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 5

river in November light between bare woods and mountain

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

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

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Poetry Blog Digest 2024, Week 4

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 edition begins and ends with small trees, and features tongue fire, a dandelion seed, a shirt soaked with life, little pooping monsters, and magic shoes, among other signs and wonders. 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 49

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: telephones, traumas, holiday gift ideas, cris de coeur, and a lonely vending machine. 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 45

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, we embrace the miscellany: the poetics of wrongness, chaos and magic, love and rage, untethering, unknowing. Enjoy.


This one is 17×57. It’s tentatively called “A Mother Who Loves Books,” because I was thinking of my mother when I made it, and the text is a poem from Let it Be a Dark Roux, “My Mother’s Perfume.” It’s linen, and I am loving how unfinished linen looks like on the edges. I’ve been working on a few more, unfinished, pieces using torn linen, and I can’t imagine tiring of the tearing for awhile. There’s something powerfully, almost…archaic about linen that’s unraveling a bit at the edges.

Sheryl St. Germain, Color Dreams

Last week, I attended the launch of Matthew Stewart’s collection, Whatever You Do, Just Don’t (HappenStance Press) and Mat Riches’s Collecting the Data. The latter, available here from Red Squirrel Press, is Mat’s long-awaited and excellent debut pamphlet. The launch itself was a joyous and merrily raucous occasion, with readings not only from the two launchers, but also some mighty fine guest readers – Eleanor Livingstone, Hilary Menos and Maria Taylor.

There was a lot of love and affection in the room for Mat and his warm, witty  and well-crafted poems.

Matthew Paul, On Mat Riches’s ‘Half Term at Longleat Safari Park’

And it’s only now that I’ve managed to really sit and think about the fact that I have an actual book out there in the world. I’m not 100% convinced I will ever truly come to terms with it. There’s certainly a feeling of well, what now…? The poems are out there, people actually own them in a book. I’m not there to read them to them with an intro. That’s quite a strange feeling to come to terms with, but I’m getting there. What do I write next? When? How? For who? All good questions, but not for today. And not a question for this book.

I’ve found myself sitting and staring at it whenever I’ve had a spare moment. It’s a beautifully produced thing, just looking at it as an object it astonishing.

Mat Riches, Dating the collective

Last weekend I attended a funeral for a family member. “Have you been doing any writing?” my cousin’s husband asked me. He was a musician when I first knew him; after his son was born he gave up playing professionally and took a full-time day job with good pay and benefits. For years he has asked me this almost every time I see him, and my answer is always the same: “Not really.”

“How come?”

I shrug and smile. The real answer feels like too much to say in a big group of people standing around a small kitchen. I don’t actually know what the real answer is, but I know that much about it.

There is nothing like an unexpected funeral for someone younger than your parents to make you contemplate what it is you are doing with your life, and how it might be even shorter than you have, in recent years, come to realize it is.

“Are you just feeling like you don’t have anything to say?” he asked.

“Yeah,” I said, nodding. That is a truth: I don’t have anything I feel compelled to say. But I was also thinking: Or maybe too much. And: There’s not enough time. And: There are so many voices in the world already, so much that I feel like I’m drowning in the cacophony.

Rita Ott Ramstad, It’s been a lot

this room this bright quilt
winter waits on the other side
of these dark windows
elsewhere cities
in dust and rubble
everywhere cities

on fire all this has nothing
to do with me the naked child running
through fire has nothing to do with me
these buildings become dust
have nothing to do with me
I sit on this bright quilt

blue and white and red
patterns of flowers and thread
I drink from my modern porcelain
blue and white cup a pale
version of Italian cappuccino
what is true? who is to blame?

Sharon Brogan, there is no good news

Where does a poem 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?

A poem usually starts for me with a bit of language that I overhear or receive subconsciously. Many poems start with my wife, the poet Kodi Saylor, saying something incredible. I’ll often respond, “That sounds like a line of a poem,” and she’s usually like, “Well, go and write it then.” Usually that little snippet of language has some rhythmic quality that suggests a next line. That’s usually enough to get started. I let the rhythm and associations of sound and image suggest themselves and just go with it. The poem emerges. I try not to overthink it, but of course I do sometimes. Currently, I’m much more of a writer of short pieces that accumulate into a larger project. The stakes are lower for me that way which is important for me to combat the voice of the perfectionist that lives inside me.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Matt Broaddus

My name is on the book cover, but the book is in fact written by many hands. My grateful thanks to the many Singaporeans in America who shared their stories with me and gave me permission to write them up in verse. Here it is, a book about us: SAMPLE AND LOOP: A SIMPLE HISTORY OF SINGAPOREANS IN AMERICA.

“Based on personal interviews, these poems together tell a part of the story of the migration of Singaporeans to the United States of America. Sample and Loop traces the nonlinear, multidimensional, and surprising trajectory of lived experience in musical verse. Here are the Ceramicist, the Pediatrician, the Scenic Designer, the Chef, the Porn Star, and a host of other migrant-pilgrims sharing the tales of their lives even as they continue to make those lives in a country not of their birth. By narrating their discoveries, troubles, hopes, and sorrows, they refract a powerful beam of light on both countries and compose a wayward music for the road.”

All sale proceeds go to Singapore Unbound, the NYC-based literary organization that envisions and works for a creative and fulfilling life for everyone. You can find the book on Bookshop.org and Amazon.

Jee Leong Koh, Sample and Loop: A Simple History of Singaporeans in America

[The Poetics of Wrongness], published earlier this year, is made up of four sections of newly edited texts originally delivered as lectures as part of the Bagley Wright Lecture Series (2016). Publisher Wave Books calls it [Rachel] Zucker’s “first book of critical non-fiction” and refers to its sections as “lecture-essays of protest and reckoning.” It says the poetics of wrongness itself — the list of anti-tenets Zucker offers as a new poetics — offers a “way of reading, writing and living that might create openness, connection, humility and engagement.” […]

This book strips off the itchy robe of what’s presumed to make poems successful (“Oh, teacher, I say you are wrong,” p. 8) and streaks through the halls of academia and publishing. It jumps over gates. It walks on the grass. It picks locks. This book encourages a build-our-own poetics. This book is a middle finger to the tools of the patriarchy embedded in so many of the “rules.” It disturbs the universe that makes oppressors comfortable and offers renewed, modern senses for beauty and time.

Carolee Bennett, my love letter to “the poetics of wrongness”

tonight i will show you
one thing. here is the bowl of whipped cream.
here is the spoon i use. here is
the way my stomach feels full of clouds
when i am done. here is how
i try to lick the last tastes of sweetness
from the bottom of the bowl.

Robin Gow, 11/11

One of my goals for 2023 was to want nothing from my creative work but good work. I mean, obviously, we all want things, book sales, publication opportunities, someone to just acknowledge that we exist and don’t suck. And partaking in things like social media and promo is part of it. But earlier this year I decided that those things, that kind of scrambling, was not where my best efforts lay and maybe I get more enjoyment from sharing and letting the chips fall as they may. I would continue to write and share things and express myself and create tiny strange worlds. It was freeing, but also think it kind of tripped me up. What to do? Where to go? If I am not struggling to get people to buy my books, read my publications, come to readings, etc. how does anyone ever encounter my work in a way that makes me feel seen? I tried to channel those energies into the writing instead, but what happened is that every great piece I wrote felt like yet another brick in a wall that made me lonelier. I am not sure I have crawled out of this funk just yet, but I am writing daily again. So we will see how I fare.

Maybe it’s chaos. And maybe it’s okay that it’s chaos. That it all means nothing. I will write and people will read it or they won’t. They will buy books and read posts or maybe they won’t. I will just keep doing my weird little things and take the joy from that. No one cares. It’s terrifying and sad. But it’s also kinda magical. Like tiny spells you throw out into the world and maybe one lands somewhere that needs it.

Kristy Bowen, chaos and magic

In 2000, friends of mine saw [Stanley] Kunitz read at the Dodge Festival. They both witnessed him helped to the stage and from their seats, they could see nothing but the crown on his balding head. But then something incredible happened. As Kunitz began to read, he became taller, his face appearing above the podium. It was as if poetry (they said) had restored his youth. Reading his poetry to a receptive audience brought him more fully to life. I have never forgotten that…

Here is a stellar interview I discovered today between Gregory Orr and Stanley Kunitz taped when Kunitz was 88 years old. He reads “Father and Son,” a poem written when Kunitz was a young man, giving a hard and uncompromising vision of his dad. Orr offers that Kunitz is the first poet to write of his father in this way. Kunitz shakes that accolade off but he has lots of important things to say about poetry. He also reads, “The Portrait,” a kind of self-portrait, perhaps one of the first pieces that has led to our preponderance of self-portrait poems today.

GO: What purpose does poetry serve?

SK: Poetry is most deeply concerned with telling us what it feels like be alive. To be alive at any given moment….Before the poets we had no idea what it meant to be a human person on this earth.

Wow. Kunitz lived to be 100. He won the Pulitzer prize when he was 63, became Poet Laureate at 95. He is an incredible example of poetry being a life long pursuit. When it was an incredibly unpopular thing to do, Kunitz consciously chose to elevate domestic experience in poetry. This was before Roethke, before Lowell, before Plath.

Susan Rich, Stanley Kunitz on my fridge, in the garden, and the joy of surviving.

Are your dreams shuffling
like cards (a random draw
flashing in the dim light),

stretching like strange cats,
or climbing upwards,
clutching to rockweed,

stiff salt stalks of kelp
guiding seaworthy
travelers from weight

of the waters to
the weightlessness
of approaching stars?

PF Anderson, Dear You

Writing is noticing, but it can also be the song of oneself. It can speak of who you are. And it gives you the opportunity of declaring it in your own voice and in your own words.  As UK writer John Berger writes, “Nobody knows exactly why birds sing as much as they do. What is certain is that they don’t sing to deceive themselves or others. They sing to announce themselves as they are.”

We can speak of the experience of others. We can speak of the experience of ourselves. In writing, you take agency. It is your story, your words and you are saying them when you want to. And writing imagines community. Perhaps you imagine sharing your words with another. Of creating a connection. Of being in this—all of this—together.

There’s an iconic poem called “Motto,” by Bertolt Brecht that you perhaps have heard:

In the dark times
Will there also be singing?
Yes, there will also be singing.
About the dark times.

What does singing about the dark times mean? If we sing a happy song in a dark time, we know we are singing in the context of that dark time. Maybe it is a defiant, subversive act, a refusal to despair or be cowed by the darkness. If we sing darkly about the dark times, we name what is happening. We name what we are experiencing. We remember our humanity, our shared humanity. Our story may be dark, but we are the ones telling it. To tell the story is to have agency. […]

As a small child in Ireland, I remember hunting around my dad’s office and finding a little box that perfectly held a hundred blank index cards. The box seemed so magical and full of possibility I knew I had to write some magic spells, some mysterious incantations. I snuck the box into my room and immediately began writing on the cards. I didn’t know any spells but I wanted to capture the feeling of magic so I just made up a script. No one could read it, not even me. But that wasn’t the point. I filled all the index cards with this cursive hoodoo. My goal was to create a feeling, to use the form of spells and the loops and swirls, scratches and knurls of my invented script. I was whispering to life itself. We were connecting. My writing put me at the centre of speaking. In the middle of secrets. 

Gary Barwin, THE SONG OF OURSELVES IN THE SHADOW OF NOW, a speech about the importance of writing in dark times

This poem had its genesis in my move from London to the village of Rottingdean on the south coast of England, where you can stand on the South Downs and listen to the sea at the same time. Words and images often float up when I’m walking here, and I type them into my mobile app before they disappear. Then, when there are enough of them and they’ve had time to ripen, I sit at my computer and see what happens.

Winter shadows are accentuated in open spaces. When there are contours too, you get shadow magic, where you see your shape, or that of others, distorted, elongated, living a separate existence. Much of A Pocketful of Chalk is about seeing the ordinary from a different perspective, finding new aspects of yourself in the full glare of nature. We create mechanical things such as a windmill to harvest nature, and perhaps, because of this, become giants in our own minds. By the end of the poem, however, I’m insubstantial, ‘I float in the beaks of birds’.

