time off and spend nearby in nature, unplugged from the internet and work and news. It is part of a life, a marriage, to being a good writer or a good employee, to take time off, to rest. Especially if you’re in the middle of year two of the plague, if you have immune system problems that make the plague more dangerous that it would be to others, if you feel that you are trembling on the verge of quitting something, if you have become depressed, hopeless, unable to sleep because of anxiety, short-tempered, too angry. It might be good to spend some time with trees in a forest, with waves of a sea bigger than you, to spend time noticing the end of summer blooms, and animal life, around you. In a whirlwind of tragedies, each tragedy might become less real to you, and we lose a bit of our humanity, our empathy, especially when we are stressed and tired and have already felt enough tragedy has happened. (Unfortunately we do not get to control this.) Does the world need you to fix it right this second? Or do you need time to heal yourself before you can do any good in the world? Listen to your self – what do you truly need? And go spend some time listening to the hummingbirds, the dahlias, whatever they’re saying.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Don’t Do Their Job for Them – More Breadloaf Thoughts and Rejections, Recovery, Rest, and Dahlias

Old, obsolete office equipment is a fascinating subject to me, since I’ve spent almost all my working life in offices (including my own; well it’s more of a room with a PC in it, but hey ho). When I first started in local government in Kingston in 1992, there were cupboards still full of weird gadgets which looked like instruments of torture: Gestetner duplicators, comb binding machines, gigantic hole-punchers, etc. As I may have related before, there was one word processor between 11 of us and it broke down regularly; and for the processing of many millions of pounds of student grants and fees per year, we used an old and creaking mainframe computer which churned out reams of print-outs. […]

Obsolete office equipment is also an excellent subject for poetry. I’ve written previously about Emma Simon’s delightful poem, ‘In the Museum of Antiquated Offices: Exhibit C, Fax Machine’, and have just come upon another, ‘Elonex Word Processor Circa 1998’ by Kath McKay, from her fine collection, Collision Forces, Wrecking Ball Press, 2015. As I’ve experienced at first hand, from Saturday writing sessions with the Poetry Business in Sheffield, Kath is a very perceptive and articulate poet who tells it how it is. This particular poem opens pricelessly:

Boxy as a Soviet car, it took up two thirds of my desk,
while others slimmed down, became pencil like.
This bod had to warm up. Every day rebooted seven
or eight times.

I’m sure many readers can empathise with that. The opening simile is perfectly judged, comically conveying a sense of this piece of hardware being innately behind the times. I like too the dry humour in that exaggerated second line and of that ‘bod’.

The poem goes on to encompass a search for her partner’s personal details following his sudden death, an event which understandably dominates the middle of the book:

Later I scoured the hard drive for your bank statements, spread sheets,
calendars: something of you coiled deep.

The last seven lines of the poem consist of a litany of old machines. As I implied when I wrote about Emma Simon’s poem, this obsolescence has a poignancy to it, and, of course, an ecological cost too, both to the extraction of the raw materials required for new products and to the waste of the old: about 10 years ago or more, an article in the Richmond and Twickenham Times, back when it still contained some proper-ish local journalism, revealed that hundreds of knackered computers from the local FE college had shamefully ended up dumped on a beach in Ghana.

Matthew Paul, On office machinery and Kath McKay

Over the years, and across more than a dozen poetry collections—including a volume of collected poems and a selected poems—since Air Occupies Space (Sesame Press, 1973), Canadian poet Don McKay’s poems seem to have become quieter. They were never exactly “loud,” I suppose, but there’s a level of quietude, almost zen-like, that his work has achieved over the past few years. To paraphrase McKay himself, he’s been composing poems enough that any bird would trust to light upon. His latest collection is Lurch (Toronto ON: McClelland and Stewart, 2021), a collection of lyrics that write of what we are in severe danger of losing entirely: of rhizomes, fungi and birds, examining a landscape that begins just there, at the edge of the bush, at the edge of the water. “Let’s pause and listen for what’s happening / underground,” he writes, to open the poem “RHIZOSPHERE,” “with the roots, the rhizomes, and / their close associates, the fungi and the worms.” There is an attention he puts enormous energy into, seeking clarifications on geologic time and the mechanics of birds. His interest in birding is well-established, going back to Birding, or Desire (McClelland and Stewart, 1983), with the evolution of attending the earth’s geologic shifts and consciousness within a decade or two, such as Another Gravity(McClelland and Stewart, 2000) and Strike/Slip (McClelland and Stewart, 2006). I mention all of this because of how the poems in Lurch extend everything he’s done prior, furthering conversations and concerns around nature’s frailty, both human and environmental, concerns around ecological disaster and the length and breath of the earth’s own history, even well before the emergence of human civilization. As he offers to close the poem “PROBLEMS IN TRANSLATION #23: BACK DRAG,” writing: “the back drag at my feet will not translate / as either fate or misery but / chuckles to itself—mountain / to boulder to cobble to / sand, affable and unhuman, the ancient / geologic joke I almost always / not quite but very nearly get.” He writes for the extinct, including the Passenger Pigeon and the Eskimo Curlew. He writes out the losses and those still to come, as he explores his certainties and uncertainties, and the long, slow process towards a particular kind of enlightenment that might never emerge. As he writes to close the poem “WIND’S INSTRUMENTS”: “Until here’s a little skirmish / come to ruffle your hair and lift / the fireweed fluff, to loft a pair of ravens / into aerial duet and hang plastic bags / in trees like shredded / non-biodegradable ghosts.”

rob mclennan, Don McKay, Lurch

In some language
the word for mountain
also means library.

Tom Montag, IN SOME LANGUAGE (67)

And then, thanks to one of [Victoria] Chang’s Notes at the back of the book [Salvinia Molesta], I assigned myself a little compare-contrast homework. Chang says her poem “‘Ars Poetica as Birdfeeder and Humingbird’ is conversing with Louise Gluck’s poem ‘Witchgrass’ in Wild Iris, in particular, her lines: ‘I don’t need your praise / to survive’ and ‘I will constitute the field.'” So I pulled out The Wild Iris, possibly my favorite book of poems ever, and re-read it, starting with “Witchgrass” before going back to the beginning. It hits me every time, that last line. And here’s the last stanza before it, too:

     I don’t need your praise 
     to survive. I was here first,
     before you were here, before
     you ever planted a garden.
     And I’ll be here when only the sun and moon
     are left, and the sea, and the wide field.

     I will constitute the field.

And in Chang’s poem, “I am not

     a weed, I need your praise to survive.
     The field will consume me.

     The field has chosen sides. The field is
     not hungry for the middling.

     How I hate the field and what it sees, its
     teeth digging out the ochre

     of mediocre….

Ah, the poet’s worst fear! Being mediocre. And how wordplay partly disperses it! This and the other ars poetica poems in Salvinia Molesta are bracing, honest, inspiring. It feels good to be schooled so.

And it was frequently August in The Wild Iris.

Kathleen Kirk, Salvinia Molesta

Consider this ending of “Did You Fail Lithium or Did Lithium Fail You?”

. . . . . The inevitable ditch
into which everything falls is filled
with dank water, toads, milfoil.
Word is sent for some desiccant.
Word is sent for a sump pump.
Word returns empty handed.

And the reader is left thinking of all the ways words are unable to make things better.

The poet lives in a world where even such things as stones and tomatoes have personality.

Or even cancer cells.  “Girls Gone Wild” is about breast cancer cells who “want/to take a road trip, reach/the lymph highway ASAP,/spend spring break travelling or/ beached somewhere warm like her liver.”

After describing treatment, the poem ends with acceptance:

She came back with a scar her oncologist called
disfiguring but she figured
it was healthy scar tissue, more bonded
than the sorority sisters that hung out there before.

The poet has strong political opinions which she expresses briefly in the voice of an alter ego called The Deaf Woman, avoiding dogmatism, concealing anger. 

Ellen Roberts Young, Recommendation: Risking It by Sylvia Byrne Pollack

“What to Expect” [by Katie Manning] is one of my new favorite list poems (you can read it in full in the podcast transcript).

First, I love that it calls What to Expect When You’re Expecting on its shit. (If I remember correctly, there’s a section on poop.) And yet — I also identify so clearly with the poem’s (and the book’s) anxious hopscotching.

Second, I admire the texture and sounds Manning achieves with the repetition of the directive “Expect” and the alliterative quality of the listed items (arranged alphabetically like the book’s index). There’s also lots of assonance throughout, and I particularly love how the long “i” interrupts a pair of short “i” sounds here: “Expect ribs, ripening and risk.” The effect is a ripple I process like notes on a scale.

A “do, RE, do.”

A down, UP, down.

A wave I ride.

The sensation matches the content of the poem.

Its surprises bob up like rubber duckies released from a small fist at the bottom of the tub.

Carolee Bennett, “expect ribs, ripening and risk”

 I keep stalling and starting on the spell poems. There are days when I open the page and something appears miraculously from my fingers tapping across the keyboard and others when I immediately close the file and do something less interesting, but more productive–post to Twitter, read e-mails, check submittable.  Since it is August and I am prone to distraction and waiting to buckle down more seriously in the fall, I am less worried about my languor than I would be other times of year. That it could turn into months of writing nothing, which still could happen, though not recently.  After all, I will be getting my glorious long mornings back with the library being open later during the term, which gives me nothing but time to write in the mornings if I want it since i do most of my press work these days in evenings and midnights. In summer, if I linger too long in bed, I am mad dashing into shower and out the door, but during regular semesters, I have several hours to dally over poems if desired. To approach the day as if my time were, at least for a little while, my own. 

I may also be stalling since the spell poems I feel are the last segment of the collapsologies manuscript I started during lockdown.  Finally. It actually hasn’t been that long in book writing time, but still it feels like forever. Life in general feels like it has been forever, but also like I snapped my fingers and nearly two years passed. While I was not really present and while I was acutely, anxiously very present.

Kristy Bowen, writing things loose

Every labyrinth hides
in the ordinary.

A letter in faded script on brown
paper, folded three times, precisely.

The kitchen drawer that leads
to a case of unused cutlery.

A birdcage with rusted perches
that held pairs of blue-feathered birds.

Luisa A. Igloria, All the Days Behind This One

When I began teaching, there was a paradigmatic war raging in English departments between traditionalists and those who believed in the kind of teaching [William] Stafford espoused. I was wounded in more than one skirmish in my first years of teaching. From my (admittedly limited) vantage point, I’d say that the movement toward standards and accountability ushered in by 2001’s No Child Left Behind legislation gave the win to the traditionalists and killed Stafford’s kind of pedagogy.

When I read [in You Must Revise Your Life], “The student should not worry about standards. I won’t. And I will never try to make the student either complacent or panicked about external obligation. Never. That kind of measuring is not what art, what writing, is about,” I sighed (page 94). Equating writing with art ignores the writing that is done not to create art but to gain admittance through gates; that’s a kind of ignoring I once did but now can’t do. I’ve come to understand the privilege inherent in such a position, and the disservice I might do by not being explicit with students about what they need to be able to do to pass through barriers to schools, scholarships, and jobs. But I sighed also because in the schools I’ve known, writing has become a thing so broken down into its concrete, measurable parts that we’ve lost sight of the whole; we’ve turned process into something nearly void of space for discovery or wonder–something essential to all kinds of writing, even the gate-keeping kind. I might argue that the same has been true of how we view and work with students. There was a lot of talk of “the whole student” in my early years of teaching, but that’s not terminology I’ve heard for years. I suppose we are turning back to that now, with understanding borne of the pandemic and our recent emphasis on social and emotional learning, but our high school students have spent their entire eduction in a system driven by data, test scores, and the attainment of discrete skills and bites of knowledge. The reasons for this are myriad and complex and not really germane to my main point, which is that the students I will be meeting in a little more than a week are going to be different in important ways from those I once taught, as will the context in which I’ll be teaching.

And that’s OK. I am different, too. I need to revise my practice as I have been revising my life.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Some thoughts on revision

I know that these are not easy times and that the disasters are piling up. There is the feeling of a culmination of grief, which then rolls into another seeming culmination. I’ve been listening obsessively again to Leonard Cohen’s You Want it Darker. It plays in my head and I wake up and it’s there. So it seems strange to not just put it on. “Steer your heart,” my man sings, “past the truth that you believed in yesterday / such as fundamental goodness and the wisdom of the way.”

Some days I think I no longer believe in fundamental goodness. We’ve seen so much otherwise. So. Freaking. Much.

But. On numerous occasions lately I’ve also found myself extending my hand involuntarily. Maybe the trick is not to go looking for goodness elsewhere until we’ve re-located it in ourselves. Let us get back to flying; let’s steer our way at least in small patches and pockets and patches of time away from heaviness. It’s okay to take a flying break.

Shawna Lemay, Look at the Flowers

when the world is asleep
I eat mountains and drink rivers
the mountain bones are sweet with meat
and the rivers are cool and delicious wine
when the world awakens again
I feign innocence
as though nothing has happened
o I am a clever boy
I am a brazen man

James Lee Jobe, cool and delicious wine

a sun comes up where no sun existed :: that morning is not to be solved

Grant Hackett [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 31

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week: wildfires and harvest metaphors, Covid worries, learning to swim, reading books for the Sealey challenge, and much more.


Mountains of fire, the forest
Is a fantastic red blaze.
Lightning in the summer sky,
The earth is as dry as old bones.
And we burn, each of us is an ember.
This is the hour to hold on to hope,
The hour to keep faith and have courage.
May we not fail, and if we do fail
Let it be brazen. Let it be fierce.
Let the final light of being
Illuminate the entire earth.

James Lee Jobe, each of us is an ember

When I began this pastel a month ago, I was thinking with longing about the silvery olive trees in Greece, billowing in the wind off the sea and the mountain tops. That was before the wildfires began that are now raging across the mainland and the Peloponnese, bringing enormous destruction, suffering and loss. Today I look at this picture with different eyes, and have been thinking of the legend of Prometheus, the Titan who stole fire from the Olympian gods and gave it to humans — for that deed he was glorified by humans, but punished by Zeus, who chained him to a rock where an eagle continually preyed upon his liver, until Hercules freed him many centuries later. But it has taken three millennia for us to begin to understand the deeper meaning behind that myth, and why the gods might not have wanted man to have fire, and to start to recognize the results and the price of our selfish neglect of the earth and all its gifts.

This particular olive tree grows at the top of a hill in Epidaurus, site of perhaps the most perfect ancient Greek theater, and of the shrine of Asclepias: a sacred place of pilgrimage and healing for the ancient Greeks. I had climbed up all the steps of the theater to the very top, and then looked out over the back in the opposite direction, where there was a farmer’s road and a grove of olive trees, whose leaves made rustling music in the wind.

In the pastel, I tried to capture that sense of restless, continual movement against the stony ochre-tinged earth and the tall mountains in the distance: the time I spent contemplating that scene remains a memory just as vivid as that of the theater and the surrounding shrine.

Beth Adams, Olive Trees at Epidaurus

Since my last post here, my main creative accomplishment has been to keep the door open to both writing and visual art just for the pleasure… no expectation to make reading notes and no expectation to write anything more than notes or jot down bits of inspiration. I quietly kept my toe in the writing waters by finishing up a micro class with Sarah Freligh and Zoom workshops with both the Madwomen and members of my local poetry community.

I also let expectations go for my social life, for wellness pursuits, for schedules, for work, for play, etc. I am terrible at going with the flow, but I did surrender to it.

I realize now that this was a delayed response to the Collective Big Pause (i.e. global pandemic and associated social distancing/lock downs). I don’t do well with transitions, and I loathe uncertainty. I prefer clear paths over liminal space. I appreciate deadlines and established time frames. While so many of you leaned into the stillness of the pandemic, I didn’t know what to do with myself.

I don’t mean the solitude got to me: Solitude is a good friend of mine. I mean that while many were able to soothe themselves with familiar pleasures (like favorite hobbies) or even seek new pleasures (like fresh projects or development of long-desired skills), I pretty much froze. I understood that I could be (maybe even should be) using the time differently, but instead I just sat in it. I worked online during the day, and at night and on weekends, I got numb. I checked out.

The last few months, early spring at first, now deep into summer, have been about easing my way back into feeling. I’m not all the way there yet, but starting with pleasure seemed wise. Savoring morning coffee. Working my muscles hard. Putting my ear to the creative ground and capturing bits of language. Shooting the shit with my boys whenever the opportunity presents itself and for as long. Absorbing sun. Reading books cover-to-cover. Painting my nails. Eating and drinking what I want.

Carolee Bennett, the annoying chewing sounds my brain makes

brown water grey headland
litter of shattered shale
wave lines slant to the shore

junction 23 roundabout
a mass of moon daisies
horses up to their knees in buttercups

I have the right
to be absolutely
wrong

Ama Bolton, Desire Lines

I grew up in small towns. On top of that, I lived in the country, not in town. I think living in relative isolation was good preparation for living in a pandemic. Honestly, I’m only now starting to miss in-person socializing. A little. One good thing about isolation of this kind is that you have almost complete control over your life and how you want to spend your time because you don’t have a lot of outside choices. There have been minimal demands from “out there” and I’ve spent almost every day doing exactly what I wanted. Kind of like it was before I started grade school. I was an expert at entertaining myself. I had books, I had nature, I had animals. I was never bored. During the past year and a half I have rarely been bored. I feel sad for people who need more stimulation. I’m sure it’s been much harder on them.

Charlotte Hamrick, Favorite Fiction: 2nd Quarter 2021

I have to admit, my three days a week in the library (courtesy of all those extra vacation days I’d been hoarding the past couple years) have made this summer seem a bit lengthier than they usually are. While most pass in a stack of weeks that are indistinguishable from the next. Now there’s some space between the work weeks–days I can devote to other kinds of work–mostly writing and the press, but sometimes a little painting thrown in. They make the days I go downtown feel like a singular week and not just one bleeding into the next. But even still. we are already knee deep in August it seems. Already creeping closer to the beginning of the semester while side-eyeing the news headlines. Columbia seems to acting from a place of hope I’m not sure they will get to just yet. The edict a few weeks back about going maskless on campus was snatched away even before most of us actually took ours off for any period of time. There are plans for in-person outdoor convocation and 75 percent reduced instruction, but I still feel like they are being way too optimistic given that even in well-vaxxed Chicago, our positive rate is somehow, impossibly creeping up nevertheless and the rest of the state is a giant, under-vaccinated mess. I fear for the folks I know in Florida and have a governor intent on killing everyone it seems. Even places under good leadership are failing.

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 8/7/2021

I don’t want to reckon with my choices:
feels like that’s all we’ve done for 18 months
(should I mask, is this safe, what if
we meet outside and never breathe together?)
I don’t want to query who will live
and who will die, who by wildfire and who
by flooded subway, who intubated and alone
and who will have enough while others lack.
I just want all of us to thrive: our hearts
at ease, our hopes in reach at last.
Come close to me, God. Comfort me with apples.
Remind me the world is born again each year —
even if I’m not ready, even if this year
I’m not sure I know the words to pray.

Rachel Barenblat, Sonnet for our second COVID Rosh Hashanah

I’ve staged this harvest, taking only enough spuds at a time for the next meal in order to achieve that tub-to-table-in-20-minutes freshness which has been the whole point, or at least a good part of the point. I’ve served them with mint from the window box, and roasted them with rosemary which grows next to the mint. With the next and final serving, I plan to smother then in buttery sage – the window box sage is flourishing, having been dug up and sent to me by Morar by Royal Mail last autumn. She’d read I didn’t have any to go with my parsley, rosemary, and thyme (I Bottle Abundance). 

The rest of the point of the harvest has been to do with the pleasure of engaging in the physical world, the necessity of it. The joy of it is the reminder that growth often takes place out of sight … but oh … this is beginning to sound like it’s heading in the direction of a sermon …

You’re right, dear reader: I’m going to use my potato harvest as a metaphor for creativity. You see, all the while these Charlottes were growing underground, I’ve been working on poems hidden in a file on my computer since 2019, now published by Fair Acre Press. I’d originally hoped their coming to light would coincide with Beethoven’s 250th birthday in December 2020. This late harvest has also come in stages: a Zoom launch, a reading at the Poetry Pharmacy, and then a performance in mid-Devon on a summer’s evening of extraordinary heat and calm. 

Carol Caffrey and I had hatched the idea of a joint event back in the spring when our host, Richard Higgins, was looking for productions for a short season of open air events. It had seemed, then, so theoretical, so impossible: the chances were that it would never happen.

And then, it did. 

Our journey down the M5 and through the high-hedged lanes was long. When we saw our names in huge letters on arrival at Brushford Barton, it was as if we had dug our hands into the soil, and, unbelieving until the moment of contact, found potatoes … 

Liz Lefroy, I Harvest My Crops

grain theory

there is something i need more than facts. i need a good theory. or better put i need a theory about good. consulting scientists seems useless. they want the former while i seek the later. what makes something anything or us good. i am listening to kenny garrett play his sax with miles davis. I believe that will be the starting point of my search for the theory of good. when miles plays a song you dont listen to the song you just listen to miles. the song will appear at some point but you just stay lost in miles and it will come when it feels like it. 

someday. maybe tomorrow. i will come to you all and report my findings in the middle of a five hundred acre field of rye…

the loose sounds
of jazz
composing a melody
out of a ‘riff’

Michael Rehling, Haibun 213

I like distinctions, categories, naming things. But then if I think too much about them, categories, they fall apart. I’ve been thinking again about this idea of “narrative” poetry and “lyric” poetry. Many intelligent things have been said about those categories, I’m sure, none of which I can remember at the moment. 

But I’ve been thinking too about time, as I often do, and time seems to be the primary distinction between the narrative and the lyric poem. A narrative unfolds over time; a lyric is of a moment. Is that true? 

I was asking a friend recently about a poem of hers that unfolds over a short period of time but is focused on the feeling of a moment. She describes what she’s been up to in her work recently as “trying to use fragments of narrative as part of an attempt to creat a non-narrative experience.” 

Is a narrative poem just a long way toward a lyric moment? I don’t know. Maybe. Isn’t the whole point of telling a story to give that moment of impact? When all the notes of the song come together in a resonant chord? 

But that idea of music is the purview of the lyric, isn’t it? The etymology of narrate is gnarus, meaning knowing. Not much is known about the origin of the word lyre, or Greek lyra or lura, that stringed instrument of long ago, but made its way to the French lyrique or short poem expression emotion suited for singing to the lyre. Or something like that. 

Marilyn McCabe, It’s time time time that you love; or, On Narrative, Lyric, and the Restless Eye

I’ve been in a funk this summer, and feeling, frankly, as though all this writing is pointless. Aren’t there already enough books in the world? Despite good friends, despite a class in which I was assigned to write one metaphor per day. (Which can also be similes, “This weird funk, purple like Puget Sound at dusk,” or brilliant word substitutions: “A blue funk washed over me.”) Despite walks. Despite baking many loaves of sourdough bread.

But it is August, and that means POPO, or POetry POstcard Fest. I don’t always sign up for August, as I participate in my friend Carla’s February postcards event each year. But this year, August postcards feels like a good idea. Somewhere I have a quote written down, about letting go of expectations and big-picture goals and doing just the one next right thing. The metaphors can be that next right thing; the postcards can be that next right thing.

Bethany Reid, Writing a Postcard

My grandfather cutting cantaloupe on a summer morning as he readies for work, the light shining through the sink window’s short curtains. He sprinkles his melon, soft and vivid as the Hermistons I offer to my son like jewels, with salt. Paul Harvey’s voice is tinny through the radio, and my grandmother is still sleeping in their bed upstairs. I like not needing to say anything, having him all to myself, being cared for only by him, who makes me a piece of toast in the toaster that now sits on a shelf in my mother’s kitchen. He dies of a heart attack at 63. The night he dies, I sleep in that bed with my grandma, in his spot. 

I sit at my kitchen table and read a piece my friend Sharon is writing about grandmothers and canning and writing. About preservation and sustenance. She writes that she cans with words, not food. Then I read my friend Bethany’s piece about doubting the purpose of writing, she who writes multiple books through decades of mothering and teaching. I consider my history, the jars of applesauce my great-grandmother sent to our suburban house every fall that she made from apples grown on the farm, and how three generations later I am only just now, well into a sixth decade of living, beginning to learn how to grow food. I consider the tomatoes ripening in a bowl on the table, the literal fruits of my labor. I consider the one book of poems I cultivated, now nearly 20 years ago, and I wonder if the writer in me is a pale hosta. Maybe she is. Or maybe she is a rat, scratching at survival through blog posts and Instasnippets. Maybe she is an invasive, drought-resistant perennial with deep, woody roots. Maybe she is none of those things and all of those things. Maybe she is everything in the garden–the hostas and rinds and rats and tomatoes and trumpets and weeds and bees, being fed by whatever they can find there, wherever they can find it. It’s a conceit that brings comfort, here on the edge of the cusp of autumn, these brief weeks of both harvesting and fading. 

Rita Ott Ramstad, On the edge of the cusp

clutching the letter —
her dad lifts her up
to the mail slot

Bill Waters, Haiku about family and friends

–As I looked at all the glassware, I thought of our younger selves, the ones who wanted to have a glass for every possible type of drink.  Have we ever made margaritas or martinis?  No, but if we do, we have the glass for it.

–I gave away the one, lonely wine glass, the first one I ever bought, at a store near the B.Dalton’s in a mall long ago.  I bought it the summer after I graduated from undergraduate school.  I imagined that a grown woman needed a wine glass.

–Why did I think a grown woman only needed one wine glass?  And why is it so small?

–How did we end up with so many pillowcases?  Where are the sheets that once went with these pillowcases?  Do the pillowcases miss the sheets that have gone on to other destinies?

When I got to the Good Will drop off station yesterday, I was surprised to see a line of cars.  I patiently waited my turn, watching the people pop out and haul their stuff to the pile:  a pair of shoes, a child’s scooter, bag after bag of stuff.  And then I added my two bags of stuff and my carton of glassware.  I pondered the basic question:  what will become of all this stuff?  Will it go round and round and round again?

There are larger questions, of course.  Do others really need my cast-aways?  How does the earth bear this burden?

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Wisdom from the Good Will Drop Off

Before becoming self-conscious of all the things I’m doing wrong, I didn’t used to think about swimming when swimming, but I did sometimes think about poems. Some poets like to go walking. Personally I rarely get inspired when I’m out and about. And I have to say I don’t really write anything in my head while swimming, but being in the water is fraught with metaphorical energy, as are (for me and many others I suspect) swimming pools generally. I’ve had a ‘lido’ poem on the go for at least a decade, I think it’s currently out somewhere but I won’t be surprised if it comes back rejected again. Unlike ‘Lido’ by Alison McVety from her fine collection Lighthouses (Smith Doorstop) that sticks in my mind, the swimmer ‘left to plough on’ in the rain, ‘ten years gone and I’m still turning and swimming, turning and swimming’.

I’m now trying to remember various ‘not waving but drowning’ type poems, particularly one by a (currently living) poet whose brother downed… perhaps you can help me out? I think I read it in a magazine some time in the last ten years. I just did a search for ‘poem about a brother who drowned’ and it threw up an extraordinary list of results, all of the ’25+ Heartening Poems for a Deceased Brother’s Funeral’ variety. Funerals are probably the only time 99% of the population ever wants to encounter a poem, to be fair. Anyway, if I ever get to do a flip turn I’ll let you know.

Robin Houghton, Not drowning but waving

I’ll preface this by saying that I’ve been on holiday for this past week which is extremely useful in refusing to be worn out. And when I say holiday, I mean that I’ve not been at my day job but have instead been working on the proofs for my book, Everything Affects Everyone, and sorting out various parts of my life and planning just a little into the future. We also went to Banff, and I visited this little tree growing in a stone fence, and which I’ve taken photos of for years. Still, this little tree refuses to give up its hold and boy do I admire and love this little tree for just rooting in and keeping the faith. I have communed with this little sapling for years via my camera lens, which I guess means that it’s not really a sapling, is it? Returning, I never really expect it to be there. Afterwards, I don’t think much about it. We go home, life resumes. But every year when we return to Banff, I mosey by and when it’s there it’s such a pleasant surprise.

Shawna Lemay, On Refusing to Be Worn Out

walking sideways
in bosherton’s lily ponds
freshwater crabs

swansea’s mirage
drinking with the dead poets
in the kardohma

dreams of empire
all the red in the atlas
fading away

laugharne
around every corner
dylan

blue pool
half the depth
of my trepidation

Jim Young [no title]

‘What’s wrong with me?’ you used to ask as you watched
the man you knew you were slipping from your grasp.
Oh Daddy, why can’t I just remember the good times?

Bingo, helping you with your Spanish homework, the time
we went to Laugharne together to Dylan’s boathouse,
how you used to say to me, ‘You’re just like your mother.’

But still, after all these months, when the curtain first
goes up on my memory it is the latter darkness
that steps towards the footlights. I have to believe

this will pass, that grief will loosen its shroud
and the stage will flood with light and I will be
filled with joy, with the grace of your well-lived life.

Lynne Rees, Poem ~ Stage

He recants forms, the shape and texture of her throat once
translucent as a lotus stem, an old woman’s pouch now. When
she lifts her feet to cross the threshold, he turns away to burrow
in the pastel core of silence, looking intently at the emptiness
as the air decants with the freedom of uncoupling.

Uma Gowrishankar, Uncoupling

I’m starting to worry about having a job. I don’t mean whether I can find one. I mean whether it was a good idea to find the one I’ve got. I work just three days a week and that seems like not that much until I think THREE OUT OF SEVEN DAYS THAT’S ALMOST HALF and then I start questioning everything. Without the job I make about $250 a month doing my little things I do. Sending people weird emails and making the occasional podcast. I used to make twice that but I gave one of my shows to someone else because if there’s one thing I’ve always been good at it’s financial planning. I mostly don’t watch other van life videos or Instagram accounts anymore but the other day I caught up on one of my favorites and he’s out there climbing mountains and paddling across lakes and I have, like, five polo shirts so I can wear them to work and I wonder if I’ve slid back too far. Right now I’m listening to the rain on the roof of the van and thinking about the loon calls I heard earlier and remembering the smell of the high desert and that time I drove as far as you can drive until you have to start paddling toward Havana and maybe I should go to bed and think about all this tomorrow.

Jason Crane, Havana

What turned out to be four lines of the poem appeared as I was driving along the M4 in rain like stair rods. I found myself repeating them over and over in my head to avoid forgetting them, building on what was one line, then two before getting to the fourth one. I was just debating whether to ask Rachael to write them down for me or to ask Siri to take a note (that would have felt weird, talking gibberish into my wrist while R and F were listening), but thankfully a services popped up, so I could type it up to come back to.

