Poetry Blog Digest 2022, 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: transitions and metamorphoses, realizations about why we write and for whom, and much more. Enjoy.


that moment
between summer and autumn
without a sound

Jim Young [no title]

I get up to let out the dogs and make coffee. I quietly appreciate my dear spouse who kneels on the kitchen floor trying to entice our 16-year-old dog to eat a few morsels of meat which my husband regularly buys and cooks for him. I look out the window, delighted to spot a great blue heron in the pond.  

I try to stay in the moment, just watching this creature’s prehistoric-looking countenance and admirable patience as it waits to spear a fish, but here it comes again, my awareness of what we’re doing to this beautiful planet. Nearly half the world’s bird species are in decline due to degradation of their habitats as well as to climate change. In North America alone the bird population has dropped by nearly three billion birds, a decline of 29 perfect since 1970.

Okay, I’m going to stop with the reality overflow. I simply want to acknowledge this is how the day goes for many of us. We’re fully enmeshed in our ordinary lives — getting to work on time, stopping at the grocery store, making supper, keeping up with family and friends, trying to pay bills, hoping to get a better night’s rest than the night before. At the same time we carry the weight of guilt and anxiety over the state of the planet.

E.B. White, author of much beloved books such as Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little, as well as The Elements of Style co-author, once said,  “I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve (or save) the world and a desire to enjoy (or savor) the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.” I have to disagree with the late Mr. White. I don’t think we can save it without truly, wholeheartedly savoring it.

Savoring, for me, is about awe. It’s about seeing relationships between what is and sensing the expansiveness of what’s just beyond our rational minds. It’s about connection. It’s about what my friend John C. Robinson calls partnering with Creation.

Laura Grace Weldon, Shifting To A Kinship Worldview

my mother is tired
of picking blueberries

meal moths fly
out of the pantry

I step out of the pool
and my weight returns

Han VanderHart, Notes in August

Dear Oxfam Bookshop Customer,

I doubt I’ll ever know your name or face, but I do know that you visited the Oxfam Bookshop in Chichester at some point between Easter and August this year, pulled my book, The Knives of Villalejo, from the shelf in the Poetry section, and decided to buy it. I’m left to imagine you browsing, picking it up and flicking through the pages, perhaps pausing to skim-read a poem or two before taking the plunge, maybe wondered who Camilla might be (the person to whom I dedicated this copy of my book when it began its first stab at life).

I only discovered my collection had gone when I visited the shop last month, checked its old spot, and found it had vanished. It was no longer sitting in its slot under S for Stewart between other books that used to accompany it and are still left waiting to be chosen (see picture below!). 

There’s a thrill to giving a book a new owner, another reader, and I hope you’ve enjoyed your copy. The unanswerable question now, of course, is whether you’ll keep it, go back to it or even let it go again in due course to another charity shop. For now though, I’d simply like to thank you for granting it a second chance.

All the best in a shared love of poetry,

Matthew Stewart, A letter to an Oxfam Bookshop customer

We decide to do a “braided” reading or what I call a “living anthology” where one poet reads, the second follows, then the third and so on. It’s a great way to create energy in a reading and you can’t have a “set” playlist because you end up responding to what one poet read with one of your own poems. Which is what happened.

John read a poem and talked about his kid, which made me read a poem I wrote to my non-binary kid called “Love Poem Where Nature is Non-Binary & Uses They/Them Pronouns.” I was not planning on reading this poem tonight at all—it’s not in Dialogues with Rising Tides, so I had to pull it up on my phone from Dropbox.

During the reading, I saw one younger human really leaning in and after the reading, they came up to me and said, “You have a non-binary kid, I am a non-binary kid.” There are some humans that you run into that you see still move through the world with only love and connection, it’s as if all the things that could harm them have bounced off their love force-field. This person was that circle of love.

We talked for a bit, they shared their new name, and then they said, “I would like to hug you, may I?” As a mom, when a teenager/preteen asks for a hug, the answer is an absolute yes! (Though actually, I don’t think I’ve ever refused a hug to anyone.) I told them what I believed–that we have so much to learn from non-binary & trans humans who *know* who they are and who are brave enough to speak it and claim it.

This beautiful person’s mother was there, and she was crying. She said, “We weren’t supposed to be here, we dropped in to say hi to the owners then you read your poem and honored my child.” We all hugged and I realized immediately that was why I was there–that poem was for them.

This was exactly where I needed to be. Poetry readings have a magic to them that I’ve forgotten after 2 years of no in-person readings. And to think, when I was leaving the house today, I was thinking–this is a long drive for nothing.

Understand, we do not know who our poems will touch. Quality over quantity. For me, this was a moment that will always stay with me. Love your humans and support them. This child had a mother who supported their journey and their whole self. And I so appreciate those who honor their non-binary/trans children. I loved how supported this young non-binary human was. I wish all trans/non-binary folx had this love and support–they all should.

Kelli Russell Agodon, Your Poems Do Matter & Why It’s Important To Read Your Poems in Public: A Memoir

The poems from The Small Door of Your Death are all written in what I might call a minimalist style. Because they dealt with the death of my son, I couldn’t bear to imagine ornate poems that pointed more to the skill of the poet than the subject of his death. The title comes from a line from an untitled poem [it comes down to this] about the moment of his death:

you choose the vein
in the back of a hand
to carry

this last intimacy
a puncture mark

the small door

of your death

I imagine, here, that small mark in his vein, as a kind of door to his death. I have thought a lot about this image and wanted to render it in cloth. I’ve made some thirty or so pieces that contained the door as a symbol, but none of them felt right. They were somehow too busy, too elaborate, too forced. I have cut up or discarded these pieces, so I can’t show them to you here.

But a few months ago, in a class with Claire Benn on working with earth minerals, I painted a piece of canvas with black ochre. I meant for it to serve as a background to another piece, so the edges were darker than the center: [photo]

But with the help of others in the workshop, I saw that there was something happening in the cloth that I hadn’t intended. There was the suggestion of a door. I decided this piece might work on its own with only minimal stitching. Here it is with one line of hand-stitching. Today I quilt it with black thread that mimics some of the lines–like veins–that are the result of wrinkles in the fabric. Then I’ll iron it and see where we are.

Sheryl St. Germain, Minimalism and The Small Door of Your Death

I take out the seeds and pith, slice them into thin
half-moons; salt them generously like bodies

for a long keeping. I was taught to save
everything I can, though I might not know

to what earthly use I might put a bathtub
full of fermented cabbage, a jar of gelatinous

spores. I’ve kept the stumps of my daughters’ birth
cords, a few yellowed baby teeth; their impossibly

small first shoes and cotton camisoles, snippets
of hair, toenail clippings. What will happen to my own

body when I separate the withered from the green,
the wrinkled from the supple, firm, or measured?

Luisa A. Igloria, Preserve

The two pictures of very different birds—the gigantic, dinosaur-esque pileated woodpecker with its bright head, and the tiny, fairy-like immature hummingbird—represent something about literature and book promotion that’s very true—it’s not always the biggest and brightest writer, flower, or bird that wins the evolutionary race—sometimes it’s the smallest, most camouflaged and flexible. My best assets as a writer now at 49 are different than they were at 32. My poems are different, my experience of the world, and my outlook. So, I guess it makes sense that I’m a little nervous this time around, sensing that my book—and my person—have been changed, that I’m a little less certain, less confident but quicker to shift gears and adapt. In most fairy tales and myths, the protagonist is often changed against his or her will be their journey—sometimes literally into birds or cats or white deer, sometimes by their actions, like Gretel’s quick dispatch of the witch that threatened her. No one comes out unscathed from their magical journeys, even if they disappear into the haze of a happy ending.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Visiting with Seattle Poets, Welcome September, and Planning for March/April Next Year and Thinking about Post-Covid Book Launches and Book Marketing (In an Uncertain World)

The last book this August is Swan Song, by Armen Davoudian (Bull City Press, 2020), which seems a perfect way to end this Sealey Challenge, with a sad, gentle, glorious burst of song at the end. And I read the whole bundle from Bull City Press, and its Frost Place Chapbook Competition. A fine gathering!

The poet grew up in Iran, and it was lovely to find that the title poem is a ghazal. Subtle yet tight rhyme ripples through the book. Ah, but the sad irony of the closing lines of “Persian Poetry”: “Yet I study English poetry / because Persian would have been too obvious.”

Swans drift through, or paddleboats in the shape of swans, as in “The Yellow Swan” and “Swan Boats.” I found the coincidence of blue in “Swan Boats”: “Time out of mind, this was our turquoise blue

     mind out of time, watching white thoughts come, go
     across a mirror which, unchanged by them,
     itself was change and could reverse the down-
     ward wish of light, the headlong wash of stone
     skipped on its current.

Lovely language, lovely reversals there.

This morning I woke early, found a wishing star on the horizon in a dip of trees, and wished what I always wish. I hope it comes true.

Kathleen Kirk, Swan Song

The stars move
at terrible speed

and we move with them,
the old monk said.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (299)

[Pearl Pirie]: So Monty, what have you read lately that’s lit you up?

[Monty Reid]: There’s always something lighting me up. I really liked Jorie Graham’s breathless Runaway. I liked her early work, but after a while everything she wrote just became so routinely portentous its power faded.  But Runaway, urgent with climate change and so many failures of meaning, is inspired work.  

PP: (Let me interject: her opening poem about rainstorm is particularly apt at time of writing.)

MR: For the past few years I’ve been making a point of reading poets from non-anglo languages (mostly in translation) in part just to get away from our overwhelming self-regard.  One of my recent favorites is Antonio Gamoneda’s Book of the Cold.  A Spanish poet, who grew up in (and resisted) the Franco era, taught himself how to read by studying a book of his father’s poetry, worked in a bank for some 25 years and went on to win most of the literary prizes in the Spanish speaking world, his Book of the Cold has only recently been translated (by Katherine Hedeen and Victor Rodriguez Nunez).  A chilly hell, full of remarkable imagery, it charts the instability of post-Franco Spain, and more broadly. A snowball earth, as opposed to an overheated one.

I’ve also been dipping into Dionne Brand’s new Nomenclature, New and Collected Poems.  I wasn’t familiar with some of her early work, so I’m grateful to have it all in a single volume.  A particular pleasure to read the epigrams from 1983. And it’s intriguing to trace some of her language from the early books to the new incantatory long poem – ‘Nomenclature’.  

Pearl Pirie, Checking In: With Monty Reid

When I started blogging — about three blogs ago now — and well, these were different times, but I had a rule for myself that I wouldn’t quote from anything that I hadn’t read in its entirety. This is a pretty sound practice in general, still though, right? I don’t stick to it one hundred percent, but I do like to sit and sift through my beloved books and then actually type out the quotations or poems. It’s a way of inhabiting, for one thing. Learning. I think the practice has also made me a better writer, having done this for so many years. People who do this more religiously call the practice, “copywork.” It hearkens back to the days of the commonplace book. In a volume I love, Index Cards, by Moyra Davey, she resolves herself to: “Refrain from quoting authors I’ve only read secondhand.”

And so that was a bit of a tangent, and maybe just a way of saying that there may be typos ahead, haha, but below you will find 4 poems that sort of fell into my hands as I perused some poetry from my home library this morning. Rather perfect for the first day of September. I hope you enjoy them! They’re about looking back at the huge and sudden summer, that land of green, and taking stock. It’s fitting also, to end up on the couch, or in my case the chaise longue, which is where I’m headed after writing this post, to just revel and remember and daydream a little about all that has happened and all that I loved.

Shawna Lemay, 4 Poems About Summer’s End

there’s a sadness humming
in the skylight corners
a wind song looking
for a tune
it’s all melisma

my blues
for busted sleep
and burgled dreams

Dick Jones, nightwalking

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

Poems’ processes vary for me. Of the poems in The Clearing, some tumbled out fully formed. “Ways to Describe a Death Inside Your Own Living Body” took maybe ten minutes to write. Maybe less. It was inside me and needed nothing more than a valve to land on the page. “Memento Mori: Bell Jar with Suspended Child” was a different story. It was originally about ten lines long – really just the opening image of an old Victorian glass dome with a landscape made out of a dead child’s hair. A year or so later, I revised it into a sonnet; then I realized the poem was resting in what it knew vs. striving for what it could discover – so I decided to try pushing it toward a long poem, sustaining it over many sections and pages. From start to finish, with several months-long breaks in between, that poem took probably three years as it found itself. Each poem requires its own line of inquiry and its own fresh methods, at least for me; and that’s something I love about poems – the constant reinvention. “Flight Theory” took several months, too. The long-line contrapuntal form required tiny syntactical articulations. But again, each poem teaches its writer so much about how to build a form unique to that poem’s utterance.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Allison Adair

It is Labor Day weekend. Summer’s drought has not ended, but the slower pace of the university summer schedule has. Crickets are creaking, the swallows have departed, afternoon shadows grow longer, and the students are back on campus. I am busy.

Meanwhile, three sets of friends have had their elderly, beloved canine companions die. Dry leaves fall from the tulip poplars. Each week, my mother seems to lose a few more words from her lexicon. The jays scream every day at 4 pm.

I have been feeling a bit run dry myself. Like a small stream that needs a thunderstorm or, better still, a few good wet days to replenish it. As in: not writing. Yet I have found Charles Simic’s 1994 The Unemployed Fortune-Teller: Essays and Memoirs quite inspiring, if “inspiring” in this case means nourishment for the mind and heart without actively producing anything in terms of output. The book is part of the University of Michigan’s wonderful, decades-long series Poets on Poetry.

Simic writes, “A poem is an invitation to a voyage.”

Oh, let me never get so busy I cannot go on such voyages!

Ann E. Michael, Run dry

Words as soft as silence. They
might have laughed. I didn’t tell them it was also
how I imagined love. Because a cloud wasn’t a

wrapper that hung empty after all the rain had
fallen. The cloud was the entire rain. I put things
like that in my notebook between poems.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Part 11

What do you find most difficult about writing poetry?

The greatest challenge with poetry for me is writing it. I get distracted by my daily life. Cooking, cleaning, interacting with people, keeping up with the news, and all that we do to manage our lives. I need nuggets of inspiration and quiet time to spark poems. The pandemic has helped keep me inside and in touch with my deep self. I think my monastic existence enabled me to write my poetry book, Three Penny-Memories: A Poetic Memoir, which is forth-coming from IEF (Experiments in Fiction) this fall. 

Moreover, once I write a poem, I do a great deal of revising, wordsmithing, and refining of format. You might say that I communicate with the poem. I don’t consider myself prolific as I need time to remaster first drafts. I go for quality, not quantity. 

Another challenge I face is digging in deep for the truth. Sometimes I feel blocked by my topic as I can’t face the truth or fear offending someone. When I was writing Three-Penny Memories: A Poetic Memoir, I grappled with the taboo notion that I might not love the woman my mother was becoming due to Alzheimer’s. I was her caregiver. I realized she couldn’t live with me as I had a full-time job. My husband was at home teaching music lessons daily and it would have been unfair to him to make him responsible for her. And we had stairs she couldn’t manage. All through out my care and oversight, I felt incompetent. Maybe this is how she felt raising seven children. Maybe she had to love me regardless. I wanted to share my heartfelt journey with her into her end of days. This required examining our relationship honestly. I tend to be codependent, so my fears of displeasing people blocked me. Once I let go of those fears, I realized how powerful poetry based on authentic truth is. 

Thomas Whyte, Barbara Leonhard : part three

Needless to say, I’m over the moon to have a haiku in the current issue of The Heron’s Nest, but more than that, I’m in awe of this beautifully quiet yet expansive haiku by Frank Hooven:

dinnertime
one sandal
under the swing

I love the simplicity and tenderness of the scene, the way what’s left behind is enough for us to construct a whole backstory. No wonder it’s the editor’s choice – if you follow the above link you can read her comment in full, and it says much more than I could so I’ll leave it at that, except to say that the issue is packed full of superb poems and I feel very humble to have my haiku alongside them.

Julie Mellor, The Heron’s Nest

The past month was full! We crammed in as much last-minute summer break fun as we could (and I’m still a bit sore from two nights of all-you-can-play laser tag) while also trying to prepare for the new semester. Last week was full of meetings, and this week we all started school again!

The end of July and the month of August still found me immersed in poetry though. Highlights include a week in Asheville at the Glen Workshop, where I took the lyric essay workshop with Molly McCully Brown and had so much fun with writer friends. It was especially fun to be there when Agape Editions announced that they’ll be publishing my second full-length poetry collection, Hereverent, in Spring 2023!

Katie Manning, Glen Workshop, La Playa Books, SDUT Festival of Books

Of course, I tried to figure out the why of my temptation to call her done.  I think she is, for all intensive purposes. It is September almost, a time which I imagined I’d be starting new. (and actually I have in bits and pieces I am excited to  move to if this is it.)  But not at the expense of Persephone and the sirens I have spent three months with now, sometimes moving fast, sometimes not moving fast at all. If I call it done, it’s still going to require a bit of reordering, line edits, and just proofing my shitty typing to be anything like ready to show anyone.  I have been sending some of the early, already edited pieces out for publication and snagged an acceptance for September, so they will likely start filtering into the world. 

Of course, nothing says I can’t set it aside and maybe return, but I never really do.  I have a strange relationship with work in which I will write like mad and then shut it away for months and months to come back to it fresh, so by the time I circle back around, it will feel done whether it was or not.  I will have already moved on to some new nonsense, no doubt….

Kristy Bowen, endings and other uncertainties

This morning, I looked at the date on my computer:  September 1.  We all have different seasonal markers, and one of mine is September 1 as the date when many literary journals open for submissions after a summer hiatus.

In the past, long ago in the past, before online submissions, I would have had a stack of submissions ready to be mailed on September 1.  I had a plan and a purpose, and I needed publications.  I had a vision of a better teaching job or maybe a life of a freelance writer who got grants and speaking engagements and great tax deductions.

My submitting life is complicated now.  I am astonished at how expensive submitting fees have gotten to be.  I have problems with a $3 fee, and now many of them are $4 or higher.  Several stamps, paper, and printer ink cost far less in terms of money.  I was one of those people who used to send out poems/stories again and again, on the same paper, so my submission costs were even cheaper.

That said, I do prefer online submissions.  I just don’t want to pay so much money for such a slim chance of my creative work being accepted.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, September Submission Strategies

My new poetry book is out! 

Very grateful to the essential rob mclennan for this first review of my new book. If a book is published in a forest and it isn’t reviewed, is it even there? rob makes sure so many books are there, are heard.

