Poetry Blog Digest 2024, Week 16

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, subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader, or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack.

This week: a wasp’s heart, rearranging the ghosts, the language of cicadas, empires of the everyday, losing the moon and more. Enjoy.

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Poetry Blog Digest 2024, Week 5

river in November light between bare woods and mountain

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, subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader, or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack.

This week: a journey to the underworld, an allotted plot, becoming your own god, finding joy as a writer, and much more. Enjoy.

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Poetry Blog Digest 2024, Week 2

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive, subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader, or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack.

This week, poets were visionary, resolute, hunkering down, easing back into the grind. Some evinced minds of winter, while others dreamed of warmer times and climes. Enjoy.

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Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Weeks 51-52: Holidaze edition

Poetry Blogging Network

Happy 2024! This edition of the digest—a personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond—takes us from the winter solstice to New Year’s, with year-end summary posts, favorite books, and plans for the year ahead as well as reflections on the season. 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, subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader, or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack.

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Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 46

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, subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader, or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack. This week: the Bird King, 1300 chapbooks, the air full of silk, a Tasmanian double, the absence of sex in lit mags, and much, much more. Enjoy.

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Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 38

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, subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader, or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack. This week: the equinox, telepathy, stream-writing, list poems, and much more. Enjoy.


It is peak bramble time, jam-making, pickling, apple cake and plum crumble time. The first geese are here, and the last housemartins are lining up to leave. The bird population in the garden has changed – the sparrows are mostly in the fields just now, so the blue tits have a chance at the feeders. The magpies are mostly bothering something else in the woods, there are starlings along all the roof tops, and the robin is noisily staking out his winter territory in the hawthorns over the burn. The temperature has dropped ten degrees over the last week, and I’m about to pick the last tomatoes and move the lemon verbenas and the scented leaf geraniums into the greenhouse before the frost. I’ll be stripping out the spent annuals, and sowing the seeds I’ve saved to jump start next summer’s flowers, and I’ll be making pot pourri and some dried flower arrangements to give us scent and colour through the dark days.

Because next week is the equinox, one of the tipping points of the year, and we’re heading for winter. I’m having a tipping point of some other kinds too. I seem to have shifted from ‘learning about’ this new territory, to ‘getting to know’ it. I am aware, not only of new facts as they come to my attention, but how they impact things I already know. I understand more about why some plants are thriving and some aren’t, how taking out all the stones from the front garden changes not only the drainage, but the feel of the soil, and I can hear when there’s a new bird in the garden. It feels like a more mutual phase, as the garden responds to what I’ve done – and not always in the way I expect. I had no idea the marshmallows would grow so tall, or how much shade the lilac tree casts.

And in writing, too. I’ll be in the house more than the garden, in my head more than the world. I’m out of the note-making, researching, puzzling, planning stage and into the real words on the page. Unwilding is still very short – less than five per cent of the total, but there are actual words! And more importantly, as it turns out, the next poetry collection has begun to happen. It is tentatively called The Midsummer Foxes but it is also going to have bees, weather, music, herbs and the moon. I have always wanted to do a ‘four elements’ collection, and this may well be it. I am embarrassingly excited about it!

Elizabeth Rimmer, The Tipping Point

straw bales
a lonely tractor giving birth
to autumn

Jim Young [no title]

On Eurostar from the Netherlands I wrote two poems about returning home and a poem about forgetting. I haven’t knowingly written a poem for a while. I had hoped I could, after bike rides, visits to museums, spending time with Giya. I felt refreshed by being away. I saw new things, including Snow White and the Broken Arm by Marlene Dumas, a South African by birth who lives in Amsterdam. And Snow White is holding a camera. When I went to visit mum and showed it to her she laughed. That was the response of a writer, I realised. It was subversive. 

There is lots to do now. It’s a question of pacing, breathing and breaks, I’m told. 

I want to think more. I’ve been in plant mind all spring and summer. Autumn’s provoking a change. 

Jackie Wills, Coming home and thinking more

In Latin, the word equinox means equal night—
there are two times each year when day

and night are the same length in all parts
of the world. On one side, she was dying.

On the other, she was already dead,
her breaths having slowed until

they could not mist the mirror anymore.
The three women who cared for her until

the end folded the sheets and prepared
her body for its last ceremony of fire,

for sifting into an urn bearing her name.

Luisa A. Igloria, Death in a Different Time Zone

A CBe event at the Barbican scheduled for Wednesday this week, the 27th, has been postponed (to 31 January next year) because of poor ticket sales. How many tickets were sold? As many as a tree-surgeon friend could count on his right hand, after having lost two fingers on that hand to one of those chopping machines into which fallen branches are fed.

Ouch. It’s dose of realism. Event organisers who schedule Ian McEwan or Zadie Smith or Marie Kondo or Michael Palin can stroll into the box office, quids in; event organisers who schedule small-press writers have to run ten times faster for often, as here, zero result.

The Barbican event was ticketed. They pay the writers. Many book events don’t. This is tricky: earlier this month I heard a librarian speak about her unease at having to charge £3 for an author event when for many of the people she wanted to come that was a barrier. The regular charge for book events in London is £10, which equals 2.5 Costa coffees and the food budget for a week for many. We want open access; we want writers to be valued; and it’s depressing how often money gets in the way rather than helping.

Once, a friend and I were the only people to turn up to a stage adaptation of Kafka in a pub theatre and they put on the show just for us.

On the plus side: for publishers whose authors cannot fill stadia, every reader matters.

Charles Boyle, Postponed

21st June 2017, a sweltering day in London, was a significant date for me in two respects. The number one reason was that it was the launch of my first full collection, The Knives of Villalejo, at the LRB bookshop. But the second reason is that at the same event I met my mate Mat Riches for the first time.

On that back of that reading (and a fair few pints after the event itself!), we exchanged a couple of poems by email, gave each other feedback, found the feedback useful, realised we also had a fair bit in common apart from poetry, and began a WhatsApp chat that must now have thousands of messages in its archive. It soon stretched well beyond poetry to the key issues of dodgy craft beer, dodgy football teams, dodgy knees and dodgy tastes in shirts.

In fact, I’d argue that every poet needs a mate like Mat, and I feel hugely fortunate to have found him. He’s seen all the poems in Whatever You Do, Just Don’t at multiple stages in their development, and has given me feedback on every single one, from first draft to reassembly after Nell’s ritual dismembering of words, lines and stanza of numerous poems that we had thought finished. Just as I have for him, of course. His development as a poet has been massive over these six years, and his forthcoming pamphlet, Collecting the Data, will be a terrific calling card.

Mat and I are very different poets, but I’d suggest the key to our successful mutual support is that we never attempt to get the other to write in our aesthetic or voice. Instead, we strive to understand, respect and sometimes push each other gently towards a stretching of our self-imposed limits.

Perhaps the only bad thing is that we now can’t ethically bring ourselves to review our respective books.

Matthew Stewart, My mate Mat

Rex Jung is a neuroscientist who studies creativity. He defines creativity as what is “novel and useful” [emphasis mine]. By choosing to live a creative life, by choosing to seek out the poetic in the humdrum details of our daily lives, we can use writing to gain the perspective we need to become the person each of us wants to be: we can live deliberately.

We can cultivate attention and gratitude. We can create stronger connections with the physical realities of Earth, and with each other. If we look inward, but aim toward art—and if we are fortunate—we can transcend ourselves.

Life imitates art far more than art imitates Life.
Oscar Wilde

We construct our narratives. Which story are you choosing? Because this choice is who you are.

Ren Powell, Metaphor as a Present Tense Manifesto

Kierkegaard suggests that we’re depressed, in modern times, precisely because we’re trying to live in the present moment: we have emptied the past and the future of all meaning. “Everything is cut away but the present; no wonder, then, that one loses it in the constant anxiety about losing it.” In these conditions McMindfulness is more likely to exacerbate depression than to relieve it. Relying on the present moment to supply all our meaning was already overloading it: piling more on is not likely to help.

I still think most people will need mindfulness practices (very broadly construed) to have a life worth living. But I’ve joined the rebellion against locating the present moment as the place where reality lives. There’s a lot of reality. Some ways of reaching out to touch it are historical, and some are soteriological. The fact that “we look before and after” is a feature, not a bug. Sure, it can get us in trouble. What can’t? Man is born to trouble, as the sparks fly upward.

A quiet Fall day. I have failed in everything. And still no rain.

Dale Favier, “Everything is cut away but the Present”

One of the gifts of lyric poetry is the way that it can hold space for a full range of truths as well as ways to access understandings of truth. I often tell writers that what we are after is awkward human utterance. This can be interpreted both as craft as well as content. Figuring out what needs to be said as well as how it needs to be said–this is the gift and animation of engaging with poetry and its truths.

These thoughts are on my mind after spending time with the digital album Songs For Wo​(​Men) 2 (Hello America Stereo Cassette) by Mugabi Byenkya. This album’s narrative arc centers the experiences of a disabled body navigating an able-bodied world as well as the themes of intimacy and love and their role in survival. What charges through the listening experience is Byenkya’s lyric sensibility.

The opening to “Tina,” for example, sets a scene deftly then quickly makes clear what the stakes are:

Housekeeping keeps knocking on the door telling me to open up. I sit and listen. I’m the reason that the towel rack lies mangled askew on the chalky linoleum floor, wondering how much this is going to rack up in charges, wracking my mind for a convincing enough excuse, because I had a seizure while getting out of the shower is a little too much truth, a little too much awkward silence, a little too much shifty eyes, a little too much tiptoeing past the room but barging in when the fork clatters to the ground, a little too much.

The scene here depicts the liminal space of having to negotiate around vulnerability. The physical vulnerability of the moment runs parallel with the emotional vulnerability behind the speaker’s voice. Reading the words alone makes clear the mind at work; the wordplay of “open up” can be appreciated and lingered over in text, such a poignant note to hit before moving forward. Listening to Byenkya’s voice behind words, however, adds a further dimension, makes clear exactly the “opening up” to come.

The idea present in the phrasing “a little too much truth” lives at the core of this album. Byenkya’s awareness and ability to evoke for listeners moments of “a little too much truth” is a gift to watch in action.

José Angel Araguz, microreview: Songs For Wo​(​Men) 2 by Mugabi Byenkya

Geoff Bouvier’s first book, Living Room, was selected by Heather McHugh as the winner of the 2005 APR/Honickman First Book Prize. His second book, Glass Harmonica, was published in 2011 by Quale Press. He received an MFA from Bard College’s Milton Avery Graduate School of the Arts in 1997 and a PhD in Creative Writing from Florida State University in 2016. In 2009, he was the Roberta C. Holloway visiting poet at the University of California – Berkeley. He lives in Richmond, Virginia, with his partner, the novelist SJ Sindu, and teaches at Virginia Commonwealth University and Vermont College of Fine Arts.

1 – How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
I don’t remember the first book I ever read, but it fundamentally changed me. The mere fact of words – lines of little scribbles that were somehow signs of meaning – shifted my basic understanding of everything.

The first book I wrote – “The Cake Who Lost Its Crumbs,” when I was three – taught me that I could sculpt those little significant meaningful scribbles. My audience was my mother and father, who were quite encouraging.

The first book I published, thirty-three years later, relined my confidence. Though Living Room found only a modest audience, it did earn me some inroads into academia, where I’ve been able to cultivate a life of the mind.

With my new book, Us From Nothing, I wanted words to again shift my basic understanding of everything. I had to try to understand who I am, why I’m here, where I came from, and where I might be headed. It took me 7 years to research and revise what became a serial epic prose poem about the most important milestones in human history.

2 – How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
Psychologically, from the moment I learned to read, it was the words that got me, first and foremost. The mere fact of words. I didn’t care about stories or characters. Those words were drawing attention to themselves as words. That’s the poetry. That hooked me.

Factually, I grew up in a house full of books – my parents were both teachers and readers – but the shelf with the poetry books was the only one with cobwebs on it. I think I gravitated toward it because no one else ever touched it; the poetry books could be mine, all mine.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Geoff Bouvier

My latest poetry book has an unusual backstory: the pandemic and my telepathic parents.

My parents communicated telepathically — mostly when my father was at work. She was a stay-at-home Mom; he was a shipman in the Brooklyn Navy Yard and had no access to a telephone.  When I was too young for school, she’d ask me to play quietly and then converse with him. Naturally, I thought all married couples could transmit thought messages.

I inherited this useful ability, which granted me access to communications “across the miles,” so to speak.  For example, I could reach my father while he was driving and insist that he turn around and come home. I kept this channel open so the dead could reach out, too; My Dungeon Ghost is a memoir poem about an elementary school classmate who became a paid assassin, died behind bars, and telepathically requested “a boon.”
 
With outsiders, this was never discussed, even though my family considers telepathy to be a normal thing even children are expected to do. Though I’ve had my share of uncanny conversations and experiences, I deliberately excluded these from my writing. Then the pandemic arrived with a panicked lockdown — and the silken privacy of isolation granted permission to open a locked door. I decided this collection would be different: a conjuring of the literary and speculative, the familiar and the alien, with judicious sampling from other poets.

Drop-in by LindaAnn LoSchiavo (Nigel Kent)

This was the first in-person reading I’ve done in a long time. I’d forgotten how bad the nerves are when I read out. Getting the collections off the bookshelf and going through them, choosing what to read was like going backwards in time, like looking through photos and seeing images of previous selves. I literally had to knock the dust off them, especially the early ones. I have five collections in all: three full and two pamphlets and I have another full collection coming out next year. You’d think by now I’d feel reasonably confident in my abilities as a poet but for some reason, poetry is probably my main area of intense feelings of imposter syndrome. Often I get so nervous before a reading that I’ll spend the whole day beforehand stuck in ‘waiting mode’ feeling sick with nerves. But I think something might have changed this year, the nerves are definitely not as bad. I think it’s since I signed the book deal contract on my nature-landscape-memoir. I have spent a year writing about belonging and what it is to belong, to feel you have a place in the world. I feel like I have spent a year validating my right to exist in the arts sphere, and other places, my own landscape, my own skin. The difference between having a poetry collection published and a main stream trad published non poetry book is immense – I’m going to write a post about it in the future – and it helps that there’s a team working with me, all of us working towards getting the edits finished, getting the book landed and absolutely shining. I don’t know what it is I’m trying to say – something about being taken seriously as a writer, but also, that self recognition, the finding of inner value in your own work…you have got to have that to grow.

Anyway, I think because the nerves were less debilitating this time, and because I didn’t have books to flog or a course to sell, I think because I was simply taking part (not organising for a change – the relief!) I was able to enjoy the evening more fully, I was fully present. I chatted to poetry friends, I got the gossip on other sectors of the arts world, I enjoyed, oh fully enjoyed, the readings by the other poets and when I came to read I felt a genuine connection with the audience. As I sat watching the night draw in on Northway, listening to the musicians between sets and watching the good folk of Scarborough going out into the town, or coming in and out of the SJT theatre opposite, the shop lights and the street lights glittering, the sound of traffic moving through the town, I thought – this could be anywhere. We could be in London, we could be in Manchester, but here we are in Scarborough.’ It pleases me to see cultural events like this springing up in the town, and I’m pleased to just be a tiny part of that.

Wendy Pratt, Knocking the Dust Off – Reading Out

I have a live reading as part of an Acumen evening coming up this week […]. Do pop in if you find yourself in Dulwich on Thursday. I liked what Wendy [Pratt] had to say about not having to organise the reading so she could step back and enjoy just reading. I liked her note about not having books to sell as well— this will be my last reading before I do have to start thinking about that.

However, what I really liked was the poem that Wendy included at the end of the post. It’s her lovely ‘Love Letter to Scarborough on a Saturday Night‘ from her most recent collection, ‘ When I Think of My Body as a Horse‘ (reviewed by some knobhead here). Maybe it’s the fact that I have family in Scarbados—NB, I don’t think it is, but I love this poem.  The whole collection is a moving feast, a marvel and  just moving, so if you’ve not read it please do.

Now, I could just cheat and tell you to read the Scarborough poem and call that it, but oh no, dear reader…I want you to have more…

Mat Riches, Nationalising Breaking Glass and Rood-Screens

On Thursday evening I did a reading with Catherine Kyle Broadwall (she read from her fun new book, Fulgurite—full of fairy tale poems!) and read from Field Guide to the End of the World and Flare, Corona, which I think went pretty well. Had a good crowd, it was a super cute store—great eclectic magazine sections, great fiction and poetry sections, and a stuffed narwhal hanging from the ceiling, and we sold a lot of books, which was fun. It had been a minute since I’d done a reading, so I was glad it went pretty well. […]

I got a total of four rejections and two acceptances this week – and one was from a place I’ve been trying to get into for years, JAMA, or the Journal of the American Medical Association. I’m not a doctor, but I do have a pre-med biology degree, and I write medically themed poetry all the time, so it seemed like a natural fit—but the first poem they took wasn’t at all medically related, ironically. Ha ha!

Fall always means new pens and notebooks, catching up on paperwork, starting the academic year—so even those of us who don’t work in academia will be affected by the increased work at literary magazines or invitations to come read at classes, all that sort of thing.

Although I am still recovering from my antibody infusion from almost two weeks ago, I’m starting to feel a little more productive as the days get colder and shorter.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, It’s Fall Witches! Autumn Equinox with Glass Pumpkins, a Reading Report from Edmonds Bookshop and an Upcoming Zoom Reading, Exciting Acceptances

Such a joy last weekend to attend one of a few readings organized by Editor Cassandra Arnold to celebrate her release of Alchemy and Miracles (Gilbert & Hall Press, 2023). Everyone read so beautifully! This collection is filled with nature poems written by 83 poets from all over the world, including three writers from right here in Southeast Alaska. Yes, I’m over the moon to have work in this compilation with fellow Blue Canoe writers Mandy Ramsey from Haines and Bonnie Demerjian from Wrangell. If you get the chance, give Cassandra Arnold a follow on Instagram (@cassandra_art_and_stories) where you’ll surely be inspired about all things poetry. And yes, she designed this lovely cover, too! Alchemy and Miracles may be purchased through Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Happy Autumn, all! In true, Southeast Alaskan form, termination dust on the high peaks yesterday morning.

Kersten Christianson, Autumnal Alchemy

You can’t see in the photograph that the speaker is sitting on her hands, nor can you see her feet, described later as “thick toes, accustomed to field” that are squeezed painfully into borrowed shoes. And the face gives no evidence of physical pain, but that makes the speaker even more believable. She has prepared for this moment, this unveiling, and nervous as she is, she will not allow something as minor as discomfort to ruin it.

Smith turns the poem in the second stanza by changing the verb tense, moving into second person, though it feels more like the speaker is talking to the picture or into a mirror rather than talking directly to the reader. It’s a fantastic use of the second person, because usually the effect of the move is to grab the reader by the shirt, so to speak, and demand their attention, but here it’s more introspective.

Tell me that I have earned at least this much woman. Tell me

that this day is worth all the nights I wished the muscle

of myself away.

The “tell me” is a request for validation or acceptance, but again, the speaker isn’t asking for it from us. She’s asking it from herself, which is important because she isn’t sure that she’ll receive it from anyone else. The end of the poem leaves this uncertain:

Here I am, Mama, vexing your savior,

barely alive beneath face powder and wild prayer. Here I am,

both your daughter and your son, stinking of violet water.

The “vexing your savior” combined with “wild prayer” really hits hard for me because of my own experiences of estrangement from family over matters of faith. I feel what’s at stake and why she still needs to be this person no matter the cost. There’s an ache here that stays unresolved, and I think that’s why it sticks with me.

Brian Spears, Sitting for a picture

Wow, I felt a lot of love for RS Thomas after my last blog post.

