Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 41

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week: blooming continuously, breaking poems, working without a safety net, talking to the underworld, building an honest nest, and more. Enjoy.


I’ve been thinking of enchanted forests.  I’ve been thinking of a cottage in the woods and what happens to wicked witches who mellow.  I’ve been thinking about herb gardens and ovens that bake bread, not little boys.

This morning I thought of the Bruno Bettelheim text, once classic not discredited, The Uses of Enchantment.  I thought of all those children using fairy tales to process the scary, incomprehensible stuff going on in their lives.  Am I doing the same thing for my mid-life fears?

Yesterday I took my daily walk by the tidal lake, as I do each day.  For the past several weeks, the lake has been jumping–or more precisely, the fish have been jumping.  I’ve seen a dolphin here and there.  I’ve seen lots of little fish skittering out, as if they were members of a water ballet company.  Yesterday, the word “enchanted” came to mind.

If we grew up hearing stories about enchanted lakes instead of enchanted forests, would our imaginations function differently?  Would we do more to protect bodies of water?  Probably not.

I think of the orchid on my office windowsill, the one that has bloomed continuously since July of 2020 when I got it from colleagues at work.  

Orchids are not supposed to bloom continuously for 15 months, but this one has: [photo]

People come into my office and stop at the sight of the orchid.  They ask me my secret.  I say, “Every day I pour the dregs of my cups of tea into it.  Maybe it likes the tannins.”  I try to beam my best swamp witch radiance when I say things like this.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, The Uses of Enchantment: the Mid-Life Edition

and so yes the jaguars still make me work, they are not gentle teachers you know, not always, not jaguars,

this isn’t self-help-soft-focus-someone-else’s-stolen-story this is my own bone and muscle and blood and death and dream,

and so when I wrap my body around his so determined to protect him fully this time, even from death,

I am quadruped and black as he, low bunched muscle and claw and teeth, and I will bite through the temporal bones of any who try for him and cast them off neck-broken into underbrush

JJS, the search

For much of the year, I’ve been breaking poems–trying different forms, writing into and out of different tensions. Not just deleting my darlings, but investigating them. Trying to play, knowing that I can always go back.

And then this past week, I read Tony Hoagland’s essay “Tis Backed Like a Weasel”: The Slipperiness of Metaphor, and the part about some people just not having the gift of metaphor made me sad, because I suspect that I might be one of those people. So I decided to pair play with the idea of deliberate practice. Maybe, despite what Aristotle says, I could become stronger at writing metaphors. I can play at what I’m trying to improve. And it was fun. To really practice, I should probably have written a full page of them, every day. But I don’t like the word should, and it doesn’t sound like play.

Joannie Stangeland, Spelling Bee and poetry

experiments with iron
liberating the colours
a mad book of masks

Penelope Circe Ariadne
alive in spite of everything
my missing grandmother

the word was made song
wayfaring lines
stop and look

a tidal island
dark brown and ancient
the pink elephant moth

weeding and mulching
preparing the ground
everything changes

Ama Bolton, ABCD October 2021

It has also been a long time since I gave anything resembling a public reading. But last Sunday afternoon I travelled with poet, Hilary Davies, out of London to Kimbolton School, north of Bedford for an actual in person book launch! The book was the sumptuous new anthology, Hollow Palaces, published by Liverpool University press and edited by John Greening and Kevin Gardner from Baylor University in the USA. The book is the first complete anthology of modern country house poems, including over 160 poets from Yeats and Betjeman to Heaney, Boland, Armitage and Evaristo.

The venue was fittingly grand. Kimbolton Castle is a country house in the little town of Kimbolton, Huntingdonshire and it was the final home of King Henry VIII’s first wife, Catherine of Aragon. Originally a medieval castle, it was later converted into a stately palace and was the family seat of the Dukes of Manchester from 1615 until 1950. It now houses Kimbolton School and this is where John Greening taught for a number of years (alongside Stuart Henson, another poet represented in the anthology).

With the declining sun streaming in through the opened French windows, looking out across the school playing fields, after an introduction from Kevin Gardner, we each read a couple of poems from the anthology. So – amongst others – John Greening read ‘A Huntingdonshire Nocturne’ about the very room we were assembled in, a subtle take on English history and education, Ulster and Drogheda. Hilary Davies’s poem rooted in Old Gwernyfed Manor in Wales, was a fantasy of lust, sacrifice, murder and hauntings. Stuart Henson’s compressed novelistic piece mysteriously described the murder or suicide of a Fourteenth Earl. Anne Berkeley remembered childhood isolation and bullying at a dilapidated Revesby Abbey. Rory Waterman re-visited the ruins of an old, tied lodge-house his grandmother once lived in. Lisa Kelly’s chewy foregrounded language (‘O drear, o dreary dreary dirge for this deer’) shaped itself into a sonnet. Rebecca Watts looked slant and briefly at Ickworth House, a glimpse of bees in lavender. Robert Selby was at Chevening, considering the clash of perspectives between the tourist’s casual gaze and the realities of tombs, time and history.

Martyn Crucefix, We’ll Meet Again/Well Met Again: my first public reading since lockdown

The full moon was rising, casting a shine on the water, casting a spell on me. Cypress trees hulked in their super power, long gnarled fingers sunken into the briny bottom, waiting patiently, so patiently. What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow out of this stony rubbish? 

It felt like entering a womb; warm, languid, swaddling. Your white dress ballooning like a ghostly Datura, your hair a raft of floating silk, my fingers woven in its strands, my lips mouthing your secret, tender name…

Charlotte Hamrick, Those Dead Shrimp Blues

Patrick Dougherty makes large-scale sculptures from sticks, twigs, stripped saplings. You can enter into the worlds of these structures like a creature, like wind. He said this about his medium, “I feel that materials have rules, they tend to have sets of possibilities….Sticks snag and entangle easily…so they have an inherent method of joining….For me sticks are not only the material of my structures, but are lines with which to draw.”

I love thinking about language in this way, words and syntax as tangling elements, sentences as lines drawn across and down the page. Multimedia artist Tara Rebele said to me once, “Everything is text.” This idea both confounds and opens me. It’s the possibilities inherent in half-heard conversations, street signs, the way shadows stripe the winter woods into zebra, the several zebras that have been at large for weeks in some Maryland suburb.

Marilyn McCabe, Isn’t it good; or, On Word as Material

It’s been a dreary week with record cold days (with the records of cold going back to the 1800’s!) and record rain. To cheer ourselves up, we visited the local farm stands, so we had fresh corn to make salads with and sweet baby peppers and apples and squashes of all sorts. We made pear soup (don’t know if I’d recommend) and baked cranberry apply bread and generally tried to stay warm. Glenn also had a physical on Monday and his third Pfizer booster shot. By the end of the week, not just Pfizer, but all the boosters had been approved.

After our weekend plans to visit my little brother and a friend over the water were ruined by problems with the ferries, we decided to make the most of the warmer day and partial sunlight and visited a brand new but beautiful pumpkin farm near our house, JB’s Pumpkins in Redmond, and Kirkland’s Carillon Point to find roses on the water still blooming, and went grocery shopping in person (something we rarely do) at Metropolitan Market. Plentiful produce and flowers, but other shelves – frozen aisle, dry goods, paper goods – were empty. A little unnerving, like we were having a hurricane that we didn’t know about. But everyone was in a kind mood – even friendly – which seems like people responding to lowering covid levels and, of course, the nicer weather after a very dark cold week.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A Week of Harvests (with Record Cold and Rain,) A Poem in Bellevue Literary Review, A Meditation on Boosters, Ferry Snafus and Shortages

It’s been a crazy week, but then, I expected it.  One deadline was moved forward a couple weeks, which offered a little reprieve, but the end of this one found me hanging an exhibit over the span of two floors, meeting with the college paper for an in-depth interview about it, and  giving an hour long academic talk about zines (thankfully, even paid!).  All the while trying to do, you know, my regular duties in the library, so things felt a little sideways as the week wore on.  Yet still, this morning, I was awake early with coffee and a delicious raspberry danish, making plans for the coming week and settling into a day of chapbook making on new titles. It was so chilly, I had to close all the open windows–a first this season–so it does seem we have moved fully into autumn. It’s two weeks til Halloween. Three weeks until that weird first week of November anniversary that plagues me even four years later. My dreams get weirder as we move through fall, sometimes involving my mother, sometimes not.  Last night, I dreamed I was harboring a small horse as a pet in my apartment.  Shit gets strange.