He quotes the poem Brainsnail from a suite of Lucretius “translations”in its entirety. These translations are more transcreations, reimagings rehabitating some aspect of the original. Haroldo de Campos spoke about giving the poem a blood transfusion. There’s an interesting article on Cannibal Translation here.

I only knew the term transcreation from its use by contemporary poets, but here’s a longer history.

My technique/process often involves using Google translate (moving the poem through many different languages), sometimes N+7 (I use the automated Spoonbill N+7 which gives 14 versions, each one more distant from the original.) I almost always then revise the poem freely. The idea for me is that these initial transformational processes generate material for me to consider, material outside the greater limitations of my immediate imagination, but that then enable me to listen carefully and open up another part of my imagination, listening for interesting or engaging moments, resonances, possibilities in the generated text. Something of the source material inheres (certainly formal aspects, but other things too, and I am aware of my source and its context–this has an influence on my revision and writing, too.) There’s a frisson between the original and my version, inviting the reader to consider the connections or relation to the source. Also imagine the process and what it might mean. How did we get here from there? In what way does these new version retain aspects of the old, in what way is it diametrically opposed or divurgent?

I like the portmanteau “Brainsnail.” In what way is a brain like a snail? It can be slow. It leaves a trail. Something in the coils of both. Maybe brain is to snail as a translated poem is to its original. Or is it the snail of the translator moving through the brain of the original? 

Gary Barwin, The Most Charming Creatures — New Book! — and a note on the Brainsnail of Translation.

I appeared in Australia last Friday. Having reduced my university teaching hours so that I have more time for creativity, I said ‘Yes’ when invited to read my poetry at 9am here, 6pm there, on screens in and around Castlemaine, near to Melbourne. I appeared in Australia last Friday at Ross Donlon’s online event, marking my first poetry touchdown Down Under. 

My preparation for this reading was admirably early. I refer you to my geography project, compiled in LIV26 (when I was twelve and there was no national curriculum). Given a free hand by Miss Smith, I made the most of having cousins in Western Australia. These cousins, never having met me (not then, not now) posted samples of Australia over to London (postcards, tourist brochures, leaves, pressed flowers, merino sheep’s wool). I included them in my Australia project. […]

I’d also liaised with my friend Darren Mason in the matter of making sure I was ready for this important debut. During the first 2020 lockdown, I wrote a poem about my bicycle and the freedom she gave me in those first strange days, which Darren went on to animate beautifully. The advantage of the reading being online was that I was able to share it with my audience 10,577 miles away. See the film here: Shrewsbury, Friday Morning 27th March 2020 

Liz Lefroy, I Appear In Australia

Our tomatoes are going bananas. We can’t keep up with them. I don’t know the things I need to know to preserve them, and we can’t eat all of them before they rot. (If you know me in real life, let me know if you’d like some.)

They are SO good. So much more flavor than grocery-store tomatoes, even the ones at the produce stand that sells local goods. Last night we had a dinner of tomatoes with basil and balsamic vinegar, accompanied by ciabatta and fresh mozzarella.

This week was the first in our almost new-normal. Cane had his back-to-school inservice days, and for the first time in 32 years, it was not back-to-school inservice week for me. I am doing a small curriculum development job for his school (the one I taught in last year), so I did go to some meetings, but it was nothing compared to how this week has felt for me in the last 3 decades.

It felt amazing. Freeing. Calm. Busy in a good way.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Overabundance

I like to buy second hand books, sometimes to feel the years that are worn into the pages – foxing, old coffee or blood stains, a fold, maybe even a tear – and sometimes to wonder about the inscriptions. The poet John Robinson once wrote about spending 10p on a copy of Samuel Butler’s The Way Of All Flesh from the cheap boxes on trestle tables outside a shop, taking it on holiday to Greece, and opening it to find the inscription ‘John Major, London 1959’. It may or may not have been the John Major but the poem was lit by the possibility contained in that joyous moment.

I thought of this as, in a Stratford-upon-Avon coffee shop, I looked at a poetry book I’d bought a while back in a sprawling second-hand shop in Los Angeles, not far from Skid Row or Desolation Row or whatever this week social commentators called the hard streets where people slept and held together their lives in bags or shopping trolleys. The book was called Down At The Santa Fe Depot, sub-titled 20 Fresno Poets. It was published in Fresno, California, in 1970.

Before I began reading, I looked at the biographical sketches. I do enjoy these. One poet revealed he had been stuck in Fresno for 24 years. I understood that. I’d been to Fresno for a week and it felt like six months. Another one declared he had been raised in western Pennsylvania and had gone to various schools. […]

I settled down with another large coffee and began reading the work of poets who were writing in 1970 when they were young and had something to say. I read it from first page to last.

And so – of course, I did – I googled one of them, Roberta Spear, whose poems seemed honest and kind, and discovered she had died of leukaemia in Fresno in 2003 – the year, incidentally, that I was there, and who was considered important enough to have an obituary in the Washington Post. She also had a website that described her as mother, wife, poet, dancer, friend.

I was sorry she had died. I would have liked to have told her that I enjoyed her poems.

Bob Mee, A BOOK HAS A HISTORY… Alternatively, Googling in a Coffee House in Stratford-upon-Avon

Some days, those strange headlines rush and tumble into our lives, shatter our personal alphabet, then leave us to pick up the pieces of broken lives and languages.

I remember days when we used to read poetry to one another on the front porch of my aorta. How every line would beat a distinct pulse of love.

I can still hear it now.

It’s a comforting feeling,

like how I know my daughter‘s old baby cradle won’t wake up one day to realize it’s a nest of grenades.

Rich Ferguson, Read My Lips

Summer can be poetry without the words.  A sweet peach cuts through time and puts you right in the everlasting camp of the gods.  A tomato is a love apple, pomme d’amour.  The spume of the sea drenches with spent force and effervescence.  This is real, just as drought is real and dog days are real that swelter through any and all summer months.   

 I always want to keep my finger on the pulse of this life force in reality, this apprehension of elemental life.  Along comes so-called “real life” with its go-go energy, rage of politics and urgency of injustice.  Poetic receptivity feels quavery in the shadow of this, so I reframe the question: What should poetic attention be attentive to?

I ask a poet what to do. “so little joy — sister of the gods— in our poems Ryszard,” Zbigniew Herbert writes in “To Ryszard Krynicki — A Letter.”  “too few glimmering twilights mirrors wreaths ecstasies.”  Both poets lived through World War II and Communist takeover of Poland. 

A line earlier in the poem says: “we came too easily to believe beauty does not save.”  The poet later asks: “what forces of the spirit do we need/ blindly beating despair against despair/to ignite a spark a word of atonement/that the dancing circle might last on the soft grass…”

He calls it a riddle and so do I.  Though beauty is wide and inclusive.  Reality is inclusive.  Imagination is not the fairy tale version, but an existential feature of survival. 

Jill Pearlman, Saving Joy

when did our poems cease writing the sea

Grant Hackett [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, 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, bloggers sounded more hopeful notes as another school year got underway in many places and a hint of autumn crept into the air.


I remember some key things from psychotherapy. It was a revelation to me when my therapist said: 

It’s okay to change your mind

He didn’t, in that moment, mean about what I was having for dinner, but that’s included in the permission to understand that our words are not always our bond, but our process – a way of getting to grips with thought, emotion, woundedness, intent, desire, the bewilderment of being unsure of what we want because of, well, because of (for one thing) our unique interaction with the world not being taken seriously enough as children. Being squashed down. 

The poems: they don’t come out fully formed, you know. It’s usually a bit messy. 

So here I am, back in my blog which, I have learned since I announced its demise in June, is a friend I don’t want to live without. Not right now, anyway, when I’m in grief and times are so troubled. 

Liz Lefroy, I Step Through The Gate

And a father sells his nine-year-old daughter in marriage to a sixty-year-old man and tells his screaming wife Get back inside, you donkey!

Ah, but this is not poetry, you say.

And a child’s arm is blown off when a guided missile smashes into an apartment block.

Ah, but this is not poetry, you say.

The humiliated stand silently in small groups, waiting for re-education to begin.
Repeat after me: I am guilty on all counts.

Ah, but this is not poetry, you say.

Any minute now, nothing will happen.

It’s always about the unsaid.

Bob Mee, AH, BUT THIS IS NOT POETRY, YOU SAY

watching the storm
from the darkness
of the driver’s seat

Jason Crane, haiku: 21 August 2022

I feel an amorphous weight inside. I think it is because of the new series of poems I am writing. Or attempting to write. Honesty does not come easy. Words that should want to break free of restraint and guilt, sit and stare at you with soft, reproachful eyes. I have backspaced more than I have written. I have written more than I thought I could. There is still a mountain to climb. One step up, two steps down. One poem in. Two poems out. The mornings are weary of my wounds. The night refuses to listen.

I read instead of writing. Jane Austen’s ‘Persuasion’. I read a little. I backspace some more. I meet friends, people who may be friends. I talk a little. I backspace even more.

Austen’s Anne says in the book, “that she thought it was the misfortune of poetry, to be seldom safely enjoyed by those who enjoyed it completely; and that the strong feelings which alone could estimate it truly, were the very feelings which ought to taste it but sparingly.”

I wonder if poetry should be enjoyed safely. I wonder if it should sear and chill and raise and drown. Both poet and reader. Austen in her dulcet voice sounds a note of caution. For both poet and reader. So, I ask myself as Rilke commands. Must I write?

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Survival Guide for Poets

In a previous life, I was a waitress…before that, a farm girl. I spent a lot of my farm-girl childhood pretending to be a horse named Stormy. I think somewhere in time I was a tree.

Bethany Reid, In Your Previous Life

I’m rereading [Rebecca] Solnit’s A Field Guide to Getting Lost, which is completely dog-eared from my first time through, so many pages I tagged that had ideas I needed to revisit and think about or phrases I loved or things I needed to go back and write about. Now too I have to pause after every page or two because so much thought is incited in me by her own. This is reading at its finest! “Reading with a purpose,” as it were, as I was in need of food for thought, and this is a feast indeed.

And yet the what the book also is teaching me is that as a writer and as a traveler, I need to learn how to be lost. If I can unclutch the map, not worry so much about where I’m going but focus more on where I am, I could discover more. And don’t we travel, and don’t we write, to discover?

I can feel sometimes my rising anxiety to get where I’m going — I’m speaking here both about travel and about writing, of course. Feel the urge toward the relief of “oh, there it is.” But what is my hurry, and what is the problem with lingering withOUT purpose, with turning and ambling, poking down an alley just to double-back. What is the problem with being a stranger here myself?

What Solnit does so well is just that, diverge, pause, seem to take an odd turn, but somehow she finds her way back, and I, the reader, am perfectly content with the zig and the zag. To wander and to wonder. The word wander is from words related to wend and weave. The origin of wonder is unknown.

Marilyn McCabe, Why am I soft in the middle; or, On Writing and the Unknown

The most important question behind the question is: is reality something we can have a relationship with? Is it something that we can love? Is it something that can love us? And my answer to that, again emphatically — passionately — is yes. It’s not only possible, it’s necessary. We already do love it: it already loves us. To understand and unfold that is a work much larger than a lifetime, larger than all the lifetimes. But we did not step into reality from somewhere outside it. We are not strangers here, looking to strike up an acquaintance. To see the universe as alien and unintelligible — that is a really extravagant philosophical position, a totally untenable one. That we, each of us, popped into existence ex nihilo, and must grope about looking for ways to make contact with an alien universe — that is the default philosophical position of the modern world, and it makes even less sense than God as a patriarch of ancient Palestinian herdsmen. We are not foreigners here. We love, and are loved, from the very beginning to the very end. For better and for worse.

Such a sweeping statement prompts the question, “am I really saying anything? What is this love worth, if everyone has it all the time?” This love isn’t (necessarily) passion, or fondness, or esteem: it’s only a philosophical assertion of connectedness. It’s not what one hankers for on a lonely Saturday night by a silent phone.

In a way, no, it’s not saying anything. But it flips figure and ground. It changes the question of loneliness from, “how do I connect in this alien, unintelligible universe?” to “what must I do to shake off this delusion of separation?” My loneliness is not something I have found: it is something that I make, moment by moment. The task is to not to start something, or build something; it’s to stop something, dismantle something.

Dale Favier, Dismantling

Every so often, I still taste soap from all those years ago when my mom would wash my mouth out for talking dirty.

The taste reminds me there’s a fine line between what is acceptable and unacceptable, and how that fine line can sometimes come in the form of Irish Spring or Dove.

In her own way, my mom did me a favor. At least I didn’t grow up sounding like a drunken sailor with Tourette’s.

To honor my mom, I keep a sweet-talking spot beneath my tongue.

Rich Ferguson, Soap or No Soap

My father died today: the end of a very long, mostly happy, vigorous life. We were with him. I’m grateful for so much, relieved that his suffering was short, and yet still feel like a tree has fallen in the forest: it’s hard to imagine life without him being in it too. But of course, as long as I am alive, he will live in me.

Beth Adams, My Father. December 15, 1924 – August 22, 2022

I finally saw the hedgehog that has taken up residence under the holly bush. Leonard is curious, but fortunately, he hides behind my legs while he sniffs at the air from a safe distance. The creature’s not a hare, he knows that much. It makes me happy to know there’s a hedgehog here again. I can’t even begin to explain why. We will only catch glimpses of him in the half-dark for a few more months before he sleeps for the winter. But somehow knowing he is there… like a weird kind of vague promise of something good.

Unexamined hope.

I keep reminding myself that life is good right now. I am even learning not to brace myself for bad news when a message notification pops up on my phone. T. sends snaps of their new puppy swimming in a pond way up North. I can hear the splashing, and him and his wife laughing softly.

Ren Powell, Unexamined Hope

As a traveler, I understand;
you, a traveler, too, 
must travel, we must
say good-bye,
but a drop 
of radiance,
a grape
of imaginary sun,
has touched the blind blood 
of everyday…

—  Pablo Neruda, excerpt from “Ode to the Third Day”

Neruda, were you writing about a day of the week?  Or were you lamenting the end of summer, as I hear through the howl of my re-entry struggles?  You who understood all things, of course felt the keen sorrow of leaving behind life’s elements — gracious friends, groundedness, sea, sardines, openness.  To your odes, we sing along with sweet regret, knowing how lucky we are to touch those values.  Loss is the nature of the game!

Back at home, I am resolved to bring expansive “summer” — i.e. human values —  into what seems like our never-ending strife, conflict, struggle.  I’m modeling my plans after more balanced friends to 1) create the better world of our little garden rather than rail against the one that seems to loom, and 2) to bring lightness to the truth that we’re all flawed, to laugh rather than judge.  

Seems rather North American.  I prefer Neruda’s continuing language: “we will cherish/ this insurgent day,/ blazing,/ unforgettable,/ a bright flame/in the midst of dust and time.”

Jill Pearlman, A Drop of Radiance has Touched the Everyday

As I was getting ready to leave New York City last week, it occurred to me that much of the art I saw on my trip, from the Statue of Liberty to the majority of the art at the MOMA, was a response to oppression. I started thinking about what it means to live in an age when so much of the work of artists is a form of resistance. Of course, artists and poets have always functioned as truth-tellers, often to their peril, but the intensity and scale of the art I saw emphasized this fact to me in new and thought-provoking ways.

For example, on the Statue of Liberty tour, I learned that the statue was more than just “a gift from France to the people of the United States,” as I’d been told as a child. Its main purpose was to commemorate the end of slavery. Hidden at the statue’s base are broken chains, meant to symbolize the freeing of America’s enslaved people; the statue’s designer, Frederic Bartholdi, “originally designed Lady Liberty holding broken chains, but later deemed the explicit reference to slavery too controversial. Instead, a broken chain and shackles lie at the statue’s feet, delivering the abolitionist message more subtlety.” 

It’s beyond ironic that a statue celebrating the end of slavery had to be toned down. Our tour guide told us that Bartholdi took this action, at least in part, to appease wealthy donors whose money was crucial in paying for the statue.

The statue is also the site of one of the world’s most conspicuous displays of ekphrasis: Emma Lazarus’s poem, “The New Colossus,” printed at the statue’s base. Many phrases hit me as I read the poem, : “brazen giant,” “imprisoned lightning,” “world-wide welcome,” and of course, the famous lines about the tired, poor, the wretched refuse, homeless and “tempest-tost.” The poem asks the world for these “huddled masses,” indeed demands them. Not the wealthy, the educated, the strong and beautiful, but their polar opposites.

“The New Colossus” transformed the statue from its original purpose to “the role of unofficial greeter of incoming immigrants,” as New York journalist John T. Cunningham put it. On that windy dot of an island in the New York Harbor, I was profoundly moved, imagining boatload after boatload of immigrants being greeted by this gigantic Mother of Exiles, as Lazarus calls her, before they landed at Ellis Island. 

Erica Goss, Pictures & Words: My Visit to New York City

Paralyzed by her past, she can do nothing.
She sits on a rock and stares at the junction
of three rivers, this spot that Thomas Jefferson
declared the most beautiful in the New World.

The parents return to a field of calm.
Their boys have recruited other disaffected
children. They’ve created a game with inscrutable
rules. The parents discover that the boys have devoured
the best parts of the picnic. As the sun skips
west, they munch carrot sticks and apples as they watch
the children play, making up rules as they go along.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Harper’s Ferry and the Looming History

Summer’s heat is lingering here in Finland, but autumn is coming up fast. Cooler mornings, the birch turning gold overnight, geese starting to move on in long, noisy threads. My favourite season, but it’s always tinged here with the knowledge that winter won’t be far behind and will last too long. I should probably get out and do something in the nice weather while it lasts, but there are never enough hours in the weekend. […]

This week, I’ve also dealt with the recording the Helsinki Writers Group is doing for Helsinki Open Waves, liaising with the technician and the 3 other poets. I can’t wait to hear the final product, it sounded so cool even without embellishments, but the technician was going to try and add a soundscape behind our poems. 

We had a rough theme, Below the Surface, but we each went our own way with it. When we brought them together there were overlaps and echoes of each other’s work that we hadn’t planned or expected. It can be a repeated phrase or image or sound though all the poems’ subjects are very different. We shared our work briefly in the writing and editing stage and I find those chats often bring a poem to fruition. What you can’t quite reach alone is nurtured through sharing it with others. The group has a few poets now, after a long time of me being the only one and these collaborations are so much fun. 

Gerry Stewart, The Switch from Summer to Autumn

My son left this week for his senior year at college, which removed a handy barrier between me and working all the time. My writer self, my teaching self, and my role as Department Head are competing hardest for my hours. Teaching and chairing are more deadline-driven so my writer self is hanging on by her fingernails. She has grit, though.