I wonder if we need more spirituality today, generally I mean. I speak as a moderate atheist. I think I used to call myself an ‘agnostic’ – wanting to leave the door open I suppose – but we all grow older, and so our thoughts and beliefs mature one way or another. I now love a lot of things about the church of my upbringing (although I hated it as a child!), but it stops well short of faith. The only church service I enjoy is Evensong, but I love the architecture of churches and can’t resist going inside any I come across. I’ve often sung the services in cathedrals with my choir the Lewes Singers: I will sing anything, but I never say the creed. It’s always a moving experience, but perhaps that’s the feeling of being in the presence of faith: people who truly believe. I don’t just mean those participating in the service, but also the thousands of souls who have worshipped there for centuries, right back to the stonemasons and labourers who built the massive edifices. I respect all that, and feel privileged to be a part of it.

But spirituality feels much wider, more inclusive than religion as such. My impression is that RS continually questioned his faith. Isn’t that what many of us do, even the atheists? What do we believe in? Surely it can’t just be Gaia, politics, football or reality TV?

Robin Houghton, On spirituality, a submission and the wonder of lists

The Days of Awe open on Rosh Hashanah and close on Yom Kippur. When my birthday falls on Rosh Hashanah, it gets lost in the birthday of the world; when it falls on Yom Kippur, celebrations turn sober and thin. Gallows humor when fasting, enacting symbolic death? Fat chance! 

This year, the birthday fell smack in the middle of the Days of Awe – and I got a day or two of awe. When your walls come tumbling down (Rabbi Alan Lew’s image), as they did unbidden during this season of introspection, you get some light in the gaps of the rebuilding. That happened mid-week – all in betweens! – in a New England-y place familiar and known (Maine) but charged. I cleared the slate and came with heightened sensibility; came to the sapphire sky with such a mind. Something came to meet me. 

Everything got renewed by the sea, standing on the deck of a fishery
in the presence of a rope coiled, braided, stiff with the sting of fish iodine
and rusted wires woven together with gates, doors, traps
and floats bulbed in mottled white and bright fuchsia 
hanging like a bunch of radishes. 

Yes to Paul Eluard: “Is there another world? Yes, in this one.”

Jill Pearlman, All the Days of Awe

Do I read Emily Dickinson because she speaks to me directly and clearly? In truth, no. I’m very often mystified. And I think this is a point worth making: we don’t always read the writers we love out of a profound sense of familiarity or comprehension. But where I don’t understand her, a different kind of understanding steps in, a knowledge layers deep that I would not otherwise have activated that day. Dickinson makes me experience what she herself described here:

“If I read a book [and] it makes my whole body so cold no fire can ever warm me, I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry.”

Dickinson’s social quickness and wit is often overlooked in favor of her reclusive tendencies. If you don’t believe me, read her letters. I have just flipped to a passage at random and found a letter to her brother Austin that I had marked years ago. It reads:

Your welcome letter found me all engrossed in the history of Sulphuric Acid!!!!!

Yes, she included five exclamation points. Later in the letter, she tells her brother she’s eager for a Valentine—all the other girls have received them—so, where is hers? She insists that Austin tell Thomas she’s pining for one.

Maya C. Popa, Wonder Wednesday

Since learning that yoga is not, in fact, a sinister cult but a really useful way of caring for my back, I regularly breathe out deeply. This is something I’ve done both in classes, and in front of ‘Yoga with Adrienne’ and her free YouTube videos. 

When younger, I did breathing exercises for wellbeing by default when playing the flute. A lot of my lessons were spent with my teacher encouraging me to develop breath and diaphragm control. I had no idea how useful a life skill this was as I channelled a column of air into a top C. 

More recently, I exhaled deeply on opening a box of copies of Festival in a Book – A Celebration of Wenlock Poetry Festival. I had been holding my breath for two weeks: between the moment of pressing send on the final proofs and lifting out the first book. I breathed even more freely when Anna Dreda, Festival Founder, said she loves the anthology created in honour of her Festival and its legacy. 

It has struck me since that the publication of a book of poetry is, in some ways, an exhalation, a letting go. A breathing out of thought and word and music into the world. Breath and word. The word made paper. It can’t be taken back now. And it will become part of other people’s breathing, internal and external, when read. 

Liz Lefroy, I Exhale Deeply

I know sometimes a poem can simmer away for years before the poet feels it’s done, or at least in a state competent enough to be abandoned. I know some people feel writing slowly and meticulously, working on the placing of words in relation to each other, how each fits or alters the metre, a rhyming scheme, or the demands and rigours of the particular form that is at the heart of the attempt, is the proper way to pay respect to poetry as a craft to be learned. Sometimes this process allows time for an exploration into what the poet actually wants to say – because it’s not always obvious to the poet at the outset. I appreciate this, and have written this way.

And of course there is the question of feedback. A poem might be sent to a trusted poetry friend for appraisal, even for thorough workshopping. Bits might be lopped off, the tense altered, adjectives questioned, the lines rejigged to the point of a new opening or closing line. And if the poem ever becomes a part of a collection, then the publisher’s editor, who might or might not be the same person, might well want to suggest even more alterations. This is normal enough stuff. Some thinner-skinned poets seem to struggle with it but after many years of working for newspapers, I understand the role of the sub-editor and the value of a good one. Far from it being bothersome, I appreciate the effort and generosity of those who take the time to offer their thoughts.

However, not all poetry is written as methodically and meticulously as this. An obvious point, perhaps, but in poetry’s case ‘rules are not always rules’.

More recently, or at least recently more frequently, I have felt more confident in the technique of stream-writing, not simply as a warm-up exercise, but as a valid form of delving into what the mind contains and wants to share. When I begin I have no idea what will come out of it. I might have one line, one image, and I usually feel calm enough to shut everything else out and let the words, images, phrases, chunks of conversation maybe, emerge and work out their own order. It’s an exploration, without prior warning, of the recesses of the mind. Sometimes, as I’ve said in the past, the result is completely disconnected rubbish because I’m unable to think or connect thought and so it is deleted. Other times, it feels as if I may have hit on something, that the words have a relationship to one another, a rhythm that might alter and swing around, but that forms a whole that contains some kind of meaning, in the strict sense of the word, as in an emotional connection not simply a logical process. The validity of this way of doing things is a matter of opinion and it’s certainly not something I would do every time I sat down to write, but I’m finding that with more practice comes more consistency, as I suppose is the way with any technique.

That is not to say the ‘end result’ cannot stand editing. There are poets who employ stream-writing as an inviolable technique, valid only if left well alone as the produce of the mind at that particular moment in life or time. I see the point in this as a principle but the obvious danger is that it may end up as a stream of self-indulgent drivel, a celebration of egotism in a string of boring sentences.

Bob Mee, Untitled

There can be beauty in a list: its specificity, also the rhythm and sound–which order does the poet choose for each word? That matters. Chronology perhaps; category, like the scientist; or else sound, such as alliteration; or possibly by the thread of some concatenation that gradually creates associations. The logic of a list poem differs from other forms of lists.

I always think of Whitman as an early and consummate “list poet,” though a great many of his poems do not rely on the strategy. There are list poems that employ anaphora and those that build through phrases. Others rely on modifiers that escalate or change tone to surprise the reader. In my own process it has been useful to begin drafting poems through listing, though often I abandon the list when I revise.

Also, I teach myself about the world and its people, environs, and ideas through lists.

For example, having strayed temporarily from my home region, I’m getting acquainted with a “new” place by making lists of birds, trees, flowers–yeah, the naming-things approach so basic to human beings, like when my children were just learning to talk and conversation with them consisted largely of naming objects or actions.

This is not a poem:

Pygmy nuthatch, juniper titmouse, pinyon jay. Gambel oak, Abert’s squirrel, pinacate stink beetle, skink. Quaking aspen, limber pine. Common raven, Woodhouse’s scrub-jay, fireweed, globemallow, bear corn, oak gall, crow. Pinyon, cholla, Ponderosa pine, alligator juniper, Apache plume, sandwort, groundsel. Gneiss, granite, gray oak, spotted towhee, rabbitbrush, bajada, arroyo, muttongrass, mesa, schist.

Ann E. Michael, Lists

Somewhere a chair is waiting for us. Maybe at home. Maybe at the doctor’s office. Maybe in an empty lot beside a busy street where a sparrow sings in the thicket.

Carey Taylor, Off Killingsworth


When his partner suddenly died, life changed utterly for Paul Stephenson. In Hard Drive a prologue and epilogue hold six parts of almost equal length. These poems take the reader through the journey of grief: Signature, Officialdom, Clearing Shelves, Covered Reservoir, Intentions, Attachment.

‘A noted formalist, with a flair for experiment, pattern and the use of constraints’, Paul also has a talent for intriguing titles: Other people who died at 38; Better Verbs for Scattering; We weren’t married. He was my civil partner.

There is a great variety of form: erasure poems, use of indents and columns, haibun, prose poems, alongside the narrative poems which range in length from three lines to the five-page poem Your Brain.

Fokkina McDonnell, Hard Drive

A little while ago, I read a pamphlet by Nikki Dudley. It was about her Nan, Greenie, and about how Greenie´s dementia had a huge impact not only on her, but also on Nikki and the whole family. At the time I was reading this, my father had died after living with Parkinson´s-related dementia for the last years of his life. And my mother, who was (and still is) alive, was living with dementia as well. The book meant a lot to me and I came back to it again and again. It is a mixture of poetry, CNF and visual poetry, the latter illustrating perfectly that dementia is not a linear thing, but something scattered, murky, out of reach for those who live with it and those who are their witnesses in this process. When I wrote my own book, St. Eisenberg and the Sunshine Bus, Nikki’s book helped me to think outside the box in describing my father’s dementia.

So when Beir Bua Press closed down and it wasn’t clear what would happen with all the books, I approached Nikki and asked her what she thought about Sídhe Press re-publishing her book. We agreed on working together and on September 15, Just One More I Go, was re-published by Sídhe Press. It is, of course, the same book it was, but I hope we have added and improved to it in a way that honours Greenie. As well as an additional poem, we now have photos of Greenie not only on the cover, but also tucked inside the book- one more thing to illustrate who she was and is to Nikki, and once we read it, to us. And it slots in seamlessly with Our Own Coordinates- Poems About Dementia, which was the first book I published with Sídhe Press.

Annick Yerem, Just One More Before I Go by Nikki Dudley

母と娘(こ)に生れあはせし花野かな 正木ゆう子

haha to ko ni umareawaseshi hanano kana

            our fate of being

            a mother and a daughter

            flowering field …

                                                            Yuko Masaki

from Haiku Dai-Saijiki (Comprehensive Haiku Saijiki), Kadokawa Shoten, Tokyo, 2006

Fay’s Note:  “hanano” (flowering field) is an autumn kigo.

Fay Aoyagi, Today’s Haiku (September 25, 2023)

Two of Trish Kerrison’s sons have Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, which triggers progressive muscle failure and usually limits life to eighteen years or below, although they are now in their late-twenties. The poems are an honest, and occasionally humorous, look at life as a mother and carer. The short introductory poem takes the image of four lines drawn in sand to make a box, “to put people in// to live,/contained,// until the sands shift.” Children are life-changing events but also a tickbox on a life’s milestones: job, marry, children, etc. A disabled child can leave parents feeling as if their life’s foundations have slipped away. No one pictures themselves with a disabled child. There’s not only the extra care work involved but battles to get the support parents are entitled to, the juggling of carers and work, and the feeling of constantly fighting the same battles over and over. But parents keep going, as “The Ground Beneath Our Feet” concludes as parents

“laugh, even as the sands are shifting.
We walk on unsteady feet, unsteady ground.
We don’t look down.”

Emma Lee, “Beyond Caring” Trish Kerrison (Five Leaves) – book review

Today, riding back to the city, and drinking my first PSL of the year, I noticed some trees were somehow bright yellow amid still plentiful green and remembered we had crossed that official threshold into autumn–the equinox. That early dark creeps in slowly, but starts racing toward December about now, helped along by the time change that will come in early November.  I have not started my fall decorating or swapped out my summer clothes for cooler weather but possibly this week I will do both. 

This week is less thick with writing than last week with lots of deadlines and the first draft of the poetry study guide trial assignment. In addition to the usual lifestyle and design stuff, it was really nice to spend some time, deep diving on a single poem (Sharon Olds’ “Rite of Passage)” and putting all that literary analysis education I paid so much for to good use. There were chapbook orders and layouts on new books that will be coming. There was one new poem in the cryptozoology series, but it feels halting and stiff like I haven’t written enough in the past couple of months, poetry-wise, sort of like clearing your throat after a long silence. 

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 9/25/2023

I sometimes laugh when I think back to my NY post and declaring 2023 to be the year of my ALL. This year, and it’s only September, has already exceeded expectations. I’m looking forward honestly to January when I can write down the plot of this past year, and call forth the next. (Carefully, very carefully….)

But also, don’t worry, it seems with every amazing thing that’s happened, there’s been a balance check. But I still believe in the unsaid, (a post I wrote in 2017), I still believe in the words of Nicole Brossard who says, “You have to be insane to confide the essential to anyone anywhere except in a poem.” 

Still, life is wonderful, still life is wonderful……My book on that subject and the art life will be coming out in January, and I remain very proud of it. More on that soon…..

In the meantime, our garden season is coming to a close, the poetry of fall is upon us.

Shawna Lemay, Another Season of Seeing

I often sort of felt like I was the only stranger at a party where everyone else were lifelong friends. Much hugging and exclaiming around me while I stand awkwardly smiling and clutching my wine glass. One of the many great things about online learning though is that I don’t have to be there in the room with the awkward smile and the wine glass. I can be HOME with the video turned off, my brow furrowed, thinking wait…what? […]

And no, I’m not going to tell you which poet, because I’m sure you love love love their work and might be a tad judge-y of me for noooot really being tuned into it. I’m hoping, though, that sense of not-getting-it -even-though-you-want-to resonates. I’m happy to be reminded that I don’t need to love it all, that I can just keep reading on. And that maybe there will come a time when this poet’s work is exactly what I’ll need.

The poetry mansion has many rooms, so it’s okay that I slide out of this one and wander into some other room, or lurk in the hallway for a while. I’m sure there’s another party I’ll feel more comfortable in. Have wine glass, will travel.

Marilyn McCabe, You don’t know what love is; or, On Learning and Appreciation

Famished for good fortune, well fed on the hungers of the needy, we can name all the saints but cannot bend their mercies so one size fits all.

To sing, to seek, to rosary old stones.

To regal and re-gold tired sunrises.

Scatter worries for the birds feasting on hard times.

For the ones flying south in winter, scatter hopes so joy may expand.

Rich Ferguson, Blessed Light For the Dying

For the Earth,
both hands in an arc.
A fist for the moon.
Gravity a rope,
unseen in the dark.

Palms up for the tides,
both high and low,
the hands raise and lower
as they ebb and flow.

The planet spins,
the pull taunts,
the moon is what
the water wants.

Jason Crane, POEM: Describing A Satellite

island: the moon
that swallowed the moon
a mouth that gathered clouds

Grant Hackett [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 36

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, subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader, or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack. This week: change and other challenges, the life of the text, book launches, unanswerable questions, and much more. Enjoy.


I read an article yesterday (it scarcely matters about what.) Afterwards I spent a long while working on a terrible poem. Righteous indignation is not a good motivator for poetry. But the news so often fills me with grief and fury. Everyone I know is living close to the emotional boiling point, these days.

We haven’t wholly grieved [a] global pandemic, and meanwhile climate disasters intensify (and climate deniers pretend), and democracy is under attack, and the state where I was born is making it illegal to drive on state roads if one’s purpose is to escape to a safe state for reproductive health care —

— and how many of us live with all of this simmering in our hearts and minds most of the time? It’s no wonder that even when we’re doing all right, it feels like we’re barely keeping our heads above water. Still, that’s no excuse for terrible poetry, so the poem in question will remain locked away.

Rachel Barenblat, Untie

As summer begins to give way to autumn here in New Jersey, six new poem signs of mine are on display outside the Hopewell Branch of the Mercer County Library System — three out front, and three around back.

As Election Day approaches and the landscape becomes cluttered with campaign signage, I like to imagine someone noticing these poem signs and thinking “Wait — what?” LOL!

Vote for … poetry?

Bill Waters, Autumn Poetry @ MCL, 2023

As we come into fall, the cicadas are loud outside and constant from the afternoon into the evenings. As soon as the heat clears, it will no doubt feel more like autumn and I’ll probably feel that same excitement that occurs every year, beholden to the academic calendar or not. That new seriousness in new projects and maybe a push to finish others. Every year around now for years, my parent’s house would be overflowing with harvested tomatoes. On the deck, piled on tables and counters and in baskets. A few days in the overheated kitchen and she would turn them into jars of salsa.  I feel like I am still in my gathering phase when it comes to new poems–piling them in a basket and hoping for cooler weather and a greater sense of urgency. 

Kristy Bowen, beginnings and endings

Even close observers find it hard to discern changes around them when those changes are gradual. In the real world our attention is far more distracted. We miss subtle differences, even though noticing something “ordinary” as the sky impacts (and reflects) our mood and attitude.   

Consider most people in human history. Chances are they were good at noticing. When a person spends time gathering food, hunting for game, weaving baskets, or engaged in myriad other hands-on tasks their minds have plenty of time to wander, wonder, and notice. It’s likely they were tuned to sights and sounds and changing seasons, connected to (and sometimes buffeted by) history’s encroachments. It would have been the same for those living 10 generations before them as it would continue to be for 10 generations after them.

In contrast, we’re tuned to a far more frenetic pace, so much so that with each screen scroll and each multitask we wire our brains to expect more distraction. To need more distraction. How do we use our in-between moments, those times when we might wonder and notice? We distract ourselves. People get out phones when standing in line, put a movie on for kids in the car, go for a walk or run with earbuds in, scroll social media while hanging out with friends or family. These behaviors are ubiquitous yet also significant changes to the norm from just a generation ago. […]

I saw the video opening this post thanks to Rob Walker, author of a marvelous book: The Art of Noticing: 131 Ways to Spark Creativity, Find Inspiration, and Discover Joy in the Everyday. He writes, “Small change, and the ability to spot it, matters. These small changes, over time, often turn out to be a lot more important than today’s flashy distraction. What’s the smallest change you can notice this week?”

Laura Grace Weldon, Noticing Change

What we lack of information, we frame
as conjecture. Imagine

how puzzle pieces fit
together or not at all, how a missing space
can have the sheen on the inside

of an oyster shell. It takes work,
even skill, to pry them open—

The waters salt them by degrees, leach
the taste of place into them.

Luisa A. Igloria, A Short History of Oysters on the Eastern Shore

Louisiana is a mystery to me. It feels like a puzzle I will never know enough to solve or adequately describe. I suppose any place is to someone from outside of it, if you scratch even just a little bit below the surface of its food, language, and tourist attractions. Our weeks there were challenging and hard for me in so many ways: physically, intellectually, emotionally, socially. I loved having extended time with Cane’s family, with whom I felt moments of true joy and ease, but disorientation and disequilibrium were far more common. I remember telling my students more than once that learning is often uncomfortable and can even be painful. I learned a lot in our time there. I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to develop a fuller understanding of my husband and his family, of our country and its people, and of what it means to love.

Rita Ott Ramstad, The work of our hands

The graffiti on the NJ and NY Palisades sent a thrill through my childish mind and body. I first recall seeing words spray-painted on the cliffs when I was under age five and barely cognizant of letter forms. The view puzzled and frightened me, partly because of the heights (I was acrophobic from a very early age) and partly because I had no idea what those huge, high-up letters signified. When I got to kindergarten and began deciphering letters, the graffiti confused me because it contained signs that weren’t in the alphabet I was learning at school: Ω, Φ, the scary-looking Ψ; θ, Δ, and Σ, which resembled a capital E but clearly wasn’t. Once I could read and still could not understand them, I asked my father what those letters were and why they were up there on the rocks. They reminded me of the embroidered on some of the altar cloths in church, but I didn’t know what that stood for, either.

Frat boys from the colleges painted their Greek symbols on the rocks long before spray paint was invented, my dad said, possibly as part of hazing rituals. By the time I was a child, the 50s-era “greasers” had begun announcing their love for Nancy or Tina through daring feats of rock and bridge painting; then the graffiti era came into full swing after the mid-sixties, and the process got colorful–the Greek symbols vanished, replaced by “tags.” All of which just reinforces the importance of words in the world.

