Poetry Blog Digest 2024, Week 17

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 at Via Negativa or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack (where the posts might be truncated by some email providers).

This week: words with friends, a loving attendance on the world, histories of brokenness and violence, lithium wasps, the Mouth of Hell volcano, and much more. Enjoy.

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Poetry Blog Digest 2024, Week 12

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. 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: meaning in fog, emergency language, an inconvenient cemetery, a home make-under, World Poetry Day, the spring equinox, and more. Enjoy.

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Poetry Blog Digest 2024, Week 7

Poetry Blogging Network

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

This week: Fat Tuesday, Valentine’s Day, a blog’s birthday, a book’s birthday… as the world steadily becomes more terrible. Poetry remains one of the very few effective antidotes to despair.

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Poetry Blog Digest 2024, Week 6

Poetry Blogging Network

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

This week: love and chocolate, the return of light, bringing scarecrows to life, the cost of beauty, and much more. 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 48

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: old books and libraries, echo salesmen, mouths and spectacles, catastrophes and the delights of life. Enjoy!

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Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 47

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: secondhand books, Hafez divination, translating Villon, devil riffs, encounters with bulls, and much more. Enjoy.


All night the wind, the muffled bark of a dog-fox

All night the clatter of branches, the shuffling of a badger

All night the shared memory of screams burrows us into our blankets

Bob Mee, IT’S TOO LATE

Rather than await an “eagerly anticipated” book, why not rummage on secondhand shelves?

Many of the books I buy are years old, found by chance in charity shops. Charity bookshops nowadays even have sections for “Short stories”, which is more than some high street bookshops can manage. The books below aren’t really neglected masterpieces, but they’ve stuck in my memory longer than the more recently published books I’ve read. Many of them are the author’s first books, which may explain why I was impressed by them – they lack padding, and even the pieces that don’t work for me have interesting parts.

Tim Love, Some books

I have to stop and run back to take a second look
at what I think I’ve seen through the trees –

the horns of some monster, a bouldered head
and shoulders of beaten silver. And there he is

grasping a spear and a blade, Defender of
the post and rail fence, fields and house beyond,

Guardian of the small metal pig at his feet.

Lynne Rees, Poem ~ Saving ourselves

Courtney LeBLanc came to town in September, and I got to read with her at the CHE Cafe! What a brilliant poet, and what a wonderful space!

At the end of September, I hosted PLNU’s 25th Annual Poetry Day. I had the idea to have an ensemble reading of 25 poets for this special occasion, and we pulled it off! San Diego poets and a few guests from LA turned out for this incredible event, and we filled the auditorium. People stayed around talking for a long time afterwards too, and that’s how I know it was a good time. The whole evening felt magical.

In October I was a featured reader for Hafez Day in San Diego alongside some incredible poets. I chose the poems I read that night using Hafez divination: I opened the book of poems and let the lines I landed on point me toward which of my poems I should read. (I loved this! I need to let Hafez choose poems for me more often). This was such a beautiful night of poetry by a gorgeous variety of people.

Katie Manning, Publications & Reviews & Readings… Oh My!

To the creaking of deck boards underfoot,
I hear heaven’s prayer: Earth, earth.
The muscles of awe flex, and I stand
as still as the empty sky.
That is my closest name.

Soon I’m pulled back to tasks and lists.
Yet the grind of trucks outside
on rattling roadways
carries hints of That grateful silence.

Rachel Dacus, Thankfulness and Seasonal Gratitude

For her fifth full-length poetry title, Vixen (Toronto ON: Book*Hug Press, 2023), Ottawa poet and editor Sandra Ridley blends medieval language around women, foxes and the fox hunt alongside ecological collapse, intimate partner violence and stalking into a book-length lyric that swirls around and across first-person fable, chance encounter and an ever-present brutality. Following her collections Fallout (Regina SK: Hagios Press, 2009) [see my review of such here], Post-Apothecary (Toronto ON: Pedlar Press, 2011) [see my review of such here], The Counting House (BookThug, 2013) [see my review of such here] and the Griffin Prize-shortlisted Silvija (BookThug, 2016) [see my review of such here], the language of Vixen is visceral, lyric and loaded with compassion and violence, offering both a languid beauty and an underlying urgency. “If he has a love for such,” she writes, as part of the second poem-section, “or if loathing did not prevent him. // A curse shall be in his mouth as sweet as honey as it was in our mouths, our mouths as / sweet as honey. Revulsive as a flux of foxbane, as offal—and he will seem a lostling. // He came for blood and it will cover him.”

Set in six extended poem-sections—“THICKET,” “TWITCHCRAFT,” “THE SEASON OF THE HAUNT,” “THE BEASTS OF SIMPLE CHACE,” “TORCHLIGHT” and “STRICKEN”—Ridley’s poems are comparable to some of the work of Philadelphia poet Pattie McCarthy for their shared use of medieval language, weaving vintage language and consideration across book-length structures into a way through to speak to something highly contemporary. As such, Vixen’s acknowledgments offer a wealth of medieval sources on hunting, and language on and around foxes and against women, much of which blends the two. A line she incorporates from Robert Burton (1621), for example: “She is a foole, a nasty queane, a slut, a fixin, a scolde [.]” From Francis Quarles (1644), she borrows: “She’s a pestilent vixen when she’s angry, and as proud as Lucifer [.]”

rob mclennan, Sandra Ridley, Vixen

Weather throbs and sunshine appears, warms the skunk’s foreparts. A patrolman on an off-day partakes in wink and simulation, then parked cars dissolve. An airship, low above the night table, fills with rivers, accepts me as a discoverer.

Gary Barwin, Breathe Moss and a video for my new book, Imagining Imagining: Essays on Language, Identity and Infinity.

Folks, I am so, so excited to announce that I have two poems published in “Purr and Yowl,” an anthology about cats! I am super-stoked about this, not only because the editor is one of my favorite people, David D. Horowitz, but because it’s an excellent anthology, and I’m published along with some true literary heavy-weights, which makes me feel both proud and humbled. The publisher, World Enough Writers, put together a beautiful publication, full of humor and horror and joy and anguish–all things associated with owning a psychopathic furball. I received my contributor’s copy a few days ago, and I have been reading it with awe and delight ever since. Hint, hint: It would make a great Christmas present for those cat lovers in your life. You can order your copy here:

Purr and Yowl

Kristen McHenry, Toxic Waspulinity, Bread Fail, I’m Published in “Purr and Yowl”!

if you haven’t been laying on a roof
at some point we have nothing in common.
i would pluck stars & put them
in my ears to hear something good.
i try to inhale & i breathe in
coal perfume & boyhood. don’t get me wrong.
there are worse things than
being misunderstood.

Robin Gow, 11/25

Some days I don’t want to go into life,
though the alarm is insistent,
it’s easier to stay outside,

close the eye-blinds,
turn off the ears,
stopper the scream,

don’t smell the smoke,
don’t touch the flame,
don’t taste the ash.

Some days I don’t want to go into life,
but I write my name on my helmet,
and I go in anyway.

Sue Ibrahim, Some days

One is a beekeeper.
One is barefoot.
One is from the Bay Area.
One is Kuwaiti.
One is a daycare worker.
One is from Iraq.
One is a boxer.
One is a nurse.
One is a newbie.
One is an old head.
One is a singer.
One is a guitarist.
One is trans.
One is bi.
One is a dad.
One is a mom.
One brings coffee.
One brings honey.
Cold mornings.
Rainy mornings.
They hold signs.
The cars pass.

Jason Crane, POEM: Palestine Corner

2

In Khan Younis, beyond the border fence,
no one dances dabka. In Nablus, a farmer
hugs her tree, and cries; another watches,
his grape vines crushed, his fingers broken.

3

A city center’s oil spills. A boy’s toy
plane soars from a concrete balcony
just seconds before the blast
of a white phosphorus bomb.

Maureen Doallas, Uprootings (Poem)

The afterlife the Witnesses sell is eternity on earth in Eden conditions, no want, no pain, no death or sickness. In the years since I’ve left I’ve thought that it would be a much more successful pitch if they didn’t demand so much of their followers in return, in time, in fealty. It’s more concrete than the heaven of their Christian brethren, after all.

But the fundamental problem of any afterlife is the question of what you do with all that time when there are none of the things that help us make time pass for better or worse. What does happiness mean when that’s all there is?

But heaven allows only jubilance
Possibly the angel needed to return
Human: with feelings, tears and laughter
Or find a way to shape the sadness into
A moment of beauty when the angel’s wings
Spread and flight moves to breathing
Full of vision. There the angel’s tears bond
With the visitor’s fear, awe.

It feels a bit like Spears Jones could be referencing a piece of art, which she does in other poems in this collection, but my internet search skills couldn’t narrow down a specific piece, even with the mention of Berlin a couple of lines later. But I want to focus on the seraphim, the feeling of needing to replace perfection with the broken and then create beauty from that. It’s a very human need, to transform moments and objects from one emotional state to another and to live in a state where that transformation can’t happen would be hollow. Maybe we want perfection because we haven’t really thought about what it would do to us to have it, about what we would lose in gaining it.

Brian Spears, Search for community, search for beauty

Thank you to Ailsa Holland for contributing this first blog post in honour of James Schuyler’s centenary.

James Schuyler’s ‘The Bluet’

‘The Bluet’ has changed for me this year. I used to see in it a recognition of the transformative magic of blue. It made me think of the best blues of my life — the precious lapis of the medieval manuscripts I fell in love with as a student; the shining silk handkerchief a young man wrapped round a milk bottle filled with daffodils; a blue gate with a silver-green pear tree in front of it, which I used to gaze at in perfect contentment; Patrick Heron’s window for the Tate on my daughter’s first visit to St Ives, the day she first said ‘blue’. And of course all those skies and seas of sunny days. I still wonder whether blue in itself can make a moment happy, or whether blue has a special power on memory, making those incidents shine out from the general murkiness of the past like Schuyler’s bluet in the Autumn wood.

In February of this year my mother died. She was a Quaker. We buried her in one of her favourite t-shirts, covered in small blue flowers. Now when I read ‘The Bluet’ I see her, a small woman with a stamina I only began to understand long after I left home. A woman who stubbornly refused to let the brown-grey of the world stop her joy, even though she felt her own and others’ suffering and grief so keenly. She knew that we are always in a season of dying, that we can still, freakishly, be ‘a drop of sky’, whether by marching, by baking scones or by writing poems. To be a Flower, as Emily Dickinson said, is profound Responsibility. And I see my mother on her last Christmas Day, watching my kids play rather unrehearsed carols in her room, her blue eyes bright as springtime.

Anthony Wilson, James Schuyler at 100: The Bluet, by Ailsa Holland

I came of age in the era when nearly every high school girl I knew read The Bell Jar and claimed it as her own story. Weren’t we all disaffected? On the edge of a mental breakdown? How could any young woman be “okay” in a social climate designed to keep women down?

We felt so much and could express so little. This novel allowed for points of connection, for a sense that we (okay—young, white women) had been seen. Strange sidebar: Plath wrote this under a very English pseudonym, Victoria Lucas, in 1963 (published unfinished in the UK, the year she died) and it arrived without fanfare. In 1973, it was republished under Plath’s name in the States. I read it in 1975, perhaps that’s the reason it felt so immediate. So palpable.