What I’ve been writing during the past few weeks–it actually does have a deadline, Tuesday–is a column for the web platform of a scholarly journal. This longish piece concerns creative scholarship and has made vivid to me how fiercely creative writing and scholarly training are fighting in the colosseum of my brain. Seriously, I’ve published a book of creative criticism and other essays besides. You’d think I’d know how to argue for it by now, but I’m finding this piece very hard for reasons that may be emotional as well as logistical. I think the essay is clicking now, but it’s one of those subjects I had to write too much about before I could cut the thing back to a better version of itself. The throughline kept shifting and I kept finding other sources I wanted to consult. Both creative writers and scholars discover what they think by writing about it–despite animosity between the fields, they have more in common than not–but scholarship places a much higher value on reading all major statements on the subject so far. I think that’s what serious, curious writers should do, learning everything they can if they’re going to make some kind of beyond-the-personal pronouncement, but it’s also true that this assignment is an online column, not a full-fledged article. Sometimes you just have to stop.

Lesley Wheeler, Splitting / creative scholarship

Poet Sonia Greenfield shared on her Facebook page an essay written by Haley Mlotek, “Against August” (The Paris Review) and I think it’s pretty damn wonderful. Yes, August is well-planted within summer months, but it doesn’t carry the late-spring anticipation of May, the giddy affection of June, or the full-blown buzz and hum of July. In fact, my reply to Sonia’s thread consisted of this: August is to muck around in the mire of all least favorite things: summer’s end, teacher in-service, and rain, rain, and rain, at least here. I am especially keen on her borrow of a few lines by poet Marge Piercy to make her point about August. In her poem “Blue Tuesday in August,” Piercy writes,

The world smelled like a mattress you find
on the street and leave there,
or like a humid house reciting yesterday’s
dinner menu and the day before’s.

Perfect!

Kersten Christianson, Not Much Love for August

A thrill to be read so enthusiastically and perceptively by Shirley Geok-Lin Lim, one of the three judges of the Singapore Literature Prize English fiction category. She made her thoughts public on her FB page after the award ceremony was over. She has really good things to say too about my fellow nominees, Cyril Wong and Mallika Naguran.

“The Singapore Book Council celebration of the 2022 Prize winners for various genres in different languages was yesterday (Thursday), so I no longer feel bound to discreet silence as one of the three judges for the English Fiction Award. I wrote up my enthusiasm for three of the 33 novels and short story collections mailed to me, and include them here, to share with their readers!

“Jee Leong Koh’s Snow at 5 P.M.: Translations of an Insignificant Japanese Poet

Jee Leong Koh’s Snow at 5 P.M. may be Singapore first global novel. It is multi-genre, with 107 haiku introducing many of the prose passages. Set chiefly in contemporary Manhattan, with Central Park as the jewel in the setting, the fiction flashes off and on, like red warning signals, to a futuristic climate-changed Singapore Island and planet. The novel is multi-civilizational, the protagonist-narrator being a diasporic Singaporean living in New York City, in quest of his speculative protagonist, a Japanese poet immigrant to the same American territory. The novel is a mash-up of sub-genres. It is a mystery story, puzzling a missing poet known only through the half-burnt sheaves of haiku left in the apartment the narrator has moved into. The fiction is thickened, like Herman Melville’s Moby Dick’s whaling information, with empirical botanical knowledge that offers a different discursive dimension to the haiku images of flora and fauna. Asian American scholarship and displays of literary erudition are scored with erotic gay intimacies. Multitudinous digressive language plays, sub-characters’ lineages and histories, suggest unities in the tradition of Joycean epic works. Snow at 5 p.m.’s hybrid literary traditions, genres and sub-genres, generating complex threads, each digressing and spinning other threads, achieve a tour de force, a globalized Singapore imaginary that dazzles.”

Jee Leong Koh, SNOW AT 5 PM Won the Singapore Literature Prize

Susan Glickman is an artist of words and brush. She paints, edits, teaches and writes many genres: fiction, essays of literary history, non-fiction, children’s books and poetry. She has won a whack of awards for her writing. (I can’t believe her fabulous collection from Vehicule The Smooth Yarrow is already a decade ago. Time to reread.)

PP: Susan, what have you read lately that lit you up? 

SG: In addition to my typical diet of poetry (recently a lot of Jane Hirshfield as well as Dionne Brand, Dorianne Lux, and John Steffler), and historical fiction such as Lauren Groff’s magnificent novel Matrix, I have been reading a fair bit of sci-fi and sci-fact. The former includes a deep dive into Ursula Le Guin as well as more contemporary stuff like Emily St. John Mandel’s Sea of Tranquility, the fabulous time-travel novels of Connie Willis, and Anthony Doerr’s Cloud Cuckoo Land, the latter inspiring books such as Sy Montgomery’s The Soul of an Octopus, Charles Foster’s Being a Beast, and Carl Safina’s Becoming Wild.

PP: Well, my reading list just got a longer. Those last two in particular. I’ve heard very good things about Sea of Tranquility and The Soul of an Octopus was great. Can you add a why or how for the shoutout?

SG: I’m overcome with grief at how humanity has abused this planet. I am seeking a better understanding of other creatures as well as paradigms of alternate ways to live.

Pearl Pirie, Checking In: With Susan Glickman

I’m tired, physically and mentally–a lot on my mind these days–and I feared I was tired of poetry, but, no. Early this morning, I picked up Break the Glass, by Jean Valentine (Copper Canyon Press, 2010), and could not put it down. The poems felt both fragmentary and liquidy, like pieces floating or somehow flowing…with little punctuation to stop the flow. That body of water [on the cover] with bodies in it, which looks like people standing, is an installation in Germany by Antony Gormley, called Another Place (1997, cast iron/100 elements), photographed by Helmut Kunde. The poems dropped me in another time and place, some celebrating Lucy, that early hominid, and who knew I’d find the coincidence of the word Australopithecus in three books this August, two books of poetry and one about teeth.

Kathleen Kirk, Break the Glass

The narrative [CJ] Evans writes across the seventy stanzas, each five lines in length, of “TRYING TO HEAR A HYMN TO LIFE” loop and swirl around a variety of images of wetlands and Lake Merritt, resting in the centre of Oakland, California, the Simon and Garfunkle song “America,” the memory of Sandy Hook, his daughter’s imaginary sabertooth, “Toothy,” and other family moments, connections, memories, dislocations and trauma, all wrapped up and around not only a belief in life itself, but the very act of that particular brand of faith. “I can’t see the lake from here,” he writes, early on in the poem, “but I believe / it still is. Just as I believe in the shellmounds / I’ll never see, the sabertooth, that the flat moon / is actually a sphere. I believe as I do / in this tabletop you can’t touch: wood pulp crushed // in a hydraulic press with glue.” Or later on in the same poem, offering: “I believe in this as much as god / or biology, which is to say, a bit less // than to make a bet with it against a bullet, / but enough. I call it belief, but it’s purposefully, / wondrously unexamined.” There is such a stunning beauty to this collection, one that shows itself as open-hearted while playing rather close to what might suggest a deeply-wounded chest. This is what one might call a darkly optimistic book; one filled with as much beauty as one can muster, and everything one can see after having been in the dark.

rob mclennan, CJ Evans, LIVES

The fig’s branches lean closer to the ground
exhausted from all their summer bearing

My tongue fingers the space where
a cracked tooth used to be

I thought the potted Buddha’s hand citrus
given by a friend had perished in winter

But here it is pushing out its signature
green laddered with fresh new thorns

Luisa A. Igloria, On the Cusp

On Saturday, fellow poets Ian Parks, Simon Beech, Tracy Day Dawson and I walked the route of Ted Hughes’s paper round up from Mexborough to Old Denaby, as described here. Ian, born and brought up in Mexborough, led us on the route which took in the former newsagent’s where Hughes and his family lived from 1938.

At the right-hand-side of the shop is Hughes’s bedroom window overlooking what was a slaughter-yard back then. It inspired his gruesome poem ‘View of a Pig’, published in his second collection, Lupercal (1960). Like most, if not all, English children of my generation, I studied the poems of Hughes more than anyone else’s, except perhaps Owen and Sassoon, and it was the earthier, meatier poems like this one, and ‘Pike’, also from Lupercal, which we read the most. The poem’s last two lines – with the perfectly-judged anaphora, alliteration and simile – ring across the years from an England long-gone:

I stared at it a long time. They were going to scald it,
Scald it and scour it like a doorstep.
 

The route took in the possible setting of ‘Pike’:

A pond I fished, fifty yards across,
Whose lilies and muscular tench
Had outlasted every visible stone
Of the monastery that planted them—

Stilled legendary depths:
It was as deep as England. It held
Pike too immense to stir, so immense and old


The route took in Manor Farm, where Hughes went trapping and shooting with his brother. It’s the setting of his poem, ‘Sunstroke’, again in Lupercal:

Reek of paraffin oil and creosote
Swabbing my lungs doctored me back

Laid on a sack in the great-beamed engine-shed.
I drank at stone, at iron of plough and harrow
[. . .]

I should add that Ian has a wonderful poem published today over at Black Nore Review, here, and I’m looking forward to hearing Ian read at Mexborough Library this Wednesday.

Matthew Paul, On Ted Hughes

This morning, as I was lying in bed, half awake and trying to decide if I should just start the day or sleep another couple of hours,  I found myself thinking about words and media, about literature and books and all the ways we take in information now.  Also the nature of that information, particularly when it seems all is possible and there is an outlet for everyone. How it can be misused and handled badly.  How the good has a sturdy platform, but also the bad. 

When I was a teenager and young adult, the world touted the danger of televisions..of the downfall of reading and literate culture. It seemed inevitable.  Even among people my age, not all were readers, which was strange to me, having had books in my hand since before I even understood what was in them.  The same child who scribbled in notebooks and said I was writing when I barely knew the alphabet. The Mother Goose volume I carried around until it fell apart despite not being able to do much beyond read the pictures to discern the story unless I convinced my mother to read it to me.

My parents, especially my dad, who were only high school graduates, were still readers.  My mom liked stories and painting, but her reading was mostly magazines. Still, words were something always available in some form. Whether it was mags and novels passed off from my aunt (one of the most prolific readers in the family) or our weekly trips to the library, books were just always present.  My dad read the newspaper daily, and books about everything–not just novels. No one read poetry of course,  or maybe even knew people were writing it, but words in general were not foreign. I only learned about poems in junior high and high school, though it depends on what you consider poems. We all fought over Shel Silverstein books in the 5th grade, so maybe I guess I just didn’t think of them as poems but rhymes. Poets were like unicorns and outside of some teens who wrote poems and professor, I didn’t see a real poet until my second year of undergrad (in some weird confluence of stars,  I later got to publish her.)

Kristy Bowen, words and the world

“Violet Existence” explores issues of class, sexism and imposter syndrome, a sense of being the outsider and not being fully seen. Katy Wareham Morris captures the maternal voice: protective of her children but wary of a society that holds mothers up to an impossible ideal. The poems open to a vulnerability as they spill across the page, presenting contemporary situations with a promise not to raid the myth kitty or assume readers have a knowledge of Greek myths.

Emma Lee, “Violet Existence” Katy Wareham Morris (Broken Sleep) – book review

The typewriter is a recurring theme here and it seems that I’m overdue on sharing some poems about them, about the act of typing, and the music of typing. I love how Clarice Lispector and Annie Dillard and May Sarton wrote about typewriters and typing in their prose and I’ve shared some of their words in a post titled My Most Intimate Friend.

The first poem is by Charles Simic who I’m beautifully indebted to because he allowed me to use his poem “In the Library” in my novel, Everything Affects Everyone. His poem strikes upon the both-ness of delight and dark despair that it’s possible to feel these days.

Next is Australian poet, David Malouf’s poem about grasshoppers and the music they make — you can just hear the typewriter sounds as you read. The poem by Matthew Francis immediately caught my eye because he talks about a blue Smith Corona, which is what you see in my photograph. Adam Zagajewski’s poem is a self-portrait that begins with an image of his writing implements and goes on from there. But honestly, I’ll always share an AZ poem even if it only loosely fits the theme. The final poem is quite shamelessly, my own. It’s also the shortest piece I’ve ever written. I’ve shared it around a fair bit since my book came out and is probably one of those things that I like a lot more than anyone else, but that’s okay! It’s about typing rather than typewriters, but I think still works in this grouping. Which I hope you enjoy!

Shawna Lemay, 5 Poems about Typewriters

What do you feel poetry can accomplish that other forms can’t?

I should say first that I appreciate the use of the term form over the term genre. I find genre largely pointless—recently a brilliant friend of mine told me, If you want to write poems, write poems. If you want to sell poems, call them stories. I’m getting away from form.

Poetry as a form is fundamentally limber. It is a form that attempts to undermine categories of form. Poetry collects, but it does not horde. It is a form of accumulation which constantly is compelled to let go of itself. 

I have a deep respect for other forms, other disciplines—they are hard. I don’t wish to say that there is anything that they cannot do. Questions of formal capacity do not seem to me like questions related to Can it? but rather questions related to Is it willing? Poetry is willing. Poetry is always willing. 

Thomas Whyte, Evan Williams : part five

Today, Elee sent me a line she thought might be good in a poem.
“I no longer consider it necessary to find alternatives to harmony.”

Earlier, my friend Donato suggested I try writing a triolet.
So it was good that Elee sent the line—it’s true: it’d be good in a poem.

The line is a quote from the composer John Cage.
And it’s hard not think how it might apply to everything.

For instance, it’d be harmonious to end with Elee’s good-in-a-poem line:
“I no longer consider it necessary to find alternatives to harmony.”

Gary Barwin, Alternatives to Harmony: TRIOLET with CAGE refrain

As someone who has been entranced not only by the otherworldly song of the seals, but also by the author’s skilful dexterity as a poet, Where the Seals Sing fascinated me from the outset. I delighted in the Pembrokeshire seal-watching cameos and the small but memorable details of the natural world, such as the fragrance of the Elderflowers encountered along the coast. The sections on music and mythology were intriguing. Sadly, but not surprisingly, the reports of cruelty, pollution and plastic were often devastating. I was totally captivated by Susan’s engaging affection for, and whole-hearted dedication to, her Grey Seal subjects. I would love to think that some of her zeal and practical actions might inspire us all to play our part in these uncertain ecological times.

Caroline Gill, ‘Where the Seals Sing’ by Susan Richardson

I recalled a visit in 1984 to Goodrich Castle in Ross on Wye, Herefordshire, England, where we did just that–dropped a small stone into the well–and waited what seemed a long time for the sound to reach us. From what I understand, tourists can’t do that anymore; the National Historic Trust has upgraded the ruins to make them safer to visit. The tourist board doesn’t want anyone falling down wells.

But I digress. I meant the metaphor to apply to how writers listen eagerly for response to their work once it is published. Will anyone review it? Will anyone read the review? Will anyone post about it on social media? Will anyone contact the writer to say those words we want to hear: “I love your book!” –?

Sometimes, yes. And for those who have done so already, a million thanks.

Ann E. Michael, Pebble in the well

I was talking to my family about the careful balance of re-entering the world after two and a half years of basically living in a bubble. Tomorrow, I’m having over a poet friend and I’m looking forward to making friends at our new Woodinville book club at J. Bookwalters. But I have to be careful – I still haven’t gotten covid, though I have friends who are getting it for the first time and family who are getting it the second and third time. I’ve been talking about re-entering the working world a bit more, with my MS vocational therapist, talking about setting limits and boundaries, balancing my ambition and physical limits. I’m cautiously optimistic, I guess – and hoping to stay healthy enough for AWP in Seattle and my April book launch.

But how do we know what’s safe, with the confusing and often contradictory guidelines about covid, and is life ever really safe for those of us who are immune compromised? I nearly died from complications of pneumonia from the swine flu and people barely made a big deal of it of swine flu. I think about how the pandemic will affect art for the years to come – and artists who’ve suffered from complications of covid – the way the 1918 flu affected art and artists. Will people want to read, or see art, or hear music about the experiences of loss, isolation, and anxiety that came with this pandemic? Will people want to stamp out the last few years in denial?  Americans don’t like dealing with death, and they certainly don’t like dealing with mass death.

As the summer seems to be drawing to a close, and people are talking about a fall rise in covid cases, new variants, new vaccines and how well they might work, I am looking forward to the natural increase in writing energy I get when it gets a little cooler – the “back to school” feeling that never really goes away.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, More Sunflowers and Dahlias in Late August, Thinking About the Balance of Re-Entry and the Effects of the Pandemic on Art and Artists, and What’s on the Horizon

outside the dentist
gaps in the autumn trees

the numbing of time

Jim Young [no title]

Forever Young
For CB

on my birthday
I light a candle

and watch it burn
down to the dark

this is no time for wishes
time has no hold on you

Ama Bolton, Forever young

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 24

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week found poets musing about downtime and leisure time, outsiders and Ozymandias, collaborating with photographers, the life history of hermit crab, and more. Enjoy.


My friend, John Rae, husband of my godmother Anne, has died. John collaborated with me on the book of this blog, sending me line drawings through the post during 2020 when we were in lockdown. The drawings were, and are, a source of joy. […]

I thought of other friendships that have come to an end, whether through death or separation. I felt sad. Nearly 50 years after first setting off for Norwich (see, I Arrive In Norwich) I finally went into the cathedral, experienced evensong. The music, the company of other Lizes, the stained glass – all these became a still point in my turning world. 

John was a skillful artist, architect and teacher. A humane man – much loved. After our book was published, I received notes through the post from many people asking to buy a copy. The majority of these were friends of John and Anne’s. All spoke of long friendships, with affection and admiration. 

With death comes ending, as well as a continuation of thought and feelings. My thoughts and feelings have, this past few months, been circling around ideas for next poems. I’ve written little down, but I must get onto this in order to grow a little more. I also need to work out how to put up a curtain pole so that the curtains I bought in Norwich hang straight. 

So without either a bang or a whimper, I end this blog here. 

I Am Read.

I Thank You.

Fin

Liz Lefroy, I Sense An Ending

fragrance in a time of sadness 
petrichor says the emerging sun as
all steams right with the world again
the scent of a rambling rose

Jim Young, a vignette

One thing I’ve been thinking about quite a bit the past few months working on my own is the concept of leisure. What is it? Is it important? What legally constitutes leisure activities and what does not? Do hobbies count? Maybe, but what if your hobbies are in some way like a job? It’s especially wrought and all wound up if you are an artist, since so much of your way of being in the world is a kind of work..you are never NOT being an artist, even if it’s just thinking like one?