Ann E. Michael, Language power

In his study of aesthetic experience, Peter de Bolla argues that “Literary works of art are produced in the activity of reading.” I love the verb produced here—it seems to suggest that the reader renders the text fully alive, that the life of the text continues inside the reader’s mind. De Bolla goes on to say that though it seems logical to read a text first, and only subsequently develop an aesthetic response, “this is impossible given that the reading and the response are interactive; that is, one develops in the shadow and in step with the other.” Word by word, line by line, we metabolize what we read, and our singular reactions organically unfold. We question. We discover. What we read changes us.

When we apply the lens of wonder to this idea, we find that wonder can be passed from writer to reader through the page itself. This is no small miracle.

Aristotle (and later Aquinas) suggested that wonder catalyzes the poetic impulse by provoking a restlessness that seeks shape. The poem wants to unearth, discover, and question; it is, as Anne Carson writes, “an action of the mind captured on the page…a movement of yourself through a thought, through an activity of thinking.” It shares psychic ground with the conditions of wonder—there is something unsettling, and therefore generative, about trying to wrestle into language something that exceeds it.

Maya C. Popa, Wonder Wednesday

I’m always reading something but I’m probably worse than ever at floating from book to book to book…and so on. This is not a bad method in so far as comparing ideas, and seeing how one mind sparks off another. It means it takes quite long to actually complete a book, though!

The first volume I read lately in one sitting and then re-read in another was the very delightful book of poems by Sarah Salway, titled Learning Springsteen on my Language App. (If you’ve been here a while you’ll know immediately why this was an insta-buy). The title poem is as delightful as I was hoping, but there are many memorable poems and lines. I’ll talk about one of them, and let you have the fun of reading the rest. In “She did her best” the line comes from a grave stone, and the poem thinks through how that might not be how the speaker would like to be remembered. She says, “It’s important to discuss how we want / to be remembered…” So many devoted and beloveds, all well and good, for sure. The poem ends beautifully:

finding always in the act of writing
the truth: a simple gravestone,
to die with all my words used up but one —

more.

Shawna Lemay, 3 Books for September

Ostensibly, Seven Sisters, which can be found in my collection Street Sailing, is a simple poem about a moment when the narrator (me), watches a hovering kestrel, alongside a similarly awestruck friend; the ‘gawping booted witnesses’ near the eponymous Sussex cliffs. We’d been crossing the downs nearby, winding our way towards the cliff walk, when the kestrel appeared, as if out of nowhere, as though it had beamed in from some other dimension.

I remember standing transfixed for what seemed like an age, as the bird hung there, untroubled by us nearby humans. At the time I recall thinking that it was a kind of living echo of all the tiny skeletal body parts of the microscopic creatures that made up the layers of chalk beneath us – the countless coccoliths and foraminifera.

It was this sense that I wanted to capture when I started writing a poem about the incident. I also wanted to convey the notion that, while this occurrence seemed significant to me, the kestrel would have likely been oblivious to my presence and was just trying to get on with doing what it always does.

Drop-in by Matt Gilbert (Nigel Kent)

[W]e finally succumbed to the rave reviews and saw an Oppenheimer matinee yesterday. I disliked it intensely, although I appreciate many striking elements of the movie others admire: the way the main character visualized the quantum universe in his early years was beautiful, the history often intrigued me, the film’s sound design was great, and it’s full of dazzling performances. I’m as haunted as anyone by an emaciated Cillian Murphy’s slow blue-eyed blinks. There’s even some poetry: a copy of The Waste Land flashes by, and Murphy quotes Donne’s three-personed god sonnet as they name the Trinity project.

There are much more profound critiques of the film than the one I’m bringing–for example, that it gives no time to the profound damage wrought on human beings living downwind of the Los Alamos experiments–but my emotional reaction was also shaped by many shots of Princeton and other elite graduate schools. To quote Jack Stillinger’s book on romantic poetry, Oppenheimer leans hard on “the myth of solitary genius.” Apparently, certain white men are special in their talent and drive; they recognize, help, and fight each other, often working in groups, but the important thing is that their vast intellectual gifts make them profoundly lonely in pursuing their visions (as well as, in poor Oppenheimer’s case, victim to Robert Downey, Jr.’s dangerous spite). What an obnoxious way of portraying insight and discovery: to heroize a few figures and downplay the prejudices and myopias supporting them, as well as the toxicity of their obsessions. Christopher Nolan basically celebrates Oppenheimer as the tortured, talented Batman of physics.

Lesley Wheeler, STILL mythologizing solitary genius

An elderly man in Muncie believes the water stain on his bedroom ceiling is the face of Jesus.

In Syracuse, a woman witnesses random tar stains on the sidewalk and reassembles them into the disapproving look of her mother.

While out for an early-morning L.A. walk, I marvel at how somber gray clouds have formed the chilling shower scene from Psycho.

In moments like these, the entirety of the universe is interconnected, and we are all threads creating the cloth of miracle and madness.

Rich Ferguson, Pareidoltown

With the arrival of my new book of poems, Between a Drowning Man, imminent, I thought it would be useful to re-blog a piece I wrote and posted early in 2019 about one of the key sources and inspirations of the new book’s main sequence of poems called ‘Works and Days’. It was my fortuitous reading of AK Ramanujan’s collection of vacana poems, early in 2016 (all explained below), that set me off experimenting with a similar clipped, plain, rapid, fluid style with its (refrain like) repetitions. I was staying in Keswick at the time and I vividly remember scribbling down brief pieces at all times of the day and night. Outside, and interfering with the various walking expeditions we had planned, the great storm of the winter of 2015/6 (googling it now, it was Storm Desmond) had taken out many of the ancient bridges in the Cumbrian countryside. Inevitably, this fact found its way into the poems and provided the refrain I used in many of them.

It has been a long haul between that period and the poems’ eventual appearance in this new collection and the whole sequence was further formed (or reformed or deformed) by pressures of a second literary antecedent (I’ll blog about that next week) and by the divisive political events in the UK between 2016 and 2019. Click on the blog title below to read the whole of the original post. My first public reading from the new book will be on the evening of Tuesday 24th October at The Betsey Trotwood in Clerkenwell. I’ll be reading alongside 2 other Salt poets:  Elisabeth Sennitt-Clough – ‘My Name is Abilene’ (Shortlisted for the 2023 Forward Prize); and Becky Varley-Winter – ‘Dangerous Enough’ (‘daring, danger and risk in poems that are packed with imagery from the natural world’).

This Thing Called Bhakti: Vacanas and Ted Hughes

Martyn Crucefix, Influences on ‘Between a Drowning Man’ #1

I have been awake for hours, and I’m inordinately proud of myself for not spending my time scrolling through social media feeds that have minimal value.  I’ve been preparing poetry submissions, which means various kinds of scrolling:  through my submission log, through websites, across the Submittable platform.  I’m astonished at how much it costs to submit now, and no, I don’t think it’s a similar cost to paper, ink, envelopes, and stamps.

I’ve just been to the post office, so I have a sense of how much stamps cost.  My local post office has such a great selection of stamps.  Plus, I love getting mail.  I do love the ease of submitting online, but it’s such a huge cost if I tally it up.  I don’t know why I don’t mind spending 84 cents on postage, but $3 is almost always a deal breaker.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Seasonal Stealing Away

Missing things still wander, still wait to clasp my hand.

So I make sandwiches
and drink tea, but plant moon flowers at sundown
and keep my shoes by the door.

Charlotte Hamrick, While I Wait

Song & Dance Man: The Art of Bob Dylan – Vol. 1 Language & Tradition (50th Anniversary), Michael Gray, The FM Press, 2023, ISBN: 979-8988288701, $24.99

Towards the end of this book, the first in a projected three-part reissue of his monumental work on Dylan to mark the 50th anniversary of the first edition, Michael Gray quotes this from Pete Welding:

“the creative bluesman is the one who imaginatively handles traditional elements and who, by his realignment of commonplace elements, shocks us with the familiar. He makes the old newly meaningful to us…”

It’s a quote that might serve as a kind of summary of Gray’s intentions in this first volume, but with a wider remit than just the blues. The book consists of a series of chapters on various traditions that Dylan’s work draws on, folk music, literature, rock ‘n’ roll, mysticism, the blues, along with a couple of chapters on Dylan’s language, charting a move towards and then away from complexity, and one on books about the man and his work. These are wrapped by an introductory introduction to his albums (studio, live and Bootleg Series) issued between 1962 and 1988 and a closing roundup of sorts.

Straight away I found myself in disagreement with Gray’s judgements, his dismissal of Self Portrait as ‘a mistake’ and praise of Under The Red Sky as ‘an achievement that has gone entirely unrecognised’ should, in my view, be reversed. But this is a good thing, I don’t want to read a book on Dylan that confirms my biases and Gray certainly doesn’t do that. In fact, throughout the book his contrarian opinions, such as the complete dismissal of Dylan’s protest songs as ‘rarely of outstanding quality’, draw the reader in to an engagement with the book’s more central preoccupations. And to be fair to Gray, he’s quick enough to self-correct. One outstanding example of this is an almost incomprehensibly wrong-headed reading of ‘Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands’ which misses  almost everything about that great song, but which ends with a footnote that begins ‘When I read this assessment now, I simply feel embarrassed at what a little snob I was when I wrote it.’ If only more critics possessed that degree of honest self-awareness.

Billy Mills, Song & Dance Man: The Art of Bob Dylan – Vol. 1 Language & Tradition (50th Anniversary), Michael Gray: A review

Though I was born of women
too diligent to dance,
I did not inherit vigor–
just one pair of viridian stilettos, never worn
nestled in cardboard like two shining birds.
Nights, they glow like foxfire
on the barren closet floor.

Kristen McHenry, Inheritance

Jane Bluett explores tales, familiar and unfamiliar, how to make sense of a place in the world and find a path through it. She doesn’t restrict herself to the local or current day. In “Almah”, which means young girl in Hebrew and is the word used for Mary, mother of Jesus, whose husband “wrote me down” until “they came to read me, translated, interpret”,

“In England they changed the colour of my skin,
wrote in whispers, gave me a sister.
I became the great impossibility,
and she, the other me, a silent whore.”

A woman’s voice is taken from her, subjected to distortion through a male lens. Further translation even changes her origins, turns her into a saintly, impossible woman. Dehumanised, she’s no longer recognisable. Her story has been lost and the woman behind them reduced to the Madonna/whore template. This theme is picked up again in “Nushus”, focused on the language of Nushu, the world’s only single sex language from Hunan, China, however, the last fluent user died in 2004, “Our nouns slipped silent, our verbs deafened,/ loud as sirens, loud as words” but it ends, “her breath betrays our meaning,/ disappears.”

Emma Lee, Jane Bluett “She Will Allow Her Wings” (Five Leaves) – book review

The second full-length collection from London, Ontario poet (and, from 2016-2018, that city’s poet laureate) Tom Cull, following Bad Animals (Toronto ON: Insomniac Press, 2018), is Kill Your Starlings (Kentville NS: Gaspereau Press, 2023), a collection of poems that appear, carefully and delicately, as though carved out of stone or ice. Across this book-length suite on family and place, Cull offers an assemblage of descriptive, first-person lyrics, setting blocks down as if to build, writing on cars, family, Ikea, masculinity, toxicity and landscape. Listen to how he describes heading west by train out of Ottawa (specifically, Fallowfield Station): “Outside, land is drawn and quartered. / Wild turkeys step through / split-rail fences; a lone coyote pauses / in a pasture, head thrown / back across its body watching us pass.” Cull’s wisdom, as well as his humour, emerges quietly, to rest amid rumination, offering one step and then another, further, considered step: not one word or line out of place. As the back cover offers, this is a book about family and place, although there is a way he writes about masculinity is worth mentioning: his articulations are different, although equally powerful, than, say, Dale Smith’s Flying Red Horse (Talonbooks, 2021) [see my review of such here], offering a sequence of poems, for example, on the male gestures offered through car commercials. “Set it free.” he writes, in the poem “Subaru Wilderness,” the fourth and final poem in the sequence “AUTO EROTICA,” “See the Subaru in its natural habitat; / a hundred thousand mutations, / bionic selection stalking slag ridges— // terrarium interiors—synthetic protein / seats, hot mist, pitcher plants, / neon salamander toes suction cupped / to the windows.” Cull’s threads are subtle, offering a book heartfelt and deep, writing of a father he learned from by example, benefitting from the man’s quiet dignity. “Years after my dad died,” he writes, as part of the wonderfully graceful “AUTOPSY REPORT,” “I moved home temporarily to help get the farm ready for sale. I hired plumbers, roofers, contractors to do the work. Over the course of that year, I met several men, who’d had my dad as their teacher. They all praised his patience, his care, and his demand for discipline and hard work.” The poem ends:

A few years ago, my mom wrote a poem about my dad. The poem
ends with details from his autopsy report:

BUILD: moderately obese
BRAIN: unremarkable
HEART: massively enlarged

rob mclennan, Tom Cull, Kill Your Starlings

Back in the days when I was known as Elizabeth by my school teachers, I compiled a project called ‘Western Australia’. I was in Lower IV 26. 26 was the room number, Lower IV was year 8. In her feedback, written on a pale orange card, my Geography Teacher, the lovely Miss Smith, wrote: ELIZABETH: mainly WESTERN AUSTRALIA. In the corner of that card, she drew a fairy penguin. I’ve had a soft spot for penguins ever since.

On the other side of the small card, Miss Smith wrote this: “Your nice grassy folder had some original and interesting ideas in it, with good illustrations. The range of relevant information was wide, from Continental drift to Camels, and even though you veered from your subject by discussing the Barrier Reef, it was still a good effort. A(-)”. 

Not much has changed in my approach to projects since 1976-7. The anthology I’ve been working on, Festival in a Book, A Celebration of Wenlock Poetry Festival, also has some original and interesting ideas in it, most of them not my own. The illustrations (by Emily Wilkinson) and design (by Gabriel Watt) are a bonus. The range of relevant poetry is wide in terms of the Festival itself, and the poets also veer (as you’d expect them to do) towards love, childhood, loss, celebration of nature, and death. 

A brackets minus. What a mark. Thank you Miss Smith. In old school terms, A was for near as damn excellent considering your age and stage, and minus was for not quite. The brackets? They were for but nearly. My project was: not quite near as damn excellent considering your age and stage, but nearly. I was very happy with this grade. If the anthology is judged by contributors and readers as: not quite near as damn excellent considering her age and stage, but nearly, I’ll be delighted.

Maybe it was that carefully-wrought mark and Miss Smith’s recognition of the effort I’d made that set in my 11 year-old head the bouncy thought that one day I would visit Western Australia, and the other parts of that country-continent that aren’t WA but are closer to it than South Hampstead High School, 3 Maresfield Gardens, London NW3. It’s certainly been a thought leaping kangaroo-like around my head for a few years: a thought I put into action back in the spring when I booked tickets to Perth, via Singapore. I leave in 5 weeks, once I’ve completed the distribution and launch of the anthology. 

Liz Lefroy, I Draw A Comparison

I’m excited to be reading in Liverpool for the first time, at the launch of my new micro pamphlet One Deliberate Red Dress Time I Shone which was one of the winners in the Coast-to-Coast-to-Coast Poetry Prize. Along with two of my fellow winners, Rachel Spence and Ben McGuire (a fourth winner, Sarah Mnatzaganian will launch her pamphlet next year), I’ll read from my new pamphlet on Saturday, 16 September at the Open Eye Gallery, 6pm – 8pm. Tickets are free and bookable here. Come along if you’re in the neighbourhood.

Coast-to-Coast-to-Coast is an initiative created by writer and artist Maria Isakova Bennett who designs and makes limited edition hand stitched poetry journals. This means that my poems will be published within a beautiful handmade cover. Take a look at previous journals Maria has made to see what I mean. I submitted twelve poems to do with clothes and fabric as my competition entry, and the title – One Deliberate Red Dress Time I Shone – is a line from a poem after a self-portrait in stained glass by artist Pauline Boty in which the artist is wearing a red dress. Because of this, I’ve had the idea of wearing a red dress at my launch. I’m not sure how wise this decision is (!) but I’ve found a rather sweet red silk dress from Oxfam Online which seemed to be calling out to me when I viewed it on my computer.

Josephine Corcoran, September and ahead: some workshops and readings

It’s been a long journey getting to this point with Look to the Crocus but I’m delighted with it. 

Through the creating and editing process, the manuscript has gone through many shapes and forms like a snake shedding skin. The final result is a tripart collection: Flowers & Trees, The Long Water, and Mother Moon, and each section is prefaced with a quote from Theodore Roethke. 

It contains my versions of Scottish ballads, close encounters with nature, my relationship with the Firth of Clyde, and elegies to my parents. The presiding poets include Roethke, Transtromer, Plath, W.S. Graham, Sujata Bhatt and D.H. Lawrence.

The cover art was created by Irish artist Brigid Collins after I met her in a special garden.

John Killick was central to bringing this book to publication and I’m hugely grateful for his support for my work. 

Marion McCready [no title]

I don’t usually embark on project collections, that is, collections of poems that focus on something particular. I usually just write what I write and hope that some of it can sit together companionably when there’s enough stuff to think about a collection. But I find myself in the interesting position of having created a “project” collection…but it’s about 10-15 pages short of what would be considered a full-length thing. I’m staring at my page count and the empty pages are staring back from the void.

What if I have nothing more to say on this subject? What if the whole output has petered out and I have this too-big-for-a-chapbook-too-small-for-a-book mongrel of a hybrid thingy? I haven’t written anything new in its world in about a month. I scribbled a few things but they went nowhere, and were of that death-knell tone: self-conscious. Now that I THINK I’m working on a “project” the thoughts are stiff and forced.

Can I trick myself into writing more freely on this same matter?
Should I quit while I’m ahead and just, I don’t know, split it into two chapbooks and be done with it? Should I set the whole thing aside and come at it later, hoping I’ll find something more to say?
Should I sit myself down to keep writing and see if I circle back to the topic eventually?

All those things are reasonable possibilities. What am I doing, though? Staring at the void staring at me.

Marilyn McCabe, Ooh, what’s that smell; or, When a Creative Process Peters Out

You Could Make This Place Beautiful is out in the UK today with Canongate Books! I’m grateful to Jamie Byng, Jenny Fry, Helena Gonda, Anna Frame, Catriona Horne, and everyone at Canongate. (And thank you for welcoming this book so warmly, for telling your friends about it, for giving it to people who might need it…word of mouth, reader to reader, is the secret sauce, isn’t it?)

What else? I found a tiny cardinal feather in my backyard and picked it up before it floated away. Beauty emergency! It now lives in a tiny bowl in my office, where it makes me unreasonably happy.

Maggie Smith, The Good Stuff

Seattle people tend to have a bit on panic in their eyes this time of year because their FOMO is activated by the arrival of the “Big Dark.” We are probably no different, having been here so many years that we automatically go into outdoor plan overdrive on nice days.

Now, getting to Seattle from Woodinville took an hour because literally every way to get everywhere was closed due to city construction—and feel sorry for those dependent on the Bainbridge ferry, which was down for cars, bikes, and scooters for a week. Does Seattle DOT have problems? It does! Do they have a ton of tax money to fix it but somehow manage not to? Yes!

Anyway, once we got downtown, we didn’t want to waste the trip—so we hit everything at once—after navigating the construction on the main UW hospital campus (yes, also a nightmare)—we chilled out at the Japanese Garden and went to the UW district’s awesome Bulldog Newstand, which has a ton of obscure lit mags and foreign magazines of all types, and now they also have fancy ice cream.