It’s a start. Who knows what will come of it.

Mat Riches, Vona Groarke’s Trumpet

I’m really delighted that my video accidentals (recalculated) has been selected for the International Review of Poetry, Videopoetry and Video-Art for the special on-line 10th edition of Bologna in Lettere, screening on 4th August 2021, curated by Enzo Campi.

This video started out life as a more-or-less standard poem. But then I realised that I could replace many of the verbs, prepositions, conjunctions and other linguistic elements with mathematical operators or symbols used in algebra, statistic,computing and engineering. The implementation of these operators and symbols in the piece is all internally consistent, so that a given symbol always means the same thing. Video was the ideal way to integrate the new text with the original poem via the voice-over. Most of the images were filmed in and around my home in South Australia.

Ian Gibbins, accidentals (recalculated) at Bologna in Lettere 10th edition

I’m writing from a blessed weekend of rain after a 51-day drought here in the Seattle area. I took a long walk under the cloud cover and my garden is much happier. […]

So, the month of August is often a good month to get in a dose (or 30) of poetry with The Sealey Challenge, with the goal of reading a book of poetry a day and posting about it. So far, I didn’t quite make it to that (lots going on, read above) but I did read two new books and revisited a few old favorites, plus ordered a few signed copies of new books from friends. I also plan a visit to Open Books in Seattle when I can get the time.

I notice all the reading inspired me to write a few new poems – something I rarely do in August unless pressed – and helped me stay calm during a time of great stress. Also, Sylvia really enjoys getting in on the Sealey Challenge by playing model cat.

I encourage you all to do a little poetry shopping and/or revisiting old favorites on your shelf if you get the time, and posting about it. The conversation about poetry couldn’t happen at a better time – we all need a positive distraction from the endless stress of the past year and a half.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A Week of Too Much Drama, Sealey Challenges, Possible Good News, and Virtual Breadloaf Starting Tomorrow

Summer is almost over here in Finland, after months of high temps and no rain, thunderstorms hit last night and it’s been raining all day. Schools start back in a week, so we’re on the wind-down. 

I’m torn about going back, I will miss the lazy days, but I would really like to talk to adults again. My stress insomnia has already started up, but hopefully that will pass once I go back for our orientation. 

I’ve decided to try the Sealey Challenge this month, to read a poetry collection a day for the month of August. I have to admit I’m not good at keeping up with my poetry reading. I buy collections and dip into them, but often struggle to sit down and read the whole book at once. 

I’m not sure if I’ll get through a whole collection in one day and will sometimes feel I’m not doing justice to the poet. I read fiction quickly, too quickly to appreciate play of language and technique unless I force myself to really slow down like I’m doing with my current reread of Sunset Song by Lewis Grassic Gibbon which is a beautifully poetic novel and needs a slow read. 

I will treat this challenge as the introduction to the poems I’m reading, a first splash about and then I can spend some time fully exploring my favourites later.

Gerry Stewart, Sealey Challenge: Day 1

The river runs through this book [Postcolonial Love Poem by Natalie Diaz]. “The First Water is the Body” begins, “The Colorado River is the most endangered river in the United States–also, it is a part of my body.” Later, the “I” becomes a “we.” “We carry the river, its body of water, in our body.” In the poem called “exhibits from The American Water Museum,” water is like language: “I am fluent in water. Water is fluent in my body– / it spoke my body into existence.”

Love poems wind in and out. Animals. Snake, wolf, crane, coyote, bull, tiger, horse, yellow jacket, all the animals on the ark. More basketball. In “The Mustangs,” her brother is a high school basketball star; the team is beloved by the whole community. “We ran up and down the length of our lives, all of us, lit by the lights of the gym, toward freedom–we Mustangs. On those nights, we were forgiven for all we would ever do wrong.”

It was a beautiful day to read this book outside. I love August, its pure summer feel, its poignant, back-to-school-soon, summer’s-almost-over-feel—but it isn’t! Summer goes on and on, long past school. And now August is the Sealey Challenge for me, a poetry book a day, a lushness of reading in the green afternoon, the coneflowers blooming, phlox, round two of golden lilies, the oregano flower-headed and leaning out into the lawn. I love how I can read these poems to learn, to experience beauty and desire in someone else’s language, culture, voice. I’m reading for joy!–though, yes, I encounter grief–and for knowledge. I learn that “Manhattan is a Lenape Word.” I learn the “Top Ten Reasons Why Indians Are Good at Basketball.”

And what a thrill to find Kearney, Nebraska in a poem, a town I lived in as a child, and the sandhill cranes. In a heartbreaking brother poem with a dismantled Polaroid camera. What a book! And what is a sky hook? Ah, now I know!

Kathleen Kirk, Postcolonial Love Poem

Delayed due to lockdowns and pandemic but finally available is Jordan Abel’s incredibly powerful NISHGA (Toronto ON: McClelland and Stewart, 2021). His first book since his third poetry title, the Griffin Poetry Prize-winningInjun (Vancouver BC: Talonbooks, 2016) [see my review of such here], the critical memoir that is NISHGA utilizes archival scraps, talks, interviews, visual poems and other forms into a book-length collage that speaks of and to generational trauma and the residential school system, and the ways in which he has used his work to engage larger conversations about aboriginal culture and colonialism, and an exploration on his own identity and indigeneity. As he writes early on in the collection under the title “Notes”: “I remember talking with a colleague of a colleague at a book launch in Vancouver. She came up to me after my reading and wanted to talk. At some point, she asked me if I spoke Nisga’a. I said no and she asked why. But it wasn’t just the question why. There was something else there too. She didn’t say it, but she wanted to know how I could have been so irresponsible. How I could have been Nisga’a my whole life but never bothered to learn the language. As if I had access. As if I could just flip a switch and know. as if I hadn’t wanted to. As if I hadn’t felt that hole inside me. As if filling it was that easy.”

He writes of generational violence that rippled out from the residential school system, and how his work in The Place of Scraps (Talonbooks, 2013) [see my review of such here], for example, responded directly to some of those concerns. He writes of his background as Nisga’a but without access to his biological father, a Nisga’a artist who left when Abel was still an infant. Abel speaks of that disconnect; of growing up Nisga’a without knowing or even meeting anyone else Nisga’a until, as an adult, he briefly met his father for the first time. There is an enormous amount of pain throughout this project, and Abel maps some dark and difficult histories, from his own personal disconnects to a generational trauma, prompted by that original break due to the theft of his grandparents as children. How might anyone respond in such a situation?

rob mclennan, Jordan Abel, NISHGA

Twenty years after the most deadly terrorist attack on United States soil, what comes to mind? 

For many of the 117 poets whose work was selected for the forthcoming commemorative anthology Crossing the Rift: North Carolina Poets on 9/11 & Its Aftermath (Press 53, September 11, 2021), what comes to mind is “the morning / rainfreshed” (Jeannette Cabanis-Brewin, “Tony Writes to Say He’s Alive”), “[t]hat September morning’s iris of sky” (Debra Allbery, “The Wakeful Bird Sings Darkling”), cloudless and blued into brilliance before exploding into unforgettable images of fire and toxic smoke, of bodies falling and returned to dust. For others in this anniversary collection, memory remains “one of those days when you remember / exactly where you were,” when “we lost the last of our innocence” (Kaye Nelson Ratliff, “Infamous Days”) and were forever after to carry “the long litany of the lost” (Glenis Redmond, “Witness the Whole World”) into a “new age of wars, two wars abroad that never end, and one at home to rip the fabric of our nation apart” (Robert Morgan, “A Sickness in the Air”).  

The clarity of what is remembered, and of what was and continues to be done in consequence, acts as both thorn and spur. Raised as  they are, individually and collectively, the poets’ voices guide us through the wreckage of our common history and challenge us to seek something better.

Maureen Doallas, 9/11 Remembered: ‘Crossing the Rift’ (Review)

“The Thin Line Between Everything and Nothing” is a collection of flash fiction that shows how small moments can create the longest life changes, as exemplified in “Sarajevo Rose” where a man thinks back to his regular purchase of fresh flowers after a woman dropped a coin in the market place, “He doesn’t remember dropping his sister’s hand. The building shook with the blast. When he looked up, his sister was gone. Damir has read how Sarajevans painted red roses in the shell’s concrete scars. When his flowers wilt, the petals fall to the floor. Damir never picks them up.”

Most stories though are told from a woman’s viewpoint. The woman’s story starts with being a war reporter, in “Bulletproof” where “they loan me a flak jacket, a big blue thing designed for men. It squashes my shoulders, metal plates pinning flat my chest, breasts yielding to the weight of them.” Of course, she wears it for protection, but also because “there are more male journalists on the frontline than women, because men are better at the warry stuff, and women more lightweight. I wear it because I don’t want to rock the boat and give the news desk another reason not to send me to do this job. I wear it because I’ve told them I am the best ‘man’ for the job. I wear it because I want to be part of the solution and not part of the problem.” The problem isn’t that it’s ill-fitting or the sexism inherent in war-reporting but what it doesn’t protect her from: the very thing she’s there to report on.

Emma Lee, “The Thin Line Between Everything and Nothing” Hannah Storm (Reflex Press) – book review

In a recent interview, poet and essayist Erica Hunt shared the following in response to a question about the best writing advice she’d ever received:

From Rachel Blau DuPlessis in “Statement on Poetics”—paraphrasing now: A poem is “bottomless,” “intricate,” and “tangible” in detail. I like thinking this is true regardless of “school” or length. Here is what it has helped me to appreciate: A poem is a work made through language that bears rereading, to discover that difficulty is never without love.

Erica Hunt, interview

I’ve come to realize that these latter two concepts, rereading and difficulty, have become integral to my poetic practice. I have long considered rereading central to poetic experience. Rereading implies dwelling, lingering, becoming engrossed in the matter at hand. That we may read and reread a poem, each time coming away with more, with something different–that is poetry’s lifegiving gift. If nothing else, we reread because one can’t catch everything all at once. We look words up, try phrases aloud, wonder: Who talks like this? Life’s a cacophony we sense music out of; why shouldn’t art be similar?

The other concept, difficulty, is something that I have been slower to embrace. On one level, this reluctance seems natural. There is, for one, the early difficulty of the classroom, the way poetry is traditionally taught to be a kind of puzzle, a use of language shrouded in mystery, the poet a wizard behind a curtain, knowing more than you and deigning to obfuscate the ordinary for you to luck upon. And there are definitely poems that live up to this tradition; and this type of poetry remains teachable but not graspable, or, to use a word Hunt quotes above, tangible.

This occurrence of a poem being out of a reader’s grasp brings with it a number of connotations. On the one hand there is gaslighting; we have had whole generations believing that they are at fault for not understanding “great” poetry, which often leads people to give up on poetry altogether. This brings to mind the implication of the literal “grasp,” that there are certain people whose touch and presence around poetry would sully it. I try to dispel this kind of thinking in my own teaching practices by showing that linguistic difficulty should be embraced in good faith, that we can engage with a poem and allow it to teach us how to read it, but also that we should trust our reactions as readers as well. This good faith is a human trait, a way of endeavoring and persevering.

Finding ways of endeavoring and persevering is central to the body of work gathered in Hunt’s Jump the Clock: New & Selected Poems (Nightboat Books). Across Hunt’s lively body of work, one comes in contact with a voice able to interrogate while remaining attuned to language’s vulnerable and raw personal nature. When reading Hunt’s poems, one feels attuned to language’s plasticity at the service of connecting and not intellectual indulgence. To put it another way, her poems meet a reader half way and allow the reader space to work out meaning as well as a meaningful experience.

José Angel Araguz, microreview: Erica Hunt’s Jump the Clock

A woman cradles a skull in her hands like a bouquet.
The sun carves scallops on every window. Each face
accepts the signature of time. Lie closer to the floor
where it is cooler. Dip a cotton square dipped in water
to lay across your brow. The procession
is just starting or ending. It begins
and ends at the same place.

Luisa A. Igloria, Acts of Levitation are Difficult in the Heat

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 27

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. Travel turned out to be a major theme this week—appropriately enough, as I had to drive 40 minutes to a place with good WiFi in order to finish the digest. Other themes included the body and its ailments, and how hard work affects writing and thinking.


Shapeshifter, it’s time
For you to be a human again.

James Lee Jobe, Fur and bone and feather.

I decided at diagnosis that I wasn’t going to dwell on it. There’s too much writing, traveling, and fun still to be had. I’m giving myself permission to have a whopper of a mid-life crisis; I might even start a bucket list. 

The week before my surgery, I closed on my condo in Midtown. Moving in after the surgery was a fresh hell, but I’m here and happy in my new nest. Being able to walk a block or two to everything I need – supermarket, drug store, restaurants, MARTA – is even better than living on the Atlanta BeltLine. 

Although, I can walk pretty easily to the Eastside Trail if the mood hits. I’m also in walking distance to the Proton Center, not that I’m eager to make that trek, but at least it’s convenient. A couple of weeks ago, I walked over and had a mold made of my face for the radiation mask. That’s the closest I want to get to mummification. 

Collin Kelley, Living with the Big C

Due to mini-strokes and constriction of the blood flow in her brain, my mother has developed the same form of cognitive decline that my mother-in-law had: vascular dementia. In both cases, aphasia ravaged their speech as their conditions worsened. My partner’s stepmother also had aphasia due to stroke, so I have now witnessed the condition up close among three women who had very different backgrounds and personalities. As aphasia presents most noticeably as a loss of verbal expression (talk about being at a loss for words!), the condition fascinates me (a person who loves words).

And devastates me. My mother had never been “good at words” the way my father was, but she was a compassionate listener and often could find the right things to say when my glib and witty friends and family members could not. I recall many times when she would ask to talk to me alone and express something she’d been keeping to herself and reflecting upon, waiting until she could “say it the right way.” Now, she can say almost nothing “the right way.” Rain becomes snow; snow becomes green; hat becomes clark; tomato becomes red; table becomes place…and even these are unreliable substitutes, likely to change from one conversation to the next. The pronoun she has vanished from her lexicon. Her vocabulary is little better than a five-year-old’s, and she inadvertently invents words that are essentially meaningless while trying to convey meaning.

She can still read, a little, and slowly. A few months ago, I gave her a book by Eloise Klein Healy, Another Phase. Healy, a well-known poet, was stricken with Wernicke’s aphasia and–with a devoted speech therapist’s help–regained the ability to compose poetry again, though the work she now produces reflects her profoundly-changed expressive abilities. My mother was pleased that she could read the book and that Healy could make poems even with aphasia. And Mom understood the poems–had memorized a few image-lines that she liked. This stunned me–memory’s often wrecked by vascular dementia, or so we are led to believe. But my mother has a good memory. She merely has extremely limited verbal expressiveness–an inability to locate the right word, and a loss of numeracy and literacy. Alas, the result means she cannot make her ideas and thoughts known to others. Isolating.

Ann E. Michael, The right words

Who is she now/this body/after/all this wrack joy yes extraction no/shrinking fast/swimming the summery streets of lake current/his veins/the temporal slides/the bleeds/needle in her teeth/mending/mending/arched beneath/yearning toward in muscled reach/cut cleaved pressed lost/in utter clarity/when asked I wonder what has changed/she can only say it has changed/she does not know what that will mean/she is/she was/she will be/turning to bone as she sinks/whales and seals and salmon pour from arterial yes/and also/but why/something now is locked away that wasn’t

JJS, who now this body

Moon phase for July 4 is Waning Crescent,
says the moon app. The photo of the moon shows it
melting in the space darkness.
The surface is like the skin
of an old man who’s seen the world:
wounded, marked, dry.
When we don’t see it,
the moon forgets about us.
We don’t. We wait.

Magda Kapa, Waning Crescent on July 4

The government notes that self-isolation has proved an effective measure in reducing harm to others.

In light of this, the following measures also now apply to those who have not been isolated by current legislation.

Those with any physical illness which could be passed on to another person must now self-isolate.

Those with any mental illness who currently feel, or have felt in the past, that they may harm others, must now self-isolate.

These measures will be enforced immediately.

In addition, those with any physical illness which cannot be passed on to another person, but who are causing stress to another person who is having to look after them, should self-isolate.

Likewise, any person with a disability of any kind, or who is old, and requiring others to help them, and thus being a burden to those people.

People with any mental illness, who while not intending harm to others, are bringing the people around them down, should also now self-isolate.

Those who have self-isolated out of fear, whatever the cause, should continue to self-isolate.

No further action is required for those who are already isolated for other reasons, including, but not limited to, poverty, lack of transport, and/or lack of friends or family.

Likewise for those who have self-isolated because they simply prefer being on their own.

The government will keep this matter under review and further statements will be issued as required.

Sue Ibrahim, Government statement

In Stardew Valley, the game that I have nattered about extensively on this blog, the farm animals are simple creatures. They are either happy or unhappy. When they are happy, a heart pops up in the dialogue balloon above their heads. When they are unhappy, a gray scribble appears, denoting their displeasure with missing a meal or being cold or God knows what other lack they are suffering. This weekend has been a gray-scribble weekend for me. I have been walking around with a scribble above my head, unhappy and impervious to any of Mr. Typist’s usual cheering-up methods. It’s not grief, it’s not exactly depression, it’s just a deep sense of dissatisfaction and restlessness. It’s a sign that something needs to change. In the past, I would find these periods of malaise daunting and would be intimidated at the prospect of change, but I’m not this time around. I’m ready. I have full clarity and intent and I know my worth. Interestingly, I did a Tarot card reading this weekend and came up with multiple sword cards, concluding with the Queen of Swords, a woman who stands in her truth and is ready to receive.

Kristen McHenry, Scribble Head, Bro Move, Pool Nostalgia

Iceland’s landscape is gorgeous, but its soundscape is striking, too. I expected to hear crashing breakers and waterfalls, but I forgot there would be a million unfamiliar bird calls. I spotted oystercatchers, terns, gulls, fulmers, eider ducks, redwings, and sandpipers, but more often I heard screeches, warbles, clicks, and chattering from birds I couldn’t see, much less identify. There was a sea cave near Hellnar full of gulls and maybe other white-and-grey birds–I couldn’t climb close enough to see them well–but their cacophony carried. From around a bend in the trail, they sounded weirdly like small children in a playground, some cackling, one crying from an injury. We never saw puffins or seals, but from steep field after steep field, the sheep had plenty to say.

What might stay with me most was the voice of ice on the move. The ocean beach near Jökulsárlón, noisy with sea-sounds and high wind, was so visually amazing we kept laughing with surprise at the black volcanic sands littered with glassy iceberg fragments, and just behind them, larger blue chunks of Vatnajökull bobbing on the waves. (The joy gets a lot more muted when you learn that this arm of the largest glacier between the Arctic and Antarctic is melting so fast that it will be a fjord in a few years.) We heard the ice much more clearly at a couple of less-visited glacial lagoons, Breiðárlón and Fjallsárlón, where we could tramp out to the edge of the lake and listen without other people nearby. The nearest floes were slushy; you could see as well as hear them crack then separate. Larger noises came from further away, including a rumble from the edge of the glacier. We froze to listen, wondering if it was calving.

Lesley Wheeler, Listening to Iceland

I’ve been in the garden a lot, dabbling as a gardener for the first time in my life and finding it very enjoyable, not to say relaxing and satisfying. I’ve combined my image-making and gardening interests by using flowers and foliage from the garden in my pieces, and adding text.

Andrew and I have been to London a few times, mainly moving our student son out of his accommodation for the summer and visiting our daughter, who’s lived in London for nearly a year now. How fast time has flown. I read somewhere that time moves fast when nothing much happens.

Josephine Corcoran, July Update

On the last morning, you’ll rucksack-up, / then lower your pack to the floor,/ consider the weight of things.’ My sons are moving on, and I’m travelling alone with the weight of a Brompton, folded. Companionship comes in many forms, and I have projected personality onto my bicycle – she is blue, she is named Boudicca. 

Blame the blockage in the Suez Canal, or the pandemic rush to get bicycles out of sheds, but the cycle shop nearest to London Euston is all out of bicycle clips and reflective ankle bands, and has been for months. Whilst telling me this, the kind assistant passed me a clutch of rubber bands in assorted sizes. “Try these,” he said, with the confidence of someone who can speak several languages. Boudicca, were she able to do so, would have commented that I looked like a low-budget Tintin as I climbed onto the saddle, and set off for Tufnell Park.

This is the birthplace of four symphonies, the violin concerto, / a clutch of quartets …’ 2018 – Pasqualatihaus, Vienna. 2021 – the Tufnell Park Tavern, Tufnell Park. 

This city’s a miniature of empire‘ – as true of London as it is of Vienna. The cycle route took us down the back streets, under railway bridges, past car repair shops, close to tower blocks. It took us over tarmac, and took us over glass. Nearing the pub, I felt Boudicca’s back wheel resist the road in the way it does as a tyre deflates: instant lethargy, forewarning of the need to lie on one’s back with one’s wheels in the air.

Liz Lefroy, I Repair to London

knowing your purpose is the fall of rain :: how gently can you live

Grant Hackett [no title]

When I was a kid, I sometimes played out entirely fake situations and conversations in my head, and sometimes, spilling out of my mouth.  The car was one of my favorite places to daydream on long rides, and I remember crouching down behind my mother’s seat, whispering,  conscious that she’d notice that I was mouthing my made up scenes, and already, at 5 or 6 kind of self-conscious about it. I was never one to have an imaginary friend–but more–had many that lived in my head an enacted out their stories,  When it came to writing, before I even knew how, I would fill notebooks with squiggles I imagined as stories.  While I often pulled others–my sister, my cousins, neighbor kids–into my play, I spent a lot of time in this imaginary life myself and it didn’t go away as I got older.  When I wasn’t reading in other people’s written worlds, I would just sit in my room with music on playing things out in my head, something that continued into high school. Hell, maybe even adulthood.

I wonder often if novelists and other story makers live this way–esp. since I do even as a poet. How so much of writing and thinking about stories and characters and world-building feels like like a dissociative state sometimes. And is that all writing is? So much time in our heads with other people, other lives, that we are never fully in this one?  

Kristy Bowen, film notes: writer brain

One day a door opens in the ground
and you know this is every door
you’ve ever read about in tales and fables.
The animals watch to see what you do
after you pass into the country beyond.
The trees are full of birds; at first
they make no sound, and then
they open their mouths in bursts
of rifle fire.

Luisa A. Igloria, Ex-Paradiso

Where does the time go, eh? It’s been a month of missed weekly posts and IT DOESN’T MATTER ONE JOT!!

In that month I can barely say what’s happened, but I can confirm I completed Race To The King and went to the funeral of the magnificent Lorraine Gray. I was asked to read, alongside my two closest friends, Adrian Henri’s ‘Without You‘ (and that reminds me, I must order Andrew Taylor’s book about Adrian), some other folks read Auden’s ‘If I Could Tell You’, so it was a beautiful, poetry-filled event…(Oh yes, and very, very boozy, but it’s what she would have wanted.)

So much of the last few weeks have been spent fixated on that run and then Lol’s funeral that I now find myself a bit bereft of focus. The football has been a welcome distraction, but concentrating on anything seems to escape me at present. I sat down earlier to try and look at a poem for the first time in a month, and while I know the ideas are ok, nothing grabbed me enough to want to write more of them. I was listening to Johnny Marr’s interview with our esteemed laureate yesterday while on a tip run and he talked about turning up, the act of craft, etc and I think perhaps I am out of practice. My habit of daily writing has fallen way by the wayside (as has writing these posts), so it’s time to do something about that. Not, again, that it matters either way…

Mat Riches, Falcon, Falcoff

I was off the grid for a week in early June for a family gathering in Michigan, and now it’s nearly mid-July, and I’ve been “off the grid” in all kinds of ways before and since. My last post, in early April, was mostly about March, and time still feels suspended. I wrote a poem a day in April, as planned & hoped, and I have continued to read books of poetry but am way behind in my reviewing,* as that takes concentration, re-reading, and a clear mind. I’m also reading fiction, nonfiction, essays, comics, and letters as a kind of escape as well as a way to focus. I’m walking to work. I’m swimming laps again, as this year the pool opened! I feel good but weird.

I guess I’m surprised that coming out of Covid isolation was somehow harder than being in. But why?** I’m not scared, just wary. I worked from home till June 1, 2020, and have worked masked at the workplace ever since. I’m vaccinated and go unmasked with other vaccinated people, friends and family I trust. I still wear a mask to the grocery store, though many customers, cashiers, and other employees don’t. Cases (and deaths) went way down where I live but are on the uptick again. I accompany my parents to medical appointments, where people all wear masks in healthcare settings. I was part of a masked theatre audience and will be again. But I walk to work unmasked, and it is so nice to see people’s faces again.

Kathleen Kirk, Off the Grid

What’s been (sort of) interesting about working through the pandemic is how difficult it’s been to think. I only work half time and yet, my ability to really delve deeply into a book or subject has been wanting. The library went through cycles of being closed and open but was always doing curbside pick-ups and this was quite honestly more like factory work. In the Zaretsky book [The Subversive Simone Weil: A Life in Five Ideas by Robert Zaretsky] he says,

“The act of thinking, Weil discovered, was the first casualty of factory work. A few days into her job, she was already reeling from fatigue. At times, the unremitting pace reduced Weil to tears. In one unexceptional entry, she wrote: “Very violent headache, finished the work while weeping almost uninterruptedly. (When I got home, interminable fit of sobbing).”

In her factory work, Weil said that she profoundly felt “the humiliation of this void imposed on my thought.” What are the rights of workers now, and what are our obligations to them?

Shawna Lemay, What Are You Going Through?

end of a shift
floating in the tiredness
of cared hands that soothed
or could not soothe the some times
when
time had taken the intellect away
in ways that intellects could dissect in the pages
of books devoted to the subject
and yet
this tiredness is not to be found in
the pages of any book
it is to be found in the muscles
of a mind exercised with thoughts
of the left behind that were once
the foremost but are now
simply pity in your hands
the
empathy of a washed goodnight
in the glory of walking away
just one more time
until
is such an implosive word

Jim Young, night nurse

Folk festival folk:

They work in council housing departments
and sing sad songs of flooded seams and firedamp,
poss-tubs, pinnies, lockouts ,blacklegs,
disasters, deprivation.

Or tutors in evening classes
who know The Ballad of Sir Patrick Spens,
and Matty Groves by heart; they sing without
accompaniment. And slow. And flat. They never miss
a verse. They sing the chorus after every
one, bring unimagined nuances to
the meaning of interminable.

Some sell insurance; or work in call centres,
and sing, at length, about the whaling,
silver darlings, foundering trawlers, ice;
shawled fisherwives on shivering wharves
gazing at the widowing sea.

John Foggin, Stocking fillers (3)

Summer teaching started for me this week. Excited to start new conversations and encourage young writers to engage with articulating their authentic selves while navigating the rules of different spaces. Am exhausted, won’t lie, but that’s also the life.

Did want to share two quick things:

First, here’s another article to help navigate the ever-evolving pandemic we’re in. I worry I alienate people by coming back to the high stakes we’re living in, but then I wouldn’t be staying true to myself if I didn’t. I mean, carrying on like things can go back to “normal” alienates me, so, really, this be quid pro quo, no?

Second, here’s a poem I found while seeking out ideas for a post this week:

thank the weeds
for pulling you
closer to the flowers

(Rich Heller, Lilliput Review)

I purposely share it with my aforementioned sense of feeling alienated and like a harbinger of doom. In my case, I’m working out the weeds of worry and survival, all of which doesn’t bring me down, not exactly. It brings me down and it makes me look up and value what we’re surviving for.

Here’s to the weeds.

José Angel Araguz, not in the weeds, the weeds are in me, so to speak

I was going to post the old song “I’m glad I’m not young anymore” that Maurice Chevalier sang in “Gigi”  but the lyrics don’t really apply in my case.

However, I am glad to be in the 70’s now, not back in the years of the 70’s.  Glad to be here now.

Some regrets, and one of them is that there wasn’t digital photography until so recently.  The film camera made one abstemious about what photo to take, since film cost money, and developing the film cost money and time.  There were photos of events and persons that I simply wish I had, to help my memory along.

I am glad I won’t be around in thirty years to live in the world that is coming.  

Anne Higgins, I’m glad not to be young in 2021

Before there were digital cameras, we took pictures and sent film away to have it developed.  I loved getting the prints in the mail, and I saved all the negatives, in case I wanted reprints.  I rarely wanted reprints, but I saved them.

Yesterday, my spouse and I sorted through the photo albums.  We didn’t do any digitizing–that’s a much more complicated project.  We knew that we had kept all sorts of photos, and yesterday it was time to look at them again.  We haven’t looked through most of those albums in decades.

Here are some insights:

–I was worried that the non-archival albums might have bleached the pictures away, but they’re still in good shape.

–I use the word “good” rather loosely.  These pictures were never high quality.  It’s not like we had parents who gave us quality camera equipment.  We had instamatic kinds of cameras–not Polaroids, not that kind of instant.  The kind of cameras we had took 110 film.  How do I still remember that?  Probably from decades of ordering that film and sending film away.

–Then, as now, I kept every picture.  Consequently, I have pictures of parts of the floor, a window here the side of a car, a strip of floor, all sorts of accidental photos.

–I also kept lots of photos of humans whom I no longer remember.  I dutifully wrote names on the backs of pictures, but those names didn’t help.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Sorting Photos

In a week in which, inexplicably, a kerfuffle was kicked up over Ange Mlinko’s not-extravagantly-unreasonable comments about Adrienne Rich in the London Review of Books, the poetry contribution to the same edition of the LRB, Emily Berry’s Paris, seems to have passed more or less without comment. I’m surprised only because Paris is a prose poem and prose poems always seem capable of getting someone’s goat; I would at least have expected someone to take to Twitter with a complaint about how this sort of thing ‘isn’t poetry’. I’m posting about it now not to bemoan the form of Berry’s offering (if interested, see more on the subject in relation to Jeremy Noel-Tod’s prose poetry anthology, here) but to celebrate it as a complexification of literary power dynamics, an exposé of authorial paranoia, and a parody of Proustian psychological observations.

This week is also of course Proust’s one hundred and fiftieth anniversaire, and so it is appropriate that the LRB should mark the occasion, even if it is tucked away in the sub-text of a prose poem. Berry is very witty in shrinking the vastness of Á la recherche du temps perdu to what is (prose/poetry debates notwithstanding) basically a single paragraph. And it is a paragraph repleat with ironic thoughts on that most thoughtless of modern mechanisms for capturing lost time, the selfie. What took Proust thirteen years to write, and most readers months if not years to read, is whittled down to a minute or two for readers of the LRB and a single moment of posing for the protagonist of the poem.