Sometimes,  I feel like the day to day vacillates between dead ends and possibility. Ways in and ways out.  I don’t have a plan any more than I have a possible trajectory over the next few months. A way of traveling I hope will lead to better things. It’s scary to be working without a safety net, and yet, if you rely too much on the safety net, you never learn to balance.  I’ve been on a break from poems, a little bit to work on the fiction I’ve been dallying with, also just because my head is full of so much, there is less room for words.  I am also hovering between larger projects, so there is a moment of pause as I choose where to go next.  I feel like I am missing the motivation I used to have for certain things but gaining in others. 

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 10/16/2021

[Dobby] Gibson shows how our routines distract us from pending disaster, how — instead of compelling us toward action — our daily routines compel us to repeat our daily routines. The poem even mimics this uninterrupted cycle: We’re with the speaker as he consumes reminders of the crisis then goes about his day as planned. We claim to be awake to the danger (the poem opens, “Once awake”), but then we go about our business. We get on with the sameness. Its repetition is a sedative: “When I asked you what day it was, / you said the day after yesterday.” Our inability to stop mutes our response to climate crisis. Awareness is a dull weapon. Our habits are stronger than our fears, more reliable than our desire.

I think immediately of Rachel Zucker’s book the pedestrians and jump up to grab it off the shelf. I’ve written before about the power of that book, which evokes the experience of how painful it can be when things (relationships, life, etc.) become humdrum, how lack of feeling, or maybe appropriate feeling, can be extremely painful. Inattention is gut-wrenching. Indifference is unendurable. For example, Zucker writes, “Many days passed. Many nights. The same number of days and nights. They slept in the smoke-drenched bed or rather the husband snored and sputtered and she lay awake and unseeing under her chilled eye mask.” In its willfulness, the word unseeing gets me every time. And this, as well: “They were sitting on the deck having that same difficult conversation they had every few months no matter where they were or what else was happening.” Zucker captures the harm in doing what we’ve always done just because it’s what we’ve always done. Do we know how to make space for change?

Gibson’s poem evokes in me that same question, along with some others: Do we deserve to hope? Do we care, really? What does it say that we see what comes next and then let it happen anyway? The poem strongly implicates all of us. Take a look at the vase near the end of the poem: “No matter where we move the glass vase, / it leaves a ring.” We’re marked by evidence of our coveting, but instead of interrogating it, we’re distracted by what’s inconsequential: the ring vs. the container or what the container holds. The language Gibson uses throughout the poem builds up to this moment of profound distraction. He makes the objects in the poem far sexier than “survival.” He describes his smartphone as a “terrible orb” and animates the barbershop’s combs, which are “swimming in little blue aquariums.”

Carolee Bennett, poetry prompt about climate crisis

‘Awful but cheerful’ is the final phrase and line of ‘The Bight‘, by Elizabeth Bishop. I’ve always felt that the poem was like the lesser-played song on a double A-side single. ‘At the Fishhouses‘, its sister-poem of coastal life, seems so much more elemental, necessary, and, well, likeable. […]

And yet, in these strange and troubling times, it is to ‘The Bight’ that I find myself turning more often, and to its ending in particular, with its dying fall cadences, its note of things going on because they have to and in spite of. Isn’t this where a lot of our lives are lived, in ‘awful but cheerful’? From queuing at the supermarket (or for petrol) to waiting for chemotherapy drugs which may or may not arrive; from hoping for a climate miracle or just for a good night’s sleep: awful but cheerful is where I am at right now. I sit with it and watch the tide going out, knowing it will be back again soon. As Peter Carpenter once said about a goal being scored, the music of the line feels both inevitable and a complete surprise. This is why I read poetry.

Anthony Wilson, Awful but cheerful

I call myself agnostic mainly, atheist occasionally, but I pray sometimes. I don’t discuss it much: saying you talk to the underworld is likely to concern religious friends on behalf of your soul and skeptical friends on behalf of your brain. But while praying the way I was taught in Sunday school felt terrible–addressing formal words to a pale and distant father in the sky who never answered–connecting imaginatively to soil and rock settles me. I even get good advice sometimes. Yep, what’s returning my calls may be a deeper part of myself rather than an outside force, yet I have an inkling that the inside-outside distinction is wrong-headed anyway, so I don’t worry about it. I’ll take whatever help the universe is offering.

Lesley Wheeler, Currents and circuits

Reasons to weep
are as numerous as the stars.

Every bodyworker knows
the muscle that cries out

is the victim: something else
has tightened into immobility.

But when it’s the heart
that cries out —

how can I delaminate
years of fused-together sorrows?

Rachel Barenblat, Tight

All the small hells beneath our tongue crumble. To no one in particular, we say how we are grateful for this shining breath and our next one.

Night whispers back how we are not alone. The skin of its voice soft to the touch as it tells us it will not leave us.

Rich Ferguson, Once Upon a Coyote Night

I’ve also long had an interest in the poetry of work, and so when I saw that Krista Tippett shared an interview from 2010 with Mike Rose, it got me thinking again in old ways (by which I mean independent of the pandemic). Sure ordinary life is different, but it’s still ordinary life, we still work, and we need to look for the joy in that. From On Being: “I grew up a witness,” Mike Rose wrote, “to the intelligence of the waitress in motion, the reflective welder, the strategy of the guy on the assembly line. This then is something I know: the thought it takes to do physical work.”

Isn’t it uplifting when you run into someone who does the thing they do with an enthusiasm, a precision, a care? And when they do it with delight, it IS a delight. Wow!

There is a book of conversations I love between Hélène Cixous and Mireille Calle-Gruber where MCG talks about the vulnerability one needs to write, and “the fact that it takes a lot of love to write.” And I think, it’s like that with everything, really, whatever work you do. HC says, “In the end, love is very easy. When you love, it’s easy; all that is difficult is easy. Because you are continually paying yourself…” I’m sure some people wonder why the heck I do this blog for little fanfare or acclaim or cash damn dollars. I always come back to this answer, that I love it and so I am constantly paying myself. Don’t get me wrong I also love dollars, but I can’t think about them, I just have to think about what I love. I rather foolishly and brilliantly put most of my faith in doing what I love. I am continually paying myself.

Shawna Lemay, Life I love You

When the book gets accepted, everything is awesome.

THEN, you start editing it and realize the book is awful, actually awful. There are so many mistakes and also so much just pure awfulness.

THEN you have to ask for blurbs.
Oh Lord Have Mercy.

There are some really wonderful people who say Yes!, but there are some that say No (for various good reasons, but still. NO.).

THEN when the book comes out, some people read it and review it (Oh again Lord have Mercy!) and some offer Critique and not just nice-things (the nice things though are really, really nice to hear).

OR no one really reads it, and that is probably even worse.

All that to say, it is still totally worth pursuing publication. I’m not one of the three poets that America is interested in (Billy Collins, Mary Oliver, Whoever Is Big on Instagram), so I don’t expect to reach more than a Poetry audience.

And I write religious poetry. From the perspective of a woman. So that just slashed readership in halves and halves.

(and I don’t really like it when people who know me read my books. If you know me, and you haven’t read my books–GOOD. Let’s keep it that way. I’ll maybe write more on this some other post.)

But sometimes I have people who read my book and really like it, and that is really nice.

Kinda makes it all worth it nice.

Renee Emerson, if you think publishing a book will make you feel super validated and great, then you are in for a surprise!

It’s good to crawl out from under the thin and watery blues with some good news. Hotel Almighty has been chosen as having one of the best-designed covers of 2020 by AIGA, the American Institute of Graphic Artists! This is really a thrill. Back when I used to sojourn over to the Frankfurt Book Fair to do book-cover slide shows for one of my company’s publications, I used to pore over this very list swooning over good design.