The second downtown trip we originally wanted to hit the zoo and Roq La Rue, but because of traffic, everything was closing as we arrived, and we made the decision to only hit Open Books before they closed. We got new books by Oliver de la Paz, Terrance Hayes, Major Jackson, and checked out a ton more. After we stayed ’til closing time, we went a couple blocks down to Elliot Bay Books, where we picked up the new Lorrie Moore book, marveled at the terrific poetry section (where Flare, Corona was fronted at the top—squee!), bought a few more lit mags, and chatted with the friendly book salespeople about our favorite releases and theirs.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Taking Advantage of Sunny September Days to Do the Things We Missed All Summer: a Visit to the Japanese Garden, Open Books, Elliot Bay Books, Time at the Flower Farm

There are so many writers out there; so many writers aspiring to publication, so many writers pushing boundaries, climbing out of the constraints of the traditional, so many writers climbing up, up, up towards prizes and winning and poetry collections and debut books. It can be off putting if you yourself are a writer who is not competitive, or are a writer from a non traditional writing background where the rules of the literary world seem undefined and confusing, or if you are at the beginning of your long journey to discovering your own voice. How do you keep writing?

Mary Oliver’s poem Wild Geese is like a quiet place to come and refresh yourself. Each sentence could be a mantra in its own right, but tied together it is a cool corridor to pass through on the way to your place in the world. […]

This has to be one of the most famous Mary Oliver poems. It also happens to be one of my favourite Mary Oliver poems. Last night, after a challenging day (unexpected overdue tax bill hell) I went out with the dog for a walk. A thick sea fret had rolled into the village. The world was a place of malleability and strangeness. The sound became dulled. A tractor was rumbling across a field, only visible by its headlights. The world was shrunk to the moment and what I could see in my own small sphere of existence. Nothing else entered the sphere. I could see no one outside of the sphere. As we were heading home we turned into the lane and I heard, in the distance, the unmistakable calls of geese in flight. I stopped, stood still and waited until the geese came over our heads, appearing out of the mist in a huge V, their wings beating with a soft, dull feathered sound. Immediately the first line of Mary Oliver’s poem sprang to my mind, and into my mouth. I whispered it to myself You do not have to be good.

Wendy Pratt, The World Offers Itself to Your Imagination

Finally it rains. Slapping and paddling the thick leaves; gliding down (d)rain pipes to be spit out onto recumbent weeds, filling puddles that I see mixed with the mesh of my screen window.  Puddles like a running woman, arms outstretched, hair flung behind her, legs poised and bent.  Now a drip, now a piling, now a pulsing on my phone: Flood Watch in your area!

Now at the risk of life and death, to wonder what becomes of rain after a poet dances it into language.  Does it still slap as sound on the receiving mind, as rain but more so? Do we lose it to a “finely woven curtain – sheer net perhaps – thinly broken, relentless in its fall, but relatively slow, which must be down to the Lightness and size of its droplets, an ongoing, frail precipitation, like real weather atomized.”  So poet Ciaran Carson writes in a poem inspired by the Impressionist painting, “Gustave Caillebotte, Paris Street, Rainy Day, 1877,” the poem a riff on Francis Ponge, ‘La Pluie.’”

Ripples upon ripples in ripples. Enchanting patterns as droplets outside my window dissolve one upon another into larger radiating ripples –teasingly certain, never answering the question.

Jill Pearlman, Wording in the Rain

whose vision dies at the entrance to dawn

on which side of my skin is sky

if dream is the cradle, who is the child

Grant Hackett [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, 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, subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader, or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack. This week: remembering Maureen Seaton, gearing up for fall book launches, making videopoems, pondering the big questions, and much more. Enjoy.


It’s rare to read a poetry collection and enthuse about every one included in it. Inevitably some poems will resonate with us more than others. But Matt Morden’s collection, Stumbles in Clover (Snapshot Press 2007) has me savouring every single haiku on every single page. I felt like that when I first bought it and feel it again today.

Nigel Jenkins, on the back cover, said, ‘They are as spare and translucent as it’s possible to be, yet they are deeply affecting…’. ‘Spare’ could easily suggest something that has been pared back to the detriment of content and meaning. But Morden has such a wonderful eye for detail, and humanity observed, that his micro poems expand beyond their physical boundaries. They are like miniature doorways into shared emotions, felt experiences. And the natural world, where it appears, always feels, through suggestion, like a parallel to the human one. […]

I mentioned in a previous post that, for me, the best poets and poetry collections are the ones that fire me up to write too. Here are a couple of haiku written today, thanks to Matt Morden.

unsettled weather
she deletes her Whatsapp
while I am reading it

summer’s end
he buys me a chilli plant
called ‘Basket of Fire’

Lynne Rees, The Sealey Challenge

I came across a poem today that speaks with the voice of my aching heart. I was delighted to find the author is Amanda Gorman, whose poetic voice often resonates with me. She’s a poet for this moment on earth. Young, truthful, gifted, she speaks plainly with vibrant images, simply but with rhythm, alliteration, and assonance. Amanda Gorman is the author of The Hill We Climb and Other Poems. She was the youngest inaugural poet in America.

Right now, we are in a transitional world, upside down in our values, experiencing the hottest days on our planet and the most confusing and dichotomized (is that a word?) society. I am aging. At 74, my heart and my body hurt a lot of the time. We’ve survived a pandemic together, but somehow also apart. That experience has re-sculpted our way of life. Gorman’s poem felt as if it was torn from me.

Rachel Dacus, When Everything Hurts, Poetry Heals

While looking for a nonce meter form to use for this collection about sin-eaters and ornamental hermits, I’ve been wanting to follow numbers. 40. 42. 6.

Today, because of medication, my red blood cells are collectively at a low point—but if left alone, the individual cells would rise and fall independently in a staggered rhythm of roughly 40 days.

It takes 40 days to mend a fracture, and 40 days to replace the epidermis. Hindu women spend 40 days secluded after childbirth. Jesus spent 40 days in the desert. Muslims believe the dead may return on the 6th day or on the 40th.

The list goes on as far as you want to follow it. One half-truth will beget another.

In fact, you can pick any path alongside a river and follow it to the one sea.

This is my path.

Ren Powell, Searching for One True Form

John Greening’s recent, self-confessedly ‘tightly-focused’ little selection from Goethe’s vast output is, in part, a campaigning publication. In his Introduction, Greening notes the difficulties surrounding the great German poet’s presence in English: the sheer volume of work, the range of that work, the man’s polymathic achievements (as poet, playwright, novelist, scientist, statesman, theatre director, critic), the long life untidily straddling all neat, period pigeon-holing. Christopher Reid has called him ‘the most forbidding of the great European poets’, but perhaps the English have come to see him as a mere jack-of-all-trades? And where do we turn to read and enjoy the poetry? Michael Hamburger’s and Christopher Middleton’s translations look more and more dated. David Luke’s Penguin Selected (1964; versified in 2005)is the most reliable source. But tellingly, as Greening says, one does not find young, contemporary poets offering individual translations of Goethe in their latest slim volume in the way we do with poems by Rilke or Hölderlin.

So here Greening sets out a selection box of various Goethes to encourage other translators: we find nature poetry, romance, the artist as rebel, meditations on fate, erotic love poems, a rollicking ballad, dramatic monologue and a very fine sonnet. I like Greening’s determination not to lose the singing. Here, he has ‘shadowed’ the original metres and retained rhyme schemes, though he sensibly makes more use of pararhyme than Goethe’s full rhyming. While not approaching Lowellesque ‘imitations’, Greening has also sought a ‘contemporary texture’ by venturing to ‘modernise an image or an idea if it helped the poem adapt to a different age’. For example, in ‘Harz Mountains, Winter Journey’ (‘Harzreise im Winter’) Goethe’s buzzard has become the more familiar image, in southern England at least, of a red kite. The carriage or wagon (‘Wagen’) driven by Fortune becomes a car in a ‘motorcade’ and another vehicle is imagined ‘winking on to / the slip-road’. There’s also an enjoyable touch of Auden in Greening’s updating of ‘crumbling cliffs / and disused airfields’ (Middleton has ‘On impassable tracks / Through the void countryside’).

Martyn Crucefix, Goethe’s poetry – some new translations by John Greening

I ran into a poetry acquaintance recently, and on being asked, I churned around in my brain and realized it has been 14 years since I got my MFA. The person then asked, “Are you still writing?” I stared at them blankly, thinking, “What the hell else would I be doing?” But I just said, “Oh…yes,” and was left feeling a bit stunned. You who know me well may know that I “quit writing forever” on a regular basis. I’ll have to remind myself of my stunned reaction next time I’m tempted to declare, “I’m done, done forever.” I’ll remind myself how stunned I was by that question, how confused that I would have quit writing, even though that degree is now in the murky past. How startled I was at the thought that not-writing might be “a thing.”

Marilyn McCabe, What’s he doing in there; or, On “Being a Writer”

Oh, well. Once again, I had every intention of following through on the Sealey Challenge this year and posting about what I read. Instead, I did a little traveling and the whole shebang fell apart. I have continued my way through my stack, but will not give extended commentary here. (The post would be very lengthy.) But here is the list of what I’ve read since the last time I posted:

  • Carl Phillips Then the War and Selected Poems
  • Mary Jean Chan Flèche
  • Robert Hass Time and Materials
  • Tiana Clark Equilibrium
  • Roberto Carlos Garcia What Can I Tell You? Selected Poems
  • Edna St. Vincent Millay The Harp Weaver and other Poems
  • Tracy K. Smith Such Color: New and Selected Poems

[…]
I went in to substitute teach for the afternoon on the first day of school at my old building, filling in for a friend who had to attend a family funeral. The kids were nice, the afternoon went quickly, I saw some old friends. But I got home and was TIRED. ALL CAPS TIRED. I legit yawned from 6:30 PM on like I hadn’t slept in days. A good reminder that I retired at the right time. And that teachers have one of the hardest jobs in the world.

Donna Vorreyer, The best of intentions…

If I were doing the Sealey Challenge this year, I would embark on a re-reading of the Maureen Seaton books in my possession, having just learned of her death. I met her in Chicago and took a seminar with her, and she was an inspiration. She encouraged me to send some prose poems to Quarter After Eight, where they were taken. It became a favorite journal of mine, full of the challenging and unexpected. 

I would probably start with Furious Cooking.

Sadly, I am not doing the Sealey Challenge this year–voraciously reading a book of poems a day in August–because daily life has gotten a bit too complicated by caregiving, though resting with poetry might have helped. The heat wave did not. Now I think of throwing my ivy comforter on this wooden glider, putting the stack of Seaton books beside me, and at least leafing through, pausing here and there to concentrate on a poem. But the afternoon is spoken for.

Kathleen Kirk, Furious Cooking

This morning, news of 2 deaths took me back to specific times in my life:  Bob Barker and Maureen Seaton.  I was surprised, in some ways, to learn that Bob Barker had been alive these many years, and saddened to realize how relatively young Maureen Seaton was when she died, in her mid-70’s.  At this point, if there’s a cause of death, I haven’t found it.

Bob Barker seemed old when I was first aware of him, lazy summer days watching The Price Is Right, with my mom and sister.  We loved this game show, and I’m not sure why.  Looking back from a distance, the prizes seem less than fabulous, unless one won one of the showcases at the end.  I remember one babysitter pointing out that the contestant was lucky to have won extra cash because she’d need it to pay the taxes on the prize package.

Still, we tuned in, almost every morning, unless we had swim lessons.  And the show went on–and on and on–long after we quit watching, long after Bob Barker stopped hosting it.  Reading the news coverage, Barker seemed like a good human.  I’m glad he lived so long.

Maureen Seaton also seemed like a good person, but unlike many of my peers, I was not her student.  I was an adjunct at the University of Miami where she taught, but our paths rarely crossed.  Once I went to a reading where she and Denise Duhamel read from their new work.  I bought Little Ice Age, which had just been released.  Seaton signed it, and told me how much she appreciated the fact that I bought her book in the hardback edition.

I looked up the publication history–that reading must have been in 2001 or 2002.  Wow.  It seems a lifetime ago, and in so many ways, it’s just as distant a time as my suburban childhood watching The Price is Right.  I went to poetry readings so often that many faces started to seem familiar.  I had dreams of my own book with a spine, and when my first chapbook was accepted in 2003 for publication in 2004, it seemed a tantalizing possibility.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Pivoting to Past Times

I was very sad to hear about the death of poet Maureen Seaton, who was a tremendously encouraging and supportive writer as well as a really fun writer—I’ve been reading her for years, but it is her steady kindness to others that I saw in all the mentions of her in social media. I wonder—does our work matter more, or how we treat people along the way? Either way, if you haven’t picked up anything by Maureen yet, you should. Ed Ochester, the editor of 5 AM and University of Pittsburgh Press for a long time, also passed away—another poet who was known for kind editorial notes and support for writers. Yes, he sent me some of those notes. We feel real sorrow—not just an abstract sense of loss—when these kinds of people pass away. The poetry world can be cold and indifferent, but these were people who made it less so. It’s hard to say this without sounding like a cliche, but they were people who reminded me to be not just a better poet, but a better person, and I will miss them. I want to remember to be kind, how important it is to write that note, or that blurb, or that appreciation or review.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, New Review of Flare, Corona in F(r)iction, Still the Smoke and Heat, Poetry World Losses, A Blue Supermoon Coming…So Look Out (or Up)

The latest from Redmond, Washington poet (and that city’s second official poet laureate) Jeannine Hall Gailey is Flare Corona (Rochester NY: BOA Editions, 2023), a constellation of first-person narrative lyric portraits and self-portraits clustered into four sections—“Post-Life,” “Harbingers,” “Blood Moon” and “Corona”—as she articulates an uncertain future around the weather, ongoing fires and the opening months of the pandemic, and of living with Multiple sclerosis. “You were warned.” she writes, as part of the poem “To Survive So Many Disasters,” “You promised / never to return. You set out on a journey / far from home. You looked out into darkness / and saw possibility.” Her poems explore layers of complication, both from within and surrounding, simultaneously burning out and refusing to fade away. There are moments in poems that see powerful lines occasionally buried, but Gailey writes from the centre and from all sides of each of these ongoing crises, offering her lyric as a way to document what has happened, what is happening, what might still be happening. “Under the mountains,” she writes, as part of the short poem “That Summer,” “the earth tried to shake us off. / The oldest oak trees fell, / people sheltered and burned in swimming pools, / the screams of horses in the air.” She speaks of climate crisis and its ongoing traumas, as the poem ends: “We were tied to a troubled earth. / You said it was too late to leave anyway.”

rob mclennan, Jeannine Hall Gailey, Flare Corona

I had actually forgotten that I’d written this poem until someone shared this image on the site formerly known as Twitter. As soon as I read it, I remembered what was on my mind and heart when I wrote it. I had to search on my hard drive to date it, though — I wrote it in spring of 2015, earlier than I thought. Looks like it was originally written in couplets, though I also like the shape that someone gave it in this image. (There’s a slight transcription error in line 8, but I’m honored that someone liked the poem well enough to share it this way, even without the original punctuation and italics.) It’s not exactly a sonnet, in terms of rhyme or meter, though it’s inspired by the movement of a Petrarchan sonnet — eight lines, a turn, then six lines. My favorite line is still, “God isn’t / a diner waitress saying: what can I get you, hon?” That’s not how I understand prayer to work, even petitionary prayer. Sometimes I can’t help wishing it worked that way, though. I would order so much wholeness and healing and sweetness and fulfillment of hope. 

Rachel Barenblat, Find

Today’s post draws from my research into how, exactly, wonder can work in service of preservation efforts, and how poetry can be the invaluable link connecting the two.

I often revisit the work of my most humble, most brilliant friend, Robert Macfarlane. In addition to being one of the most mesmerizing and thoughtful writers on nature, he has, in my estimation, done the best job of succinctly capturing one of the chief issues we face in our efforts to address threats to the Anthropocene:

“As a species, we will not save what we do not love, and we rarely love what we cannot name.”

Inspired by the findings of Cambridge researchers who discovered that British children aged eight and over were significantly better able to identify Pokémon than organisms found in the natural world, Macfarlane set out to write a book that would reclaim “the magic of naming nature” through “summoning spells,”: short, rhythmic poems. That book, beautifully illustrated by Jackie Morris, is called The Lost Words, and it celebrates the identification and cherishing that naming the natural world allows. He provides a lexicon of slowly vanishing words—acorn, adder, bluebell, and so on—relying on a visual acrostic, whereby each stanza is capitalized to highlight the letters spelling out the thing described. Here is “Bramble”:

Bramble 

Bramble is on the march again,

Rolling and arching along the hedges,
   in to parks on city edges.

All streets are suddenly thick with briar:
   cars snarled fast, business over. 

Moths have come in their millions,
   drawn to the thorns. The air flutters. 

Bramble has reached each house now, 
   looped it in wire. People lock doors,
   close shutters.

Little shoots steal through keyholes,
   to leave – in quiet halls,

Empty stairwells—bowls of bright
   blackberries where the light falls. 

The poem relies on what Francis Spufford in The Child That Books Built called the “gloriously embedded” elements of language to which children are so attuned, “its texture, its timbre, its grain, its music.” Bramble is personified as “on the march again” across rural and urban landscapes, while the tightly woven pattern of full rhymes, “hedges / edges,” “flutters / shutters,” and slant rhymes “briar / over,” capture bramble’s invasiveness. Where things might turn sinister in the fifth stanza, “People lock doors, / close shutters,” Macfarlane redirects the story to acclaim the power and literal fruitfulness of bramble: “Little shoots steal through keyholes / to leave…/ bowls of bright / blackberries where the light falls.” The almost incantatory stresses make the poem ask to be spoken aloud.

In short: the poem enacts the wonder of the thing it describes.

Maya C. Popa, Wonder Wednesday: The Lost Words, Wonder, and Environmental Preservation

when were stars erased by rain

when did sleep still live in a tree

who was the first to murder a dream

Grant Hackett [no title]

I’ve been a bit scant on posting this month because I’ve been a bit scant on everything—inspiration, creativity, energy, and pep. August feels like it has dragged on interminably, and I haven’t been able to get forward momentum on anything. The heat, smoke and terrible Seattle air quality hasn’t helped with my general sense of stagnation and ennui. I’m left to just sit and wait out whatever this is, while I hope for a return to crisp, cool air and a good week of cleansing rain. In the meantime, I haven’t had a lot to say, and I haven’t had the to drive to fight through it and muster up a post anyway.

Despite my listlessness, I have managed to make one decision this month, which is to return to journaling. I used to journal daily, and I can’t pinpoint the exact time that practice fell away for me, but I haven’t journaled in many years, and it feels like it’s time to start again. Journaling always brought me clarity, and I am feeling a need for clarity on many things right now. The act of sitting and writing with pen and paper, physically moving your hands over the page and connecting your thoughts to the movement, imbues a sort of magic. It brings calmness and calls forth truth and orderliness of the mind, which is something I long for right now. And of course, returning to journaling means buying a plethora of fancy new journals, which I am definitely not addicted to and don’t have a hoarding problem with at all.

Kristen McHenry, August Blahs, A Return to Journaling, Training Re-Set

I recently came across this blog post by Naush Sabah about why we send our poems to magazines (or not). I’m in agreement with her on just about all of it, although I needed telling some things; for example:

You needn’t seek to publish every poem you write. Some work is for the drawer, some work is for an audience of one or two friends, some work is better within a book, some work is for the trash and, if you’re lucky, a key to unlock the next piece of writing.

It hasn’t been a conscious thing, but when I think about it, I can put most poems I write these days into one of these categories. I haven’t been sending out as many poems to magazines as I used to, and among those I have sent not many have been accepted. I’ve been a bit disillusioned about this to be honest.

And yet at the same time I can see that quite a few of these poems belong with others in order to have the impact I’m after. In other words, in a collection.

A few might even be poems I should be treating as stepping stones to the actual poem I’m after, the ‘key to unlocking the next piece of writing’ that Naush talks about in her piece.

A funny thing to be saying, given my unofficial role as cheerleader for submitting to magazines. I still believe in the magazines, and still encourage people to send in their poems. But it’s what I’ve always said: it’s not a strategy that suits everyone all the time. Goals and ambitions change.