And although Sylvia Plath lived her first years in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts then Winthrop, and eventually attended Smith College, there is more than a generation between us. We never physically met. Yet her beautiful ghost followed me everywhere I went. In every poem I wrote, her genius mocked me. I wonder how many Massachusetts young women chose not to be poets? The fear of ending up a suicide felt all too real. Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton committed suicide just a little over 10 years apart — years that bookended my youth.

Susan Rich, And let us not forget Sylvia Plath:

The weird thing about this part of the book writing process, the part at which your manuscript has been handed gently over to the professionals for their guidance and advice, is the strange nothingness of it, which is interspersed with EXTREME EXCITEMENT, followed again by complete normality and quiet living. One day I am walking my dog down the lane in ten year old leggings, a too big coat, bobble hat and wellies, like the crazy village eccentric I am, the next I’m being invited to a swanky author party at the Ivy in London. I can’t go to the party, sadly, due to distance, trains, money and the elderly dog needing so much care and attention. But I have printed the invite out as a small career marker and I shall put it in my scrapbook to mark this place in my author journey. It is thrilling. I have to stop myself from saying “who, Me?!” when something like this happens.

This week double book excitement – firstly, the design for the map that will go in the front of The Ghost Lake arrived so that I can see if everything is in the right place. It’s beautiful. The map was a complex concept as it is a map of several layers of time in the same place, so needed to cover geographical, historical and personal places of note. It’s so beautiful that I think I will get the map printed up and framed to hang on my office wall. The second big thing was that we – myself and my brilliant editor – moved onto the next set of edits, which means I get to see a ‘clean’ copy of the manuscript. What does that mean? It means a copy of the manuscript with all edits so far, with the layout as it will be. There is still work to do on the book, but by reading a clean copy I get a feel of how it will read, without the clutter of a million suggestions in the margins, or highlights by me or the little reminders to myself where I have forgotten what it was that I was talking about and have instead, helpfully, left a series of ???? in a comment box. This is the closest it has been to an actual physical book so far. It also means that I’m at the stage where I will need to allow my mum to read it, and my husband, who both feature in it. I will also be sending chapters to people who have been interviewed for the book, and experts who I have talked to. In short, this is the first time the book creeps out from the safety of the publisher’s office, into the hands of people who have never seen it.

Wendy Pratt, Ghost Lake Rising

The Worlds End of rob mclennan’s title is, we are told in an epigraph, a ‘pub on the outskirts of a town, especially if on or beyond the protective city wall’; a space that is both convivial and liminal and a tone-setter for the book.

As a poet, editor, publisher and blogger, mclennan is a key figure in a world of poets, and this community is reflected in the fact that most of the poems that make up this book have individual epigraphs from writers, the regulars in the World’s End. A sense of poetry as being intrinsic to the world weaves through the book right from the opening section, ‘A Glossary of Musical Terms’:

The Key of S

Hymn, antiphonal. Response, response. A trace of fruit-flies, wind. And from this lyric, amplified. This earth. Project, bond. So we might see. Easy. Poem, poem, tumble. Sea, to see. Divergent, sky. Deer, a drop of wax. Design, a slip-track.

This melding of the natural and domestic worlds (hinted at by the slip-track) with the world of poetry and language is characteristic of mclennan’s work here, with frequent pivots on words that can be read as noun or verb (project). The carefully disrupted syntax calls out the sense of observing from the margins. This can lend a sense of Zen-like simple complexity, a tendency towards silence:

Present, present, present. Nothing in particular.

Billy Mills, Recent Reading November 2023

I’m enthralled by this book of poems by Oregon poet Debra Elisa. My first impression was that her poems made a good contrast to mine, choreographed differently, her language distinct and pocked with color. But as I read more deeply, I began to see how our subjects and themes overlap: childhood songs, mothers and grandmothers, kitchens, birds, dogs, backyard gardens.

We also—if I can extend my interests beyond my new book—share a fascination with Emily Dickinson, as this cover blurb written by Allen Braden makes clear, calling Debra’s style “as idiosyncratic as Emily Dickinson’s with poems flaunting ‘breath and tiptoe glory and Clover.’”

And so much more, poems about social justice, poems about peace. Consider these lines:

You write often of    Trees   Dogs   Birds
she says       and I feel disappointed      because I wish

her to tell me       You challenge us to consider justice
and love in all sorts of ways.

(“Dear Friend”)

In short, this is an eclectic, surprising collection of poems.

What makes You Can Call It Beautiful a coherent collection (too) is the way Debra weaves her themes throughout, and unites all of it with her gift for sound and color.

Bethany Reid, Debra Elisa: YOU CAN CALL IT BEAUTIFUL

Selima Hill’s Women in Comfortable Shoes is different again [to O’Brien’s Embark and Gross’s The Thirteenth Angel]. The poems are all short – many if not most six or fewer lines. They’re grouped into sequences but even within these I think they largely work as separate units. They have the punchiness of epigrams but unlike epigrams what most offer is not pithy reflections on life in general but flashes of extremely subjective response to another person or to the speaker’s immediate circumstances. She appears at different ages, as a child at home or a girl in a boarding school at one end of the book and as an old woman at the other. She comes across as highly intelligent and observant, vividly imaginative, prickly, rebellious and uncompromising, perpetually embattled with others and often conflicted in herself, bewildered by other people’s feelings and behaviour and sometimes almost as much so by her own. In some ways this collection is like Hill’s previous one – Men Who Feed Pigeons – but I felt that in Men the accumulation of impressions emerging between the lines of a given sequence encouraged me to achieve a sense of what the other characters in a relationship were like in themselves, independently of the poet-persona’s reactions to them, and to ‘read’ her and their reactions in that wider context. I feel that much less in this collection.

Although their economy and clarity suggests the application of deliberate art, in other ways most of the very short poems have the air of immediate releases of thought, lightning flash spontaneity and truth to the impulse of the moment. This gives a sense of honesty and makes us – or made me – feel very close to the poet. It goes with a willingness to express unworthy feelings without shame or apparent self-consciousness.

Edmund Prestwich, Selima Hill, Women in Comfortable Shoes – review

Perhaps merely writing poems isn’t enough? What does it achieve after all? “Fate”, the final poem has an answer as the poet visits a dollar store and gets shoved to the back of the shelf where no one will see her. However, her poems,

“slip themselves into various
shoppers’ pockets.

I trust them to start
singing at the perfect,
most inopportune moments.
This is how, they assure me,
new poets are born.”

Change can happen, one poem and one shopper at a time. Poetry is thought-provoking, a sly vehicle of change. And that’s what Kyla Houbolt has achieved: a set of cerebral poems designed to get the reader thinking and responding to the questions raised without being dictated to or guided towards a specific conclusion. “Surviving Death” is quietly generous in spirit.

Emma Lee, “Surviving Death” Kyla Houbolt (Broken Spine) – book review

It was actually a rather beautiful house, in a very beautiful setting, and I can at least say that I loved the hills and the sky. I knew the dirt roads and the trails intimately, I would like to live somewhere beautiful again, before I die, though it seems increasingly unlikely that I will. I’m glad I knew the night sky before it was littered with satellites, and glad that I learned black oaks by climbing them and griming my hands on their rugged pelts. That much of the lost world I do have in my blood.

Hush, now, and listen for the breeze that comes up at first light: watch for the bloody sun to spill over the hill crest and make the oaks into calligraphy against the pink sky. Not much longer now. There are not many threads to pick up, but I’ll gather what I can.

Dale Favier, The House my Stepfather Built

Rob Taylor: François Villon was, to say the least, a character. A criminal and cheat, both his poems and life story are filled with misdirection, subterfuge and gaps. In the acknowledgments to After Villon, you write that you began translating Villon shortly after first encountering his work in 2009. What was it about Villon that drew you in so quickly and so fully?

Roger Farr: It was precisely those things you mention. That and the fact that Villon, a medieval poet, was the first to erase the separation between his art and his life, which arguably makes him the first avant-garde writer. But for some time before I read Villon, I had been interested in political and aesthetic discussions about visibility, readability, and clandestinity, topics I wrote about for anarchist publications. When I was working on a piece for Fifth Estate about the work of the Situationist Alice Becker-Ho, who introduced me to Villon, I learned about his poetic use of coded language, deceit, and slang, and I became deeply intrigued. 

RT: Villon’s influence on After Villon is obvious, but as I read your book I started to think of the title as being composed of two parts, with the “After” actually pointing to Jack Spicer, whose After Lorca—with its loose translations and “correspondences” from Spicer to Lorca—served as a template of sorts for your book. Did you ever feel tension in trying to honour all three “contributors” (Villon, Spicer, you) in one book? If so, how did you manage that?

RF: As soon as I started to see my accumulating translations as a book, I knew I would use After Lorca as a template. I have always found Spicer’s poetics difficult to comprehend, which is no doubt part of my attraction to his work. But I thought the correspondences he writes to Lorca were a brilliant way to elaborate a poetics of translation without resorting to overly expository prose. So he was mostly a formal influence, at the level of the book. Ultimately, my eyes and ears were always attuned to Villon.

Rob Taylor, The Poem’s Hum: An Interview with Roger Farr

What am I without the shroud of poetry that covers my nakedness. It is the only way you could have known me: translated into a poem. Into a shroud. Some verses, some lines, some words are lost. Replaced by spaces. A person, a part, a poem, a word, in the end, becomes a space. Space something else will occupy. Loss is white. The colour of erasure. The colour of forgetting.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Weariness has the same texture as cloud

I have been reading novels, which affects my state of mind, makes me dreamy and distracted, foggy-headed, and full of the conflicts in their plots. Or maybe the weather is what does it–too much lovely late autumn sun and not enough rain, which feels “off” for our region; and once the rain finally arrives, it is a dour and chilly dousing I have to convince myself to feel grateful for. Likely the news cycle has not helped my mood. My nine-year-old self emerges from a distant past, crying, “People are so mean!” My parents can no longer sit down beside me and offer comfort.

Time to switch to the poets. I’m finally getting around to reading Ocean Vuong’s Time Is a Mother, a collection that’s been on my to-read list for far too long. The very first poem, “The Bull,” startled me into reading it twice. “I reached–not the bull–/but the depths. Not an answer but/an entrance the shape of/an animal. Like me.” Enough to jolt me out of my fiction-induced haze, especially on a day like this one when I feel the anxious dreamy child in me more than I wish. The prose poems later in the book intrigue me, as well: a very different prose than is found in most novels.

Ann E. Michael, Practice

The first stop on the river cruise I took this month was Arles.  Arles makes a very big deal of the time Vincent Van Gogh spent there, with placards set up around the city.  It does indeed have wonderful light, and the white stone of its monuments adds to the effect. I, however, was more interested in the Roman ruins, ancient walls and other buildings. The amphitheater is quite grand.

In the old hospital in which Van Gogh lived after his ear episode, the garden is maintained to match his paintings.  But it was November, so the appearance was a bit drab.  I took this picture because I felt like I should.

Ellen Roberts Young, Visit to Arles

I just got back to chilly Ohio after a couple of days at the Miami Book Fair. Sunshine, palm trees, tostones, mojitos, energizing conversations with writers, and so many books, books, books. Plenty of joys, even in harrowing times.

In Miami I had a panel discussion with Hannah Pittard and a powerful conversation with Dani Shapiro for her podcast Family Secrets. If you’re in the mood to listen to a podcast this week, I especially loved this incredibly moving episode of Family Secrets, and I had a terrific conversation about ambiguity and “grounded hope” with organizational psychologist and NYT bestselling author Adam Grant recently for ReThinking. (I even forgive Adam for being a Michigan wolverine.)