Drop-in by Claire Booker (Nigel Kent)

At the terminal’s

edge, sunset outlines a row of cranes so they look
like a fleet of otherworldly sentinels, snouts

scouting the air. And I can hardly bear to watch the news:
for instance, today, a father wept as he dug, in vain,

for his children’s bodies. Around the bombed ruins of homes
can we say it is by luck or grace the living grieve? Even

the youngest ones can’t stop trembling: this word, from
the Latin tremulus—pertaining to the trauma of a wound.

Luisa A. Igloria, Tremble

My first purchase from Trickhouse Press was the inaugural Oulipo Puzzle Book (Spring 2022), one of a series of four delightful anthologies of poem puzzles that are informed by various constraints. In your introduction to Issue 4, you write:

‘My secret belief about Oulipo, in poetry and otherwise, is that the joy of Oulipo lies in the crafting of an Oulipo work moreso than in the reading of one…. What I’ve attempted to begin with this series of puzzle books is to put the pen in the reader’s hand, quite literally, and create spaces for readers to engage in Oulipoean thinking themselves. An Oulipo puzzle isn’t just a puzzle or a word game – it can also be a writing prompt, a springboard, a summertime, an autumn leaf, or a winter wondering land.’

Can you expand on this, with particular reference to your own relationship to poetry – as a reader, student, editor, and writer?

Dan [Power]: When I was a kid I was obsessed with wordsearches and mazes – actually I still am – and I liked making them and drawing them even more than trying to solve them. It’s very satisfying when you’re putting together a wordsearch or a crossword and you find the perfect word that intersects with the other words you’ve put down, and fills the space you’ve got left. Similarly with Oulipo, I like the challenge of writing under a constraint. I’m not great at it, and I think the things I’ve written that I’m most proud of came about from writing with absolutely no constraints, but it’s much more satisfying to complete an Oulipo poem because it has a kind of finality to it – there’s set rules, and a task to be completed within those rules, and eventually you get to a point where you can say for sure that it’s finished. There’s no finality with an unconstrained poem, you can keep editing and changing it forever. I thought of Oulipo writing as a kind of problem-solving, and a puzzle book working with Oulipian constraints seemed like a logical thing to make.

The idea for the Oulipo puzzle books came a few years ago when I was trying to get my head around how cryptic crosswords work, and I realised they had their own pretty consistent sets of constraints, and I wanted to see what other kinds of puzzles were possible by placing different sets of constraints on different kinds of puzzles. I also liked the idea of Oulipo as a method or a process, and was always more interested in the process of creating an Oulipo work than the finished work itself, trying out different combinations of words, exploring all possible avenues, tracing all possible connections… placing constraints on a piece of writing really makes you consider all the different detours it can take! As I said in the quote you mentioned, the puzzle books are about trying to give the reader that experience. The unfinished puzzles aren’t the poems, and the solutions aren’t either, they’re more like prompts – the poetry is going on in the reader’s head, it’s the thinking and the problem-solving itself.

Marian Christie, Anything could happen – An Interview with Dan Power of Trickhouse Press

The launch event for the Hastings Stanza Anthology last month was standing room only, and we were thrilled to raise several hundred pounds for the brilliant Refugee Buddy Project. Copies are still available (ask me) and since we’ve covered our costs all sales income now goes to the Project. The cover features a painting by the multi-talented Judith Shaw and there’s lots of lovely work in this book as you can see from the below.

I went to the London launch of Clare Best‘s new collection Beyond the Gate last month and it was a super evening. Unfortunately, having to leave to catch a train while Clare was still surrounded by a crowd of acolytes, I was delighted when my signed copy arrived in the post. It’s an excellent collection. I do love Clare’s work.

Also on my ‘to be read’ pile: Isabel Galleymore Significant Other (Carcanet) and Jane Clarke A Change in the Air (Bloodaxe), both poets I’m going to be interviewing soon for the podcast. Jane’s book was shortlisted for the Forward Prize this year and is on the TS Eliot shortlist. And I’m pretty sure Isabel’s collection was on the shortlists a couple of years ago.

Good news on the submissions front – Pindrop Press has offered to publish my collection next year and I’ve signed the contract, so I guess it’s official.  I’ve been so impressed with editor Sharon Black’s communication and enthusiasm. I feel very fortunate indeed, and in safe hands.

Robin Houghton, Currently reading, plus an anthology & a contract

I find it impossible not to feel guilty that I’m living a life without hardship and pain when others are not. But guilt is a pretty useless emotion, isn’t it, and rather self-indulgent. I have allowed myself to switch off the news and to think of other things once I’ve written and donated and done the small empathetic actions available to me.

On Saturday, I met with others from Trowbridge Stanza, the monthly poetry group I organise, and I ran a workshop centred on the Penned in the Margins anthology Adventures in Form. There were ten of us, reading about, trying out exercises, writing and sharing fragments of writing that might become poems. The session was quite tiring but fun and stimulating, according to feedback!

Josephine Corcoran, Guilt and Empathy

We stand on the street corner
for those whose streets run red
with blood and fire.

We stand on the street corner,
praying to awaken
from our collective nightmare,

to discover it was all a dream,
that we are safe in the arms of loved ones,
that all we hear are birds

and the laughter of children.

Jason Crane, POEM: Vigil

It’s a wide spectrum between the frictions of our daily lives and the bombs and rubble of Gaza and Ukraine, the Peace Wall in Belfast, but we’re all on it somewhere. When my Jewish friends worry about the surge in hate crimes, in verbal abuse on social media and on the streets, I sympathise of course, it must be horrible and frightening, but I’ve been surprised to find it so difficult. On summer Saturdays I have to listen to my neighbours singing songs about wading up to their knees in my blood, and we’re supposed to take it for granted – it’s just the marching season. When I hear people who wouldn’t personally be mean to a soul complaining that ‘you’re not allowed to say anything any more’, I wonder how their queer neighbours or their disabled friends feel about that. And when we say ‘we must be able to get along and why can’t people just be nice to each other?’ I think we don’t really understand peace at all.

Elizabeth Rimmer, Peace, Peace! They Say but There Is No Peace

gale force
how the shadows gesticulate
on the morning wall

Jim Young [no title]

“Where” was inspired by my maternal grandmother, who died in October 2000 after suffering from both cancer and Alzheimer’s. The poem began with a realization that what I wonder about more than where she is now, after her death, is where was she then, at the end of her life. Watching a loved one deteriorate is heartbreaking, and witnessing my vibrant grandmother lose access to her own memories—to her own life and sense of self—rocked me to my core. It was a formative experience for me as a human being and as a writer. I don’t think it’s an accident that so much of my work is concerned with memory.

I found myself, early on, testing the elasticity of the opening sentence. How much could it hold? How long could I extend it? The unwieldy nature of that first sentence reflects the difficulty I was having grappling with the subject matter. How best to articulate something that resists articulation? Then again, this is the work of poems, and—I think—work that poems are uniquely suited for. I think the commas create tension; those pauses that slow the reader down while at the same time building momentum because many of the sentences go on and on, and they’re loaded with repetition.

Maggie Smith, Behind-the-Scenes Look: “Where”

I’ve read many memoirs and non-fiction books about cognitive decline and living with a beloved person who has a neurodegenerative condition; from Oliver Sacks to the recent biography of Terry Pratchett and many of the books we’ve read in my “morbid book group,” information in these texts connects with the personal emotions involved in deeply complicated human ways. There are also quite a few poetry collections themed around this type of loss, and I ought to compile a list one of these days, because poetry has been helpful to me as my family and I contend with elders dealing with forms of dementia (and there are many forms). That fact has led me to wonder whether readers even need another poetry collection centered around cognitive loss. Since so many of my poems during the past four or five years intersect with or explore that topic, I have considered making a manuscript of them. I hesitate. Too much sadness?

Yet while the circumstances that evoke such poems are usually sad, the disease progression differs, as do the personalities of the persons with cognition loss and the personalities of their loved ones. Perspectives on the persons and the diseases also vary a great deal. Similarities exist–enough to make a reader feel recognized–but situations and value systems mean there are as many ways to write about dementia as there are to write about anything else. […]

These days, my mother sometimes seems unmoored from the present moment, but not absorbed in memory either–just kind of lost in the ozone. Self, language, memory…sometimes they slip away from her physical body. In this process, though, she has things to teach me. Just as my hospice patients do, and as their families do, by helping me to widen my understanding of human beings and how we get by in the world. Or how we flounder differently from one another. Or how we rescue one another.

I take this gradual loss into myself–that’s what most of us do–and it’s hard, it’s painful to keep myself open to learning and love when what I first notice is untethering and loss. But yesterday when visiting my mother I noticed she has a cobbled-together notebook in which she sometimes writes (in tiny, indecipherable script). Some pages she had divided into three columns, some have scraps of letters or newspaper clippings stapled to them. Are her pages a record, or a practice? She cannot tell me. Yet it was kind of amazing to realize she does this with apparent intent. She has her reasons, if not her reason in the classic sense.

Ann E. Michael, Untethering

I came across the most astonishing gentleman on YouTube this week named Troy Hawke. His entire shtick is dressing up in a ridiculously ornate suit, complete with an ascot, and walking around in public complimenting people. It’s really quite magical. I believe he is bestowed with a Godly gift. His compliments aren’t random or insincere, they are extremely incisive and show that he really sees the people that he compliments. In complimenting people, he shares a moment of joy and recognition with them. For example, he stops by a bench where two friends are chatting and says, “You look very comfortable in each other’s presence. It’s a lovely way to be with another human.” They light up with with delight at their friendship being seen and appreciated by another human being. I find his videos light and humorous, but also truly uplifting. And who doesn’t need some of that in the midst of what the world has become?

Kristen McHenry, DP Progress Pics, I Baked Bread, Compliment Man

I had a brain-wave a couple of months ago when I was out walking. Using my copy of Mammals of Prince Edward Island (And Adjacent Marine Waters),  my plan is to respond to entries in the book with a poem and a sketch. It’s a winter project for my personal enjoyment but I’ll share what I make on this blog. Please excuse my rough drawings – maybe just maybe, I’ll get better as I do more of them. Here’s my first poem and sketch.

E.E. Nobbs, The Flying Squirrel

It’s World Basking Shark Day. Airplane Mode Off.
Text Predictions On. Personal Data Up To Date.
I read your diary from before you knew me.
Bombs fall on refugee camps, hospitals, schools.
Ten thousand dead in a month. Save Draft.

Bob Mee, ON WORLD BASKING SHARK DAY, I READ THE BEEKEEPER’S BIBLE

I’ve been trying to prepare a 15-minute talk for my winery bookclub this Wednesday. We’ll be discussing the late Louise Gluck’s terrific book, Meadowlands.

I’ve taught classes to veterans and disadvantaged high school kids and college students, but I thought since I usually teach creative writing, I would instead talk more about how to write a poem than how to read one!