The cover of Hotel Almighty was designed by Danika Isdahl and Kristen Miller at Sarabande, who suggested the cut-out method I use with various collages in the book. I made the cover collage in a dank basement in the Austrian Alps two summers ago. I mocked up three ideas and they liked this one. And I did too. I couldn’t be happier. It’s a good cover and a good ambassador for the book.

Sarah J Sloat, A Design Winner

It [is] very moving to receive a Jewish award for a novel about the Holocaust, particularly one that draws deeply on the story and experiences of my family and their history in Lithuania.

Literature can offer connection, empathy, understanding and consolation between those of vastly different experiences. It explains ourselves to ourselves but also to others. 

And my book makes connections between the Shoah and Indigenous genocide. Once, the remarkable Metis writer, Cherie Dimaline said to me that “we’re genocide buddies.” Jews and Indigenous peoples. That’s brutally true. And important.

Since I first encountered them as a teenager, I often think of these lines from Marvin Bell’s poem “Gemwood.” “Now it seems to me the heart /must enlarge to hold the losses /we have ahead of us.”

 To me this means that while we must be ready for what the future brings, we must be also be ready for the extent of the losses of the past and present as we continue to learn. Like the universe itself, both past and present never stop expanding. That’s one function of writing. To expand but also to encounter that expansion, those stories.

Gary Barwin, Canadian Jewish Literary Award and new paperback cover for NOTHING THE SAME, EVERYTHING HAUNTED

Although I’m on a year’s leave of absence from the University of York, I’m actually still plugged in to Dante and also Chaucer these days, and find myself referring to notes I was making on my core course module last year. I’m loving Mary Jo Bang’s translation of Purgatorio, incorporating characters and language from the present day, although I suspect it might be sniffed at in some scholarly circles!

As regards submissions to magazines, I’ve decided to step away from them for bit. I have half a dozen poems out at the moment, but I’m not sending any more for now. I have a few reasons for this.

Firstly, I don’t need to, in the sense that I have a track record of publication now, and I’ve nothing to prove to myself or anyone else. I think I’ve found my level. It would have been nice to be have published in The Poetry Review or Granta, but it’s OK to accept that it’s not going to happen. I could kill myself trying to write the ‘right’ sort of stuff, or I could write what I want to write, and enjoy honing it as best I can.

Secondly (related to the first point), I have a publisher for my first collection. I don’t have the collection yet, but I have the freedom to complete it, knowing it will have a home. This is a very privileged position to be in and I want to enjoy the moment, not fret about why Publication A, B or C don’t want any of the individual poems. Plenty of high profile poets have told about how the individual poems in their (successful) collections were consistently rejected by magazines. Or even that they never submitted them to magazines.

I can’t swear that I won’t submit the odd poem here and there, but I’ll be very happy not to be constantly putting my work up for possible rejection. I think the course at York has opened my eyes/mind to a lot of things. Perhaps a leave of absence makes the heart grow fonder – I’m starting to look forward to going back, which is quite a turnaround.

Robin Houghton, Readings, decisions, fresh starts

Now, in the wake of Covid, doing something only because it’s the way we used to do it feels like a thing of the past. We are reminded frequently of all that our students have been through and of what they are still enduring, and many things seem up for reconsideration.

Now, I strive to ground all of my practices in authentic purpose and true care. When I could see that some students were submitting assignments in the middle of the night, I told them that I never want to see that they’ve turned an assignment in after 11:00 pm. I’d rather they sleep and turn it in late. It doesn’t mean I don’t have due dates. I do. Every time, many students meet them, and some don’t. When they don’t, though, our conversations are not about the points they’ll lose. They are instead about what barriers are keeping them from getting their work done and what strategies we might use to remove them. No one seems to care that someone who turned the assignment in late gets the same full credit as someone who turned it in on time. Maybe it’s because we’ve talked about how grades should reflect what we know and can do with regard to our learning standards (rather than our behaviors), or maybe it’s because they like knowing that, should they need it, they will be given some grace when they can’t meet a deadline. (Because things happen to all of us, eventually.)

To be honest, I don’t know why they’re responding differently. I don’t really care. It doesn’t matter.

It is so freeing to teach this way, to be this way. It feels so much more humane. There are some natural consequences when deadlines are missed (say, when progress report grades are due), but I am driven much less by plans and deadlines that I’ve created and much more by what all of us need. The grace I extend comes back to me; when I explained to my students that some assignments wouldn’t be reflected in the progress report grades because I hadn’t had time to grade them yet, no one grumbled. It’s just how we are now, it seems. We trust that the soup will get made eventually, and some nights we eat take-out pizza because that’s all we can manage if we want to be OK. We’ll all live.

As I rest from this week and begin turning toward the next one, I’m wondering what more I can let go of, in order to free my hands for other things to hold on to. This week, the more I let go of ideas about some days being for work and others for the things I want to do, the more work became a fulfilling thing I wanted to do, and the more peace I felt about whatever I could and couldn’t accomplish in any given day, either in my school life or my home life.

All of this pondering about plans sent me back to the Burns poem alluded to in the title of this post, and re-reading it I focused on things I never have before, such as its line about Man’s dominion breaking social union. I realized how much our pandemic has been like his farmer’s plow, and how much I’m coming to think, like the farmer, that in spite of the sudden and unwanted destruction we’ve lived through (those of us who are still alive), it might be better to be the mouse than him, who looks back at prospects drear and forward to fears. Even though I know it could be upturned at any moment, I’m much preferring the honest nest I’m building now than the one that gave me false security before.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Best laid plans

Four Loblolly Pines—also called Sea Pines, Frankincense Pines, Southern Pines—send their straight trunks through the North Carolina humidity. In a tangle of pine boughs, two hawks have built a nest you might mistake—as I have—for a squirrel’s. Under these pines, under the weep-like hawk cries circling their nest, is my house. In a back room on the first floor, the door closed against the sounds of my children’s play, is my desk. I think of the pines above me as I write, needles brushing the house, pinecones falling with a thunk against the roof. When the wind blows, you can hear the needles blow with it. I welcome the pines’ presence, even when I imagine one falling in a storm’s high winds, as one did through my neighbor Waverly’s kitchen, a few years back. If a pine wants in, it comes in—that pine made a skylight out of Waverly’s kitchen ceiling. Waverly says it took months to fix properly, and several contractors. The tree removal service for a single a large pine like a Loblolly can run you upwards and above a thousand dollars—one lesson here is that it costs to lower something, to haul something pine-sized away, to mulch the evidence of branches.

That the pines do not fall on our house I consider a daily mercy, and the hawks nesting in the pines a grace—especially since I own no chickens, unlike my mother and her grandparents, the majority of our Southern family tree filled with squawking fowl.

Han VanderHart, Learn from the Pine

He had finally stopped sweating. For once
Nixon didn’t look like he was trying to sell
us a ’65 Ford Galaxy with an off-color
hood. His body jerked and flipped as
wolves, in winter, tore long, dry strips of
flesh from Nixon’s carcass, chewing on
sinew under the moonless sky. Nixon’s
internal organs were already gone and
his bones hung like sugar skeletons inside
his skin. When the grizzly meal was finished
the wolves trotted off, their almost silent
footsteps fading into the trees.