Grounded hope. Yes, please!

Maggie Smith, The Good Stuff

I have just spent much of a week in a house with no internet access–no, not mine, but the ramshackle house that my family rents each year.  In the past, we’ve been given a hotspot from the camp that rents the house, but last year, we discovered that they no longer provide that service.  We used our smart phones as hotspots, and I had the highest mobile phone bill I’ve ever had, since I don’t have unlimited data.  

Last year I learned how much data gets used when the phone is a hotspot, so this year I was more careful and intentional.  No more mindless scrolling of sites in the morning before everyone else work up–I read a book! No more checking various sites in the afternoon because I was bored–I went for a walk or started up a conversation.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Low Tech Thanksgiving

And it’s not over. This is the peripeteia. The point in the story where everything turns. It is the apex of the drama, where things slide towards a new kind of normal. What follows is all denouement. A theater lecturer once described it as the part after the final commercial break of a sitcom. The reassuring little bit to let us know life goes on.

I know it may not be that easy. The side effects of radiation aren’t predictable. I see already that, while I thought my nails had made it through chemo, my toenails are now falling off. Surprises keep coming.

But in terms of symmetry: there were the retrospective cancer-free 57 years, the breast cancer (1 known and 2 stealth buggers), and this is the new cancer-free part of the story it resolves at least one theme of the bigger story.

A few months ago I heard a podcast about narrative psychology. They talked about how it matters where you start and end a story. Where we choose to do that, how we frame our experiences, makes a big difference in how we handle the potential trauma, and how we create meaning in (and I would say with) our lives.

As always I retain the right to change to reframe all of this.

Ren Powell, “Paripeteia” & In Praise of Partners

I was glad to be asked to write an essay on a new biography of Jane Kenyon (and Donald Hall ) for The Poetry Foundation. The two are a legendary pair; they loved each other, period, and that love, like all love, was as messy as they each were, and exercised as purely and gently as they could bear it. You can read the full essay here, but below is an excerpt that will help set up my next two points:

The many pains of Kenyon’s life had the effect that fog does on light. As a fog refracts and lifts, it catches impossible variations; as it clears, what’s there to be glimpsed is seen with a clarity whose insight is hard-earned (“The soul’s bliss and suffering are bound together,” Kenyon wrote in “Twilight: After Haying”). She believed in—embodied—a spirit of resurrection and regeneration, having so often experienced a miraculous return to sanity and ease. Her fiercest rejections of dogma and her own discomforts led to her greatest gentleness on the page, deepening that inner resilience and vision, giving a shape and a reprieve to suffering through writing. Her desire for repute—“I can’t die until I have a reputation,” she insisted—was paired with a profound spiritual selflessness. “To love and work and to cause no harm” was her motto. Her attention was brilliantly suited for the focused, idiosyncratic attention needed to filter a large world through a narrow aperture, making her short lyric poems containers for what she called “the luminous particular.” She saw poetry as a vehicle for reporting on the inner life, and she delivered that vital news.

Something strikes me about the way that Jane Kenyon metabolized her hardships and gifts, as all poets must finally do. She suffered from severe, often debilitating depression, feeling angry and isolated throughout the majority of her childhood.

And yet, Kenyon had a rich and varied romantic life, one that, despite its early moralistic indoctrination (a widowed grandmother who espoused apocalyptic Christianity), repression, and her own unyielding psychic anguish, proved companied, exciting, and sensual. Despite her early experiences—and perhaps as a result of them—she developed a capacity, willingness, and appetite for the opposite: tenderness, flexibility, love. It strikes me that “The Life,” which biographers rely upon for insight into poetic output, yields curiously and differently to each poet’s affinities, vision, and voice.

Maya C. Popa, Wonder Wednesday

I had started working on the devil riffs in 2011 after reading Luc Ferry’s A Brief History of Thought: A Philosophical Guide to Living. In it, he referenced the idea of “diabolos” or “the who who divides.” I remember writing that down in my notebook and thinking about it every once in a while, riffing on ideas of division and duality in freewrites. The more I wrote, the more I felt that I wasn’t writing about religion directly, instead taking the devil on as a lens, how we humanize the devil and project onto them everything from our misdeeds to an idealized swagger and power. So, the breakthrough of using one narrative as a lens with which to approach other narratives was practiced with the devil first. 

When I began working on what would be the first draft of this book, the devil riffs naturally came to mind as an element to put in play. It was around this time, too, that the moment happened where the word devil was confused for double—a natural moment in conversation that made it into the world of the book. Every draft of this book had these devil riffs (I keep calling them riffs as they never felt like poems but more that they borrow from philosophy and aphorism) scattered throughout. They always stood out to folks who read the manuscript, the reactions a mix of confusion and amusement. The idea of bringing them all together under one title came late in the process, and was born after reading an article about books that don’t exist. As I read it, it occurred to me that the devil riffs were their own book within a book, so I tried a draft with it. Once I saw them all together, I was inspired to add some further riffing, turning out what you see in the final version.

This book within a book allowed for a different voice from the main speaker of the manuscript. This shift also allowed the devil voice to address a “you” which is both me and the reader of the book, which is eerie (I hope). Suddenly the devil is not just the usual projections and excuses (the devil made me do it) but also devil as conscience, devil as speaking in a more assertive register than the speaker elsewhere. Note, too, that the devil says things that L turns out to have said, and also riffs against some of the speaker’s own words. Here, again, the idea of the double. The play of “Devil or nothing” was one of the final things to be written. I suppose that the manuscript is abandoned in order to enact the “nothing” half of it.

José Angel Araguz, Ruin & Want interview excerpt, pt. 4

Two years ago an exciting new online journal made its appearance on the literary scene. Uniquely, the voidspace focuses on interactive arts: the website itself is an invitation to dive in and explore through a series of alluring portals. I spoke to founding editor Katy Naylor about the voidspace, her sources of creative inspiration, her poetry, and her plans to set up a new press.

Katy, you’ve described yourself as growing up in ‘a house full of books’. Tell us something about your creative development and the influences that inform your writing.

Katy: I actually spent the majority of my life not thinking of myself as a creative person at all. I wrote stories as a kid, as many people do, but as I grew up I became a reader, a viewer and a player: a consumer of art rather than a creator.  

My mum was an English teacher, so literature was always part of my life. I was a real theatre kid, going to see Shakespeare with my mum regularly, and even making yearly pilgrimages to Stratford-upon-Avon to see Shakespeare and other plays. I was also keenly interested in history (particularly mediaeval history – I even spent a few years practising early mediaeval crafts, combat styles and building methods, and learning how to sail a longship) and folk music (I spent some time as a Morris dancer!).  

When I got older I discovered immersive theatre – Punchdrunk in particular – and the multi-layered and multi-sensory storytelling I encountered there blew me away.  

I’ve also been interested in adventure and narrative games for a long time, as a player before I was a writer. As I kid, I loved text adventures on the computer and in choose your own adventure books, and I even taught myself some BASIC coding in order to try to write my own. A British kids’ TV show, called Knightmare, had a huge impact on me as well. It was essentially a Dungeons ‘n’ Dragons type game, but using a mixture of actors, props and early blue-screen technology, you could see one of the players seemingly physically present in this elaborate fantasy world (and seemingly falling off imaginary precipices, if they weren’t careful). It really captured my imagination. 

As an adult, I discovered interactive theatre, which combines game mechanics with a theatrical narrative art, and found my own online DnD group. In its purest form tabletop gaming is a form of collaborative storytelling, but it releases players from the sense of obligation to “perform” and polish. As a result of that freedom, you often get incredible stories growing organically, that would never have happened had players consciously thought that what they were doing was writing. That’s the energy I try to bring to the voidspace – that sense of creative playfulness. 

It was during lockdown that I discovered that I could actually write. I think having the time and space to think and experiment woke something in me. When we were only allowed out for a short time every day, I’d take long walks by the sea where I live (the sea is another abiding influence) and the ideas would come. Once I started to write, all the influences I’ve talked about: theatre and gaming, the past, music and folklore, the songs of the sea – all came back to me, and still form the backbone of my work. 

Marian Christie, Step into an adventure: An Interview with Katy Naylor of the Voidspace 

This time of year also brings on my informal year-end evaluations—what went well this year and what didn’t, things I want to invite into my life and things I want to do less of. It’s easy to forget the accomplishments and successes of the year in cold, stark November—so I try to keep track of those too. On the writing front, I had the book launch for Flare, Corona in May (and a preview of it at AWP, where I connected more than ever with the disabled writing community, which was great), and I turned 50—there were many more family visits than in the past seven years, and I reconnected with friends that I wanted to see again who had sort of slipped out of focus. I’m prioritizing friends and family, my writing work, and my health in 2024 for sure. I also want to make sure that I do less unpaid labor (and look for more paying opportunities) because my financial health is becoming a priority too—especially as my health care becomes more specialized—and more expensive.

I love the poetry world but one thing about it I don’t love is how it relies on writers’ unpaid labor (and submission fees, etc.)—usually the people who can least afford it—to prop it up.  I’ve been volunteering as a reviewer, editor, fund-raiser, PR person, etc. for over 20 years. Isn’t that crazy? If I acknowledge that I have limited time and energy, then I need to volunteer…less. This also means being pickier about venues for submitting poetry and reviews, as well as maybe trying to write more essays. (And a big thank you to the journals that pay reviewers and writers and the folks who organize paid readings and classroom visits!)

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A Week of Eagles, Thanksgiving Celebrations, a Poem in JAMA this Week, Guest Appearance at Washington and Lee University, And Year-End Evaluations

Driving home from my son’s orchestra practice
in the dark of rural Vermont, mountains
a slightly different deep blue than sky:

sudden sense-memory of dancing with my father
at my wedding. Nat King Cole on Spotify,
probably a song our hired jazz trio crooned.

The marriage and my parents are both long-buried
but I remember my father healthy and strong,
his arms around me, the crisp sheen of his tux.

I wish I could have that back. My parents,
and how everything seemed possible, for all
whom I love. The griefs I didn’t yet know.

Rachel Barenblat, Blue

You want to know how it is possible to sustain
attention over broken periods of time, how to find

again the cord of your lineage and the emblems
of not-darkness in the rubble. You want to know

where the birds with emerald plumes went
after they abandoned the garden, and whether

someone remembered to save the seeds
from the fruit of once abundant trees.

Luisa A. Igloria, Sometimes You Want to be Stronger than Fate

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,

How did she know? How did she know that singularity of each of us, the separation that the Self defines, the pain of it sometimes?

the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —

This is the line that moves me to tears. Why is that? The generosity of the world, perhaps, its offer to me, the risk involved in loving, in loving the world, and the excitement, and the reward in taking that risk, in opening myself, my imagination, to all that is possible in this incredible life.

over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

With the geese, with the soft animal of my body, with you, wherever you are, connected through out imaginations, through our connections to the world, each other, the wild, the roots, branches, the wings, clouds, the wind, the world. Of and in and with.

Marilyn McCabe, Geese

and then i found you
with your hand on a book’s breeze
lost in the turning

Jim Young [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 35

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive, 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 transition to autumn, Labor Day and the meaning of work, Sealey Challenge results, a book-burning, and more. Enjoy.


Interregnum. Summer has lost its grip, but Fall has not yet taken hold: cloudy, quiet, rainless days appear one by one and vanish. In the evening, Vega or Arcturus appear, dim and inarticulate, in the pools between the clouds, and vanish again, their messages undelivered. I am waiting, I suppose, for my two granddaughters to arrive — one in Colorado, and one here. A pause, while Fall considers its approach; a long indrawing of the tide.