Kristy Bowen, all work and maybe more work

Jan always makes each issue [of Finished Creatures] look and feel glorious. Getting a copy in the post is always a joy. The envelopes they come in are lovely things with a string tie on the back. The addresses are handwritten, and if you’re getting a contributor’s copy then your page is bookmarked for you.

I’ve already mentioned that there was some back and forth on my poem that went in the mag. Jan was very helpful and very understanding, and while I’m happy with the version we ended up with, the poem is one that I’ve worked on and tweaked since it was accepted.

So it was a bit strange to be reading the published version on Wednesday evening as part of the online launch. It’s obviously a bit weird to be reading in a “room” full of the kinds of poets in this mag. I mean look at this lot…sadly not every one could make it.

I was disappointed not to hear Arji Manuelpillai read any of his poems as one of his is after mine in the mag, but I did get to hear Alex Josephy read hers, and that’s the one that precedes mine. I also got to hear Rebecca Gethin, Amlan Goswami, Hilary Hares, Joanna Inham, Simon Madrell, Caleb Parkin, Sarah Salway,Penelope Shuttle, Paul Stephenson and Elżbieta Wójcik-Leese read. I was in a break out group with Anthony Mair and Julian Bishop, but sadly we didn’t get to hear their poems —FYI both are excellent.

A couple of the poets that couldn’t make it also had their work read out, one of which was me reading James McDermott‘s excellent ‘Wild Flowers’. I prefaced it by suggesting using the names of flowers in poems is cheating as it’s guaranteed to sound great, but I love this poem. There’s a lot going on in there around belonging and survival.

Mat Riches, **Slaps Forehead**Remembers about Finished Creatures #6

Today, I enter the pebbled shallows of a man-made lake.
My footsteps tear through the reflection of pine trees,
Warp their curve upwards with hill’s rise, their sun-bright
Branches greening the water’s mirrored darkness.

Christine Swint, Memoir as a Body of Water

I read a book of poems, book of short stories, and finally finished a novel that had sat on my coffee table with a bookmark halfway through it for maybe…a year? It was finally the right time to finish it. But my favorite reading lately has been The Book of Eels, nonfiction about…yes, eels. Fascinating creatures, about which we finally know a few things, but which remain mysterious. They are all born in the Sargasso Sea and then swim/drift elsewhere.

I have also been writing–a variety of things, including a script I got to see performed last night at the History Makers Gala, honoring 4 wonderful people in our community! My poetry feels on standby, but I do remember writing some, sending some out, and storing some in the weird, dusty drawers of my mind. Sometimes, when I am waiting for something to come out, everything feels on hold for a while. I just checked the mail. It isn’t here yet, but it’s still very, very hot out there. The poor mail carrier!

Kathleen Kirk, Down Time

This syllable
means death in Hebrew
but let’s prolong
hope’s steady drip.

A tor rises
from the hillside:
aspiring only
to keep existing.

Listen to the trill
of cricket opera
as my little boat
glides on.

Rachel Barenblat, Lake

Out there boats patrol the coast on the lookout for misunderstandings.

Out there the remains of failure are found, or so it is announced.

Out there an armoured military truck smashes into a car. The invaders cover everything like fog.

In here what can I tell you? This is the factory of the mind, of the poem, of the portrait.

In here I thought I could leave but the battle for the bridge over the ocean was too intense.

In here are hundreds, thousands, millions of languages.

Out there someone is saying No really, I insist.

Bob Mee, OUT THERE, IN HERE

Finding your own community when you are an outsider is hard and made harder by not being close to the usual networks of support in the extended family, neighbours you grew up with, being able to rely on a childhood friend during a mid-life crisis. Moving on and reinventing yourself often means cutting off your roots and learning to sustain the plant you’ve become in shallower soil while others regard you as a weed, something grown outside the formal lines of the original flower bed, leaving you unsure as to whether you’re going to be left alone or cut down to size. Both the individual poem and collection explore that theme of how to maintain or keep in touch with the culture you belong to while settling. It questions how far compromises can go and whether those compromises are worth it. From the specific lens of Portuguese-Americans, it asks universal questions about the status of those regarded as outsiders.

Emma Lee, “Through a Grainy Landscape” Millicent Borges Accardi (New Meridian Arts) – book review

Percy Shelley’s ‘Ozymandias’ is not exactly a neglected poem. It was an option in my GCSE anthology fifteen years ago. For all I know, it still is. It’s tempting to approach the poem as a kind of relic, like those ‘two vast and trunkless legs of stone’ standing in the desert, a monument that won’t really speak to us.

But Ozymandias does, literally, speak. Reading the poem again after several years away from it (and, more recently, several months of looking around ancient ruins) the first thing that struck me was the number of different voices involved. The poem is a kind of Russian doll, reported speech enclosed within reported speech enclosed within reported speech: Ozymandias on the plinth, the traveller and the narrator.

It all happens very quickly. And not just the grand sweep of history: two words into the second line, someone new is already speaking. Do you pause at ‘said’, or carry straight on? It makes the poem surprisingly difficult to read: you can’t recite it ponderously like some people imagine this kind of poem needs reciting. The play of tone and phrase within the sheer square block of the poem and its metre give ‘Ozymandias’ a kind of glassy, artificial quality, like the sort of stone you might make a statue out of.

Jeremy Wikeley, ‘Ozymandias’ (Percy Bysshe Shelley)

How do you get from
nowhere to nothing?
You follow directions,
the old monk said.

Tom Montag, TEN OLD MONK POEMS (71)

a brief morning rain
dances on the van
I follow my breath

Jason Crane, haiku: 16 June 2022

Last night was our experimentation with silence so we left the worship service in silence, except for the thunder that had been rumbling for hours. As I stared at the icon on my computer, I noticed that my west facing window was full of a strange light. I knew I could look at images of icons at any hour, but I wouldn’t ever again have this exact sunset with the light diffused by the gray clouds. I watched the sky for half an hour, but just something I do not do very often.

I didn’t even try to capture the light with my camera. I decided to use our experiment with silence as a prompt to be fully present to the light of the sunset, to the darkening sky, and to the presence of God.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Praying with Icons

Turning in the final copy of the book, as many writers will tell you, is stressful and involves a certain amount of “letting go”—you know, you can hold on to the book making tiny or large changes forever, and often making the book worse because of anxiety. A little like my garden—you can desperately edit, weed, fertilize, and at some point you will just make the garden worse with all your worrying. You have to appreciate the parts that are working, that are flourishing, like peonies, as much as you regret letting go of your four-year old rosemary. A good thing about turning in your book is that you can start working on your next book—I already have two manuscripts in progress going, still shaping them and writing new poems for them. I am hoping for the launch of Flare, Corona to be post-apocalypse—I mean, post-pandemic—and for next time this year to be peaceful, healthy, happy, with normal-ish weather and getting together with friends and family. I’m hoping.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Gardening in the Rain and a Plethora of Birds, Turning in the Final Copy of Flare Corona to BOA, and Favorite Father Poems

The thing about Offcumdens is that a) it has the courage to work in the same territory as [Ted] Hughes and [Fay] Godwin and b) it rather wonderfully provides the reader with an appendix of detailed commentaries, in which Bob and Emma write about their involvement in particular poems. There’s one telling moment when Bob, writing about the poem Walking away, says

“Emma is called upon to be very patient while we’re out walking together. I see something in the landscape that I think will make for a good photograph, and go running off to find the right spot……I often see shapes and textures in the patterns of the clouds, imagining how they are going to look in black and white…”

Emma’s comment is that 

“It can get very cold waiting for Bob to take photos…this was in March with frost on the ground and a bitter wind”

I really like the sense of the to-and-fro of the collaboration in which sometimes the image will generate the poems, and at other times the photographer will work to respond to or illustrate the poem.

As Philip Gross writes in his endorsement on the back cover: “Each double page is a conversation” That’s it, exactly!

John Foggin, My kind of poetry: Emma Storr’s and Bob Hamilton’s “Offcumdens”

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

I was living with a photographer for whom English is a second language and Korean the first. But it was even more complicated than that, he’s a photographer! There’s a line by the poet Rob Schlegel – “language is not my first language.” We had to find a way to communicate if we were going to stay together. You can fall in love with a lot of people but if you want to spend your life with someone you have to develop a language together. What was a necessity in my life became the necessary conditions of my work.

Collaboration is not a picnic. As I say this I remember that Young and I made a movie about a man and a woman having a picnic with a donkey – with an actual donkey. The donkey messed up every shot we planned, though we also planned the donkey’s messing up into the shooting script. When I say “collaboration is not a picnic” I mean it’s not a unity, it’s not a perfect marriage, and if it’s going to be interesting it can’t stay play or process forever. Collaboration surfaces misunderstandings and ruptures, it reminds one always of the distances one cannot travel. It can’t hide a power struggle even if it converts that into the making of something.

The appeal is that it’s real. Forrest Gander’s book Twice Aliveuses the word “combinatory” to describe this intuition, that one’s perceived aloneness is at least in part an illusion. I am not sure whether we are truly alone or truly collaborative beings. I do not know the nature of the great web of things, the way we might be connected to animals and plants and the earth, but I know I am involved with the question, sleeping or waking, paying attention to it or not.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Katie Peterson

the words go back to change what the words once were
my DNA the same as another giant tortoise found in 1906

wild and precious life intertwined
I will be a fantastic giant tortoise in my next life, too

Gary Barwin, fantastic giant tortoise

We cannot bring about a more regenerative and compassionate future using the same language that got us here– the kind churned out by advertisers, pundits, and politicians. Poetry calls us to make big world-restoring decisions by listening to voices wilder and wiser than our own. What does sea ice say? How about honeybees, gray whales, storm clouds, bonobos, leatherback turtles? What do our ancestors, leading all the way back to the First Mother, have to tell us? What do the smallest children want us to know? The oldest people? Poetry doesn’t offer answers, it simply helps to tune our capacity to see, hear, and be. That’s a start.

Laura Grace Weldon, Finding Solace In Poetry

In between booster shots, orthopedists, and ordinary life tasks, I’m seeking a daily and weekly balance between literary chores and literary delights. I continue to query bookstores, podcasts, and the like, hoping to get more “eyeballs on books”–what a smart former student, now in marketing, says is the most important task for authors. That emailing and calling isn’t much fun, though, except in the rare moments when you make a real connection. I’m making sure I spend part of each weekday, too, focusing on poems themselves. I’m deep in revisions of the next poetry ms, trying to transform each poem, as well as the whole, as into powerful things.

I discovered in the process that I’ve only drafted 4 poems in 2022 so far. Normally there would be at least a dozen. On the bright side: I typically toss out at least half of my drafts, but these 4 all seem to be keepers. It’s an interesting shift; I wonder if it will be a trend in my writing life.

Lesley Wheeler, Eyeballs on books & minds between covers

Last fall, I was asked to deliver a keynote to open the 2021 Fraser Valley Literary Festival. I spoke about my mother’s dementia, and moments of social dislocation (Pandemic, anyone?) and how poetry can see us through. I was really pleased with the talk and hoped it might find a way to live on in print. It was a blessing, then, when a few months later the League of Canadian Poets asked if I could write them an essay for their Poetry Month series “On Intimacy.” The essay that resulted expanded on my lecture, and you can read it here: “Why? And Why Now?: On Poetry and Companionship.”

Rob Taylor, Four Essays

I remember the days of abalone ceilings, the yolk
of my belly nestled in porcelain ribs, nights
when we met the Pylochelidae in secret,
to whirl across the sodden dune,
showing off our spiral cloches.
We danced to forget that our shelters
would again abandon us.

Kristen McHenry, Poem of the Month: Hermit Crab’s Lament

What I didn’t know then
and what I know now
can be summed up by the same

question: aren’t we all
born of some catastrophe
authored by other bodies?

What did we have
to lose but our early
sense of self.

Luisa A. Igloria, A Palimpsest (8)

once again, i find myself awake in this bed—

this ambien labyrinth, this insomnia museum 3:13 a.m. bus stop to sudden wide-awakeness, all-night waffle house of tossing and turning, this zoo of doom, crusher of circadian rhythms, hippie commune of sleep apnea, truck-stop along the highway to hell, war zone of snores, tram ride to slam time, snotwad of snoozelessness, scheme of rusted bedsprings, 9-1-1 crank caller, off switch to sleep onset, enigma of pin cushions, bloated corpse of corporal punishment, this boxspring lobotomy, dante’s inferno with a pillowtop—

this bed, this bed, this head, this dread, this way station between sun and moon that won’t let me sleep…

Rich Ferguson, this bed

I remember the half light of the pantry, 
where I stole packets of cocoa powder 
from people who had been only kind to me,
and would have given them to me if I had asked.

If I had asked? Who knows how to ask? The wind
comes up suddenly from the darkened beach.
It was a weary long time, before I would think to ask.
A life of erratic tacking, whose only through-line

was a desperate desire 
to disappear as I was and to appear as I was not.

Dale Favier, Half Light

PP: What’s life’s focus these days, literary or otherwise?

AE: Managing my diabetes through changes in diet and exercise. I’m writing a poem series about diabetes. As a writer, I am forever curious and need to understand the history, etymology, science and culture in about just about everything I get involved in, I can’t help looking things up in order to learn. My brain doesn’t seem to be built for science, even though I’m fascinated by it, so I’ve been trying to learn more and understand the underpinnings of diabetes, the connection between blood sugar levels to food, exercise and sleep. This leads me down a rabbit hole of wonder and it excites me.  I might as well write about it.

A few days after the diagnosis, I began a blog: the Sexy Diabetic and from there I ended up starting to write poems. I have always written as a form of catharsis, connection, whimsy and exploration. Life and literary pursuits are usually not separate for me.

Pearl Pirie, Checking In: phafours poet: Amanda Earl

At the readings I gave when the book first came out in 2006, I made a point of including “Melissa’s Story” and “Bill’s Story” in my set pretty frequently. Reproductive rights had been a major issue in the 2004 presidential election, and I wanted to do my part to keep the issue front and center in whatever way I could. I wrote the poems after reading Back Rooms: Voices from the Illegal Abortion Era, edited by Ellen Messer and Kathryn E. May. “Melissa’s Story” is spoken by a woman who pays a doctor for an illegal abortion. “Bill’s Story” is spoken by a man some non-specified but significant number of years after his pregnant girlfriend was sent against her will, and against what the teen couple wanted for themselves, to what used to be called a home for unwed mothers, where she was forced to put the child they conceived up for adoption.

In practical terms at least, we are no doubt farther away from men having to live Bill’s experience than we are from women having to live Melissa’s. Given the particular form of Christian morality that is driving the anti-abortion movement, however, it would be naïve to think some version of homes for unwed mothers could never make a comeback. It was, and is, important to me to give voice to Bill’s experience because it represents a rarely acknowledged stake that those of us who can’t get pregnant have in reproductive autonomy.

Richard Jeffrey Newman, Three Poems Of Mine That Should Never Have Become As Relevant As They Are Now

let’s make it easier

I’ll write a poem about you
you write one about me

there are so many words
to describe
someone else’s life

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Anatomy of a poem

Death or glory
under the lights,
the sun, the stars,
we the mutualists,
the diggers and
the levellers
are bound in
a cargo net
of love that fills
the heart and stops
the breath. There’s
a joy you simply
cannot buy
in the moment
pledged towards
the shared self.

Dick Jones, MUTUAL AID

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 21

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week, I tried something different: compiling the digest in a completely random fashion, without any effort to find common themes. I think it hangs together just about as well as usual! Go figure.


Many years back–let’s say decades–my friend David Dunn and I briefly became small press chapbook publishers. It was not an easy task at the time, and expensive; but I worked at a type shop and could get the type set for free and a discount on the printing. We dubbed our concern LiMbo bar&grill Books. It was decidedly a labor of love, but we published four chapbooks and two broadsides before packing it in. The name emerged from David’s postcards and letters to me, in which he’d sometimes begin “Greetings from the Limbo Bar & Grill.” We were poets in our early 20s, underemployed during a recession, without any network to universities or well-connected writers. It felt like limbo.

Forty years later, dear David is dead; I have had modest success as a published poet since then–not enough to move me past avocation status–and the entire globe spins in limbo as pandemic, climate crisis, war, and oligarchies combine to keep things as interesting and unsteady as ever they were. It feels like limbo.

Feels like limbo on the publication side, too. Because my poetry collection that was supposed to be in print by 2020 seems to be indefinitely on hold. Covid interfered, the contract never arrived, and I’m beginning to wonder whether my emails are ending up in the publisher’s SPAM filter. It’s not surprising that a small independent press–in most cases underfunded and understaffed–might lose track of, say, a manuscript or two during the hassles of the pandemic protocols and all that has wrought.

Or perhaps the press has decided not to publish my book after all. The oft-rejected writer who lives inside my head supposes that could be the case and mourns, assuming the worst.

Ann E. Michael, Limbo

In the “mom-and-me pandemic book club” news, we have started a new novel, Lorna Mott Comes Home, by Le Divorce‘s Diane Johnson, about a sixty-something formerly highly respected art historian who ends her second marriage and comes home from France to California. The passages about trying to promote her book in a post-internet world are particularly appealing – the frustration trying to get back in the game after being out of it for 20 years – her daughter writes her Amazon reviews and she goes to bookstores for signings and they can’t find her books. Her adult children and two ex-husbands are in various levels of crisis as well. I might have mentioned I’m fascinated by these newer books that seem to focus on women in academia (or post-academia) going through midlife crises – there are so many about men, so few about women! The last one I really loved was Lesley Wheeler’s Unbecoming. (If you have recommendations for others, please leave them in the comments!)

Speaking of Lesley, I finished a new book by Lesley Wheeler that’s a fascinating mix of poetry close reading, cultural criticism, and personal essay, called Poetry’s Possible Worlds. She navigates difficult subject matter – including the death of a parent and political turbulence – by reading contemporary poems and then connecting them to the wider world.

She talks about how each book of poetry opens up alternate possible worlds for us to inhabit, which can help us deal with life’s crises and foibles alike. Like poet-essayist Kelly Davio’s It’s Just Nerves, which combines personal essay, navigating a mysterious autoimmune illness, and pop culture representations of disability, it’s a thought-provoking collection that makes me want to try my hand at this kind of hybrid essay-criticism. Anyway, if want to curl up with a good poetry/criticism/personal essay hybrid book, pick this up. The last essay, about her writing process, was one of my favorites in terms of its descriptions of writing flow and how projects interact with each other.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A Somber Week, Reading Lesley Wheeler’s Poetry’s Possible Worlds and Diane Johnson, and a Visit to the Japanese Gardens

rest up
get well soon

how easily it is said
however sincere
it doesn’t help much

i lost my voice in the sea a while ago
felt very miserable
i found it later on the shoreline
it had been on an adventure

now it is back we’re on speaking terms

it hurts ~ then you laugh again

Jim Young, for beth ~ hope you are bether soon

I sat with my twelve year old on the deck, and listened as he chanted the first few lines of his Torah portion. His voice cracked once or twice. That’s been happening lately. All I could think about was the parents in Uvalde whose ten year olds won’t grow up to be twelve year olds with cracking voices. 