James Lee Jobe, Nixon’s Body, Dug Up By Wolves

In New Jersey, 2021 was the Summer of Love — for the 17-year cicada. ;- )

My wife Nancy Fischer Waters and I collaborated on a prose / poem piece that captures a moment from that crazy-short time when the air was abuzz with cicadas. Talk about speed dating! […]

nothing to lose!
the way we danced
when we were 17

Bill Waters, Seventeen

The latest project translated by Montreal poet, editor, translator and critic Erín Moure is Uxío Novoneyra’s The Uplands: Book of the Courel and other poems, a bilingual edition with Moure’s English translation alongside Novoneyra’s original Galician “with an Erín Moure poem from Little Theatres, a dictionary, an essay, an introduction, and dreams” (El Paso TX: Veliz Books, 2020). As the back cover offers on the work and life of the late Galician poet Uxí oNovoneyra (1930-1999): “He was an eco-poet before the concept existed. Maybe he even invented it. He wrote and rewrote one great book all his life, Os Eidos[The Uplands], from which most of these poems are drawn.” […]

It has been interested to watch Erín Moure’s ongoing explorations through translation over the past two decades-plus, and it would appear that for Moure, translation isn’t purely a singular project or trajectory, but an extension and continuation of conversations that run throughout her work as a whole. One could point to the use of multiple languages and stitched-in materials throughout her own poetry collection to her early book-length translations of poetry from French into English (Nicole Brossard, for example), before eventually extending further, to engage with Portuguese and  Spanish, and Galician texts, beginning with the work of poet Chus Pato. Moure has long been attentive to both translation and what she calls transelation, attending to shifts not simply between and amid language but the possibilities themselves, of which there are so often more than a simple, single one. Her overlay across and into the work of Pessoa, Sheep’s Vigil by a Fervent Person (Toronto ON: Anansi, 2001), was a particular high point in her evolution as and through translation, and the ways through which she seems to approach the work of Uxío Novoneyra furthers the possibilities of what might be possible. Her notion of translation appears to be one of polyphonic conversation, writing out not but a singular definitive thread or perspective. It is her openness that allow for multiple elements in the original text, interacting with her own approaches and considerations, their equal weight.

rob mclennan, Uxío Novoneyra, The Uplands: Book of the Courel and other poems, trans. Erín Moure

[Rob Taylor]: You’ve translated the poetry of Wacław Iwaniuk and Andrzej Busza, Polish poets who, like yourself, immigrated to Canada soon after the war. Could you talk a little about how translation and, more broadly, Polish poetry and the Polish language, have influenced your own writing style?

[Lillian Boraks-Nemetz]: Translation influenced my English writing hugely. J. Michael Yates, an American poet teaching a creative writing course at UBC, noticed that I had a knack for translation and encouraged me. I was also encouraged by a British Poet at UBC , Michael Bullock, also known worldwide for his German translations.

I come from a broken language. I wrote in Polish as a little girl, then I was told when we came here that my past did not exist, only my English future. When I saw a Polish poem translated into English, I saw the possibility of my own writing. Here no one understood my harsh imagery, nor anything else I wrote about, and my work was rejected. A Polish scholar and a German poet told me once that when two animals fight with each other a third emerges. That was my version of English poetry.

Rob Taylor, A Third Animal Emerges: An Interview with Lillian Boraks-Nemetz

As I said, I’ve chosen to concentrate on poems that place themselves where the sky is enormous and isolating and where the landscape inevitably ends in a shadow line like the numinous dividing ‘lines’ in Rothko’s great canvasses. The collection is in six sections, or chapters, and each one contains a tidal river, or a sea shore, or saltings or estuaries reedbed and marsh and the dangerous unstable effulgent light off such places. As though you find yourself in a Turner that’s suddenly become live and cold and dangerous. This first poem is the opening poem of the first section, and and contains whole millennia of refugees. […]

I found it next to impossible to clear my mind of the appalling image of the fleeing being dragged down by all that had gone before, drowned by the clawing hands of history. Who can tell if they escaped in that wild boat, or who may plunge down with the cormorants ‘folding themselves like paper‘ into the detritus of the jettisoned and abandoned and wrecked.

John Foggin, My kind of poetry: Ruth Valentine’s “If you want thunder”

There you are in the garden, amazed
at how the time moved so quickly, a stone
that finally learned to lightly graze

each watery crest
instead of sinking with the weight
of its own resistance—

The crepe myrtle trees shed
their tattered tissue but you don’t know
if they’re entering or leaving their grief.

You yourself pull at threads: weft
and weave, your soul still anxious
about stitches and holes—

A thimbleful of seed,
a mouthful of feathers, a box
filled with all the words you remember—

Luisa A. Igloria, Weaving

Even when you cross it out
that doesn’t mean it’s gone,
the old monk told the poet.

Tom Montag, TEN OLD MONK POEMS (36)

Stop doing something, then start again to incur wonder. I.e., travel! You give your suitcase to strangers and pick it up on a Mediterranean island? You fly in the belly of a mechanical bird? Suddenly you’re above the clouds where the sun streaks pink, you look out the window again and you’re in darkness. You fly over a sepia city, small beads sewn into a warm fabric, a ground. There is a sinuous line dividing dark ocean from coast, dark wash of the Atlantic to urbanscape. This is night, do they never turn off the lights? It could be any city, but this is Lisbon, the first stop out of three. It’s 5am. Men shine in their fluorescent green vests, joking as they unload bags from the belly of the bird.Up and away to Rome, descending towards Rome. How stunned the ships, becalmed toys in the Mediterranean. What is that jagged shark…if not our plane’s trailing shadow. Flying over land, that cluster of reddish structures has the brush of the antique. Get closer, there’s a Roman amphitheater in the middle of weeds and industrial blocks. Made it to stop three. Welcome to Palermo, Sicily!

Jill Pearlman, It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane…Travel Again

shiny rock
many silent feet
before me

Jim Young [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, 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 or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week, the cast of the sea, the happy accident, living down the road from Wendell Berry, Lear’s shadow, the possessions of the dead, secreting a minuscule rainbow, spiders on skis, and more.


It’s a sunny day in a quaint Ohio town. I’ve taken up a position on the sidewalk under a blue tent. Most people going by avert their eyes.

I’m here because, nearly two years ago, I agreed to do a book signing at an independent bookshop so adorable it could easily serve as the setting for a novel. The pandemic postponed this signing so long that I’m sitting here with the title that came out before my most recent book.

Although I’ve had four books published, I’ve never done an individual bookstore event before. Readings, yes. Workshops, yes. Group signings like the annual fabulous Author Alley at Loganberry Books, yes. This is a fresh experience for me. Other writers have told me bookstore signings can be excruciating. Often the only people who stop by are those asking if there’s a public bathroom or where the horror section is located. Today I’ll discover what it’s like for myself. Except I’m not inside, I’m out on the sidewalk. The open-sided tent blocks the pavement, meaning passersby must walk under it. This forces them to decide whether to look or not look at the strange woman sitting a few hopeful feet away.

I brought a basket of wrapped chocolates, a pen, bookmarks, and a little poster noting that a portion of each book sale goes to support the work of Medina Raptor Center. I brought what I hope is enough curiosity about this experience to tamp down my ongoing urge to hide in the stacks of the bookstore behind me. I tell myself I will savor the face of every person going by. I will spend by two whole hours being fully present.

Laura Grace Weldon, Experiment In Savoring

looking out of the glass doors of the foyer
he thought the afternoon light had taken on the cast of the sea
the car park a washed out watercolour

he was silent all the way home

Paul Tobin, THE CAST OF THE SEA

I had made an effort. I had put on a jacket. I had prepared. The words of my first poetry mentor Stewart Henderson came back to me in the half-dark: ‘It doesn’t matter if you are only reading to your mother, a cat and two children, you still honour the text of your words and knock it out of the park.’ So I did.

I read and read and read about death, my-not-quite-my-own, and others’, what that does to you, your body, your mind, your capacity to live in the fullness of life having not-died even though sometimes you think you might have.

As it grew darker, another voice from the beginning-of-things came back to me, this time in the form of a poem: Brendan Kennelly’s magnicifent ‘The Gift’, specifically his line about ‘places that were badly-lit’.

About ten seconds before going on, the organiser had asked me if it was light enough to read by. I replied that it was. But by the time I was half-way through I felt as though I was lancing my words into the outer darkness, a strange sensation for a thing that was at once so grand and intimate. (This reminds me of certain books I have written, still available here and here.) I could not see a soul. I found the experience bizarrely comforting. The universe seemed to be saying: poetry has always been like this. You want to play at Wembley? Do something else.

Anthony Wilson, Badly-lit

I’ve been thinking about the happy accident, the thing that sometimes happens in creative work where two or three things come together in an unexpectedly useful way. I’ve been working on some videopoems, and I find the happy accident is one of the delights of making work in that genre.