It’s California weather, of course, not Oregon weather. My parents’ generation of Oregonians tended to move to California when they retired, and their bones got tired of the damp and chill: climate change has accomplished this move for my generation without the trouble of packing. At the moment — why not gathers such crumbs as fall? — I’m content to live in a dryer, warmer state. The September slant of the sun has always pleased me, and we get to see more of it, now. 

Dale Favier, Interregnum

The months inspire their own sort of synesthesia, don’t they? I can feel, taste, see, in flashes of associations, each one, its distinctive personality, color, shape. Still, September carries a particular presence. Wallace Stegner spoke of that “old September feeling, left over from school days, of summer passing, vacation nearly done, obligations gathering, books and football in the air…Another fall, another turned page: there was something of jubilee in that annual autumnal beginning, as if last year’s mistakes had been wiped clean by summer.” That may partially explain it—the month is forever colored by notebooks, pencils, early wake-ups, and autumnal routines after an indulgent, restorative summer.

Maya C. Popa, Poems about September

It’s the time of year for making still lifes, anyway, isn’t it? The flowers won’t last much longer. Bring some in, make a still life won’t you? Then make your way to the couch.

There’s a short poem I love to read at this time of year by the Italian writer Patrizia Cavalli (translated here by Gini Alhadeff):

“We’re all going to hell in a while.
But meanwhile
summer’s over.
So come on now, to the couch!
The couch! The couch!”

Shawna Lemay, A Whole Life in Every Day

Today is rainy and cool, and we tidied the house, I organized and put away my summer clothes, and we started to really prepare for fall. We bought the last doughnut peaches for cake and made barbequed chicken and cornbread with the last good corn. I lit a couple of pumpkin coffee candles. We paid attention to the cats, who felt they had been very neglected the last few days.

I did a few submissions this week in a bit of a daze, because submission windows can be short and demanding, even when life is chaos. I also tried to catch up a bit with my reading—even picking up a few new books to start (ambitious, I know, but fall seems like a good time to acquire new books—especially important when you’re spending a long time at the hospital with a needle in your arm).

As the seasons transition, a few of my friends noted the stress of the change, the return to different rhythms. In Seattle, we pretty much say goodbye to the sun and hello the “the long dark” of the next nine months. I’m hoping to catch a few good days to visit the pumpkin farms, to pick the Pink Lady apples from the tree in my front yard I planted at the beginning of the pandemic, and even a few figs from the fig tree I planted two years ago. Fruit from new trees is always a good sign—last year we got neither apples nor figs—so I hope my trees will stay healthy until next spring.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A Supermoon, a Surgery, and One Perfect Fall Day, Plus the Importance of Joy and Healing

Many of us think about Labor Day as the end of summer, and I’m old enough to remember when college classes started the Tuesday after Labor Day.  My mom does too; she said in her generation it was because college students had jobs at country clubs that would close after Labor Day.  In terms of weather, I’ve always lived in places where summer will stretch on through September and perhaps beyond.

Even though many of us will see today as simply a day off, it’s a good day to think about work, both the kind we do for pay and the kind we do out of love. And what about the work we feel compelled to do? I’m thinking of that kind of documenting of family history, of cultural history, of all that might be lost without our efforts.  I’m thinking of our creative work.  There’s so many more different kinds of work than just work for pay.

I’m thinking about our attitude towards work too.  I am glad to see that this article, published in 2016, about the theology of work is still online.  Here’s my favorite quote from it, with ideas informed by Christian monasticism:  “Taking Benedict’s approach would force us to reconsider how we think about our work. Instead of, ‘What work am I called to?’ we might ask, ‘How does the task before me contribute to or hinder my progress toward holiness?; Not ‘How does this work cooperate with material creation?’ but ‘How does this work contribute to the life of the community and to others’ material and spiritual well-being?’ Not ‘Am I doing what I love?’ but ‘What activity is so important that I should, without exception, drop my work in order to do it?’”

And here’s a Buddhist thought about work for your Labor Day, found in an interview with Bill Moyers and Jane Hirshfield who explains, “Teahouse practice means that you don’t explicitly talk about Zen. It refers to leading your life as if you were an old woman who has a teahouse by the side of the road. Nobody knows why they like to go there, they just feel good drinking her tea. She’s not known as a Buddhist teacher, she doesn’t say, “This is the Zen teahouse.” All she does is simply serve tea–but still, her decades of attentiveness are part of the way she does it. No one knows about her faithful attention to the practice, it’s just there, in the serving of the tea, and the way she cleans the counters and washes the cups” (Fooling with Words: A Celebration of Poets and Their Craft, page 112).

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Thinking about Labor on Labor Day

I’m fascinated by American poet and lawyer Mary Leader’s fifth full-length collection, The Distaff Side (Shearsman Books, 2022), a curious blend of a variety of threads: the needlepoint the women in her family held, dismissed as “women’s work”; her mother’s refusal to learn such a thing to focus on poetry, and publishing in numerous journals yet never seeing a collection into print; and her own engagement with these two distinct skills, articulating them both as attentive, precise crafts. “My mother couldn’t sew a lick.” she writes, to open the sequence “Toile [I],” offering her mother’s refusal to learn as something defiant across the length and breadth of women across her family, “But that was a boast to her.” As the following poem reads: “1950, 1955, / 1960. What girls and women got up to / with distaffs flax spindles standards / happles and agoubilles was not called ‘their art.’ Not remotely. Needlework / was no more ‘creative’ than / doing the dishes, and trust me, / doing the dishes was not marveled at, [.]” That particular poem ends: “And my / mother’s hobby morning after / morning after morning, every morning, / every morning, was reading and writing / poetry, smoking all the while.” There’s a defiance that Leader recounts in her narrative around her mother, and one of distinct pride, writing a woman who engaged with poetry. A few poems further in the sequence: “I have / the typescript of what, in my judgement, / should have been my mother’s first / published book, Whose Child? I have / here the cover letter she labored over.” I’m charmed by these skilled, sharp and precise poems on the complexities of the craft of poems and needlework both, stitched with careful, patient ease.

rob mclennan, Mary Leader, The Distaff Side

It seemed to me all around me was a message: “Work. Look.” I wrote that in my journal. That night I’d had a dream in which I was trying to develop an artistic goal for the immediate future, which morphed into me stating that I was going to memorize one song on the piano and play it for people, which morphed into me explaining excitedly how I was going to make scones to bring to their party, but the host approached me and said, “Please don’t bring them. We don’t like them.” And I woke devastated. When I finally shook off the devastation and entered the day, I was fascinated by how that urge to focus creatively ended up with that dream that no one liked what I was making. How powerful is rejection, how powerful the pull of external validation.

Marilyn McCabe, I have heard you call; or, On Creative Work and the Inner Voices

Brown campus now, all these child freshmen. I was 17 then. Walking around campus now, thinking all that freedom, to be the odd girl out, to suffer, to remember, to extinguish, to wear diaphanous skirts and lay clothes out on the green to sell, to revel in contradiction: the Brown Green. To read wandering the hallway of the dorm, as I did to anyone with ears: Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. To draw out: Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. To hear kids say about me today: she was from then, she didn’t know yet. The hell I didn’t! To walk into traffic talking and assume all cars will stop. To not see the cars. To be somewhat girl, somewhat boy. Somewhat woman, somewhat man. Roaming around in her head; putting logic on a vertiginous axis. To be double-sighted, to become someone else inside the same person, to surf time, to be here now.

Jill Pearlman, Age, Relatives, Lo-Lee-Ta

I learned, while teaching college freshmen the past few years, that many younger adults do not know how to write or even to read script. Many children never get the lessons in handwriting in the second through fourth grades the way I did. Instead, they learn keyboarding–a skill I got to in my junior year of high school but never really have mastered (yes, even now I use a self-developed version that’s sort of an advanced hunt-and-peck method). It’s hard to believe that reading script is a task that will be relegated to specialists in years to come, but I shouldn’t be surprised if that’s what happens. To many of my college age students, handwritten script in English is almost indistinguishable from the marks of ash borers. They don’t see the need for that particular skill. Handwriting is going the way of letter-writing.

Perhaps we live in a post-script world?

I have been thinking about the handwritten word recently because of a recent incident while visiting my mother. She received a small refund check from an insurer, and though she understood what it was and that she no longer uses her checking account–we siblings take care of that through power of attorney–she was confused about what to do with it. “Sign it, Mom,” I told her, offering her a pen. “We’ll deposit it for you.” I turned the check over and pointed to the line for signature on the back.

She wavered, pen in the air. “I don’t…I don’t,” she said (her aphasia has advanced past the point of expressing full sentences). It took me a moment to realize that she could not recall how to sign her name. I placed my hand around hers and helped her start with the capital B.

I didn’t cry, but the experience hasn’t left me alone. I suppose there may be a poem in this incident, but if so, it’s a sorrowful one.

Ann E. Michael, Script, postscript

Even now, at what we believe is near the end, my mother is
what kids today might describe as #fighting, A month in the hospital
and she’s rallied and flailed, flailed and rallied. Through intravenous
feeding, oxygen delivery, antibiotics, everything short of TPN. Who
is Patty? my cousin and the nurses ask. My mother has been calling
the names of the dead, names of the living, names of all the remembered
ghosts in her life. Perhaps more than death or dying, the ghost of our own
approaching absence is the most difficult piece of the puzzle. She still
knows the difference between the clothed and naked body, how the taste
and texture of water on the tongue disappears like a stolen jewel. Once,
she fashioned for me an ugly name in a second baptism meant to confuse
and repel the gods. She embroidered it on towels and the inside
of my collars as she mouthed it like a spell. Sometimes, I still start
at my shadow on the wall, blue and sick from being shorn from light.

Luisa A. Igloria, Talisman

Somewhere in time there’s a darkened room with just enough light to see a circle of grief. In the center of the circle is a woman in a hospital bed. Sharp angles under white sheets. Cool, pale flesh stretched over forehead, cheeks, chin. Weeks of a vigil fading into the past. A decision has been made, connections have been unconnected. It is silent in this room except for sighs and sobs. One of the grieved takes the woman’s hand and begins to sing a sweet hymn to accompany the woman from the room, from the earth. This is a moment that lives forever for those who loved this woman.

Charlotte Hamrick, Mood #2

whose skin has not awakened to green

whose heart is blind with eyes

where are there hands to bandage the sky

Grant Hackett [untitled]

One of the most menacing things about depression is its elasticity — its way of suddenly receding, swinging open a window of light, only to return just as suddenly with redoubled darkness, just when life has begun to feel livable again, even beautiful.

On September 16, 1962, a voice unspooled from the BBC airwaves carrying an emblem of that cruel elasticity.

Sylvia Plath (October 27, 1932–February 11, 1963) — who spent her life living with the darkness and making light of the barely bearable lightness of being, until she could no more — had composed the poem a year earlier, shortly after moving to a quiet market village in Devon. For the first time, she had a room of her own to write in. “My whole spirit has expanded immensely,” she wrote to her mother as she filled the house with “great peachy-colored gladiolas, hot red & orange & yellow zinnias” from the garden, that great living poem.

Within a month, in the fading autumn light, her spirit had begun contracting again in the grip of the familiar darkness. One night, unable to sleep, she tried a meditative writing exercise: to simply describe what she saw in the Gothic churchyard outside her window. That exercise became one of her finest poems and one of the most poignant portraits of depression in the history of literature.