Chris Edgoose, Paris by Emily Berry

Composed in sections, halts and hesitations, Medin explores memory as a series of conversations, attempting to seek what might not otherwise be known or revealed without pushing too hard. Writing on her mother as part of “BROOKLYN, NOVEMBER 15, 2018,” she writes: “I have to be careful when asking questions, or else she’ll say it again: stop.” She writes between generations, from her mother and grandmother to her own children; she writes between geographies, from the family home in Paraguay to Argentina, to the United States. She writes a story and a prose in transit, in transition, perpetually in motion. To uncover another element of her own story might be to shift the entire narrative. In the same section, she adds: “She did not have time for documenting time. On top of that, who keeps a journal? Although she is writing this to me on a screen, I can hear her shouting: ‘I have never known anyone who keeps a journal.’”

This is such a remarkable book, and the ease of her prose is enviable. I keep having to hold back quoting page upon page, pushing the whole of this collection through my computer screen and in front of my own commentary. Medin writes of physical, emotional and temporal distances she wishes to travel; of cognitive distance. She writes of connection and disconnection, centred around family, and specifically, her mother. As she writes: “My mother’s domain. Her house. Was my house. this is no nostalgic writing. There is no desire to recover what’s gone. No need of further separation, of a wall built across.” As well, I’ll admit that I’m left to conjecture the purpose of the words set in bold throughout the text, but to read only those words through the collection, one can see a single, extended poem hidden in plain sight. There are layers beyond layers here. To thread such together, for example, from the opening poem, offers: “To open and close, to cut / into pieces / not your daughter, / not you. / yet, / a mother.”

rob mclennan, Silvina López Medin, Poem That Never Ends

Paul occasionally mentioned the poet Brian Jones (1938–2009) – not to be confused with the Strolling One – and a few years ago, his own publisher, Shoestring Press, published a selection of Jones’ poems. I must get round to buying a copy. In the meantime, I recently bought a lovely copy of Jones’s Interior, 25 poems published by Alan Ross in 1969. There is something Larkinian about his poetry, though without the misanthropy or suppressed bigotry. More than anyone, though, his poems remind me of Dennis O’Driscoll’s: droll, acutely aware of mortality and on the nose.

A three-part poem ‘At the Zoo’ was always going to appeal to me, because I adore zoo poems, and zoos in fact, hard though it is not to feel simultaneously thrilled by proximity to the creatures therein and repulsed by their captivity. The third part concerns Chi-Chi, the giant panda who was brought to London Zoo from Frankfurt in 1958 and was a major attraction until her death in 1972, and opens thus: ‘This is the panda that wouldn’t be shagged!’. After a superb simile, ‘wondering kids hoisted like periscopes’, he elaborates on the panda’s situation and attitude:

This is the girl
who would have none of it, who let the world
proclaim and plan the grandest wedding for her,
who travelled in state and with due coyness
one thousand miles in a beribboned crate,
who ate well at the reception, honoured the ritual,
and when the time arrived for being shagged
chose otherwise, rolled over, went to sleep.

Anthropomorphic, to a degree, this may be, but it’s fine writing, with a deceptively easy rhythm.

Matthew Paul, On Brian Jones (no, not that one)

A new episode of the New Books in Poetry podcast is up. I had an amazing conversation with Carl Marcum about his new book A Camera Obscura (Red Hen Press, 2021).

A Camera Obscura is a lyrical exploration of external and internal worlds. The heavens described in these poems could be the stars glittering above our heads, the pathways of faith, or the connection between human beings. Playing with scientific understandings of the world, along with the linguistic conventions of the poetic form, A Camera Obscura is a compelling journey that simultaneously drifts through the cosmos while being rooted to the ground beneath our feet.

Andrea Blythe, New Books in Poetry: A Camera Obscura by Carl Marcum

How rare to travel as an amateur or emigrant, so ignorant of a well-trod place that you let the place’s magic play with your “free gaze.”   I, Rhode Islander, arrive with little knowledge of New Mexico.  D.H. Lawrence, Georgia O’Keeffe, retirees and moneyed Texans stay way in my back pocket.  I take in a sightline that’s not East Coast congested, but vast and open. The roads are straight — endless — cutting through an artist’s range of pinks, ochres, yellows.  The desert unfolds like an ocean of silver-sagebrush meets horizion.  Everything breathes on thinner oxygen.  The light makes rocks and cactus levitate.  Cactus are wan and colorless until they burst into hot colors like cartoons.  Veils of rain trail from navy-dark clouds you can see in some distance town.  Sunset over a layered plane that looks like the bottom of the sky.  In sum, an otherworldliness.   

As poet Adam Zagajewski writes, to the emigrant, a rush of rain on a Paris boulevard can be Notre Dame’s equal.  He also talks of how a workaday place falls prey to the “innocent sabotage of the free gaze, thus splitting it into disconnected atoms.”   So the morning sunbeam opens the doors of vision.  It doesn’t negate the tragedy of the native tribes but observing legacy of history in situ, witnessing the past in landscape, the native absence and presence becomes more felt.  Paul Celan’s term “what happened,’ expresses the horror of what can’t be named here too. 

Jill Pearlman, Santa Fe on Thinner Oxygen

I recently won a small amount of money in a poetry competition. Poem here. I have spent the prize money, many times over, on books.

I’d like to show you some of them. First up is Untravelling, an achingly beautiful new book by Mary Frances from Penteract Press. On each page a found landscape is paired with a few lines of cutup text. Every page is a meditation. It will mean something different each time it is read. It would be the perfect companion to take on a long journey, actual or metaphorical.

Ama Bolton, A binge of books

Sometimes the wind
in the Sandhills
wants nothing

and the cottonwoods
are happy.

Tom Montag, NEBRASKA SANDHILLS (30)

How to hold fear for so long
my shoulders learn a new shape.
How to watch numbers climb
higher, and then higher.
How to hold funerals
and kindergarten
over Zoom.

How to read subtle signals
via eyes alone.
How to re-grow scallions in water
because there might not be
more to buy.
How to feel our connections
though we’re apart.

Rachel Barenblat, How To

Remember last week’s advice to myself? Stay open to connections, calmly watch for sprouting seeds?

Yeah, okay.

So I tread softly through the noise and haste. Sat calmly amid the sun and rain. Tinkered with the poem. Tinkered with the poem. TINKERED WITH THE DAMN POEM.

Rolled the poem up and beat it against the desk.

Decided clearly I know nothing about writing poems.

Quit writing forever.

Decided to go back to school in the plumbing trade.

…Then I got an idea.  …

Marilyn McCabe, Waiting on a friend; or, On Writing and Patience

I’ve seen an ink that refuses to write anything but trouble in the blood.

When the grenade demands a final cigarette before its detonation, ask it to reconsider.

See if it might like to put all that bang into creating a beautiful floral arrangement for a stranger.

Rich Ferguson, Meditations at 2 AM

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 19

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week I’m a little under the weather following my second Covid jab—light fever, general brain fog—so if the arrangement seems especially random, that’s my excuse. I found so many interesting posts, I had to be a bit picky and exclude a few things that might’ve otherwise made the cut—if that’s you, my apologies.


If my mother were alive, she’d be asking me why I haven’t written anything this week about Israel and Gaza and the West Bank. (Well, in fairness: she’d be asking why I haven’t written about Israel. She didn’t care about Gaza or the West Bank.) We had this conversation often, when she was alive and was well enough to get cranky with me about what I did or didn’t write. 

I’m struggling to find words this week. Would my words actually make things better for anyone? Would they bring light, or only more heat? Would they open anyone’s heart, or just deepen entrenchment? What purpose would my words serve? Instead I’ve been seeking out the voices of Israelis and Palestinians. Their words matter right now in a way that mine does not.

I read words from Leah Solomon about her heartbreak and desperation. I read words from Ismail (a young man writing under a pseudonym to protect himself) about feeling trapped between a quick death and a slow one. I read words from Lama M. Abarqoub about bereaved parents. I read words from Sarah Tuttle-Singer about blockades and parenthood and children. 

My heart breaks for all who have worked there toward justice and peace and coexistence.  The actions (and inactions) of governments and extremists are pushing justice and peace and coexistence further and further out of the realm of possibility. And I know the same emboldening of rightwing supremacists that scares me in the States is happening there too. 

So I pray this prayer by Rabbi Jordan Braunig, and this prayer of mothers for life and peace by R. Tamar Elad-Appelbaum and Sheikha Ibtisam Maḥameed (transl. by R. Amichai Lau-Lavie), and The smoke has not cleared by Hila Ratzabi. I pray poems by Yehuda Amichai and Mahmoud Darwish, Rachel Tzvia Back and Carolina Ebeid. I pray, and their words become my own.

Rachel Barenblat, Wordless

Some days we can lose ourselves in the labyrinth of dark news headlines.

Blindfolded by grief, we wander from one tragedy to another, tattooed with wounds feeling so un-akin to our natural skin.

We’re taught, yet again, how a bullet spelled backwards might not sound the same way but it still leaves a gun at the same speed.

Or how awful words can build upon one another, calcify, create the spine of hate.

Some days are so dark you can taste the fear of becoming a relic, an artifact, an extinct thing in the museum of breathing.

Gentle heart, return to us from the wild. Bell our weariness to a many-petalled joy.

Rich Ferguson, When the Bullet Meets the Bone

This past year I have not been able to write much, or rather, I haven’t been able to write much new poetry. I’ve written here from time to time. (Thank goodness for this blog, and the book that’s come from it – so much pleasure there, and the kind reading and sharing of it). And I’ve written thousands of emails, texts, even posted the odd tweet …I’ve written for my job as a university lecturer: thousands and thousands and thousands of words about, well, about how and why we can and must care for and empower each other, about how we try to learn when we cannot be together. That work has been utterly exhausting, though I regret none of it. 

As for the music of poetry? The place from which that comes feels numbed, weary, tuneless. 

    I asked, with everything I did not
    have, to be born. And nowhere in any
    of it was there meaning …

I woke this morning and after a bit of Sunday morning laying around, talked with myself about first things – about how I came to write poetry in the beginning, how I scribbled lines, hid them and tore them up, then eventually had the courage to join a writing group in my 40s. It was through reading poetry, not writing, that I found what I needed to know. After the reading, the writing – the impetus to express my own longings. I knew, I reminded myself decades later, that it was reading The Wasteland in my 1980s London bedroom that convinced me that I was not alone.

Sharon Olds, in her poem I Cannot Say I Did Not addresses the question of unbidden existence more clearly than anything I’ve heard or read in any other context: church, family, school, social work text books, The School of Life website …  This existential conundrum haunted my youth –  none of us asked to be born. Olds takes it head on in this poem, even daring to end on a preposition. It’s brilliant, and reading it again this morning (from the Bloodaxe Staying Human anthology) it confirmed to me that if I turn back to reading the poetry that moves me most, poetry which is about this existence of ours – the one that we’ve been hanging onto for dear life – if I turn back to the well-worn pages of Olds, Rich, Hopkins, Eliot, Collins, McMillan, Clarke, Sprackland, Duffy, Oliver …  in time, and with gentleness, and quietly, I will, in time, find my voice again.

    … I want to say that love
    is the meaning, but I think that love may be
    the means, what we ask with. 
Sharon Olds – I Cannot Say I Did Not

Liz Lefroy, I Struggle With Words

Strangely, in the last few weeks, I have taken some of the incredibly negative writing I’ve been churning out for months and months, and am turning it into something more positive. There is still an underlying sadness and fear but it also has hope. I had previously tried to find, in my vast pile of writing, some poems that were positive. I didn’t find many. I submitted those to a competition and was shortlisted. That was a positive in itself. And it is clear that people want hope right now – well, always, obviously. So I thought I’d try it on myself. If I can write it, maybe I can believe it. Some days it works. I’ll keep fighting.

Sue Ibrahim, Fighting

And the boat will light the night sky
enough for a sudden, uproarious rush
to the sea, in old clothes, good clothes,
underclothes or no clothes at all.
A wrecked boat with stories to be told
but nobody interested enough to hear.
Somebody will make a good fire of it
and it’ll be gone. Charcoal, ash, good to
spread on an allotment, or for the wind
to pick up and blow far out to sea.

Bob Mee, ON MADNESS STREET

I discovered the cure to writer’s block. Decide finally your rattly old car needs to be replaced so you can stop worrying about it. Do some dreadful car shopping, including endless reading of articles in Car and Driver or other magazines you would not otherwise frequent. While you’re in the middle of a reaction from your second Covid shot, buy a car you can live with for a price that gives you only partial dyspepsia. Sell the old car for far less than you had thought you could get. Boom: Start writing again.

Or was it springtime.

Or finally boredom.

Well. I guess I’m not sure. Anyway, I have several pages of scrawl, so that’s good. But I’ve also got a pile of really good reads (hm…could that have been what got me going…?), so I thought I’d share some.

Marilyn McCabe, But you gotta have something; or, On Writer’s Block and Reading

I’m not a silver linings kind of gal. Not a “look on the bright side” person. Not because I insist on wallowing, but that I believe I need to allow myself to accept what is hard, or unpleasant or destructive, for what it is – honestly. I need to see this “thing” for what it is and acknowledge the real consequences.

It seems to me that looking for bright sides is gaslighting oneself. A kind of emotional sleight of hand. That said, life is full of “things”. Dark things and bright things. And sometimes it does help to keep the nourishing things in view while dealing with the things that can kill us.

I remember seeing a drawing a few years ago of a dark tangle of lines inside a small circle. It represented grief. The image was followed by a larger circle with the same size dark tangle of lines inside. The idea being that grief doesn’t get smaller, but that life goes on and becomes fuller, and the grief takes up less space in our lives.

I am no expert on grief, but this makes sense to me. And I see no reason why it wouldn’t help to look around and make my life larger in the present. To make my circle of awareness larger.

Ren Powell, “All the Things”

As I read through Frances of the Wider Field, I think of my own grandmothers, one who died suddenly 30 years ago, and one who died 17 years ago from Parkinson’s. I often feel that I never really got to know them, and that is its own kind of grief. I see your poems as a way to stay in conversation with people you cannot converse with anymore, at least not in the way you once did. Do you feel there is something special about poetry as a genre that allows for these conversations to happen? 

I hadn’t really thought about it like this before, but yes. Poetry allows for all kinds of unexpected turns as opposed to, say, a mode that has some expectation of linearity. It seems to me that poems are not only a way to stay in conversation with people we can no longer access, but that writing into the unknown allows us to converse with mysteries. The Frances poems originated with that energy, of being open to conversations with people I never met, with places that existed before me, with lineage, with ghosts, with concepts of god. The energy was at first an impulse to write toward a very specific absence, but the poems turned into presence–Frances began permeating the landscape, the dailiness of past, present and maybe even future. I’m interested in the continuum of time and memory and how we move long through different planes of experience, sometimes all at once.

Allyson Whipple, Poetry Interview with Laura Van Prooyen

When I visit, now, he makes sure that I know that he wants me to have his onyx bookends. It’s hard to know if he knows that he’s said that before: he’s always had the good teacher’s capacity for clear repetition. He knows it’s not enough to say something once. One of the reasons I’ve always been a poor teacher is that I’m not able to repeat myself. If I even suspect that I repeating myself, I stop short; I’m mortified; I can’t proceed. Not that it actually stops me from repeating myself: I’m often startled, if I look back at my older posts, to see how often, how tiresomely, I say the same thing. I’ve said all this before, too. 

The bookends are massive, Mexican onyx, from some foray into Juárez. And I do indeed like them.

The mallet just kisses the huge metal disk: it rings, or rather throbs: a low tone on the edge of hearing, but a sweet call. If the huge slow earth were a cat chirruping with pleasure at the sight of a friend, it would make this sound. More things, more things in heaven and earth. A la deriva, but at least in motion. The sky is a pure wordless blue. This year’s wildfires haven’t started up yet. And we don’t actually know that they will.  There’s lots we don’t know.

Dale Favier, Bells that still Ring

You must forget what came before,
how really there was no cloud
of mosquitos that night, only a stinging
flurry of words, how everything happened
too fast once she arrived, and how
you were the only one left to bury her.
Afterwards, you ate and cried as you ate,
the toast black like the black soil
you kept turning inside your mind,
covering and uncovering a grave.

Where there’s fire, there’s smoke, so you
sat there, waiting, eating the burned
toast, raising your hands in surrender
to imaginary knocks on the door.
The makeshift table wobbled, half-chewed
by termites. The TV flickered on mute.
You made your own news, platefuls
of it, the gift of an alternate reality,
where the world was still the same, but
was played back in reverse, and last night
with its soft-pink center was yet to come,
led by the peace of a dreamless sleep.

Romana Iorga, Nothing Left to Do

I do not own a powerful telephoto lens for my old digital camera, so I rarely take successful pictures of birds. My noticing tends toward the small and not-fast-moving: flowers, mosses, flora, lichen, fungi, landscapes. I have learned to look mostly at my feet, and occasionally at the clouds. It seems that the limits of my camera and of my vision (terribly, terribly nearsighted) have led to a particular perspective that affects my photos, my botanical interests, and my poetry.

Which is, sometimes, all to the good–but not uniformly. Perspective should be varied; we humans need to imagine that other humans (and non-humans) may witness life from other points of view. This concept is fundamental to psychological understanding and to the much-vaunted and controversial “theory of mind.” It also gives us the pathetic fallacy and anthropomorphism, which expand human ideas about consciousness and offer plangent and resonant metaphors that writers can employ.

All of this came to top of mind today when a student brought in a Philosophy paper concerning Nietzsche’s perspectivism.

Nietzsche opposes philosophers who ignore the fact that individuals have limitations on their theorizing. What makes his idea so thorny is that at the same time he suggests–goes so far as to claim–that perspective (even limited, ideological perspective) is imaginative, is one of our human freedoms.

Ann E. Michael, Perspective(s)

Poetry is difficult to define. It’s a nebulous creature. Even if one were to point to particular tropes or concepts as being hallmarks of poetry, the definition shifts along with its multitude of forms, styles, and expectations.

The first episode of this Writing Excuses master class attempts to answer this question. However, instead of simply presenting her own definition of poetry, El-Mohtar wisely turns the tables, asking the question, “What is prose?”

Prose is so ubiquitous — being present in novels, short stories, and non-fiction works all around us — that we tend to take it for granted. By asking “What is prose?” Amal shakes up our understanding of what we read and write.

Since Kowal, Wells, and Taylor are all seasoned professionals, their answers to this question are thoughtful and enlightening. The discussion leads to the conclusion that poetry and prose are not opposites (as is often perceived), rather they use the same tools and elements to engage with language in order to create specific effects.

As a person who has recently published Twelve, a book that blurs the line between poetry and prose, I found this conversation particularly resonant. Each of the poems within my book are narrative-heavy prose poems, in which poetic language is broken into blocks of text similar to paragraphs. As such, it’s been interesting reading some of the reviews and commentary about the book, as some readers feel that labeling these pieces poems is an inaccurate description, calling them instead vignettes.

Personally, I don’t blame readers for feeling bewilderment. When I started writing this collection, my intention was to write poetry with a heavy narrative focus. However, as my writing process continued, each piece grew into a hybrid creature I wasn’t quite able to define. Ultimately, I decided that since my intention was to write poetry — and these pieces feel like poetry to me — that’s what I call them.

Andrea Blythe, What is Poetry? A Writing Excuses Master Class

Tomorrow is #DylanDay (see here), so I wanted to post some photographs linked to the poet whose hometown of Swansea was also my home for two decades. […]

Italian poet and Dylan Thomas aficionado, Lidia Chiarelli, charter member and co-ordinator of the Immagine e Poesia movement, has been busy assembling and curating a website of international writing and visual art to mark the day. I am delighted to have my poem, ‘The Gothic Arch’, posted on this webpage (the easiest way to find it is to scroll to the bottom here and then move the cursor up the page a little). The poem, as you will see, was written in response to a few words from one of Dylan’s poems. 

The site also contains articles, such as one by Peter Thabit Jones on ‘Dylan Thomas and Greenwich Village, New York’, in which he ponders some of the fascinating ‘what ifs’ in relation to Dylan’s short but extraordinary literary life. 

Caroline Gill, Marking #DylanDay 2021 … Immagine e Poesia

as was youth
beer-bloated and curled
a smile – winsome
isn’t that what they say
to the wide-eyed

but to the writers of poems
it is the meagre wages
of time squandered
in the good company
of laughter un-worded
worldly but unworldly
is this tragedy to behold

Jim Young, older dylan dying

Most of the time, I feel much more at home among zine culture practitioners than I ever did poets, and it may just be that my DIY ethos has never fit well in a system where such things are frowned upon. Where I have sat on panels arguing about self-publishing that are the exact opposite of zine panels.   Fellow zinesters are welcoming and excited about indie publishing, where many poets are just looking for the “acceptable” routes of work dissemination–academic journals, fancy presses, the things poets have been fighting over since the early 20th century and maybe before which have more to do with “legitimacy” and less with actually cultivating an audience.  Zinesters have to take the means of production into their own hands by definition, so the results are much more varied and diverse. 

And perhaps it is that seizing I try to convey to the classes the most. The idea of authorship and creating media in spaces and from voices that don’t always get heard. I am excited to see what comes of this year’s programming once we are back in the physical spaces..so stay tuned.

Kristy Bowen, for the love of zines

Q: How did Queen Street Quarterly get started?

[Suzanne Zelazo]: I had been volunteering as the photography editor (which was the only position open) at my college literary mag (The Trinity Review). The journal was as formally traditional as the campus. Although I found that limiting, I got to see a little of what went into such an enterprise. Most importantly, I got to see how and where it was printed, which was around the corner at Coach House Press. The singularity of that press with its commitment to the book as an art object was absolutely crucial to how I conceived of the QSQ. What they do as printers made it very clear to me that I wanted to produce a periodical that would showcase the materiality of the text, specifically by including sound and visual poetry. But, as a lover of much lyric work as well, I wanted a venue that would integrate the traditional and the avant garde. I believed and still do in the power of reciprocal exchange between different genres. One way I saw of enabling that was by according the ephemerality that characterizes much experimental work the weighted presence of a proper bound text and to have it appear on zephyr laid paper that would do much to fix the fleeting in place for the benefit of extended engagement. Additionally, I believed the less experimental material in this configuration would take on a different charge featured alongside seemingly incongruous work.

Looking back, part of the impetus to start the QSQ was no doubt youthful arrogance—I did not see any magazines at that time to which I wanted to submit work, or more precisely, which reflected the kind of work I was writing and interested in, so I figured I’d make one.

Q: What were your models when starting out? Were you basing the journal on anything specific, or working more intuitively?

SZ: I wasn’t basing it on anything specific but discovering older copies of Between C and D: Neo-Expressionist Lower East Side Fiction Magazine, edited by Joel Rose and Catherine Texier (1983-1990) made a huge impact on me. I read every one I could get my hands on. Printed and “bound” as it was, or rather, computer-printed accordion-style and packaged in zipped plastic bags, cultivated my understanding of the periodical as art object. The entire print run is stunning and the magazine’s commitment to the avant garde scene was so inspiring to me. Tish was the same for me in terms of prioritizing generic experimentation.

rob mclennan, Queen Street Quarterly (1997-2005): bibliography, and an interview with Suzanne Zelazo

I can barely lead this morning’s writing class. A sudden migraine hit only a few minutes before students began to show up on Zoom. It’s a bad one — pain and nausea plus vivid wavy lines distorting my vision. I take some restorative slow breaths, drink a glass of water, then welcome everyone to the class.

I love teaching. I’m particularly mesmerized by the way community writing classes effortlessly build connections between strangers. Over weeks of reading and discussing their writing, people can’t help but get to know one another. Ordinary conversations, even between close friends, tend to fritter time away on surface topics. But in writing class we skip weather and family updates, going directly to deeper topics. It’s entirely natural to bond after sharing universal experiences like fear, regret, grief, embarrassment, triumph, and joy. I suspect we carry one another’s poems and stories with us long after the class is over. I certainly do. Many friendships built in writing class persist and several former classes of mine continue to meet independently as writing groups. Writing together has a magic all its own. 

But this morning I am in trouble. I can’t easily focus on the screen and can barely see my notes. Worst of all, I have trouble explaining concepts due to migraine-imposed brain fog, In this session I introduce persona poems. I explain, falteringly, how persona poems free us to write from the perspective of a soup bowl, a tree, an astronomer, a virus. I point out persona poems can help to stretch us. After all, if we’re writing in the voice of a dolphin or the voice of Donald Trump, we are writing our way toward understanding those lives more completely. I note that some people insist all poems are persona poems because the “I” in the poem is still a persona the poet choose to present. I’m not sure how much I get across because I feel like a balloon floating over the class.

Laura Grace Weldon, Healing Power Of Writing Via Zoom

After trying checklists and flowcharts and a variety of other revision tools, all of which felt too prescriptive, I finally landed on the poetry revision bingo card. I figured making revision an actual game might encourage a greater degree of playfulness. I tell my students that the goal is to get a bingo, not to get a perfect poem. This frees them up to be experimental and take chances they might not otherwise take. While they also have the option of jumping around the board at random, getting a bingo forces them to try things that might be unfamiliar to them, instead of just going for low hanging fruit. I sell it as an opportunity to be surprised, to find out what secrets the poem is keeping, as well as what it has to teach about craft. And of course, sometimes what the experiment teaches is that you had it right the first time, which isn’t a failure of the revision process, but a validation of your instincts.

Poetry Revision Bingo – guest post by Suzanne Langlois (Trish Hopkinson’s blog)

A thousand pages flutter open in the wind.

Translation: The days are gods
who haven’t shown their faces yet.
It’s when they appear as nothingness
that we think of them as powerful.
How can you supplicate
what isn’t there?

Luisa A. Igloria, (Continuing) Improvisations

spring daylight lingers
longer through the evening

we talk video games
coasting down hills
our bike lights blinking

James Brush, 05.10.21

A roar of Harleys,
a long rumble of them

coming through town–
spring.

Tom Montag, A ROAR OF HARLEYS

Walking home the other day, I noticed a cop car pulled up in front of a coffee shop on the main drag of my neighborhood. When I rubbernecked to see what was going on, I was a bit shocked to see a 100% buck-naked lady standing out in front of the entrance in full view of God and everyone. I would have expected this from an elderly person with dementia, but this was a young, attractive woman who appeared completely normal in every other way. She was perfectly calm and reposeful, not all at combative, just…naked. At one point she settled into one the chairs in the outdoor seating section, drew her knees up, and just sat there. It was quite strange. The cop on site was in observation mode, being very hands-off and obviously trying to shield her body as much as possible. I hope the naked lady is okay and that she got connected with some good mental health resources and that no one took pictures of her and posted them on the internet (I was watching the other pedestrians closely to make sure they didn’t have their phones out). The whole thing made me wonder about my own capacity to crack to the point that one day I just decide take all my clothes off in public and stand around nonchalantly. Somehow I don’t think this will ever happen. I am innately as modest as a nun and have a horror of being seen in anything less than full-length pants and skirts, so hopefully, even if I do have a complete mental breakdown one day, it won’t involve me stripping in public.

Mr. Typist and I took a long walk yesterday in celebration of the outdoor mask mandate being lifted, and I was surprised at how joyous it made me to see people’s faces again. It was a sunny, almost-warm day, there were a lot of people out, and practically no one had a mask on. Every time we passed people without masks, I was filled with a little zing of happiness at being able to see their full faces. I don’t know any of these people; they are just strangers out in public, but somehow seeing their whole faces brought me a sense of jubilance. This brings up all kinds of questions about what sort of long-term psychological affects that masking has had on us, and how it has affected our sense of our own humanity, and what it means from a biological and evolutionary standpoint to be visually cut off from the view of our fellow human’s faces for prolonged periods of time.

Kristen McHenry, In Defense of Hufflepuff, Buck-Naked Lady, The Joy of Seeing Faces

Finally, one from Rembrandt — I love this because it’s deliberately left unfinished, and we can see his fast, scribbling line. Look at that barely-indicated tree, over on the left! Picasso loved Rembrandt and you can see why. His facility is unnerving, and just makes me smile with delight when I see the way he “builds” the trees with just that line before starting to add any shading or detail, and then starts to go in: “yes, let’s work on the side of that trunk to show its gnarliness, let’s show the little leaves on the ground and the way the bank is uneven, these branches I’ll leave white against the dark foliage, but those others need to be dark against the light shining through”… I could feel him thinking some of the same thoughts and making some of the same decisions I did in my own drawing, and all those years and the distance between anonymity and fame collapse, and we’re just two artists concentrated on our work, looking intently at trees.

Beth Adams, On Drawing Trees

Can light redeem every/anything? Since I have lost my faith in so many things of late, maybe irredeemably, it occurs to me that my latest photo excursion was in part about testing that idea. Can light still change us? Can beauty? Can a seagull perched on top of a TacoTime cactus after rummaging through the trash show me something that I need to know? Can all of this, this attempt, be a synonym for happiness, even if it is couched in despair and a loss of faith?

Shawna Lemay, Synonyms of Happiness

The photographer wonders how to say in deer language: “I come in peace; be not afraid.”

The deer wonders how to say in human language: “Breakfast is ready and there’s enough for you. Come and eat.”

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, The Deer and the Photographer

This morning I thought with a start: does “console” mean with-alone? It doesn’t, it turns out. According to the OED, it comes from the Latin con- (with) + sōlārī (to solace, soothe). We used to say “consolate” until Dryden, Pope, and others shortened it. But I like my pretend etymology, too. There’s inwardness to mourning, but it’s also touching how many people reach out kindly.

Last spring I found it deeply strange that the world was coming to life so beautifully as a virus ravaged populations all over the world. This spring, as the human social world stirs in harmony with the natural one, I’m thinking about how my mother would have appreciated the warm weather, the annual sequence of blooms, and the lift of mask mandates (I worry about the latter, but I bet she would have flung hers away triumphantly and gone to brunch with her friends, to her children’s exasperation). It’s strange not to text and call her. Guilt and shame sometimes flood in about the times I wasn’t kind to her. I woke up in the middle of the night mad at a relative who wouldn’t talk to her during the last year (although he’s also elderly, I thought in the morning, and deserving of compassion, so I will NOT be extending the grudge). I wish my mother had one more summer.