When I put together a videopoem, I’m usually working with text I’ve already created, and then either creating my own visuals or using visuals someone else created. I usually record myself speaking my text in Garageband, dump it into iMovie, develop a library of potential images, and then start flinging them into the layout to see what I can make of it all.

And in this way, there’s always some unplanned and surprising moment or two — the text is saying something compelling just as an image appears that resonates with it. I find those moments and work outward from there. Then if I add another layer of sound, for example, more correspondences can happen…along with other more chaotic effects that have to be reined in.

Marilyn McCabe, Oye como va; or, On Creative Happenstance

I have often envied writers who have or have had a ‘shed’ at their disposal for writing, reading and contemplation, whether the structure has been a driftwood hut, a remote bothy or a garden gazebo. Dylan Thomas and the Reverend R.S. Hawker both had writing huts with coastal views. I would definitely opt for one of these.  

Of course, it isn’t only writers who have huts. The photograph below shows a hut on Romney Marsh in Kent, provided for the ‘lookers’, folk who were asked to care for huge flocks of sheep on behalf of the land owners, who considered the marsh an unhealthy place in which to live. 

Unlike the shepherds, who only minded a single flock, lookers were responsible for sheep belonging to more than one owner. The workers were based at their huts by day, and at lambing times found themselves camping out in them overnight. 

It seems ironic to me that the hut in the photo below, designed for these lookers, seems so devoid of windows.

Caroline Gill, National Poetry Day 2021, Theme of ‘Choice’

There’s nothing like asking for blurbs that reminds me that I am probably the least glamorous of poets.

Wendell Berry can isolate on his farm, and everything thinks it’s cool. No big readings or university gig or living in the big city or editing the big magazine? Just out in the fields? It’s cool. It’s romantic.

But what about the stay-at-home homeschooling mom of six? Why is changing diapers just less romantic than shoveling manure?

Take the author photo for example–Wendell Berry could do a nice right-in-front-of-a-barn photo.

If we are being completely honest here, I should probably be pictured in front of a sinkload of dirty dishes, or maybe sitting on the floor next to a pile of laundry.

Renee Emerson, why can’t I be cute like Wendell Berry?

Growing up, I wasn’t ever interested in poetry. I only learned about “dead poets” in middle school and early high school, so I gathered that poets were extinct, much like dinosaurs. Then I changed schools and I just so happened to end up in classes with one of Wendell Berry’s grandchildren. Turns out Wendell Berry even taught at the school! (One English class, every other week, if I remember correctly.) While I never had him in class, my brother did—for which I will always be envious.

Being in the same building as Wendell Berry, seeing him in the lobby waiting to take his grandkids home for the day…it really put poetry on the map for me, but I thought Wendell was an anomaly at the time. His farm, as it turned out, was just down the road from my family’s farm, so I viewed him more as a neighbor rather than a monumental figure. But in college, when I attended an English class with the prose poet David Shumate, that all changed. In his course, I was introduced to contemporary poetry. I noticed a poem by Wendell in the assigned anthology, which (I think, ashamedly) was the first time I ever read his poetry. Among Wendell were poets like Rita Dove, W.S. Merwin, Sharon Olds, Ted Kooser, Elizabeth Bishop, etc. There was poetry written, at that time, within the last few years! Not centuries ago. It was poetry that didn’t rhyme. Poetry that referenced cars, computers, cell phones…the technology of my modern experience. These poems spoke to me as no other poem had up until that point. As a result, I was finally able to look back at the poets I’d learned in high school, those poets of centuries ago, with appreciation. The rest, as they say, is history.

Daniel Lassel, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Daniel Lassell (rob mclennan)

When my parents moved to a senior-living campus about 10 years ago, one of the hardest aspects of downsizing was what to do with the books. My dad’s bookshelves were full of texts that he found meaningful, valuable, inspirational, informational, necessary; he loved to read. Choosing which books to give away and which to keep was agonizing for him. And then he faced the task again when he and my mother moved to a smaller, assisted-living apartment. That time, he donated many of his books to the facility’s library, so he could “visit” them if he needed them. There remained one large bookcase. Because you can’t live a happy life without books!

Then he died; and my mother, who also loved to read, developed such aphasia that she could no longer decipher sentences. Now, every time I visit, she gestures at the books and urges me to take some of them. It’s hard to explain the response I have to taking home my dad’s books–a mixture of tenderness and discomfort, nostalgia and pain. Sometimes I end up giving the books away, but usually I read them first. Because they are books and deserve to be read, somehow, just by virtue of existing. No–by virtue of their having been significant to my dad. That is why I feel compelled to read them.

Ann E. Michael, Being receptive

What happens to someone’s life –not the body or the soul but the million pieces one leaves in the world.   Where does it go?  Who does it belong to?  The saddest and most interesting things at thrift stores are the caches of random photos and ephemera, no doubt rescued from someone’s house.  These cabinet cards felt like that.  My aunt told me there were mine and to do with them what I would, but I could not bring myself to wreck them, so carefully scanned each one and tucked the originals away.  A few weeks ago I came across them straightening my studio area at home and was tempted to toss them again.  I did not. But then I wondered why not? Some day, when I am dead, because I have no children, someone will find them and throw them away. 

Stuff makes me anxious..even more personal stuff.  While the thought of someone one day packing up clothes and books for donation is less frightening, I think of my photo albums. My journals. Yearbooks from middle school and junior high. Several scrapbooks–writing related, theatre related. My folders full of poem drafts. Where does this go/  Who owns it when i am gone??  Who even wants it? Will those same victorian photos of people somehow distantly related to me wind up in the hand of another artist like me. A collector of odd random things. 

Which of course, brings us back to the project.  The letters (fictional) from one sister to another across time and distance. Somewhere I have a few odd letters from high school penpals.  Some notes from friends in the years before e-mail.  Letters sent from family when I was living in North Carolina and badly wanted mail. There were some love letters I once kept– From an ex who spent time incarcerated for the better part of a year and wrote often. (though I briefly and unwisely  revived this entanglement a couple years later, the letters I tossed in 2013.)  As e-mails and text became the prime ways to communicate, the paper trail has dwindled. Thankfully, no one will read my letters when they are gone.  As a writer who wonders how much of famous authors writings they actually would shiver to see published now, this is a big relief.  

Kristy Bowen, the things we leave behind

i folded the sheet of newspaper into a hat
the way my mother did when I was a child
if i made two more folds
it would have become a boat
but i stop at the hat and i place it on my head
once upon a time i did this to please my mother
so she would know that i learned from her
years later i wore the hat to make my children laugh
now my mother is gone and so are the children
in the silence of the house i wear the foolish hat
a hat made of folded newspaper.
no one sees
no one laughs
from outside
i hear the sound of a blue jay.
it is a lonely sound

James Lee Jobe, i wear the foolish hat

Calling my front yard a “lawn” is a bit of a stretch, because it’s mostly weeds. My main strategy has been to plant different ground cover that will reduce the need to mow, but I’ll still have to find a way to remove the leaves from the beds in November/December. I loathe leaf blowers, but at least I have an electric one that isn’t too loud.

My mom also gave me some tiny purple and green leafy plants that I identified as common bugle. In the spring it grows tiny purple flowers. I have some cultivated bugle whose leaves are shiny and lush, and it has grown into enormous clusters.

But since I’ve transplanted my mom’s shoots, I’ve seen tiny bugles dotting the neighborhood, growing like little wildflowers weeds do, freely and with abandon.

I suppose you could say my writing life is like the common bugle or a humble wildflower weed. I plant my little fragments of poetry that live in tattered notebooks until I take notice of them and marvel at a flash of color that deserves some cultivation.

Christine Swint, Gardening and Poetry

The month one of my daughters stopped
speaking to me I’d step out of the door after rain
and see a proliferation of spores across the yard:
jack-o-lanterns, burnt matches, false morels
issuing from deep in the earth where a chain
of changes is always fluctuating like tectonic
plates. I didn’t know how the slightest nudge
could tear a stalk from loam, a colony
from a shingle of bark; and yet they always
came back. I didn’t know how long
I could hold a grief like that.

Luisa A. Igloria, Spores

Lear.  …who is that can tell me who I am?