Found in Plath’s indispensable Collected Poems (public library), it comes alive with uncommon poignancy in Patti Smith’s planetary voice — one of her regular poetry readings from her online journal.

Maria Popova, The Moon and the Yew Tree: Patti Smith Reads Sylvia Plath’s Haunting Portrait of Depression

old pond
old frog
waiting

Jason Crane, haiku: 30 August 2023

Today was a full press day (no freelance work) since there were quite a few things that needed final corrections before I start printing.  I have only dipped a toe into submissions, which wrapped up Thursday in a final flurry of activity, so will begin greater forays into reading next week likely. I still have a couple delayed books in the works, but am now working on the set I accepted for this year. Amazingly, since I planned to start those in August anyway, I am only a month behind schedule for 2023 accepted titles. This year’s inbox is a little unruly, since I was once again allowing sim subs after a few years of not. This means some things have been withdrawn in the time since they were sent b/c they found another home. Logistically it’s rougher to keep track, but I feel like I take a little too long in responses sometimes, esp. for things I am interested in–so it’s only fair they have other opportunities when I am slow. 

As for my work, I had a brief flurry of activity on new poems, but then told myself I should take a break and return when fall arrived officially, which I suppose it has now, at least according to the meteorological calendar if not the celestial one. Since I really need to be working on recording and editing the videos for villains right now, I may just hold off til the equinox to get back to daily poeming, completely reasonable, but I do get itchy if I go too long without writing much at all, so we’ll see. I won’t be submitting much in the immediate future, so am going to share snippets of the poems I’ve written this summer on Instagram, so keep an eye out there. 

The decor and lifestyle stuff is turning out many fall and spooky season offerings like this, this, and this.) A gig that I had initially turned down earlier in the summer b/c the pay-per-word count (writing literature study guides) actually came back with a poetry-specific offer that is shorter guides but still the same pay, so I will be doing a couple of those every month going forward. Since the AI poetry thing ghosted me and didn’t work out, and any poetry lessons for the online learning site I already write for are few and far between, it will be fun to write poetry-specific things again after a few months of other subjects like dance, history, and visual art. While denser and more time-intensive than the decor, food, and restaurant stuff, the researcher in me loves them nonetheless.

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 9/3/2023

You can link to my London Grip review of Katharine Towers’ superb chapbook by clicking here.

What I didn’t adequately suggest in the review itself was how beautifully the booklet is designed and produced by Philip Lancaster and the The Maker’s Press. Everything except the Tasting Notes is printed in a way that combines visual clarity with softness (the paper is a very pale ivory rather than white). The Tasting Notes are shaped as concrete poems and printed in a pale slightly greenish grey, which to me suggests the elusiveness and obliquity of attempts to describe nuances of flavour. It’s altogether a remarkable physical production.

Edmund Prestwich, Katharine Towers, let him bring a shrubbe – review

I had to double check myself re an idea I had about Simon Armitage’s Book of Matches (Faber & Faber 1993). So I Googled, and yes, I had remembered it correctly. The 30 fourteen-line poems/sonnets in the first section are each, supposedly, meant to be read in the time it takes for a match to burn. I guess the clue is in the opening stanza of the first poem:

“My party piece:
I strike, then from the moment when the matchstick
conjures up its light, to when the brightness moves
beyond its means, and dies, I say the story
of my life —”

Well, you just have to, don’t you?! My first match burnt out after a few lines and I realised the draft from my writing room door that opens onto the garden was to blame. My second attempt, different poem, had a second or two to spare. My third one had me squealing and blowing it out as the flame licked at my fingertips a couple of lines before the end.

But gimmicks apart, I like the poems in this collection. I like Armitage’s command of form and language, of rhythm and rhyme, and how none of those ever dominate the poems, only contribute to their music. What he has to say always transcends the engineering work. I feel he understands that the audience matters. He’s a poet that cares about his readers. The work can be both playful and serious. Serious but not solemn.

Lynne Rees, The Sealey Challenge – Simon Armitage

When August started I was on a fantasy novel kick.  Patricia Briggs, Megan Bannen, Neil Gaiman, and Andri Snaer Magnason, Kimberly Lemming and Sangu Mandanna. Sure, I could do those and continue poetry, right? I often alternate between poetry binges and novel binges but I could do parallel binges. Push more through the head, why not.

Sometimes pushing through the slog of hard-to-understand is good for stretch goals, to push past normal comfort. Part of Sealey Challenge is to read different and to share the love of what you uncover. Stretch is the theme. (I shared some of what I read as Poem of the Day at bluesky and instagram and in past posts here.)

So it’s September and I’m still standi— er, still sitting.

Reading causes writing sometimes so I wrote more novel scenes, and a chapbook. Was it more than normal? Not sure. I’ve done 50,000 words over the last 4 months in poetry, not counting scraps of paper and convenient but not in the right folder files.

Pearl Pirie, Sealey Challenge

I believe in the general theory that one should finish what one starts. However in my real, practical life, that’s a different story, as evidenced by a plethora of uncompleted crafting projects, poems started and never seen through to their final form, and books began but never finished. Today I shall provide you with a glimpse into some of these of unfinished titles, as well my justifications for putting them down early: […]

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

I complained about this book in a previous post, but at the time, I thought I could get past the atrocious degeneracy of its characters because the writing was so beautiful. It turns out I can’t. The beautiful language just isn’t enough to carry me through this one. I don’t care about any of the characters, and contrary to popular opinion, I don’t think that Daisy is some tragic pre-feminist figure. I think she’s a brat. I’ve never been able to figure how this book became such a literary darling, until a bit of shallow research informed me that it was an initial failure. Years after it came out, The Council on Books in Wartime distributed free copies en mass to soldiers serving overseas during World War 2, thus exploding its popularity.

Kristen McHenry, Book List of Shame

In my second published poetry book, I have a poem called “In the Left Breast”. I wrote it after I’d found a lump (turned out to be nothing). I was in my early 30s.

Thinking about this made me wonder if we are really ever unprepared for possibilities? There is another poem in that same collection that questions whether “imagination is a good thing.”

In my mind, it is all about staying flexible enough to adjust. Adjusting is a response to the world. Sometimes it’s positive. In the context of my world view, a positive attitude is not the same thing as a positive outcome of a response.

I don’t believe celebrating a possible future outcome manifests that outcome.

This morning I am thinking about singing. Last week I sang with the radio while I was driving. It had been a very long time since I was in that kind of space. I remember now that magic spells require chanting, or singing. That’s a kind of effort, too, so I will leave room for that in my world view.

Right speech. Right action.

Right diaphragmatic effort.

Ren Powell, After a Week Not Writing about It

My phase of reading nowt but historical novels is over (for now) as I get my poetry head back on in preparation for Season Four (gulp!) of Planet Poetry.

First up, I’ve been doing a deep dive into Leontia Flynn‘s brand new collection Taking Liberties (Cape). It’s wonderful work and I’m feeling quite energised by it (meaning: it’s inspired me to write something that may be a poem.) I’ll be interviewing Leontia on the pod, really looking forward to that.

Also on the ‘to be read’ pile is Caroline Bird‘s The Air Year (Carcanet) which picked up a whole ton of awards in 2020. I’ve not yet been hit by the ‘Bird Love Bomb’ that many others speak of, so I shall read it with keen anticipation.

I was a fangirl in my teenage years of Brian Patten, and I’m still hoping we can coax him onto the poddy. In the meantime I’ve been loving, loving his Selected Poems (Penguin 2007). Even lovelier is that having bought it second-hand, I discovered it’s a signed copy, ‘To Liz’ – the name I was given at birth. Spooky!

Robin Houghton, Current poetry reading and podcast prep

You mentioned on Instagram that After Curfew  was inspired by Rowan Beckett’s Hot Girl Haiku. Can you say more about that inspiration, and how it helped you write and shape your collection?

Rowan held an online launch party on Facebook for their book, Hot Girl Haiku, in May 2022. My friend, haiku poet Susan Burch, reminded me to attend. I’d never been to an online launch party. It was fun! Rowan had posts and videos set up on a schedule. One of the prompts was to write our own “hot girl haiku.” It brought me back to that time in early adolescence and young adulthood when I wanted so much to be a “hot girl” but I was more of a “geeky girl.” I wrote this in the comments:

face-first
in a stranger’s lap—
tequila shots

Joshua Gage, of Cuttlefish Books, wrote back that he’d like to hear more of that story. I said there wasn’t much to tell — I didn’t think I had too many “hot girl” moments. But it got me thinking, which led to writing the collection. 

On a related note, I read online that you wrote most of After Curfew in one sitting. Do you usually write in big spurts? How was creating this collection similar to or different from your usual process? 

I rarely write in big spurts! This was very different than my usual plodding along. I just felt inspired. It was like Rowan gave me permission to write about my past. 

What was your editing process like? Did you have to cut any haiku? Was there a point where you found yourself needing to add some to supplement the original poems? 

I wrote the poems quickly at first, jotting them down as they came to me. When it came time to order them, I wanted to tell a cohesive story: of first love, of loss, of moving on. When I realized that I really did have a collection, I wrote a few poems to fill gaps in the narrative, and I dropped a few that didn’t fit. Originally, I had a few tanka in there too.

In English-language haiku, poets are often instructed to focus on composing from the present moment. After Curfew is written in the present tense, but concerns the past. Did you make a conscious decision to keep the poems in the present tense? Or did that emerge organically during the writing process?

I think the present tense brings an immediacy to haiku — writing in past tense puts some distance between the reader and the poem. I’d like to say something profound about how I wanted the reader to share in my awkward moments, but the truth is, I was reliving my memories as I wrote them.

Allyson Whipple, Chapbook Interview: Julie Bloss Kelsey

Here are a couple of Annie [Bachini]’s haiku in the book which I especially like:

faint breeze rolling a scrunched paper bag

waiting room
the rhythmic squeaks
of the cleaner’s shoes

The one-liner is a concrete haiku of sorts, in that the bag is rolled horizontally with the text. What I especially like about it, though, are that the word ‘rolling’ is used transitively, rather than the much more common intransitively, and that the movement is engendered by a faint breeze. Yes, it’s a fairly straightforward ‘cause-and-effect’ poem, but it’s subtly done. The highlighting of an item of litter may or may not be seen as an incidental comment on today’s selfish society. And which reader wouldn’t enjoy the sound of that ‘scrunched’? The way in which the wind is interacting with a thrown-away item reminds me of that strangely captivating scene in American Beauty in which the camera follows a plastic bag through the air. The haiku is very neatly done.

The three-liner is equally fine, not least in how it makes art out of what, in lesser hands, could be a mundane observation. The waiting room might be at the doctor’s, dentist, train station or wherever – though probably one of the first two – but it’s the attentiveness of the second element of the poem which beautifully commands the reader’s attention. It’s an exemplar of how a well-chosen adjective can add so much: as well as providing visual and sonic balance, ‘rhythmic’ implies so much. The cleaner, it seems, is doing a thoroughly professional job, as perhaps they’ve been shown how to do. We might intuit, too, that the cleaner is taking pride in their work, but earns very considerably less than the professional in the consulting room. That it’s the shoes which the poet draws our eyes and ears towards makes this, for me, a real masterpiece.

The book, rather prosaically entitled Two Haiku Poets, is available from Iron here.