Shortly before we started Torah portion practice, I’d told him that there was another school shooting. I wanted him to hear it from me and not from a friend at school in the morning. I assured him that where we live is one of the safest places to be. He said, “I know, Mom,” and changed the subject.

I believe what I said to him. The place where we live is as safe a place as any I can think of. And yet I can’t promise him that an angry gunman won’t break into his school, or into our synagogue, or into the supermarket where his auntie shops with his Black cousins. I can’t promise safety. No one can.

Rachel Barenblat, Morning after

Finding the glowing pine
Is not enough. I need to travel
Down the winding road
To the decrepit cabin
Full of cobwebs, broken boards.
Even deeper, I need to go,
Below the foundation,
Down to the level of packed dirt,
Down to the damp, dark place
Where memories sleep in fits,
Pushing like roots in the soil.

Christine Swint, The Numinous Pine

This is a post that begins by saying, “trust me.” This is a post written from a place of pure love. This is a post about how an author can change your life, about how books matter, and about how writers are simultaneously magical and utterly real. It’s also a post that references a line from Jane Austen about how if I loved this book less, I could talk about it more. […]

The introduction to this collection is by Kazim Ali, and it’s perfect. It ends, “These novels are meant to be experienced, not just in language, but in their rhythms, in their interruptions and silences, in their structures and patterns and shapes of thought.” Ali finds in them “a music daily as life.” Ali notes, “they are themselves alive. And in them a reader comes to life.”

Writers, too, will come to life.

Shawna Lemay, The Scent of Light by Kristjana Gunnars

It was the intriguing title that made me want to read this beautiful collection in the first place. I love the way in which the Moon Daisy weaves her way through the pages. I admire the sense of balance between joy and wonder on the one hand, and concern and pain on the other. This judicious inclusion of this ‘light and shade’ seems fitting for a dappled woodland backdrop. There are, however, other habitats to explore and enjoy; the opening poem offers a coastal setting, while the kingfisher prefers the willows by the river and the fox prepares ‘to curl up tight nose to tail’ in an urban garden.

Like Jill, the author, I found myself very worried when I first heard that a significant number of ‘nature’ words (‘acorn’, ‘buttercup’ and ‘catkin’, to name but three) had been removed from the Oxford Junior Dictionary back in 2007. Many will be familiar with Robert Macfarlane’s book, The Lost Words (illustrated by Jackie Morris); the poignant reference to ‘last words’ in Jill’s final poem, ‘The Nightjar’, did not pass me by.

The Leaping Hare and the Moon Daisy will surely appeal to adults and children alike. The author’s subjects are most engaging; we marvel at the Moorhen in her ‘green stockinged feet’ and are introduced to the Dandelion with its ‘mustardy roar’. The collection can be enjoyed for these wonderful descriptions alone, but I sense most readers will allow themselves to be transported downstream on the metaphorical undercurrent of something a little deeper, something linked to the joys, sorrows and responsibilities that reflect our humanity. 

Caroline Gill, ‘The Leaping Hare and the Moon Daisy’, a Poetry Collection by Jill Stanton-Huxton

Sometimes I start a class with a book that takes me straight to the heart of wanting to write poetry: First Loves: Poets Introduce the Essential Poems that Captivated and Inspired Them, edited by Carmela Ciuraru (Scribners 2001). If you don’t already know it, I’d recommend the amazon page review for a sense of what it’s like. Ciuraru asked a wide range of contemporary poets to choose a poem that inspired them early on and say a few words about it. Every time I read around in the book I’m taken back to some of my own sources, and the same thing happens to students when they read it: a direct line opens to those original urges. The book is full of surprises: Robert Creeley chooses Alfred Noyes’s “The Highwayman” and Wanda Coleman picks Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky,” for example.

A number of experiences made me fall in love with words: my father asking “What’s black and white and red all over?” I was stumped. “A newspaper.” What? Oh! Read! That language could do that. Or my grandmother writing out “Mairzy doats and dozy doats and little lambsy divey” after she’d sung it. Later it was Poe’s “Annabel Lee” and—like Creeley—the galloping “Highwayman.” But it was Frost’s ability to see through tranquil surfaces to the depths below that resonated with something in me, from the opening of “My November Guest” (“My sorrow, when she’s here with me/ Thinks these dark days of autumn rain/ Are beautiful as days can be….”) to the horrifying “Out, Out—,” where a young boy is mortally wounded as he’s sawing lumber.

Sharon Bryan, First Loves Redux

My first book had come out the previous fall, when I was both at my sickest and my most romantically fraught.  I only remember it in bits—bright yellow fall trees, a downtown fire that closed down our campus, headaches and lingering lunch dates. I was already in my 30’s. I was older than almost everyone in my program. I had long before determined workshops were only useful when everyone actually shared some idea on what made a poem good, which was an impossibility. In many ways, I found the program to be a nice incendiary, spurring me to projects I might not have done otherwise (my archer avenue poems, for example, or actually finally finishing my Cornell poems for an ekphastic class.) The lit and craft classes were interesting, the workshops mostly tedious.

We all know the horror stories of the MFAers who walk out of graduation and never write another thing.  I worried over this, in that stretch right after I finished the program, when things felt too close, too tight, and I wrote very little. I would talk to other writers and get insanely anxious when they asked me about new projects, the dreadful “what are you writing now?” I did lots of other things–like move the press operation into the Fine Arts–start the web shop, sell vintage and paper goods, and soap–and all the while, tried to distract myself from the non-writing self that only churned out a poem every couple months, nary anything I really liked. I tend to be a prolific writer, before grad school, during grad school, and even now, but between 2007 and 2011 I probably wrote about 20 poems total. A couple things happened in 2011 that set me writing again, one being the process of writing the James Franco pieces that barely felt like poems at all.  The other was girl show finding a home at Black Lawrence. By the end of the year, it seemed possible that I might actually want to write more than I was. The next spring I finished what would become beautiful, sinister that had been languishing for a couple years. I also wrote what is one of my all-time favorite series, shipwrecks of lake michigan. The poems were back and I’ve been pretty steadily writing since–an output that has filled 9 other book mss. in a decade. It’s hard to believe sometimes that I have that many poems in me, let alone that I managed to get them successfully on the page and out into the world. 

Sometimes, when eyeing my student loan balance I have been chiseling away at in small ridiculous bits, I wonder if the degree was worth it.  If either grad degree was worth it.  I do feel some of the lesson content I’ve been writing is served well by my MA degree, but the yeilds of my MFA are a little more slippery.  I absolutely believe I could have written and published (and was doing so) without the degree.  Would I be writing the same poems? In the same style? Would I be as good? Maybe not..but then again, so many poets I know do just fine without advanced degrees.  I also know many really lackluster poets with a train of them.  Many say the time to work uhindered by other things is priceless, though doing it while also working full time cut into that experience and made it more unweildy and harrowing. On the other hand, I got a discount for working on campus, so maybe it was a trade.  The 29 year old me who enrolled wasn’t sure what I was looking for.skills? legitimacy? knowledge? She could scarce have told you any more than I can now. I got better by writing more, reading more, of course,  and for that, maybe I owe those few years of study and attention I may have not gotten otherwise. 

Kristy Bowen, 15 year itch | notes on the mfa

How it is
when it comes apart
is how it is,

the old monk told
the mechanic.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (213)

“Holy Things” comprises confessional poems about relics, other items held with reverence, and bodies with a self-deprecating sense of humour. The poems don’t go the circular route but get straight to the point. In “Goddamn”, a light bulb blows,

“You unscrew
the supernova.
Mind the black
hole webs.
They’re torture
in your hair.
There, now
don’t drop—

Goddamn.
Spores of
stardust
everywhere.
It’s a nightmare
trying to get
celestial crumbs
out of the
good rug.”

A simple task to replace the bulb spotlights other areas of neglect: the ceiling cobwebs, the dust falling from the fixture or lightshade, the mess on the rug that now needs cleaning. Might it have been better to have left the bulb alone? A familiar scene where an improvement in one area, makes others look shabby in comparison and suddenly you’re spring cleaning the entire house.

Emma Lee, “Holy Things” Jay Rafferty (The Broken Spine) – book review

Tonight, tired and worried about my father, I came into this room, which we seldom use, and stretched out on the couch. I did my Duolingo lesson and the Times mini crossword and Spelling Bee on the free phone app which always kicks me out after a certain point. Then I pulled a knitted afghan over myself, thinking I might take a little nap, accompanied by the contemplative robin that’s nesting in the light fixture just outside the terrace door…but my eyes kept opening and gazing across the room at the desk. After a few minutes I had gotten up, opened the top, and set to work sorting the incongruous things I found inside: a strange, heavy antique brass writing stand with two glass inkwells; bottles of disk cleaner for LP records; three old letter openers, an intricate silver one that looked Turkish and quite lethal, and two that are clearly African; a collection of DVDs; a Silva compass with a leather case; a collection of old brass drafting equipment and a velvet snap-top jewelry box filled with old Schaeffer and Parker graphite leads; a handwritten wiring map for my father’s cabinet of turntables, tape decks and DVD players. As I did this, slowly, the thought began to form: could I actually use this desk? Could I write something here? When all the surfaces and pigeonholes were empty, I removed the vases and candlesticks to the piano, and wiped the wood with a barely-damp cloth. My sketchbook and watercolor palette went on the left side, some pens on the right. Then I ascertained that, yes, there was an outlet on the wall in fairly close proximity, set my laptop, mousepad and mouse in the center of the open desk, noticing for the first time the reassuring dents and scratches in the old mahogany — and turned the computer on.

It felt like… a moment. Like introducing your close but perhaps slightly questionable young friend to a beloved elderly grandparent. But the hinges didn’t give way, the marquetry didn’t fall out: in fact, the wood felt warm and beckoning and somehow personal, and I began immediately to write.

Beth Adams, Desk, Domain

Having finished Ulysses, I’ve gained the confidence to read other books that have been tapping me on the shoulder for years. One such is Jung’s Memories, Dreams and Reflections, recommended to me by  Anne. It’s as if, having climbed Everest, I can consider K2 (though I’d like to make clear this is a metaphor – I have attempted neither, and if I did, I would need to be carried or air-lifted down at some point).

I’m currently dog-sitting a beautiful lurcher, and she and I take long walks together. Sometimes, on these walks, I listen to the birdsong in the woods, or the lambs bleating in the fields, and sometimes, I plug myself into my phone and listen to a book. And this is how I’ve read Jung. 

It’s not an easy read – though parts of it are. That would be my review if asked for a line for the back cover. 

As Jaffa was trotting about, this is what I heard the other morning, and it illustrates my summary: 

“I never think that I am the one who must see to it that cherries grow on stalks. I stand and behold, admiring what nature can do.” Carl Jung – Memories, Dreams and Reflections. 

When I heard this, I stopped and typed it into my phone to remember the wisdom.  

I called Jaffa to me, and she came up, looking hopeful. I read out Jung’s words to her and she looked at me with her deep, kind eyes, hoping for a more edible treat, or perhaps something on the interpretation of dreams, then trotted off, ears flopping gently with each step. She urinated on some bracken. 

Liz Lefroy, I Read Jung (With Dog)

and here we are
we two
you crazy free
me creeping across
the fallen leaves
a poacher sans
traps lifting only
the mushrooms picking
only the berries
breathing just the
loaded air and
its traffic of
loam and pine
pitch and the
musk of deer

Dick Jones, Dog Latitudes §17

I could tell you how many civilians
were killed today in Iraq or Afghanistan
or Gaza or Pakistan or Yemen
by us or by our allies or with our weapons
but what’s the use?
a new season of your favorite show
will start soon and you’ll plop down
on your couch with some popcorn
or a nice plate of nachos
and go back to sleep
in a few weeks you’ll have to
Google this date to figure out
what this poem is about
and in another few weeks after that
so will I

Jason Crane, (Re-post) POEM: this changes nothing

It was chilly, the day I wanted to be dead,
but the azaleas finally tipped with pink,
finally breaking through the long cold that now bled

tiny vivid spearpoints struggling thru blunted blades,
as if their shrieking magenta opened a chink
in the brick wall. The day I wanted to be dead,

I actually didn’t. Some neuro biochem’d,
gamed my brain, meds and pain that brought me to the brink,
flipped the switch, and broke through the long calm that now fled

from my eyes, while logical-me questioned, and said,
“This makes no sense. I don’t want this. Dammit, stop. Think.
Who loses, and who wins, if I want to be dead?”

PF Anderson, Villanelle (“the day I wanted to be dead”)

I feel like I’ve been rather ruthless, but we’re still going to end up with about 10 boxes of books. That’s about half of where we started. I’m trying to give myself credit for being willing to part with so many books. I’m trying not to think about the fact that in later years,  I’m likely to part with some of the ones that I’m keeping. I’d like to get better at buying books and letting them go right after I read them, but that may not happen.

As I’ve sorted books, I’ve thought about what’s happening, across the nation and the planet. I’ve thought about the power of words, and I’ve wondered if any of our words can make a difference. I’ve thought about these books that have been important enough to me to hang onto for years and decades. I’ve thought about books as solace and inspiration. I’ve wished that I could create the kind of works that people will hang onto for decades. And who knows? I still have decades of writing life left he read. Perhaps that will happen.

But even if it doesn’t, I am grateful for the solace of words, for the solace of words collected into books.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, The Solace of Books

In certain ways, this is a collection of poems composed around and on the very idea of silence (reminiscent, through that singular element, of Nicole Markotić’s debut novel). “My birth / mother found me decades later,” [Nancy] Lee offers, “only to lose her own mom. This was / a sign, she was sure of it. The gods made her a trade for silence.” Composed through great care and a deep attention, Hsin emerges as a work of grief and loss, discovery and searching, held as the notes produced across the journey as it unfolds, unfolding. “predictable /// if you know // from where / in the sequence ///// does a mother / want [.]” she offers, elsewhere in the first section. There are elements of this collection that echo some other titles that Brick has been producing lately, especially since the shift in editorial and ownership; an echo of other of their book-length poetry debuts that explore familial loss, identity and placement through the gathering of meditative and narrative lyric fragment, whether Andrea Actis’ Grey All Over (2021) [see my review of such here], or David Bradford’s Griffin Prize-shortlisted Dream of No One but Myself (2021) [see my review of such here]. “Nothing from nothing means nothing,” Lee writes, early on in the collection, “she hummed from the back- / seat of the Pontiac, swallowed in afternoon sun.” To open the collection, she offers a brief note for the sake of context to her title. The short note ends: “Body is history and Hsin holds silence in ways that both claim and keep it at bay.”

rob mclennan, Nanci Lee, Hsin

Yesterday, as I was troubleshooting on various book-related fronts, I started wondering if “troubleshooting” was another of the military metaphors that colonize my vocabulary (“front” is one). The original meaning of troubleshooting, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, was a pleasant surprise. Here’s the first usage in print: “1905, Strand Mag.: ‘A good looking young ‘trouble-shooter’—as a mender of telephone lines is called—had asked her to marry him.’” Whoa! It’s a COMMUNICATIONS metaphor!

There have been plenty of broken connections lately, so after an initial high, I’m struggling to focus on the good stuff. Appearing at the Gaithersburg Book Festival last weekend, for example, was lucky and lovely (it’s a pretty interesting festival, too, with a political flavor). Early readers have been generous–I so appreciate every thoughtful note. None of that, though, stopped my spirits crashing. Maybe that was inevitable after logistical hairiness and physical stress (the festival was outdoors with 95 degree temperatures, plus my Achilles tendinitis flared up). The turning point mood-wise was a paradoxical one. Seeing Poetry’s Possible Worlds amid the many, many books Politics & Prose was selling was great, but it also reminded me how many, many authors are trying to get attention for their book-babies. I do have a strong core of confidence that my book is a very good one. But it’s increasingly clear to me that while I’m working harder than ever to get word out, in addition to investing money in a publicist for the first time, Poetry’s Possible Worlds is unlikely to stand out in the mob. Placing “Brave Words” on the Poets & Writers website was a glorious win, but each successful connection has 10 failed attempts behind it–magazine pitches, event queries, and other efforts that mostly don’t even get replies. I keep throwing out filament, filament, filament (sorry, changing metaphors here to Whitman’s spider), but I suspect I need to rewire my hopes as well. After all, twenty years ago, I longed to reach any audience at all, feeling increasingly hopeless about ever publishing a creative book. Here I am, after so many successes, doing that tiresome thing: training my vision on the next line of mountains.

Troubleshooting Monday involved updating various websites, including improving the book’s Goodreads listing. I finally figured out how to get the cover to appear, yay!, but can’t seem fix the issue on Amazon, and it’s such a handsome cover. I can’t get it to appear on Bookshop.org at all. How much does each of those little efforts even matter? I don’t know. I managed to settle myself down, though, by putting up a couple of reviews for other indie books. Helping other writers feels better, sometimes, than trying to boost your own signal.

Lesley Wheeler, Filaments & telephone lines

We don’t reach strong conclusions about the poem’s meaning as a class. We are a diverse group. I like leaving them with some ambiguity. I want them to figure it out for themselves, to be able to sit with complex and contradictory truths. I know that me telling them what to think or insisting on a particular interpretation won’t meet my goals. They might say what they think I want to hear, but they’re going to think what they think, do what they want to do with their ideas.

As they are gathering their things and heading for the door at the end of class, the boy who shared his ideas about the birds says to me, “I liked class today.” He’s a student I have struggled to engage. We are very different people, he and I. He hasn’t done very well with me, and I know that most days he hasn’t liked my class.

“I’m glad,” I say. “I really appreciated your contributions to our discussion.”

“Thanks,” he says, with feeling, and he smiles at me. I smile back, also with feeling. We have such different views of the world he sometimes astounds me, but I will miss him when this school year ends in just a few short weeks. I am glad to have known him, and I think he might say the same about me. There are things in each of us that the other likes and respects. I want to believe that, anyway.