Robin Houghton, The positives of submitting less to magazines

Scientists say faking happiness can hurt you.

Scientists say the average person walks the equivalent of five times around the world in their lifetime.

Scientists say when you die, some companies will turn your ashes into fireworks.

Scientists say the universe is like a giant brain.

Rich Ferguson, Scientists Say

Last week, I was watering our garden in an effort to stave off the effects of the high heat we’ve been living in. I was in a hurry. I was impatient. I was anxious. I yanked the hose, and I broke off two large branches of a shrub I’d once given up on. It had been all wonky, growing a few measly branches on one side, with the other side of the bush bare. I moved it to its current spot, almost daring it to live. If it died completely there, I figured it was no loss.

It’s not only lived there, but thrived, filling in beautifully. It’s a story that has given me some joy. And then, in one quick moment, I broke off two full branches, returning it to a state of bare lopsidedness.

I was so glad that it was me who did that, rather than Cane. Because it just made me sad. I was glad to be angry with myself, rather than him.

Cane suggested putting the branches in water. Maybe they will sprout roots and we can replant, he suggested, get a new plant out of it. I think that’s not likely, but I did it anyway.

This morning, as I sat here writing these words, the branches were right in front of my face and I noticed something that stopped me:

The branches are flowering. My broken branches. Sprouting tiny little flowers. Not the roots we hoped for, but flowers we didn’t even know to hope for.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Wonky

Who knew, at the bend,
a long slant sun would meet me,

we’d eat a burst of tomatoes 
at night, already in shadow,

a wall of sound, sonic crickets
like monks in saffron robes 

lined from here to the mountains,
soft, soft their silken chant, hand clap.

Jill Pearlman, Slanting

I can now share/remind you that the launch event will also be on the 7th November, at The Deverux Pub in Temple. I will be reading with Matthew Stewart (launching his second full collection. I’ve read it and it’s excellent). There will also be readings by Maria Taylor, Hilary Menos and Eleanor Livingstone. It’s a Red Squirrel Press and HappenStance read off. Who will win? Who will hold the coats???

Come along to find out…I am very pleased as it will be the first time I’ve actually met Sheila, Hilary, Maria and Eleanor.

More details here. And my thanks to Nell for putting this up (and for putting up with me). And very much thanks to Sheila for agreeing to publish me in the first place.

More from me on the book when I have it, but I am very, very excited now and it’s all starting to feel scary. 

Mat Riches, Varroa-iations on a theme

Super-excited to share this cover! Thank you to everyone at Sundress Publications for their work on this! Special thanks to Ani Araguz, my partner and artist behind the artwork on this cover. […]

This piece is entitled “we go to sleep early so we can dream what’s never in it for us.” I love the sense of at once feeling mired and also breaking apart. This ties into the way ruining and becoming ruins because of want are used as a metaphor in the book.

Also, happy to share that the project has a description as well. Check it out:

Is selfhood constructed? And if so, by whom? Exploring queerness, race, body image, and family, Ruin & Want is a masterful meditation on otherness and identity. In a series of gripping, episodic prose pieces centered on an illicit relationship between a student and his high school English teacher, Araguz peels back the layers of his marginalized identity. By reflecting on his childhood into adulthood, Araguz grapples with finding a sense of self when early, predatory experiences have deeply affected his coming-of-age. In quixotic, deeply eviscerating lyric prose, Araguz delivers a troubling but bold memoir that handles this topic with courage while grieving what it costs survivors to reckon with harm’s aftermath. Yet in the midst of this struggle, we find many bittersweet and lingering gifts such as, “For the first time I saw myself as someone worth seeing,” that make this work necessary and unforgettable.

I’ve been working on R&W since 2016. The work has had me learning and growing over the years. The book is a testament to my survival. The final year of work had me realizing that I have been late in embracing my queer identity, something that has been difficult to do until the completion of this book. Still learning as I go.

José Angel Araguz, Ruin & Want cover reveal!

Writing really is a long game. I wrote Murder Girl gets wired in 2007 after I’d relocated from Perth to Adelaide and was still elbow-deep in writing for theatre. I didn’t know about prose poems. I thought I was just writing little sketches (were they poems? were they stories?) with a view to heightening ordinary fuckd-up urban and suburban folk to a kind-of mythological status. I didn’t really know what I was doing. I’d give my characters names like Murder Girl, Violet Sweets, Beef Boy and they’d always drink too much & have low self-esteem. Auto-bio much? Now I can hear rhythms & a smattering of rhyme in this poem, which were the precursors to me writing and performing my first spoken word poem in 2016.

In 2020, when I received funding to record my first collection SIARAD as an audiobook & make some video poems, I wanted to record multiple sound-tracks for this poem, which were then edited & enhanced by the audio genius Jeffrey Zhang. Then, the poet indigo eli introduced me to featherful (not their real name) who agreed to make the video-poem. I still remember the feeling of being blown away the first time I watched it. It exceeded my expectations in capturing the feel of late-night, urban-gothic youth culture in small city Australia. The video poem’s interplay of dark and light, appearing & disappearing, is eerie.

Caroline Reid, VIDEO POEM: Murder Girl gets wired

Earlier in the week, a facebook friend asked everyone if they could think of a time they wanted to stop writing, and what made them carry on regardless.  How did they work through it? I was thinking of responding, but then realized the answer was way too complex and convoluted to deal with in a comments section. There are days when I feel this way about poetry specifically, not really writing in general, of which I have done many different types and genres at various points.  I love that I get to make a living writing other kinds of things now, but poetry sometimes feels like something I could easily drop from my life like a napkin from a table and I’m not sure anyone would notice. It certainly doesn’t contribute financially to my life, nor does the pursuit of it necessarily all the time contribute to my mental well-being. It is a lot of time and effort invested with steadily diminishing returns, something that took me a long time to realize.  That working harder or more or better wouldn’t necessarily show any kind of difference at all. And by returns, I don’t necessarily just mean po-biz things, many of which I have let go of in the past several years.  But more so the sense of purpose that I sometimes lose the thread of at times. Would I not spend my time better by writing things that allow me to make a living rather than dropping poems into what usually feels like a void. Would not these energies be more productive leveled elsewhere?

And yet, I don’t know how I would live without it. Or where I would channel those same storytelling energies. Fiction, sure, but I am not really very good at it.  Essays, maybe. Writing poems, good or bad, have been part of my life since I was a stupid teenager who did a little too well on an English assignment and somehow locked in hard on a genre that most people don’t seem to care about at all. I used to dismiss that Rilke quote about HAVING to write, of dying if you were forbidden to do it,  as pretension and dramatics, but maybe he was right. Sometimes I am not certain how I could ever consider stopping. Sometimes I am not certain how I can keep going.

But there are still poems to be written. Projects to be executed.  I am digging in on the video poems that I will be releasing in September–the villains series–armed with a fancy new microphone […]

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 8/28/2023

One thing I love about poetry is the space it holds for nuanced conversation. It’s so magnificent when poets get their teeth in something, shake it about and snarl at it or fawn over it (or both!). Poems are places where we can wonder about things and be in awe just as likely in response to something beautiful as to something terrible.

Barbie is a spectacular subject for poetry. In addition to the cultural baggage noted above, she offers opportunities for ekphrasis and persona poems. She conjures nostalgia and personal story. She invites reflection on identity and body image. She churns up questions on gender, class and power. And of course, there are all those outfits: Who is she, really? “Just” a doll? Perhaps.

It’s all grist for the mill, as they say — frothy, frothy fodder for poets.

I, personally, haven’t written any Barbie poems, but I always enjoy reading them. Of course there are full collections worth noting, including KINKY by Denise Duhamel, Barbie Chang by Victoria Chang and Never Picked First for Playtime by Dustin Brookshire, which is an homage to Duhamel’s.

Carolee Bennett, barbie in the poetry world

“From From” explores the question “Where are you from from?” (where are you really from) by investigating the awkward state of being American yet being othered by white Americans and of the feeling of incompleteness when you discover your heritage through English sources. Youn’s approach is less direct than Claudia Rankin’s but equally as eloquent. Youn’s studies are inventive, setting up two perspectives to interrogate received knowledge and bias. “From From” is a multi-layered collection that rewards re-reading.

Emma Lee, “From From” Monica Youn (Carcarnet Press) – book review

My father died five years ago. Yesterday was his death anniversary. Five years seems wrong. It feels both too long and too short. In this state of unmooring, one becomes time’s orphan, just as moving from Singapore to New York made me an orphan of place. I have lived in New York as a foster child for 20 years. 20 years seems wrong too, for the same reason. Yesterday I tried to recall the exact day I landed in JFK airport and took the bus to Grand Central Station, in order to board the train to Sarah Lawrence College, where I was to learn how to write, but I could not remember. What I remembered was sitting across from an older Jewish man on the train. He told me he was a jeweler who opened his own shop. Tonight, 20 years after I came to this city to see if I would be any good as a poet, I am having dinner with a younger Singaporean poet and her mom. She is here to pursue further training in the craft of writing, as I did. She will meet a host of interesting people in NYC, the sedulous, the sadducees, the seducers. I hope she will meet my jeweler.

Jee Leong Koh, Foster Child of New York

I visited Magnetic Poetry this morning aka The Oracle. This is what she imparted.
Happy Saturday.

Beneath dreams and
shadows
your sweet tongue
bares a fasting and
a wanting
pants for roses raw and light
licks an ache
a sleeping love
cooling to rust

Charlotte Hamrick, a little something

Highland Park Poetry press has set up a book launch/poetry reading for The Red Queen Hypothesis (and me) with poet Rene Parks and an open mic to follow. This event takes place Saturday, September 9th at 5 pm, at Madame ZuZu’s, 1876 First Street, Highland Park IL. Here’s a link, and here’s another link. It’s a ways to travel from eastern Pennsylvania but a good reason for yours truly to visit a new place, meet new people–including the book’s publisher–and listen to other poets.

Too often, perhaps, I stay around the home front, indulge in my introversion by gardening and reading, and shy away from promoting my work. Lately, it’s been months since I did any submitting. There was my participation in the annual Goschenhoppen Festival, then a short but lovely week in North Carolina, camping and seeing friends. Now, the veggie season is starting to wind down–tomato sauce simmers on the burner–and I will have fewer excuses for why I am not sending out poems.

But my travel for the year is not quite done. In September there’s one more trip away from PA, and after that we can settle into autumn. I have writing plans, so once we return, I need to create a schedule that is flexible enough I can stick to it but framed clearly enough that it feels necessary and not difficult to integrate into my days and weeks. Every one of my writer friends knows how challenging that can be. Wish me luck. There’s a chapbook that’s been languishing in my desk area for quite a long time, but to which I’ve recently returned; there’s a ream of poems under 21 lines that might make up a collection, too. Then there’s the next manuscript, rather grief-heavy at present, that I need to re-think and revise.

Oh, and all those poem drafts I have not looked at in awhile…

Ann E. Michael, Book launch, travel, PR

Ann E. Michael, The Red Queen Hypothesis, Highland Park, 2023

Like her wonderful blog, Michael’s second full-length collection is meditative, witty, and smart, with a scientific and sometimes philosophical bent. Also like her blog, it’s closely observant of the more-than-human world in flux. “The Red Queen hypothesis,” I learned, comes from biology: species must keep evolving to survive. Poems and the people behind them must keep changing, too. In addition, The Red Queen Hypothesis suggests the advantage of sexual reproduction, and there are plenty of seductively “soft persuasions” in this collection. Like the “Stew Cook” speaking to her beloved, this is a book to “fill nooks with aromatic hours.” Shout-out to all the tasty slant-rhymes amid a profusion of traditional forms: rhetoric/ lick, beige/ strange, viola/ Iowa. My sense of knowing Ann pretty well by now might be an illusion—I’ve spent way more time reading her work than with her in person—but then again, intimacy with another person’s way of thinking is one of reading’s chief attractions.

Lesley Wheeler, Holding dear

As I was writing You Could Make This Place Beautiful, taking risks with both form and content, I suspected that for every reader who attached to certain craft choices, there would be a reader who’d chafe at those same choices. (Sort of like, “For every bird there’s a stone thrown at a bird.”) The direct address, the vignettes, the meta aspect of the narration, the privacy boundaries—I knew all of these were “love it or loathe it” choices.

All of this to say: I knew I was writing a book with a strong flavor. But I love strong flavors! Blue cheese. Smoked kalamata olives. (Smoked anything, really.) Very dark, bitter chocolate. Very black, bitter coffee. Chili crisp. Rose lemonade. Dill pickles. Hot curry. An imperial IPA. I find these things delicious, but I also completely understand how they might taste terrible to other people.* Taste is subjective.

You’re not for everyone. Your work is not for everyone. So be it!

“You are not responsible for the world—you are only responsible for your work—so DO IT. And don’t think that your work has to conform to any preconceived form, idea or flavor. It can be anything you want it to be.” —Sol LeWitt, in a letter to Eva Hesse

Whatever happens to your work when you send it into the world, with its sometimes treacherous landscapes, is none of your business, really. You made the thing, and now people can make up their own minds about it. Will everyone love it? Probably not. Will everyone hate it? Also, probably not.

But do you love it? Are you proud of it? Do you stand behind your choices? Have you made something uniquely yours?

Maggie Smith, Pep Talk

Does this story know how to walk into the sunset, arm around the waist of hope? Does it know when to stop, to let the past become the future, let the future rechristen the past, let time recalibrate itself around words — words written now, words written then, words that make no sound? Where the last part of the story stops, more has already happened. Before. ‘On Turning Fifty’ was a milestone-chapbook I released in 2019. Then from the quiet of the year that followed, came ‘The Night is my mirror’. The continuity surprises me, though much of it was inevitable. There was more. From the horror of the pandemic years came the anguished poetry in Duplicity, released in 2021. All the dots are connected now. Do you see the pattern? Do you remember the crow that became a line in the sky? The first line. Do you see what geometry that line has wreaked? How solemn are those polygons? Which side is up? Some of those edges follow the horizon, some of them touch the acute angles of one blinking star in the sky.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Interlude (53)

awaiting the summer rain:
a stick shaped
like a bird’s foot

Jason Crane, haiku: 28 August 2023

On Sunday I was part of a group of poets and musicians reading at an outdoor event in the Italian Gardens in Scarborough. I don’t think I’ve been in the Italian Gardens since I was a child. I have a strong memory of my mum and myself having a day there together, me playing with my Sindy doll and running around the pond and up and down the stairs imagining I was in a fairy world, my mum quietly reading a book in the shade. It was just as I’d left it, though in the mean time it had become quite run down, before receiving funding to be brought back to its former glory. As I sat in the shade with the other readers and musicians I could hear the breeze blowing through the leaves and the scent of the sea and the flower gardens were carried up to us. […]

Mostly I have been stuck in the office this week sending literally hundreds of emails to Spelt competition entrants, letting them know the outcome. Our brilliant judge Jane Burn has sifted through 788 individual entries to whittle down to a longlist of twenty poets. Alongside that I have been pulling the last bits of issue 09 together and sorting out problems with it. We’ll be going to print with it soon. And as if that wasn’t enough, I’m working on yet another Arts Council England bid for some Spelt stuff too. If you know me you will know filling in applications makes me want to pull my own eyes out and kick them out of the window. But I can see a light at the end of the tunnel. After spending so much time at my desk, we decided to have a walk along the beach last night at about 8pm. It was glorious. The sea was a gentle murmer, there were still people on the beach, some of them with little fires which seemed brighter in the dusk. Scent of sausages o the breeze. There were lots of dead jellyfish looking like hazy autumn sun sets.

Wendy Pratt, Late Summer – A Sensory Experience: The Scent of Summer

Heavy trucks cough out a smell of omelettes and salad, financial ruin.

Food is an answer, yes, always, but remember to spit it out.

I stood to one side, didn’t understand, didn’t get involved.

A book called A Very Short History Of Friends.

Guilt is a secret hand opening ancient maps, spreading them out.

Bob Mee, MEDITATIONS ON GUILT

Committing to commas, semi-colons, and cover layouts is an act of courage not demanded of us in the day-to-day virtual or verbal worlds where mistakes can (usually) be corrected at the touch of a few buttons, or with a cough and repetition of a line. It may not feel like it if you haven’t done it yet, but be assured that the process by which Moth, Aunts Come Armed with Tea Cakes (Thirza Clout), Body of Water (Emily Wilkinson), Lucidity (Ross Donlon), and I Buy A New Washer (Yours Truly) (all published by Mark Time) came to be in print form is a matter of precise, finite, and often late-at-night-squeezed-into-the-rest-of-life decision making. It’s also a matter of kind discussion with our editor, Ross, of benefitting from his poetry wisdom and skills.

It’s the finite, deadline bit that’s so difficult: a form of existential angst, made manifest. Never mind that saying, the one about ‘abandoning poems’; when you publish them on paper you have to release them carefully, tenderly, precisely, and, it may surprise some, soberly, and after lengthy and serious thought. This is because you release them to the possibility of changes of mind, misunderstandings, and (oh horror!) typos, as well as joy, understanding, and connection.

Liz Lefroy, I Mark Time

No time for lingering, except to linger
       in a room filled with simple light; no
call to pilfer coins it scatters freely
       at your feet. Bowl, water glass, figs 
softening on a tray—enough of need.
       Clear-eyed, unclouded: even as 
sweetness falls away, you want 
      the making of things that last.

Luisa A. Igloria, Ode to the Unsentimental

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, 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, subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader, or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack. This week: mortality, masks, summer reading, road trips, and more. Enjoy!


Pushed myself to take a 10 minute walk with Leonard last night, but that was a mistake. I crawled into bed with a migraine.

But I woke this morning without one – for the first time in six days. I’m taking the morning slowly. I don’t even dare move this head through an asana sequence. Coffee and water. And prophylactic paracetamol. I have a long day of writing ahead. It will be good to focus on something besides my senses: an imaginary world where the smell of chemicals, body odors, and dog breath really don’t come into play.

The “cancer hour” I promised myself has bled into the long days of this past week. I distracted myself with sitcoms and slept through half of every episode. The exercise and activity chart I made for myself before I started chemotherapy is still hanging on the refrigerator. I really should take it down. At this point, it’s just mocking me.

I hear the birds outside. And the train passing by every now and then. Leonard is sprawled on the floor, taking up more than a square meter of this little room. He’s got his head on a stack of books. I hope he’s not drooling. Here I sit. In my tiny room with the French doors, because I still believe elegance is more about attitude than scale, more about framing the parts than interrogating the whole.

Ren Powell, Que Sera Sera

Change equals living: no life without alterations of one kind or another. My current situation is one of those so-called Life Events: I have retired from my position at the university where I worked for about 17 years. I suppose it is A Big Deal (see how I’m capitalizing?), but I must admit that so far it doesn’t feel terribly fraught, major, or even bittersweet. It just feels appropriate. Part of the reason for that is that I’m not a person who has defined herself by her career. Thank goodness, since it was a fairly modest career. I enjoyed my work with students; and I was part of a terrific team of earnest, funny, and supportive folks. So yes, that’s something to miss. However, I have many interests beyond work at the college. Time to pursue those, methinks. Time to spend with my mother as she wanes. Time to travel with my husband and on my own and to visit our far-away offspring. Of course, there are all those things that will keep me unexpectedly busy…gardening, house maintenance, trying to get the metaphorical ducks to line up (as if they ever will). And then, poetry; I want to devote some serious brainpower to revising, reorganizing, drafting, reading, learning more about the art I love. Maybe even submitting more work, putting together another manuscript or two. Who knows what changes are ahead?

When I note the fewer numbers of fireflies, I do not mean there are none. It’s just that some years, by June 18th, the back of our yard simply dazzles; we don’t need fireworks! Because they pupate in dampness, such as in rotting logs or underground, and because they need moist earth in order to feed (on soft-bodied invertebrates, according to the Xerxes Society’s informative page here), a spring drought can limit their numbers. And I miss them, the way I miss the little brown bats and the green ash trees. Those types of changes may be more or less inevitable, but I can’t help thinking that such transitions feel less timely than my departure from running the university’s writing center. The ash and the bats are still around, but in vastly decreased numbers. I hope the lightning bugs bounce back.