On the “with” side of lonely brooding, I’m thinking about traveling and connecting with friends, in person. I rebooked last June’s cancelled trip to Iceland as well as an August week at a NC beach house with my kids–and I’ll come to the latter straight from the Sewanee Writers Conference, which I’m looking forward to with excitement now. This Thursday Chris and I are driving up to NJ to spend three nights at my sister’s beach house before attending a small memorial for my mother in my sister’s backyard, with a few friends and relatives I haven’t seen in ages. I’ve picked out a poem from Heterotopia to read, and I’ll share a letter from my mother’s best friend while growing up in England, but other than that, this writer has no idea what to say. There’s so much, and a lot of it feels private.

Lesley Wheeler, Celebration & consolation

sad at the passing
of a friend
we few now
the sun sets
but still
you drive
the dark paths
as if they had
no end

Dick Jones, Dog Sutra §22

So I spent some time this week reading Joan Didion’s new collection of as-yet uncollected essays from the 1960’s – 2000s, What I Mean – a great book to dip in and out of on the weekends. Standout essays include “Why I Write” and “On Being Unchosen by the College of One’s Choice,” as well as some of her asides about her early days working as a copywriter at Vogue. […]

I also finished Three Martini Afternoons at the Ritz, about the friendship and relationships between Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton. There were two fun chapters – on how they met in a workshop with Robert Lowell, their meetups, and on their writing habits – and about four excruciating chapters on how both women suffered in their marriages, their poor treatment at the hands of psychiatrists, Anne’s abuse of her daughter, and their eventual suicides. I know it’s hard to get around those subjects in any kind of biography about either poet but it just – oof – made for tough going. It’s well-researched and the author makes useful notes and asides for context, but I was glad to have Joan Didion to go back to – she seemed so solidly upbeat in comparison!

I was also interested to find out for which book and when Anne Sexton won the Pulitzer Prize – click the link for more detailed info from a Poetry Foundation blog post – and how she negotiated for equal pay for readings, appearances, and publications. When reading about successful female authors of the past for inspiration, I often wonder how they would fare now. How much more equitable is our current system – health system, and the poetry system? How can we make it even better? How can we find successful women writers who had more stable, less abusive relationships, better help and more success in life who can be role models? There’s always Margaret Atwood, who remains bracingly cheerful in the face of a long, happy marriage and a lot of late-in-life success, I guess…Suggestions welcome in the comments!

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A Poem on Verse Daily – I Can’t Stop, Birds and Blooms, and Sylvia Plath and Joan Didion

Poetry has been a balm for many over the past difficult year, for others it has been an outlet to express the whirlwind of emotions. Chris Campbell’s White Eye of the Needle, currently available from The Choir Press, is the first published collection I’ve read that mentions the current epidemic, though its presence has been felt through poems in journals and online since this all began.

Covid’s stamp on the current poetry scene can’t be ignored as I’m sure it will continue to weigh down many poetic collections in the near future, but former journalist Campbell doesn’t dwell on the epidemic. The poetry collection themes range from travel to relationships. They are well-matched by Sandra Evans’ sweet, detailed line drawings, gems in themselves.

Campbell’s writing is delightful, focusing on those simple moments that in retrospect carry so much importance now, especially as many ordinary habits of our life, visiting a café, going to an open air market have been denied us in the last year. His poems remind us to savour the things we once enjoyed freely.

Gerry Stewart, Book Review – White Eye of the Needle – Chris Campbell – Blog Tour

A second review of Strangers is in! This one meant so much to me because it was written by Chris Banks, a poet whose writing and blogging have meant a lot to me (as you can see if you check out my ten Chris Banks “quotes” here on this site, which reach back over the last twelve years!). As Chris mentions in the review, Strangers features a quote from Chris’ second book, The Cold Panes of Surfaces

The quote accompanies the book’s dedication to my father and two brothers: “For we are who we are, and more, all that is ridden within us / in the same way our fathers are not our fathers but someone / else’s inconsolable sons” (“LaHave River, Cable Ferry”).

So I suppose Chris wasn’t a fully unbiased reader, nor am I a fully unbiased recipient. Chris’ attention being given to my book was an absolute joy. His observation that the book focuses on “grief for a larger world that is constantly passing forever into the past” echoes one of my favourite conversations, between Stephanie Bolster and Don Coles, on the”presentiment of loss” in Coles’ poetry. I hadn’t realized – slow as one is to see their own work – that I was in part drawn to that conversation because I think and write in similar ways. 

Rob Taylor, New Strangers Review

I’ve been blown away by some of the haiku in paul m.’s ‘witness tree’, and reading Wally Swist’s ‘The Windbreak Pine’ has made me appreciate the longer line (many of his poems are 17 syllables, although not necessarily 5-7-5). Both books are from Snapshot Press. I’d like to say more about these collections, but work has been hectic (plugging gaps due to an outbreak of Covid that seems to be rumbling on despite many other areas having lowers cases). Time hasn’t been on my side – is it ever? What I would say though, is that I have never been disappointed by any books I’ve bought from Snapshot Press. And I have a few more still on my wish list!

This sort of brings me round to another thing that I’m starting to do, which is sell some of my poetry books. From time to time, I give books away, either to fellow writers, or to the local Oxfam bookshop in nearby Holmfirth. I don’t do this lightly, but space is always a premium and sometimes I realise I’m unlikely to keep returning to a particular book. Most of the books I own aren’t worth that much, but one or two might be considered collectible. So, I’m dipping my toe in the waters of e-bay, in the hope that some of these books will find the right home, so to speak. My mother has a saying that goes something along the lines of: ‘She knows the price of everything and the value of nothing’. I’ve had a careful think about what I value, and currently, it’s haiku. Any money I raise will go towards the purchase of haiku books. And I’ve taken the plunge and joined The British Haiku Society too (not sure why it’s taken me so long, something about a formal organisation that I find slightly off-putting, but we’ll see). Anyway, that’s where I’m up to on this rather rain-soaked Saturday afternoon. I hope that wherever you are, you are reading, and writing, and loving what you do!

Julie Mellor, rain-washed gritstone

The burrowing owls stand and watch closely as I walk by; have I come to threaten them? No? This is the anxiety of death that we all know. The burrowing owls, small, colored like the earth, like the cold ground, relax a little as I pass. I can see this. O cold night, let them know peace and comfort, these little beings who look at me and think of danger. 

James Lee Jobe, Flesh, time, fate, and some rather small owls.

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 18

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week’s topics include (but are by no means limited to) graveyards, grieving, making art, flowers, gardening, literary community and the po biz, ghosts, podcasts, promoting new books, and ecopoetry. Enjoy.


This morning, I thought about writing a poem about Noah’s wife and cicadas who emerge after 17 years to mate for a month or two (or the whole season of summer).  I’m thinking of Noah’s wife and menopause and sweeping away the dried husks.

And my other inspiration: one of my Create in Me female pastor friends made this Facebook post about visiting a congregation to talk about South Carolina retreat centers:  “How wonderful to eat ice cream in a cemetery on a sunny day surrounded by all the saints.”

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, The Violence of Collision: Interstellar Space, Flannery O’Connor and Other Inspirations

I read Lucy Rose Cunningham’s recently published sequence sitting on a bench in a country graveyard this afternoon, with memorial stones in the foreground, and the Shropshire hills in the long view. I had a flask of Earl Grey and a bun to keep me company. My bicycle was propped next to me against the wall of the church. I was glad I’d set the context to become acquainted with this beautifully produced pamphlet from Broken Sleep Books. All credit to the publishers for its austere elegance.

I’ve learnt to look after my body as I’ve aged – in Cunningham’s Acknowledgements words – to know what this body really deserves. It’s an important rite of passage, and one to which Mary, Marie and Maria all have something to contribute. Others have illuminated this aspect of Cunningham’s work, so  I won’t repeat what they’ve written (I refer you, for example, to the Cardiff Review https://www.cardiffreview.com/review/a-rich-stirring-debut-for-mary-marie-maria/)

For my part, I chose this setting for reading because I wanted to listen hard to Cunningham’s voice – not to understand every line (I didn’t) but to loosen up, pay close attention to what I heard and felt. I found much to enjoy, and much to grieve, in doing so.

Liz Lefroy, I Review A Pamphlet – Lucy Rose Cunningham’s ‘For Mary, Marie, Maria’

This week since her death has flit by strangely. I spent time with my kids, both based in Philadelphia, before driving home. I’ve written a little: a poem my hairdresser dictated the title for (he’s both a literary person and wise about grieving, and the title is “First in Line for Takeoff”); some notes of my memories of her last days; her obituary; responses to condolence notes and gifts; this blog post and the last. I’m thinking about other writing-related work: submitting mss for the virtual Breadloaf Environmental conference in June and the live Sewanee workshop in May; the Mother’s Day promotion I was going to do for Unbecoming; a short article on Eliot due at the end of May; whether it would be consoling or ridiculous to try working on my creative mss-in-progress again. The book of essays I will deliver to Tinderbox Editions before too long–Poetry’s Possible Worlds is scheduled for November publication–currently ends with my mother’s recovery from her first bout with lymphoma in 2015. Does my coda need a coda? I can hardly bear to think about it. And, of course, I’m spending a lot of time doing nothing. There’s so much to think about and avoid thinking about. I’m most comfortable perched at an intellectual distance from big feelings, noticing how the people around me process it, for instance, and my own preference for matter-of-fact conversations about her death. That’s part of what makes me a writer–metaphor itself involves displacement as well as insight–but it can also be maladaptive.

Lesley Wheeler, Grief metaphors flying

Well into Spring, 
my jasmine is in bloom and soon 
there will be the first of the peach blossoms. 
A sliver of moon tonight, waning crescent, 
and only a slight breeze. 
1,487 nights since my son left this world.

James Lee Jobe, Are you ready to pass through?

And then he said something that I think is still changing me. He began to speak of a mutual friend, one we had lost some months previously, of how he was missing him: ‘Even with all that going on -and you know what this is like, having gone through it yourself- and with all the crap that is still going on, I still need to remind myself daily that a bad day at work is a day he won’t have.’

And that stopped me in my tracks. I began to find something pricking behind my eyes, the slightest increase of pressure in my temples, as though pushed by the gentlest of vices. My woes did not leave me, but I had the strong impression of seeing them from far away, as through a telescope from the wrong end. Mixed into this sensation was the pleasure, as well as the pain, of knowing that while the woes were in a different place, and that they were not going to vanish, I now had a choice about how to see them differently.

A day he won’t have. Like my friend, I need to say this to myself daily (sometimes hourly) when I sense the world and my feelings about its woes threatening to overwhelm me. Which is often. A day he won’t have.

Anthony Wilson, A day he won’t have

Yesterday an old woman almost died,
it took thirty-seven people
it took two hundred and fourteen messages
to get her to a hospital bed.
But she will be home in a week.
It will start with her.
We know.
We’ve won before.
It always starts with one person.
It always starts with one battle.
It always starts with one victory.
It always starts when the first person says no.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, It is war

Kept indoors over a year,
the Buddha’s hand: its leaves
whiten, unused to direct sun.

Luisa A. Igloria, Three Sketches

And I have been slowly working on another quilt about Park Wood in winter. Trees in cross-section, the space between them criscrossed with mycelial strands. Cotton cloth and silk thread, all dyed in a variety of botanical brews, some modified with iron-water. The circular patches are where I tied found beer-caps in. Some had rusted at the edge, giving a nice dark line. The bigger dark patches are where I tied in lumps of rusty iron from a bicycle half-buried in the wood.

[…]

what I’ve been missing is
stepping out
smelling human beings

everything has to be planned
Kate from two angles
diluted some ink and wrote it small

it will be something else
stitched on velvet
dropped into a window

Ama Bolton, ABCD May 2021

April also marked my first experience coordinating an event for the O, Miami Poetry Festival. The challenge in proposing a project for 2021: to what extent would people be interacting? How could we create something fun, but also safe?  I reached out to Neil de la Flor last fall (great poet, lives in Miami, always has interesting ideas), and something came up organically in conversation–that his family had a multi-generational business in floral deliveries. One thing led to another, and we partnered with SWWIM to curate a selection of poems inspired by flowers, which then went out in bouquets delivered by Dolly’s Florist.

My contribution, other than a general habit for task-mastering, was to conceive delivering the poems in origami form–something that could sit decoratively in a bouquet and invite unfolding as a tactile interaction. Since I turned out to be the only origami enthusiast on the team, this also meant the literal hunkered-down time of folding 150 pinwheels. Felt good to do something hands-on, since I couldn’t actually set foot in Miami. 

I’ve loved origami since I was a kid, taking classes on how to make cranes at the McLean Community Center. One thing I thought about as I worked in the (once again, very) early morning hours is how I used to try and rush through the preparatory folds; the moments in process when the paper has to be creased, then uncreased, to ease a later move. Younger Me thought that was a waste of time, that surely I could finesse the move without it. Older Me understands the necessity. Maybe there’s a metaphor in there somewhere. I’d like to think that the challenges of 2020 were, in a sense, preparatory folds for some great move ahead. […]

Perhaps this is a trite thing to say, but I do appreciate you coming by this blog. I don’t update it as often as I could, or should, or want to. But it’s a good, sturdy little tether that binds me to remembering the question of whether I would ever publish a book at all, and therefore how quintessentially lucky this life has been. I’m happy you’re here. 

Sandra Beasley, Poetry in Bloom

Spring has come to Montreal very slowly this year, which I like — it gives us time to adjust from our Canadian deep freeze, and to really enjoy the incremental changes each day brings. While friends further south were posting pictures of cherry blossoms and daffodils, we were still looking at snow…so it was lovely to have a florist call us and say there was a delivery. A friend had sent us flowers in honor of his OWN birthday — what an unexpected and beautiful gesture! This was the second of three bouquets we’ve enjoyed this spring, and it’s the one that I managed to sit down and draw, and then paint.

The drawing started out as pure line, but I felt that the shapes were just too complicated to read that way, so I added some shading while trying to keep it all fairly lively.

How different it feels in color! I like the drawing more, but I think most people would probably prefer the watercolor.

In any case, I appreciated the hours I spent looking at these flowers – a challenge for the artist, and a respite from the sadness of the world as so many people continue to suffer from the virus and the inequalities of access to care, medication, and vaccines. Please give a donation if you can: what would you have gladly paid for your own vaccination?

Beth Adams, Bouquets

I can’t say
what what I say

is worth,
the old monk said.

I just want
a bowl of soup.

Tom Montag, TEN OLD MONK POEMS (13)

Another Machado poem, “Tal vez la mano, en sueños…”:

in dreams maybe the hand
of the sower of stars
sounds the forgotten music

a note on an immense lyre
and that humble wave comes to our lips
in a few truthful words
___

The climbing yellow roses make their serpentine, parasitic way through the laurel, and dangle from the eaves. They’re not really roses and the laurel is not really a laurel, I’m told; they both have odd polysyllabic names in clumsily grafted classical tongues. But I’ll call them roses and laurel. It’s my damn hedge. The roses are gorgeous this year: apparently this ominously dry April suited them.

Dale Favier, Machado, Roses, Back Pain, and Covid

I dedicate a dandelion to Anna Jarvis who, having founded Mother’s Day, spent an entire lifetime trying to undo it.  Her success in 1914 quickly became overscented, oversweet, oversentimentalized by the profiteers of capitalism, and within years, she was desperate to put the cat back in the bag.  Keep it simple! she railed.  Boycott florists, squash the candy makers and card hawkers!  Stop the commercialism!  She exhausted her fortune to take back a name she  couldn’t quite claim – Mother’s Day?

Jarvis wanted to honor and respect a much more complex motherhood.  Rather than a delicately petalled flower, I see dandelion as Jarvis’ idea of mother.  Its burst of sun-like flower is charming, and the unsung tenacity of its weed with its jagged, tooth-shaped leaf and its deeply sourced taproot where its spiritual power lies.  The grit and vision of la durée, the everyday beauty of continuity, is packed into its whole.  It is “toothy” — dandelion is a corruption of the French “dents du lion.”  The feminine becomes gritty, determined, a fighter, what some might see as masculine energy while the masculine is often fragile.  Such are the truths in paradox. 

Of course, we can spy beauty in our mothers and sidewalk flowers often — like seeing dandelion when the afternoon sun comes glancing over rooftops and catches it in its jewel light.   I see wildness in its simplicity.  I see an outflow, a pouring of generosity. I am never one to scorn excess!  All the flowers I got this year have amazed me. So many beauties!  In the spirit of both/and, I gather the whole thing and offer it in thanks.

Jill Pearlman, The Rise and Fall of Mother’s Day

The other book I’ve been reading that made me think about poetic foremothers and influences is Three Martini Afternoons at the Ritz, all about the friendship/frenemyship of Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton. It provides a lot of background and context for their relationship. Besides making me jealous that I haven’t been meeting anyone at the Ritz for martinis, it made me think about the poets we read and pay attention to in our own lives, who we are secretly competing with (even if subconsciously,) who we read and let influence our own thoughts about poetry and poetics. I realize I am very lucky to be friends with so many wonderful poets, but I don’t really have a nemesis, per se. But maybe that’s okay. Do we need someone to compete with to reach our own potential? I think this is a very interesting question, because, especially as women are pressured NOT to be too competitive, at least in my generation.

But it does make me think about how writers need to encourage and push each other out of their comfort zones, and one way to make sure that happens is to make friends with diverse friends, some who are editors and publishers, who are full-time writers, who run their English departments, who have many different ways of writing and publishing, and many different voices. It reaffirms that we can all grow and learn and build our own unique paths. We don’t have to sound alike, or go to the same conferences, residencies, MFA programs, etc. There’s space for all of us.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Happy Mother’s Day, A Week of Birds, and Thinking About Our Poetic Mothers and Influences (and Who Will Parent Our Books?)

Last night I sat upstairs in the studio and tried to read. But the refrigerator E.’s daughter used when she used the upstairs space as an apartment was humming. I’m not sure humming is the right word. At first I thought someone was playing music downstairs. Or outside. I would have sworn I could almost catch the lyrics. Ghost-like and insubstantial, but definitely present. […]

My best friend took me up a 14-pointer in Colorado a few years ago. After about an hour we were quiet. It was meditative. I paid attention to my breathing. To the calm thoughts that passed through my mind. To my physical body, checking for altitude sickness.

Above the tree line, above the snow. Stones and wind, and a little bit of vertigo. It was exhilarating. Coming down I told her I felt like I’d had a glass of wine. Or two. Her teenage son was with us and he was giggling: “Me, too.”

I really would like to climb a mountain now. A really high mountain.

But I think about the refrigerator and its ghost music, and I wonder if what I need is to sit upstairs in the studio and listen. To breathe. To pay attention to my body, check for any sickness caused by a sudden shift in circumstances. To make out the lyrics. To write them down.

Ren Powell, The Songs of Ghosts

bullet train
we are far from home
little fly

Jim Young [no title]

What replenishes you? 

The term “self-care” has come to feel almost meaningless: it’s so ubiquitous, and so often misused. (A quick google search for the term yields returns like “How To Make Shopping A Healthy Self-Care Practice.” Hello, capitalism.) But we all need to replenish our inner reserves. That’s true even when there isn’t a global pandemic. 

Taking Shabbat off from working — and from the to-do lists, the news headlines, workday consciousness — replenishes me. My son and I were watching Adam Ruins Everything recently, and in the episode about work, Adam proposes that we have “labor unions and the Jewish people” to thank for the fact of Saturdays off. Indeed we do.

As the weather warms, signs of spring replenish me. The chives in the window-box on my mirpesset winter over each year, and they are one of the first things to green up when spring arrives. I just added a little sage plant and a little rosemary plant to that box. Their scent grounds and delights me, and they’re delicious, too.

Rachel Barenblat, Refill

I had a post all planned out two, or is it three weeks ago, but tiredness and life got in the way. The gist of the post was me attempting to connect the work I was doing in the garden that weekend to the construction of a poem.

I was building, and staining two planters and some trellis (NB Trellis was bought, but I made the planters) as you’ll see below.

I forget how exactly how I was going to make the connection, but it probably involved the idea of some sort of planning followed by making it up as you go along. (Yes, like these posts…)..or something about taking raw materials and shaping them into a finished product over time…Yeah, it was probably something as pretentious or as tenuous as that.

However, while I was putting the stain on I was listening to 2 of the excellent Alice Oswald lectures (the Interview with Water and Art of Erosion ones), an Episode of The Verb (on punctuation) and the Toast podcast with Fiona Benson being interviewed by the excellent Laura Barton (I recommend her writing and radio stuff, and her novel, Twenty-One Locks).

The Benson interview was fascinating, and among all of it one point really stood out where she mentioned that the idea of calling yourself a poet should be no less of an issue than being a plumber…And I think she’s bang on. I’m not doing her justice here, but that idea that being a poet is somehow a higher calling is one that I totally concur with.

It really hit home today as well as I was attempting to swap some taps over in my kitchen. I’ve got better at saying I write poetry/calling myself a poet, but there is never going to be a time when I can say I know anything about plumbing, let along call myself such a wondrous thing. Dear god, we’ve got it the wrong way round…These people need to be the ones on plinths…

Mat Riches, A plinth and a punch, the first in (almost) a month

The sun is shining and I’m going to be gardening this afternoon. The weather is becoming less glacial and I may even be able to plant out the tomatoes. Hurray! I feel my mood lifting. The diary for May and June promises much, it looks like Nick will be working again after 15 months of enforced layoff, and musical events are on the calendar again. Not before time. I was starting to find it hard to get out of bed and not succumb to dark thoughts. But at least the pool has reopened!

In fact, the last week or two have brought some brilliant moments – not least of which was Wednesday’s launch of Antony Mair‘s new Live Canon collection A Suitcase Filled with Hope. I was proud to be able to say a few words about Antony, in front of his friends and family and many, many fine poets in the audience. He is a very modest person, but with a big talent and a huge heart. I think this is his best book yet. Highly recommended.

Last week I met up with my Planet Poetry co-producer Peter Kenny and poet friend Charlotte Gann for a few beers in Lewes. A bit of rain didn’t put us off! This is the first time Peter and I have been able to meet properly since last November, and although we thought we might do some recording for the show, we ended up just socialising.

We’re really proud of Planet Poetry;  we’ve learned as we’ve gone along, made mistakes and haven’t quite reached BBC standard yet but hey! This week I attended some sessions of a Podfest Masterclass, and although the things I heard about how to take a podcast ‘up a notch’, promote it to a wider audience, make it easier to subscribe to etc wasn’t anything I didn’t know, it was a fantastic kick up the backside. As a result Peter and I now have a domain name, plans for a website and lots of ideas for the future. We’re currently working on Episode 14, due out next week and it’s all about poetry publishing. Looking at the list of previous episodes I’m reminded how much wonderful new poetry we’ve encountered, and how many fascinating poets and editors we’ve spoken with – most recently the eminent American poet LeAnne Howe.

Robin Houghton, Faith, hope and podcasting

Strangers is officially out there in the world and making things happen! […]

I’ve been able to do two interviews for the book, too – one audio and one in print. The spoken one was for Andrew French’s Page Fright podcast. Andrew has been good to me in the past, interviewing me last year (just pre-pandemic) about Best Canadian Poetry 2019 and What the Poets Are Doing. This time we talked about the new book, and all sorts of other stuff: creating community during a pandemic, how I like to read a poetry book, my superhero origin story, etc.

You can listen to/download/subscribe to the podcast here.

My second interview was with Michael Edwards, who runs the Red Alder Review. Michael has also been good to me in the past, publishing a haiku of mine just this January. We talked about both Strangers and haiku a good deal in the interview, among other topics. Most pleasing for me, Michael’s questions reached back over all four of my books, allowing me to take a bit of a long-view on my writing, and how its led me to this current book. 

You can give that interview a read here.

I’ve also been delighted to have Strangers appear in both CBC Books and 49th Shelf‘s Spring poetry roundups, and to see photos of the book appearing here and there on social media, the highest of these honours being Vicki “BookGaga” Ziegler handwriting a poem of mine in her journal (weighed down by the famous tiny pink dumbbell!) – a long held dream for any Canadian poet on Twitter.

Rob Taylor, Strangers in the wild!

This month I have been dazzled and overjoyed with the love and support from so many about my book, though at times, I have felt like that hand in the life ring on the cover of my book–drowning not waving. Or maybe I’m just looking for a high-five. 

I haven’t been this busy since pre-pandemic and in the busyness was neglectful of sharing that I have some wonderful readings coming up! 

Kelli Russell Agodon, Reading Calendar For Dialogues with Rising Tides / Kelli Russell Agodon

Those who follow my blogs, and perhaps particularly this one, will know that (in normal times) I enjoy watching Puffins as they move about on and off our coastal cliffs. I am thrilled to have one of my Puffin photographs on the cover of Neil Leadbeater‘s new poetry collection, published by Mervyn Linford of Littoral Press. David and I met Neil back in 2011 as fellow participants at Swansea’s First International Festival of Poetry, organised by Peter Thabit Jones of The Seventh Quarry Press (Swansea) with Stanley H. Barkan of Cross-Cultural Communications (New York).

This fine collection includes poems rooted in a variety of rural (e.g. Tarr Steps), coastal (e.g. Aldeburgh) and urban (e.g. Port of Tyne) landscapes. A compelling sense of musicality pervades much of Neil’s work, aided and abetted by a sprinkling of alliterations and allusions. I have been particularly enjoying the poem sequences … and the Puffin poem, of course!  

Caroline Gill, My Puffin Photograph on the Cover of ‘Reading Between The Lines’ by Neil Leadbeater

Toward the end of last week, I was feeling the not all too unfamiliar feeling (doubt? restlessness? ennui?) about my work (more specifically writing more than visual work). It comes and goes, that feeling that feels like spending your whole life shouting into a canyon that comes back with only your own echo, but I was feeling it by Friday and questioning everything. I don’t think it necessarily has to do with po-biz, and more maybe with a certain writerly loneliness in the world. I don’t need fancy pubs and awards and attention, but I do like to feel that my words are hitting some sort of mark out there in the universe. (Maybe not the mark I intended, but something at least.)

That canyon is so big, and so filled with other writers also shouting.  And also, there is this huge rushing whir that may be the wind, but may also be terrible very-real world things like raging pandemic attention spans and  a world that barely reads at all. I sometimes go back to a blog entry I wrote in 2010 about feeling completely and utterly creatively happy and fulfilled, which is especially funny considering my non-creative personal life was a shit show and my work life tolerable but undynamic. I also was barely writing, and it occurred to me, this may have been why I felt so happy.  I was anxious about it–the NOT writing, sure.  But while others were shouting, I was hiding in the bushes. Being ignored was okay because, really, I had nothing much to offer.  

In those years post MFA, I was devoting much more time to the etsy shop and visual things, and these felt like something people actually wanted, you know.  Not just things I was throwing out into the silence. These things took up time/energies later better spent on my own projects and the chapbook arm of the operations and eventually I scaled the retail end back in favor of these endeavors. These are a harder sell than paper goods, vintage, and jewelry–all things in high demand in those days when etsy was still small enough to forge a following. The output/reward system was more direct and involved less effort. So it could be that–the satisfaction in making things for which there is a demand in the world outside of poetry, which is so small but also large but sometimes highly capricious.  

Kristy Bowen, on writing and not writing

Hans Christian Andersen’s What One Can Invent merits a read. It’s part fable, part satire.

– There was once a young man who studied to become a poet. He wanted to be a poet by next Easter, so that he could marry and earn his living from poetry, which he knew was just a matter of making things up. But he had no imagination. He firmly believed he had been born too late. Every subject had been used up before he had a chance at it, and there was nothing in the world left to write about.

– He visits an old lady, who lived in a tiny gate-house i. She says “Just try on my spectacles, listen through my ear-trumpet, say your prayers, and please, for once in your life, stop thinking about yourself.” That last request was asking almost too much of him. It was more than any woman, however wise and wonderful, should demand of a poet.

– She shows him a potato, a blackthorn, a bee hive, then gets him to watch the people on the road. He has many ideas. But when he returns her ear-trumpet and spectacles, the ideas go. So she suggests “Write about those who write. To criticise their writing is to criticise them, but don’t let that trouble you. The more critically you write, the more you’ll earn, and you and your wife will eat cake every day.”

Tim Love, What One Can Invent

stacks of notebooks
like cordwood
fending
off the cold
paltry fire
barely big enough
to keep my fingers warm
so i can write
and count the pages
as they flutter
into the fire.

Jared A. Conti, Kindled

An amazing thing happened.

Last fall I sent a pile of newer poems to Middle Creek Press, hoping I might salvage something out of what little I wrote during our ongoing pandemic misery. Turns out that collection, titled Portals, won the 2020 Halcyon Poetry Prize. Wild, right?

What an honor to have Middle Creek publisher David Anthony Martin select my manuscript. This collection is packed with poems about sycamore leaves, gut bacteria, quicksand, protests, yeast, talking peonies, insects, inflation, and consequential strangers. […]

People seem to think a writer writes in isolation, pulled only by some invisible drive to assemble words into form. For years I felt that isolation acutely. Heck, I didn’t even admit I was writing and publishing poems until my first collection, Tending, was accepted by a small poetry press. All that time the work of other poets pulled me onward. Their poems nourished me and helped me recognize poetry is in us all.

When the publisher of my first collection told me to solicit blurbs by reaching out to poets I admired, the task seemed unimaginable. Approach a busy stranger, someone I’d deeply respected from a distance, then ask for a favor? A distinctly time-consuming favor? I was appalled. Maybe my book could be published with a blank back cover. Maybe I could pretend the blankness was some kind of artistic choice. Turns out that wasn’t necessary. Every poet I contacted was gracious, even the poets who turned me down. Their kindness introduced me to the kindness of the writing community. (There are unkind pockets too, but I’m too small potatoes to be affected.)

My next collection, Blackbird, continued to teach me just how beautiful the writing community can be. Writers go out of their way to amplify the work of other writers. They mentor, they share, they podcast, they teach.  Many dedicate their time to make literary journals, literary organizations, and literary events possible.

I am the recipient of these kindnesses and more.

Laura Grace Weldon, Portals: My Newest Book!

I’ve noticed a quotation making the rounds again by May Sarton from Journal of a Solitude — a book which in part inspired my own Calm Things back in the day). She says, “Does anything in nature despair except man? An animal with a foot caught in a trap does not seem to despair. It is too busy trying to survive. It is all closed in, to a kind of still, intense waiting. Is this a key? Keep busy with survival. Imitate the trees. Learn to lose in order to recover, and remember that nothing stays the same for long, not even pain, psychic pain. Sit it out. Let it all pass. Let it go.”

Keep busy with survival, says Sarton, and we try, even though survival really is just imitating trees. How did she know?