We have no way of knowing, right then, what the afternoon will bring. I don’t know that after I spend it grading my students’ reading logs–which will prompt me to think hard about purposes and how I might determine if they’ve been met–I will learn, while waiting for the copy machine after school, about the latest shooting in Texas. I don’t know that I will numbly run off copies of another poem for our next class, then go to my empty classroom and sit at my desk and wonder what I should feel and do. I don’t know that I will spend long minutes wondering about the nest I’ve built for us, with its twinkle lights stretched across the ceiling, and posters with art from around the world, and a cart full of window/mirror books, and chart paper with our lists of class norms. I don’t know that I will sit in that space, remembering the day in September we began building those norms as we discussed memes about gun control, or that I will leave memory as I tune into the sounds of students playing ping-pong in the foyer while they wait to be picked up, and that it will be the pock-pock-pock of those balls hitting the paddles that will be the thing that brings me to tears.

Rita Ott Ramstad, On the morning of the latest massacre of American schoolchildren

Someone said the word obliterate.
Meaning an erasure so hard,
Nothing remains.

As children we were told
not to whistle too loudly at clouds
so they wouldn’t come too close.

The world must have whistled
in a great chorus. Or that’s what
we might want to believe.

But wind and rain have
their own voice, their own
logic.

We are always trying to put
our unformed words
into their throats.

Luisa A. Igloria, Rain Writes, Wind Erases

When our pains become so great we can no longer bear them.

When our feelings seek release, when they move us to the ends of the earth,

our hearts desiring an Eden of our own making.

It’s then we create: sing, dance, paint, write, cry out.

Our expressions: beautiful cracks in the bell of a perfectly toned hallelujah.

Not so much a cousin to longing, but the pure longing itself.

Rich Ferguson, Cracks In the Bell

In the last month or so, the book I’ve most enjoyed reading is the excellent Everyman (selected) Poems of James Merrill, edited by his biographer, Langdon Hammer. The combination of his formalist brilliance and his hedonistic, but engaged, attitude to life is irresistible.

Here’s Merrill reading Elizabeth’s Bishop exemplary villanelle ‘One Art’ and a poem of his own which he dedicated to Bishop, ‘Developers at Crystal River’.

And here’s a short but fascinating interview with him from 1991, four years before his death, in which he discusses political poetry, his awareness of the luck he had in being born so rich, and the datedness of language.

Matthew Paul, James Merrill

The downside about Napowrimo: the writing hang over.

Though I think that my month of writing a poem a day was pretty productive — probably about half the poems are usable– I was wiped out this month and only wrote one poem.

I have a kind of plodding type of writing schedule though–I usually complete two poems a month. I guess like running sprints, shaking it up and writing thirty poems vs. my typical two, could help my creativity possibly.

But after all that poetry, I find my mind wandering to different things, different projects.

I’m currently working on a cross-stitch (because it’s good to work with your hands), starting to consider revising my sci-fi middle grade novel again, and in the beginning (obsessive) stages of getting a new project (an anthology?) off the ground.

I used to worry when my steady two-poems-per-month pace was interrupted–existential questions of “will I ever write again?” plagued me. However, after many years of writing, I’ve found that there are some seasons in life that breaks are needed and good. I tend to take a break over part of the summer and let my mind wander other fields.

Renee Emerson, Writing Hang-over

The poet was exasperated that his voice had become a metaphor;
he wanted to see the blood of his voice, its lard and flesh,
its lineage—to hear its chords vibrating
even if a single utterance would cost him his life.

In our language, he finds himself placing nouns before verbs,
tainted by the lyrical I, perhaps. He picks words
that had wilted until they turned to gold. Wiping away
the dust of the centuries, he plants them in small pots.
The poet thinks he can
heal the dumb, and revive the dead.

Meanwhile, in their language, he crosses mountains and oceans
leaving a talisman on every tree
to find his way back.

Mona Kareem, Four poems – tr: Sara Elkamel

I haven’t worked on the wasp project for two weeks now. It is in my head, but I have not put in the work. Today I will pick up some parchment for the flexagon poems, though. Tomorrow, I will make the paper for the corsets and hives.

Last week on Instagram I saw something freakishly similar to what I am working on. It was well-executed, too. It has taken me a while to remind myself that there is nothing new under the sun and that the existence of something similar out there doesn’t discount the authenticity of what I am doing. I might keep my head down a while. I have a feeling if I go looking for it, I will find more similar work. And really, that is a good thing, right? It means there is something – if not universal – then relatable. Something that is a successful expression of human experience. So what?

Too often I am my own gatekeeper. That little voice. That bird with the sharp beak that keeps wounds open and blood flowing out of habit.

Not working is not humility. This assumption, belief, and self-deception that eventually I will turn out something stunningly, unequivocally unique is a kind of arrogance.

Ren Powell, Fear of Exposing Oneself

Book: Quiet Night Think: Poems & Essays  (a misFit book, ECW, 2022) by Gillian Sze. […]

During the remarkable period of early parenthood, Sze’s new maternal role urges her to contemplate her own origins, both familial and artistic. Comprised of six personal essays, poems, and a concluding long poem, Quiet Night Think takes its title from a direct translation of an eighth-century Chinese poem by Li Bai, the subject of the opening essay. Sze’s memory of reading Li Bai’s poem as a child marks the beginning of an unshakable encounter with poetry. What follows is an intimate anatomization of her particular entanglement with languages and cultures.

Sze invites readers to meditate with her on questions of emergence and transformation: What are you trying to be? Where does a word break off? What calls to us throughout the night? […]

PP: Your opening essays starts with all the paradoxes of translation, what is literally said, what is implied, what is embedded. It strikes me that poetry in the translation from life to words has some of the same challenges. In your work you mention letting work set until it has clarity and heft. Do you find that way in time alone or do you have a set of readers who help you see what is distilled enough?

GS: I think one of the best things to do with a draft is to forget about it and return to it afterwards. That little spell of amnesia allows me to, for a moment, pretend that the work isn’t even mine to begin with, and I can examine, edit, and revise it more effectively. Only when I feel like I have moved the work to a less vulnerable space do I seek out my trusted first readers.

Pearl Pirie, Mini-interview: Gillian Sze

Of all the ways to encounter loss, I picked the one in which it arrives as a stranger. A stranger who emerges from the bowels of a subway station, into the sunlight, as I hurtle down the steps into the darkness, directly in his path, looking away, refusing to meet his gaze, only a strong musky scent of an unborn morning , staining the air as we pass.

It returns sometimes, that fragrance, like a wind from a faraway place, come to moult its memory skin . Or like a pigeon that flew into a room that it doesn’t know how to escape, thrashing against the glass pane, screaming at the walls in low, gurgling sounds, rising and falling, rising and falling, trapped, afraid…alone.

On some nights, the stranger stops and calls my name. A name he should not know. A voice I should not recognize. A longing that should not be. For a morning, yet to come.

what should we call it,
the sky that does not know
it is the sky?

Rajani Radhakrishnan, A name he should not know

My next book, Look to the Crocus, will be published in 2023 by Shoestring Press!!!

I’ve been going through the editorial process poem by poem over the last few weeks, gradually ironing out the errors, tightening up poems, culling the weak. It’s been a wonderfully therapeutic process! 

It’s great to have such editorial support going through the manuscript from both publisher, John Lucas, and poet and editor, John Killick, who has been such an enthusiastic supporter of my work since he wrote a rather wonderful review of Madame Ecosse a few years back. 

The current format of the collection is a thematic division into 4 parts each with their own sub-title and each prefaced with a quote from Theodore Roethke. 

I’ve moved backwards and forwards on the idea of breaking up the manuscript into sections, and overall, I do have a preference for sections. I love the structural element of it – like chapters / seasons / weather systems. 

Also, I love introducing the sections with titles and quotes. Roethke has been such an important poet to me and I love having his words flow throughout my manuscript. 

Marion McCready, *Look to the Crocus*

I belong to a Facebook writing group called Every Damn Day Writers.  We set it up to encourage ourselves to write  every day. The practice of writing every day builds the habit of creating and of course pushes your manuscript forward. A daily schedule stirs the creative brain into action. It’s a magical key that unlocks the door — not only to a new room, but eventually a whole new book. So how do you establish a daily writing habit? Read on.

Writing Practiced

Writing practice is like ballet. Whatever talent you possess, it gets better with daily exercise. It’s impossible not to improve if you sit down to your work on a regular basis. Like meditation, the act of creating is vigorous. It’s intense and difficult, requiring great focus, making it hard to think of anything else.

It can be argued that writing is meditation. Though the body may be still for long minutes during this act, a lot is going on neurologically. Your sympathetic nervous system calms, the scientists report. And over a long period of exercising this function, the brain changes, studies have found. It moves toward the habit of sustained happiness.

Changing Your Brain to Enhance Creativity

Do you feel happier after a period of writing? I call it “writer’s glow”. It occurs to me even after a short bout of creating, say working out a one-page poem. The focus drops away the “monkey mind” habit of my brain to be distracted by passing thoughts. The space left afterward is clear and fresh, like a beautiful landscape. In fact, everything feels beautiful for a while writing.

The lucky thing is that this daily writing practice becomes easier the more you do it. It’s the power of habit, which works for good habits as well as bad ones because we’re all essentially addictive personalities. I choose to be addicted to writing because it makes me happy. And because of it, I have published four novels in four years.

Rachel Dacus, Writing Tips — The Practice of Writing Every Day

I was listening to a podcast recently with a guest who explained that after a terrible period of psychological distress, she decided that she needed a project in order to focus her mind on something besides her own emotional pain. She bought an enormous amount of yarn and spent the next six months steadily knitting a gigantic blanket, working on it every single day no matter what. At the end of the project, she felt a little better, but just as importantly, she learned the value of persistence and consistency, and her faith in her ability to heal herself was restored. I think that was a very wise thing for her to do for herself. As a culture, we seem to have abandoned the value of pushing through and persisting in the face of adversity. Fuddy-duddy concepts like patience, stoicism, and simply taking our minds off of our pain for a little while with something productive like work or creative pursuits is considered old-fashioned. The trendy way to cope with mental distress is to make TikTok videos and engage in pathological wallowing. I say this as someone who has wallowed in many bouts of psychological distress, especially when I was younger. I have since learned that emotional distress is often passing and that it’s okay to subsume it in work, physical activity or other distractions. Contrary to popular counseling wisdom, I believe that distraction is a very useful tool. In many cases, the distress simply resolves itself on its own due to not having been fed. As the Brits tend to say, sometimes you just need to get on with it. I’m also reminded that I still have a punch needle embroidery project to finish and I should get on with that.

Today would probably be a good day for it, as it is a pre-planned No-Leave Sunday, wherein I stay in pajamas all day, eschew make-up and don’t leave the house, not even to check the mail. I used to engage in No-Leave Sundays fairly regularly, but they have fallen by the wayside over the years for various reasons. I find No-Leave Sundays very restorative. I like to have what feels like an enormous expanse of unscheduled time in front of me in which to knock around, putter and waste. It helps my brain unravel from the work stress of having way too freaking much to do all of the time and never enough to time do all of it. It feels lavish and indulgent and a little transgressive.

Kristen McHenry, Coping by Crafting, No-Leave Sunday Revival, Litmus Test

In spite of myself, my resentment that they are rats with tails, that they lounge in my chaises longues and massage themselves in the rims of my flowered pots, I have been admiring squirrels.

Such looseness; such fearless sense of play.  One — followed by her playmate — in motion leaps to her sure death from the roof but catches a frail branch, hangs belly-up as the branch dip low with weight until she rights herself, scrapes the bark with her nails — and darts.

Lilies of the valley have dropped their sweet white flowers, confetti is scattered around the hawthorn tree, the Dionysian rally of spring is exhausting —

but there are the squirrels, defying reason.

Once they’re hanging from a thread, how do they will themselves back? 
Do these masters of risk appraise a car tire and decide— uh uh,  not this one, over and over? 

And don’t these tricksters know these are dark times?  That destructive forces are overwhelming us?

And yet they play, play, play.  Before our tired eyes, they play, as if their very survival depended on it. If I banished them from the garden, who would remind us to play?

Jill Pearlman, Lessons from My Backyard Enemies

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, 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. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader.

This week found many poets suffering through the winter doldrums—which is not to say that blogging dropped off. Quite the opposite, in fact, probably because writing is a coping mechanism for so many of us. But there were also plenty of light moments, although they had a certain surrealism about them. And of course there were poetry-related enthusiasms to share, as always. Enjoy.


February. A grey white month. More light but still cold. The forecast is for two weeks of snow showers. A month that still belongs to winter though the light lingers later now, long slow sunrises and sunsets when the clouds relent.

Today, a walk along the beach because it was a balmy 28 degrees. And that isn’t me being funny, 28 degrees feels quite warm indeed when the winter has been one of slashing winds and single digits. Bishop’s Beach is an active beach, windrows of cobbles shifting and reforming, great tidal changes, snow and ice at the top, waves at the bottom.

I walked mostly at the highest tide line because closer to the water’s edge would have meant crossing deep channels. But walking closer to the bluffs means cobbles which slide and clatter. Twist underfoot and crimp an ankle. Slide down toward the water almost as efficiently as ice so that one finds oneself scrambling to stay on stable footing.

I actually enjoy this kind of walking because it forces one to stay in the moment. If you’re walking with someone else, it forestalls any prolonged conversations. But the sheer kinetic effort allows me to focus on the here and now.

Erin Coughlin Hollowell, Winter beach wisdom

A dirty sky, and a dreary cold day ahead. This winter has settled into my bones as no other ever has: for the first time I understand people going away to sunny places for vacations. I could stand a week or two dreaming in the sun.

Dale Favier, Golden

post-storm driving
through an arboretum
of glass

Jason Crane, haiku: 6 February 2022

I haven’t seen my favorite eight-year-old since Christmas Eve. Her parents are, again, being careful because of Covid case counts in our area. Although I miss her and her younger siblings so much I feel tearful writing this sentence, our occasional phone call lets me talk one-on-one with her in a way we rarely get to do during visits.

Today, our nearly 90 minute call started with guessing games. What Am I Thinking is her favorite. Some of today’s correct guesses turned out to be ladybugs, clouds, and atoms. Then we played Would You Rather, which simply consists of taking turns making up questions like, “Would you rather travel by hot air balloon or sailboat?” and “Would you rather be an elephant or a whale?” but she’s so darn mature these days that she tends to say, “I’d like to experience both.” This lasts until our questions get much sillier, like “Would you rather eat worms or garbage?”

She switched screens to show me her room which she recently cleaned and organized. Her large stuffed bear, who she’s named Friendly Bear, holds its own toy animal pal under one arm and a book under another. “I know you’ll like this,” she said, “because books are your favorite thing.”

We discussed which superpowers we’d choose. I said healing, so I could help heal the world. She said she’d like to be able to fly. “I’d fly over right now to hug you.”

We discussed what it’s like to talk to animals and trees. She and I agreed, they are very good listeners. “Especially when you’re sad,” she said. I told her I don’t hear dogs or trees answer in a way I can hear with my ears, but I sometimes I feel what they say inside of me. “Me too!” she said, “We’re just the same!”

Then she talked about how her mind likes to go so wild that she doesn’t notice time passing. She said, “I look around and say to myself, ‘How is this real? How am I real?’” and I said, “Me too! We’re just the same!”

Laura Grace Weldon, Just The Same

Yesterday I taught movement class and was introducing the students to Laban’s method for describing movement dynamics. You break down an action: “kick”, “snap” etc. I asked them to pick a verb that we could deconstruct into Laban’s categories fast/slow, strong/weak, etc. One student was trying to be difficult and said: “Mmmm”. No problem. We can break down a word that is not a verb, that is not a word. Because sound/utterances also have dynamics.

I had a banal little breakthrough about the link between movement and sound. Nothing original or earthshattering, but one of those beautiful moments where experience precedes acquired knowledge. Like catching a fish bare-handed from a dark stream.

This morning I read about the Tetris effect: where we experience the movements we have executed during the day as we are falling asleep. And there is the imagined speech of our inner monologues, which I know can slide out of linguistic grooves, shaking the consonants and fricatives that give it context, but keep its truth.

It seems scientists focus on what we take from this realm into sleep. And don’t acknowledge what is indigenous to sleep, and whose shadows we cram into our pockets: what little gods’ humming fills the spaces between the stop motion bits of our days. A color – or a shade of grey.

They don’t acknowledge what gods and ghosts welcome us back at night, putting a warm hand on our forehead, pushing us under the surface.

Ren Powell, I See Ghosts

crossing by river or drowning by bridge :: shall i visit the same dead

Grant Hackett [no title]

I have been dreaming about maneless Eurasian cave lions. In these dreams, I see Palaeolithic paintings of horses, eight-legged arguing bisons, extinct rhinoceros, ancient bones of bears, sparkling formations of rocks that resemble tourmalines, and etching of one woman whose head is turning into a mammoth’s. The name of the man who has printed his hand with one crooked finger can only be known by 32000 year old lions who do not speak. 

At the end of the serpentine cave, there is a six year old boy eating an apple that he has just plucked from a blossoming tree. He doesn’t know that a wolf is right behind him. Tens of thousands of years later, archaeologists will find his footprints right next to the wolf’s. 

Near the river, while watching this scene, I am playing Schubert’s Ave Maria on an ancient flute made of a hollow bone of a vulture. 

At the end of these dreams, I inevitably find an abandoned book of prayers in which the word God has been replaced by two words: Grotte Chauvet

Saudamini Deo, God and Grotte Chauvet

February moves across midnight fields of love notes, Jim Crow stones, sorrow bones, and emancipation.

It’s like chains that lose themselves in moments of song.

It’s like a guitar made of blackbirds and brambles.

It’s like a ghost home reminded of its living sweetness.

The night winds remind us we’ve come a long way to find warmth, we have a long way to go to find healing.

Rich Ferguson, Upon a February

The hotel room speaker with its choice of reassuring white noise was designed to soothe unpredictable and unfamiliar noise to enable hotel guests to sleep. This masking of unpleasant noise with pleasant noise is the only current treatment for tinnitus. There is no cure and hearing aids can worsen the problem by making the tinnitus louder so are only used if there is also underlying hearing loss. However, when everything you hear is competing against the constant ringing/buzzing/static of tinnitus, hearing is frequently difficult.

Even a relatively quiet room can seem noisy depending on the frequencies of the background noise. If you are trying to hear someone speak against background conversation and tinnitus, separating out the noises and focusing on the one you want to hear takes a lot of cognitive effort. Staying home and using text based chat is easier but feels isolating. Not everywhere can be made library-quiet and background can help even out the unpredictable, irregular noise that interrupts a conversation.