I know what I don’t want to say—poetry isn’t supposed to be an escape room, it’s supposed to be something enjoyed or appreciated the way a piece of visual art or music. Poetry isn’t autobiography—it can be memoirish, but it can also be fictionish.  But there are some tools poets use that non-poets might want to understand or know about, so I thought I’d talk about those—tone, diction, punctuation, sonics, images, metaphors, etc.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, How to Read a Poem, In Between Holidays, and Galloping Toward 2024

Yesterday I tried to take some old wooden rabbit run panels to the tip. It turns out that the tip is closed on Wednesdays, which I knew but thought, inexplicably, that it was already Thursday. I’ve not been well this week, which might explain my confusion. I’ve had a stupid a virus; which has been bad enough to make me uncomfortable and a bit brain-foggy with a cough and a heavy, liquid feeling in my lungs, but not bad enough for me to cancel work. I hate feeling vulnerable. And illness makes me feel exposed, and miserable and like my body is not my own. I have, however, enjoyed my work this week which has mostly been running early morning writing groups. There is something particularly special about the dark morning turning to light as you sit quietly, writing with others. It’s one of my favourite parts of being a facilitator, and of being a writer. I’ve fallen into a pattern of working from 6.30am until about 9am and then going walking with, and sometimes without, the dog. We don’t go so far anymore on account of the dog being quite elderly. But last week I walked up to the river which runs along the edge of our village. The river Hertford is a strange river, it rises just outside another nearby village, Muston, and despite being just a mile from the sea, it flows inland, down the wide, glacier carved valley where I live, where I have always lived. On the day I walked up to it I’d seen a fellow dog walker in the lane. I stroked the long muzzle of his lovely greyhound and we passed the time of day, talking about the ash and the beech leaves and how autumn had arrived so suddenly, how it seemed to do this every year, and that each year we were surprised. His dog waited patiently. My dog wound himself around my legs. He told me he’d been up to the river and had seen a king fisher for the first time in ages. I had never seen one, though had been with people when they had seen one. It seems I have often had my head turned the wrong way when the king fishers appear. On the day we; the dog and I, walked up to the river, we were lucky. We arrived on the wide metal bridge and stood patiently, or rather I stood patiently, but the dog got bored and started winding round my legs and trying to get into the river and then suddenly, out from under the bridge, there was the kingfisher. It was the colour of an Egyptian amulet, jewel-like, the most beautiful, bright blue I have ever seen, completely at odds with the brown, draping, wet landscape. I watched it flit down the length of the river and away and stood with my mouth open in an O of surprise. Perfect.

Wendy Pratt, If the Landscape is a Body then the Hertford is a Wound

Can we pray for rain yet?
Has time stopped?

Are we still family
even if we disagree?

Where is everyone else
in this cloud of unknowing?

Rachel Barenblat, Unknowing

I have been immersed in quilting since Wednesday afternoon.  It has been strange to resurface, strange to do other things.  I’ve gotten my reading responses done for tonight’s seminary class.  I’ve thought about other writing that I haven’t been doing, the writing that always slips to the bottom of my to do list when I have a chance to immerse myself in a retreat.

I’ve also been thinking about poets and quilters, wondering if there are similarities to what I’ve seen and experienced.  At the risk of talking in huge generalities, let me muse a bit.

–I am a person making it up as I go along.  I’m more in love with the fabric than with the quilting process.  I create quilts because it gives me a reason to collect fabric, but then I have to do something with it.  Once I might have thought about making a living with this art–even more reason to collect fabrics!  But now, I’m happy to be in my own corner of the world.

The same is true of writing.  Once I wanted to make a living with my writing, and if it should happen, I won’t complain.  But I want to do the writing I want to do, not what is likely to sell in the wider world.

–This week-end, I’ve watched many quilters working from kits.  Not only do the kits come with instructions and pictures, but they also come with pre-cut fabric.  There are designers out there that not only design the finished quilt, but they also design the fabrics.

I look at the pictures that come with the kit, and I think, no, I’d do it this way.  Nope, that color choice is all wrong.

In the writing world, the kit might represent an MFA program or a literary journal–that hope that there’s one way to do things, that we can unlock that one way if we go to the right school and get the right publications.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Quilters and Writers

The mixed-use heart.
All warmth and passion

or is it all red fury? 
Red Alert – a love or war 

emergency? 
Blood as in beating and alive,

or draining on a sidewalk?
We are unhappy people

in a happy world.  I heard
it said.  And it wobbled

in the red, fully lit garden.
Something will happen

We just don’t know what.

Jill Pearlman, Code RED

I talk to the birds about complicity
and courage. How both need wings.
How both burn red. How both grace
and macabre defy gravity. If only,
briefly. They come every evening.
Pied Wagtails with homes somewhere
I cannot see, to hop around on the
tiles and sing from the terrace walls.
All. All things can be obliterated in
moments.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Untitled -9

It’s a beautiful day in Portland, Oregon, sunny, with bright fall leaves blowing down and gray clouds massing in the distance, after days of rain, and that’s a peacock on the roof. I came here to help my daughter have a baby, and that has indeed happened. A beautiful baby named Lola, 8 lbs, 12 oz, 22 inches long. So far, she likes to sleep in the daytime and keep her parents awake from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m., like lots of babies who sleep while the mother is active by day and kick around nocturnally. I am happy to hold this baby and stare at her. The activity that rocked her to sleep in the womb included a daily neighborhood walk that I got to do with the family a couple times before the birth, and that’s where the peacocks come in. Just as there is a flock of wild turkeys back at home, or trail turkeys, since they walk the Constitution Trail as well as the neighborhoods, here there is a flock of wild peacocks. Or you might say a pride of peacocks, a muster of peacocks, or an ostentation of peacocks. Although these local peacocks are quite modest and unostentatious. Shortly after getting this picture through my son’s window, I got to witness this one fly gently down to earth.

Then time stood still, as they say, suspended itself, and we had days of labor in a hospital room. The baby was born, and then my mother died, as if she had been waiting for the baby to come into the world before she went out of it.

Kathleen Kirk, Peacock on the Roof

立冬や椅子一つある古本屋 西生ゆかり

rittō ya isu hitotsu aru furuhonya

            beginning of winter−

            a second-hand bookstore

            with one chair inside

                                                Yukari Saisho

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

Fay Aoyagi, Today’s Haiku (November 9, 2023)

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Weeks 43-44

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.

These past two weeks brought Halloween, Day of the Dead, and the return of Standard Time in the U.S. and Canada. Israel’s war on Gaza has, if anything, intensified. Unsurprisingly, poets had something to say about these things, although I think we tend to be more aware of the limitations of language than most. Also: parades for poets, a teetering between melody and madness, an epic poem about astrophysics, and much more. Enjoy.

Continue reading “Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Weeks 43-44”

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 40

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 found poets wrestling with war, illness, the deaths of loved ones, and publishers giving up the ghost, while also rejoicing at new poems, new books, old friends and autumn weather, among many other things. Enjoy.


My beloved doesn’t understand my enthusiasm for “putting the gardens to bed for winter.” It seems like boring, hard work. Yet I don’t clean everything up–I always leave cover for bees and other creatures that need leaf litter and old stems in order to winter over. However, taking down the stalks and cutting back the peonies (etc) feels satisfying to me. I work in the cooler weather and sense the difference in the air. I recognize the annuals are dying and the perennials are going dormant, the trees let go of their coloring leaves; walnuts, oaks, and hickories seem to fling their mast upon the earth with every gust of wind. There’s nothing sad or somber about the changing of seasons. Winter must arrive in order for spring to do its thing. I like to think of daffodils, muscari, and irises huddled quietly in soil and taking much-required rest before the warmth unthaws the earth. I feel the same.

Ann E. Michael, There & back again, with weeding

To not know; to think only about the usual mixed feelings of crossing back to “real life” after a holiday, with tender feet and breathing open pores.  To be one of the ravers in the Israeli desert dancing under the starry October sky.  To be an observant Jew dancing wildly over Sukkot-Shabbat-Simchat Torah, giving thanks over three holidays celebrating joy, joy, joy, going into otherness – not knowing about the bloody weekend.

I was counting the hours of those in blissful ignorance, having switched off their devices for another kind of communication as one holiday slid into another into another — before they’d have to rejoin those who knew. That sliver of innocence would not narrow and close in the usual way, with a shiver, a tremble as we cross back over the straits — as poet Yehuda Amichai writes, trying to soak it all up before the flute holes close.

From one kind of abyss to another.  Strewn with corpses draped like black flowers/on roads, on the tops of cars, in one’s hearts and arms.

Jill Pearlman, Beyond Belief

A song, a garden, a salvation. A goodness, a grace, a sky-blue smile.

A skeleton key that’ll unlock well-being’s fortune and not the grave.

Rich Ferguson, The Skeleton Key at Wellness and Vine

It’s over five months into chemotherapy treatments and, even though the drugs are less harsh than they were the first 3 months, it is taking a different kind of toll on me. I didn’t hit a wall, really, but have sunk slowly in terms of feeling enthusiastic about anything. I have forced myself these past 6 weeks to exercise for an hour and a half five days a week. But that is it. There’s nothing left after the walks, the runs, the hiit program and yoga.

There is nothing left with which to write even.

I am not sure I have ever done anything this difficult in my life. I am after-the-marathon-tired, but it’s not over yet. Sometimes I can’t even grasp why I’m doing this. And I know that sounds childish. But it has been difficult to keep in mind any kind of timeline or image of a future reality. When is this “over”? What will that look like?

Ren Powell, Understanding Fatigue

Today is National Poetry Day in the UK, and this year’s theme is ‘Refuge’.

On a global scale, the world is experiencing the highest levels of displacement ever recorded. On a more personal level, I have friends who have become refugees this year. And while the disastrous war in Ukraine or the horrors of migrants drowning in the Mediterranean may be prominent in the thoughts of many, they are just the tip of an iceberg which includes mass displacement in and from countries such as Congo, Afghanistan and so many others, due to war, natural disasters, famine and a host of other reasons. Even for those who have fled or claimed asylum under marginally less terrible conditions than some others, the emotional impact (at the very least) is shocking.

Carolyn Forché’s ‘The Boatman’, from her most recent and truly wonderful collection In the Lateness of the World, speaks in the voice of a taxi driver who is also a Syrian refugee. I find the juxtaposition of the incredible horror of what he’s endured to arrive in a (relatively, apparently) safe city, with his determination to “see that you arrive safely, my friend, I will get you there”, almost unbearable. Forché brilliantly conveys the contrasts between the warm taxi and the filthy, dangerous rubber boat, the hotel in Rome with its portraits of films stars and the dead child floating in the water. How surreal it is to hear someone in a calm environment quietly describe the inhumanity they endured to arrive there. And there is also an underlying sense that death is never far away. ‘The Boatman’, as a title and the self-description of “the boatman, driving a taxi at the end of the world”, makes me think of Charon, who took the souls of the dead across the river Styx. 

Clarissa Aykroyd, National Poetry Day: Refuge and Carolyn Forché’s ‘The Boatman’

There is an interesting phrase in Gordon Weiss’s 2011 book on the root causes and final days of Sri Lanka’s 26-year civil war, ‘The Cage’. Weiss describes the careful record keeping and desperate telephone calls of a small group of Tamil government doctors who were trapped along with thousands of civilians in the ‘siege zone’ as the Sri Lankan army finally closed in on the Tamil Tigers. These were, Weiss says, integral to “the compilation of memory” that subsequently provided evidence of atrocity that would otherwise have been obliterated entirely. “Instinctively (the doctors) understood better than most that the only gravestone that those who died would receive would be in the form of the ticks and marks on a hospital casualty form”, he writes, and “…(o)ften the UN would speak to the doctors from their radiotelephones, listening to their pleas for help and intervention while the dull sound of exploding shells crackled up the line…” (p276). 

There is a comparison to be made I think (albeit one that I have to be careful in making) between the heroically steady and precise record keeping of those doctors, and their real-time testimonies of witness, and the enormous job of compilation that the three editors of this first ever anthology of Sri Lankan and diasporic poetry have undertaken. The voices that they allow to emerge, rising as they do from both within layers of division inside Sri Lanka over the last 60 or 70 years, and from around the world as the diasporic community has grown over the same period, create a rich and varied psychological/political landscape which is as unique – and often as harrowing – as the experience of Sri Lankans over the period since independence from British colonial rule in 1948. It is hard not to read this project of anthologisation as one in which a compilation is taking place so that a shared cultural memory is not obliterated by the deliberate forgetfulness of the powerful global forces that shape history. 

Chris Edgoose, The life of their land 

This is an ugly game
of dominoes. There
is always one more.
Waiting to fall.
Ampersand.
Melomys & more.

Who should the bears
blame, as they
starve on melting ice,
on river banks,
who should the green
sea turtles blame,
or emperor penguins,
their babies much
too young to swim?

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Bramble Cay Melomys

Sukkot for me evokes both fragility (the sukkah begins falling apart as soon as it’s created; every life is a sukkah, fragile and fleeting; God knows I’ve sat with sorrow in the sukkah at times) and joy (Torah tells us to rejoice in our festivals; this is zman simchateinu, the season of our rejoicing; on Shemini Atzeret, the 8th day, God calls us to linger a little longer in joy.) These poems are somewhat in the mode of Texts to the Holy, though I leave it to you to decide who is speaking, and to whom. […]

I see how fragile everything is
around you, how tenuous
any peace. Reasons for sorrow
pile up like fallen leaves.
Feel my heart touching yours,
enfolding yours.
I’m here with you where you are
under this roof that lets in rain.