Fool.  Lear’s shadow.

Lear’s mistake is to try to lay down his burden. He thinks that he has earned a rest. Nobody earns a rest. We just go to our rest, when we are called. All that trying to lay your burden down ahead of time does, is deliver you to the mercy of hellkites, and take your true and loyal daughter away from you.  You may not understand it, but you are holding something together. It is not your job to second-guess the future. It is your job to pay attention to your nearest and dearest, and use whatever meager discernment the years may have given you.

Dale Favier, The Quiet and Dark of Winter

These are ways maps are drawn, routes
The city bus takes in the grooves of the brain
Filled with buckets of tar: everything real
Duplicates by dubious recurrence— déjà vu.

Uma Gowrishankar, Mitya

On the trail, I wrote another tiny poem, having brought clipboard, paper, and pencil along. On the road back, I noted the irony of the road sign: pictorial leaping deer + “next 2 miles.” My heart split, sending out the warning, Stay where you are! to the deer in the preserve, and wishing for Bill his last venison sausage. Alas, we did see a small deer dead by the side of the road.

Kathleen Kirk, Deer Blind

[…]
extra slices of bread after dinner
and soft butter in the dish

the infant asleep
in five minutes

asleep again in two
__________

I have an unpublished chapbook called m(other), and this is a poem in it that I think about a lot–I did this morning, when there was soft butter on the counter. Postpartum depression can make the smallest acts monumental, overwhelming–even something little like setting out butter, washing a dish, picking up a sock. I struggled mightily with any sense of self during my first postpartum experience–and this poem is a ledger of remembering some of the graces in life, despite a deep soul-body weariness.

Han VanderHart, a counting list : postpartum depression

I had hopes of working on a new poem during Shabbat, but my body had other plans. I spent most of Shabbat lying on a heating pad, remembering that when the sciatica flares up, poetry is hard to come by.

The world becomes very immediate. Past and future both recede. I’m firmly in the now of pressing into the heating pad in hopes that spasming muscles and pinched nerve will yield into release.

Rachel Barenblat, Stillness

Last weekend I ran along the shore and the air was still. But the sea was still churning from the storm that had passed through. Tall waves, dark and edged with a white so opaque I could imagine I was running through an oil painting.

Sometimes writing is like wading into a stream where others have left all the stories to flow together, to flow through your hands, around your waist and into new ribbons of currents of hot and cold shining with the tiny creatures that give the world life, that take the world’s life. There’s nothing to claim here. Not really. It all runs to the ocean.

I miss writing.

Ren Powell, The Opposite of Disassociation

School summer holidays are a dream come true. 6 weeks paid leave; the pay for a teaching assistant is miserably low, but all the same, time verses money – there’s no contest. Anyway, this summer I went back to the music shop where I bought my first instrument, booked a private appointment for an hour and ended up staying three, and came home with the most gorgeous, deep-toned instrument that should keep me going for a few years to come. I realise that I’m becoming a guitar geek but I can live with that. I’ll never be a great player but I can live with that too because like most things I get involved with, it’s the ‘doing’ that I enjoy most. And I still enjoy ‘doing’ poetry, but when you give your time to one thing, something else has to give. So recently, the new guitar has been taking up most of my time. I’ve not abandoned haiku, but having prioritised my interests, the blog has suffered a bit. So, this post is just to say that I’m still here, and I’m still writing, but I’m also enjoying the sound of my new guitar (and in case you were wondering what has happened to the old one, it’s now in a different tuning so I have some new tunes and techniques to learn).

And I’m still enjoying reading whatever Snapshot Press publishes (John Barlow is not only an accomplished haiku poet but an influential figure in UK publishing). I can highly recommend his book (below) and I’ll leave you with the title poem:

evening surf …
sandpipers waiting
for the seventh wave

Julie Mellor, Playing the acoustic

[Rob Taylor]: I’ve always felt like there are two types of poets: those who want to write and write and write until the moment the universe stops them, and those whose writing is a means toward reaching an eventual silence (even if they never fully arrive). Funnily, considering you’ve published eighteen books of poetry (in addition to plays, essays, translations…), I’ve long thought of you as the second type. Your poems are filled with words, but your longing for “the clearing” (in the breath you take from the lord), for the impossible “pure concept” of home (in A Ragged Pen), for religious peace (“The Church of Critical Mass”), and for Buson’s butterfly, all speak to a reaching beyond words, towards a silent place.

Would you say the path you’re walking is one toward (voluntary) silence? If so, has it been a smooth one? (I note that you write elsewhere “rising to speechlessness, that ladder of desire… how many times you’ve fallen.”) What role does poetry play, for you, in walking that path?

[Patrick Friesen]: I don’t have a clear answer for you here. I’m just walking the path, no goal in sight. Not aiming for silence or for more noise. Just moving along. There are points where I become “speechless,” whether because of events in my life or because I’ve reached some kind of impasse, or point of boredom, in my writing. This just happens quite naturally. Then, after a pause, it continues. Perhaps one of these days that pause will become permanent, but it’s not something I’m aiming for. I have a friend who wrote every day, published a lot, much more than I have, but he reached a point where he said he suddenly couldn’t write anymore. That was it. He thought he might write again, but it’s been a couple of years. How to explain that? In my life I arrive at times where I am silent, need to be silent, and sometimes I think this is the way it should be from then on. I have great admiration for those mystics who achieved silence. But how does that happen? Would I run out of words? Get tired of putting them on the page? Would the words feel so empty finally that silence already existed, only I had to recognize it? I’ll be vague here and say it’s a process of spirit.

Rob Taylor, One Foot In, One Foot Out: An Interview with Patrick Friesen

I’m a dedicated freewriter. I especially like that freewriting has roots in poet Jack Kerouac’s stream of consciousness, “spontaneous prose,” the Surrealist Movement’s “automatic writing,” and in Yeat’s “trance-writing.” (Check out this videopoem by Helena Postigo, “I Think of Dean Moriarity.”)

My first introduction to freewriting was in a college English class in 1980. At first, I simply hated it. I stopped often, stumbled, stared at the clock, felt awkward, and concluded that freewriting was a huge waste of time. However, I had to turn in my daily freewrites as part of my grade, so, in spite of my resentment, I kept at it.

It got easier, and eventually I saw the value of this exercise: getting unfiltered, unedited and unpredictable ideas onto a piece of paper as fast as possible, before your left brain can take over and squelch your spontaneity. 

Many, if not most, of my completed poems, essays, reviews and articles started as freewrites. Sometimes I’m not even aware that’s I’m doing; I might open my journal up to a blank page and start making lists of words, which become sentences and phrases.

Erica Goss, Generating New Poems from Freewrites

Pamela Hobart Carter’s new poetry book, Held Together with Tape and Glue is a collection of gentle meditations, mostly on ordinary topics.  Some of the poems are erasure poems, but I couldn’t tell which if I hadn’t read the acknowledgements in the front of the book.  There’s no flaunting of technique here, but the poems are very assured.

Consider the opening of “Relined”:

Look at the world
as if for the first time

Beside us
rivers
A sense of passage

to carry your self
into its next version.

Or “On the Word”:

Here we are.  On the page.  On the word.
On the dot or the hook or the serif.

Here we are.  In the big city. In this house.
In this room or the kitchen.  Here lies truth.

Truth lies, here on the sofa, with us,
with our feet are up, stocking-footed,

shoes tidily stowed in the closet
when we came in from clearing dead leaves.
. . .

One of the longer poems, this one ends: “How did we get so good at calendars and clocks, /still ignorant of true passage.”

One of my favorites is “Bed” which goes through the making of a bed in detail: tug the corners, match the sides, use your hand like an iron to flatten the sheet.  It ends “smooth/as. smooth/ the mind. /done said/done, and day/is readymade.” 

Ellen Roberts Young, Recommendation: Held Together with Tape and Glue by Pamela Hobart Carter

This Wednesday, 13th October, at 7.30pm British Summer Time, I’ll be one of the two guest readers (the other is Maggie Sawkins) at the launch of Greg Freeman’s collection, Marples Must Go!, published by Dempsey and Windle.