And while you are doing this, it’s good to also be seeking out and making beautiful things. On beauty, Peter Schjeldahl said, “Beauty is, or ought to be, no big deal, though the lack of it is. Without regular events of beauty, we live estranged from existence, including our own.”

Beauty, in my opinion, right now, is actually a really big deal. And that’s because we are a little estranged from existence, at least I feel as thought I am.

Still, everything else goes on, and if you don’t follow my posts on Instagram, you might not know all that has been going on for me and my famjam this week. And it’s all great, wonderful, kind of amazing stuff really. Which at this time seems a bit exhausting? Ha. We’re loving it all, but it seems weird to be celebrating in the middle of a pandemic and all that. As we all are doing, and have done, amid everything else. The lows and the highs are intermingling in all new and surprising ways, aren’t they?

And so with all that, I still have my book on the horizon to look forward to, which is actually truly heart-bursting — to think that this can happen amid everything else these past two years. I have my incredible publisher Palimpsest Press to thank for just persisting and being so enthusiastic and kind and also really professional and efficient, which is something I really appreciate. Because it’s easy to forget how hard it is just to operate in normal ways in these intense times and that everyone has a life outside of their work that has become tricky in immeasurable ways. And so if you can keep work things fun and light in all this, well that is a balm and a boon.

Shawna Lemay, If Two People

My video Colony Collapse has been selected for an international on-line exhibition, Agency, hosted by Broto Art-Climate-Science in Boston. It’s associated with their conference on 15-16 May entitled Greetings, Earthing: How does global citizenship affect our climate response? As part of the conference, I’m also taking part in a discussion on Agency: Arts as Civics Teacher.

Curated by Margaret LeJeune, the show asks “What exists at the intersection of empowerment, the climate crisis, and radical empathy?  What does agency look like in a post-human world? And, can it be ascribed to non-human species, rivers and/or ecosystems?”

Ian Gibbins, Colony Collapse at Broto Art-Climate-Science: Agency

Amherst, Massachusetts poet and editor Dennis James Sweeney’s full-length poetry debut is In The Antarctic Circle (Pittsburgh PA: Autumn House Press, 2021), a book of absences and solitudes reminiscent of the geographic lyrics of Ottawa poet Monty Reid’s The Alternate Guide (Red Deer AB: Red Deer College Press, 1995), with both titles writing out alternate takes on specific geographic locales across a contained stretch. “Scan the snow for objects of love and wonder.” Sweeney writes, to open “74°0’S 108°30’W,” “Boil seal meat, stirring / with both arms.” For Reid, the boundaries of his specific map were the province of Alberta, and for Sweeney, he writes the Antarctic circle, but one as a space of shadows, legends and imprecisions. He writes an open space upon which the emptiness allows him to mark and remark as he wishes, putting on his own particular imprint, writing love, heart, hearth and environmental crisis. How does one love during a crisis? How does one allow a benefit of doubt? Even the shadows, one might say, betray. As “76°20’S 124°38’W” writes: “You will learn: Negative sixty degrees is not absolute zero. // You will learn: In a whiteout you cannot see shadows, but that does / not mean the edges are not there.”

rob mclennan, Dennis James Sweeney, In The Antarctic Circle

I wonder if we ever become allergic to ghosts or just the dirt that surrounds their graves.

When death arrives at our doorstep, I don’t imagine it bearing a beautiful bouquet as the living are generally the ones who lay fresh flowers upon graves.

The number of those who’ve passed away must surely outnumber my remaining brain cells. Eventually, those, too, will become dirt and dust. But not before I remember those who’ve left us.

Sometimes this world can break our hearts like a dog-whimper song.

Other times, our love ruckus is enough to remind the ghosts they need not be allergic to us.

Rich Ferguson, People Who’ve Died

the dog naps with a belly full of chicken
the cat naps with a belly full of mystery

one of the Marley kids is singing
through the Bluetooth speaker

I’m writing a poem, trying to freeze
a moment already lost to swift time

Jason Crane, POEM: movement

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 12

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week, a bit of a miscellany… or perhaps I simply resisted the urge to look for linking themes as I usually do.

The night before last, it was warm enough to sit outside and watch clouds cross the almost-full moon, and I became mesmerized by the show: how these strange, ephemeral creatures took turns ingesting, or failing to ingest, this radiant capsule, each glowing in subtle rainbow colors when its turn came. It felt more than a bit familiar.

Anyway, enjoy the digest.


You’re not worried about yourself, but you should be.
You’re worried your friend will catch this dread thing from you.
They won’t. That doesn’t mean they are okay. They’re not.
And they won’t be alright. And then they won’t be, and
then there is nothing, nothing you can do, nothing
you can do different. Here — what you should be doing:
You’re not worried about yourself, but you should be.
You should rest. Rest more. Don’t be so surprised. People
want to help. Let them. Eat rainbows. Pinch white cheeks pink.
Look for the hot water bottle now. Bundle up.
Expect no fireworks, swimming suits, ribbons, or wreaths,
but treasure candles. This is your worst and best year.
Live in the now. Write it down. You won’t remember.

PF Anderson, Letter To Myself a Year Ago

I recently had a text from one of my stepdaughters who was passing on a question from her five-year-old: “Nana, how are poems made?”

Hmm! I tried to think very hard before responding. How to say something encouraging and likely to engage a five-year old, while still being honest? No doubt there are teachers or ex-teachers reading this who would have plenty of good suggestions. All my teaching experience has been with adults, and having been a Brownie helper for a short time I learned very quickly that I had no idea how to seriously pique the interest of a 9 year old, let alone a 5 year old. The last thing I wanted to do was to say anything that would put my granddaughter off poetry for life.

I wish I could remember what I thought about poetry when I was five. Did I love nonsense poetry, silly stories and loony rhymes? I’d hate children to think that’s all poetry is about. Is it the only way ‘into’ poetry for a five-year old, or is that just setting low expectations?

Robin Houghton, On encouraging children’s interest in writing poetry

I’m ready for Haggadah of phenomenology, where everything has a voice — every person, every thing. Already decentered, in this story we give equal voice to the midwives Puah and Shifra, we flesh out the anonymous people, Pharoah, the Egyptians. We voice the animals — “Let all that have breath praise Yah” — fish, mules, snakes. All things — the dry land, waves, the sea, the tambourines. This is where wise ancient texts, already rich with choral vocals, meet the new. It’s part of the command to see the radical in the traditional, for if the original hadn’t been radical to begin with, it wouldn’t have survived.

Jill Pearlman, Speak, Kafka: What the Maxwell House Haggadah didn’t share

Often my observations seem mundane, but they’re real, and they’re true, and that feels important, I’ve no doubt that writing haiku has been a coping strategy during the pandemic. Going for that morning walk, writing those few lines, has felt stable and constant, and importantly, it totally lacks ambition. That might seem like an odd claim for a writer, but haiku are about taking things one moment at a time, not writing a poem, but capturing an experience, an observation. It may shape up into something later. I might like it enough to send it out. But at the heart of this is the moment of experience that comes before the words, or at least before the written word. This is how if feels to me. I don’t pretend to be an expert. In fact, I feel like a complete novice, but that’s good because it removes any expectations I might have for the work (expectations belong to that slippery construct, the future – and remember, there is no future).

Julie Mellor, A haiku milestone

‘When I feel like that, I ask myself what would a young, white, confident man in tech ask for? …’ is the best advice I’ve been given in March. It helped me to leave a couple of the questions on the recent census unanswered, and to launch my Facebook page this week. 

Questionnaires, however well-designed, try to squeeze us (in the case of the UK census, all 66.65 million of us) into boxes. I’m averse to small spaces unless they are ones I step into of my own accord, zipping up the flap behind me. But it’s mandatory to submit the 2021 census, so I clicked the required boxes on the online form last Sunday and pressed Send. 

The same day, I created a Facebook page in an attempt to offset some of the challenges of publicising a new book at a time when the pandemic has made the usual readings in bars, cafes, and libraries impossible. At an event pre-lockdown, I might sell 5 books following one of these (usually) free events, sometimes more, occasionally none. I usually offered a discount, signed the books as requested. It was a good exchange all-round.

The questions I didn’t answer on the census were about religion and sexual orientation. In writing this, I have already given you more information than the National Office of Statistics will receive about me. Perhaps I was influenced by the recent graffiti (graffito?) I saw near the station which reads, JESUS WAS BISEXUAL. How odd, I thought, to choose that as a daub, but then again, it did get me thinking. So too the other graffito under the railway bridge: GREAT NESS IS BORING. How odd, I thought, to condemn a hamlet near Nesscliffe so specifically, and to travel ten miles or so into town to do so.  

Liz Lefroy, I Census Myself

With a primate’s practiced peck
of thumb and forefinger I catch
a sugar ant, and absentmindedly
roll it to its death:

I will notice the smell of its small catastrophe
later, when the sun is high, and I rub my eyes,
aching from the light.

Dale Favier, A Change of Days

When John Greening posted on social media the other day that Harry Guest had died, I was taken aback to note that the news didn’t then spread far more widely.

I’m not at all qualified to write an obituary of any sort, but I do know that Harry Guest was a significant figure in British poetry who published with Anvil/Carcanet and was widely anthologised. In fact, I even have a battered copy (picked up from an Oxfam shop in the early 1990s) of the Penguin Modern Poets that featured his work…

In other words, his passing seems to me to be yet another example of the ephemeral nature of poetic fame. Of course, as Bob Mee mentioned on Twitter, the poets who “disappear” are often among the most interesting to read.

Matthew Stewart, Harry Guest (1932-2021), the ephemeral nature of poetic fame yet again

(This is part 1 of a series of reflections on each of Austen’s novels as I reread each one this year.)

I feel the point of S&S is that one should not allow oneself to be ruled by emotion, even appropriate emotion (like the grief the Dashwoods feel when their father dies).

One must be “mistress of herself”

What a good book to read nowadays, when airing every emotion is seen as Authenticity. When Emotion is equated with Truth.

Renee Emerson, My Jane Austen Odyssey: Sense and Sensibility

Marvin Thompson’s debut collection from Peepal Tree Press is a PBS Recommendation and deservedly so. All too often we are informed of the arrival of a startling voice, usually a vital one, striking a new note in English poetry. Well, this is the real deal: a superbly skilled practitioner of the art whose work is driven by two seemingly opposing forces. Thompson writes with a disarming sense of autobiographical honesty, often about domestic life, as a father and a son. Yet he can also create fictional characters with detailed and convincing voices and backgrounds. What holds these divergent styles together is his demonstrated conviction that the past (as an individual or as a member of an ethnic or cultural group) interpenetrates the present.

Martyn Crucefix, Jazz and Upbringing: Marvin Thompson’s ‘Road Trip’ reviewed

Anthony Cody’s Borderland Apocrypha has been an engrossing read. It details violence against Mexicans in the United States in poems that splash and splatter across the page. Set in landscape format, the book unfolds with white space and quick bursts of text, as if almost every poem is a kind of erasure, the text a struggle to stand against the white space.

A central poem is “Prelude to a Mexican Lynching, February 2, 1848, Guadalupe Hidalgo; or The Treaty of Peace, Friendships, Limits, and Settlement” which is an almost-30 page erasure of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which, as an end to the Mexican-American war, required Mexico to cede to the US all or parts of what we now know as the entire Southwest. The so-called treaty was bilingual, and Cody’s erasures show two erasures on each page, a dotted line separating the English and the Spanish. The erasures from the preamble and Article 1, for example say in English, “animated by a sincere desire to/end/the people/as good neighbors/There shall be/ America and the Mexican/without place.” And on the Spanish side: “las calamidades/que/existe entre/paz y/ciudades/sin/personas,” which I translate as “the calamities that exist between peace and cities with no people.” (Cody himself supplies no translations of the Spanish threaded throughout the collection, which meant some happy leafing through and discovery in my Spanish-English dictionary.)

Marilyn McCabe, Darkness on the edge of town; or, On Cody’s Borderland Apocrypha

9 – What is the best piece of advice you’ve heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?

The fabulous Eloise Klein Healy told me (when I was expressing frustration at feeling ready for a book and not having one) “You keep knocking at the front door of poetry and they are never going to let you in the front door. But there are a lot of ways into the house of poetry and once you are inside it matters a little less how you got in.” She also told me “Adrienne Rich died, they chose a new lesbian poet, and it wasn’t you, so get over it.” EKH is a font of wisdom.

10 – What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?

I am not a daily writer, but I am a daily thinker. I think about poetry or a poem or my central idea every single day. I also am pretty good at solving poetry problems in my head. Eventually there comes a part of the process where I am writing everyday and I do a good job of giving myself one problem (Where should this line go? How do I get from A to B?) to think about and solve. That problem kind of bubbles away on my backburner until I figure it out. I’m of the Gertrude Stein school- It takes a lot of time to be a genius. You have to sit around so much doing really, really nothing. That nothing is super important to me.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Tanya Olson

This last week the beloved Polish poet, Adam Zagajewski left us. I’m a bit wrecked by that I have to say. His books are always near my reading chair in my study. He wrote the famous “Try to Praise the Mutilated World,” and so many other surprising and wonderful lines.

For example,

“Only in the beauty created
by others is there consolation,
in the music of others and in others’ poem.
Only others save us,
even though solitude tastes like
opium. The others are not hell,
if you see them early, with their
foreheads pure, cleansed. by dreams.”

Shawna Lemay, Beauty Break

I cannot consider my heart’s wet muscle its pumping pumping pumping the weight of it the fat of it the pulse of it in my body at rest I cannot consider my heart’s music its valentine its stupid fault line my father’s heart stopped its lithe work when he was sixty I cannot consider my heart’s busy valves and harnesses aorta and arteries a horse’s heart in my body its glenoid shape its fourteen pounds its chambers filled with sugar and green grass and ecstasy its horse chambers playing Bach in a barn in sunlight my giant horse heart rolling in hay beating time keeping time perfect and alive but for an apple a hot steamed snort my heavy horse body moving always forward moving toward morning moving toward heaven

Rebecca Loudon, First Seder

Yesterday I realized that those vaccine appointments are on the feast day of the Annunciation.  I did some sketching, which I may write more about later.  This morning, I woke up with a poem in my brain, about the time just after the Annunciation, and the poem just came out mostly fully formed.  That almost never happens, particularly not these days.

It’s also been the kind of week where I have that mental whiplash that comes from being safe and careful, pandemic or no pandemic, but surrounded by people who are not being safe and careful.  As Monday night went into Tuesday, I finally got a good night’s sleep, in part because we kept the windows closed.  For several nights before, I had awakened to squealing tires and revving motors.  Has my street become a drag racing gathering spot?  And if so, why?

It’s a week of lots and lots of traffic, even on residential streets, as we see all sorts of strange stories of Spring Break in Miami Beach–more occasions to be snarky about lockdowns and how maybe we should have stayed in lockdown. Last year, the South Florida tourist season came to a fast finish as the pandemic closed in.  I do understand how we are a tourist economy, but I was not sorry to see the on season switch to off.

It’s been the kind of week where I keep stumbling across reminders of what we’ve lost.  For example, I opened a paper box in my office and found not paper, not recycling of used paper, but cans of soda.  It took my brain a few seconds to process the bright red, silver, and green of the cans of Coke products where I had been expecting white scraps of paper.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Annunciations and Vaccinations and Signs of All Sorts

sweet blood drawn into dawn :: robinsong

Grant Hackett [no title]

Humming seder psalms,
I rub silver polish into
the pitcher we used for

pouring water on our hands
when we returned from
your funeral. I’ll fill it

with ice water, and
your small silver creamer
with our salt water tears.

Rachel Barenblat, Third Pesach Without You

 While I have been in better sorts for the past couple of weeks, Tuesday there was a dip that found me crying for no real reason in the middle of the day in the middle of the library.   My mood usually improves as the weather does, but an upward spike in covid in the city had me frustrated with the stupidity of humans and just not ready to ride a third wave out, especially when vaccines seem, even once they open to me next week, something not all that easy to get an appointment for (especially if you do not have limitless time to spend on the internet and transportation to far away places to get them). I was mostly crying not necessarily because I fear getting sick (every day, unavoidably out in the world)  but I’m not sure how much longer I can go in this state of paralysis where I can’t read, can’t really create, have no concentration and mostly am phoning it in and pretending to be a human. Facing another summer of it had me in tears when it feels like it could be so very close.  At least until I made the mistake of reading the news.  

In better spots of my days, I am busily humming away on new dgp releases, though it’s hard to not be intensely scattered.  Things that used to be easy breezy take forever. There will be a slew of catch up 2020 titles coming to the shop soon, so watch for those. While it makes for a crazy time right now as we launch into 2021 releases as well, taking a bit of a time allowed me the opportunity to catch up on a horrendous backlog of orders from late 2019 into lockdown (a time when I was uprooting the whole operation and releasing way too many books in too short of a time). I think the wise words about knowing not when to quit, but when to rest were very important as I thought about upcoming plans for the press, which I considered scaling back significantly in my burnout.  This was combined with a slowdown in income for the whole operation.  Obv. not releasing titles makes things expectedly slower, but also just people not spending as much $$$ in general, and authors not regularly ordering author copies for readings (because, you know,  there are no readings *covid sigh*) It’s a huge blessing that I was already free of studio rent because we would have certainly have been evicted. On the other hand the slowdown allowed me to catch my breath a little, so it worked out for the best. Now it’s just a matter of moving onward. 

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 3/25/2021

It’s not often I find myself thinking about milking horses, but there have been at least three occasions that I can remember. (Let me know if it crosses your mind more frequently, but know this —it isn’t a competition).

The first was about ten years ago when I remembered an incident from when I was a nipper. My mum helped some friends of ours with a foal that was born on their land. Please note that they had horses, it’s not the kind of place where horses just roam about dropping off baby horses for a laugh. Regardless of this, it set me off on the path to write a poem about it.

I did, and there have been many, many drafts since then…and name changes…and submissions to magazines…and rejections and redrafts and resubmissions, etc.

The next time was when I got an acceptance email a couple of weeks ago (March 11th) from the revived Poetry Scotland to say they were taking the poem. I was lucky enough to have been in the last issue of PS under the control of Sally Evans, and I’m very happy to say I’m in the first issue back under the auspices of Judy Taylor & Andy Jackson. I was (and still am) very honoured to be in there, and that this poem has found a home.

Mat Riches, Horse Milk

Books make me feel less alone. Less peculiar. I have noticed that when I feel isolated and lonely, I go on book-buying sprees. Every book is a potential: this one will save me. I blame it on my religious upbringing: The Word is God. The answers are in the scripture. When every adult around you is an idiot, there is a near-ancient authority that has left riddles to be untangled.

There is hope, here: on the page. In the verses that sing.

I’m taking a course on visual poetry right now and am fascinated by asemic poetry. I am surprisingly drawn to it. Moved by it. After spending years studying formal poetry and analyzing poems with a chair and a rubber hose (despite Billy Collin’s objections), I am finding an instinctive satisfaction in holding the handwriting up to the light. Acknowledging the humanity, the creative mind present. The philosopher Denis Dutton said that one of the universal criteria for art is evidence of individual expression. Another is craftsmanship. Another is that the work is somehow imbued with emotion.

And in my mind poetry is the leap we make between the poet’s material expression and the poet’s subjective experience that demanded expression. In other words, all poetry is itself a meta-metaphor: the poem is the vehicle and the poet’s subjective experience is the tenor. And it seems to me that if we recognize this vehicle/tenor without putting it into words (creating new metaphors), then we are perhaps communicating in a more directly visceral way.

People have worked for years trying to decipher the Voynich manuscript because we recognize the human hand. We have this feeling that there is something important here. If someone were to ever unlock the code (if there is one) it would no doubt be anti-climatic. Our intellectual evaluation of the work would suck the joy right out of the visceral experience. We would lose the emotional connection with the artist by creating an intellectual one. One step removed.

Let’s not know. Let’s let the mystery be.

E.’s mother tongue is not English, and often when he reads my poetry he says: It sings so beautifully. Sometimes he has no idea what the ten-letter words mean. Sometimes I have leaped too far between vehicle and tenor the metaphor is lost. But it sings.

That matters.

Ren Powell, Visceral Understanding

I’ve been so remiss about putting new material on this blog, and for that many apologies. Today I want to bring to your attention my new pamphlet collection of poems, brought out just a few days ago by Fras Publications in Dunning, Scotland. The pamphlet itself is spare but elegant – the poet Walter Perrie who runs Fras operates as something of a literary cottage industry. He selects, edits, designs, prints and distributes his publications which include the periodical Fras. I’ve long been a follower of Fras and have admired Walter’s pamphlets, particularly Alasdair Gray’s late poetry collection Guts Minced with Oatmeal (2018).

I’m proud to say that Walter has published a selection of my own poems – under the title Coping Stones. These are all poems written since my 2020 pamphlet from Mariscat Press called First Hare but these new poems happen to have been written under the grim long shadow of Coronavirus. This is not to say that these poems bore on about hackneyed and trite topical issues relating to the virus itself, but rather that the pandemic darkens the background of these poems.

Richie McCaffery, New poetry pamphlet

I am searching my brain; is there anything that I forgot to tell you? Did I tell you about the sunlight reflected in the morning dew? Did I tell you of the echo of the hawk cry in the granite canyon? Even now the clock is ticking.

James Lee Jobe, the echo of the hawk cry

In such
a town, a group of black-shirted birds
plays chess under willows in the park.
The oldest philosopher is a pine tree;
how wise it is to keep its own counsel
as one war follows another, as the young
descend the mountains to the city, then
return when all their faith has run out.
The future continues to row its flat-
bottomed boat on the lake, sometimes
stirring the water with only one oar
so it goes around in small circles.

Luisa A. Igloria, 1-Point Perspective

For all his love
of holiness

he was not a saint
but a scoundrel

like the rest of them,
a common poet

who put words first
and loved the stars

and didn’t think
much of heaven.

Tom Montag, OLD POET

I would walk through fires of your nightmares.

Spend my last dollar to buy you necklaces of the most beautiful adjectives.

In my free time, I’d work as one of life‘s ghostwriters.

Would alchemize tears into a Niagara Falls of uplift.

Pick the locks of your most deeply hidden hurts.

Be the monkey bars on your playground of monkeying around.

I’d cut words from magazines of your old miseries, rearrange them into an alphabet of new beginnings—

anything and everything to live with you in the Hotel of New Moons.

Rich Ferguson, Hotel of New Moons

Meanwhile, this week marks one year since my latest chapbook launched into print–right at the start of US pandemic lockdowns. Find it here: https://prolificpress.com/bookstore/chapbook-series-c-14/barefoot-girls-by-ann-e-michael-p-317.html

So I am celebrating in a very small way, hooray for the little things! For the fact that my 88 year old mother has had her vaccine, and so have I, and now we can visit in person and appreciate little joys like cranberry, raisin, almond, and dark chocolate trail mix, floral bouquets, slow walks through the garden starting to green up and–soon–bloom. Maybe I will even be able to take her out for a beer (at an outdoor restaurant) in a month or two. I can read her some of the poems I’ve written about my dad. We can just sit and watch the birds.

For the fact that my students are slogging away, enduringly hopeful that by the time they graduate the USA will somehow be better. Maybe it will. With their help.

For the fact that my siblings and I have friendly relationships with one another–and honest ones.

Hooray for my spouse, mowing the meadow with his 1947 John Deere Model M tractor! For a new manuscript of old poems that I’m finally spending some genuine, careful, critical time revising.

Ann E. Michael, Moderately good intentions

all transplanted
washing my dirty knees
after a short prayer

Jim Young [no title]

How would you describe the link between your art and your poetry?

I have come to the conclusion that I am an artist and I use whatever media feels right at the time.  I originally did a foundation course in art and design and left English behind at O level.  I didn’t do an English Degree as many poets have, so  have always felt I’ve come into the poetry room by the wrong door.  But it’s the door I found, so here I am.

I began to write poems in the late 90s at Norwich Art School, whilst on the BA (hons) Cultural Studies degree. I found I could more tangibly create images with words than I had been able to do with paint, and learnt to use metaphor more subtly through reading and writing poetry. Poetry became my prime focus and I left my visual practice behind.

My visual work was rooted in the theatrical.  I toyed with the idea of designing for theatre, but was quite protective of the little sculptural environments I was making and having them scaled up for actors to act in didn’t appeal to me.   I found that through poems, I could fulfill my megalomaniac urges to create the scenery, the lights, the actors and the drama.  I think of my poems as little theatres.

When we moved house ten years ago, I gained a studio space. I started collecting the kinds of strange objects that have always interested me, but never had the storage room for. Mostly found, or more like, foraged objects, from flea markets and so on – the kind of objects that arrive with their own stories. I like to put them alongside other objects and try to invent new stories for them. Most of my practice involves play. I place things together in the same enclosure to see how they will get on. I need some kind of logic before I reach for the glue-gun to make their relationship permanent. Often that logic is a dream-logic, and sometimes this is cemented using words cut from old books and encyclopaedias, or my own whole poems. I am interested in the way that words and images play against each other and shift their meanings and connotations.

I have always been fascinated by Cabinets of Curiosity, the way unrelated objects are gathered together in a microcosm of the world and think this aesthetic has unconsciously crept into my work. I have a fetish for boxes, and tend to see poems as boxes – methods of containment that offer a semblance of order.

Abegail Morley, Unlocking Creativity with Helen Ivory

It’s almost April, which is National Poetry Month – which means more readings – yes, even I’ll be doing a reading – and more attention to poetry in general, which is good. It’s also my birthday month, and when I’ll technically be able to safely go out and be fully immunized. And it’s Tulip Festival time – even if spring is running a little late, Skagit Valley will be full of blooming tulips by the middle of April, and I’m planning a day trip up there to see them this year, having missed it last year due to the shutdown. Wish me good weather luck!

It’s also a month when many new poetry books come out, including my friend Kelli Agodon’s book from Copper Canyon, Dialogues with Rising Tides, among others. Go ahead and treat yourself to a few good poetry books for poetry month. If you want any of mine, signed by the author, (some of them hard to find on Amazon anymore), see here!

Anyway, I am wishing you all a happy and healthy spring, and a happy National Poetry Month. I am hoping the vaccines will be faster than the variants. I am hoping for an end to our plague year at last.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Stealth Spring in Seattle, Spring Submissions, Poetry Month Approaches

someone’s mask
crumpled in the field
pink primrose

James Brush, 03.24.21

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 6

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week, we’re a month and a half into 2021 and years into an endless, if somehow also endangered, winter. But today, reading the poetry blogs, I found valentines. Not the mushy, sentimental kind, of course. These were stronger, darker, riskier—like love itself.


On this Valentine’s Day I’m thinking about all the people who’ve lost their lover, their husband or wife, their child or parent — especially those losses that have occurred during the past year. It’s an astronomical number. A mind-boggling number. A river of tears stretching around the world. For many of us, there may not have been an actual death of someone we loved deeply, but days and months when we feared it more than anything we’ve ever feared.

Why do we take the risk? Why do we love, if we know we’re either opening ourselves, or the ones we love, to inevitable, eventual pain?

Beth Adams, Hermit Diary 56. Eros and his bow

Finally the mug, lovely gift from Mike. Last night, I wondered darkly how long I have to go without writing a poem before I stop being a poet. This morning, preparing a Valentine’s breakfast for one, this was the obvious mug to choose. 

I sat in bed this morning in the company of crockery, eating toast, drinking orange juice. Three times, I poured milk from the tiny jug into the mug-of-affirmation, before pouring on the English Breakfast / Earl Grey mix. With each mugful, I felt the warmth of love, in all its richness and many forms, grow stronger.  

Liz Lefroy, I Set A Breakfast Tray

We do have the privilege of a garden.
It’s all relatively new to us. A blessing just in time
before the world got stopped.
We established our very own animal pub there-
it’s called The Grain & Shell.
Birds & squirrels
feed & drink
& fight &
dance & mate,
but this Winter the water in the shell freezes
first a below-zero ice-skating rink, then a small mountain of hard snow.
Thirsty squeaking little birds cannot break through it;
squirrels lick the frozen surface
then leave in clear disappointment.
Every morning after tea & coffee
we now put another kettle on & melt
the glacial, hazy and rigid mirror
& watch the lot steam up in the cold air.

Ernesto Priego, The Shell

You ask, can music do that – curl the tongue around the stitch of ache –
when the note touches the ceiling of the hospital room as you take
your walk and the night sky rotting green burns at edges with city lights.

You wear black, rest like fractured old wood on the migraine flare
that flames your body. I gather your feet to trace the rings of age, sluices
of calcium whorled in volcanic blooms.

Uma Gowrishankar, The Journey

Here’s me on my bicycle, with the long shadows of a bright February evening. Better to head into the shadows than cycle with the sun in my eyes – and in the eyes of the drivers behind me. Lockdown has brought my bicycle and me even closer together. I really should oil it soon.

Tim Love, Long shadows

Don’t tell me how to lose someone.
I’ve earned this experience.
Some knitting, a watch, a photograph:
through these things I remember.
The blood rises to my cheeks, already red
from genes I no longer trust.
I’m like the ship of Theseus.
How much can I cast away & still be myself?
I try to identify my face in the bathroom mirror
at the grocery store. Those are my eyes,
there’s my crooked nose, that’s the gap between my teeth.
Every seven years all the cells in my body renew.
I set the boat on the water, push it out to sea.

Jason Crane, POEM: Hello sailor

This Valentine’s Day, my object of love is the world, and what kind of a clear manageable object is that?  

I could narrow it down, focus, make it a simple object, like an oyster, and use all of my five senses to explore its delicate being, its opalescent color, its sand and pearly shell  

I might complicate things by thinking about the ocean, and how many people die in it every year, and how many sailors and fishermen have perished over centuries, how many in the Middle Passage, and wonder if I can still love the ocean

or that oyster that is its product and essence of the ocean itself

and I might be eating the oyster as I am listening to a roll call, to documentation of a country falling apart

Jill Pearlman, World Valentine

For this poetry prompt for Valentine’s Day, start by reading “Untitled [Do you still remember: falling stars]” by Rainer Maria Rilke (as translated by Edward Snow) and give some thought to what you like/admire.

For me, it’s that Rilke captures the delusions of grandeur being in love can inspire. And instead of poking fun at us (or at himself), he embraces the phenomenon as a shared human experience. How silly (and necessary!) for us to feel as though our current romance is the biggest love that’s ever existed in all of the universe and surely will transcend time itself! And although he acknowledges the absurdity of that in the poem’s final line, he does it gently, via a kind of nostalgia for this collective culpability.