Matthew Paul, On the haiku of Annie Bachini

THE BOOK BURNING

was everything you’d expect it to be.
Self-righteous men, always men,
directing the children, laden
with armfuls of the banned, damned books.
Casting them into the inferno
with a wide eyed giddy intensity,
ecstatic in this act of vandalism
we are burning books!

and the air is full of charred letters.
Stray words set free
from carefully constructed sentences.
The ink knows as it sizzles,
that every book is a temporary alliance
of print and wood pulp and glue.
If the men had been more patient
eventually it would have returned to dust

Paul Tobin, STRAY WORDS SET FREE

I don’t think I have read a poet like Susan J. Bryant before, so it’s impossible to give readers a steer through comparisons to better known contemporary poets. The best I can offer you is to say that her work is clearly influenced by the formal satirists of the past for Elephants Unleashed is made up of biting poems in beautifully handled forms, such as villanelles, triolets, sonnets and ballads.

Nothing is safe from Bryant’s critical eye. The institutions of Church, Government, Education and Royalty are all subject to her cutting wit. Politicians are given a particularly rough ride. TONGUES SPIN AND WEAVE is typical in both theme and style. She writes: When syrup-dipped toxicity/ Disguises vile duplicity/ With evil veiled in virtue’s flower/ Your liberty they will devour./ Perceive, beguiled society-/ Tongues spin and weave.’ There’s something of a modern-day Pope here, both in sentiment and the music of the form, the rhymes working hard to give emphasis to the destructiveness and danger of politicians and those in power, who disguise their true intentions with feigned morality.

Nigel Kent, Review of ‘Elephants Unleashed’ by Susan Jarvis Bryant

It seems
AI is writing our poems
and books
and we can’t tell
the difference

All this is normalized
All this consumed
All day, all night

Our ruin is streamed
on all kinds
of devices

It seems
we can’t bring ourselves
to care

Rajani Radhakrishnan, What’s Going On?

[Months have gone by] and what have I been doing? Not writing. Sadly. I am beginning to wonder if I’m sliding into dementia. I have some of the symptoms: Lack of energy, isolation, loss of interest in things which used to interest me. Having trouble retrieving names of people and sometimes names of books or other objects. Then, again, in other ways I am fine and even perky. The garden absorbs my mornings and evenings. Watching British murder mysteries on my laps. I was completely alert and energized on a recent very long drive to Evansville INdiana. I am also somewhat addicted to watching short videos of horses , deer, birds, and babies on Instagram. I recently realized that as an only child of older parents, I was hardly ever around little babies, those under the age of two. I am fascinated by their faces, their eyes, the thinking that is obviously going on. Maybe this entry will break through my inertia.

Anne Higgins, Months have gone by

In early spring it’s wild ramps,
dark blades of onion-scented grass.

Then come the fairytale eggplants.
On the cusp of fall, tiny plums.

In winter I splurge on clementines
though citrus won’t grow here, at least

not yet. Sometimes I treat myself
to marzipan at Christmastime, though

almond trees are struggling.
We’re running out of groundwater.

How long until the memory of coffee beans
will be implausible as the days

when silvery cod were so plentiful
we walked across their backs to shore? 

Rachel Barenblat, Impulse buys

This morning the air felt crisp. There was a certain blueness to the sky that made me think of frosts. The fields were so dewy I got soaked walking the dog. This was the first day where it’s been too cold to wear shorts from the off. But by lunchtime the sun had burnt this faux autumn off and it was sunshine and warm air, except in the shade. It’s difficult to admit that the summer is nearly over, and I’ll miss my days of bare skin and sandals, but all things must pass, and there is so much to love about autumn. Now though, and for the next two or three weeks we are in the liminal place between seasons. It is a place of change. It is a place where we are not quite experiencing the riot of reds and oranges and crispy leaf walks of autumn, but not quite able to experience the BBQs and patio drinks, the golden evening walks and thick green foliage of summer either. And all the time we experience this change, we are physically and emotionally in change ourselves.

The catalyst for the turn towards autumn for me, and my feelings around it is always the migration of the geese. The geese now fly over my house in thick lines, long lines full of voice and each time I hear them my heart is taken somewhere wintry and still, and it stills me to hear them. In summer I felt vibrant and colourful, in autumn I will feel calm and aware and I want my days to reflect that. I shall change my practice and my focus to fully embrace the season, to be connected to the world around me, the natural world.

Wendy Pratt, Late Summer a Sensory Experience – The Colour of Summer

Although the mornings are sunny
the heavy rain that lasted half an hour around dawn
has left the grass wet.
Small oaks are springing up where I planted acorns last year.
Today I will dig up the next batch of potatoes.
Together we will pick blackberries.
I will look again at my fantasy football team.

Bob Mee, ONE OF THOSE ‘I DID THIS, I DID THAT’ RECORDS OF A WEEK

星月夜ホモ・サピエンスなにをしに 矢島渚男

hoshizukiyo homo sapiensu nani o shini

            starry night

            what are homo sapiens

            doing here

                                                Nagisao Yajima

from Haiku, a monthly haiku magazine, November 2022 Issue, Kabushiki Kaisha Kadokawa, Tokyo

Fay Aoyagi, Today’s Haiku (August 30, 2023)

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 33

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 deep in their feelings about the end of summer/beginning of autumn, those who teach were girding their loins, but there was still plenty of time for reflections on the writing process, spirituality in poetry, the latest great book, and much more. Enjoy.


Ordinary poems about ordinary days, grey

pigeons and pallid skies, ashen self-pity and line
after monochrome line of mundane mediocrity.
Poems that taste of bile. Of an inertia that

stretches long and undefined. Poems like tepid
beer. Like days that have forgotten themselves.
Poems not brave or sad enough to cry. That

evening by the Vistula, I traced the contours
of my formless quiet into yet another faded,
anaemic poem. A train rumbled by, unnoticed.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Part 60

Growing up out of the stone ground, a large cast aluminum tree was tangled in the branches of second tree — like two hands grasping each other—while the second tree hangs suspended upside down in the air. The grey metal of the trees, surrounded by white walls is starkly devoid of color, while the roots reach upward toward the sky, untethered and seeking some ground in which to root itself.

Andrea Blythe, The Flourishing Beauty of Ariel Schlesinger’s Interconnected Aluminum Trees

In a week where southern California is under a tropical storm watch, with storm Hilary expected to dump as much rain in 2 days as some parts of the southwest get in 2 years (2 years!!!), and wild fires continue to blaze across northern Canada, and a heat dome will break all sorts of records across the nation–I began this week of historic weather by getting my contributor copies of this book, Dear Human at the Edge of Time:  Poems on Climate Change in the United States: [photo]

I’m very pleased that “Higher Ground,” one of my Noah’s Wife poems was selected.  One of the joys of blogging is that I have an easy way of looking up my writing process, at least for this poem.  This blog post tells the genesis of this poem, the day in January of 2020 when my boss insisted that the registrar put unqualified/uninterested students in classes so that we would meet our ARC goal, which brought the wrath of Corporate on us, which made our boss enraged, an unpleasant day all the way round.

I look back and think about the ways our lives and our school were about to unravel, all of the power struggles that would mean so little in the end, as the pandemic unspooled, and new owners arrived to change the school in ways that meant that very few of us would still be employed there. I think back to days like the one in January of 2020, and I’m amazed that I could tolerate that work situation as long as I did.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Climate Change and Poetry and an Acceptance

The 3rd of my poems published by Verse-Virtual. There are so many beautiful poems in this issue. I’m honored to be among them.

Seaweed calligraphy at the tide’s edge.
A crab tracks through, smears the ink.
I wait for the fog to lift. The gulls argue
over someone’s sandwich crust, get on
with survival. I remember your words,
the undertow.

Sarah Russell, On the Shore

This time of year always makes me think of the past somehow, which probably has something to do with the start of school and the bygone sense of blank pages. This morning, I was thinking about 10 years ago, a period of time that seems sort of muddy with a relationship that was well past its sell-by date, but also good things like the release of shared properties of water and stars and Pretty Little Liars marathons complete with a very tiny Zelda racing back and forth across the back of the sofa. Late in the summer, we visited my cousin who lived way up in northern Wisconsin, which already had a fall-ish tinge to trees even in late August. We drank overly elaborate Bloody Marys and went antiquing in a tiny town with many stores where I got my prized Roloflex camera for a steal at $10 and several pretty antique postcards. I’d wake up in the mornings on the sofa with my cousin’s enormous golden lab sprawled across me. Smallish bears would ramble through their yard from the surrounding woods at dawn. The weekend was campfires and pontoon rides and, perhaps most importantly, both my parents were still very much alive and healthy.  

20 years ago, I was 29 and on the verge of starting my MFA studies, going to overly bougie and posh several-course lunch orientations at the Union League Club back when Columbia was spending money like it had it.  Later, at the meet and greet with other students and faculty, I would feel like I didn’t fit in–a feeling that would pervade me for the next four years of study. On my one day of full classes that fall, I kept returning to the Art Institute, which was pay-what-you-can in the afternoons to gaze at the Cornell boxes–still in their location in the old modern wing before the new one was built. A project that would also take four years to finish.  I would take my notes to the cafe across Michigan and turn them into poems that eventually became at the hotel andromeda. I was tentatively sending out the first version of what would eventually become the fever almanac, though it would change a lot before getting picked up two years later. I was still mulling the idea of starting a chapbook press that wouldn’t bloom until the spring, but it was a tiny kernel of thought I’d turn over and over in my head while waiting for the bus or working nights at the library’s circ desk.

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 8/20/2023

Well, writing this missive from inside a smoke attack so bad that we have the worst air quality in the world right now. Just two days ago, it finally cooled off from the nineties to a more pleasant 75, and I felt good enough to make a brief trip out to our local Woodinville Flower Farm […]

We came home, having spent time with finches singing and coming home with handfuls of corn and flowers, and decided to stay in for a couple of days while the smoke came in. It might be gone as soon as tomorrow. We’re also keeping a close eye on our friends in California which is facing a hurricane and flooding, so soon after the disaster hurricane/fire in Maui. We are hoping everyone stays safe.

So when the weather isn’t trying to kill us, we’ve got to get out and try to enjoy it. My second favorite season, fall, is approaching fast: Facebook is full of back-to-school pics, and I’m ready to shop for office supplies and cardigans—rituals I continue even without the school year structure.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Writing from Inside the Smoke: with a Brief Respite in a Flower Farm and Is It Fall Yet (September Readings and More)

In a NYT newsletter Saturday, Melisa Kirsch wrote about how time away from home can help you see your home’s absurdities. For her, time away makes her question everything about home and realize how much of what she has there is unneeded.

Boy, that’s not me.

Time away–in a place where it was too hot to go outside, where we didn’t have any furniture to sit on, where we lived out of a suitcase for weeks and weeks–has made me realize how much I appreciate what I have here. How much I appreciate a comfortable, functional home and being able to live the summer months in it.

So, I am busy cramming as much summer as I can into these last weeks of it. I was home for only one day before my daughter and I got in the car and drove north to visit my parents in the place that I really think of as home. Every cell of my being was craving big water and cool, marine air. It was actually pretty warm there, too, but low 80’s felt like such a relief after weeks of temperatures above 100.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Of dreams and time warps

This morning I set out with the old dog down the lane now overhung with trees heavy with seeds. There are now sloes in the hedges and crab apples, and small hard plums (bullaces?) appearing. As we turned onto the old bridal path and began to cross the grass I felt the dew on my skin of my feet, through my sandals; not unpleasant, it was refreshing, seeping under my soles, and up to my ankles, cool and silky. The horse chestnuts are already beginning to turn, already beginning to brown at the edges, the conkers already fat and spiked. There’s a scent to the air that is difficult to place: something loamy, earthy. We are nearing autumn.