I admire Greg’s poetry very much, and admire him as someone who does a great deal of good for the poetry community. His poetic and geographical milieu is similar to mine – he grew up in a road where my dad and grandparents also lived for a few years, near Surbiton Lagoon, and he went to the secondary school opposite the one I went to, a few years apart!

I wrote an endorsement for Greg’s book, as follows:

“The sharp, entertaining poems in Marples Must Go! encompass a cornucopia of themes – first love, music, the newspaper trade, cycling, am-dram and holidays – but also the corruption, pigheadedness and racism of politicians, past and present, intent on ‘making mugs of us all’. In this richly enjoyable collection, Greg Freeman celebrates the best – and skewers the worst – of England.”

If you would like the Zoom link for the treading, please message Greg via Twitter – @gregfreempoet.

Matthew Paul, Reading this Wednesday

There was an article in the New York Times that had everyone buzzing, a mean-spirited article about writers being bad to each other. (If you want to read it, just google “bad art friend.” You’ll probably also get some hot takes on the article.)

But what I want to say is that in twenty years as a reviewer, volunteer, writer, editor, MFA student, and MFA instructor, I have experienced and witnessed so much kindness and generosity among writers. Maybe good art friends make for less scintillating reading, but I feel if you’re going to shine a light on a community in the art world, it should be on the wonderful, supportive, encouraging things they do for each other. I include artists and musicians in this because we all make so little money and work so hard but still what I’ve seen is artists helping each other, letting each other know about opportunities, writing blurbs, recommendations, giving each other advice…this, in my experience, has been more the norm than the opposite.

Are there mean, terrible, miserably-hearted people in the art world? Of course, like everywhere else. But I am so happy to say that most of the community supports each other. When a writer or artist gets sick, they send a care package or note; when they’re looking for work, people try to steer them towards open positions; when they’re feeling depressed about a rejection, they get encouragement; when they get good news, friends celebrate. Maybe I’m not cynical enough, or I’ve been surrounded by a lot of super-nice people by accident, but I think that good art friends are more the rule than bad art friends.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Book Announcement, Bad and Good Art Friends, a New Poem in Image, and a Rough Week (with Fall Colors!)

Something shimmers, the length of a necklace,
flecks of silver, of pink, of blue almost tinsel
on the lawn like living breathing Mylar
delicately held by every blade of grass.
What could be more humble than the slug?
A snail without home on its back.
Secreting a minuscule rainbow
to grease its wayward path.

Jill Pearlman, In the Beginning, the Slug

The spider spent most of the time just telling us to stop mucking about and just get on with it. And she— I think it’s a she—was absolutely correct. We’ve been putting these jobs off for a while, waiting for the right moment, etc and lo and behold that moment never came, or something else got in the way, but now the jobs are done and we can move on.

The same thing happened this week with a poem. I have actually written one and finished it for the first time since August. It’s not actually that long, but it’s felt like forever. However, amazingly, if you sit down and stop prevaricating, it’s weird, but the work gets done. I can’t say for definite the poem is my best yet, but it does feel like it’s a progression of some kind. If nothing else, I think the first draft started from a stronger place than some of the final drafts of older work. I will take that. And so, now the work begins on the next one.

National Poetry Day came and went again this week. As ever, I applaud the intentions of it. I’m never sure if it leads to much, but anything that makes some noise about poetry can’t be a bad thing. I note, for instance, there was nothing about it at my daughter’s school this week.

My concessions to it were the aforementioned poem being worked on. I don’t think the celebration was for that though. I also made vague allusions to the classics in an email for work where I referenced “Project Persephone”. This was a potential project name, but it was discarded as we a) felt there was a better option and b) felt that the referencing the borders between life and death was a bit much for a brand tracking project.

Mat Riches, Spiders on Skis….

Drum skins storm the air with thrumder.

Rhythm hymns of pulse and pattern, syncopation and sway.

When you caress a drum, soul does the speaking through fingers.

Leave your fears and defeats in alleyways, hop the train steaming towards liberation.

Sing your animals and angels, your mantras and malevolence as hands conjure spirits of new beat happenings.

Rich Ferguson, Drumspeak

falling down
the stone steps
a brook

Jason Crane, haiku: 6 October 2021

there is in my baptism a stone that i bathe

Grant Hackett [no title]

a poem written 
splashed on a pebble 
thrown in the sea

Jim Young [no title]

It is here always where I recall the imperative.
Where I re-learn the lesson of my divine
irrelevance. Where I receive full clemency, where there is
only fervor for my blemished soul, where there is room for nothing
but the grand helpless lungs of the sea, the sandpipers
free on the brine of its draft, all things found and all forgotten.

Kristen McHenry, A Poem!

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Weeks 37-38

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. I’ve spent all afternoon and evening catching up on two weeks’ worth of poetry blogs — an embarrassment of riches. I found posts about the changing seasons, poetry and music, diversity and the immigrant experience, and much more.


Last night I dreamt myself into a poetry reading
before an audience of hundreds – outdoors,
sunshine, cheers and applause before
I’d read a single word and a quickening
around my heart that carried both
anxiety and excitement as I leafed through
the books in my hands trying to find
the marked pages, the poems I’d already chosen
but knowing at the same time all that mattered
now would be the choices I’d make in that moment
and the next. And I looked up. I smiled. I spoke.

Lynne Rees, Poem ~ All that matters

It’s an effect that’s easiest to see on a wet winter night, with a streetlight shining through a tangle of bare tree twigs: the surfaces that most directly reflect the streetlight to the observer form a circle around it, a halo of streaks. Each streak is itself more or less straight, but they’re arranged in a circle, a sort of crown of thorns. It moves as you do, tracking with the light.

You don’t usually see it with the sun, I think because the sun is just too bright: if you’re looking that directly towards it you’re too dazzled to see anything else.

The week of the fall equinox, though, the rising sun lines up with the east-west streets, and if you happen to be walking east on a tree-lined street at exactly sunrise, and the trees are wet from the recent rains, you can see the sun’s version of it: a brilliant circle of golden fire. A doorway into a world of unbearable light.

You can’t look at it for long, of course, and when you turn away and close your eyes, the negative image turns with you, in bruise purple and dark green. Within seconds, what you saw is replaced by what you wish you had seen; with fragments of Dante, with words for light. The golden apples of the sun. Mithraic altars built by homesick legionaries in godforsaken, rainswept Britain; Byzantine mosaics in candlelight. What did you really see? What door did you fail to open?

Dale Favier, Equinox

This week I gave my students an assignment to read the academic standards to which we will all be held accountable. “What is a ‘grade level band of text complexity’?” they asked, their tongues tripping over familiar stones arranged into an unfamiliar pattern. 

I laid the system of my classroom bare and invited them to choose how they will operate within it. “What does it mean to you, to do well in school?” I asked. They live in a viral world of devious licks and Likes, but also one in which a person might grow their own food. 

Later, after the sky lightens, I let the dog into the backyard and pick pears from our tree. Fruit fallen onto the sun-scorched grass is half-eaten, and I wonder what kind of animal we are feeding. When I wash my lunch dishes at the sink, warm water running over my hands, I think of a woman I once worked with who always washed her dishes with cold. “Hot water is too expensive,” she told me. I was in college, and it had never occurred to me that a person could wash with anything other than warm or that heat could cost too much. I remember her as happy, in love with her children.

What does it mean to live well? I type later, sitting in a chair at a table in front of a window, in the middle of a day in which I could choose to do anything, or nothing.  

The closer I get to the end, the more I find answers in memory, in poetry, in tomatoes.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Fall Equinox

Six months have passed in a frozen moment that was something like a swift slap to the side of an television set to stop the vertical roll. But the world is never frozen entirely. Things shift imperceptibly until they are perceptible. You step back and find yourself in the middle of a new program.

I know that is an archaic metaphor. I know that. And I wonder what all these technological changes in the world have done to people like me, who’ve straddled a revolution that seems like magic. That encourages magical thinking?