Rachel Barenblat, Rejoice / Fragile

I am so happy that I wrote a poem.  It’s been weeks of writing a few lines and then sputtering.  And in the spirit of appreciation for August Kristin who left me poem notes, let me write down an idea for another poem I had as I drove back from Lutheranch, back across Georgia on Sunday.

I thought about what and who had previously been on the land, about Harriet Tubman leading slaves to safety.  I thought about dark skies and scars and reading the stars, a map to freedom, stars that scar the black back of the sky.  I thought about all the people we cannot save, no matter how hard we try.  I thought about writing about Harriet Tubman when she’s old and cannot save people anymore, but is that valid?  I realized I don’t know much about Harriet Tubman when she’s old.  I thought about Harriet Tubman and the Stono River and her spywork during the Civil War.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Cassandra Colors Her Hair after the Apocalypse

Humour seems to me to be a useful and sometimes subtle tool to get over a message about the general state of the society that I find myself, however reluctantly, a part of. There are plenty of poems here that poke affectionate fun at people and their habits, at myself for the absurd elements of my own life – and often, because I read a lot of poetry and far too often poets want to be taken so very seriously, at poets. Sometimes something deeper and more serious lurks beneath the surface, but sometimes it’s justifiable as fun for fun’s sake.

Maybe the point in jabbering on about this is a reaction to a whole string of poems I’ve read recently, and comments in discussions, where the writers seem to inhabit a closed, incredibly self-indulgent, self-absorbed world, as if they are unaware of what’s happening outside.

This week’s prime example, was a bizarre and to my mind scarcely believable debate, carried out with a considerable amount of fury, as to what is, and what is not, a haiku. I found both bizarre and ridiculous that people were getting so worked up about it that they were resorting to insults.

The world is burning and people are being slaughtered, folks, and you’re worrying about this?!

Maybe the point here is a message – please let’s take ourselves a little less seriously and remind ourselves that we’re here to untangle the madness that comes with the responsibility of being human in whatever way seems appropriate at the time – and not to preoccupy ourselves with pedantry, particularly when it involves such a flimsy thing as a perceived poetic form.

Bob Mee, COME ON POETS, TAKE YOURSELVES A LITTLE LESS SERIOUSLY, PLEASE

waking up a thousand birds :: i have to be a perfect dawn

(first appeared in Roadrunner Haiku Journal in 2009)

Grant Hackett [no title]

Ok, you might say, so what do poems about Aldershot Town footballers of the 1980s have in common with poems about life in rural Spain, for instance? Well, quite a lot now you come to mention it.

The main nexus is the chafing of belonging and estrangement. In the commuter belt in South-West Surrey and North Hampshire, where most town centres look alike, have similar shops and chain restaurants, where people don’t put down anchors but move around to be closer to a new job, there’s no doubt that the second half of the 20th century saw a loss of community, of identity, which was pretty deeply felt by the time I was a kid in the area during the 1980s. In that respect, lower-league football had become a significant factor in generating or recovering communal identities. By supporting their local team, people belonged. And that was definitely what attracted me to Aldershot Town.

Not enough, of course, because I ended up leaving southern England for Extremadura, where I found a profound, established sense of identity in small towns such as Almendralejo and Villafranca de los Barros. In retrospect, that feeling of belonging was what made me stay, even though I would never quite be one of them, always a foreigner.

This dual perspective runs through Whatever You Do, Just Don’t and knits its sections together. By straddling two countries, two languages, two societies, I can’t 100% feel at home in either, but my perspectives on them both have acquired extra nuance, additional layers. In these poems, Sunday tapas and siestas in deepest Extremadura might even remind you of a nap after Roast Topside or Brisket in Knaphill or Croydon in 1979 or 1982…

Matthew Stewart, Four sections, one book

It would be impossible not to absolutely delight in the lyric gestures of Bennington, Vermont poet, essayist and erasure artist Mary Ruefle’s latest, a collection of short and shorter prose and prose poems simply titled The Book (Seattle WA/New York NY: Wave Books, 2023). Ruefle is the author of well over a dozen full-length titles, most recently Selected Poems (Wave Books, 2010), Madness, Rack, and Honey: Collected Lectures (Wave Books, 2012) [see my review of such here], Trances of the Blast (Wave Books, 2013) [see my review of such here] and Dunce (Wave Books, 2019) [see my review of such here], and this latest collection offer pieces that sit within a wide gradient, from prose poem to the very short story and everything in-between. There is something quite magical in the way her pieces exist within this collection, this “book,” offering the notion of genre as something wonderfully fluid. Within compact lines and wonderful flow, she offers intimate and lyric slivers of life and thinking, meditations on ordinariness that is never truly ordinary, or spectacular simply because of that ordinariness. The variations on her prose structures hold an enormity, packing nuance into every phrase. “That book sat on my various shelves for decades until I got around to it,” she writes, to open the piece “THE BOOK,” “and then it seemed to be written especially for me. I hope this provides some hope to the other unread books surrounding me who are wondering what will happen to them when I die.” There is such a joy within these sentences, these phrases, one that appreciates and explores with such a level of curiosity and wonder combined with a deep and abiding wisdom that it is it be envied.

rob mclennan, Mary Ruefle, The Book

There are a lot of options for adult skaters–testing, competitions, clubs, classes, private lessons, etc. There are different kinds of skating a person might focus on–freestyle (jumps and spins), dance (solo or paired), moves in the field. I’d thought about and dabbled in different ways of skating since first returning to the ice. Exploring was good and I’m glad I tried on different goals and ways of being a skater, but my lack of a clear focus contributed to my feelings of ennui. Then, a long thread in an online forum this August full of older skaters talking about life-altering skating injuries gave me serious pause about my attempts to return to jumping and spinning. Did I really want to risk my ability to do all kinds of things I now take for granted just so I could do a waltz jump that was likely never going to look or feel the way it did 45 years ago? A few weeks ago, while talking about possible goals with another skater, I said, “I think I’d rather do simple things beautifully than hard or risky things I can barely get through.” As soon as I heard myself, I knew I’d figured it out, my new skating manifesto:

Simple things, done beautifully.

I want to be a strong skater. I want to skate with speed. I want to skate without fear. I want to skate gracefully. I can do all of those things if I’m skating simply.

At my next lesson, I shared this way of thinking about it with my coach. “You often say you don’t want to nit-pick,” I told him, “but I think I want you to nit-pick. I don’t want to just execute a move. I want to master it.” He took me back to working on basics.

I then had one of the best lessons I’ve ever had. Focusing on moving beautifully broke through a block in understanding I’d had about doing crossovers, one of the simplest moves there is. I was able to do crossovers more powerfully than I had previously, and with less fear.

That felt so good, I started thinking about how it might be to do other simple things beautifully. I followed Kate Lebo’s process for making chicken pot pie, one night roasting a chicken and making gravy, and the next roasting vegetables (using herbs from our garden) and making pie crust. The third night I put all the parts together into a pie, and it was pretty amazing. Pot pie is one of the simplest dishes there is, and Lebo showed me how to make it beautifully. Now, I’m wondering how I might apply this way of thinking and being to everything–to my relationships, to work, to writing, to making a home.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Simple things, done beautifully

Simon Cutts is a poet, printer and publisher and the thread of continuity that runs through the legendary Coracle Press. The Small Press Model is a collection of more-or less short prose pieces, many of them occasional and previously published, some new, all of them concerned one way or another with the question of publication in all its various forms. Cutts’ overall approach, and the philosophy that lies behind Coracle, might be best summed up by the following quote from one of the last pieces in this book, a note on the work of artist Peter Downsbrough: ‘I am always amazed at the simplicity of devices in the construction of his work, the home-madeness that leads to such an abstraction and austerity of the finished work.’

That sense of the hand-made, the austere and simple is, I think, what characterises Cutts’ philosophy of publication; the idea of the published thing as an object fitted to its primary purpose and taking its place in a world of objects, is central to his practice (along with his various Coracle partners) and to this book.

The book also reminds us of his very inclusive definition of what constitutes publication. Yes, there are lots of books, but a Coracle Press publication can be a single page of printer (or blank) paper, a gatefold, a book, a catalogue, an exhibition, a building or the monumental resin on concrete publication of his A History of the Airfields of Lincolnshire that graces the cover of The Small Press Model.

Crucially, for Cutts, publication is a physical experience. This might mean a concern with the qualities of paper:

“I suddenly realised that I was interested in the transparency of sheets of paper and variable lines of coloured type.”

or, as an extension, the physical qualities of traditional print processes or the frequent examples of books and other physical objects being a continuum; again, A History of the Airfields of Lincolnshire is a good example, having started life as a book before becoming a monumental presence.

Billy Mills, The Small Press Model by Simon Cutts: A Review

There’s a strong preference for summer running through these poems. In the title poem, a childhood memory of a neighbour who had “drab furniture with crochet antimacassars” and who “only spoke the island Welsh,” yet was kind,

“In a hot summer that reverberated to the sound
of roller skates tearing up concrete
she took us in her shiny black Morris Minor,
speeding past farms and fields of potatoes,
to the candy floss paradise of Benllech
with its wide apron of sand and donkeys.
Me in my beloved yellow towelling hot pants,
while ‘Seasons in the Sun’ played
from everyone’s open door.”

Readers can almost hear the children playing on the beach, the splash of waves and the song blaring from open windows. Even the black is polished to a cheerful shine. In contrast, “Winter’s Breath” ends,

“Winter is a black and white country.
The old know this: it strips flesh
from trees, flowers, bones.”

Emma Lee, “Seasons in the Sun” Annest Gwilym (Gwasg Carreg Gwalch) – book review

Richard remarked on how ‘stuffy’ the poetry world can be. Over the years, Penteract Press has published many exceptional works, including The Book of Penteract anthology, Christian Bök’s The Kazimir Effect, your own collections Stray Arts (and Other Inventions) and Slate Petals (and Other Wordscapes), and Pedro Poitevin’s Nowhere at Home. It never ceases to astonish me that these publications – and indeed experimental poetry generally – appear to receive little or no attention from what one might call the ‘literary establishment’. What are your thoughts on this?

Anthony: The poetry world is run by a small number of cliques. But this shouldn’t be surprising: it’s true of literally every industry. It’s unfortunate that the styles favoured by these cliques are at odds with the poetry we wish to promote — but it is what it is.

We can remind ourselves that innovation and technical skill ultimately win out. The art that gets remembered tends to be outside the mainstream of its day, and mainstream artists rarely have any longevity.

That said, fame isn’t much use when you’re dead….

It’s also worth considering that even ‘popular’ poetic styles aren’t particularly popular. This lack of popularity makes it easier for non-mainstream poets to do their own thing — after all, we can see what we’re missing out on by remaining on the fringes, and the answer is: not a lot.

More coverage for Penteract, constraint, and visual poetry would be nice. However, from an aesthetic perspective, I’m quite happy to be outside mainstream circles. There’s little in the mainstream that inspires me, these days.

Marian Christie, ‘Everyone is invited’ – An Interview with Anthony Etherin of Penteract Press

This news hit a lot of people hard, myself included. My first response was shock. But we just read that magazine!, I thought, the way people sometimes respond after hearing terrible news about a person—But I just saw them!

A literary magazine is not a person, of course. But the closure of this particular journal means not only the loss of another vital home for beautiful and important contemporary writing, but the loss of jobs for the editors. I interviewed Lauren about a week ago, as part of our Lit Mag Reading Club discussion of Gettysburg Review. She was engaged, funny, and clearly passionate about this work.

If the magazine’s closing felt shocking to me, I cannot imagine how these editors feel. From what they’ve tweeted, it appears they were completely excluded from this decision.

It also appears the editors were given no warning that this was coming, and that there was no negotiation option made available to them. Nor, it seems, was there any effort to seek a buyer for the magazine. The college board met last week and presumably discussed this situation. The editors, from what I gather, were not part of that discussion.

