Here are a few things that caught my eye this past week. If you’re new to the Poet Bloggers Revival Tour, read Donna Vorreyer’s explanatory blog post with the official list of participants (expanded with a bunch of new bloggers on Friday). I may occasionally also include links from other poetry bloggers whom I’ve been following for years, and who may be too antisocial or commitment-averse to join the revival tour. If you missed last week’s digest, here’s the archive.
This week, a lot of poets have been blogging about books…
I have a little game I play in bookstores. First I find the poetry section. Then I run my eyes along the shelf, head cocked to the right so I can read the books’ skinny spines. I’m looking for a book I’ve never read by an author I’ve never heard of. I’m looking for something new and strange, for the experience that only poetry delivers. I want to be moved.
Yesterday in J. Michaels Bookstore which has a better-than-average poetry section, I scanned the shelves until I found City of Regret by Andrew Kozma. I pulled it from the shelf and held it in my hands. Yes, I felt it: the ripple of intuition informing me that I had found the book.
I tested my intuition a step further. Part of the game requires me to find a poem that is one or more of the following: a) deeply disturbing, but in a good way; b) weirdly provocative; or c) just weird. I opened the book to page 7 and read: […]
Erica Goss, The Bookstore Game
The books on the shelves
one or the other
does not depend
on which words we choose
in a game of Concentration
we don’t know
we are playing
Kevin J. O’Conner, Bookstore Poem #56. A few words about words
Recently, I spent awhile browsing the Walter Kerr collection of books in the library of the college that employs me. Kerr and his wife Jean were writers in New York in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s; he was best known as a theater critic and she as a playwright and essayist. His family donated his books to the school, and it occurred to me during my perusal that this section of the stacks seems more personal than the collection as a whole. Here are Kerr’s quirky book choices, his favored influences, his academic interests with a place among the trendier tomes on movies and Broadway.
A personal library acts as a unit, books that are kept together rather than disbursed upon the death (or before-death donation) of the book collector. It therefore parallels–and predates, of course–the social media concept of the curated self[.]
Ann E. Michael, Curation
I’ve done just enough archival work to be fascinated by poets’ commonplace books. It’s been more than a decade since I worked among Marianne Moore’s papers at the Rosenbach, but I was impressed by her fantastically crabbed hand in a series of tiny notebooks, recording quotations she liked. At the Library of Congress, you can leaf through Edna St. Vincent Millay’s sparser notes, mixing drafts, travel plans, and lists of poems that might go together in her next collection. And how I wish Anne Spencer had kept notebooks! Instead, I learned last summer how hard it is to date any of her drafts, many of which must be lost in any case, because she penciled ideas on any scrap of paper or cardboard within reach.
Lesley Wheeler, Twitter as commonplace book
When I went down to Los Angeles in November last year to empty my storage unit (and do some poetry readings), I discovered that at some point (probably during the terrible rain storms that hit in earlier in 2017), water had leaked from the roof and damaged some of boxes of books I had stored. In total, I lost around 30 books (out of 900) and 50% of a collection of sample issues from different literary journals (roughly 100 items ruined). While I wasn’t particularly attached to the literary journals (they were just representative samples I sometimes use in workshops), I did feel sad that they were all headed to the dump. So I decided to try to find a way to salvage them — then reclaim a line or two from different poems and weave them together into something new. In the end, I choose to use couplets rather than single lines (so these aren’t centos exactly — although you might argue they’re 2-per-centos (gah, I can’t believe I just wrote that!).
Neil Aitken, Project: Cut Up Poem #1
Ten years ago, I didn’t write many poems, and the ones I wrote were not worth anyone’s attention. Five years ago I put my mind to it and determined to do something about it. Don’t ask me why, because I’m not precisely sure, but the thing is that essentially, I followed the exhortation of that Nike advert. Just do it. Whatever it is, do it, as well as you can. Don’t put it off, don’t make excuses, don’t talk yourself out of it. Just do it. And then keep on doing it. It’s really that simple. […]
The thing is, you won’t get better if you keep mediocre company. You learn from the company you keep. […] When it comes to poetry, I’ve set myself an annual task/routine. I choose a poet who I like via a handful of poems. It has to be a poet who’s kept on writing and writing. Enough to have a big fat Collected Poems. And then I read X poems every day for a year till I get to the end. So far Ive read Charles Causley, Norman McCaig, and U A Fanthorpe like this, and on January 1st this year I started on David Constantine. 374 big fat pages.
John Foggin, Just do it
I received my contributor’s copy of what I suspect will be a very important book—for me, surely—and perhaps for others. How to be a Poet strikes me as not only “a twenty-first century guide to writing well”, but also a guide to living well as a writer.
I also quite like the alternative title proposed in the introduction: “A Poem-Writer’s Guide to the Galaxy.” After all, we contain multitudes.