I also appreciate that the poem avoids being overly sentimental. Tricky for a love poem to do! This is accomplished by incorporating words that offer a glimpse into the imperfections of romantic love: words like “hurdles,” “hazards” and “disintegration.” These are not typical love poem words and may seem in opposition to what the poem is saying about love being grand and lasting forever. Instead, they’re subtle reminders that love encompasses risk and a fair amount of disappointment, including paling in comparison to what “forever” actually is in the context of the cosmos. Risk is just part of it — “wedded to the swift hazard of their play” — and unlikely to deter us.

Note that word, too: “wedded.”

Carolee Bennett, poetry prompt for valentine’s day

breaking boughs
bent live oak branches
the weight of ice

today this mask
feels good

James Brush, 02.12.21

I’ve been sending missives from menopause and perimenopause over the last few years, and sometimes they feel like dead letters. Well, almost all poems land softly–but the so-called change of life feels so BIG to me that it feels like there ought to be a much larger body of literature about it. So I was really happy when “Oxidation Story” was accepted by Kenyon Review Online this fall, and even happier to receive lots of positive responses when they published it yesterday. I’d worked on this one for years. Maybe I got the words right, or the subject matter called to people, or the prestige of the venue attracted attention? In any case, it made me feel seen for a shining moment, for the writer in me.

That’s one of the weird side effects of crossing over to this side of 50: you’re catcalled, harassed, and menaced for most of your life, then you become invisible. I prefer invisibility on the whole, but it would be even better to become, say, “distinguished.” Most TV shows and movies provide illustrations of how impossible that seems to be. As my spouse and I burn through all the shows streaming services have to offer, we just tried “The Undoing,” which pairs Hugh Grant and Nicole Kidman as high-powered professionals in unholy matrimony. Kidman is ultra-fit and facelifted and bewigged into a simulacrum of Pre-Raphaelite maidenhood; Grant is carrying more pounds than in his lean thirties, hair grayed and face a little jowly, but he remains very much the leading man. It’s not that I’d put Grant on a diet; I’d rather see Kidman, or any older woman, allowed to wrinkle and accumulate a spare tire and still play a complicated, vital main character. The disparity gets old. (As does the effort to discern facial expressions in an actor post-botox.)

Even in the underresourced world of literary publishing, most successful women-identified authors are glamorously slim and able-bodied. I sometimes wonder if the best thing I could do for my career would be to go paleo and get my eyebrows done, but I’d rather jump my game-token right to witchy croneland.

Lesley Wheeler, Report from hagdom

slid into a place where
long worn grooves of
deep body habit
flourish in the dirt
making mud pies in
a hot back yard the
taste is bitter.

loving the ugliness
of the deep body its
sweat and grease and
pungency its freely
unwashed hair and
legs of fur its
old Lilith.

Marie Craven, Slid

Meet my new friend, the viscacha. He’s got a look that is simultaneously wise, weary, and worked-over. While I can’t claim to be wise, I am definitely feeling weary and worked over by the world. Introduced this friend to my students this week and one responded with: “What does he hear that we don’t that he needs ears so big?”

José Angel Araguz, viscacha vibes, recent pubs, & upcoming virtual event

I had a rough week of not being able to do or say anything right 1) in Zoom meetings 2) in general. People sometimes disappear in Zoom if someone is screen sharing, and it’s getting harder and harder for me to connect, engage in true communication, and feel like myself. Also, it’s so very cold outside, and I’d rather sit on the couch reading books, wrapped up in a soft blue fleece blanket, than do anything else. 

Today I gave in to the couch, and that produced 4 poem drafts, a healing calm, and restored my sense of who I really am. Sigh… It helped this past week to call up some friends up spontaneously on the phone. Thank you, friends! It’s been almost a year of isolation, and maybe I hadn’t felt it as intensely till now. I know I’ve had it easier than many, as a shy person and an introvert and someone with a safe, masked, part-time job. Feeling for all the rest of you, you can be sure.

Kathleen Kirk, Rough Week

We ended the day on the porch with our mandolins trying to pick out the melody of “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?” (a Leadbelly tune also known as “In the Pines” perhaps made famous most recently by Nirvana).  It’s not a very hard tune, so we also had time to talk some music theory, about key signatures and sharps and flats, theory that my spouse has internalized but astonishes me.  It reminds me of when my beloved undergrad English professor Dr. Swanson told me that all fiction must have conflict, and I ascertained that it did not, and she challenged me to give her one example.

Literary theory, music theory, political theory–why is my initial response to ascertain that the theory is wrong?

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Days Off, Days on My Feet

is awakened the word
for a seed that dies, then is sown

when i believe in what wind listens for
why does my nest unravel

can anyone else open a poem
to the fate of its reader

Grant Hackett [no title]

Somewhere in my drawers is a tape I made circa 1995.  I was coming off my first poetry workshop in the spring and was writing and submitting work at a rate I hadn’t been in a while. .  I would take my small black boombox out to the dining room table of my parent’s house where I would write in the afternoons and record myself reading the poems.  Mostly, to see if the sounded good when read aloud, since so much of poetry depends on the auditory. I saved the tape and traveled with me from apartment to apartment since , though I don’t even have a tape deck to play it these days.  Besides I am not sure I could handle hearing 21 year old Kristy and her terrible poems from this distance.  I do like the fact that it exists, along with cd recordings of several other radio readings preceding the rise of digital files. I also have a taped version of a reading we wound up recording in a bustling diner near Northeastern U. complete with dishes clattering and secret slot machine noise from the back. 

I have a strange relationship with the sound of my own voice, which of course does not sound anything like it does in my head when I hear it played back. Too childlike, too formal  I sometimes struggle with this when it comes to the video poems.  I remarked to a friend recently about the delight and surrealness of hearing other people’s voices read your work. Hearing your words in other people’s mouths and I remember the shock of the first time. Someone once told me at AWP that she had had her students read all the poems in a chapbook of mine, one poem per student, all in a circle and this felt like a ritual.  I wanted to see it and hear it all. This along with a local poet who once told me my work reminded her of a hybrid between Plath and a Davis Lynch film is one of the coolest things and highest compliments anyone has ever said about my writing. .  I want to put his on my tombstone. 

Kristy Bowen, voice and the spaces between

The body is always talking to us. 

This week, for me, included a recurring cricopharyngeal spasm – or in other words, a cramp in one of the muscles of my pharynx, typified in my case by the feeling of a painful lump in my throat and the sensation that something is stuck that cannot be swallowed down. 

Doctors aren’t quite sure what causes these spasms, but of course, anxiety is indicated. Anxiety, oh my faithful companion since childhood. Anxiety, gift-wrapped and presented to me by my mother who suffered mightily under its influence.

And of course, there’s plenty to be anxious about. No need to list here as I’m sure you have your own list which likely shares several items with mine. I wonder though if this week’s cricopharyngeal spasm might be my body manifesting what I feel so acutely – that I cannot get the words on the page – that I am choking on unwritten poems. 

Erin Coughlin Hollowell, Listening to the body

Having just finished “The Secret of the Old Clock” I have learned many astonishing things, among them that cinnamon cake topped with hot apple sauce is a thing that exists. Another is that we were once brave and hardy and healthy and wholesome. We knew how to do basic things like a change a tire, operate a motor boat and alter a garment. (Nancy does all three in the first few chapters alone.) I won’t go too far down the “we were better people then” rabbit hole, but it was a bit of a culture shock. The early Nancy Drew books were published in the 1930’s, and obviously it’s a whole other world now. We have lost a lot of competencies that used to be a given part of adulthood. Speaking of adulthood, it never occurred to me reading the books as a kid that Nancy is eighteen years old and living at home with her father with seemingly no plans for college or getting a job. For someone with nothing to do, she certainly manages to keep busy. And her Dad…can we just talk about her dad for a minute? I guess it must have been lost on me as a kid because I didn’t recall much about him, but Carson Drew is the best dad ever. He’s a kind and indulgent father, but he’s always pushing Nancy to think logically and to be courageous and make bold moves. And he raised Nancy as a single dad when her mother died.

Along those lines, I found it interesting how many of the characters in “Clock” had alternative living arrangements to the nuclear family. There were two cousins who lived together on a farm and made their living selling crops, sisters who were raising an orphaned child together, and Nancy herself, who lives with her father and his housekeeper. In fact, I don’t believe there was a single character in a nuclear family in the entire book. Most of the characters were struggling financially to some degree or another but they were getting by and they embodied stoicism. I can feel another bout of “we were better then” nostalgia coming on so I better wrap this up. The bottom line is, I have a Nancy Drew box set and I highly encourage you to obtain a box set as well…any box set. They are a thing of joy, no matter what your reading preference.

Kristen McHenry, Box Set Bonanza

One important factor when approaching poetry collections is their attitude to the reader. Some seem intent on talking to themselves in an echo chamber, while others generate an implicit dialogue with anyone who opens them. However, a select few establish their own interior dialogue, before offering the reader a role as observer and even as an additional participant.

If Jonathan Davidson’s new book, A Commonplace (Smith-Doorstep, 2020) achieves the unusual feat of belonging to this final category, it’s primarily because his method when assembling the manuscript also deviated from the norm. Not an anthology, not a single-author collection, Davidson’s book is a unique combination of his own poetry with work by others, all interwoven through snippets of prose that comment on, complement and join up the poems themselves. In itself, his breaking with convention is already a statement of intent.

Matthew Stewart, Challenging our preconceptions, Jonathan Davidson’s A Commonplace

One of the pleasing things about an anthology site like And Other Poems is the variety of themes, styles, and voices available.  Heidi Beck’s ecopoem ‘I Write to You from a Tree Museum’ takes as its starting point, lines from a Joni Mitchell song “‘They took all the trees / And put ’em in a tree museum” – the poem then makes real the grim possibility of earth’s great diversity of trees existing only within the confines of such a ‘museum’.
 
Caleb Parkin also imagines a world of species extinction, and draws attention to the climate emergency with the use of humour in his poem  ‘Please Do Not Touch the Walrus or Sit on the Iceberg’.  The speaker of the poem exuberantly ignores this instruction, an actual sign on an exhibit in London’s Horniman Museum, bringing to the foreground a reality which is all too easy to ignore.

Josephine Corcoran, January 2021 at And Other Poems

All cups of tea are generally amazing, but I’m thinking at the moment one of those cups you have when you have to say aloud “Ooh, that’s a good cup of tea”. The kind that usually only happen either at the start of the day or outside on a cold day, the kind that goes down in three to four boiling hot mouthfuls, but somehow doesn’t cause you third-degree burns of the gullet. You know the type.

This week my pre-bedtime reading has mainly been the latest copy of The North, #65.

The North is usually a great read and remains high on my list of magazines I’d love to be featured in. NB I have poems out for reading at The North at present, but I’m not writing this as an attempt to blow smoke up any arses, I am writing this because I am half-tempted to burn this copy. Not because it’s bad, quite the opposite. This issue is one of those cups of tea. I’ve come away from it with a long list of poets to investigate further—I suspect this means some of the folks who had found themselves close to the top of the TBR pile may find themselves nudged back down again.

I’ve turned over so many pages to come back to, to look up poets, etc that I probably should have just folded the mag in half when I’d finished.

Mat Riches, Bang To Rights

I’m absolutely floored to realize I’ve been missing out on a whole series of critical publications on small press endeavors (Derek Beaulieu did bring it up a while back, but I hadn’t gone to explore any of it), the “Among the Neighbors” chapbook series curated by Edric Mesmer, “a pamphlet series for the study of Little Magazines,” run through The Poetry Collection of the University Libraries, University at Buffalo. The chapbooks that Mesmer was good enough to send along include Derek Beaulieu’s “TISH – Another ‘Sense of Things’” (#3, 2017), Tim Wright’s “Migrating Ears: Kris Hemensley’s The Merri Creek, Or, Neroand H/EAR, with some brief comments on the earlier publications Our Glass, Earth Ship, and The Ear in a Wheatfield” (#7, 2019), Tina Darragh’s“Washington, DC Poetry—Mass Transit and Folio Books Reading Series” (#11, 2020), Catherine Noske’s “Reading Piglets: Westerly Magazine, metadata, and the play of digital access to literary publication” (#12, 2020) and Adeena Karasick and Kedrick James’ “To Breathe Poetry Among the Neighbors: Two Essays on Anerca, a Journal of Experimental Writing (1985-1990)” (#13, 2020). What appeals in these publications is not simply the critical and conversational exploration of small press, but a recording and documentation of journals that might otherwise have simply disappeared into the ether of history—I’m struck, for example, to learn that Adeena Karasick and Kedrick James produced a small journal for half a decade, and I hadn’t heard a peep about it prior to this. It reminds of when I was gifted various bins of the late Ottawa poet Jane Jordan’s extensive librarya few years back, and discovered numerous Ottawa-based literary journals and presses from the 1970s and 80s I had never even heard of [see my post on such here].

rob mclennan, Among the Neighbors: a pamphlet series for the study of Little Magazines : #3, 7, 11-13

My second manuscript, Letters from the Emily Dickinson Room, was alphabetical by title. Because I wanted certain poems to appear earlier in the collection, this constraint of alphabetizing made me have to be more inventive with my titles, which ultimately strengthened my books. (One of these blog posts, I’m going to have to talk about constraints in our work as I feel it’s one of the most powerful tools for artists, poets, and writers for inventiveness, imagination, and getting out of our own ways…) 

But back to this manuscript stuff, my new book (which is currently heading to the printers as I type this!), Dialogues with Rising Tides is in sections, and it’s the most sections I’ve ever had in a book. Seven! 7 freakin’ sections! I would have never thought I’d write a book full of sections, but I realized for this book, for me to weave together the different themes (environmental collapse, suicide, relationships, love/desire, melancholy, anxiety, cruel politics), I needed the reader to have more pauses in the book so they could have space to take it all in. 

Because the ocean plays such a big role in my book, my section titles are named after lightvessels (also called lightships). These are huge ships that act as floating lighthouses to keep people away from hazards. There’s a section called Break Sea (ways the world tries to break us), Black Deep (lots of melancholy themed poems in here), Shambles (poems about America and getting an IUD during 45s inauguration!) My hope was also the poems would be lightvessels for readers–even while they explore some tougher subjects. 

Kelli Russell Agodon, Thoughts on Putting Together a Poetry Manuscript

So, as we watch old movies, and watch the snow come down, I’m tentatively thinking about the future. Have you started doing that yet? I’m thinking about my birthday, April 30, and daring to hope I will have the vaccine by then so I can safely go to, for instance, the bookstore or the dentist. Things I’ve been putting off – like going to the gardening store I love, or schedule an appointment to go into Open Books again to browse poetry. I hope to have a celebration, even if it’s just a small one.

And I’m scheduling some medical appointments I’ve been putting off. I’m getting my MRI of my liver  – which I haven’t had for a year – next week, and hoping for good news (or no news) there, and soon I’ll be getting my brain MRI for my MS. Health care does feel a little safer now that health care workers, at least, have been vaccinated, even if I haven’t.

And looking at book publishers and imagining which I would like to have publish one of my book manuscripts. There are great established publishers I love – like Copper Canyon, or BOA, or Graywolf – and some great newer ones, like Acre Books or Yes Yes Books. I’ve even started thinking about book covers…I’m hoping that the acceptance of one of the books isn’t too far off now. Is this unfounded optimism? I don’t know. I’m even working on a third manuscript – which seems like the height of nuttiness, but I think I’ve written another book after the second one, all about the pandemic. I’ve also reached out to a couple of poets that I’ve been online friends with for a long time to talk about publication, and it turns out, it’s a great idea to talk on the phone to people instead of just social media. It reminds me of the eighties, when you’d write letters to your friends and sometimes call them, but it was probably too expensive to do often. I’m realizing I have a poetry friends I’ve known for years all over the US, and talking to them reminds me we are all in this together – whether you’re in upstate New York, rural Virginia, or like me, in a far-out suburb of Seattle. Everyone has struggles and doubts, and talking about them seems to make them lessen, and encouraging friends make everything a little better.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Happy Valentine’s Day (during a Pandemic and a Snowstorm!), Tentatively Thinking About the Future, and Adventures in Japanese and Plath

The 40 days of Lent — which comes from an Anglo Saxon word meaning lengthen, as in days lengthening into Spring — are just around the corner. They begin February 17 this year, and continue (with Sundays off, as a day of rest) until April 3, the day before Easter. Traditionally, many Christians give something up for Lent: chocolate or plastics or red meat. I encourage whatever giving-up you feel will help you confront yourself this season.

But what if you also gave up “not writing” for Lent this year? […]

I have so many irons in the fire right now, that it’s probably a little crazy to add one more thing. Even so, I’ve been really really procrastinating on getting my next poetry manuscript together — making excuses not to start it — so that’s what I’m going to give up “not working on.”

Bethany Reid, So, What Will You Give Up for Lent?

Feeding the horse there’s extra hay, a carrot
            & my own body offered up for science, they study

my fires. I immolate 5, 6 times a night, you know
            how it is, or you don’t, quantitative now this heart

rate tachycardic still 11 months later. 5 degrees outside,
            1000 in (or plummet, depending). One time a fragment

burned so hot it turned obsidian then cracked heart-shaped:
            millennia later, you found it on a beach & pocketed

hope, a thing with feathers, metaphor.

JJS, Valentine with death and life

You did leave, she was right. The odds she had given me – 83%, she said, not 80 or 85, I always loved the precision of that – turned out well. And though I have been certain at least twice that you were returning, still you have not come back. I am amazed by that, and grateful. Most days I do not even think about you.

Only, I do. I think about you a lot. I have written two books about you (possibly three). You are in everything I do, because I am still being touched by what you did (are doing) to me, even though you have left and are no longer in my body. Those ghost-pains down my right side, just above my kidneys (we thought it was stones). The hours I still lose wondering if you are there and if you were there, how would I live my life then, having been known by you already?

For someone with no presence, you have a long shadow. In my life, my body, my mind, and in the lives of those I love whose bodies you also seem to need. People used to ask me, was I angry that I had you. No, I said. But I was sad that my children had to know about you at such a young age. I am angry, though. I am angry that you took away my friends and are trying to take away others. I am angry that we still talk about fighting you, as though we have individual responsibility for making ourselves better. Tomorrow, next week, next month, a person we all love will die having fought a ‘battle’ with you. For one so common, you have so much power. We can be cured from having you, but we cannot cure our addiction to needing to talk about you as a battle to the death.

At least we no longer refer to you by your initial. At least we now say cancer. A doctor friend of mine says the next word we need to deal with is depression. (I know about that too, thanks in part to you.) I am no expert, but think he may be right. When I was ill with you I talked about you all the time. Then wrote about you all the time. Writing and talking about depression is much harder for me. (We can maybe talk about the reasons another time.) But you, cancer, you were the one who changed everything. You were the one, you see. You changed the way I read, the way I believe, the way I am in my body, my family. I still stand by what I said: you made me pay attention. Though you taught me more than I ever want to know, I still don’t think I can say thank you.

Anthony Wilson, Dear Cancer

dreams passed through me like miracles
is it still the same life

James Lee Jobe, is it still the same life

infinite nightmare storage system
to make space in my life
for the ancestor

cola-pen calligraphy
tiny little pamphlet books
close to our hearts

Ama Bolton, ABCD late January 2021

Given my inclination towards the ruthless, I’d imagine the answer to that question would have been – chuck them straight into the recycling bin. As for reading them, just don’t go there.

And so, why, when I did find a small clutch of loose pages of poems under old papers at the bottom of a drawer unexplored for years a few days ago, did I find myself flicking through them and then settling down to read? A self-indulgent, weak moment, certainly. What did I hope to find or learn? I didn’t know. It was eerie, looking at things typed out more than forty, in some cases almost fifty years ago. Who was this person? Not me, surely. And what, after the reading of them, made me think about, not only keeping them, but putting some of them up here for public consumption? Perhaps because it’s what this blog should be about – a writing life, to include the naive, potentially embarrassing attempts, as well as those you believe might have a little more value.

Bob Mee, WHAT DO YOU DO WHEN YOU FIND OLD POEMS YOU THOUGHT WERE LONG THROWN OUT?

the sargasso sea 

the words that are becalmed
the plastic words
the slippery elver words
the journeys ahead for them 
even
the ones that slowly sink longingly

Jim Young, see

I want at last to be honored,
not for me, but for the work

I’ve done, for the moments I have
recorded, for the light I have

praised, the trees I have sung of,
the birds, oh, yes, the birds. That these

least small things shall not be lost,
I want at last to be honored.

Tom Montag, I WANT AT LAST TO BE HONORED

The woman gestures, one hand

near her lips and the other as if drawing
a curtain aside. That’s all we can really do

until the rider looms closer on the plain.
We can see the sparks from his horse’s hooves;

then there’s no mistaking his cloak of bitumen
or his slate, marked with names and numbers.

Luisa A. Igloria, We Don’t See Death Until After it Arrives

Still life has been referred to as a world on a table, planet on a table, and that seems to help me sort out my thoughts. There’s so much chaos. At least on the table of things, order can be found or made or at least composed temporarily. […]

So yes, I keep thinking about how everything in our lives is getting arranged and rearranged on the regular. We get laid off from our jobs, we’re called back, only to be laid off again. Or we’re kept on, in my case, but the job is radically different. The numbers are high and we’re told to stay home, then they drop and guidelines are relaxed, then it’s all reversed. You all know how it goes by now. You had one plan, and now you have another. You looked forward to this thing, and now you tend to look forward to other smaller things, closer to home.

In a still life, you move one object, and three more slide off the table. A glass gets broken occasionally, or the unwinding rind of the lemon becomes detached from the fruit and you stick it back on with a toothpick. Scotch tape is hauled out. A dish is propped up from behind by a couple of walnuts. Everything is too much. You start to subtract. You go minimalist, and that’s fine for a bit too.

Shawna Lemay, Rearranging Things

Things I cannot fix,
an incomplete list:

armed militias.
Global pandemic.

The grief of staying apart
and unbearable yearning.

Rage at insurrectionists
and anti-maskers.

Things I can fix:
lunch for my child.

This winter stew, meat
from the freezer

and dried mushrooms
plumping in hot broth.

Warm speckled rye dough
pliant beneath my hands.

Rachel Barenblat, Fix

I haven’t been able to write this week.
I’ve been unraveling from the edges that brush against the world.
The softness falls away, and I am a skeleton of splintered glass.
Balancing fractured surfaces upright.

I took a course once on trauma and movement and the instructor said something that shifted my perspective. Drama teachers I’ve had, and have worked with use a standard image during warm-up sequences: “Now roll up: one vertebra at a time. Stacking one on top of the other.”

An upright stack of bones being pulled toward the earth.

But the body doesn’t work that way. You cannot stack a skeleton. Not in death. Not in life.

We are suspension bridges.

I think about this image a lot. I come back to it when I feel heavy in the world. We are animated by opposing tensions. Naturally pulled in varying directions as we go about our days. It opens us. Our ribs open and lift like wings when we breathe.

Ren Powell, Suspension

When I say I hear your voice across the miles, what I mean is river, moon, sage, sermon, orchard, wish, and wilderness.

In other words, simply knowing there is room in our beings for the ethical and ethereal, the earthbound and unimaginable, is all I need right now.

Put another way, knowing we wander this earth together at this time in history might not be the inoculation I need for a pandemic,

but it is the perfect medicine for my heart.

Rich Ferguson, Heart Medicine

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, 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. This week: shadows of the past, shadows in the present. Parents and children. Grief and joy. And, as always, books and journals.


For the last six years I’ve worked as a teaching assistant in a primary school. Last week, one of the children in our class tested positive. So, suddenly we’re all at home, working online. It’s been a strange week, one where time has slowed right down, where I’ve felt a deep longing to be outside, cold as it is, with the wind scouring my cheeks and the dog at my side, uncertain about whether he really wants to be out in the harsh weather or inside, curled up in his bed by the radiator.

Today it’s my birthday and I still can’t go out. I’m watching the wind blow tiny flakes of snow across the garden, watching how it whips round on itself, changing direction. Earlier, I put extra food out for the garden birds and then watched as the jackdaws sailed in from nowhere, borne on this bitter East wind, hardly flapping their wings at all, just cruising in to take what they wanted. Not that I begrudge them. In fact, I quite like to see them: stooping, ponderous, unhurried.

My mother likes to remind me that when I was born the snowfall was heavy and treacherous.

Julie Mellor, February

Late yesterday afternoon, I made this Facebook post:   “It is the eve of the feast day of St. Brigid, and just today, I came across the tradition of Brat Bhride: leaving a cloak or a piece of cloth or a ribbon outside the door for Saint Brigid to bless and give healing powers.”  One website said that a red silk ribbon was preferable.

Just before Christmas I was awash in red ribbons, but yesterday afternoon, they all seemed to have disappeared.  Happily, I was able to find one in a stack of paperwork, a little scrap of glittery red ribbon.  So I left it outside overnight, and this morning, before dawn, I retrieved it.  I’m not sure what to do with it now–carry it with me at all times?  Put it back in the stack of paperwork?

It says something about the past year that I went looking for a red ribbon.  Most years, I’d have read about these ancient customs and thought they were charming and given them not another thought again until next year.

This year, with new strains of the corona virus burning their way through the nation, I decided it wouldn’t hurt to get extra blessings any place I could find them.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, The Feast Day of Saint Brigid in a Time of Raging Virus

We glide effortlessly on the wings of Saturday park laughter.

At one point, my daughter insists we go shopping. She directs me to a tree rising from the earth; a massive congregation of green.

My daughter and I gather stray pinecones; they become fruits, vegetables, and toys. One we call strawberry. Another we joke is a Malibu Barbie sports car.

Again, those wings of laughter lift us far above our concerns of needing to wear face masks and maintain a healthy distance from others.

Right then, my daughter is so overcome by glee she wraps her arms around my knee and hugs me.

Years from now, I’m not sure what she’ll remember of her four-year-old life and these pandemic days.

What I do know, however, is that forever engraved within me will be the blueprint of my daughter‘s embrace.

Rich Ferguson, We run, we play

There is a layering here: the past is a dangerous place to wander, somewhere the unwary, careless traveller might get lost or worse; but it is also a dangerous animal guarding and protecting those who are dead from those who are living. There is certainly a sense, here and elsewhere, that the dead are in need of such protection because of the need the living feel to take possession of the past for their own purposes. [Maria] Stepanova notes at one point “This was all about her (Stepanova) and not about them (her ancestors)”, and at another she confesses to being “horrified and offended” at her father for not allowing her to quote from his letters in her book. Her ruminations on her father’s refusal are a good example, not only of Stepanova’s remarkable self-awareness and clarity of thought, but also of her ‘poet’s sense’ for metaphor which runs through and enhances the book. Considering her evolving relationship with her father’s letters, she says 

Without being aware of it, I had internalized the logic of ownership. Not in the sense of a tyrant, lording it over his hundreds of enslaved peasants, but perhaps like the tyrant’s enlightened neighbour, with a landscaped park and a theatre in which his serfs acted and sang.

And with this understanding of the power the present has over the past, we also come to realise our ancestors’ inherent vulnerability (“The dead have no rights”), because whether the tyrant is enlightened or not is entirely a question for the living.

Chris Edgoose, Everything Rhymes: In Memory of Memory by Maria Stepanova

It’s been more than a year now since the last time I visited San Antonio. In a normal year, I would take my kid there a few times a year to see my dad and my brothers. The last time I went, I went alone for the unveiling of my mother’s headstone.

I promised my dad that I would come back soon with my son. A few weeks later, we started hearing about something called novel coronavirus. Soon we were sheltering-in-place to slow the spread. For a while I thought it would be safe to go back to Texas by summertime. Then it became clear what we were facing…

I don’t want everything I write to become an elegy or a lament. This was supposed to be a light-hearted remembrance of an old record and my old record player! But all paths seem to lead to remembered loss, or to the ache of yearning for something that isn’t yet possible.

To meet my father and brothers for Mexican breakfast at our favorite brunch joint in the old neighborhood. To visit my childhood home where my parents haven’t lived in decades. To hug my mother who’s no longer here. To hug my beloveds who are (thank God) still alive, but we can’t safely touch. 

Rachel Barenblat, The San Antonio Song

Donna Vorreyer in Limp Wrist Magazine – Refusal

My brothers and I
crying in the car so my father wouldn’t see. Watching her go, their

sixty years flashing before him, he bent his head to hold her hand
through every visit. She wanted to come home. 

Comment: One of life’s hardest passages is watching your elderly parents go through sickness and separation. Pull out the tissues before you read Donna’s heartbreaking poem.

Charlotte Hamrick, Poetry That Will Drop Your Mouth Open

I’m taking a bit of a social media hiatus now that the election is over and my plate is full with hunting for a condo and working on the new and selected poetry collection due out in 2023. That means I neglected to mention that I have a brand new poem called “Roosters and Hens” in Limp Wrist’s special Dolly Parton 75th birthday tribute issue. You can read my poem at this link, but be sure to read the brilliant work selected by Dustin Brookshire and Julie E. Bloemeke for the issue.

I’ve been a Dolly fan since I was little kid and I’ve had the great pleasure of seeing her in concert a couple of times. She’s always been a touchstone, so I’m tickled that I now have a poem to honor that. 

The poem almost didn’t happen. I wrote a much longer draft before Christmas and couldn’t figure out how to cut it. I even wrote an entirely different poem about an entirely different person (Mary Bailey from It’s A Wonderful Life – hopefully it will have a home soon, too!) to try and clear the cobwebs, since my output in 2020 was practically nil. 

While I was on a socially-distanced getaway after Christmas, I sat in my little motel room in Mountain City, Tennessee and finished the poem an hour before the deadline. Whew! 

Collin Kelley, New poem “Roosters and Hens” in Limp Wrist

I phoned Bob this week, after years of thinking about him, sending and receiving Christmas cards. Happily, joyfully, he’s well, in his 90s now. North London’s still audible in his vowels, although he moved away, as I did, years ago.

When we met, I was 5 or 6 years old, and he was around 40. He had been widowed: devastated by the death of his first wife, and turned up at my father’s church, looking for consolation. I was bored, hanging around, at a loose end while something was going on: prayer, singing, meeting, adults chatting – something a 5-year-old couldn’t, or wouldn’t, share. 

There I was, small, awkward for my age, idling, waiting (it turns out) for a hand to hold –  metaphorically, emotionally, psychologically, and literally. 

“I noticed you,” Bob recalled towards the end of our conversation, “and prayed that you would come and hold my hand. And you did.” 

I thought, momentarily, of naming this blog I Answer A Prayer, but my views on prayer are complicated. I realise this is one of the reasons I haven’t phoned Bob for so long. I didn’t want him to be disappointed that I’ve turned out poet, not angel. 