Evidently too, the college president’s reasons for closing the magazine are not based on facts. According to the editors, he inflated the magazine’s budget when speaking with the faculty. He also hinted at layoffs which suggest a need for budget-cutting overall. Yet just last week, the college received a $10 million-dollar donation from a former English major. The editors are right to ask, where is that money going?

Another question, of course, is what can be done?

Several magazines have gone through threats of closure over the years, then pulled through. In spring of 2022 Conjunctions almost stopped publication, but then didn’t, after outcry and public pressure upon Bard College. In the Story Magazine newsletter from a few days ago, Editor Michael Nye recounted the way people rallied behind and ultimately saved Missouri Review.

The editors of Gettysburg Review are encouraging readers to reach out to the president and provost of Gettysburg College.

Becky Tuch, Can we save Gettysburg Review?

I’ve been thinking a lot about this idea, which opens my book Keep Moving: Notes on Loss, Creativity, and Change: every ending is also a beginning, and we don’t necessarily know of what. A wise person once told me to start each day by asking this question: What else is possible?

Life constantly surprises me—sometimes in painful ways, sometimes in wonderful ways. Change is the only constant, isn’t it? During an interview the other day I was asked how I live so comfortably with ambiguity and ambivalence. My answer: I don’t! I don’t live comfortably with the unknowns, but I try not to struggle against them. I try to trust the ebb and flow. As Rilke wrote, “Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror. Just keep going. No feeling is final.” […]

Keep Moving has been a miracle in my life. Writing these notes-to-self each day helped me become more optimistic and open to change. And as I shared in my memoir, You Could Make This Place Beautiful, the advance for the book enabled me and my kids to stay in our house. Nothing stressed me out more, or woke me up in the middle of the night more, than the fear of losing our house in the divorce. I worried about having to uproot my kids from their neighborhood, move them away from their friends, and put them in a new school. I had no idea how I would manage to keep us here.

If you’ve been divorced or faced a major financial hurdle for another reason—medical bills, a job loss—you understand that frantic fear. Keep Moving is why I’m writing this to you from my office in the front room of my house, watching people walking by with strollers and dogs. It feels like a miracle to me.

Maggie Smith, On Surprise & Gratitude

Why is brief light so beautiful at such a time

of day? Sometimes I drive under a canopy
arching over certain avenues just to feel

immersed in that dapple, imagining
voices speaking from out of the leaves.

I see clusters of moth wings outlined with Damascus
steel, the glisten of hummingbirds teetering on slips

of vine. Even the blood inside the hard bronze
carapace of a horseshoe crab radiates fluorescence.

Luisa A. Igloria, Allowance (13)

This isn’t really a post about magic, it’s about the power of poetry, as an art form that depends almost exclusively on a hyper-aware use of language, for good or ill. […]

Canntaireachd is a verbalisation of pipe tunes, to be used when teaching a student new music. You sang it until you’d learned it, then got the fingering right on the chanter, and then you learned to play it on the pipes. Far from being random vocalisation, it is an elaborately coded highly technical language. Pipers would say it is more effective than staff notation, as it is written to convey not only pitch and rhythm, but dynamics and intensity, and I’m glad to say it’s still being taught. You can hear an example of it in Martin Bennett’s Chanter, given a surprising twist on his Grit album.

Elizabeth Rimmer, Hocus Pocus

i dread to tread the wounded ways
where he brought forth time’s voices
still the crack-lipped words tell and still
the moments dear to this man’s standing
still the morning
still the air
of thomas dare be there

upon reading a poem by RS Thomas

Jim Young, be thee there

It is one of the hardest things in life — discerning where we end and the rest of the world begins, negotiating the permeable boundary between self and other, all the while longing for its dissolution, longing to be set free from the prison of ourselves. That is why we cherish nature and art, those supreme instruments of unselfing, in Iris Murdoch’s lovely phrase; that is why happiness, as Willa Cather so perfectly defined it, is so often the feeling of being “dissolved into something complete and great.”

Because our sense of self is rooted in the body, it is through the body that we most readily and rapturously break the boundary in the ecstatic dissolution we call eros.

That is what former U.S. Poet Laureate Maxine Kumin (June 6, 1925–February 6, 2014) explores in her subtle and stunning 1970 poem “After Love,” found in her indispensable Selected Poems (public library).

Maria Popova, After Love: Maxine Kumin’s Stunning Poem About Eros as a Portal to Unselfing

This is a short poem that came to me in what felt like a very few minutes, on the third anniversary of my father’s death.  I had forgotten the date, but when my husband and daughter urged me to go out with them one Sunday, I had a strong sense I needed to stay at home.  Sitting on the decking, I suddenly remembered the significance of the day, 6th June, and sat very quietly connecting to the experience of being with my father as he lay dying. The poem came through to me at that point, just a light poured through him in his last eleven minutes.  I do remember having to look up the word for an alchemical container though! ‘An alembic’.

At the time of his dying I wanted to recite the mantra from the Buddhist Heart Sutra, ‘Gate, gate, paragate, parasamgate, bodhi svaha!but couldn’t remember the ‘samgateof the fourth word, so looked it up on my Mac.  The mantra, in Sanskrit, means ‘Gone, gone, gone beyond, gone utterly beyond, what an awakening, Amen!’.It interests me, perhaps as a psychotherapist, that the part of the word I couldn’t remember was the ‘utterly beyond’.  On my Mac I found the singer, Deva Premal’s version – so with her singing accompanying me, I sang it to my father. What happened next is brought to life in the poem.

Drop-in by Hélène Demetriades (Nigel Kent)

The image of Proust’s broken vase gave me a vehicle to think about how an object comes to be precious and meaningful. It also helped me find a metaphorical link between the museum exhibition and our human lives, which are a series of short-lived displays. Since my consideration of wonder has always been both critical and creative, I cherish these moments when the distinction between thinking about wonder as a critic and as a poet dissolves.

Maya C. Popa, Wonder Wednesday

I just picked up a book of poems I don’t get at all. So I suggested to myself that I pick three of these poems at random and try to write an imitation of them, just to see what I might learn along the way. Isn’t that a good idea, potentially? I mean, it would force me to settle into the rhythm of the poems, the syntaxes, what seems to be playing out with the nouns and verbs and images. When I say “imitation” I usually either do a word by word replacement of words I come up with off the top of my head, or, more commonly, I try to choose OPPOSITE words. Not all words have opposites of course, but I give it a shot. If a poem starts “After the moon rose…” I might write “Before the seed settled…” Get what I mean? It’s an interesting exercise.

Marilyn McCabe, Long list of priors; or, On Procrastination

How did you come to visual art first, as opposed to, say, fiction, poetry or non-fiction?

Actually, I always wanted to be a writer, throughout my childhood. So when I went to university I studied literature and writing. But I was so disappointed and repelled by my graduate program in creative writing (at Concordia, FYI) that I sought escape from it and wanted to find other outlets. So I stumbled into the visual arts through the world of zines and DIY publishing and performance, and at the time, I found it so much more free than what I was encountering at grad school. I put aside writing and literature for basically a decade, to do performance and film and visual arts projects, and then finally came back to it in 2018. […]

Writing seems like one of the few tools that makes sharing or expressing an interior world possible. It’s a way of representing lived reality. And lived reality—actual lives—are so repressed all the time.

I also think that any use of language is at least a little bit magical, in the sense of the speech act, like the act of naming, or the act of promising. It’s a way to make spells. […]

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

I once heard John Giorno respond to the question of “How to make it as an artist” with the answer “You have to ruin your life,” and it comes to mind often. I think it’s true in the sense that your life will no longer make sense to most people (ie. ruined) but it will also be a lot better (ie. ruined in the romantic sense, of having a more full relationship to the forces of change).

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Amy Ching-Yan Lam (rob mclennan)

I think the majority of literary competition guidelines now include a statement on AI. Usually AI isn’t allowed, though the wording tends to be along the lines that they’ll delete the accepted online piece if AI use is subsequently discovered.

Cult. Magazine has an enlightened (or resigned?) attitude – “If AI tools were used to make your submission, please inform us how you used the tool and why”. The pieces are collaborations of sorts. They’ve benefitted from the work of others, but so have pieces that were workshop exercises, or pieces that are “after” another work.

Tim Love, Writing and AI

So you’re a writer of a certain age, who has written a certain number of books, and after, say, twenty years, you’re still not getting major attention for your work. Read: you are not winning the big money, big attention awards.

But think about this: the people that are winning the big awards are not winning by accident, and maybe not even because of their talent. Someone out there has done a PR campaign, gotten to have lunch with the right people in charge, went to the right schools, got the right mentors. And a LOT of that has to do with class and with money. No disrespect to people that win big, but if you look behind the curtains, you’ll notice that a LOT of them have a LOT of money. It costs something to put yourself out there in the best light—either money from your publisher, or your family, or from powerful mentors at powerful institutions. Does this mean, shocking intake of breath, literature is not always a meritocracy? I’m just going to suggest that those of you struggling with not getting a major award should realize that there are aspects of the world of grants, fellowships, prestige awards that are not going to be…completely in your control. I wish people would talk about this stuff a little bit more and be more honest about what it takes to really make it as a poet. For instance, Louise Gluck inherited a fortune from her father’s invention of the X-acto knife. Merwin inherited a ton of money, TS Eliot married it (and then put his wife in an institution so he could access that money faster). No shade on any of those poets (well, maybe a little at Eliot—what a jerk!), but they were able to be influential poets because they had talent but also because they had money.

Not to say every poet with money becomes influential, or every prizewinner has secret millions (but you’d be surprised how many do!) I wasn’t born with money, I didn’t marry into money, and I didn’t win the lottery, so I didn’t go to the fanciest schools and I’m still paying off student loans from my less-fancy schools. Does that mean I will live a writer’s life without recognition, awards, fellowships, etc? Not necessarily. I do know people who are just like me who have succeeded in making the “big time.” And Sylvia Plath won the Pulitzer…but not til many years after her death. So perhaps we all – writers, scientists, people in competitive fields like composing or physics – feel that we are being looked over, but continue with our work nonetheless. I remember my father, a robotics scientist, was always depressed a week or so after learning he didn’t win an NSF (the science equivalent of the NEA) grant. I later had a college roommate who was one of the people who screened NSF applications, who told me it was a depressing job because there were so many great applicants and she could only choose a very small number to win. I think about both those things a lot.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, October or August? More Pumpkin Farms, A Review of Lessons in Chemistry on Apple TV, Talking a Little about Prizes (and Why You Shouldn’t Feel Bad if You Don’t Win)

Setting some personal guidelines for how and which markets to send your work can be helpful to keep focus on your priorities—and sometimes breaking those rules is completely appropriate. Having some flexibility will make your submission strategy more fulfilling. For example, I often send new poems (which are always my ‘best’ poems at the moment) to top tier literary magazines and journals first, hoping I’ll hit the literary jackpot and be published by The New Yorker or Poetry. So far, no such luck, but I keep trying anyway. You never know when one of your pieces will be the perfect fit for a specific issue. Once I’ve had several rejections from those markets, I lower my sights a bit and start sending to more mid-tier markets. I also make exceptions from time to time; send a poem I wrote for a prompt to a themed call or send some poems to a university journal because I really like their aesthetic and what they’re up to. I definitely lean toward feminist lit mags and can’t help but to send them work, regardless of how new they are or how few followers they have on social media.

Trish Hopkinson, Do I need a strategy to submit to lit mags?

Let’s say you are what you consume. I want to become more clear-headed, astute, insightful, observant, persuasive, better at listening. If I read what is sloppy or loopy, maybe I read too indiscriminately and I squander my time.

Maybe I get frustrated easily. Maybe poetry isn’t the tool for what I want to be fed.

Each media has its strengths. Hum. Haw.  Hum. 10% of poetry, maybe 5% of it, knocks me back on my heels.

Maybe that is a good rate.

To honour the exploration, the edges, matters. What matters is everything not the notable and marketable golden hour that can have an elevator pitch towards one outcome. Poetry should explore, should sometimes fail, should leave gaps where new standards can emerge.