This week I received some exciting news about a new poetry collection I’ve been working on. I can’t say anything yet, but it was the sort of news that made me leap about the room yelling. That sort of news doesn’t happen very often. It’s the sort of news that feels like a real step up the ladder. It came at just at the right time as I was feeling a little out of love with poetry and wondering where my work fit into the poetry ‘scene’. I need to take the advice I so often give mentees and just write the poems I enjoy writing, write for myself. It’s hard to write truthfully, to write authentically without feeling the pressure to conform to a certain style or a certain fashion. I don’t want to say too much about the collection until news is made official, but with this collection I took risks and pushed my own boundaries, and was worried that it might not work. Even though I felt it worked and that the poems had worth, another part of me was rubbishing my positivity. I have been working on undoing that internal voice of late, but it’s lovely to feel the validation of someone I respect hugely seeing worth in my work.

Wendy Pratt, Late Summer – A Sensory Experience – The Touch of Summer

The cat can tell the moment I’m awake.
He purrs because he knows breakfast will come.
It’s dark: I’m not so thrilled to be alert
this rainy Tuesday dawn, brain sputtering
on far too little sleep, running on fumes.
Next time the former president is indicted
for racketeering I shouldn’t stay awake
refreshing headlines, waiting for the news.
Of all the things that don’t belong in poems —
though justice does, blindfold and sword and scales.
This week our Torah portion is called Judges.
(I cannot make this up.) Too on the nose?
“Justice, justice” — Moses said it twice.
I live in hope. What else is there to do?

Rachel Barenblat, Pursue

I’m a little surprised I never titled a blog post “Home Again, Home Again” until now. I did title one “Jiggedy-Jig” on October 1, 2006. That was a short, Millay-Colony-aftermath update that included a prescient announcement: New manuscript title: “Theories of Falling”… 

As I type that, I feel both the nostalgic wave of joy that I got my first collection published at all, and then one of sadness that New Issues Poetry & Prose—which gave a start to so many poets, including Jericho Brown and Chet’la Sebree—was recently shuttered by the university that should have protected it. I have to link to the University of Chicago Press’s distribution page here, because that’s the last place one can easily survey the incredible back catalogue. You should grab copies while you can! The future of that distribution relationship is TBD once October 2023 is behind us. The New Issues website is down, perhaps for good, since there’s no longer staff to follow up on getting the URL registration renewed. Ooof. This is such a harrowing time for university presses and MFA programs on an infrastructure level, which is in such sharp contrast the vitality of these programs in person. 

People still sometimes find “Chicks Dig Poetry” through a particular archived post, or because someone mentions it while using an old bio note to introduce me at an event. I don’t plan on ever retiring the blog entirely unless (until) technology forces my hand, even if it survives simply as one or two posts a year. Everyone should have a place to speak freely on the internet, and recent months have made it clear that Facebook, Twitter/X, and other social media platforms are only “free” up until it is the whim of their owners to dictate otherwise. That surely applies to this place too—I notice that one of my posts has been flagged for “sensitive” content, though I can’t tell which one. But for now, I’ll treat it as the closest I have to a soapbox in the public square.

Sandra Beasley, Home Again, Home Again

Writing, at least for me, and at its heart, is necessarily incohate. Words come out. You work out what to do with them later. Or not: one way of thinking about literary modernism is as a kind of cult of the first draft (see, for instance, Virginia Woolf’s diary). Poetry, in particular, seems to grow in the gaps. Small poems, lyrics, appear like changelings in and among other things I thought I was writing. I might work them up in the ‘poetry’ book later, but they rarely start there.

This doesn’t mean they always come out looking like prose. Sometimes they do. Sometimes they are trying very hard (possibly too hard) to get away from the prose around them. I’ve come to think of poems like the mushrooms put up by fungi: sometimes they disguise themselves as the detritus they are feeding on, sometimes they look very different indeed. But it’s all one forest.

Without wanting to labour the metaphor, they are also, quite literally, feeding on wood. I’m not sure it would be possible for these different kinds of writing to get tangled up with one another if I was starting everything on a computer.

The impact of word processing is rarely discussed, even by writers. Like all technological changes, it is hard to see the scale of it from the inside. In this case, the key villain is the ‘document’. These are individual, bounded off from one another in the way that pages of a notebook aren’t. They also present themselves, on the screen, as something already published. The purpose is fixed from the beginning: there are no cracks left to grow in.

Jeremy Wikeley, Why poems are like mushrooms

How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
Attempting fiction and nonfiction writing in college was how poem writing first happened to me–I’d jot down ideas for essays or stories I couldn’t actualize offhand, stuff to unpack later, and littered a bunch of notebooks like that. When I of course never unpacked anything I realized I was enjoying more than anything the poetic potentiality of that shorthand. Then weirdly poems taught me how to reapproach prose with a more poetic posture, which has helped prose feel lively again. […]

Where does a poem or work of prose usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a “book” from the very beginning?
Poems tend to start as sound for me, in the air, usually when I’m walking or in a space in the day where it feels possible to ask a question, even a basic one, like what now? Then I work something out by hand in a notebook, pen and paper, sometimes many times, then transfer it into a document when the pages start to get so cluttered I can’t see the sound/thing anymore. So I go from trying to hear the thing to trying to see it. It’s in the document phase, when I’m working with something as standardized text, that it starts to harden into something that feels like a poetic object, as if the ease of pushing something around in a text doc is concurrent with the imminent sense of its hardening. That’s when I think I try to feel the poem, fix it until I think I feel it as an organism. Essays actually work similarly, or I’ve been applying my process with poems to prose writing. Books are still mysterious to me. I have no idea what a book is but I would like to write a good one.

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Jed Munson (rob mclennan)

Play with these tools a while, and you begin to recognize a pretentious, generalizing style that’s heavy on ecstatic adjectives. There’s no formal analysis in the ChatGPT essay, either; this is an irregular sonnet, a detail I consider pretty relevant. But the essay as a whole is fluently written, logically organized, and full of plausible points. Honestly, many first-years even at a highly selective college struggle to hit that baseline.

In fact, asking an AI tool to write an essay (or blog post) about a poem works better than asking for the same about a novel. If you can’t feed in the whole text, ChatGPT “hallucinates” evidence including, if you nudge it for textual analysis, atrociously fictitious quotes that a half-conscious teacher would instantly recognize as not part of the original. But cutting and pasting a short piece, such as a poem, into the query slot is easy and results in accurate quotations. The essay ChatGPT generated for me even noted a mix of abstract and concrete nouns in one of my lines–from a first-year writing student, that would impress me. […]

I remain worried about the students who struggle to write clear sentences. Now they can dump a draft in a query box and emerge with something pretty. Is that a great equalizer, enabling them to succeed and me to focus more wholly on the quality of their reasoning? Can they learn what they need to know by examining how AI “fixes” their writing? Or do they struggle with how to punctuate for the rest of their lives, needing to run every single email they write through an editing program, when in a previous world coursework might have nudged them to learn the rules?

Some good results I anticipate: literature and writing teachers will have to think hard about why we read and write, and how those reasons should inform what we teach. A sense of intimacy with other human minds via their personally chosen words will become even more electrifying. And easy generalizations about challenging texts will never again pass muster among anyone who is paying attention.

Lesley Wheeler, Writing about poetry with AI

To celebrate Poetry Month in Australia, I am sharing video poems and performances of some of my poems. I’ll also include a synopsis, a bit of history about how the poem came about, and the full text of the poem. Here’s the first one: LOST, a video poem. Enjoy!

In 2017, I won my first poetry slam hosted by Draw Your (S)words. As part of that prize I got to work with emerging film-maker Pamela Boutros to make short film or video poem of one of my poems. We spent a day shooting in Port Adelaide (Yertabulti) and made LOST. […]

regrets / i’ve had a few / but then again
the only thing i truly regret is
that i didn’t listen more
to the wind, shifting / the earth, trembling / and to my heart, that old chestnut
bcs if i had known how to listen
i might have discovered sooner how to trust
getting lost in these spaces / these places
between poems

Caroline Reid, Short Film: LOST, featuring Caroline Reid & Port Adelaide

I’ve been reading I Am Flying Into Myself, Selected Poems 1960-2014 by the “perpetually insolvent” poet Bill Knott. In his introduction, Thomas Lux describes Knott as a “quintessential, almost primal lyric poet, primal in the sense that his poems seem to emerge from his bone marrow as well as his heart and mind.” Knott was fond of creating neologisms, such as “shroudmeal,” “Rilkemilky,” and “gangplanking.” He was also, according to Lux, “thorny, original, accessible, electrical, occasionally impolite, and heartbreaking.”

Reading Knott’s poems made me want to stop reading them and start writing. I decided to try to decipher what they were doing to my brain, and how I could funnel the experience into some practical writing advice.

Erica Goss, Write More Poems

As the months wore on, and spring turned into the heavy heat of July, Sophie blurted out in the middle of a Monday, repotting a ficus benjamina, (a weeping fig) that her previous employer had killed herself. Sophie had previously been employed as a live-in cook/housekeeper, and the beautiful boyfriend had been there, too, working as the family’s car mechanic. “A poet,” she said.

HER KIND

I have gone out, a possessed witch,
haunting the black air, braver at night;
dreaming evil, I have done my hitch
over the plain houses, light by light:
lonely thing, twelve-fingered, out of mind.
A woman like that is not a woman, quite.
I have been her kind.

I have found the warm caves in the woods,
filled them with skillets, carvings, shelves,
closets, silks, innumerable goods;
fixed the suppers for the worms and the elves:
whining, rearranging the disaligned.
A woman like that is misunderstood.
I have been her kind.

I have ridden in your cart, driver,
waved my nude arms at villages going by,
learning the last bright routes, survivor
where your flames still bite my thigh
and my ribs crack where your wheels wind.
A woman like that is not ashamed to die.
I have been her kind.

Anne Sexton

Anne Sexton died on October 4th, 1974 and I met Sophie in the spring of 1975. It wasn’t hard to connect the dots. I so wanted to ask questions about what Sexton was really like, did she like working for her? But the only thing I remember is the anger that poured out of my co-worker. Angry at Sexton for leaving her family, for leaving her.

Sexton’s suicide, coming only 11 years after Sylvia Plath’s, shook the New England poetry world all over again. It was a terrible message to leave to a teenage poet. Did one have to kill herself to be held in high esteem as a woman poet? Did poetry and the hyper tragic go hand-in-hand? Somewhere in the backrooms of The Plant Company, Sophie taught me to reject that pain-filled legacy; to embrace weeping figs and date palms, jade trees and succulents instead. It’s a lesson I hold onto still.

Susan Rich, Anne Sexton and Me

All of my life I’ve been a one book at a time reader. My younger self would immerse herself in long sessions of a singular story. I could do that because I was young with few responsibilities and limited demands on my time. Even into my 20s life was simpler so reading mega-paged books was doable. Of course, as life became more complicated my reading suffered. It took much longer to read novels or memoirs. My working life got busier and busier so reading books became sporadic. Watching TV was easier, demanded less focus.

Fast forward, I discovered litmags on the internet.