Ann E. Michael, Lightning bugs

It’s June and the rhododendrons are in full bloom. From my window, shades of scarlet, blush, magenta, neon pink. These colors remind me of the various lipsticks my Ballard grandmother would wear and I explored this in a poem I’ve been working on all morning. There’s no shame in too much coffee and pajamas at noon, especially when the rain pours and the drive to write is hot. But I’m also leaving soon for roadtrip through Yukon, British Columbia, and Washington. So a blog entry before my departure.

Kersten Christianson, Approaching Solstice

My last two uncles died a couple of months apart, at the end of 2022 and the beginning of 2023. At one of their funerals a cousin expressed the same idea that Linda Pastan so eloquently describes in the second stanza of her poem: we are the older generation now. 

The idea of being next in line ‘to die’ does not bother me. I am deeply grateful for all of my own ‘torn scraps of history’ and I do not feel alone on any shore. I don’t know what lies ahead and I have no need to imagine what it might be. Not believing in any kind of afterlife, or second chance, is a comfort rather than the source of any fear. Having survived to be a part of the older generation feels like a gift, not a burden, or riven with loss. 

While we were waiting outside the chapel of rest for Uncle Michael’s coffin to be taken inside I heard the ubiquitous, unintelligible call of the rag and bone man along the main road beyond the cemetery’s gates. The juxtaposition was both startling and somewhat reassuring. Is there always some use for what is thrown away or discarded, what is unwanted, abandoned? Even our bones and flesh, once our consciousness has departed?

Lynne Rees, Reflection ~ On being the next in line to die

Penny kept him safe from the other pigs; dragged
him off and buried him each night, sat
jealously near his dirt hole,
until she dug him up again, rolled
him with her overheated tongue, and
shook him in her mouth as though to snap
his rigid little neck. After a week
he was a pockmarked mess, his brows
mottled with teeth pricks and his
blob-shoes dull with grime.
Penny had made him his own. Broken him in.

Kristen McHenry, Penny the Pig

As I move into the last leg of writing the book, or at least the first draft of the book, and prepare to start working with the editors to bring it to a shine, I am beginning to look back at this stage of the journey with something like nostalgia. I’ve learned so much about myself as a person, and as a writer, on the way. One of the things I have learned, a skill really, is to trust my own voice and my own story, to ‘shut the door’ and write. There were times when I felt blocked, and the block came from me worrying about the validity of my story; comparing myself to other writers and their intimidating, blazing talent. Whenever this happens, my writing starts to thin out, my voice starts to peter out like the thin waves at the edge of a lake. I have to pull myself back and back, remind myself that the passion is always what saves a story, that writing authentically, about what interests you, is the way to make your writing sing. To write freely, as if no one is watching you, as if social media doesn’t exist, as if no one will read your book; that’s the key. I’ve stepped back from social media in an attempt to nail the final stretch of the book. I am ‘figuring out what I want to say’ and how I want to say it, and it is like solving a glorious puzzle. I haven’t missed social media as much as I thought I would. Stepping back has allowed me to embrace the life I want – writing, thinking. I hope I look back on this time and recognise the absolute joy of existing in this moment; getting up, writing, walking, writing. I shall miss writing this book, I shall miss the discoveries, the journey it has taken me on. But I’m ready for the next part of the journey too. How strange the act of writing, that a person could exist entirely in words fished from the air.

Wendy Pratt, “Write like no one is looking over your shoulder…”

I’m not sure what provoked so fluid a flow. I’d had the opening section – headed Superstructure in this draft – hanging around for several years. The original notion was an anecdotal account of experience working in a mental hospital laundry, but it never got further than a description of the huge gothic edifice that housed the institution. In spite of the fact that my three months in that dreadful place were full of incident, the anticipated graduation to a depiction of what actually went on never occurred.

As so often happens, it was an entirely unconnected stimulus that sparked off the next stage of the poem. During the ongoing (and seemingly never-ending) process of unpacking and sorting documents after our house move, I came across some research and planning notes I had drawn up for a projected production of Peter Schaffer’s play Equus. I had homed in on the play’s central theme – that of the psychiatrist Dysart’s growing fascination with the perverse, amoral theology that has driven his 17-year-old patient Alan Strang to blind several horses with a hoof pick. Appalling though the act is and in spite of the explanatory pathology that emerges through analysis, Dysart becomes increasingly aware of the sacrifice of visceral passion and engagement that Alan must make in order to be liberated from his compulsions. Passion, you see, can be destroyed by a doctor. It cannot be created, observes Dysart. And later, as a cri de coeur: All right! The normal is the good smile in a child’s eyes. There’s also the dead stare in a million adults. It both sustains and kills, like a god. It is the ordinary made beautiful, it is also the average made lethal. Normal is the indispensable murderous god of health and I am his priest.

The planned production never went ahead. A combination of concern about suitability for an all-ages school audience, probable casting difficulties and a sense that Schaffer presents his compelling scenario just a little too tidily had me tucking the notes away and moving swiftly on to something more negotiable. So rediscovering them so long after their compilation gave them a renewed freshness and impact. But instead of causing me to reflect wistfully on the production-that-never-was, I found myself thinking about the poem-that-was-yet-to-be. And I realised within a moment of revelatory shock that aspects of what I had seen and heard in that mental hospital conformed precisely to the informing agenda of Equus. I realised – maybe for the first time fully – that I had been witness to a demonstration of that nexus between the limits of conventional human behaviour and the abandonment and chaos that lies beyond and that it had shocked me to the core. The poem investigates – as maybe only a poem can – the true nature of my perception of the event witnessed at the time and what, with the understanding that only comes with time, it meant to me now.

Dick Jones, BINNERS

I had another recent poetry acceptance, this time for a poem about my mother that is also about the time I played Marjorie in the play Marjorie Prime, a few years back. I played an 80-year-old woman, and afterwards 1) everyone mistook me for my mother 2) I cut off my long hair streaked white that I wore in a braid (just like my mother) and 3) people asked what I did with makeup to look 80. Basically, the answer was “no makeup.” For those not so familiar with theatre, the stage lights will wash you out, so wearing no makeup did make me look 80! But still. So now it helps me 1) understand my parents and 2) brace myself to be reading Successful Aging, by Daniel J. Levitin! I like it a lot, and I hope I am aging successfully!

I found this book, and got it through interlibrary loan, after I read his book This Is Your Brain on Music, which I discussed with the Stranger Than Fiction non-fiction book club. It meets in a wine bar! Our next book, already in progress, is I Live a Life Like Yours, a memoir by Jan Grue, about living with a disability…and just living his own life, which is like…yours, or mine. The Levitin book on aging is delightful in its examples, many of whom are musicians that he met in his other work! Joni Mitchell, Sonny Rollins.

Kathleen Kirk, Acceptance

I love the way the poems in Terminarchy build on the work in Angela [France]’s previous collection, The Hill. And the (not-so) gentle reminder at the end of this poem that it’s likely to be the funguses of the world and other plant matters that will inherit/repossess our planet if we don’t buck our ideas up. There are plenty of other poems in Terminarchy that act as such a reminder. Can a poem make us buck our ideas up? Possibly not on its own, but it was timely to see this article about whether art can change attitudes towards climate change. I think if we can present the issues in contexts such as France has done then we can look again. That seems to be the gist of the article—he says having skim read it so far.

I’m guilty of having slept on my copy of The Hill, and it’s been a while since reading Hide, so I’ll get them back into rotation ASAP. Oh yes and find the work that came before them.

Mat Riches, Spores, the Pity

The title of Tim Allen’s The Indescribable Thrill of the Half-Volley is both gloriously on and off topic. It’s not a book about football, indeed not a single ball is kicked, although one or two are thrown, but it does hover around the indescribable. The book consists of 97 four-line poems, in couplets, each numbered ant titles. The titles all consist of the word ‘invisible’ followed by a noun. Here’s number 25:

invisible politics

A simply dressed man clowning around
For no one in particular in a general street

The man goes home to paint his face
In the mirror the stillness of his world suspends all fear

How do you render the invisible visible in words? Obliquely and through suggestion, perhaps. The contrast between the man’s dress and behaviours evokes an image of politics as farce played out under a surface veneer of conventional blandness.

Billy Mills, A Basket of Small Delights: June 2023 Pamphlet Reviews

One of the unique experiences of being a poet / poetry reader is becoming accustomed with the creature known as the “selected poems.” The closest equivalent from outside the poetry world comes in the form of the “greatest hits” album. Yet, the novelty and nostalgic flash of such an album doesn’t exactly feel right with poetry.

Perhaps a volume of selected poems allows us to tap into a similar experience Italo Calvino speaks about in his essay “Collection of Sand”:

“I have finally come around to asking myself what is expressed in that sand of written words which I have strung together throughout my life, that sand that seems to me to be so far away from the beaches and desert of living. Perhaps by staring at the sand as sand, words as words, we can come close to understanding how and to what extent the world that has been ground down and eroded can still find in sand a foundation and model.”

This idea of glimpsing “a foundation and model” for literary experience through engaging with a writer’s collected body of work is, for me, an apt guide into the selected poems experience. Just as Calvino invites his reader into a communal act of assessment and study, readers of poetry are invited into a similar communal act, only one that includes celebration as much as reckoning.

Which is another way of saying: selected poems allow us to catch up.

It is in the experience of catching up that I encourage readers to enter What Can I Tell You?: Selected Poems (FlowerSong Press) by Roberto Carlos Garcia. Across the three poetry collections gathered here in this volume, one can see Garcia establishing a foundation and model for poetic experience, meditation, and interrogation that ranges in depth and practice.

José Angel Araguz, microreview: What Can I Tell You?: Selected Poems by Roberto Carlos Garcia

The first I’ve seen from Montana poet, as well as 2015-2017 Poet Laureate of Montana, and ferrier Michael Earl Craig, the author of Can You Relax in My House, (Fence Books, 2002), Yes, Master (Fence Books, 2006), Thin Kimono (Wave Books, 2010), Talkativeness (Wave Books, 2014) and Woods and Clouds Interchangeable (Wave Books, 2019), is Iggy Horse (Wave Books, 2023). The poems in Iggy Horse have a crispness to them, and the poems hold echoes of elements one might also see in the works of Canadian poets Stephen Brockwell and Stuart Ross: a slight narrative distance, as the nebulous narrators of each poem slowly form as each poem unfolds. As the poem “SPRINGTIME IN HORSE COUNTRY” begins: “Lady Aberlin of the oarlocks. / Colonel Mustard in the cherry trees. / Lady Aberlin with a custard, / Lady Aberlin in waiting. / Colonel Mustard in the pantry with an almond.” Perhaps it is but a single voice throughout, or perhaps the differences between them are there, and perhaps it doesn’t, in the end, actually matter. “One leg looks to have been swung / the way wooden legs often were,” he writes, as part of the poem “PORTRAIT OF THE WRITER / MAX MERRMANN-HEISSE,” “up and over a real one. / Or even over a second one. / It’s hard to tell because it’s Berlin / in the ‘20s, all those wooden legs / coming in from Rumburk / on the Spree, with good hinges / and shellac jobs that could stop / a luthier in the street.”

Composing poems around voice, character and examination, Craig’s poems offer a kind of folksiness, composing intimate portraits of ghosts, individuals, landscapes, techniques in medieval and modern paintings and other small moments.

rob mclennan, Michael Earl Craig, Iggy Horse

After a short break it’s good to be writing reviews again and I can think of no better debut collection to resume with than Alexandra Fössinger’s Contrapasso  (Cephalopress, 2022). These fine poems explore the themes of incarceration, loss and survival, but above all, perhaps, offer a unique take on the nature of love.

The collection is split into two sections: the first begins with a quote from Dante’s Inferno: ‘Through me the way to the city of woe,/ through me the way to everlasting pain,/ through me the way among the lost.’ The quote together with the title signposts the reader towards the nature of the poems in this section: they focus on punishment, namely the impact of a period in which lovers are separated due to the male’s imprisonment. Section 2 deals with the period after his release. Again it is prefaced with a quote from Dante: ‘Now I shall sing the second kingdom,/ there where the human soul is cleansed’. This time the poems concentrate upon a period of readjustment and resolution, as the lovers come to terms with the ordeal once it is over.

The poem Cell in Part One deals directly with the psychological, physical and emotional impact of imprisonment. It begins with a sequence of numbers. It also describes the cell in terms of the number of square metres of floor space and later specifies the number of hours in the day, the number of days of the sentence and the number of letters despatched by his lover. This emphasis on numbers suggests prison is a place where the incarcerated have no control, sharing a cell with ‘a stranger you/ don’t know a thing about/ but let reign over the remote control.’ Counting and measuring is a form of compensation for that lack of agency: it makes the infinite finite and the makes the unfamiliar familiar and manageable. It is also a place of hardship and danger. Fössinger writes: ‘that which rages / outside will eventually/ creep in/ one morning you wake up/  with a tooth next to you/ lying on your pillow’.

Nigel Kent, Review of ‘Contrapasso’ by Alexandra Fössinger

Publication is over-rated as the end goal of your work because so much of the publication process is out of the writer’s control. Decisions are made by agents, publishers, editors, marketing staff, possibly, but not always by consulting the writer. An editor leaving or a publisher changing their focus can mean that an acceptance turns into a withdrawal and the process of submission, rejection and trying again can start all over again. My first collection was accepted by a publisher who sadly and unexpectedly passed away before publication so I had to start over.

A first book has had years of work behind it. The author has had to learn their craft along the way, there may have been several false starts, significant structural changes and then the publisher’s edits. Seeing the published book is both a triumph: finally something to show for all that effort. Please do celebrate your name on the cover of the book you’ve written: have a party, go out for a celebratory meal, buy yourself a treat, do something meaningful for you.

But it’s also not the end of the journey. What it signifies is the beginning of the next stage: marketing, promoting, getting the book reviewed, keeping in the public eye. And, above all, writing the next book, if you haven’t already started.

Writing is the bit writers have the control over. During the submissions process, start the next project. As your first book nears publication, your next project is your future goal.

Emma Lee, Publication and Writers’ Mental Health

At some point in the past twenty years, a shift happened. Funding was cut, readership declined, costs rose. Rather than trying to innovate, the indie lit world turned inward. Mechanisms to profit off of writers became the norm, the go-to. Want to be published? Pay. Want to meet other writers? Pay. Want to succeed? Pay. Want to study writing at University? That’ll be an arm and a leg. Nom, and nom.

What I am saying is that with so many juicy writers to squeeze for cash, why the hell would any corner of the literary world spend their money targeting readers? […]

Rethink funding for magazines. Read, support, purchase magazines. Tell friends. Create local Lit Mag reading groups. The ‘funding/grant’ model is broken. At Chill Subs, we want to create a way for journals to collect donations and sell subscriptions through our platform. Many have this option on their website. Donate what you can. This is often the only way fledgling magazines can stay running.

We will also soon create an affordable submissions manager that doesn’t charge as a magazine grows. And we’re working on a way to help journals present their work beautifully and connect them directly to audiences. (Others working on this: CLMP, Moksha, Oleada, Motif, crowdfunding platforms.)

Reduce pay-to-play costs for writers, and maybe help them make some money. Editors, consider linking to contributors’ books on your magazine site. Celebrate your writers. (Some are very good about this. Others, not so much. Great example: Points In Case). Support their ongoing publications. Help writers earn money from outside sources. Subscribe to newsletters of writers or entities that encourage transparency in the literary world. Substack has made this easier than ever.

As long as we continue down the path we’re on, indie-lit will never find new methods of profit-making. But if we can shift gears, have standards for market participants, and encourage innovative use of funds, we have a chance. The money is out there. The creative energy is here. Let’s try to harness it as a community. It may take a long time. And if we fail spectacularly and the wide world rejects the idea of literary magazines having a place in it, well, we’re all used to rejection.

Benjamin Davis, Are We Eating Each Other Alive in the Indie-Lit World?

As a disabled and chronically ill person, most residencies are not built for me. If they require ladders to loft beds, or building fires, or steps, or even providing food that isn’t food-allergy safe (I’m allergic to about nine things, the most dangerous of which is wheat, in almost everything)—yeah, they’re not a good fit. I stopped applying for most residencies years ago when I realized—hey, they’re not built for non-perfectly healthy, able-bodied people. They’re not built for me. But I hear from a lot of people that they can’t do “normal” writer’s residencies for a variety of reasons besides their health—kids, jobs, or caretaking roles among them. So, here’s some ideas for people who can’t do the “normal” residencies.

Build your own! I live in a lovely area and there are a variety of places to stay at a variety of prices (yes, they tend to be higher in the summer as that’s our high season, but not always). If you can housesit for a friend going out of town, that can also count as a residency. Renting an AirBNB down the street. Anytime and anywhere you can get away—even just for a couple of days—to focus on your craft, your art and your writing, that counts as a residency in my book. I’ve got one planned in a couple of weeks, and I’ve already printed out poems for my next book to look at and started some relevant reading to prepare for it. Just this last week I spent over fifteen hours sitting in (virtual) doctors’ offices. Health problems are time-and-energy-and-money consuming. If I don’t set aside time (and energy, and money) for art and writing, it won’t happen—everything else will swallow it up. I’m sure you know how it is—if it’s not doctor’s appointments for you, it might be your family’s needs, your job’s needs, or the seven things you volunteer for (hey, I used to be addicted to volunteering, too).

Residencies should involve down time, too—you don’t have to spend the whole time reading and writing—you can goof off, sketch, visit local things you don’t normally get to, have a picnic, listen to music at full blast—anything that helps you get into your writing groove. And you can involve writer friends! Inviting a friend might help your residency to be even more productive, as you can get together and talk shop, plus friend time is important for artists of all stripes. Think about as building space for your creative self. It is just as important as any other aspect of your life, and deserves time, money, and attention. You know how, if you’re married or living with a partner, you reserve “date nights?” It’s the same for your creative self. So, think about creating your own personal artist’s residency. Good luck! And leave a comment if you’ve successfully done this!

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Visiting (and Supporting) Local Lavender Farms, Building Your Own Residency, and When You Know You’ve Done Enough for Your Book

It’s valuable to just do the work and build practical habits instead of waiting for a muse.

But my perpetual exhaustion in the face of small crises, one after the other, can’t handle routine and habit-building. I mean, I’m trying, but I feel derailed quite frequently. I’m so discouraged by the slightest bad news, and it feels like there’s a lot of “little” bad news, even when faced with evidence of all that is good and right in my life (maybe not the world).

Trying not to make this a crybaby post. Now that the apocalypse fires in Canada are blowing smoke in another direction(!!!), the weather on the island is beautiful and skies are clear and I should be feeling naturally optimistic with so much Vitamin D and fresh air coursing through my system. Right?

Sarah Kain Gutowski, Feeling Stabby and Full of Foul Language (This Too Shall Pass)

Like many poets who write because they can’t not write, I started in my youth writing poems of my feelings or ideas and was very literal, using I when I meant myself and the past tense when I was writing of what had been.  Having no poetry courses, it took me a long while to grasp that the person of the poem is not necessarily the writer, and the time of the poem is what fits the poem, not some external reality.  This poem, another from the old workshop files, is one where a major part of revision was putting that second realization into the service of the story:

Desire

When Billy Joel sings
“You may be
right, I may be crazy,”
I sing along,
off key longing,
not for him.

I ache for
the caged creature
mooning
under the mask
that shapes my
good behavior.

Come on, I say,
crash my party,
leave a great hole
I can walk through,
to go riding,
if I want to,
in the rain.

The mask does not tear.

Ellen Roberts Young, Poem in Present Tense

The neighbor boy’s mask was supposed to make
him look like a warrior or hero,
but he couldn’t pull it off, the bully.

I knew my mask wasn’t working quite right
because all the teachers kept on talking
to my mom, asking me to repair it.