Poetry can create not only reflect. Poetry isn’t like hockey where you need equipment and support of an industry and stadium of audience. Poetry can be done collaboratively or as a whisper to and from self. Poetry isn’t mainstream capitalist. It’s jangled or can be. Not trying for offbeat or in hand.

Pearl Pirie, disability & writing

In other news, I was very lucky to have been mentioned in a post by my old mucker, Matthew Stewart. His second collection, Whatever You Do, Just Don’t is starting to turn up in the world and I’m enjoying seeing people enjoying it and savouring it. (Excellent review by Christopher James).

As Matthew himself notes, I’ve

“seen all the poems in Whatever You Do, Just Don’t at multiple stages in their development, and has given me feedback on every single one, from first draft to reassembly after Nell’s ritual dismembering of words, lines and stanza of numerous poems that we had thought finished. Just as I have for him, of course.”

And this is the crux of his post, it’s not about me, it’s not about him either. It’s about us, as writers (and fuck it, as people) having folks that are friends that support and help each other through encouragement, goading, provoking and supporting. He’s the first to tell me something is shit or good, as I am say something isn’t working.

What changes as a result of this is up to the recipient, but, the space is safe to say this stuff. It’s  likely true elsewhere, but I, for one, welcome the trust that comes from it.

I’m less happy that he has texted me to insult me about the Arsenal result by questioning the origins of my fandom, but y’know…it comes with the territory. I will say, however, that I’m honoured and looking forward to seeing the old sod again in the flesh in November. You should come along too on the 7th November. 7pm. The Devereux Pub.

Mat Riches, If you see Sidney Road, tell me

One night we woke up to hear Patsy Cline singing Walking After Midnight on mamma’s stereo and daddy’s old truck rumbling down the road like the Big Foot. We peeked around the kitchen door to see mamma slow dancing, her arms wrapped around herself, fried chicken and mashed taters slip-sliding down the wall like the tears falling down her cheeks. Maggie took her red rooster feather and plaited it in mamma’s long hair while I took Patsy off the stereo and put on James singing Give it up or turnit a loose. Then we Soul Train lined our mamma up up up into the starry, starry sky.

Charlotte Hamrick, A set of linked micros

I practice
letting go . . .
autumn morning

Bill Waters, Hopewell Valley Neighbors magazine: October ’23

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 37

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: changing seasons, ailing mothers, famous poets, non-fungible tokens, unfashionable metaphors, and much more. Enjoy.


Back from a scorching hot week in North Wales, to which we took waterproofs, heavy duty walking boots and woollies, none of which we needed. Thankfully we also took shorts and sunscreen!

The Llyn peninsula is a long way to go, further than Land’s End (I looked it up!) but it was worth it. What a beautiful, unspoilt part of the British Isles. […] It would make an excellent place for a writing retreat. Quiet, surrounded by nature and with a very poor phone signal.

While we were there I started reading Byron Rogers’ compelling life of RS Thomas, The Man who went into the West, which I’ve nearly finished. He was clearly a puzzling and contradictory man. Although I knew the name, I’ve never made an effort to read his work, which I’m a bit ashamed about now. Especially after Gillian Clarke, on a course at Ty Newydd, exhorted all of us to go away and read him. My podcasting poet pal Peter says he met RS when he was a student, and was struck by his presence.

At Aberdaron, in the little church where RS preached for some years, they’ve made a sort of shrine to him, with newspaper articles, copies of poems and other material.

Robin Houghton, In the land of RS Thomas

The night of the new year
gathers up cat cries in baskets
made for apples, lopsided and sweet,

rolling downhill fast as barrels.
All these nights are the same, heavy
with waiting for those starry eyes

to outshine the dawn.

PF Anderson, Tonight, Waiting, and Waiting

The Torah table’s in place. The chairs are arranged, and the music stands, like one-footed angels. The microphones, angled just so. The Torahs are wearing white holiday clothes. Prayerbooks wait in tidy stacks. Rolls of stick-on nametags sit beside baskets of printed holiday bracelets. The piano is tuned. The slide decks are ready. The sermons are ready. The blog posts are ready. My white binder of sheet music sports a rainbow of marginal tabs, colorful stepping stones through each service. As for my soul? Just now a spoonful of honeycake batter called her back from distraction, saying: ready or not here we go.

Rachel Barenblat, Ready or not

Walking the lane this week has saved my sanity as I simultaneously finish edits on the manuscript for The Ghost Lake, get issue 09 of Spelt Magazine to the printers and hand in a complex Arts Council England grant application for some Spelt projects. Despite their pledges to ensure all people can get support to apply to the arts council, I still found the application system clunky, off putting, frustrating and not in any way transparent or helpful. It literally gave me a migraine trying to get through it. Usually I would have a big rant here about the difficulties that working class people in particular find when putting applications like this together, but I’m wasting no more time on it. I have books to finish, projects to start and the glorious cool autumn air to experience. Stepping out into that air, walking the old dog through the already falling leaves and the beech mast has been like someone putting cool hands on my fiery brain and soothing it directly.

Beech masts – the fallen nuts of the beech tree are everywhere in the village right now; a carpet of nuts that crunches pleasantly when walked over. We are a village of lime trees in the newer part of the village, at the top, then beech trees in the lower part, over the marshier ground. The word Mast comes from the Old English ‘Mæst’ – the nuts of trees fallen on the ground and used for feeding animals, especially for fattening pigs. My village is an ancient one, its name has viking roots and roughly translates as hamlet of the pig keepers. This is one of those facts that is like a door opening to the past, a thin place where I might step through, know myself as one of a long line of villagers. Here are the beech trees, and here, in the very naming of the place, the tree-ancestors, the pig herders moving their woolly sided pigs between them over the marshy, boggy ground. And back, further back, here is the bronze age burial ground on the cliff edge above the village, and here, the path that goes from the lane of the beech trees up to the burial ground. I imagine the villagers of the bronze age making their way up to their ancestors with offerings. There is a peace in the continuity of habitation. I like to walk here and know myself within it. I like to remind myself that people have been surviving here for thousands of years. The autumn air and walking in this place is helping me to connect to The Ghost Lake, helping me find my way through the edits, sharpening, honing, bringing the book home. It’s a beautiful process. One day I’d like to simply do this for a living, to walk, to write.

Wendy Pratt, Beech Mast

I’ve started a series of poems on Finnish animals, really animals in Finland as none of them are particularly Finnish, hares, cranes, elk, magpies. I haven’t written about the norppa seal or reindeer, animals I connect with Finland, though I might. The creatures I’ve chosen take on a Finnish persona, though they are animals I know from elsewhere. I’m mixing my love of nature with my focus on belonging to a place. The animals are guides, gods or representations of myself, moving through Finland with the will to understand, if not accept, the world around them.

These new poems have made the Finnish collection change again which is intruiging. Its early incarnations were about me struggling to adapt to living here in connection with my family, hanging on to the remnants of my life in Scotland. As I said, these new poems are not necessarily about accepting my life here, but more just listening to the voices of Finland more intently. Stepping out of myself for brief wanders.

All this sounds like I’m writing a blurb for the book, but it’s nice to sort out my thoughts on it. And who knows, it might be useful someday as a blurb.

Gerry Stewart, Slow Motion

The middle of my days are usually a rhythm of homeschooling, a break for lunch, then work for a half hour or so during quiet rest time, then activities / play time with the kids in the afternoon. As my kids have gotten older, we have more outside the house activities, but I keep them to the afternoon so we can have a consistent school day (Except for bible study–that does intrude on one of our mornings, but we feel it is worth it).

I also do my writing either in the early morning (if work allows), or in the quiet rest time, or in the afternoon–right now it is kind of getting squeezed in. It isn’t ideal–during many seasons in my life, I had writing in that 5AM workout spot–but I’ve just been committing myself to make sure the writing gets done everyday, even if it isn’t happening first thing. When my classes are out for the semester, I’ll put writing in that morning slot for work.

Renee Emerson, My Time-Saving Mom Routines

My basement yields an oddment of jars
and the large blue pot that waits for this occasion.
I whet my favorite knife,
find cutting boards and colanders
and blues on the radio.
The tunes remind me of hard times, when canning
meant peach jam for toast in winter,
and women wore aprons.

I put mine on
(a gift from my husband before he knew better),
wash vegetables, and start to work.
I pare and core and chop and mince,
humming with Muddy Waters, Bessie Smith,
peeling the next apple, and the next.

Sarah Russell, Green Tomato Chutney

A summer has slipped by. And now the world is changing shape again.
In the mornings, the orange-brown pine needles scattered on the trail
stab at my imagination like a thousand accusations:
You should have used the time better.

Repented. Repayed. Served Something Other.

***

I know some of us are driven by fear. Sometimes I think every choice I’ve ever made comes from a place of darkness: an empty room with cracked vinyl floors; a smooth-surfaced pond, cold currents rising suddenly between my legs.

How many of us can’t remember our heart stopping when we reached up to grab our mother’s hand only to see a stranger’s face staring down at us?

Ren Powell, The Courage to Look Inward

There were nine contestants – three first round games would produce three winners who would then tape a two-game final round. Yes, all five games for a week are taped in one day. You have to bring clothing changes in case you win for that reason. When I arrived and met the other contestants, I knew I was in trouble. This had nothing to do with the people in the room. Everyone was kind and friendly, excited to compete, cheering on the others, encouraging and calming to those who were nervous. (Raises hand.) But I felt clearly out of my league. Let me explain.

How did I prepare? Honestly, I didn’t. I did some review of the sciences and world geography (my weakest categories) and took some of the Jeopardy final question quizzes on Sporcle, but I knew that my 61 year old brain was NOT going to learn a whole plethora of new things in only a few weeks. But I soon discovered that several of the other contestants followed Jeopardy religiously (beyond watching the show), had been on multiple game shows, belonged to trivia leagues, entered crossword tournaments, were collegiate Quiz Bowl champions. They all knew about things like a Coryat score (I had never heard of it) and one person—-I still don’t know who—had a study packet the size of a ream of paper sitting on one of the tables.

So I decided to try not to pass out, to do my best, and to be bold.

Donna Vorreyer, I’ll take FAILURE for a Thousand…

I guess this is what I am doing in the way of poetry lately: a Mother Tree. Visual, 3D poetry–a small branch anchored in a vase with glass pebbles, hung with ornaments from her life: earrings, baby bracelets, a nostalgic love pin nestling in the tree as if K-I-S-S-I-N-G. There are two tiny skulls to represent her parents, who lived with my parents for a time in their old age. So did my dad’s grandfather, at one point. My folks were very generous people, also taking in a high school student, whose parents moved his senior year, and a young man from Mali. They are living now in a retirement community, in independent living but with lots of home health care, and I am slowly but surely clearing out the family home while it is for sale. Lots of laundering, donating, recycling, redistributing, and rearranging. I feel like my mom!

Kathleen Kirk, Mother Tree

In phone videos,
she shakes her head or calls
the names of her ghosts;
sometimes she has no clue.
We say no more to the constant
drawing of blood, to the checking
of sugars. The body is folding into
itself like its own prayer, heedless
of time however long the transit.

Luisa A. Igloria, The Caregivers

Very honoured to have KHÔRA feature my work. This poem was dedicated to my mother after her brave battle with brain cancer. The videopoem was created by Michael Lewy as inspired by the poem and my digital collage. The publishing honorarium was donated to the Brain Tumour Foundation of Canada. https://www.corporealkhora.com/issue/26/passport

Lina Ramona Vitkauskas, KHÔRA – Passport for Zita

When the same word floats up from the most disparate-seeming characters.  My yoga teacher. My poetry mentor. A black hat rabbi. The list would be disparate enough without Baudelaire – but the dark prince poet was at the forefront in demanding we slough off our lazy habits that inure us to precision and keep us from paying – drum roll please – Attention!  Attention – the practice my yoga teacher, poetry mentor and rabbi insist we devote ourselves to rather than allow slothful addiction to routine to cloud perception of what is. 

The reason I think about it is that this weekend: Shofar!  The curly ram’s horn provocateur is regularly blown on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.  One prayer: May the cry of the shofar chatter our complacency. Another: May the cry elicit the response, hineini, I’m in the moment.  As Maimonides said, “Awake, O you sleepers, awake from your sleep! O you slumberers, awake from your slumber.”  