This week is Tinnitus Awareness Week. I will never know silence. But I will never be alone either. My tinnitus is always there, but it’s not constant. There are loud and quieter periods. It is not always the boring static I usually have. Sometimes it mimics other sounds or has a rhythm that can be interpreted into song. A companion.

Emma Lee, Blanket of Sound

As I pass, they quiet. I move,
they start again, we play this game
of love, of fleeting signs and flipping
our display, of feigning and igniting,
such delicately tuned engines.
In the glitter of winter sun, why shouldn’t
songbirds rock the hedge — I walk on.

Jill Pearlman, (Valentine) Birds of Play

Finding time to write is not easy for me. Almost all of my time is taken with working in publishing and teaching. I work from the time I wake up until about midnight every day. I work on weekends. When I walk my dog, I make phone calls. When I drive to the beach, I make phone calls and when I walk on the beach, I make phone calls. I wrote this poetry during my few free evenings and in the early mornings. I wrote out the first drafts and then worked on edits. In the first drafts, the narrator sounded wild around the edges, but eventually I got the dark of the poems into stanzas and into that heady place that we consider a publishable poem.

Writing poetry for me requires being alone in a quiet place. There’s not much quiet in the world, it’s full of noise. Slowing down enough to be at the pace of poetry requires stepping away from the internet, the phone, the television, and entering the void. The Loneliest Girl was written at the bottom of the well. I was down there in the dark finding my way with a flashlight, a pen, and scraps of moonlight.

When I was a child, I once spent the night at the bottom of a well. I remember when the moon rose above me and I stood to throw up my arms and yelled, “Save me!” But the moon was far away and sailed on and left me in the dark. In the morning, someone found me and threw down a rope.

Writing these poems felt like that night in the well. We are lit by our own imaginations when we write poetry, we are sailing on a canoe in the dark over the moon going to find language, story, the island of forgiveness. Sometimes I think every poem is a prayer to the universe to forgive me for not being perfect. Poetry is the language of silence. I have found my way there in The Loneliest Girl, and I emerged with a book in my hands.

The possibilities of Medusa & The Loneliest Girl – guest blog post [by] Kate Gale (Trish Hopkinson’s blog)

The buzz and whine of the shredder
is company for a whole afternoon. I dig

deep into each folder in my file cabinet
and lift out who knows how many years’

worth of dead paper—ancient receipts, stale
explanations of benefits or of where our

money went. When did we buy that? Why?
Where is it now? Still, I know more things

brought some version of happiness into this
life we’ve made, even if briefly. I would stand

in a queue in the rain to listen to a rapturous
writer or a beautiful song; would walk miles

through foggy green countryside, wait
patiently for a herd of sheep to finish

crossing the lane.

Luisa A. Igloria, Sixty

Lunerd: only accepts moon poems

Purretry: only accepts cat poems

For Goodness Ache: only accepts poems with the word “ache” somewhere in the poem

Poe-a-Tree: only accepts poems about trees

Poe-atry: only accepts poems about Edgar Allen Poe

Then I Woke Up: only accepts poems where the whole poem is actually just a dream

The Franco Review: accepts author photos first, the poems after

After: Only accepts poems that are “after” (in the style of) another poet

______: only accepts poems that use blanks, like Jorie Graham poems

The Graham: only accepts poems by Jorie Graham

Renee Emerson, Themed Literary Magazines that Should Exist

This morning, I wrote a poem.  You might say, “Of course you did.  You’re a poet.”  But I’m a poet who does more writing in other genres these days:  blog posts, e-mails, seminary writing, social media updates.  I’ve been here before, so I no longer fret.  I know that Poetry Kristin is always there, observing, making connections, tucking details away for later poems.  Poetry Kristin can outwait everything that competes with poetry for my attention.

I always feel like I am not having much luck creating whole poems, but this line came to me this morning, as I was getting a sweater out of the back of a closet and wishing I had a door to Narnia back there: we pass our planetary wealth in sweaters. I sat with this line–and these ideas of enchantment, sweaters, closets, cheap junk jewelry, portals of all sorts–and I slowly began to see a poem shimmering through.

Who needs a portal to Narnia when a poem shimmers in the pre-dawn?

I tend to think that I’m not writing poems, but my poetry legal pad tells a different tale.  The last time I wrote a poem was January 31–not that long ago, especially considering that was the week that I was severed from my job.

It seems so long ago, but it was only last week.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Enchantment, Sweaters, Poetry, Portals of All Sorts

Four rejections in 36 hours. I become depressed. Twenty-four hours later I’ve done two more submissions. It occurs to me to wonder if, in fact, I have not a writer’s work ethic for publication but a gambling problem.

One more roll of the dice. Maybe this time. Come on baby, mama needs a new pair o’ shoes. Maybe this is not the noble seeking of the writer for the reader. Maybe this is just an addiction.

Someone posted on a writers’ FB exchange that every submission moves one closer to publication. It’s a nice thought but flawed in terms of the laws of probability. Every submission has a 50:50 chance: yes:no. (The maybes don’t count. In all my years of doing this, my maybes have NEVER turned into a yes with the next submission.) Every time.

I guess there may be the rare occasions in which a writer has caught an editor’s eye, and the editor becomes more inclined toward acceptance with each promising submission. (I don’t really believe that, but I’m going to offer it to you as some sort of solace.)

I think I’m addicted to the hit of possibility, grubbing in the smoke-filled, ding-crazy hall of chance, and you, editor, are my one-armed bandit.

Marilyn McCabe, There’ll be time enough; or, On the Publication Gamble

As I close out my first week of working wholly for myself, I will give a massive shout out to the ability to actually complete things. I mean, like to the end. I’ve pretty much lived the last 18 or so odd years in a state of half-finished.  Half finished projects, half finished layouts, half finished orders strewn about.  When I had the studio, I could spend a couple hours working, but always had to switch gears and go to work.  Ditto the last couple of years. Even when I worked on things at night, I was at the end of my day and less productive, and had to often stop to go to bed.  Or weekends, to do whatever of my own stuff (housecleaning, errands, etc,) that badly needed attending. And then of course, there was the energy wasted shifting gears, moving from one things to another, whether it was an e-mail interruption or a phone call or a suddenly pressing task that needed to take precedence.  And even when you moved back to the original, it took time to refocus (if you could at all.)  I think only  in the absense of such circumstances do you realize how not at all productive they are. How much they cut away, not only from the quality and quantity of output, but your general mental drain and feelings of burn out. […]

I’ve talked with friends about the energies it tales to constanly be switching gears, and how much time and energy it takes. To pause, refocus on something else, to go back, then refocus again. At the library, distractions were constant, even when I purposely tried to ignore the dinging e-mail notification on my pc and the phone. I’d be working steadily and get interrupted by a student worker question or needy patron or broken printer.  Come back and get distracted by the news or social media, and then get back to what I was working on and then get interrupted again.  This was actually less difficult and more micro  than the shifting I would do during the day at large. Writing in the morning, press work, commuting, library (where I could potentially be working in three different modes and for three different jobs). No wonder I was mentally exhausted all the time. Sometimes I tried to devote days to one or another line, but some things, like ILL processing had to happen every day or get backed up to move smoothly. And e-mails. Sometimes 3-4 accounts to check.  Egads the amount of time to just get through them (and I feel like I never really do.) If I had an exhibit to hang or web pages to build on top of that, it was even more intense. 

So needless to say, despite feeling a little strange that I am spending so much time alone (which is fine as an introvert, but I don’t want to become Miss Havisham levels of mad) things are going quite well. I even consented to a pre-Valentines outing to a movie and maybe dinner after.  And  it occurred to me that weekend plans were usually NO because I need to reset and rest, but now I will not hit the end of the week quite as frazzled, so am much more open for outings, especially as (hopefully) the covid rates continue to fall. 

Kristy Bowen, switching gears

You can see it through the window, the saint’s face
pressing against the pane of glass,
his breath making a tiny fog.

You are outside in the cold air and the saint is inside,
the glass and a number of sins are still between you.

It is the gray of winter and the entire world seems
to be painted in shades of black and white and gray,
like some old movie.

On the other side of the window the saint breathes again,
exhaling as hard as he can, and with his finger
he begins to write you a message
on the foggy glass.

James Lee Jobe, The warm breath of the saint.

The end of January found me in some amazing company! I got to participate in two release readings for A Harp in the Stars: An Anthology of Lyric Essays (U of Nebraska Press, 2021). I’m still pinching myself to make sure I’m not dreaming about having a piece included in this gorgeous book!

On Saturday, January 29, The Writers Place in Kansas City hosted a reading on Zoom with anthology editor Randon Billings Noble and contributors Dorothy Bendel, Heidi Czerwiec, and me. Lyric essay as labyrinth? Lyric essay as body wash instructions? I loved hearing these essays aloud and sharing my “Nevermore” in such company. The sponsor was also special to me: I helped connect us to TWP, and this organization gave me a scholarship when I was an MA student at UMKC. I’m honored to be a member now.

On Monday, January 31, San Diego Writers, Ink sponsored our reading, and my former student Madi Bucci, who is now their administrative assistant, was our Zoom host! This time I got to read with Randon Billings Noble, Laurie Easter, LaTanya McQueen, and Maya Sonenberg, and I was once again stunned by my fellow contributors. Have you ever seen a lyric essay take the form of a word search (and then have it gut you with its content)? Well, you can if you read this anthology, and you definitely should.

Katie Manning, Readings in the Stars

It fascinates me how inherently collaborative and interconnected creation almost always is, even if it is not explicitly shown. We don’t only stand on the shoulders of giants, we get a boost from everyone.

Gary Barwin, BIG SAD: a video and notes about collaboration, influence and process

Yes, our trip today to Open Books – the first place I visited as a tourist to Seattle on the recommendation of one of my English professors at University of Cincinnati – reminded me of how things have changed since we moved here. Pioneer Square – a rowdier, bar-filled tourist spot that once housed Elliot Bay Books – will be the new home of Open Books, which lived in sleepier, more residential Wallingford since before I came to the town as a visitor. Elliot Bay moved to hipster – but now more “corporate condo” than “hipster artists and bars” – Capitol Hill. I used to meet friends at Open Books – see pictures – and I’ve had almost every launch reading for my books there, too. See a picture of one of them below. I’ll have to make new memories at the new location.

I used to spend hours in the rundown former funeral home that housed the Richard Hugo House when I first moved to town, imaging I was in a real artist’s place – and then I volunteered there for small local lit mags for a while. Back then, yes, there were drug deals in front of the place, it wasn’t at all accessible, and there was a rumor of a baby ghost in the basement (along with a baby’s coffin) but it felt charmingly quirky, much like the area of Capitol Hill, where you could get a drink at a dive bar with pinball machines or papier mache unicorn heads. Now, Hugo House is housed in the fairly cold, corporate grounds of a re-done condo building (and paying much more than it used to on rent, which leads to more fund-raising and less, well, artist-nurturing), and it just doesn’t feel as cozy and welcoming and well, artistic. It is more accessible (bonus!) and has bathrooms you don’t accidentally get locked in…and no ghosts (yet…)

The places that I’ve relied on to meet other writers – like Open Books and Hugo House – are changing, and have changed, and while I’m sad about that, I recognize that a city doesn’t stay the same, and a literary scene doesn’t stay the same. During the pandemic, we haven’t visited Seattle much, and we used to go every weekend, to hang out, to visit Pike Place Market or one of the many bookstores and coffee shops, always exploring new (to us) neighborhoods. Seattle’s increasing homeless problem, litter, and crime are unfortunate side effects of growth and some serious housing affordability problems as well as a lack of resources for the poor, the mentally ill, and people who age out of the foster system. Our politicians have promised fixes but haven’t (as yet) delivered. Does this affect the art scene in Seattle? Yes. Did the pandemic hurt our art scene? Unquestionable. Do we have AWP coming out next week? Yes we do! Do I want to show Seattle in its best light to my friends who come to town? Yes I do! So I will keep exploring to find out where writers and artists are hanging out now. Maybe I’ll find the next new cool artistic hangouts. I hope so.

And another problem – I live in an “ex-urb” of Seattle, Woodinville, a sleepy area of farms and wineries and a surprising number of hidden charming corners, but it has almost nothing that you could call “culture.” No art galleries, barely any indie shops, we have one Barnes and Nobles and a couple of coffee shops besides Starbucks but it’s been hard for me to build a community out here – and I encountered similar problems in 2012 when I was Redmond’s Poet Laureate, working hard with schools and librarians and visual artists and local language clubs to try to generate interest in poetry and art. Even though Redmond has Microsoft and a fair number of millionaires, and Bellevue’s real estate is now more expensive than Manhattan (said our local paper this weekend,) it’s tough to attract people or the funds to create cultural centers where art, music, theater, and poetry might thrive. I’ve dreamed of throwing salons in the area, which is beautiful, and I’m sure has a lot of artists, musicians, and writers in it, it’s just…I can’t find them, or we have no gathering places.

If I had unlimited funds and time, I might build a poetry bookshop/coffee shop/art space myself here in Woodinville, where real estate isn’t quite as pricey. I lived in Napa for a year, and they had a wonderful mix of wineries, indie book shops and restaurants, and unique gardens, farms, and markets that just made for a lovely quality of life. (Fires, earthquakes, and high taxes – all endemic to California – notwithstanding.) They even had their own writer’s conference each year! We need to start something like that. I’ll keep dreaming…

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Happy (Almost) Valentine’s Day, Faux Spring, and Thinking About Changes in Seattle’s Lit Scene

Christine Stewart-Nuñez: I know you are a prolific storyteller and an author of many novels. As I read Tell Me How You Got Here, I kept looking for an overarching narrative, but the collection refused me in the most satisfying way. I enjoyed swinging from poem to poem by collecting imagery and emotional impressions. Can you tell us more about what the genre of poetry opens for you that novels may not?

Emily Franklin: I started life as a poet, publishing in high school. In college I worked with great poets (Tom Lux, Kimiko Hahn) and thought for sure I would keep writing poetry while I worked numerous other jobs (cook, construction, teacher) but wound up being pulled into fiction writing. It made sense since I wrote mostly narrative poems. After years in the fiction world, I found lines of poetry coming back to me. For me, writing poetry is about sharing the biggest truth in the smallest form. I felt relief in trimming words and focusing on line breaks, really paring back in order to tell what needed to be told.

Christine: As a child, I maintained collections: knicknacks, earrings, dolls, stickers. Having moved a lot as an adult, I’ve let go of this tendency–with books a hearty exception. Tell Me How You Got Here appeals to my love of things because so many objects shimmer with meaning. Can you tell us more about your relationship to artifacts?

Emily: I’ve always been fascinated by what people (or crows!) collect. What people keep is also who they are or markers of what happened to them. Having moved a ton growing up, what we keep has special significance to me. I wrote Tell Me How You Got Here considering the amassing we do—and the sloughing off of items either when children grow out of things, or when a house floods (which happened to us), or what remains for people to sort through after someone dies. I like the record keeping of objects, and the freedom that comes from letting some of those objects or what they represent go.

Diane Lockward, Terrapin Books Interview Series: Christine Stewart-Nunez Interviews Emily Franklin

It has been some time since I’ve seen a book by Vermont poet Bianca Stone, since her full-length debut, Someone Else’s Wedding Vows (Octopus Books and Tin House, 2014) [see my review of such here], having clearly missed out on Poetry Comics from the Book of Hours (Pleiades Press, 2016) and The Möbius Strip Club of Grief (Portland OR: Tin House, 2018), so I was curious to see her latest collection, What is Otherwise Infinite (Tin House, 2022). In sharp, first-person narratives working around (as the front flap of the collection offers) “how we find our place in the world through themes of philosophy, religion, environment, myth, and psychology,” Stone composes poems as threads connecting accumulating points; her narratives stretched as sequences of stunning lines and connective tissue. “Time does not go beyond its maiden name.” she writes, as part of “Does Life Exist Independent of Its Form?,” ending the stanza with the offering: “how uncomfortable we are with happiness.” I remember, years ago, Ottawa poet, publisher and archivist jwcurry describing the long poems of northern British Columbia poet Barry McKinnon: how every poem worked its way toward, and then away from, a singular, central point. In comparison, Stone isn’t writing with such length, nor with a single point, but up and away from multiple points-in-succession. It is as though she is composing poems as a series of communiques across telephone wires, connecting pole to further pole to build each poem’s thesis. Through What is Otherwise Infinite, the dense lyric structures of her debut have become far more complex, extended and philosophical; there is a further depth of attention here, one that could only be achieved through experience, as the second half of the poem “I’ll Tell You” reads:

my sister tells me things
that frighten me
what I mean is
how did we get here
made of gingerbread in the oven
eaten by the mother
eaten by the wolf
my little pale nephew standing on the porch
explaining lava in the netherworld
that if you fall in a certain hole
in his game
you keep falling forever
and you don’t get to keep
any of the things
you made.

There is something curious in the way Stone attends to the “infinite,” writing around and through Biblical stories and texts, illuminated manuscripts and other religious depictions, considerations and conversations. “Human nature is bifolios,” she offers, as part of the poem “Illuminations,” “versos, even blank pages / with preparatory rulings for the scribes, never painted upon. / Little books of suffering saints and resurrections. / That’s what we are.” A few lines further, offering: “On this sheet / the Evangelist dips a pen into an inkpot / and rests an arm on the side of a chair, / inspired, like Luke, by the dove, / preparing to set down an account of a life / on paper made from the skin of sheep.” There is a wit to these poems, as Stone offers both guidance and clarity through lived experience and wisdoms hard-won, articulating her takes on depictions of the spiritual from sources high and low. She writes from a world that includes faith, medieval texts and trips to Walmart, and both a sense of ongoing intellectual and spiritual pilgrimage alongside flailing, falling and being nearly overwhelmed. “A serious drama in a cosmic joke. / Scarred,” she writes, as part of the poem “The Way Things Were Until Now,” “masked, dangerous. / And what of the new Eucharist? / How hungry I always am. How I long to lack. / Though in Walmart / my heart beats a little faster. / I want the world to heal up.” Here, Stone becomes the pilgrim, and the composition of these poems-as-pure-thinking are, in effect, as much the act of pilgrimage as they are the articulation of that same journey. “I don’t know. What is it to be seen?” she writes, as part of “Artichokes,” “I can forget / it’s language I long for. Man and his ciphers / cannot save me.” This truly is a stunning collection, as Stone offers her narrator a chaos equally physical and metaphysical that requires balance, one that can only be achieved through a constant, endless and attentive search.

rob mclennan, Bianca Stone, What is Otherwise Infinite

As Judi Sutherland mentions in the introduction to her new book-length, beautifully illustrated poem, Following Teisa (The Book Mill Press, 2021), rivers have long played an important role in U.K. poetry. From Wordsworth to Oswald, water in general is perhaps more present and prevalent as a symbol, an image, a leitmotif or even a theme in itself than in other countries. This might well because the poets in question are living on an island or in a dodgy climate, of course. However, leaving aside attempts at cod psychology, the fact remains that Sutherland is acknowledging and tapping into a rich seam.