I kept stitching new smiles onto my face
and checking them in the mirror. Smile. Not smile.
Smile. Not smile. There weren’t remote controls yet,

so these were manually operated,
and one got stuck in the smile position.

PF Anderson, MASKS

Unexpected delays has meant the publication of Look to the Crocus has yet to materialise and, quite honestly, I’ve no idea when it will… Putting together the collection now feels like a project from the distant past.

However, my writing is moving on. I’ve moved into dabbling with writing creative non-fiction essays over the last few months and I’m thoroughly enjoying the space to write in essay form yet with the feeling of the work coming together in a way not too differently from when a poem comes together. And I may be finding my way into writing poems in a different way from before too, it’s too early to say if the poems are working out but I’m enjoying the process. 

I suppose I had become quite bored with my usual approach to writing, it was becoming ‘samey’ / repetitious, no sense of tapping into anything new. 

Marion McCready [no title]

I noted with a little bit of horror that we have crested the middle of June. Part of it is that summer, real summer, seems slow in coming, since my windows have more often been completely closed against rather cool and ungainly weather this far into the summer (at least the meteorological designation of its beginning.) There’ve been a couple days where they were all open, but then a couple days where I had to run the space hearer for a minute. I open the windows. I close them. I put on a sweater to run packages to the mailbox. I got a new quilt at the beginning of the month that is less bulky than my duvet, but seriously thought of pulling the other out of the trunk a couple nights recently when I was shivering.  It’s not rainy or wet really, just breezy.  

I wrapped up the governess series last week and have embarked on a new little something that still murky in its nature, though I am liking what I have so far. They are wild little poems about cats and cryptids and heartbreak. My main writing goal for the rest of June is to get COLLAPSOLOGIES at least to the point where I have a physical galley in hand, which will vary in timeline depending on the printing and shipping, which can be as long as a few days to over a couple weeks. Once I have that, I can make the final adjustments, one final sweep for needed edits, and maybe have a book in hand by mid-July if all goes well. I loaded in the cover (see the post below) and she’s looking fabulous so i cannot wait to see the finished product. 

Since we are technically halfway through the year, I’ve been plotting what I would like to see happen before the end of the year. The new book, obviously, but also some image/text zine projects I’ve been planning (the governess-inspired series, the home improvements stuff, technogrotesque), a video chap similar to what I did last year, an advent project with art for December. I feel like once we hit the 4th of July, summer slides down the hill at a much faster pace into autumn, so I want to be ready and not flailing about quite so much come September.

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 6/18/2023

I am delighted to announce the publication of The Wind and the Rain, with Blue Diode Publishing.

You can buy the book and read sample poems from it here

Thank you to Rob Mackenzie for accepting the manuscript and doing such a fabulous job with the production of the book.

Thank you to Lucy Runge for permission to use your stunning painting for the front cover of the book.

Thank you to Helena Nelson for your endless editing advice, wisdom and patience. The book would not exist without you.

And thank you to Tatty. Without you, nothing.

Anthony Wilson, The Wind and the Rain

On May 30th, Dead Mall Press began accepting pre-orders for MJ Stratton’s new chapbook, River, Our River. This collection of poems was written during a single month and comes from a place of fluent imagination and feeling. Moving through a variety of forms, the poems are both dreams and exposed nerve ends, asking us questions about identity, need, suffering, and the body, while revealing a garden of cinders, moons wrung out into jars, and bees singing in the chest. MJ’s poems draw us into a river of language, at once gentle and cruel, that accepts fluidity and refuses to claim anything for itself as final.

Recently, MJ and I had a chance to discuss the book a bit over email, and you can read our conversation below.

DMP: Thanks for doing this interview, MJ! Maybe we can begin with some basic context for readers who are unfamiliar with you. Would you mind giving us a brief sketch of your background?

MJ: Oh no, thank you so much for having me! Genuinely, the pleasure’s all mine. The basic facts are that I live in Providence, RI, and I work as a receptionist. It’s a Pam Beesly situation without the love story or boss that hits people with their cars. I also write, of course, and you can read a bit more about it at my website. Beyond that, though, I struggle to answer any question that even vaguely resembles “who am I?” I’m the authority on that particular subject, right? And yet I can never get over the fact that really, I don’t know—at least not completely (we’re always changing, myself included). I’m also not particularly interesting, and I don’t like having “the floor” when there are so many better, more deserving dancers I can/should be standing behind while aggressively clapping them on. Clapping, or fist pumping.

DMP: I know you are quite prolific, often writing multiple poems a day, and have well over a thousand pages of poetry in manuscript. And River, Our River contains nineteen poems selected from a larger crop of writing from July 2022 alone. Can you tell us a bit about your writing process in general and how you write so much?

MJ: I think it involves both external privilege and internal need. It takes time to write, and I think it’s important to acknowledge that I’m very lucky to be able to devote some of my time to something I love. That’s the privilege aspect, or a fraction of it. The “internal need” I mentioned is harder to characterize, probably because it doesn’t have societal or economic infrastructure you can point to and trace with your finger.

A large part of why I write is because I have to—and I hope that doesn’t sound grandiose or pretentious or insincere. I picture it like this: I largely live in a state of white noise; while I’m very self aware, I also really struggle with revealing myself to myself. I don’t know what I’m thinking or even how I’m feeling unless I write it out, usually abstractly. The pen serves as both a translator and a processor for me.

There’s a Joan Didion quote that dissects the body I’m vaguely pointing at and cuts out the beating heart of it: “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.”

Really, writing is how I step out of my own blankness and exist. Then, luckily, hopefully, I can go a step beyond existence and connect.

R.M. Haines, Interview w/ MJ Stratton

all alone
with the monotonous voice
of a fan

Jim Young [no title]

Much of my poetry video is set up to work at different levels. In general, I don’t mind how they are interpreted by others – that is an essential aprt of the process. But when someone really gets into the multiple layers of a piece, it is incredibly satisfying. I did an English / French version of my video Palingenetics / Palingénétique that was accepted for the 2023 edition Traverse Video Festival in Toulouse, France. Each year they produce an annotated program of the event and this time it includes an article about Palingenetics / Palingénétique by Simone Dompeyre. The original poem is very complex, and refers to evolutionary and developmental biology, ancient number counting systems, discredited social theory, and climate change (!!!!). But as you can see below, Simone Dompeyre gets it as well as the visual / audio aspects… I was quite overwhelmed by her words. Merci beaucoup!

Ian Gibbins, Palingénétique at Traverse Video, 2023

Storytelling outside the square: prose poems, haibun and other experimental forms is the panel I’ll be on Friday 6/16 at 4:30 pm CST. Since many of my readers here are poets, I wanted to invite you to watch if you can and care to. Roberta Beary, Haibun Editor for Modern Haiku, is also on the panel, among others. The entire flash festival is great with participants from all over the world! I hope you can drop in.

All events are being live streamed on Flash Frontier’s YouTube channel and can be viewed there afterwards if you can’t make it. You can also see what’s happened at the Festival of Flash so far (it began last weekend) as well as everything coming up.

Charlotte Hamrick, You are invited….

This year, after I announced Haiku Girl Summer (my limited-run online haiku journal), a haiku friend asked me if I’d heard of the Buson Challenge. I had completely forgotten about it! 2022 was a terrible year for my creative life, and writing 10 haiku a day for 100 days was not going to work with everything else I was juggling. But now I’ve settled into a job I like, the house is getting more organized, and I have the brain space to actually write again.

As of this writing, I’ve successfully completed 12/100 days. I’ve definitely written more mediocre and genuinely bad haiku than good, though since most of the haiku are still in my notebook and not typed up, I don’t have sense of the overall proportion so far. But I’m surprising myself; the overall quality each day is better than anticipating. Most days, I manage at least one haiku that has potential.

Preferred notebook: Field Notes

Notebooks filled: 1

Places I’ve written:

So far, I’m having a fantastic time with this challenge, and feel optimistic that I might actually get all the way through!

Allyson Whipple, Buson Challenge Days 1-12

But you too may be of an age to have inflated your pyjama bottoms while engaged in Bronze / Silver / Gold awards in school swimming lessons. 

I walked with my schoolfriends to the Swiss Cottage baths. This memory came up for me while holidaying with my Longest-Serving Friend in North Wales. 

Did you wrestle with your pyjamas while treading water and fifty years later wonder why, if it was even possible?

Liz Lefroy, I Inflate My Pyjamas

Almost always, entering a library feels like coming home.  My earliest memories are of going to the library, and libraries haven’t changed radically in appearance in my lifetime, so it makes sense.  Libraries have more stuff now–computers, meeting rooms, non-book media/items–but libraries still have books, shelves and shelves and shelves of books.

I got my card with no trouble, since I now have a North Carolina driver’s license.  The librarian asked me if I’d ever had a Buncombe county library card before, and I said no.  Suddenly I realized that I’ve had a library card in almost every state south of the Mason-Dixon line and east of the Mississippi River.  I have no particular desire to live in the missing states (Mississippi, for example), so this might be the end of my run.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Library Love

Good thing this wasn’t a full-on poetry pilgrimage. Mostly my family enjoyed fine, cool weather during our week’s vacation in midcoast Maine, and I’d planned a stop, as we drove away, in Edna St. Vincent Millay territory, just for an hour, before visiting the Farnsworth Museum. Enter heavy rain and flood warnings. I insisted on paying the park fee anyway so we could drive to the top of Mt. Battie and I could imagine Millay there, cooking up her famous early poem “Renascence.” As the plaque at the summit says, rather melodramatically and with imperfect comma usage, “At the age of eighteen, a frail girl with flaming red hair left her home in early morning to climb her favorite Camden hills where so deeply affected by her surroundings, she wrote ‘Renascence.’ The poem received Immediate public acclaim and was the inspired beginning of the career of America’s finest lyric poet.” I’m putting aside the latter assertion because I don’t think “who’s the best?” arguments are worth having, but I have to observe that Millay wasn’t so frail if she hiked that high.

I’m a Millay fan and sometime scholar, but while I’m glad “Renascence” won the young poet some prize money and a scholarship and the beginnings of fame, it’s (shh) far from my favorite of her works. The poem is full of beautiful turns of phrase (“To kiss the fingers of the rain,/ To drink into my eyes the shine/ Of every slanting silver line…”). I’m moved by her awe; I’m interested in the poem as a representation of something like a panic attack, an overwhelming physical and mental response to the largeness of the world and the pettiness of human ambition in the face of suffering. But much of the poem’s intensity strikes me as funny; I’m trying not to use the word “adolescent.” I don’t have any right to condescend to a woman who faced serious headwinds yet climbed so very many mountains.

It also struck me as hilarious that when I retraced her steps–by economy car–in the aged half of middle age, with plantar fasciitis and a pulled muscle in my back, after repeatedly shaking my head at ticket-takers who asked if I was eligible for a senior citizen discount, what met me was not “three islands in a bay” but drippy pines and a sea of fog. I could have been anywhere. Ah, the grand view from my fifty-fourth summer on the planet! There’s a poem in there somewhere.

Lesley Wheeler, For rain it hath a friendly sound

At Nanyuki, they say, the equator runs under asphalt
and bush. I imagine it like the seam of a cricket ball,
six rows of coarse stitches, acacia trees and thorny

scrub sewing the path. Two unequal halves held
together. Somehow. The me walking on water
and the me wrecked at the bottom of the sea.

The me going through the rituals of being and
the me talking in binaries with the moon.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Part 51

What I’m listening to: My Goldenrod playlist from summer 2021, The National’s new record, and a lot of music that my kids and I agree feels like summertime: Superchunk, Nada Surf, Harry Styles (Rhett is obsessed with “Watermelon Sugar” right now), New Pornographers. We’re looking forward to a summer full of live music: boygenius, Metric, Nelsonville Music Festival, Old 97s.

I also recently listened to the incredible Julia Louis-Dreyfus read my poem “First Fall” (from Good Bones) on her podcast, Wiser Than Me. Julia’s mother, herself a poet, shared “First Fall” with her. Just…wow. The whole episode with author Amy Tan is terrific. The beautiful reading of my poem is in the first couple of minutes.

Best reads this month so far: Elise Loehnen’s On Our Best Behavior and Airea D. Matthews’ Bread and Circus, which are both out now; Kerri ní Dochartaigh’s Cacophony of Bone and Leslie Jamison’s Splinters, which you can and should preorder; and Jedidiah Jenkins’ Mother, Nature, which you will definitely want to read and share with a friend or family member, so preorder one or two.

Just a handful of the books I’m planning to read between now and August (and may be seen with in a chair at the pool): Monsters by Claire Dederder, The Twelfth Commandment by Daniel Torday, I Keep My Exoskeletons to Myself by Marisa Crane, and early copies of Psalms of Unknowing: Poems by Heather Lanier and How to Say Babylon by Safiya Sinclair.

Maggie Smith, The Good Stuff

Ten Toes Coffee, Somerset St, was the venue for this spring’s pre-press fair reading. Apparently it’s been open a few months. What a sweet little spot for coffee, tea, snacks, or laundry in the back apparently. A green and orange and stained glass and retro glass decor. Next time I’ll have to try the matcha latte. Their bathroom has a wooden sink, which is fun. But do I digress or bury the lede?

The reading. Yes, the reading. It was super fun and super full, probably over 2 dozen, some familiar faces, some faces new to me. (Although they have all owned their faces for decades obviously.). I haven’t been to many reading over the last 5 years since concussion then Covid-era starting. I was glad to see some masks in the room.

Some nice conversations had, catch ups and getting to hear aloud a chapbook I loved reading, Fossils you can Swallow by Vera Hadzic (Proper Tales Press, 2023). You can get your copy at Stuart Ross’ table on Saturday.

The audience was beautifully open and attentive to all. Option of zoom is lovely but there’s something to be said for live energy in a room.

Pearl Pirie, Pre-press fair reading

A song can be carved from stone, river, or wind.

A fist and a heart can fit into the same size clothes; it all depends if you’re going to a wedding or a war zone.

Ashes to passion, dust to desire.

Keep my casket open when I die. Nightmare gallows are no match for these singing bones.

Rich Ferguson, At the crossroads of my lips

The strawberries are only available for a few short weeks in June, a gift fleeting as that month’s green grass, mild sun, and rose blossoms. I used to try to make the gift last longer, boiling the berries into jam or freezing them whole. I had fantasies of perfect June berries in my January yogurt, a spot of sunshine in the cloudiest time of year. The jam proved to be no substitute for a solid berry, and the whole ones I froze defrosted into a sloppy mush. I threw them all in the compost bin the next June, after thinking all winter that I would surely do something with them, and finally admitting that I wanted them only the way that I can have them in June, or not at all.

I now have them only once a year, for a few short weeks that are never enough and always so much.

This week my friend Lisa brought Hood strawberries and angel food cake to an impromptu dinner. We talked of many things that are changing: our bodies, our work, our environment, our world. “Enjoy avocados while you can,” she said as we discussed diminishing water supplies and schemes to desalinate ocean water and pipe it to southwest states.

I used to want to dole the berries out and eat them slowly, as if that might somehow make them last longer. Or, I’d only get them when I could make them into some dish worthy of their greatness. Or, I’d only eat them when I could savor them, fully appreciate them. I was afraid, if I ate them too quickly, that I wouldn’t have them when I really wanted them. Inevitably, some would rot while I was waiting for the right time, or I’d end up getting only one carton in a season.

Now, I buy them whenever I see them and eat them while they are fresh. I’ve given myself permission to take a few each time I open the refrigerator. I get them as often as I can, because the season is so short and nothing is guaranteed. For all I know, this is the last year I will get to eat Hood strawberries. I know for sure it is the last year that this version of me will. Next year’s Rita might not be able to enjoy them in the same way that this year’s Rita can.

Life is so full of big, hard things we can barely swallow. People lose their land, their names, their loves, their lives. The more I lose the more determined I am to eat all the sweet things that I can, while I can, with love and appreciation and gusto.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Fleetingly sweet

After the warning
sirens, egrets come back
to fish in the shallows.

A man takes off his shoes
to walk in the flooded street.

Luisa A. Igloria, Evening, with Hailstorm and Tornado Warning

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 15

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: springs early and late, unconventional approaches to publishing, and bibliophilia out the wazoo. Among a ton of other topics, as always.

I’m still seeing how I like Mondays as the new day for this. But while I’m dithering, I’ve gone ahead and created a site to mirror these digests on Substack, especially for the convenience of poets who are blogging there, but also for anyone who wants an easy way to subscribe just to the digests: ReVerse. The plan is to keep it free, but if I ever find myself living under a bridge, I might start charging some nominal subscription fee and schedule the free versions here to post a day or two later.


In the greening treetops
near a bird’s nest
a busy squirrel

Mind stuck on a branch
it leaps to another

Propositions made
then negated

Jill Pearlman, The Art of Squirrel as Poem

When is spring going to come? It’s a question I’ve heard repeatedly in recent weeks.

Last Monday, as I drove in the dark to pick my daughter up from work, rain pounding my windshield, I had a moment of disorientation. It felt like a December night, and I was suddenly unmoored from calendar time. Was it still winter? No, I reminded myself, putting down an anchor: It’s April. It’s spring.

The next day, as I left the house wearing my heavy coat (still, in April) as protection from the continuing cold, grumbling to myself about spring’s late arrival this year, something in the yard caught my attention. I stood and looked at our garden, really seeing it for the first time in what felt like weeks. I could see that the grass is growing again, the trees are budding, and color has returned to the landscape.

Oh, it’s really not winter anymore, I thought. These cold, wet days so late in the year are spring. This is what spring is.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Zooming in

Last week at this time, Montreal was in the throes of a destructive ice storm that left much of the city without power, and devastated the city’s trees. Yesterday it was 22 degrees C. here, and it felt like everyone was sitting out in the sun, blinking with amazement. I had coffee with my friend K. at a favorite café (Café Parma, on the north-western edge of the Jean-Talon market), and we could hardly believe we were sitting outdoors, wearing only light sweaters — and sunglasses, because the light was so bright. We may have more snow, we all know that’s entirely possible, but we also know it won’t last.

Yesterday was Seamus Heaney’s birthday; he would have been 84. I miss him. Here’s a small section close to the end of his poem “Station Island,” where he talks about meeting a blind stranger who gives him advice in a voice “as definite as a steel nib’s downstroke”– earlier this person has grasped his hand as he disembarks, but the poet cannot be certain “whether to guide or to be guided.”

Beth Adams, Departures and Arrivals

Day Three.

Tired or fatigued? They’re not the same.
Tired, I decide, watching flowers
forced by sudden heat into blooms.

Day Four.

The rhododendron buds new leaves.
Scilla & grape hyacinth bloom
intensely blue through rotting leaves.

PF Anderson, A WEEK OF SILENCE #NaPoWriMo

In his final weeks we spoke often on the phone. Early last month, Jim asked me, as he often did, “How’s the poetry going?” I told him I was taking part in a performance called “The Poetry of Unknown Things” at Teignmouth Festival on the last day of March.

That’s interesting, said Jim, what are the unknown things?
The biggest unknown is death, I said.
This led to a long conversation.
Death is the next big thing, said Jim. I’m all right with that. I don’t mind dying. I’m not afraid. There is no fear.

Then he asked if I would write a poem for him, and I said I would try. I tried and tried, but nothing seemed right. Then something came when I woke in the night a couple of weeks later. Something not at all in my usual style. I didn’t realise at first that this was the poem for Jim. I emailed it, and one of his sons read it to him. I shall read it at a Humanist ceremony next week. And we shall dance an old dance called Nonesuch.

Ama Bolton, Dancing in the Dark with Jim

Why do I remember a time when ideas and objects were freely shared? Is this age inserting lies into my past? Scrabbling around online I’m reminded of Amsterdam’s free bike sharing, communes, the Diggers, free festivals and squatting. But I’m also made aware of the changed emphasis given to the word sharing and its digital meaning. It’s this, like the dawn chorus, that wakes me up. 