It features the wisdom of two of my favourite poetry people: Jo Bell and Jane Commane, interspersed with excellent guest contributions by Mona Arshi, Jonathan Davidson, Clive Birnie, and many other well-known names in UK poetry. I thought I’d spend a moment or two thumbing through it on the couch when it arrived. I couldn’t put it down.
Robert Peake, How to be a Poet
As a teacher, whether or for a creative writing or literature course, I simply do not use anthologies, just for these very reasons. I also dislike anthologies because they amount to a goofy, disjointed “greatest hits,” reifying the idea that a poem is singular, discrete, and denuded construct. Most poems I know are in direct contact with the other works of the poet, finding some kind of home, some kind of deeper contextualization, in a book. Thus, I order individual books of poetry when I teach a class.
A literature syllabus is really not that much different than your typical anthology, but what I like about ordering individual books is that I end up covering fewer authors–this amplifies the absences, that my students understand that I’m casting a small, small net, and there’s no pretense of being comprehensive. We also get a chance to study the works in relation to other poems in the book, explore the conversations between very good and not-so-very good poems (but where the “mediocre” poems may be more impactful). We erase the editors of collections, the intermediaries, and all their credentials, all their impressive footnoting and bibliographies.
Jim Brock, De-canon, Irish Women Poets, and What I Do
I am working on being mindful in my actions and making better choices with my time, and it’s not always easy. I am trying to bring back my deep focus in life. I can be so distracted, so drawn into the shiny object, the quick fix, the impulse purchase, reaching for my phone when I should be reaching for a pen. […]
Technology is wonderful when it’s not zapping our time. I try to use it to my advantage when I can. I know I’ll still get sucked in to some sort of time waster (did you know my high-score on Tetris is 98,000?) but I find the more I care for my artistic pursuits, the less I want to eat the junk food of the internet, the more I reach for the healthy book option and the exercise of writing.
Kelli Russell Agodon, Strange Inspirations: Past Resolutions & Tools to Help You Stay Focused Today
Though Silent Anatomies hovers close to the women in the family, it also works to understand the silence of fathers and grandfathers, to understand what is beneath surface of a tongue. Many of the poems are arranged in series, in “Profunda Linguae” the poems are captions for diagrams that reveal the muscular structures of the tongue, these diagrams are arranged over the Chinese-Filipino recipes her mother typed on her father’s prescription pad when her mother first came to the United States. […]
It is a shame that so many book contests specifically state that if a manuscript has images, to leave them out; what a loss it would have been if a book as rich and complex as Silent Anatomies were never published due to such constraints. Fortunately, Ong’s marvelous collection does exist in the world and so our notions of gender, race, culture, and identity are further challenged with grace and precision. In Silent Anatomies Monica Ong has seamlessly woven a multilayered collection that in its form of combining images and text is in itself a revelation, these visual poems intimately reveal the ways in which our bodies are sewn to our families, and our tongues are sewn to our cultures, but also the way art can transcend any boundary.
Anita Olivia Koester, Diagram of a Tongue: Silent Anatomies by Monica Ong
Last semester, a visiting writer told the audience that “empathy is overrated.” As you can imagine, this bit of glib frosting wasn’t what I was expecting (read: immediate sinking feeling) because I believe in empathy, I promote empathy, and I knew my very literal students would take this young writer’s word as gospel, whereas I knew he was just being flip. You have to have life experience to be truly cynical, and I personally think that this young writer was given success on a platter. So his ennui was facade. I get it. We all wear masks. He even confessed to wishing he were marginalized. He felt he should be writing about that. But to write about that, I think you need to have lived the experience, right? Of course, all of this plays into stereotypes, which seems to be my battleground– to help my students, family, friends see that our culture reinforces stereotypes in our everyday life. Now, more than ever, we need to question authority. Authority. Just look at that word, with “author” big as life itself. Is the author reliable? Do we believe what we are reading, hearing? I think this is the challenge nowadays, trying to figure out what is the truth. To think we’re all living in a pop-up book.
M.J. Iuppa, Writing from Place
Now he’s bedridden and can barely speak. I went to see him for Christmas day. I lay on the bed beside him and held his hand and told him about my travels, about the town where I was teaching poetry in Estonia, where on the Russian side of the river there was a great castle facing another castle on the Estonian side. And how it had been bombed to smithereens during the Soviet occupation. Of course he’d been there. He’s been everywhere in the world. He tried to talk back, able only to say a few words which I pieced together into sentences, just like writing a poem.
I understood two stories, told in a string of words, that he’d once seen an abandoned church in Estonia and had carried a photograph of the ruins with him for a long time but had since lost the photograph. (ruins–church–Estonia–picture–lost) The other was that he’d wandered into the inner courtyard of a museum in St. Petersburg and to his amazement found eighty live bears gathered there. (St. Petersburg-Museum-Courtyard-Eighty Bears).
Heather Derr-Smith, Dear New Year
Corpse pose is a preparation for death, not a moment to fear, but rather a letting go. I slide into the velvety, warm blackness, this state of consciousness where poetry is born.
Christine Swint, What I Need Is More Yoga