History and the significance of place are both important cornerstones of this collection. The title itself, for instance, references an 18th Century long poem about the River Tees which was titled Teisa, Sutherland explores our relationship with the evolving role of our surroundings. In doing so, her perspective is also crucial, as explained in the following extract from the introduction:

…I moved to Teesdale in 2014 and felt dreadfully homesick for my previous village near the Thames. I started walking by the Tees as a way of getting to know and love my new environment and decided to repeat Anne Wilson’s poetic journey for a different generation…

In other words, Sutherland engages as an outsider. There’s no forced attempt at vernacular, for instance. Instead, she invites us along on her own exploration of the River Tees, portraying it in language that’s both rich yet deft, as is indicated by the opening lines to the poem itself:

How it wells up from nowhere to chase
gravity downhill, becomes a rill,
a rickle of old stones, then hurtles rocks,
purls and pools in reed…

There’s huge skill present here, not just in the assonance, alliteration and internal rhyme, but in the precise way it’s all patterned and  interlinked, one device starting before the previous one has come to an end: downhill-rill/rill-rickle/rickle-hurtle/hurtle-purls/purls-pools. The effect is to mirror the onrushing movement of water.

Matthew Stewart, History and place, Judi Sutherland’s Following Teisa

The way it breaks is
the way it breaks,

the old monk said,
whether you’re talking

about a storm,
a walking stick, or

a line of poetry.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (131)

I have been learning much and enjoying Robert Alter’s The Art of Biblical Poetry; as much as I found his texts on biblical narrative intriguing, this book appeals to me more not just on the levels of scholarship, history, and explication but because he clearly loves and understands poetry. Which cannot be said about every scholar who writes about the Old Testament books (and they are many).

For example, Alter recognizes that trying to categorize biblical poetry into formulaic genres is useful only in the most general way, because the most enduring (poetically ‘best’) verses persist as significant and special because they are excellent poems. Which means they may not follow stereotypical genres or fit the “given conventions of style” of a type of poem. Indeed, he refers to the author of Job’s Voice from the Whirlwind and the prophetic author known as Deutero-Isaiah as geniuses. Then he provides evidence of this genius through explications that rely not only on scholarship and historical sources and contextual information but through the beautiful poetry itself.

Convention gives writers of both verse and prose a solid framework in which to construct their own discourse, but good writers always exert a subtle pressure on convention…remaking it as they build within it.
Robert Alter

Paradoxes and “radical ambiguities” abound in these ancient poems, and the urgent ideas they chose to convey through poetry manage to feel significant even today, thousands of years later. The fictive aspect of poetry–its imaginative spur–appears in the biblical imagery of (imagined) apocalypse, (imagined) utopia, (imagined) peace and bounty. [Non-believers might add: (imagined) god.]

Alter writes with some wit and considerable modesty, though maybe it’s false modesty since he’s clearly attached to his arguments concerning the Masoretic text, translations of biblical Hebrew, and the structure and syntax of these poems. At any rate, his style permits him to write for the non-scholar. Much appreciated by this non-scholar!

Ann E. Michael, Psalms, Job, & poetry

Recently Mr. Typist bought a microscope, and it took me back to a strangely happy memory of when I was in grade school and we would go out into the woods behind the school, gather pond water in baby food jars, then look at it under a microscope. The first time I saw a paramecium, it filled me with elation and a deep sense of spiritual comfort. It felt like such a miracle that there could be an entire unseen universe of tiny busy life forms carrying on their functions, breathing, excreting and pulsating deep under the surface. I loved looking at the paramecia, and if I had a better brain for science and math, it would have inspired me to become a biologist. When it warms up a bit and we get through a fairly daunting apartment-improvement project, Mr. Typist and I are going to go gather up some water samples from our local parks and shorelines and see what we find under the lens. I’m super-excited about it.

Kristen McHenry, Fun with Paramecia, Gym Fail, Appeasing the Coffee God

Step outside yourself, the air here tastes of stubborn
wonderment. The statelessness negates gravity, wings

tickle the fears in your back. There are more moons
than you can count, each one a different shape.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, What if I don’t want to go back?

When I posted a photo from this series of cocktail still lifes, I used the caption, Photography: a magic or an art? They’re just photos of three drinks mixed with various spirits, but I had a lot of questions floating around in my head at the time, as happens. Like, how are photos believable and in what ways are they simply pretend? What is beauty for? And can it be an antidote for the fuckery of the world? I was mixing these drinks up one afternoon like they were potions or cures. I was thinking about love because someone had said about the protests/illegal gatherings, that you know there’s something off about them because there is no love present. How did we even get here? Historians will be dissecting this time period forever. What happened to people? When did some of us stop caring about others? And I don’t mean just the anti-vaxxers etc. What about us too? Is it just generally harder to care about others because of distance, space, isolation, our hardened hearts? I know I have changed a lot in these past two years. I hold myself back, I’m less open-hearted.

If people can change, can they also change back? Is there a drink or a potion or a magic trick for that? I don’t know if I’m going be able to completely transform, you know, but when I’m not dead-tired and soul-deadened, I want to. If I can change, can I believe that someone with opposing viewpoints can also change? If I want you to see me for my spirit and aspirations, is it not only fair that I try to see yours?

Shawna Lemay, The Spirit in Aspiration

I find myself taking my time when returning from tasks outside of the house, taking the Ghost Lake route, my mind wandering the contours, the black peat fields, the terraced valley sides. I watch the crows, I watch the way the rain makes the leafless trees darker, so that their bark is black, the water filling every cell, every crevice, every crack. I feel like I am absorbing this week in the same way, letting the darkness of it into me, filling me up until it comes out of my mouth, or at least out of my fingers, leeching out of my finger prints, through the pen, the computer, onto the white of the page. This is where I am right now. […]

Tomorrow is a new day, though the rain is set to continue for a good week. I have lots to look forward to: I am loving my own The Caged Bird Sings course, my Friday afternoon group are so engaged and willing, and kind and fun, it is genuinely the highlight of my week. Next week I’m also looking forward to running a workshop for the Poetry Business on de-romanticising the rural, you can book a place here. I love talking to people about poetry and finding new ways to write, so I’m really looking forward to working under the PB banner. And I’m looking forward to the private course chats I have scheduled over the week. I’m also meeting a new writer friend for coffee. It’s going to be a very ‘people heavy’ week, something I’m not used to, being the rural hermit that I am, but perhaps something that will do me good.

I see so many people facing so many challenges lately, I want to give us all a hug. Spring’s on it’s way, though, catkins in the lane, the jackdaws are poking their heads into last year’s tree-hole-nests. We just have to weather it out.

Wendy Pratt, A Challenging Week

and so here we are
funeral day
and the new patio isn’t half finished
they will have done a bit more by the time
we come back from the crematorium
they are not turning the soil there
with a red digger like ours
they / we are burning memories
deep into the patio of the past
the flowers of ash
would make good fertiliser
on the wind from here to the garden
is but a breath not taken
one foot in each world
we withdraw one from the sinking
and place two on a brand new patio
how nice it all went

Jim Young, for janet

I’ve finished reading James Joyce’s Ulysses in time for its centenary year. This wasn’t my plan when I picked it up for the first time in, when was it? 2009 I think. It’s taken me twelve years with many pauses, re-starts, pauses. 

The copy of the book I bought at the Keele University bookshop (I was studying for an MA in Creative Writing at the time, was open to influence) has travelled with me, sat on various shelves, its spine cracking, the edges of its pages yellowing. 

The book was recommended to me by Scott McCracken, by Miss Cooper, by Jeremy Fisher, by Pope Innocent III, by Sue the Librarian, and all of them in it for the literature. I took it with me to France, to Italy, to Wyle Cop, to Ceredigion, and even to Dublin itself. It weighed me down with its great reputational promises and its respectable unrespectability. I began to think it had defeated me.

What is it to be so famous and to represent a formidable pinnacle of literature, to become reading for the super-diligent? By degrees, Ulysses became a monument to a decline in concentration, to my perception that the pandemic and Facebook between them had done for my ability to read at length. What I could manage had been reduced to Guardian articles, or, on a good day, Billy Collins’ poems. […]

The final reading was all done and dusted in less than a year among the bed sheets and pine cones and sometimes with the sea lapping at my feet at Fairbourne. Penelope is the most wonderful thing I’ve ever read because it’s wonderful, and because it came like that cold beer, crisps and pie I ate all at once at the pub at the foot of Cader Idris after misreading the largescale OS map on the descent.

So yes to the book which sat on my shelf plump and teasing with its thousands upon thousands of tiny pawprint words yes the twelve years the eighteen episodes yes the rollicking kidney of Irish history fried up in memory yes the guffaws yes the blushes and the winding boredom with another mug of coffee yes the classical religious literary references assumed in hours of lying there propped up on one hand making no sense and then sense coming unravelling its freewheeling veracity all over the inside of my imagination and yes yes I will read it again Yes.

Liz Lefroy, I Say Yes

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 51

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week, a special winter holiday edition. Enjoy.


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

Overhead is a dull seashell.
Clouds cover the sun.

I have to trust
what I can’t see.

And my heart —
a worried compass needle

yearning
for your light.

Rachel Barenblat, Solstice

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

The magpies are quiet now.

Wait.

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

Then they’ll be gone. Again.

Just wait.

Ren Powell, Magpies and Snow

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

Gary Barwin, Two stories about Mrs Santa

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

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

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

Paul Tobin, MEADFOOT 21.12.21

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matthew Paul, Return to Hope

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

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (89)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JJS, Systrophe

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

Jim Young [no title]

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

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

Lesley Wheeler, Weird tree-person looking east

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

Beth Adams, Lights on at 1 pm: Winter Solstice

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

Ama Bolton, Shortest day

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

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

Sheila Squillante, Sister Santa

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

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

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

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

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

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

Martyn Crucefix, The Unlikely Wound Inflicted by a Photograph

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

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

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

Anthony Wilson, Call the Midwife

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

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

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

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Pivoting on Christmas Eve

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

Luisa A. Igloria, Beyond measure

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

Here he is, wearing a coat made by Gabriel. Here he is. My beloved friend. Here he is – Graham, GKA, Gray: half fallen angel, half risen dervish. 

Liz Lefroy, I Unwrap Three Gifts

We’re in our bedroom. I’m standing behind them, arms around their waist. I ask whether there’s anything we could do to fix things, to be together. They smile sadly but don’t answer. That’s when I awake, my brain saving me from another crushing reply. Christmas slips the knife back in. I know it takes time, but hasn’t there been enough? I’m ready for the part where it hurts less. Mostly I just want them back so damn much and I want to stop wanting that.

the kettle is on
in someone else’s house
Christmas

Jason Crane, A Christmas haibun

Do I dream of you or you of me?
What is it we’re afraid of?
Mist brings back this and that.

Owls live here. House martins, bats.
The blue cobalt crust fungus.
Orchids are early this year.

A hare slips past a fallen ash.
A squirrel stops and stares.
Tell no-one. Let me stay.

Bob Mee, A POEM AS A NET

Mary knows George would never understand they live in a snow globe that gets taken out and shaken once a year. That the life he’s been longing to escape has a finite border, and for a moment, as he clutches Tommy to his chest and Janie plonks away at the piano, he knows it too. This place where it’s always Christmas Eve, where the difference between life and death is $8,000 dollars that always goes missing and returns tenfold, and Zuzu’s sinister flowers bloom in the wintertime. Quick! Ring a bell.

Collin Kelley, New Poetry Project: Poem 3 – “What Mary Bailey Saw”

It has been a while since I’ve seen a poetry title by American-Vietnamese poet Truong Tran, so I was intrigued to see his collaboration with San Francisco poet Damon Potter, 100 Words: Poems (Oakland CA: Omnidawn, 2021). The poems that make up 100 Words: Poems are very much composed via a collaborative call-and-response, as they each respond to the prompt of an individual word, set as each poem’s title. As the book asks: how does one see the other? Composed through one hundred words-as-prompts, the project is reminiscent, somewhat, of Kingston writer Diane Schoemperlen’s debut novel, In the Language of Love(1994), a book composed in one hundred chapters, each chapter prompted by and titled “based on one of the one hundred words in the Standard Word Association Test, which was used to measure sanity.”

Composed as a process of vulnerability and exchange, there is something curious in Tran and Potter’s shared poems, uncertain as to which poet wrote which section, a process more open and interesting to read through than had each section been credited. The point, I suppose, was entirely to bleed into uncertainty, and a closeness of reading. In terms of potential authorship, some sections appear rather straightforward, and others, less so. As they write as part of “perhaps an afterword or a new beginning,” a sequence set at the end of the collection: “i am documenting a way of getting to you. it is a map to be shared in the / hopes that one day should that day come that you can use it as a way to / get to me.” There is something quite compelling in the depth of this conversation, into the bare bones of being, speaking on elements of race and privilege, belonging and othering, difference and sameness, either perceived or actual, and how perception itself shapes our lived reality. Opening an endless sequence of questions, there aren’t answers per se, but the way in which each writer responds, both to the prompt and to each other, that provides the strength of this collection. It is the place where these two writers meet, in the space of the poem, of the page, that resounds.

rob mclennan, Daman Potter and Truong Tran, 100 Words: Poems

I’ve been once again trying to learn to play the piano, blessedly for the household, on a keyboard with headphones, as it’s a painful tune.

Plunk…plunk…plunkplunkkerplu…crap…plunk…plunk… You get the idea. I like learning, even as I sometimes beat on the keys like a chimp in my frustration. Like that’s going to help. One loses control sometimes.

It’s the trying, the practice, the let’s see how it’s going to go today. Nothing like being a beginner to keep the ego at bay. Bay? Nay, swamp.

There’s a freshness in my approach to this beast that is often missing from my approach to writing poetry.

I had an idea this morning and boop boop wrote a poem. I kind of liked it. But I distrusted how easily it came.

I don’t mistrust all easy things, but I know enough about my own process to have sneaking suspicion that I’ve written not out of the difficult place of questions but rather the often more-satisfying-in-the-moment place of knowing. I knew how to write that poem, and I knew what I was going to say. And there it is, grinning winningly at me.

I shake my head. Sorry, pal. You’re cute. You’re one-night-stand cute, sure. But I’m after the real thing, baby, the messy, what the hell am I doing, what’s going to happen next thing. And you ain’t it. Plunk plunk…plunk…plink…crap

Marilyn McCabe, An ordinary pain; or, On Writing and Knowing

Silence is never completely silent. Something somewhere moves, it might be birdsong, a distance car, the clank of a heating system, a breeze making leaves dance, even snow crunches underfoot. Not responding to someone’s question can be an answer. When not speaking, we are rarely still. We fidget, tap feet or fingers, fold arms, fiddle with clothing or hair, jangle jewellery, clothes can squeak or rattle, we hum, swallow, sniff, breathe. If you’re attuned to body language, you pick up someone’s mood and learn to anticipate their response.

When I read my poems to an audience I look for
a smile of recognition, the stillness of true listening,
a fidget of boredom, a clue into how I’m heard.

(“Tracking Sounds, Crossing Borders”)

When you can’t hear your own voice properly, you compensate. I’ve also started a sequence of poems following Rose Ayling-Ellis’s dances on BBC’s “Strictly Come Dancing” and how she manages to dance despite not being able to fully hear the music. It drew out all the compensatory measures I use without thinking about them. I pass as hearing and was nervous that I wasn’t “deaf enough” to qualify for Arachne Press’s anthology “What Meets the Eye”. I am delighted to be part of the anthology with my poem “Tracking Sounds, Crossing Borders”, even if I still don’t know where the border between hard of hearing and deaf lies.

Emma Lee, The Art of Anticipation

Sometimes my sadness is like a symphony that only I can hear.
The beans are done and the rice is done
And now I am slicing bell peppers so that we can dip them in hummus.
An editor told me recently that he doesn’t like poems that begin with ‘I.’
But I don’t really care what he likes.

James Lee Jobe, Poems that begin with ‘I’

So I keep returning to dormancy, and how that might work for a large mammal who cannot sleep underground for 12 or more weeks.

I’ve decided to take the winter off from things that make up too many of the hours I spend on my phone. I’m taking the social media apps (other than Messenger, which I use to communicate with folks) off my phone and I’m not going to write here again until Sunday, March 20th, the first day of spring. I’m not going completely off-line, but I intend to be much more intentional about being on. What I want is to clear some space and be purposeful about what I let into it. I think I need some arbitrary restrictions and some public declaration to make a necessary quiet happen.

I have been wary of writing that last paragraph because there are things I know I will miss, and because writing here has become a thing I count on for several different kinds of good things. I have been avoiding it because if I didn’t write it I could more easily change my mind about the whole thing. I was avoiding it because there’s some fear in this for me.

But I’m saying it and am going to do it because last week, when I went into Powell’s, a bookstore that covers an entire city block and was once one of my favorite places, I felt overwhelmed by the cacophony of voices shouting at me from the shelves. There is so much clamor in the world, and so often lately all I can hear is a grating din. I want to see if I can create a pocket of quiet within it, if I can make my way back to some part of that young girl who loved to make a grilled cheese sandwich and a bowl of canned chicken noodle soup and eat them slowly at her family’s kitchen table in the company of a book, able to hear nothing in her mind’s ear but the voice of one other person speaking to her. I don’t know if this experiment is as much about becoming some other kind of writer as it is about becoming a different kind of reader. All I know is that somehow, I’ve lost my way, and I want to find it again.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Dormancy

All human suffering reduced to a tickle in the back of the throat. Hearts worn on sleeves, both as a fashion statement, and to allow your love to get some fresh air. Play checkers with your freckles, Twister with your lips. Spend some time in the music world twilight zone—somewhere between “Lust for Life” and “There’s a Light That Never Goes Out”. Fold and refold your DNA into origamis of better tomorrows.

Rich Ferguson, Better Tomorrow Beatitudes

The winter rolls over the land
like a cold carpet.
It’s soothing that seasons
haven’t forgotten their job yet.
As the days get shorter
we shrink a bit more in them too:
less steps, less words, less thoughts.
Only desires are still growing.
How to forget those bonfires
we’ve lit ourselves behind us?
The dancing shadows we watch
are ours.

Magda Kapa, Low Light

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 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