Then there’s the fact that this Saturday, the shofar took a Shabbat rest; the routine that breaks routine was broken. The rabbi compared us to attendees to John Cage’s 4:33, walking into the hall expecting a blast – and instead we hear silence. Or non-silence: coughs, shoes, heavy breath, pulse of the universe.  Dereglement of the senses.  Music/life in the white space.  Or rather, music/life is the white space.

Jill Pearlman, Blasting Complacency

Kodak, Blaise Cendrars’ series of American vignettes, was published in 1924 by Stock.The edition – much sought after on the rare book market now – included a portrait of the poet by his friend Francis Picabia. In Kodak Cendrars employs a literalism consistent with his intention of reproducing in words a collection of snapshots of 1920s New York. I’m beginning with the first eight poems. […]

Waiters grave as diplomats clad in
white lean out across the chasm of the town
And the flowerbeds are alight like a million tiny multicoloured
lanterns
I believe Madame murmured to the young man with a voice
tremulous with suppressed passion
I believe that we might do very well here
And with a sweeping gesture he displayed the vast sea

Dick Jones, KODAK by BLAISE CENDRARS

At the time, I thought of the poetry I was writing as a quite narrowly focused topical intervention, but in the last 4 or 5 years (partly with the greater clarity with which the Brexit heist can be now seen to have been foisted on the country), the poems have come to seem less dependent on their times and more capable of being read as a series of observations – and passionate pleas – for a more generous, open-minded, less extremist, less egotistical UK culture. It was Hesiod’s pre-Homeric poem, Works and Days, that suddenly felt oddly familiar: in it he is not harking back to an already lost era, nor to past heroic (in our case imperial) events. Instead, Hesiod talks about his own, contemporary workaday world, offering advice to his brother because the pair of them seem to be in some sort of a dispute with each other (a squabble over limited resources – that sounded familiar).

So my developing sequence took over from Hesiod the idea of familial disputes, the importance of the persistence of Hope (in the Pandora’s jar story), the idea that we need to understand that we are living in an Age of Iron (not idealised Gold). Poetry can never be summarised by its own conclusions but the poems seemed to me to be arguing the need to work hard – to have patience – not to buy into fairy tales of a recoverable golden age that probably never existed anyway.

Martyn Crucefix, Influences on ‘Between a Drowning Man’ #2

I just finished “Traversals: A Folio on Walking,” guest-edited by Anna Maria Hong and Christine Hume for the summer 2023 issue of The Hopkins Review. Walking and poetry have so many intersections: they foster observation, thinking, feeling, and talking; prompt unexpected encounters; depend on rhythm; and sometimes resemble each other even structurally, because meditation and meandering are associative as well as linear. When I give poetry students a walking-based writing prompt, their work often gets better. But I’ve hit pause on that assignment for a while because taking a thoughtful ramble isn’t safe or possible for everyone, and I’m pondering how I can reframe it.

This folio opens the field brilliantly. (Speaking of prompts, the co-editors offer amazing ones here, and excerpts from the folio are here.) “Traversals” contains a wide variety of poems and essays that riff on pilgrim, flâneur, and man-in-wilderness clichés, often exploring walkers’ vulnerabilities. Rahne Alexander writes about walking in recovery from a vaginoplasty. Petra Kuppers, a disability activist as well as artist, discusses how she “gets more jeers when walking upright than when whizzing along” on a scooter. The title alone of Willa Zhang’s essay “Young, Asian, Female, Alone” defines powerful parameters. Other pieces trace paths informed by grief or trauma.

Lesley Wheeler, Walking: a footnote

We walk up the road and over the hill.
The yapping is even louder. Even louder
and louder still, as the road winds down
between high hedges and round bends
so narrow and tight we can’t think
and the moon is just a basket of light.
And as we reach the house – it must be
this one, we agree, it’s so stunning, so
perfectly blue and so bright – we know
that there is no dog, no yapping, only
silence, and there we are, all of us
with no idea how we’ll ever get home.

Bob Mee, TEN PIECES WRITTEN OVER THE PAST WEEK ON THE ISLAND OF ISCHIA

One thing people ask about a lot is endings: How do you know when a poem or essay is done? How do you find the right moment to step out of a piece? How do you avoid either stopping short or overshooting the target?

The short answer is intuition. With experience, you often feel when the piece has found its most resonant, compelling landing. But it’s also true that some exit strategies work better than others, so today I’m sharing one of my favorites.

Whether you’re working on a poem, a story, or an essay—or even a longer form piece like a novel or memoir—experiment with ending on a significant image. Let the detail release meaning.

You can use a new image at the end of the poem, or return to an earlier image, so that the piece is somewhat bookended. I like how this move gives a sense of coming full-circle—a sense of closure and cohesiveness—without relying on exposition. You don’t want to oversell the closing or spoon-feed the reader; after all, a poem isn’t a fable with a moral at the end.

Maggie Smith, Craft Tip

A few years back, Nell from HappenStance sent me feedback on a poem. She told me “I like it, Matthew, but the title’s dead.” That phrase has stuck with me ever since. What did she mean? Well, the implicit conclusion is that the title wasn’t contributing anything extra, not drawing the reader in, not adding an extra layer, not coming alive. It was simply there as a placeholder, as if for internal use only.

And I was very much reminded of this exchange when we went through the process of deciding on a title for my second full collection. My initial suggestions were perfectly neat, summarising key themes or bringing them together, but Nell rejected them all, one by one, explaining once again that they weren’t bringing anything to the party.

She then came back to me with a list of potential alternatives. One of them leapt out at me. The one that she might not have expected me to embrace, the one that threw caution to the wind but worked perfectly: Whatever you Do, Just Don’t.

Matthew Stewart, What’s in a title? How and why we decided on Whatever You Do, Just Don’t…

In Acumen 107 (Sep 2023), Andrew Gleary writes “There are poets who would use metaphor had not all metaphors been workshopped out of their writing because metaphor is presently unfashionable.

Maybe so. Metaphors go in an out of fashion. There are extreme views about their value –

  • the damn function of simile, always a displacement of what is happening … I hate the metaphors“, Robert Creeley
  • Metaphor is the whole of poetry. … Poetry is simply made of metaphor … Every poem is a new metaphor inside or it is nothing“, Robert Frost

20th century UK Poetry had Surrealism, [political] Realism, The Apocalyptics (Dylan Thomas et al), The Movement, and Martian poetry (Craig Raine, etc). One could interpret each as a reaction to the previous movement, though no doubt influences were more complex than that.

If metaphor is unfashionable nowadays, it may be because the poet and the poem’s subject matter have a higher priority. It feels to me that we’re in an age where previously suppressed voices are being given space. Minorities (by virtue of race, sexuality, mentality, etc) are out of their niches and have something to say which can be as important as how it is said.

Tim Love, Poetry trends – Metaphors

For its entire history, dating back to the days of scribes writing books by hand on parchment, literature has been forced inside a copy-based economy. The entire point of books and poetry as technologies is that they can be copied relatively easily. For any author to make a living, they have to reach a wide audience, selling as many low-value copies as possible. This has been the state of affairs for so long that it’s hard for writers to imagine an alternative.

That alternative, though, is easy to see when thinking about visual art. A painting or sculpture can’t be copied—the piece is a unique original that only the artist could have created. While the artist might make prints as an additional means of income, the original retains value and becomes collectable, creating an entirely different economy, with collectors and art lovers buying and selling the works, injecting revenue into the industry. This is why art museums have elaborate galas while libraries resort to used book sales.

Collectability offers more than just money—it’s fun! From baseball cards to Beanie Babies, collecting things that we enjoy, participating in a community, and treasure-hunting as we build our collections, is something human beings like to do. Everything from model trains to postage stamps have trade shows, where people love to swap their wares and brag about their latest finds. With a copy-only economy, literature has never been able to fully participate in the world of collectables. A rare book market exists, but it takes so long for a book to become rare, and the artistry is so far removed from the physical product, that a wider interest never develops. Published as NFTs with provenance linked directly to the author, collecting literary artifacts suddenly becomes an accessible and fulfilling hobby.

Which brings us to the most common criticism of NFTs: “Why would anyone buy something they can copy without paying for it?” This is the “Right-Click Save” argument, and every person that harnesses the potential of this technology has eventually pushed beyond it. Just as technology is constantly shifting, what it means to truly own something has evolved as well. To illustrate this, if you print a copy of Van Gogh’s Starry Night, do you feel that you own that painting? Of course not. Your printed copy has none of the value of the original. And yet the ubiquity of those prints only increases the value of the original painting, keeping it in the public’s consciousness, which is part of why there tends to be a crowd of selfie-takers surrounding famous impressionist paintings. Speaking of which, MOMA, where Starry Night lives, has incorporated NFTs into their collection.

Making the leap back to the literary world, the ability to collect and display an original piece of writing, connected directly to the author’s digital wallet, completely reverses the economic incentives of publishing. Rather than hide our work from each other, hoping to create a scarcity that will force readers to buy books, we can share our poems and stories widely—the more people who read and appreciate the piece, the more potential value that digital, collectable original, accrues. This technology encourages writers to share their work more freely without the drawbacks we’re used to, creating an environment where all the incentives align, and literature can truly flourish.

Katie Dozier, A Notebook for the Future: NFTs

6 – Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?

One of my foundational assumptions is that art gives our lives meaning. So, on the one hand, that idea alone compels me to write. Writing is a spiritual practice, as being a poet is part of my identity, not just a task I complete. Making something new, art for art’s sake, can be very gratifying. On the other hand, there’s a lot going on, locally and globally, that’s very disturbing. In recent years, I’ve found myself addressing some of those concerns in my poetry more than I used to. Much of my current work is environmentalist; living along Lake Superior makes that almost inevitable I think. But I’ve also written poems honoring George Floyd and addressing immigration at our southern border. So I guess one of a poet’s primary questions is “Who am I?” not only as an individual, but also “Who am I?” as a member of a community, and where do the boundaries of that community lie: with my immediate family? with my neighborhood? with my country? with my planet?

7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Do they even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?

Our responsibility is to tell the truth. So many people we encounter are intent on obfuscating reality. Writers lack access to many conventional forms of power—most of us aren’t rich, and we don’t walk the halls of corporate headquarters or national governments. But our facility with language provides us with a different kind of very potent power, and we need to be willing to use it.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Lynn Domina

Someone recently observed, bemusedly, that I don’t have any people in my poems. I was bemused by their bemusedness. (It’s not entirely true; I do have people poems. But it is true that they are mostly unpeopled, unless you count me.)

I thought of this today as I was out for my walk. I grabbed those old binocs on my way out the door. I often see little birds that I can’t quite identify, or high circling things. It is my engagement with the natural world that moves me to speak. My encounters with humanity generally leave me with little more lyrical to say than wtf. But I still see them — the people I encounter, directly or indirectly. I wonder about them, try to maintain a level of empathy toward them. They interest me as representatives of our species, our part in the natural order. But I don’t look at them in quite the same way as I look around me when I’m outside. (Plus if I train my binoculars at people, there may be a..er…problem.)

I don’t regret leaving that job. Even though I blew through that retirement savings and lived many nerve-wracked and uncomfortable years. Never bought my own home. Never achieved a career goal. Do not have my own pension. But looking, seeing, and thinking about it all, binoculars weighty in my hand. Yeah. That’s a life.

I dropped the binocs several times over the years and some mirror or other is rattling inside, so they don’t always show me things with clarity. Ain’t that the truth, though. Confusion makes art too.

Marilyn McCabe, You’re a butterfly; or, On Life and Looking

Some decades ago, I lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts—in a rent controlled apartment, on a traffic island in Harvard Square. I was at the intersection of Bow, Arrow, and Mt. Auburn Streets. I felt both in and out of the poetry scene, although mostly out. My family struggled financially and there were no expectations placed on me except to marry a Jewish man and have children. So far, I’ve failed on both accounts.

Life as a poet was not something my parents could imagine for me, nor something I could really even imagine for myself. In Cambridge, in the 1990’s, if you were a poet you needed to be rich, brilliant, and most of all, if you were a woman, you needed to have ass-length hair.