Perhaps I should linger in the state of mind where utopias are suspended like gardens and lost cities still have their gold. But news of hedge funds making such enormous profits out of food, as a direct result of war, has me wondering why we’re not talking about this more – the people behind them, the ideas driving them, the fundamental assumption that everything we used to think of as communally owned is up for grabs by people who have money to invest.

Jackie Wills, Common ownership and hedge funds again

For me, most of my book publications came from presses with open reading periods (Ghost Road, Black Lawrence), or nudging my way into established relationships with presses who had published smaller pieces of work by querying if they wanted to see more (Dusie, Sundress) Once, miraculously by invitation and the serendipity of being at the end of a project (Noctuary). But those opportunities are less frequent now, more competitive, and they may cost you a lot in submission fees and elbow grease. As I delved into self-publishing the last couple of years, I don’t know, however, if I would have been as successful at it without having had those experiences with other publishers beforehand. To have learned how to market books and myself. To get to understand how things work, but also the perspective to see that they are not the ONLY way.   

But I will say again, there are so many ways of being a writer. For existing as a writer in the world. Some of them even make some money Ask any slam poet who moves a good number of books and makes money touring. Or Rupi Kaur and other famous Insta poets.  Ask the fiction writers who do very brisk sales on self-published multi-volume novels in just about every genre. The cool thing about doing zine fests is how many really good writers you meet DIY-ing it. The audiences for these, even if the money is not there, is often far greater than even the Iowa and Ivy-pedigreed writers who win book contests. 

Perhaps the better question should be more “Who gets to be a certain KIND of writer?”  The answer is obviously skewed toward white, upper-middle or wealthy class people with Harvard degrees. Not all obviously. I know a few poets winning contests whose backgrounds are far more modest., but they are the exceptions rather than the rule. I also know Harvard or Iowa-degreed poets who are awesome and would have succeeded even without the degree gilding the path. I also know lots of poets with stunning books still trying to find a publisher I worry never will. Mostly I’ve learned that there are actually infinite ways of being a writer and finding an audience and enjoying the work you do, and thankfully, much more equitable and open ones than you will find behind the book contest system and all its nonsense. So if the system is broken, find a new system. 

Kristy Bowen, who gets to be a writer?

As far as the press’s finances, I recouped all production costs and actually earned a profit of $30. This profit is added to the overall surplus prior to this round of sales – along with a few unexpected sales in January (more on this below) — leaving the press with a total surplus of $565. This will be held onto as a cushion to offset future purchases of ink, supplies, and any possible emergencies (e.g. printer breaks down).

All this means that, So far, the press’s model has proven successful. I was able to publish and pay two other writers, as well as allocate money for donation, and still do a bit better than breaking even. Put differently: my approach to allows me to part with 75% of all income and still not go into deficit. This is very encouraging to me and puts me in a good position as I gear up for the next round of books.

R. M. Haines, Dead Mall Summary & Receipts for Spring 2023

The exchange between Don Paterson and Gboyega Odubanjo in the new Poetry Review is a welcome, necessary, and much overdue intervention in the unsettled and unsettling world of UK poetry community dynamics. Having barely stepped into that world, I stepped back out of it again a couple of years ago, finding that, mediated as it is by digital platforms, it was too disorienting a place to feel entirely comfortable. It was a dangerous world in which to take the chances I felt gave poetry life, and all too easy to get blocked, unfollowed, or whatever. And now it has started to feel as though cracks which had already become chasms, have become oceans of open water.

In fact, it might not be particularly useful to talk about a poetry community at all, given that its members claim nothing in common but Poetry itself, and Poetry, as Paterson and Odubanjo touch on, has by no means a single unified definition or means of assessing excellence. Perhaps ‘poetry community’ is itself an oxymoron; or at least, maybe speaking of cracks or divisions in the poetry community is little more than stating the obvious.

Chris Edgoose, Generations, speaking

It’s April and poetry friends near and far are scrambling to post their daily poems. I admire their efforts, I really do, as I have jumped into this marathon before. Fill a month, many months, a year even with poems. The end result has always offered a plethora of writing to revise, edit, move into the publishing world.

In the little galaxy of my high school Creative Writing class, my students last week engaged in several “Poem in Your Pocket” activities listed out by the Academy of American Poets. After a weekend, they returned to class Monday to report out on what they tried. Many called, texted, or even emailed their poems to friends and family members. Some folded their poems into origami cranes to test their seaworthiness. Others filmed their reading efforts from porches and other outdoor spots. A few poems landed on the community bulletin board at Sea Mart, our grocery store with a parking lot that extends into the ocean and where most of town takes their sunset photos to include our local volcano, Mt. Edgecumbe, or L’ux as it’s named in Lingít Aaní. There’s nothing better than taking poetry out of its expected setting (book, classroom). Taking it for a walk and seeing where it might land you.

Kersten Christianson, It’s National Poetry Month, Peeps!

For a couple of weeks I’ve been wrestling with this collection. Is it good, is it very good, or am I attracted to it because each poem has a moment that makes me stop and hold an image or a phrase? This is not so much a review as an elusive, fluid personal reaction.

Some books – poetry, novels, whatever – are like that, aren’t they. You pick something out and keep coming back to it. In the end it doesn’t matter if you like the whole thing or not.

Bob Mee, FLIGHTLESS BIRD by ROSEMARIE CORLETT

The now doesn’t end, and neither, it turns out, does the sealant, which, unlike the masking tape, is not within my control. At the end of the bath, it keeps coming. The white worm grows from the end of the nozzle: now. And now again. And now. And yes, still coming. Now. A concentration of the present, focussed, and unattached. I can’t do anything about it, but wipe the end of the nozzle, then watch as the now re-emerges time and again. Like my Sunday, it flows and curls, dangles and spirals. 

Liz Lefroy, I Seal the Now

Intensifying the walled-off, world-askew feeling: I’ve long been looking forward to attending the New Orleans Poetry Festival this weekend. Chris was going to come with me, since it’s at the beginning of our spring break, and I’d booked a sweet one-bedroom cabin near Atchafalaya Wildlife Refuge for a couple of nights after. Obviously I had to cancel it all, but my addled Covid brain kept looking for workarounds: Saturday symptoms, by CDC rules, means your isolation ends Thursday night, followed by 5 more days of masking, right? So if I recovered fast and was testing negative by Thursday, I could fly out on Friday as long as I kept a good mask on? Well, technically, but not ethically (or aesthetically, maybe–I do have a wild-haired hermit thing going on). I came to my senses, all of which I’ve retained so far, and I’m continuing the snow-globe life, although I just took my first short walk. Slow steps for a body that’s mostly better but still tired. After all, the four-week sprint of our triple-time May term is just ahead. With 9 contact hours per week for a 3-credit class, it takes no prisoners.

Revised spring break plans: read some new poetry books. Plan a little outing next weekend to celebrate signing my Tupelo Press contract yesterday for Mycocosmic (all good, although I was interested to see a clause about collaborating with them on book promotion–nothing I don’t do already, I’d just never seen that before). Get my head together for the last big push of the academic year.

Lesley Wheeler, Incantations from the snow globe

The striking cover of Welcome to Britain: An Anthology of Poems and Short Fiction is Gil Mualem-Doron’s New Union Flag which re-imagines the Union Jack. The anthology manifests the hope that through the power of poetry and creative writing, we can cultivate empathy and envision and bring about a more just world.

Congratulations to the other contributors: emerging and established writers from around the world. Huge thanks to Editor Ambrose Musiyiwa of CivicLeicester. Three of my poems were chosen: Going bananas, an Abecedarian poem about Brexit, In Blighty, a Golden Shovel poem, and Britain which appears below.

Fokkina McDonnell, Welcome to Britain

Are there stories we need, but don’t want? Are there stories we need to break off from the source and finish on our own?

Or is watching/reading part of a story that moves you this much like observing a painting with a corner of the canvas hidden? Impolite? Disrespectful to the individual artist?

It is all individual. Stanislavsky said that generality is the enemy of all art. So where is the fine line of specificity? No one watches the actors and knows all the actor’s work.

I wrote that last sentence twice. Changed it again. No one “sees” all of the actor’s work is debatable, I guess.

It is the invisible stitch of poetry that holds everything together. The backside of the tapestry. Robert Bly talked about it, and so did Aristotle.

Sometimes when I have seen something that really, really moves me, I want to share the space of savoring but say absolutely nothing. I know that the invisible stitch is an individual kind of knowledge. And if you tug at it, it might unravel. Shhh.

Ren Powell, Resisting Structure

How can I see it
if I can’t hear it,
the old monk asked.

He was talking
about poetry.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (446)

By my tedious manual count, a total of 1461 books have been reviewed on Sphinx, many of them by more than person, the equivalent of over 2,000 pamphlets that were received by Helena Nelson, repackaged and sent back out to her loyal band of reviewers. 2,000 batches of stamps to be paid for. Umpteen treks to the post office. 2,000 reviews that were edited by her (to the huge benefit of the reviewers themselves, whose prose style and critical approach to poetry were often transformed via this process). 2,000 posts that were formatted, uploaded and optimised for search engines.

What’s more, for many poets, the review of their pamphlet on Sphinx was the only critical response they’d ever receive. That’s a hugely generous gift in anyone’s language. Looking back at the archive, there are a fair few poets who have sadly died in the intervening years, though their reviews on Sphinx remain. As a record of pamphlet poetry in the U.K., it’s irreplaceable.

And now, of course, Sphinx is coming to an end. Helena Nelson has given so much to poets over the years via HappenStance Press itself and via Sphinx Reviews, in both cases to the detriment of her own writing, but even this labour of love must inevitably be finite.

Matthew Stewart, A celebration of Sphinx Reviews (2006-2023)

You are starting to understand
how it can happen that someone
wakes one morning, looks around,
decides to start culling things

from shelves: duplicates of dented
pans, an extra half-dozen plates, winter
coats worn the last time, years ago,
when snow fell from the sky.

Luisa A. Igloria, Material Life

I feel like, this week, I grew two inches, like my back just became straighter, knowing that I am entering into this arena as an author. There will be tough times ahead, and no book is guaranteed to sell well or do well or be read, but I feel that each step along this journey has been a small win for me, a woman in my forties from a working class background, a woman who never quite felt she fit in anywhere, except with animals and in nature. And that, really, is what the book is about. I don’t want to say too much right now, I’ll save that for when we get nearer the date of publication, but like with Spelt, one of the things I wanted to explore with this project was what writing about nature and landscape and most importantly, belonging, might look like from a less ‘observed’ and more ‘lived in’ experience. The book is about how landscape informs that sense of belonging, how we look to the landscape as an archive of lives lived, lives lost. It is structured around an extinct Palaeolithic lake in North Yorkshire. I’ve spent so much time outside, walking, reflecting, it’s been a real pleasure to research.

There’s a long way to go until this book is on a shelf in a shop, but right now I am sitting in my little ex council house, in my scruffy little office, feeling like I have found a way to exist in the world as myself, without needing to change anything. And it doesn’t matter what happens in the future, no one can ever take this moment away from me.

Wendy Pratt, The Ghost Lake

Now I’m reading Manhattan Beach, by Jennifer Egan, with a hand-made bookmark from a friend who understands my relentless book-acquisition habits. Her clever bookmarks for members of our book club show what would be on our t-shirts! Mine says, “One does not stop buying books because there is no more shelf space.” So true. But at least my book buying is affordable (ongoing library used book sale) and often includes book donating at the end! 

My kids were just here, doing another round of getting rid of stuff (recycling, donating, or tossing games, puzzles, clothes, shoes, memorabilia, past school/art work), and they almost sold a loft bed contraption with bookshelves in it that would have disrupted my world! Fortunately, I have a little time…

During their stay, I stopped writing & posting my chalkboard poems. But (by getting up earlier than my kids) I kept writing a poem a day for National Poetry Month. As the poems continue to roll out, the rejections continue to dribble in. Likewise, the weather–a glorious week of warmth and sunshine while they were here, and now a return to chilly, wet weather with dribbling rain. Up so early to take our son to the airport, and now sadness will descend.

Kathleen Kirk, Books & Bookmarks

There are ways that [Russell] Edson’s odd narratives, populated with fragments and layerings of scenes and characters, feel akin to musings, constructed as narrative accumulations across the structure of the prose poem. And yet, there are times I wonder how these are “prose poems” instead of being called, perhaps, “postcard fictions” or “flash fictions.” It would appear that an important element of Edson’s form is the way the narrratives turn between sentences: his sentences accumulate, but don’t necessarily form a straight line. There are elements of the surreal, but Edson is no surrealist; instead, he seems a realist who blurs and layers his statements up against the impossible. I might not be able to hear a particular music through Edson’s lines, but there certainly is a patterning; a layering, of image and idea, of narrative overlay, offering moments of introspection as the poems throughout the collection become larger, more complex. As well, Edson’s poems seem to favour the ellipses, offering multiple openings but offering no straightforward conclusions, easy or otherwise. Not a surrealist, but a poet who offers occasional deflections of narrative. Even a deflection is an acknowledgment of the real, as a shape drawn around an absence.

rob mclennan, Little Mr. Prose Poem: Selected Poems of Russell Edson, ed. Craig Morgan Teicher

Because of time, I left my bones outside my body. The future requires no bones. Birds: hollow bones. Me: hollow body. I squeeze through the present and into what hasn’t happened yet. I leave the present behind but bring the past. Tinnitus of the insides, a ringing bell. Hard not to imagine the ears as the plumage of caves. A bird flying from the east, a bird flying from the west, each down the tunnel of an east or west ear, meeting inside. This is the present, more or less as the Venerable Bede wrote about sparrows.

Gary Barwin, SPARROW and birds at Cootes Paradise

Time is tensile here. Yellow and undulating.
The past tells stories that become clouds. Your shadow

falls on solid stone, stretching across dark landings,
becoming water. Thirst remembers its beginning, the

primal heat. So much can die, unslaked, untended:
words and want and worlds that could have been.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Interlude (34)

I tried to sit and write last weekend.I tried free-writing. There may have been a kernel of a sliver of an inkling of a sniff of an idea in there, but it’s unlikely.

I’m consoling myself with the not writing by reading this sentence I saw in Jeremy Noel-Tod’s newsletter, Some Flowers Soon.

“I think good real living is more important than spreading yourself on paper”.

That article on the newsletter was about the writer, Lynette Roberts. A new name to me, but one I will follow up on. Once I’m done with the good real living, or at least once I’ve worked out what that is.

Finally, some articles that may help trigger some writing ideas for you.
1. Have we finally worked out how to talk to whales?
2. The man who ate an aeroplane
3. The above came from this list of weird stories found on wikipedia
4. Google Street View, but for the moon

Mat Riches, Cigarettes and linkahol

I have spent large chunks of the last three days reading this book, and researching both Ukraine and Serhiy Zhadan. He is, as Bob Holman writes in the foreword,

a “Rock-Star poet,” “poet laureate of Eastern Ukraine,” Ukraine’s “most famous counterculture writer,” as labeled by the New York Times, the New Yorker, and the London Review of Books.

In addition to being a poet, novelist, essayist, and front man for the punk band Zhadan and the Dogs, Zhadan is also  a 2022 recipient of the German Peace Prize:

Zhadan, who’s been doing poetry readings in a Kharkiv bomb shelter has said, quite rightly, that, “A person cannot live only with war. It is very important for them to hear a word, to be able to sing along, to be able to express a certain emotion.” But aside from reckoning with the human cost of Russian aggression (which began in 2014) in his poetry and fiction, Zhadan has also been organizing humanitarian aid in Kharkiv, doing everything he can to see his community through this awful war. (Jonny Diamond, Lithub)

I became aware of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine when it broke into American television, a little over a year ago. These poems are from earlier, 2001-2015, and I worried that I should work harder to pick up a more recent book. (On order, by the way). But what I found is that What We Live For, What We Die For has forced me to see that the Russo-Ukrainian conflict is much older than western television coverage suggests. Centuries old.  These poems are immediate and raw. “a Canterbury Tales of Ukrainian common people” (Bob Holman).

Bethany Reid, Serhiy Zhadan, What We Live For, What We Die For

“Moon Jellyfish Can Barely Swim” looks at what it might take to survive in what may seem like a hostile world. It’s not just about nature but also human survival, survival of a minority language (Welsh) in the UK, the measures women take to survive and why watching and waiting is not the answer. Jellyfish have already survived 500 million years and may be inadvertently getting human help to continue because they are making come-backs in areas of overfishing and pollution. Moon jellyfish are carried by currents rather than swimming so literally have to go with the flow.

Emma Lee, “Moon Jellyfish Can Barely Swim” Ness Owen (Parthian Books) – book review

Erase the Patriarchy: An Anthology of Erasure Poetry edited by Isobel O’Hare is a powerful anthology of poetry that uses the act of erasure to engage and argue with existing texts written by men. I loved seeing the variety of diverse voices and seeing how each one interacts with their selected text, using the medium of their erasure to enhance the message of their poem. I also appreciated reading each accompanying artist statement by the authors, explaining their process.

Andrea Blythe, Culture Consumption: February and March 2023

Show them your secret 7 0’clock face
Letting in sound but
strangling words
Parsing the needed from the not-so
Holding time in folded fists & fog

Charlotte Hamrick, Delicate Peel

Thanks to Interstellar Flight Press and T.D. Walker for doing this thoughtful interview, “Covid, Science Fiction, and the Poetry of Survival” about my new book, Flare, Corona. It’s always nice to interview with someone who asks such interesting questions. I hope you enjoy it! […]

I have been trying to also write poems and submit this National Poetry Month, but as you can see, it’s been mostly readings and writer’s group visits and planning and promotion and scheduling doctor and dentists in between events. Oh well! It’s my first book in six years, so I need to give it my attention and energy for a little while. In PR for Poets, I talk about the dangers of burning out on doing promotional stuff, but right now it’s all still mostly the fun stuff and a lot of it feels new, because things have changed since the last time I had a book out. New publisher, new social media things, a different climate for books, plus coming out of three plague years makes everything seems more anxiety-provoking (hoping me and my parents stay well for their visit!)

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A New Interview with Interstellar Flight Press, Taking Advantage of Sunshine and Cherry Trees, a Redmond Reading on Thursday, Parents Flying In, and a Writer’s Digest Conference Presentation on Saturday!

Aside from the album’s blank spaces for photos, there were also blank text boxes for descriptions beneath. After experimenting with different possibilities, I decided to fill them just with single words. With these I aimed to be poetically suggestive more than descriptive. Almost all that now appear in the book evoke abstract human qualities, or understandings of the world that are almost timeless.

Marie Craven, Book of Roses

Wonder is no straightforward feeling, as its etymology suggests: from the Old English wundor, thought to be a cognate with the German wunde or wound. The noun form means a surpassing, opening, or blow, a breach of the mind’s faculties, while the verb formmeansto demonstrate a state of admiration or astonishment, or to search for knowledge, understanding, or meaning.[2] “The verb wonder,” writes Daniel Fusch, “indicates an emotional response to a marvelous incident; the noun wonder indicates both the name for that response and the marvelous incident that provoked it…That is, at the sight of a wonder, we wonder; such are the beautiful complications of the English language.”[3]

From this “beautiful complication” arises wonder’s generative challenge for writers: to capture both the wonder-inducing event and the act of wondering itself without foregoing the feelings of admiration and confusion, that sensation of being “breached,” that wonder invites.

Maya C. Popa, Wonder Wednesday

who walks without shoes
between home and the moon

whose blood is a garden of knives

Grant Hackett [no title]

How do I want to proceed? How do I want to blossom and flourish? Like the exuberance of my geranium’s exclamation of pink? The words that pop into my head this week coach me to be “elegant” and to retain my “enthusiasm.” I feel a bit like the geranium in my kitchen that looked fairly worn out most of the winter but is now emerging, NBD, flowering, NBD. […]

As I was writing this, someone posted this poem by Jennifer Chang which is amazing, and includes the line:

“I flower and don’t apologize.”

And maybe that’s also the energy that is required right now.

Shawna Lemay, On Cultivating an Elegant Enthusiasm

there’s a white cat
where the daffodils flowered
sunny afternoon

Jim Young [no title]