Sidebar: when I bought my first laptop it sat on my coffee table closed most of the time. I couldn’t think of anything to look up! I’d only used a computer for work til then so I associated it with work. Then, Hurricane Katrina happened, making my laptop a communication line to events in my neighborhood and city while I was in exile and opening the online world to me.

Once I discovered litmags, most of my reading time was there. I still do lots of litmag reading, especially now that I “know” writers that I seek out to read. But I had an epiphany a while back: it’s ok to read more than one book at a time. I can do it. I am doing it. The key for me is reading in different genres. I know if I try to read, say, two novels about an inter-generational family I’ll get characters confused.

Charlotte Hamrick, Books: Down & Dirty

Portuguese poet Florbela Espanca (1894-1930), in her life and work, reminds me quite a bit of Edna St. Vincent Millay. The disadvantaged background giving rise to huge literary ambitions. The New Woman of early 20th century. Loving the sonnet form for its combination of control and ecstasy. The sustained aesthetics of late Romanticism and early Modernism. Her frequent use of exclamations is off-putting to my ear, but the deployment of ellipses gives her sonnets a rare quality of inarticulateness before the ineffable.

Jee Leong Koh, This Sorrow That Lifts Me Up

A J Akoto’s “Unmothered” explores the taboo of the failure of maternal love and becoming an unloved daughter. It does so without sentiment or the daughter, who voices most of these poems, feeling sorry for herself. Akoto has kept focused on the relationship, its fragmentation and fall out. The mother’s viewpoint is explored as the daughter tries to understand her behaviour, but mother claims her behaviour is motivated by love, a position the daughter struggles to follow. A startling collection which is confident enough to allow readers to inhibit and react to the poems.

Emma Lee, “Unmothered” A J Akoto (Arachne Press) – book review

In Metamorphosis, the next and final collection published during [Sanki] Saitō’s life, much of the work of answering the question ‘What is Life’ focuses on coming to terms with death, the deaths of family members and fellow poets:

A fly on his dead face –
I whisk it off.
just whisk it off

This sense of almost numb acceptance is frequently juxtaposed with a sense of personal struggle, a need for escape that is apparent in the poem that gives the collection its title:

On the green plateau
an unbridled horse, my metamorphosis –
Escape!

The sense of ecstatic relief expressed here is, I think, uncharacteristic. More mundane, yet for me at least more moving, is this poem from a few pages later:

Wanting to gain the strength
to rise and run away,
I eat potatoes

Here the need for escape is grounded in the earthy need for sustenance, for connection to the body. It’s fine, moving poem that opens up more and more on rereading.

This is a typically handsome Isobar volume, and Masaya Saito has, insofar as a non-reader of Japanese can judge, done sterling work in bringing a large representative sample of Saitō’s work to an English-speaking audience. In addition to selections from all the books he published when alive, he gives us a body of work that was either published posthumously or published in journals but never collected. For those of us interested in haiku as more than a museum piece, it’s a vital volume.

Billy Mills, Selected Haiku 1933–1962, Sanki Saitō, trans Masaya Saito: A Review

This week I have been reading issue 46 of The Dark Horse. To cut a long story short, it’s a tribute issue to Douglas Dunn in his 80th year, and a poem that pops up repeatedly in the contributors’ recollections and comments is Friendship of Young Poets—not sure this a a sanctioned link/publication of the poem, but have a look if you don’t know it. I didn’t, having only read Elegies and bits of Terry Street. I will be working my way through the lad’s catalogue now though.

After a week where there’s been some fractiousness in what we can loosely call “poetry world”, or at least a small corner of it, a line like “the friendship of poets,/ mysterious,[…]” seems apt enough for me, and a good place to end.

Mat Riches, Putting in a fest-shift

In the first half of the poem we’re very much looking down: the leaves, the path, the mud. I can almost see my welly boots nosing into the picture. As we near familiar territory though, attention drifts upwards to the leaves in the trees, the wind, the birds. Time seems to slow down as we join the poet in attentive presence, in “quiet applause”. And then this lift at the end, as we’re swept into a more expansive kind of consciousness that reaches out and beyond. It’s a beautiful, transcendent finish. Big-hearted, and at the same time emotionally complex, embracing human connectedness and limits. Spiritual, we might call it.

Indeed there is religious imagery here – the congregation, the dove. Incidentally, I love how the speaker doesn’t just perceive but “joins” the trees. There is a deep appreciation for the natural world in this poem. Or maybe that’s the wrong way of putting it, implying a kind of separateness. We’re not looking on here, but from within. At the centre of the poem is this line, “they have no book”, and I find myself thinking that the spirituality here is one that’s available to all of us, regardless of faith: to “breathe, drink light and listen”.

Jonathan Totman, Morning

The rain falls and falls
cool, bottomless, and prehistoric
falls like night —
not an ablution
not a baptism
just a small reason
to remember
all we know of Heaven
to remember
we are still here
with our songs and our wars,
our space telescopes and our table tennis.

Here too
in the wet grass
half a shell
of a robin’s egg
shimmers
blue as a newborn star
fragile as a world.

Maria Popova, Spell Against Indifference

My own sense of the spiritual, of the divine, has always remained at a distance: I was raised attending religion but never garnered a faith (I write poems for a living, so I don’t think I can claim to live without faith), growing up amongst the dour, stoic and unspoken ripples of old-style Scottish Protestantism. It was years before I understood my father’s own devotion, let alone the depth of it, attending weekly services as far more than a matter of routine or cultural habit, always appearing to me as a matter of custom, gesture and rote. I’ve long repeated that I’m somewhere between atheist and agnostic – I’m not sure what I don’t believe – but hold an admiration for those who carry spirituality as a matter of good faith, instead of, say, those who believe uncritically (including a refusal to question, which seems unsettling), or use any of their beliefs as bludgeon, or as a false sense of entitlement or superiority. Listen to Stephen Colbert, for example, speak of his Catholicism: an interview he did with Jim Gaffigan a couple of years back on The Late Show I thought quite compelling, in which they spoke of their shared faith. There are ways to be positive, and through this collection, [Kaveh] Akbar not only finds it, but seeks it out, and embraces it.

There is such a lightness, a delicate touch to the poems assembled here, one that broadcasts a sense of song and a sense of praise to the notion of finding that single spark of light in the dark. “Somehow eternity / almost seems possible / as you embrace.” writes Ranier Maria Rilke, as part of ‘The Second Duino Elegy’ (as translated by David Young), “And yet / when you’ve got past / the fear in that first / exchange of glances / the mooning at the window / and that first walk / together in the garden / one time: / lovers, are you the same?” There is such a sense of joy, and hope, and celebration across this collection of lyrics, traditions, cultures, languages and faiths. If there is a thread that connects us all together, might it be the very notion of hope? If this collection is anything to go by, that might just be the case. Whether spiritual or otherwise, this is an impressive and wonderfully-expansive collection that can only strengthen the heart.

rob mclennan, The Penguin Book of Spiritual Verse: 110 Poets on the Divine, ed. Kaveh Akbar

We went to Edinburgh for the start of the Festival to see the Grit Orchestra, and it has developed a few more thoughts on culture and tradition first inspired by a short on-line course I took dealing with the archive at Tobar an Dualchais, which I want to develop over the next few posts. There is a crossover with the thinking I was doing on healing and recovery earlier this year, and the work I am still trying to do on the Nine Herbs Charm, via the concept of ‘Lǣc’. I wrote about it a while back

‘Lǣc’ is the important stuff you do when you aren’t ‘working’ – what my Church used to call ‘servile’ work’ – all the life admin, busywork, earning a living, mundane day to day stuff. ‘Lǣc’ is ‘recreation’ spelled re-creation as the self-help books do, holiday spelled ‘holy day’ as they used to do in the Middle Ages, the difference between ‘relieving symptoms’ and ‘healing’.

It’s a bit more than healing, though. It’s a communal activity, with a link to the sacred. It is demanding, and needs ‘duende’ – when I first read about it I thought of the Zen art of archery, or the tea ceremony, and the ‘lek’ where grouse and capercaillie meet in forest clearings to strut their stuff. And this brought me to the Eightsome Reel and the William Wallace quotation in the title, from before his country-defining victory at the Battle of Stirling Bridge. It occurs to me that this art, this culture, is serious stuff:

To sing here you will need
to open the heart,
the lungs and voice,
and meet it square.
You can’t sing from hiding,
nor drunk or afraid.
You can’t sing this softly
like chocolate in the sun.
You must give yourself
to the fight with all your strength.
It will take all you’ve got.
It will feel like death.

The Outcry from The Wren in the Ash Tree, in Haggards

Now that summer is over, I am here, at the ring. Now to see if I can dance!

Elizabeth Rimmer, I Have Brought You to the Ring

What is spirit: This is a question much addressed in poetry. There are many questions much addressed in poetry that weary me, but this is not one, this mystery, one that confronts us with every loss.

Here is the first portion of a poem by Michael Klein called “Scenes for an elegy”:

I haven’t learned to live abandonedly yet
mother & wonder when I dream of you
if I’m meant to & if there’s such a thing as light
going on without us–or if we die into what
I think we do: something already finished
that we’re just adding us to

And I love this image from his poem “Captured”:

…the empty field with the wind thrown over it.

Isn’t that great?

Klein writes many poems that feel elegiac, and beautifully so, whether he is mourning a lost marriage, a lost youth, or a dead friend, so beautifully that life rises inevitably from these poems. I had not known his work before but have enjoyed the time I’ve spent with it this week. He has a new and selected volume coming out some time soon from The Word Works. Keep an eye out for it.

Marilyn McCabe, Gathering up the tears; or, On Elegies

who hasn’t an eye that refuses light

        and helpless blood in their breast

when shall our honey smell faintly of death

Grant Hackett [no title]

I only bought Linda Pastan’s collection, The Last Uncle (WW Norton & Co 2002),a few months ago. I bought it after reading the title poem on a poetry website. It rang so true as I lost my last two uncles at the end of 2022 and the beginning of this year and one of my cousins had said, ‘We’re the older generation now.’ I wrote about it on here. 

Reading through the collection today it’s another poem (‘The Vanity of Names’) that reaches me. It’s about a house staying ‘fixed in its landscape./ Rooms will be swept clean/ of all its memories. Doors will close./ Even the animal graves out back/ will forget who planted the bones/ …’ I am selling the house I was born in, two years after my parents died. In those two years I have spoken to them there and watched grief change shape. I felt less of their absence and more of their eternal presence. I came to be comforted by the home they lived in from the moment it was built in April 1957 until March 2021. But it is still hard letting it go. And that’s going to happen in the next few weeks: my last visit, the last time I open the front door. The last time I step into the room I was born in. The last time I close the door and turn the key. Before handing it to a stranger.

Pastan understands that her house ‘will enter/ the dreams of other people’ but ‘to acquiesce/ is never easy. It is to love the unwritten future/ almost as well as the fading past./ It is to relinquish the vanity of names/ which are already disappearing/ with every cleansing rain …’ Yes. A leap of faith into an unwritten future. And, ‘the cleansing rain’. I can work with those. 

Lynne Rees, The Sealey Challenge

But everything sinks that once
rose; everything returns to the cradle

where it was forged. There is talk
about planting barriers of seagrass,

raising walls against the onrush of water.
With arms the sheen of oyster pearl,

the current pulls its retinue of ship-
wrecks and prehistoric fish.

Rivers dream of the day
they are returned to themselves.

Luisa A. Igloria, Riverine