Liz Lefroy, I Phone A Friend

All morning,
wind against

the house. Winter
birds hidden

in their bushes.
The grey fields,

the grey sky.
Grey sorrow.

Hawk in his
tree, speaking

to death, death
speaking back.

Tom Montag, All Morning

This week, I dedicate this post to the memory of Alfonso M. Gomez, father of friend and great poet, Rodney Gomez. I have admired Gomez’s work for years now (here’s another point of connection and another). I have shared his work in classes at both the undergrad and grad level (his “Our Lady of San Juan” is one in particular that keeps teaching me). He has also been kind to my work as well.

Along with poetry, we share South Texas between us. Much of my childhood was spent with driving from Corpus Christi to Matamoros, often stopping to visit folks in Brownsville, where Rodney himself was born and raised. Through South Texas, we have mesquite trees and hot summers and community forged through a mix of perseverance, hard work, and hope. Now, we are connected in absence.

Life in the pandemic has made it hard for me to reach out to everyone I would like to when I would like to. I saw news of Rodney’s father passing online and sent my condolences to him. When Rodney later shared the art piece below, which he said was inspired by my poem “Scripture: Hour,” it is not enough to say I was moved. I felt seen. This particular poem–one of a sequence of poems that engages with how little I know of my own father’s death, down to not knowing what day he died–was a hard fight to get right.

José Angel Araguz, in memory: Alfonso M. Gomez

My mother died recently, and I was grateful for all the emails, phone calls, and Facebook comments, people moved to reach out to me, to touch, electronically. I was moved. And I was amazed that a ton of people sent me cards. It was so lovely to receive these bits of paper and color through the, let’s face it, miracle of the US Postal Service. It was startling and thrilling to see, of all things, people’s handwriting! The loops of one friend, the scratch of another dear soul.

Wow. That all these people took the time to stand in front of a selection of cards at some store, trying not to breathe in someone else’s Covid germs, debating whether this card was too sappy, that one too cute, then took it home and, I would bet, to a person, paused, pen clutched in curled fingers, thinking “what on earth will I say??” And then they commenced, and said in black pen or blue all number of lovely things, including just “thinking of you,” which was true and warming.

And the signatures! Do I sound like a lunatic?

But this evidence of our selves, our scrawly names. In these typefaced days of electronic signatures and stock emojis, of typing someone’s address or phone number into your phone rather than have them scribble it on a scrap of paper, the distinctiveness of handwriting has been hidden. It exists. We all haven’t collectively forgotten how to write. Although I do hear that children are no longer taught to write cursive. We all still, at some point or another, put pen point to paper, and the heft of pen and hand and arm, the wick of inkpoint, the tautness or looseness of loop or line are an intimate part of us.

It was a tender moment for me to see this evidence of my friends on paper, to see in their lines, thick or thin, even or jiggly, their thoughts of me, and of course, as the death of a mother is a big event for everyone, their thoughts from within themselves and their own experience of loss or the anticipation thereof. Stunning.

Marilyn McCabe, Sit right down; or, On Handwriting

looking for the reflection of self

the other half of the ticket for the ferry
to cross over after you
on the other side of me
the doppelgänger of a smile
in the mirror that brings death to life

i nearly said life to death

Jim Young, i nearly said

Just when I thought nothing could be worse than January, along comes the first week of February.

Granted, no insurrection and murder at the capital—but this past week was brutal. For me, personally. And it seems there’s a lot of struggle in the zeitgeist over the past seven days. A lot of folks saying they’re hitting a wall of some sorts. If that’s you, I feel ya.

So, I got nuthin’ much for you this week. Any words I might have mustered on pretty much any topic would have been soaked in bitterness, pessimism, and dank, sour defeat. I muted several folks on Instagram back around Wednesday because their relentless exhortations to adjust my attitude and find joy and manifest and transform and dream felt like an assault.

I fuckin’ know how to look for joy, y’all. I. am. doing. it. all. the. damn. time.

I feel increasingly hostile toward those who do not acknowledge systemic causes of illness, burnout, and general failure to thrive. Although I’m not a working mom any more, I felt every word of this article that’s been making the rounds. Especially these few:

A critical first step is to remind yourself that the reason you feel guilty, apathetic and exhausted during this worldwide crisis is due to choices that were made by people other than yourself.

At the same time, I realize that we all do get to make choices. Sometimes we don’t have very good ones to make, but we almost always have some. This week, I chose not to write.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Of walls and hitting them

I read two great poetry books this month. Meg Johnson’s Without: Body, Name, Country (Vine Leaves Press) presents poems and flash creative nonfiction that explore identity, illness, and politics. Broken into two parts, the first section offers poems that explore various personas, while the second presents memoir the author’s experience with a harrowing illness in the form of short, evocative flash pieces.

And the Whale by Sonya Vatomsky (Paper Nautilus) is a gorgeous chapbook, filled with powerful poems that weave mythology and Russian folklore into an exploration of love, sex, grief, and trauma. I was personally in love with the persona of the Widow, who features in several poems that examine the shadows of the past.

Andrea Blythe, Culture Consumption: January 2021

Many of the women I know feel like we’ve “been through something” during the Tr*mp administration. The very good reason for that is that we’d already “been through something” (likely many somethings), and recent years scratched those vulnerabilities raw. They made us aware more than ever of the molds we’re meant to fit and the difficulty of navigating them, something we’ve been doing all our lives.

Much of that has to do with sex. The adventures of it. Its hazards and manipulations. Parts that entice us. Parts that repel us. How we see ourselves inside that context. How others see us in it (and if they can see us outside it). For example, “Truckers honked around us, past us. We waved to the cute ones, hiked our skirts higher on our pale thighs.” We age into sexualized versions of ourselves, age a bit inside those years and then just age.

A new chapbook, We by Sarah Freligh (2021, Harbor Editions, Small Harbor Publishing), interrogates those spaces: What say do we have? What do we claim as our own? Here are some poem titles with answers: “Those Girls.” “Good Girls.” “A Kind of Magic.” “Goddesses.” In just 16 poems, We takes us through all of those and more. “We” are those girls. In any combination. Or one at a time. Or none at all. And “we” are made appealing for ourselves instead of any “other,” though we go through some things figuring that out.

We is a balm for that — beginning with its dedication page, which reads, “All the girls, everywhere.”

Carolee Bennett, “kind of lovely in their shadowed dark”

As a global community, a nation, and as individuals, we are navigating grief. For some, it’s the loss of a family member to COVID or their employment; for others it’s the loss of the vacation or dining at a restaurant. I’m not casting aspersions at anyone. Grief is complicated. There truly isn’t a grief olympics.

Grief stitches itself into a person and leaves the ends of the thread hanging out. Sometimes, you feel the twinge of the deeply-seated stitch of the loss of your father six years ago. Sometimes, the dangling thread catches on a current moment and you cast books from your shelves searching for an ephemeral gift from a newly gone friend. Your response to “Did you maybe throw it away?” is a wail of “I didn’t know she was going to die!”

Grief challenges our ideas of how our lives are meant to be – of course our good friends, our spouses, our beloved pets will be with us always, of course our lives will continue forward with total freedom and no mass casualty events like a pandemic. For most of us, we don’t have ready tools to move forward in grief because we have never imagined a scenario where we would truly suffer loss. Grief always catches us by surprise, even if the person we lose is 93 years old, even if we know, though do not acknowledge, that everything is always changing. Sometimes we are mourning the loss of what we thought would be.

I try to write the grief out. Write about my father, about my friend, about a dream (and livelihood) on hold, the ravages of cancer. I try to reason my way through to the other side. But there is no other side.

Erin Coughlin Hollowell, The persistence of grief

My visiting writer gig at Randolph College started yesterday. As the Pearl S. Buck Writer in Residence (virtually), I’m teaching a 4-session workshop each Thursday night in February, 7-9pm. There are only 4 members, all advanced poetry students, so it’s a pretty nice gig. The topic is “Haunted and Weird,” since the organizer told me these students were also jazzed about speculative fiction–but also because strangeness and surprise make for complicated, interesting, powerful poems. […]

Here are some poems they had to read for class, as well as each other’s drafts. I also asked them to be ready to explain which poem unsettled them most and why.

– Emily Dickinson, “One Need Not Be a Chamber”

– Paul Mariani, “Ghost”

– Margaret Atwood, “Morning in the Burned House”

– Christopher Kennedy, “Ghost in the Land of Skeletons”

– Janice N. Harrington, “Shaking the Grass”

– Mary Oliver, “The Mango”

– Shane McRae, “Whose Story of Us Is We Is Told Is Us”

– Derek Sheffield, “Monsters”

I started us off with “Monsters,” which triggers all my parent-fear. One student named Mariani’s “Ghost” as the most unsettling–that’s another poem full of guilt, and very crafty in how it sets up situations and then dissolves them. For everyone else it was “The Mango,” in which the speaker hears voices–and yet it’s more political than supernatural. One way all of these poems are shifty: what’s “real” is up for grabs, although there’s plenty of realistic detail within them.

Lesley Wheeler, Haunted and weird poetry: a lesson plan

As I watched Trumpism wash through America, I thought again and again: “what was my contribution to this? How did I make this happen, or allow this to happen?”

Well, the answer was clear. I had a least one devoted reader who was also a devoted Trump fan, and I recognized at once that I was appealing in exactly the same way Mr Trump was. I used to practice a sort of diaristic magical realism. I talked to stars and mountains and ghosts. Something that appealed emotionally got free rein, and if facts got trampled in the process, who cares? Other people would take care of the facts. I was busy with the realm of the emotions and of the soul. What I was interested in was joy and delight. Nothing else mattered, not really.

And so I was shocked into silence, inward and outward. I didn’t want to be part of spreading this poison. I mistrusted myself deeply. I stopped my supposedly harmless riffing on supernatural themes. No, I’m not meeting Vajrasattva in the parking garage. No, I am not conversing with ghosts. No, I am not dissolving into the wind. I’m someone who washes his hands and wears a mask and is determined to get the vaccine, because viruses don’t give a damn about Vajrasattva and never have. Misty devotion to to deities such as the Great South Wall Protector lead straight to children in cages. The hell with misty devotion. The hell with deities. I’m trying to keep my family alive. 

When I was setting out in life, the Enlightenment looked like a done deal. Everyone acknowledged the primacy of science. I gave myself to old books and old stories, partly because I already loved them, and partly with a sense that the post-Enlightenment world was losing something precious: that a salvage operation was in order. That we were throwing sources of joy and wisdom out, as well as sources of superstition and bigotry, The march of science was inevitable: it had the backing of the liberal West, of Soviet Communism, and of global Capital: how could it falter? It needed no help from me. I could wander among the wreckage of our cultural past, find lost treasures in the rubble, wash the mud off them and hold them up to the sun.

And the treasures are there, sure enough. I was right about that part. But science, reason, rationality, commitment to what can be ascertained and confirmed by rigorous experiment — they turned out to be as fragile as the treasures I was hunting. I had misunderstood. It was all fragile.

The joy blew out like a candle, and I lost my place. I read political news in the morning, instead of poetry. I begin a novel and drop it impatiently: they’re just making stuff up. Anyone can make stuff up. The hard thing is sticking to the truth.

I don’t quite recognize myself, in all this, and that’s probably a good sign.

In order to arrive at what you are not
       You must go through the way in which you are not.

Dale Favier, Losing My Place

Like [Dean] Young, I admit to envy of my visual artist friends. Here is my painting of some pears with a lemon. Here is my sculpture of a man in a decaying suit. They have the ‘opportunity to interact with the medium [of their creation] in a primal, physical way.’ This physical, primal method of creation, this disappearing into the bombed cathedral to vandalise what I have created in order to make something new, is what I have long longed for in my practice.

I think of my books of poems and I think of the pain of birthing them, not the individual poems, but the the ripping apart and stitching back together of sequences, for the first four books, with intense help from others as my small-minded control-freakery threatened to refuse to allow them what they wanted to become. Four books. By the time of the fifth, I told myself I had learned how to proceed. (I hadn’t; I almost blew it.) My favourite part of book five was realising I needed to rip it apart and start again. And, just when I thought I had rescued it, to begin yet again.

So, I say pain, but I don’t really mean it. What I mean is fun. Ripping poems apart and interrogating them till they tell me what they need to become. Ditto the books. I spent part of yesterday taking one of Spurrier’s sanders to a poem that I had previously thought of as inviolable. I have plans for others. The bombed cathedral. It’s the only place to be.

Anthony Wilson, The bombed cathedral

Yesterday we ran along the beach. The polished stones each sheltering a patch of snow. The tide pools frozen, ostensibly lifeless. E. pointed to the lighthouse on the island in the distance. The ship nearby. Both appearing to hover over the ocean.

The cold wedges itself into our reality. Pulls the pieces apart.

The cold is a serpent that creeps over the earth, that pulls it from itself. Islands float on air, we float from one another, shivering. Closing our doors. Shuttering the windows.

E. explains how the cold settles in the hollows. How it clings to the ground and creeps. You can dig a hole to trap the cold outside your threshold. Like you might any other animal bound by gravity.

I can hear the cold
its infrasonic growling
filling the basement
rumbling in dark corners, like
the dog who wants to pile-on

There’s no need to
appropriate magic.
Notice, and believe
in the world as much as you
believe in flesh and blood.

Ren Powell, When Islands Hover

When I was child, in that weird time when memory is just beginning to form, I was obsessed with a black and white checkered volume of illustrated Mother Goose tales.  I carried it from room to room until it fell apart, staring at the pictures, imagining each story based only on the visuals. It would be a hot minute before I could read it.  Before I learned the alphabet, which my dad would have me recite in exchange for a pack of Rolos.  (thus my long trajectory of bribing myself to write with chocolate.)  I’m sure the bribing only happened once, but I remember the feeling of accomplishment as he handed over the candy.  I landed in kindergarten knowing the letters, but it’d be a year or so til they started making sense as words, as patterns, as something familiar. Waiting alone  in the car while my mom was in the store (because yo, it was the late 70’s), I remember the exact moment the orange-lit words on the Jewel-Osco sign made sense and suddenly the code was broken.  I spent the next couple years writing out letters on those lined newsprint tablets, perfecting a neatness I never exhibit in my scrawling. While I had spent years before obsessed with pens & notebooks,  drawing squiggled lines and making up stories, now I could do it for real.  

On the phone last night, my dad tells me the story of how he kept getting in trouble in elementary school for not paying attention to lessons and instead writing ghost stories surreptitiously at his desk. Suddenly, a secret question was long-answered.  Where this all comes from.  The need to tell stories.  My mother would, when alive, regularly to others say about my writing or my smarts, we don’t know where she gets it. My mother was less of a reader, her enthusiasms tending toward True Romance magazines, but then only on vacation when she could unwind. Words, however,  were always in the house, but the kind varied. Hunting & fishing manuals.  National Geographics. Horror novels passed off from my aunt. Later, overloaded trips home from the library. I had always known my dad was a big reader, even now when a lot of that reading happens online. But I’d never know about the stories. Those similar tendencies that show up, even without having made themselves known. 

Kristy Bowen, roots

Gypsum and karst my consonants;
pine and mountain-fed streams, my vowels.
My syntax and speech of copper-mined and gold-
veined hills; the craggy, rain-soaked vowels
that won’t stop stippling the ceilings.
My tutors: stonecroppings and terraces,
ochre-traced sunflowers; the flint-tapping call
of the mountain shrike. My avatars: stick
shift jeepneys, five of them crowded into
two-lane roads. My aubades from hot
bean curd vendors, the molasses of their song.

Luisa A. Igloria, Lexicography

What I remember most is that I was really feverish for a few days and for some reason the name of the ‘Avant Garde’ composer Cornelius Cardew popped into my head. I looked his details up and found that he died in the early hours of 13 December, 1981, a victim of a hit-and-run on Leyton high road, on the humpback bridge next to Leyton Tube station. Conspiracy theorists claimed that his politics made his death suspicious. One can’t really blame anyone for thinking that, given that it was round about the same time that Hilda Murrell was bumped off (though a local man was subsequently convicted for her murder).

At the time of my illness, I’d just started reading an Amy Clampitt collection What the Light Was like, published by Faber in 1986, and, immediately after looking up Cardew on my phone, I opened the book on her elegiac poem ‘A Curfew’, about the day that her brother Richard, a doctor, died, at the age of 56. The poem is subtitled ‘December 13, 1981’. The billions-to-one coincidence was increased by the fact that ‘fever’ occurs three times in the poem, including as its opening word.

Matthew Paul, On coincidence

So, things have been rough this week. It’s been dreary, rainy, and too cold to go outside much. America hit the 450,000 mark in people that have been lost to covid, as variants with higher contagion rates and seemingly slightly more dangerous consequences are spreading around the world.

Washington State has still got a shortage of vaccines, and they don’t seem to prioritizing the chronically ill or the disabled. I’ve been struggling with anxiety about that and at the same time, trying to get better from a sinus thing and a stomach thing (not covid, just the result of my normally crappy immune system.)

Meanwhile, a literary magazine I’ve respected and longed to get into for twenty years, about ten months after my work appeared in it for the first time, decided to publish a former professor-pedophile who abused students and kept a gigantic collection of child rape films. This triggered a lot of sadness and anger from a lot of abuse survivors, including me (I was raped when I was six years old). The literary magazine then published a non-apology. The whole thing left me feeling sick and disappointed in the poetryworld. Meanwhile, I’m sending my manuscripts out into the world, hoping for a good press to pick them up. Have we decided what a “good press” means to us?  What are we even hoping for?

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Envisioning Better Things

This is the first of a mini-series about print poetry magazines. Although I do my quarterly spreadsheet, there’s no room for any description of the mags, so I thought it would be nice to feature some of my favourites as a reader, where I like to submit myself and what I subscribe to. […]

The other day it was time to subscribe to some new titles, and I decided to give PN Review a proper try. I’ve only ever read the odd single issue, and I found it a bit academic. But now I’m getting into the academic mindset, perhaps it’s a good time to try it again? PN Review hasn’t arrived yet, but I’ve also just subbed to Butcher’s Dog, a small mag, but with a big bite, perhaps. I sat next to editor Jo Clement at a Poetry Book Fair once, and came away with a couple of back issues. Here’s what came in the post yesterday. My favourite poem in it is ‘I crossed the Humber Bridge without paying’ by Rachel Bower

Another magazine I want to give a shout out to is Prole. Edited by Brett Evans and Phil Robertson, Prole has been going for some years now and they have a unique system as regards paying contributors which I admire very much. Basically, instead of offering contributors a free copy of the issue they are in, they give contributors a share in any profit an issue makes. So as a contributor you’re given a PDF of the mag, but if you want a hard copy then you buy it. Your buying it then helps grow the potential pot that ends up being shared amongst contributors. Or you can opt to let Prole keep it for their funds, but that’s entirely up to you. We’re talking a very small amount, but it’s the principle that counts. More power to Prole! I do have a couple of poems in this latest issue, which I’m very pleased about, as they were both a bit ‘out there’, and I had a feeling they might sit well in the magazine. There’s a lot of prose in Prole, if you’re interested in that too.

Another longstanding poetry magazine with great character is The Frogmore Papers. It’s packed full of poetry and is, I think, unique in publishing micro-reviews (which I really appreciate as a reader, but also contribute to occasionally). The magazine features covers by local artists and has a ‘sister’ online publication called Morphrog – can you see what they did there?

Robin Houghton, On poetry magazines: Butcher’s Dog, Prole, Frogmore Papers

After over 30 years, Patricia Oxley is standing down as Acumen’s editor. Danielle Hope, who’s long been connected with the magazine, will take over. I wish them both luck.

I suspect that Acumen’s loyal readership is on the older side. I’ve been a subscriber for a long time. I’ve had several poems, letters and the odd article in it – worthwhile pieces (in my opinion) that I’d have trouble placing elsewhere, especially nowadays: pieces that non-poets might like.

The extensive reviews section (35 pages in the current issue) is very ably managed by Glyn Pursglove. It doesn’t rush to cover all the latest stunning debuts. It also deals with translations and the work of established (though perhaps not fashionable) poets (Etty, etc). Books by, amongst others, Ni Chuilleanain and Longley are reviewed at length in the current issue.

Having a letters section (with maybe 4 months from submission to publication) may seem quaint in this Twitter age. The letters are often mini-articles though.

Tim Love, Acumen

You have continued to launch and promote your poets’ work. How have you managed to stay motivated?

I’m not good at doing nothing. I like keeping busy and having a sense of purpose. I also have a strong sense of responsibility and generally find it’s easier to promote others’ work than my own. The sheer volume of possible marketing and social media sharing etc can become overwhelming though – it is a potentially 24-7 job. I think prioritising and routine help here. V. Press has been running over 7 years (over 5 years publishing solo-authored pamphlets and collections), so I’ve tried and tested what’s most effective. I mostly stick to that, but then also explore a few new possibilities regularly as and when appropriate. During covid-19, this has included eBook versions of some of our flash fiction titles and an expanded winter sale.

Is it easier to enable others than yourself when it comes to writing?

Yes!

What non-writing ways do you think poets can feed themselves with when the muse has packed up her bags and gone away for a while?

I’m a firm believer in ‘two birds with one stone’ and ‘not having all one’s eggs in one basket’. I think anything anyone loves outside of writing is joyful in itself, a potential source of inspiration, and hopefully replenishes energy, which may then be used for new writing.

For me this includes:

Reading – always a source of inspiration as well as enjoyment. (Reviewing for a journal can help give me an added focus and permission to prioritise reading over more mundane chores or tasks.)

Exercise (walking, swimming, cycling, running) – the feel-good hormones are a mental and physical health boost. Wherever I exercise, in moments of boredom (or concentration on the movement), I often find my subconscious will start playing with editing options or ideas for new work. The exercise pace can be especially useful with rhythms in poetry. If I’m outdoors, there’s the extra bonus that I’ll often notice something in the world around me that makes me stop to take a photograph or provides notes for a new poem.

Painting – because I’m a novice painter, the creativity of painting is less fettered by the critical editing eye that is always there when I’m writing. So, it’s much easier for me to replenish creative energy this way, that then often re-sparks the urge to write.

Photography – as with painting. except the critical part of my brain interferes more. But, in contrast, I’m more likely with photography than painting to then be inspired to combine text with an image and turn it into a haiku-influenced photo-poem.

Meditation/Pauses – I try to start each day with a ten-minute meditation. (I use Sam Harris’s Waking Up course as a framework https://wakingup.com/.) This often brings me a sense of peace, greater perspective and reminds me to be grateful for all the small things that make me smile, laugh or feel good. It’s easy to forget that there’s joy and wonder in simply being alive, breathing. If I get stressed or agitated during the day, I’ll maybe try to do a small pause, tuning in to each of the five senses in turn. Occasionally, inspiration for a poem will also arise from these, as if from nowhere. But, for me, this example isn’t really about writing directly, it’s about re-energising and re-grounding for whatever the day brings, including hopefully some writing!

Abegail Morley, Creativity in Lockdown: In Conversation with Sarah James

Mid-week I attended a reading put on by the folks at Seren, Jonathan Edwards and Gillian Clarke both read wonderfully, as well as a host of open mic folks. I had totally missed the invitation to take part in the open mic, so missed my chance to say I’ve shared a bill with those two. One day perhaps!! I am at least two books behind on Gillian’s work, so I’d best do something about that.

I do miss reading aloud to people. I can’t imagine we’ll be doing a Rogue Strands night for a while yet, sadly, but I have bagged a slot at a Zoom-based evening of poetry that’s been organised by my local beer shop. A perfect combination for me, I reckon…Who knew, but one of the chaps that works there is also a poet.

Friday night, I watched Derek Mahon, The Poetry Nonsense on BBC two. I am ashamed to say I don’t know much about Mahon, other than how well he is/was respected. I have a selected Mahon by my bedside ready to read, so I will get there eventually, but he came across as an interesting if troubled soul in this doc. I think, however, it was leaving a lot more out about the man. I guess that may come out when I get to the poems.

I think the doc will be on the iPlayer for a while yet..get yerself over there and get it watched.

However, before I bugger off to get on with cooking dinner I shall leave you with a quote from a book that is t the top of my reading pile, eg I am reading at the mo…It’s also another Derek, the mighty Derek Walcott. I saw this opening to one of his poems last night and it seems apt for the world as it stands at present.

“The starved eye devours the seascape for the morsel
Of a sail.

The horizon threads it infinitely.”

They are the opening lines from ‘The Castaway” and have made me desperate for the smell of salt in my nostrils, they’ve made me desperate to get back to the coast of Norfolk, but I’ll settle for something outside of the streets of Beckenham.

Christ, I want to go to Walcott, Derek.

Mat Riches, The Dels

In Heather Seller’s wonderful craft book Page After Page (or its sequel, Chapter After Chapter), she tells a story about sending her work out once a year. It’s like getting all the little ballerinas ready for a recital, she writes. Lots of polishing and fixing of hems, adjusting of tiaras. Getting those toe-shoes on and telling everyone to smile. Then shooing them out onto the stage

That’s what it feels like to me, too. Before anything goes out, I feel a need to read it out loud and make a few adjustments, changing a line or a word here–sometimes rewriting an entire poem. Knowing that complete strangers are going to take a close look at my darlings makes me take a closer look at them first.

The exciting bit is that sometimes I find a slight-ish feeling poem that has made its way into the submission file, and this process results in an overhaul.

If you ever check my ancient blog (now called One Bad Poem), you’ll find poems I’ve culled from the send-out book over the years. But just as often as I set them aside, I revise them. So, this past week, a slight poem about a woman waking up from a dream into an unreal world became a Covid-19 / mask poem, much bigger in its reach. It doesn’t feel slight any longer, and it immediately went out (“to some lucky editor!” as Professor Bentley used to say).

Bethany Reid, The Resolution

Over here at Rogue Strands Towers, we’re always looking out for a decent excuse to sideline all our commitments and dive into poetry blogs. Of course, this feeling only grows as the pandemic rumbles on, so I was delighted to discover Bob Mee’s terrific poetry blog (see what I mean here) a few weeks ago.

I might be late to the party, as his blog’s been going for a fair while now, but the excellent news is that I’ve thus had loads of top-notch reading matter to get through. Bob Mee’s been involved in poetry for decades, and I’ve realised he even published one of my poems back in 2004 when he was running iota magazine (via Ragged Raven Press) with Janet Murch. His experience, knowledge and astute vision of the genre shine through in every post, whether reviewing, commenting on news, posting original work, etc, etc. All in all, his poetry blog’s a gem and I thoroughly recommend it. 

Matthew Stewart, Bob Mee’s poetry blog

I’ve been blogging on this site since 2008. (I have a limited reserve of consistency, and what I do have I use up on this blog and the gym.) Lately I’ve been kicking around the idea of putting together a book of essays from some of my posts, but there is a huge amount of material to comb through and I don’t know if it would be interesting to anyone. I don’t know if my yammering about nonsense and complaining about the shoddy state of retail is enough to warrant an entire book. Also, it seems a little grandiose, as though I think that what I have to say is so riveting that it all needs to go into book so that the whole world may have easy access to all of my amazing thoughts. (This attitude is probably why I never gained much traction as a writer.) Nonetheless, I’m still considering this book thing. There are certain Big Themes that have emerged over time that I could work with. Or I could just go full fluff and make the entire book about my exploits in Stardew Valley. Stranger things have sold.

Kristen McHenry, Gateway Peanut Can, Book Musings, Gym Bag Envy

The Emperor penguin broods a substitute rock because the rest of the flock need him to stay with them and play his part in keeping them all collectively warm. If those who lost eggs all left to return to the seas, too few would remain to allow all to survive. He uses the rock to mimic his fellow penguins. The life-support machines allow Amma-ji to mimic life while the poem’s narrator has to adjust to life without her.

“The Bone that Sang” is tender, wryly humoured and humane in the treatment of its subjects. Claire Booker writes lyrical poems with compassion, allowing readers to construct the stories they tell.

Emma Lee, “The Bone that Sang” Claire Booker (Indigo Dreams Publishing) – book review

i folded the sheet of newspaper into a hat
the way my mother did when I was a child
if i made two more folds
it would have become a boat
but i stop at the hat and i place it on my head
once upon a time i did this to please my mother
so she would know that i learned from her
years later i wore the hat to make my children laugh
now my mother is gone and so are the children
in the silence of the house i wear the foolish hat
a hat made of folded newspaper.
no one sees
no one laughs
from outside
i hear the sound of a blue jay.
it is a lonely sound

James Lee Jobe, faith rings like a hammer

I have some people who have helped me out these past few weeks, and one went so far as to put on a gorilla suit to cheer me up. You wouldn’t think a gorilla suit would cheer you up to such a degree, but I’m here to tell you it changed my life. Also many other just sweet nice things that friends have said and done. And all the listening! and checking in. Feeling very blessed in that regard.

Early Sunday morning photowalks have continued to save my life. Out there right about sunrise, and no one around really. I need to write an entire essay about that process and what I’m learning from it. So that’s hopeful. Thinking about what I want to write when I have time. […]

Poetry. I own all the previously published of Bronwen Wallace, but a collected with a few new early unpublished poems was too hard to resist. How is it that in a new format, nice cover, all the poetry seems new and fresh still? Maybe because Bronwen Wallace has so much depth. If you’ve not read her, well, please do.

Shawna Lemay, Breathing During a Pandemic

I will not write you an obituary, it has been
but five days. It has been a week. It has been

the whole

of your life. Where are you? Now, they say
you’re found, and now. A tribute

of dazzling, knitted scarves. Today,
the longest day. Richard,

we love you. Please get up.

rob mclennan, Two poems for RM Vaughan

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 2

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week: moments of insight, lessons in forbearance, the good news found in new books, and much more.


Vials, frozen. Chest-freezers, full.
She’s not using her wheelchair today,
she’s walking. Slow, but walking. Good,
I answer, that will help. Too late, we give
consent. Ashambles, the whole ward now.

JJS, Protection

Mary is delighted to live in the moment of what she currently sees, despite knowing that the star is dying. A similar sentiment to the earlier poem “A Fire” where the narrator wants to stay in the process of losing a friend, not yet ready to acknowledge the loss. Mary’s voice seems childlike, but Mary is the also name of Jesus’ mother. God, naturally, is paternal. The reader is left not sure who Mary is or who she represents.

“You Do Not Have To Be Good” leaves an opaqueness at the heart of each poem, inviting readers to speculate and try to figure out the narrator’s relationship with others in the poems. That said, the poems do explore trauma effectively, particularly losses that come from being unable to fully reveal a self to a listener or someone who might be of help. They come from a place of affirmation and healing.