Jorie Graham, Marie Howe, and Lucy Brock Broido: they were known as the hair poets. One favorite rumor was that when one of the women interviewed at Columbia for a tenure track position, the academic conducting the interview asked her what she could bring to the job which the other candidates couldn’t. The question came at the end of a day of many meetings, a teaching observation, and endless forced smiles. Before the poet could stop herself, she blurted out: hair. That week they made her an offer and yes, she took it.

But the poets’ reputations didn’t end with their beauty or brilliance. It was that supreme confidence that most intimidated me. Today we would call it “white privilege”, which it certainly was—Harvard undergraduate degrees (in some cases) paired with youth, beauty, hair and a supreme confidence deep in the hipsway and in their DNA.

Once, I saw Lucy Brock Broido read at M.I.T. draped in standout attire that hasn’t faded from my memory even 30 years later: a cream-colored form-fitting blouse with high collar and a soft grey jacket covering a short short skirt. Emily Dickinson meets Twiggy. Sitting in the audience, I estimated that the clothing, the boots and modest jewelry had to cost at least $1,000. In 1990, a bit more than my monthly salary.

Susan Rich, Lucy Brock Broido

It’s been a while since I had any anthologies to review, and now I have two very contrasting examples of the genre to look at. Both books are well described by their subtitles; Blood and Cord is a thematic anthology of poems and prose dealing with the experience of birth, parenthood and early loss, while the Griffin prize anthology offers representative samples from five of the shortlisted titles. Interestingly, most of the work included circles around themes of death and grieving.

The latter opens with a bang, an excellent long prose piece by Naomi Booth called ‘What is tsunami’ which traces a child’s language development as experienced by a mother, from the mutual incomprehension of speechlessness to the different, but equally difficult, incomprehension that comes with fluency, brought together at the end by the titular question and its answer:

What is tsunami?

The crash of her words. Pouring in of world.

Prodigious wash that draws her in close, and sweeps her far, far away.

It’s a genuinely impressive piece of work from a writer who is, I regret to say, new to me.

Billy Mills, A review of two anthologies

The moths in the poem begin as “quiet words”, but the eyes of the lovers also turn into “moth wings”, disinterred from their context (“like a land that is locked, or lost”). So moths here are pieces of memory and language which fade away, but in doing so whirl and flare (they are “ecstatic with decay”). I think this makes ‘Small decrees of dust’ a poem about trying, fitfully, to love yourself, to gather up the evidence that will allow it, including the evidence of having been loved by another.

Jon Stone, Single Poem Roundup: Crowson, Crowcroft, Blackstone

‘Gleaming scars’. Draycott’s rapidly unfolding images pull ideas together in startling ways, refreshing perception by breaking down compartments and prizing apart conceptualisations that deaden awareness. She does this here by directly describing the process of kintsugi instead of simply referring to it. The phrase ‘the ancient art of the broken’ combines punchiness with a vast, vague and ambiguous suggestive reach. So vividly described, the process is made intensely and tantalizingly present to the imagination and, at the same time, as remote from daily life as something in a fairy tale. The last two and a half lines, returning us to the freezing river of the claim, put ‘the ancient art’ out of reach in a more physical way, with the repeated ‘all you needed’ sardonically emphasizing the gulf between aspiration and reality. Finally, those ‘gleaming scars’ bring the animate and the inorganic together in a way that creates a disturbingly unstable sensation, like touching something one expects to be dead and finding it alive or vice versa. What’s imagined as mended with scars of gold isn’t just a broken pot but the labourers and the bird in the living scene that the pot opens onto, and the shattered mind it represents. ‘Shining seams of precious metal’ doesn’t simply give a more vivid idea than ‘gold’ would have done, it specifically emphasizes gold’s metallic inhumanity.

Edmund Prestwich, Jane Draycott, The Kingdom – review

I only had to read the first three poems from Street Sailing by Matt Gilbert (Black Bough Poetry, 2023) to know that I had found another poet to add to my list of favourites! It is a remarkable work for a first collection: thoughtful, profound, engaging, beautifully crafted, fresh…: the sort of debut which makes you wonder where the poet can go from here, but let us leave that for another day. Let me tell you more about Street Sailing.

The collection is structured into a sort of physical and psychological journey of three parts that begins with a sudden awakening, as if the poet has been punched awake. There is a sense of shock, of disorientation, of confusion: ‘memory sent scrambling/ for her trousers: What – the hell – was that?’ (Awake). In the second stanza the narrator tries to make sense of the unanticipated experience: ‘Panicked synapses fumble/ for a trace’ and so begins a journey that will take us through both urban and rural settings and will lead in the final of three sections to poems of new understandings, of tensions resolved and of ‘Acceptance’.

Nigel Kent, Review of ‘Street Sailing’ by Matt Gilbert

You are a poet, writer, teacher and now also an editor. Tell us about Sídhe Press; how it came into being, its ethos and editorial vision.

Annick [Yerem]: I had thought about a press for a little while and during a slow art project with Sarah Connor, where we sent poems back and forth in letters, Sarah mentioned that she was thinking about putting a book together. So I just went with my gut and asked her if she would trust me with it even though I had no idea what I was doing. This was last June. And then everything came together, I found a name, found the picture for the logo thanks to an old friend, Aida, and then found Jane Cornwell, who agreed to work with me and design and format the books. Due to timelines I ended up doing the anthology on dementia first and found my wonderful co-editor and now friend, Mo Schoenfeld, to work with me on it. I have been incredibly lucky to work with Jane, Sarah, Mo, Larissa Reid, and with so many wonderful contributors. For the next anthology, I will be working with Mo and Sarah again, and also with Sue Finch, Róisín Ní Neachtain and Giovanna MacKenna. Have veered from the course a little to re-publish an amazing book by Nikki Dudley, now called Just One More Before I Go.

It´s been a very steep learning curve and of course I make mistakes, sometimes mortifying ones like writing poets´ names wrong, which happened a few times in the last anthology. The whole process teaches me a lot and it´s also something I can do although I´m sick, bit by bit and with a lot of help. I want Sídhe Press to be a safe space and a press that poets can trust. Am aiming to be transparent about mistakes and own up to them, and to be transparent about the process. 

Marian Christie, Poem by Poem: An interview with Annick Yerem, Editor at Sídhe Press

I had a sudden recollection the other day of a reading given by Brian Patten. It could have arisen because my interview with Brian is on the popular posts list. 

Memory

it’s a Friday evening
West Somerset

Brian is saying:
fuck you Stephen Spender
fuck you for what you visited on Stevie Smith
fuck you who remembers you now

that was years ago
and Stephen Spender
is not even a reflection
in our collective rear view mirror

A word about the people mentioned. Stevie Smith is a perennially popular poet who gave the language the phrase not waving but drowning. Stephen Spender was from a privileged background and became  communist before being knighted. If I have to choose a side then I’m with Brian. 

Paul Tobin, NOT EVEN A REFLECTION

I talk often of those sorts of tether points that connect certain eras or memories of our lives with others. My past self, 19, and just beginning to send out poems and my current self, also sending poems out in submission and the vast ocean of time between them. Or my 90s self, listening to certain songs or doing certain things and suddenly there is the same song and I am doing much the same thing, just 30 odd years later. At the drive-in last week, there was a string between my current self waiting excitedly for the movie and my child self waiting for the sun to set in the back of the car while my parents sat in the front.

Kristy Bowen, webs

This month, I’m entering into my third year of retirement (sort of, mostly) from education. A fair number of people asked me, when I left, if I was going to do more writing or focus on writing. It was a thing I always thought I would like to be able to do. It was a thing some part of me thought I probably should do. But any time I thought about it, I felt nothing but ambivalence. There was nothing much I wanted to say, and no goals related to writing that I could feel myself caring much about. Given that, writing hasn’t been something I’ve given much time to. Other things felt more compelling.

Over the past few weeks, as I’ve been writing about renovation and Louisiana, I’ve been feeling a shift. I don’t have a goal in mind, and I don’t have something particular to say. Instead, I have questions I want to think about, and this week it occurred to me (in a duh! kind of way) that questions are always my best way in, the best reason for me to write.

I’m not feeling ambitious or dutiful or purposeful. I’m feeling curious. That, too, feels like going home.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Maybe you can go home again

毬(いが)は海を 海胆(うに)は林を夢想して 伊丹啓子

iga wa umi o            uni wa hayashi o musōshite

            a burr dreams about the ocean

            a sea urchin dreams about woods

                                                            Keiko Itami

from Haidan, (Haiku Stage) a monthly haiku magazine, September 2017 Issue, Honami Shoten, Tokyo

Fay’s Note:   There is intentional space in the Japanese original.   It is a style of her haiku group founded by her father, Mikihiko Itami (1920-2019).

Fay Aoyagi, Today’s Haiku (September 16, 2023)

Before our Labor Day travel and our COVID infections, I was getting into a poetry rhythm.  I had actually composed a poem or two to completion.  My more usual practice over the past year or two (or more?) has been that I write a few lines, have a few more ideas, write a bit more, run out of time, never return to the draft.  My older process was to think the poem to completion before writing anything–I did wind up with more completed poems, but I lost more ideas too.

Obviously, both approaches have pros and cons, but I do wish the poetry part of my brain was feeling more inspired on a daily basis.  I was going to write that I should try reading more poetry, but I’m actually reading quite a bit of poetry as I prepare for my in-person class each week.  

I tend to be hard on myself for all the scrolling and internet reading and online ways of “wasting” time.  Some that time could be better spent.  Some of it is class prep.  Some of it will come out in poems in interesting ways.

I am grateful that I’m no longer spending time, so much time, getting ready for accreditation visits and doing the documenting that is required of administrators.  I do not miss that kind of writing, although I was skilled at it.

Let me do what I always do:  trust that my processes are at work, while also looking for ways to have more writing in each day.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Ebbs and Flows and Writing Rhythms

So, Monday I was healthy enough to get my antibody infusion finally, so I spent four hours with a needle in my vein, getting my temperature and blood pressure checked, and getting antibodies I can’t create put into my body. No major problems yet—still alive, as the pictures will prove—but I was knocked out for at least four days. I know some people with MS get these things once a month – as well as cancer patients, and people with immune problems like mine – but this was my first “infusion center” experience. […]

For now, just grateful to still be kicking and hopefully better off with the antibody treatment, ready to get out into the world and do a poetry reading with a friend at a cool indie bookstore this week, grateful for people reading and reviewing Flare, Corona in this busy world where poetry is so easily overlooked. Grateful for good weather, and flower farms near and far.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, An Infusion, A New Review for Flare, Corona, an Upcoming Reading at Edmonds Bookshop, and Spending Time in Flower Fields

Since my accident two years six months ago, I am growing stronger again and don’t have to pre-plan things quite so much. Mentally, my skills are returning and my brain is no longer having to focus quite so much on healing and regaining confidence. I keep trying things that push me a little out of my comfort zone, and each time I succeed, I feel more confident. The pain is less too, most of the time.

So for me now, September feels like a new start, even though I no longer teach. Some of the groups I belong to are starting up again, and I am excited to meet up with new friends I am making them, while still cherishing old friends.

We are starting to tidy the garden for winter and plant some bulbs. I am still sad that gardening is so very hard for me. I can do a lot sitting in a chair but if I try anything standing, I have to sit down fairly often. But at least I can easily get into my shed, although I can’t fetch anything out of it!

Apart from using my walker or my stick, and needing my grab bars and handrails, I am more or less back to my old self, and can take independent steps when I feel safe, though never outside (trip hazards!). Caution is still required because of Covid, but I am actively looking to lead poetry workshops and give readings now. I much prefer face to face. I am looking forward to reading in Shrewsbury next month, a 10 minute slot at the launch of Festival in a Book Anthology, edited by force-for-good Liz Lefroy, and meeting up with some poetry friends from that area.

There are a few exciting publications in the pipeline that must stay secret for now, but I am feeling happy and optimistic for the future.

Angela Topping, Summer Slips Away

who hides in the blessing that darkens a bloom

can the bones of birth become another’s life

does the moon still long for sight

Grant Hackett [no title]