Emma Lee, “You Do Not Have to Be Good” Madeleine Barnes (Trio House Press) – book review

What a lucky chance, then, that Dr Zhivago is currently on iPlayer, and that after forty years of adventures I have 1) A TV, 2) A TV licence, 3) A range of techniques learnt in psychotherapy enabling me to side-step any feelings of guilt incurred by watching a film whilst it’s still light outside. We all need doctors more than ever these days, so maybe it was this that prompted me, finally, to satisfy my curiosity, watch the film. 

As it turns out, Dr Zhivago is more like early 2021 Shropshire than you’d think, filled as it is with snow, difficult decisions, furs, untimely deaths, beautiful vistas, confusion, heroes, quiet resolve, and drumbeats. And with trains (although ours are largely empty). We also lack a famous, but strangely irritating as the hours ticked by, theme tune.

Liz Lefroy, I Relax With Dr Zhivago

staying up most of the night working on poems 
oh lonely bones – can’t you rest 
why should i 
even now a strong wind carries 
some pine seeds to the earth 
even now the boats slide 
down the long sacramento river to the bay 
a new day begins and i am alive

James Lee Jobe, on the nose of the puppy

At about the same time, the house began hollowing out, it shed plaster – chunks of them. They were getting old – both her father and her house. Cracks bisected diagonally a wall in the storeroom; timber room, part of the study upstairs, wooden steps leading to the terrace were advised not to be used, and they became nesting places for scorpions. Saferoom remained safe with its iron vault which was for the most part empty but for my grandfather’s silver plate. The vault was weighed in rupees and sold as scrap when the house fell after my grandfather died. The money that came from selling the land and the strong wooden doors were shared between my mother and her siblings. My uncle’s share was put away in a bank and used for his medicines and stay as a life-long resident in a home. My mother used her share to re-lay the floor in our house, the cement floor was replaced with mosaic tiles. Houses are not meant to speak and care must be taken to keep them mute.

Uma Gowrishankar, laid to rest

For years my partner and I cared for elderly parents, one way and another, and I watched as their worlds shrank, physically, as did their curiosity. Slowly and inevitably they stopped taking any notice, stopped listening, stopped reading, being interested, talking. They were just busy dying. 

I’ve decided I want none of it. I can learn from Solzhenitsyn and his take on Epicureanism, especially in One day in the life of Ivan Denisovitch. The idea that happiness lies, at least in part, in taking inventory of the day and identifying how it could have been much worse if X or Y had not happened or didn’t exist. And then focussing on X or Y. Things that made life better. An extra bowl of kasha. A bit of hacksaw blade. Building a wall. 

What did I do in 2020? I have a house, I have a garden, a field beyond the garden, a view beyond the field. I have a garage full of bits of timber and power tools. In February three days of incessant horizontal rain worked through the gable end and round the kitchen window and poured in. So when the rain stopped, I got out the gear and repointed all the damage, and replastered and painted inside. I enjoyed it. Most of it. 

The weather was nice this summer. I repainted a lot of the outside woodwork; when it rained I decorated indoors or resprayed picture frames.

On a whim, via the cobweb and Facebook I invited folk to send me poems inspired by Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin’s wonderful, artful poem Swineherd. Scores of people sent me poems, and then Bob Horne of Calder Valley Poetry suggested that we make a book of them, which involved asking Kim Moore to select the 26 best ones in an alphabet of occupations we’d leave When all this is over.  

It’s only just struck me that probably every single submission involved a future of being left alone. You’d have thought that lockdown might have inspired dreams of crowds, of festivals of concerts. What most folk seemed to dream of was travelling alone, and almost invariably, in wild places or on the sea. Yes. My dreams too, I realise. But there you are. A book out.

I missed physical poetry courses, but I’ve been, virtually, to Garsdale Head with Kim Moore, to Sneaton Castle with the Poetry Business; I’ve joined in Joe Bell’s project To heal the mutilated world …and that was terrific…as well as Winston Plowes’ and Gaia Holmes’ Muse-li courses. And every Monday night, via Zoom, there was the Albert Poets’ Workshop. What else…oh yes. Tom Weir and I will be zoom-workshopping together, hopefully right through 2021. A lot of extra bowls of Kasha.

John Foggin, Busy being born

Let people be divided over and over and over again
till they fit in tiny spreadsheet cells.
Let me be gathered as a data point by a factory of
algorithms that build a bubble around me.
Wasn’t it the scriptures that said that the world is just
perception. (And that was before Facebook.)
What do you want to resist most, today?
What outrage fills your coffee cup this morning?

Rajani Radhakrishnan, RIP

It’s cold and dark, friends. Not my favorite time of year. (I am not happy with the weather unless it’s July.) When we say in Upstate NY that it’s cold for six months a year, we aren’t exaggerating; it may even be seven. And I wonder each year how I’ll get through it. I’ve been trying (recently) to get outside for a walk every day, but I’m not really happy about it. I’ve been listening to books on Audible as a way to tempt myself and get out the door. So far, I’ve listened in full to Convenience Store Woman, a novel by Sayaka Murata, and started The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit, a true story written by Michael Finkel.

What intrigues me most in each is that the central figures make a conscious choice about who they’re going to be — and then they play it out turn after turn. They double down, repeatedly, and in doing so, forego much of what the rest of us call “normal” parts of life. And though the natural assumption may be that they’re renegades of some kind, both rely heavily on following strict — almost clichéd — rules of specific “character” types: store clerk (Keiko Furukura) and hermit (Christopher Knight).

Encountering these stories back-to-back has me thinking about who makes the rules and why we follow them and how expectations (our own and those from others) have so much power. If you can believe this story in The Onion (lol) — “‘I Can’t Do This Anymore,’ Think 320 Million Americans Quietly Going About Their Day” — we even abide by the self-imposed rules of inertia and accept, not just the need to work, but most painfully, its drudgery. The truth hurts.

It makes me wish to be the heroic figure in a story like Furukura’s or Knight’s. Admittedly, they’re tragic figures, as well, but allow me to indulge in oversimplifying a bit; let me romanticize breaking free of Undesirable Things without having to trade them for Different Things That Are Also Undesirable. Who would I become if I could take on any type/character? What kind of world would that create for myself?

Carolee Bennett, on showing up and setting poetry goals

Late on a pale afternoon in January,
sitting, unmoving, the puff-chested blackbird.
She has been there for a while now,
just under the reflection of my reading lamp;
just the odd stretch of a wing and the thought
of preening the day down.
You cannot see it from there; don’t move!
It will scare her. We are sharing this
moment? Call it what you will.
Soon, too soon, she will be gone. Around, yes,
but busy nesting. Just like the pecking dunnock,
the darty robin, the acrobat tits.
But now, twelve lines written, and she is still there.
The pallor of the day ivory poached; a north breeze
stirring; tea and scones have jammed the day.
She is still there, a sparrow riding shotgun.
Sonny Rollins on the radio.
Whoops!
She’s gone now.
She’s gone.

Jim Young, The sitting

I’ve been trying to keep my mind off troubling FBI reports of white nationalist terrorist threats leading up the the inauguration, and focusing on the cheerful fact that the youngest poet ever chosen will be reading at the inauguration, and soon Trump won’t be able to hurt us anymore. One hopes. I’ve been noticing strangely unseasonable things, like the first bloom on my camellia, long before it should be blooming. We’ve been having wet, cold winter, so it’s very odd but I will take an out-of-season flower where I can.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, First Blooms, New Poems in Gargoyle, Hoping for Better Days Ahead

Somewhere
an old silence
waits for me

to enter
the emptiness.
It is like

swimming naked–
the knowledge
you are

who you are
when you walk in-
to cold water.

It is not like
light piercing
a dark room.

Tom Montag, SOMEWHERE

The morning her veterinarian woke in her bed he fed her spaghetti smashed the noodles into her mouth lit a candy cigarette after sauce on her white coverlet the vinegar-bleached sheets. There wasn’t a fight. She simply wished him empty of music. He was not allowed to tell her how his feet burned how bright steam rose from the dog’s bowl. He held her head under water and sang Mahler Saint John has let his little lamb go to the butcher Herod. They watched TV at night drowning. It felt like progress. Life was good under the ginger bell the animal hospital’s glowing blue cross.

Rebecca Loudon, And angels bake the bread

There it is, sketched in red-
ochre, head lifted and watching.
Broad strokes of its rounded back
and short legs, found on a karst
wall in Leang Tedongnge. Now
it’s the oldest-known animal
cave painting. But why,
as I read about it, does my brain
think party pig? Perhaps it reminds
me of Andy Warhol’s Fiesta Pig:
ballet-slipper-pink, nosing around
in the excess of some post-bacchanalian
frenzy. Migration in packs, in the wild,
through curtains of berries and matted
roots. They’re mostly feral, but sometimes
give in.

Luisa A. Igloria, Brief History of the Sulawesi Warty Pig

I’ve always been a little fascinated by conspiracy theories, by the stories that take shape to impose order on the world and make it feel like net of carefully placed happenings and facts and not a chaotic swirling mass of randomness and chance  Alien autopsies, for example. Explanations for strange phenomena.  Untimely deaths and crazy historical coincidences.  They are fun to look at, less because I am seeking a pattern of order or cause/effect, but more that they are a way of understanding things, or at least the obsessions behind them.  A couple semesters ago, our Strange Fevers  Mass Delusions, Illusions, and Obsessions programming delved into this a little bit. 

I often think about how they go wrong.  Obviously the events of this past Weds. are a perfect example.  In my own work, the necessary violence series and the girls who tried to stab their friend based on Slenderman lore.  I think about these girls a lot when I think about politics. The mental illness in one girl who influenced another, and it’s not hard to make the jump to political conspiracies and the inevitable bad outcomes.  These are everywhere and inscribed in our history long before the current ones–McCarthyism, the Satanic Panic of the 80’s. All usually fueled by someone’s agenda–the goverments, men who wanted working women to stay home and keep an eye on their kids. .  A lot of the mythmaking of these was believable..communist infiltrations of Hollywood and the media, missing housepets,  the rise of latch key kids getting up to god knows what in the off hours. Most not things one had to stretch their imagination too far into the absurd to get to, which made things all the more believable.

At some point, contemporary conspiracies got crazier.  Even alien abduction lore is easier to believe than a lot of what is floating out there.

Kristy Bowen, absurdities and atrocities

One does not realize, until one does it, how heavy the burden of all those opinions is, how anxiously they must be defended, how vulnerable they make you to every passing stranger. I practice not having opinions about other drivers, when I’m on the freeway. What do I know of what they are rushing toward, and what they are fending off? “No one made me a traffic cop,” I murmur. Thank God. I am so grateful that no one made me a traffic cop. And I am correspondingly grateful for the people who undertake that burden, leaving me to float, irresponsible and free, in the flow of traffic. If someone’s driving strikes me as aggressive or erratic, I simply drop back in the current till I’m well away from them. 

Dale Favier, Opinions: Throwing Rocks: Being a Traffic Cop

In November I took a Hugo House class on “writing angry poems,” taught by the poet Sharon Bryan. One of my discoveries was that it is freaking hard for me to express anger. Feel it, yes; turn it loose in poem: no. So I struggled. “This is like a poem about repressing anger,” was one of the comments I received. Another: “This poem doesn’t seem to be about anger, but maybe mild annoyance.”

One of Bryan’s recommendations was to read Deaf Republic: Poems, by Ilya Kamnisky. I dutifully ordered a copy and have been avoiding it ever since. This week, I read it. It could not have been more timely for me. In the 1960s people used to say, “the personal is political.” Over the last ten days, we have seen how true that still is.

Deaf Republic is profoundly personal. It struck me as being less a collection of poems than one poem, or a play-in-verse perhaps. Tracy K. Smith writes that what she finds here is “conscience, terror, silence, and rage made to coexist alongside moments of tenderness, piercing beauty, and emphatic lyricism.” Kaminsky’s story opens when a young, deaf boy is shot down by soldiers in an occupied town, and then it winds through the perspectives of other characters in the town, which is struck deaf by the violence, introducing a couple expecting a child, then Momma Galya, the puppeteer who rescues their infant. But the poems transcend their place of “otherness.” As Smith, who has served as the United States Poet Laureate, continues in her cover blurb: “It hurts to read these poems. It hurts to read them and find the world I belong to stricken by a contagion of silence.”

Bethany Reid, Writing the Political Poem

Uncertainty has a daughter whose body is smoke and mirrors. Her eyes, numb and numberless. Her mouth, covered by a mask.

In her more sober moments, she tells me, the heart is no place for a graveyard. Barbed wire, no place for a bed.

She smells like wilted flowers and the whiskey of cold contrition.

I whisper in her ear, let us hope this winter doesn’t last forever.

Rich Ferguson, The Graveyard Bed Where the Heart Says I Love You

Apathy is a kind of cruelness, and denial is a tricky thing. More and more, I look back at the pre-2016 me and feel shame and disgust at all I didn’t see and know that I now do. The information about who and what we are was there all along. I saw much of it a long time ago and turned away from it and then forgot it. I told myself that things were not really as bad as some said. I cautioned myself against over-reacting. I know that denial is a protective mechanism we employ without awareness to protect ourselves from truth we aren’t yet equipped to manage, and in my good moments I can feel empathy for my pre-2016 self. I suppose she was doing the best she could with what she had. In my bad moments, I want to shake her and yell at her to wake the fuck up. I want to hide her in a closet and pretend she was never me.

Rita Ott Ramstad, On vertigo, normalcy, and light: revisiting Sarah Kendzior

when we turn against the sea
how many deserts appear

when the poem sheds its final skin
why does one still have to wait for dawn

for how many lives after i am gone
will my heart come searching for me

Grant Hackett [no title]

Back in April 2020, in the first lockdown, my collection, The Unmapped Woman was launched by Nine Arches Press on Zoom with great support from the fab poets Katie Griffith and Robert Peake. I didn’t know at the time that Jane Commane was in conversation with Helen Dewberry about a variety of film poems including one for a poem of mine. Helen is an Associate member of the Royal Photographic Society and has worked with a variety of poets on film poems which have screened at festivals. You can find a number of them at Elephant’s Footprint Film Verse. I have my favourites, but dip in and see what appeals to you.

It was later in the year that Helen and I had a chat on Zoom to discuss which poem had all those visual qualities just crying out to be shown in another medium. It was interesting that both Helen and Jane had selected Neap Tide as one of their favourites and it is one, which when Helen ask me questions about, I realised, as I unpicked the poem line by line, I had a very clear image of place and people without having made that conscious decision when writing it. I am hoping to catch up with Helen later for an interview, so will keep details of the process for that post, but working with her on this collaboration renewed my interest in my work during what had felt like a very fallow furlough.

Abegail Morely, Creativity in Lockdown – A Film Poem by Helen Dewberry

They’re dwindling,
those who might turn up to mourn,
and some of those are just in tow.
Some went before –
the ones you mourned the most
the ones that would have
mourned you most –
to be expected.

Some you lose through death,
some fade away,
some are blocked,
some block you,
some you knew well,
some just slightly,
the rest you didn’t know at all –
to be expected.

Sue Ibrahim, Expectations

I must confess, though, this interests me intellectually, but it’s the other book I happened to grab in quick Covid-breathing-down-my-neck visit to the library that grabs my poetry heart. It too takes its cues from something concrete, in this case a video clip and some photographs. Ross Gay seems to be attaining incadescence in front of my very eyes with each new book. Be Holding is magnificent, as it achingly slowly tells of the fleet seconds details of an improbable dunk, a “baseline scoop,” by Dr. J during a 1980 NBA finals game, interspersed with curling and twining tendrils of sidebars and meditations on holding, on flying and falling, on love. This is poetry that truly engages me as a reader, a writer, and as a human bean.

This is news of the finest kind. Oh, boy.

Marilyn McCabe, I heard the news today; or, On Poetry Making Use of Non-poetic Texts

The latest from American poet and translator Joshua Beckman is Animal Days (Seattle WA/New York NY: Wave Books, 2021). As the back cover offers: “Written from inside of illness and gathered over several years, these fragments or moments invite readers to contemplate how the compromised body transforms our conceptions of selfhood and our sense of the world.” Animal Days is composed via six extended poem sequences, each threading together an accumulation of short fragments: “IT SEEMED TOO MUCH,” “LITTLE PRICKLY COMING OF STORM,” “THE GLACIAL TRIP,” “DRAWING X’S ON THE TABLE,” “AUGUST” and “ANIMAL DAYS.” Beckman writes from the inside of an awareness of the frailty of the human body, even from the first page of the opening poem: “the pursing / and bursting / of cells / blood / in the skin / in the face / blood exploding / inside us / like that [.]” There is such a slowness etched into the lines and fragments of these accumulations, extended stretches of thought that sit perfectly against each other. There is such a slowness etched into every word—a slowness that coheres and allows for simultaneous pause and quick thought—and one that is remarkably physical. Honestly, for anyone who is attracted to slow, thoughtful work with remarkable speed—one could think, also, of Cameron Anstee, Michael e. Casteels, Jack Davis and the late Nelson Ball—Beckman’s dual essay collections The Lives of the Poems and Three Talks (Wave Books, 2018) are perhaps the finest collections of critical prose I’ve read (so much so that I’ve been completely unable to articulate how good they are).

There are moments when his sketched-out fragments give an epistolary sense, as though he is writing from his kitchen table, perhaps, out to someone (whether generally or specifically) in the wider world: “reading it / even as I / got reading / it even as / I write you / this letter” (“DRAWING X’S ON THE TABLE”). Throughout the six threads of Animal Days, Beckman’s lines adhere to a particular minimalism, but one that furthers the line of thought as far as might be possible, stretching out across the lyric. “a sheet / of it / held,” he writes, as part of “LITTLE PRICKLY COMING OF STORM,” “constellation-like / in the back yard / responding / to wind // clothespins for / fingers // houses / blown down the road / through the town // like a toy [.]”

rob mclennan, Joshua Beckman, Animal Days

There was a real nip in the air on Wednesday afternoon which created frost ferns on the Velux windows in our kitchen. I stood underneath and took some photos, and although it wasn’t dark outside and there was plenty of light, the flash kept going off, so I assumed all I’d get was a blur. In fact, I got these finely beaded images, frost ferns pearled with light from the flash, almost like underwater photos of coral. It was the sub-aqua atmosphere that gave me the word ‘surfacing’, and originally I had ‘frost ferns’ in the poem, but that seemed too obvious, so I was left with what appears above.

Julie Mellor, night frost

winter night
— from out of our wreath
a wren

Bill Waters, Winter night

Yesterday’s later part of the onground intensive revolved around silence, and the leader of the last session offered us an extensive guided meditation.  I tried so hard to follow the directions.  I sat in my desk chair and closed my eyes.  I visualized energy moving through my body.  After what felt like an endless journey from head to toe, we got to a space where God was waiting for us.  We visualized the space.  We visualized God.  Then the leader said, “God has a special word or phrase for you. Let’s sit in silence and wait for that word or phrase to emerge.”

It didn’t take long for my word to emerge:  patient.  Not patience, but patient.  I thought about the difference between the two.  I sat resisting the urge to open my eyes and flip through other online sites.  I was not concentrating on God or my word.

I opened my eyes and reached for my sketchbook.  I decided to write the word across the page, and then I wrote it on other parts of the page in different ways (all capital letters, block print, cursive).  I turned the page around.  I wrote patience instead of patient, but I turned that word back to patient.  I revolved my sketchbook again.

Then I wrote Pain. I only realized what I wrote when I paused to think, how do I spell patient again? Then I looked down and realized that I wasn’t just a letter or two off. I looked at the word.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Unsettling Mystical Experiences and a Special Word from God

This year seems to be taking its toll on me more than all of last year did. I don’t know why, although I suspect I could hazard a few guesses. All of them would be different and all of them would likely be correct (I suspect insider trading).

I am certainly losing track of the days as I could have sworn today was the TS Eliot prizegiving. It isn’t – I think it’s next week. I guess as long as the poets, the judges, and Ian McMillan all know, then the rest is irrelevant. That said, I do enjoy following along on Twitter, although one year I’d like to actually go. Maybe next year.

I think I’d got my wires all crossed about dates as I finished J.O. Morgan’s ‘A Martian’s Regress‘ this week. It’s the only one of the books on the list for this year that I’ve read. I will eventually remedy this, and while I loved it I can’t say whether I want it to win or not because I have nothing to balance it against. I’ve read poems by most of the authors on the list and enjoyed them, so come join me on the fence; it’s comfy.

Mat Riches, Gravy Reservoir

Many thanks to They Call Us for publishing my poem “All Words for a Woman” in their most recent issue. I love the aesthetic and artwork in this feminist zine! Make sure to check out the entire zine while you listen to the corresponding curated playlist.

They Call Us is a new  online, feminist literary magazine publishing a themed issue every three months. Past themes include They Call Us Flawed and They Call Us Theirs. They seek “to showcase the talents of writers, designers, and artists. However, our goal first and foremost is to tell the stories of people who feel like they often don’t have a voice.”

You can read more about what they are up to in my interview with them from last year here.

Trish Hopkinson, My poem “All Words for a Woman” published by They Call Us “Bossy” zine + list of Feminist Lit Mags

First things first, I do understand and respect that prompts and exercises help certain poets unblock ideas at specific difficult points in their writing lives.

However, as a poet, I personally find that my own poetry is best served when I get on with my daily business, making sure I read, read, read in the gaps between the stuff I’m doing, thus allowing poems to ripen in my mind before putting pen to paper. As mentioned previously on Rogue Strands, sometimes it’s better to wait rather than forcing work to come out.

As a reader, meanwhile, I get the impression that certain collections seem to use prompts and exercises as a systematic method of writing. I’m afraid I have to admit these are books I don’t tend to enjoy because I find it extremely hard to connect with the poems in question…

Matthew Stewart, Prompts and exercises

Richard Nicholson (aka the singer-songwriter Billy Penn’s Brother) burst into my life towards the end of the 80’s when he invited the band I was in to play at Harry, a tiny festival of faith, arts and politics in Harrogate (get it?), North Yorkshire. Way ahead of its time, and therefore tiny and fleeting, Harry attracted a loving mixture of what Theodore Roethke called the ‘innocent, hapless, [and] forsaken’: misfits, visionaries, burnt-out charismatics, and house church and acid house refugees. Such was the size of the crowd, you felt by the time you went home that you had encountered everyone present: road crew, singers, and punters alike. It was heady and intoxicating and beautiful. In the sense that I met people there who seemed to think, question, doubt, pray and haphazardly pretend they were artists while doing other things (and that this was fine, normal, even), I do think it changed my life.

Around the same time, Richard became a mainstay of a writers’ and artists’ group I used to host in my kitchen. Without the resources of the internet we now take for granted, it was a word of mouth affair, friends of friends of dubious friends pitching up with their entry fee of Bulgarian red, to read, pontificate or argue about their latest masterwork. Naturally Richard came and held forth with the best of them, making lugubrious wisecracks in his deep Geordie voice while sipping Oolong tea through his pipe smoke. One week he would bring a painting, the next a new song, another a manifesto in reply to Marshall McLuhan.

Then, one week, he brought a little sequence of poems which stunned me with their brevity, mordant humour and precision. I think there were no more than half a dozen of them, but each seemed to carry the freight of a lifetime’s reading, study, reflection and rage. I told him at the time I thought they were as good as Ivor Cutler, one of our shared heroes. I still think this today. I saw him perform the poems once, in the basement of Holy Joe’s, the Harry crew’s London base, below Brixton’s Acre Lane. He declaimed them without introduction sitting upright in bed wearing striped pyjamas and a Scrooge nightcap. The effect was charming and unsettling in equal measure.

Anthony Wilson, Intense

The lake has frozen.
Ice fishermen scatter,
tiny dark figures

making their way
across its flat
white expanse.

My heart pounds
gunfire
in my chest.

If the ice breaks
there is no one
to call.

Rachel Barenblat, Watching armed insurrection from afar

I haven’t been sleeping well. Though I suspect few of us are these days. This weekend several of the local lakes were declared to be “safe”, then on Sunday two men fell through the ice of two different lakes. On the other side of the country, an environmental activist fell through and died.

I know that “liminal” has become one of those overused words, but the truth is these liminal spaces are dangerous. The in-betweens and the uncertainties and this continual sense of being on the edge.

Flight, freeze, fight, faint or f#%&. But before that, the suspense, the suspension of our own unconscious flow. Heightened awareness is exhausting.

Even with the yaktrax this morning, the asphalt is dangerous. There’s a light dusting of snow over the ice. The small plow pushes snow into the street and spreads sand on the sidewalk. I want to run this morning, but don’t dare. I’m too unstable, too tired. I won’t be able to catch myself and find my balance if I slip.

A time-out would be nice. Is nice, when I allow myself this. Last week my youngest son visited and told me there is another possibility to the “Flight, freeze…” scenario: submit. Startled and frighten dogs sometimes do it. It’s not the same as playing dead. There’s no deception involved. It’s a matter of softening.

We are so sure that surrender is a bad thing. I’ve been thinking that there is a reason so many religions demand it. We need a time-out from our own will. A reality-check in the midst of all the prophets. Surrender to, acknowledge this moment and its omnipotence. And the next.

Ren Powell, Playground with Dreamcatcher

Finally, I identified with the problems of writing itself: “You write a thing down because you’re hoping to get a hold on it. You write about experiences partly to understand what they mean…. But there’s always the danger of the opposite happening. Losing the memory of the experience to the memory of writing about it.” [Sigrid] Nunez makes that connection to people who realize some of their memories arise not so much from events themselves but from photographs of these events.

I know I sometimes lose track of what really happened if I make a poem of my own experience, or base a story on observed life and behaviors. I often write to better understand something or someone, to expand my compassion for someone who hurt me or behaved badly or inexplicably. What would make someone do that? I ask, and then try to answer that question in a story that loves the character who did it, in part by exploring the character’s motivation, as I would as an actor…  By the time the story is finished, my compassion is expanded, yes, but my imagination has already taken over, and my fiction-writing self has mixed and matched details as needed, and who knows what the “facts” were on the way to the new truth? That’s why it’s fiction.

Kathleen Kirk, Still the Right Book at the Right Time

This year, I intend to make more collages and poem collages to add to those I made in 2020, and previously, which I’ve shown you in several posts, such as Collage Poems (from 2017); Once Upon a Lockdown (sequence of nine prose poems/collages from 2020); Collages of Exasperation (also from 2020).  In my collage work, I’m inspired by poet, writer, artist, and teacher Sophie Herxheimer.

I’m mentioning my collage project now as a means of recording my intention to do the work, and in an attempt to avoid procrastination. I would love to set myself a target of at least two pieces a month but I am going to say at least one piece a month, to be less demanding on myself.  Having said that, I have in January 2021 made two pieces so far.  Hurray!

For my first 2021 piece, I’ve used a cut-up calendar from last year, headlines from The Guardian newspaper (which I tend to buy on a Saturday) and flowers and foliage from my garden.  I’ve made another piece in tandem, without any foliage, so that I can retain this month’s collage.  I plan on doing this with every piece I make from now on (as much as possible).  Last year, I used a lot of natural materials (flowers and foliage) in my collages which meant that I couldn’t physically save them – I only photographed them.  I set up a separate Instagram account for my visual pieces last year – @andothermakings.  I recycled and composted all unsaved materials, by the way!

Josephine Corcoran, Collages for 2021

Traveling to an alternate universe of thinking and writing has been helpful lately given an attempted coup, and racist police response, AND the apocalyptic daily death count and a catastrophically lame vaccine rollout. I don’t manage the leap into literary concentration every day, but that’s actually what my next book is about: what helps us slip into the reading trance, where poetry is concerned, and what that border-crossing does for a reader.

I’m polishing and updating my forthcoming essay collection, to be called Poetry’s Possible Worlds or Taking Poetry Personally depending on what my editor says. It requires reading and rereading widely and wildly to make sure my thinking and research are up-to-date: Carolyn Dinshaw’s exhilarating How Soon Is Now, Nicole Seymour’s Bad Environmentalism, and essays on narrative theory, deep attention, presentism, poetry of witness, and much more. New to me is Brian Attebery’s Stories About Stories, of interest partly because I’m thinking about story in poetry but also because of my investment in speculative fiction. Attebery argues that the cultural importance of literary fantasy as a genre lies in how it “redefine[s] the relationship between contemporary readers and mythic texts.” I’m not wholly satisfied with that as a definition, yet the book is useful and interesting. He describes genre, for instance, as “fuzzy sets”: “the question of what genre a particular text belongs to will never be resolved, nor need it be. The interesting question about any given story is not whether it is fantasy or science fiction or realistic novel, but rather what happens when we read it as one of those things.”

In the larger sense, I write in many genres–poetry, fiction, criticism, reviews, literary nonfiction–but I also think of myself as operating in the borderlands between smaller categories. My poetry has appeared and been reviewed in both “mainstream” and sf venues; it’s been called lyric, political, formalist, fabulist, and more, to which I say, cool. My forthcoming hybrid essay collection (blending criticism, theory, and personal narrative) argues that most poetry is not just fiction but fantasy. It’s fiction because framing it on a page as literary art sets it apart from truth and lies; it’s fantasy because, notwithstanding, it’s obsessed with what’s true. I define fantasy in a way that’s tangential to Attebery’s idea; I think of it as fiction exploring questions of what’s real, what matters.

Lesley Wheeler, Multiple worlds in poetry, fiction, and politics

I’m not gonna sugar coat it. We are in the rubble.

This blog has more or less been built around the idea that we are all required to make something beautiful. But it’s been a long time since I’ve quoted the passage from which the line is taken. Here it is:

“The barrenness of the poetic task: as if every day we look out at a courtyard of rubble and from this are required to make something beautiful. ”

— Theodore Roethke from Straw for the Fire

Well, we have no shortage of rubble at present. No shortage of barrenness, if that’s even a possibility.

I’ve read a lot of advice about how to continue to get through this time and probably I’ve thrown out some of my own. But honestly whenever I read anything in the realm of “thou shalt” my brain just turns off. The best tips seem to come from previous times, for me, anyway. Fernando Pessoa, for example, said this in 1931: “Don’t squander yourself, giving what you don’t have.” And, “Enjoy being the little you are. The hovel you’re given is a better shelter than the palace you’re owed.”

Shawna Lemay, Don’t Squander

How does the writer’s brain work? It is a bewilderment to me, why it must be this particular word, or that particular image. How is it that now, in this time of several national and global crises, I emerge from sleep holding to this juxtaposition: 

    i wake 

    my face is wet 

        the blue heron stands 

        one foot 

        on a slate roof 

Sharon Brogan, questions