I think about those years of my slowly-twisting fingers on knobs. These still slowly-twisting fingers that make me self-conscious. Age-conscious, which is nothing more than death-conscious. I think about the last six months, and what has happened along the edges of the bones in my left shoulder. The build-up of minerals within my body. I try to make sense of competing metaphors. My turning to stone, my falling to dust.

Tomorrow I head back to the physiotherapist who will press a bit of metal against my bruised shoulder and send invisible shockwaves through the skin to shatter the build-up of calcium that is biting into my tendon every time I lift my arms into a sun salutation.

Ren Powell, Acknowledging Medusa

Another birthday. This is my first photo post surgery. Good lighting and a strategically placed hand do wonders to hide the scar and effects the cancer surgery has had on my face. I’m feeling stronger, but some days I still feel like absolute hell. 

Over on social media, my dear friends and fellow poets Julie E. Bloemeke and Steven Reigns started a Go Fund Me account to help pay off my astronomical medical bills. While I have good insurance, it never pays everything. Between the fundraiser and private donations, the $15,000 goal has almost been met.  I am – as the Brits say – gobsmacked by the generosity of friends and even folks I don’t even know. Thank you, thank you, thank you! 

I’ve started writing again. Five new poems in various stages. After more than six months,  I finally cracked open the file on the new & selected collection. Slowly but surely. 

Collin Kelley, Self-portrait at 52

I am sitting deep in a garden after the sun has moved on; surrounded by trees thick with leaves, I feel like I’m in a well of grass. The atmosphere is swimming with filtered light, blue green, yellow green. The trees are budded, bonded, arabesqued, with fir needles and cypress needles, massive oak and holly. I look up from the bottom of their shadow ocean, as ripples of light toy with things, as shadows fall from forms onto grass. They spend their time leaping and teasing, suggesting that if you try to catch them, it will be a dizzying game.

Jill Pearlman, Games of Shadow and Being

all morning
the shadow of a birdcage
moves across the wall

Jim Young [no title]

This is the story about a woman who has so far made it through the pandemic relatively unscathed but who has been changed by now in more ways than she will be able to set down in a simple blog post on the internet. Perhaps you are also this woman. This is a woman who was wont to say before the pandemic, I believe in stories and fundamental goodness and that understanding is worth working for, and that beauty might not be exactly the secret to the universe, but maybe it’s near it or beside it. This is the story of a woman who now regularly says, I’m not so sure. I’m not so sure that I believe in this or that any more. I want to but I’m not sure.

One of my favourite essays is by Leslie Jamison and it begins, “This is the story of a layover. Who tells the story? I’m telling it to you right now.” I love her writing because it’s big hearted, but it’s dogged and not sentimental and she never lets herself off the hook. I love the way her mind works, and the way she works to get to know her subject, and gets to know herself, and say something larger in doing so. About strangers, she says, “Sometimes I feel I owe a stranger nothing, and then I feel I owe him everything; because he fought and I didn’t, because I dismissed him or misunderstood him, because I forgot, for a moment, that his life — like everyone else’s — holds more than I could ever possibly see.”

From time to time during the pandemic, I’ve started to write a document that I always call, “Impact Statement.” And then I end up deleting it, because a lot of the things that have impacted me have impacted others with much more force. I delete it because it’s full of things that are confidential or because the story of my impact would reflect badly on someone else. I delete my impact statement because who really cares? I delete my impact statement because some of it is embarrassing. I delete it because at first I weathered the storm quite well, and then I did not for a while, but I pretended quite convincingly to some people (though not all) that everything was fine. I delete the Impact Statement because I really want to put it behind me. I deleted my Impact Statement Document because at the end of it I’m always alive and in reasonably good health, and right now that seems to be a huge blessing. I delete my ISD every time because I don’t want any of those people who participate in the fuckery of the world to think that they’ve got anything over me.

Shawna Lemay, This is the Story

I’m planning to recharge my batteries. That’s the priority. Chemo knocked me for six; I wasn’t prepared for that. But I’ve started going for walks again. The first one was a shock to the system inasmuch as I only managed a mile of easy walking; but in the last couple of weeks, egged on by my partner, it’s getting to be 4 or 5 Km, and the target is to be doing it every day until it’s no longer painful.

And this brings me to stocking fillers. I’ve been posting on Facebook about being introduced to the remarkable variety of field paths that start pretty well at my front door, and which I was almost totally unaware of until a couple of weeks ago.

There’s one that starts when the road I live on becomes a bridle path, and then a field path that eventually links to a path that leads you over the River Calder, under a railway line, and finally to the canal, beside which you can (if you want) walk for miles and miles. I’m no fan of towpath walks, mainly because no matter how far you walk you still seem to be in the same place. But I knew the path…and thought that it was the only one. It’s a popular path, part of the Kirklees Footpaths system, and for 30+ years I’ve been aware of groups of walkers passing our front window. To my shame I wrote a stocking-filler  about what I thought was their being kitted out as if for hard walking in the Cairngorms, as opposed to having just come a quarter of a mile from the town centre. I poked fun at their Goretex, the OS maps slung in pastic wallets dangling round their necks, their Brasher boots, their air of being on a risky expedition.

Today I went for a walk in the sun, and I had boots on. And I had two walking poles. I beg absolution.

John Foggin, Stocking fillers [8] On prohibitions

I’ve just been editing an interview I did with the wonderful Kim Addonizio recently, for Planet Poetry. I’m a huge fan of Kim’s and in my keenness not to sound like a goofy fangirl I’m slightly worried I wasn’t complimentary enough or warm enough. Which is probably silly. But there was something very reassuring about hearing her say (when asked what are you working on now) ‘I’m just trying to write the next poem’.

The other day I queried a magazine about a submission I made in March, only to be told the poems had been rejected months ago but for some reason I never got the memo – they were extremely apologetic, which makes it worse in that I couldn’t feel annoyed with them! So that led me back to my submissions record, and the realisation that I’ve had 31 poems rejected by magazines this year so far and only two accepted. In my defence, I’m not sending as many poems out as I used to, because I’m writing more of what I think of as ‘collection’ poems, which don’t necessarily stand alone. I know that placing poems gets harder all the time as the sheer number of poets submitting to mags keeps increasing (and hey! I’ve done my bit to help that! I must be mad!) but I also know that good (enough) quality will out. It’s just hitting that good enough sweet spot is all. And all a poet can do is just try to write the next damn poem.

Anyway, all this takes me back to poets like Kim – both her poetry and her wise words on the craft. Her Ordinary Genius is never far from my desk. When I find snippets that really speak to me I collect them and stick them on the wall: ‘the language we reach for first is the language we know’ (not a good thing, in case that wasn’t clear!)…’if a poem goes nowhere it’s dead’ …. ‘write colder’… And then there are her witty, eye-opening, multi-layered, highly original poems with all their many, many ‘I wish I’d written that’ moments.

Do subscribe to Planet Poetry if you’re interested in hearing the interview (and interviews with tons of other great poets). Look for it wherever you get your podcasts.

Robin Houghton, Trying to write the next poem

Besides the changing temperatures and sudden deluge of rain, there’s change in the air metaphorically as well as physically. I am losing a lot of my mainstay doctors (another one quit – so much burnout in the industry, which I understand) and so I’m rethinking how I manage my health.  I’m also considering applying for more things – not just grants, but jobs and residencies that I might have thought before were too hard for me – energy and health-wise. Have I been setting myself too many boundaries, I wonder? Shutting down my own horizons? During the pandemic, I’ve had repeated dreams about traveling to Paris. I don’t know exactly what this symbolizes but I think I should pay attention since it keeps coming up. Paris could represent art, literature, a life of the mind, maybe?

Rita Dove just announced she was diagnosed in the late nineties with multiple sclerosis, which made me feel more hopeful about my own future – after all, she was the United States Poet Laureate and still does public readings. I just got ahold of her Playlist for the Apocalypse and am looking forward to reading it. Rita Dove has been one of my favorite poets since I first read “Parsley” in a Norton anthology when I was 19. She is an inspiration.

I’m also reading a fascinating book about women in an experimental program for middle-aged “gifted” women in the sixties called The Equivalents by Maggie Doherty. The book focuses on how friendship, camaraderie and institutional support made a huge difference in the lives of five midlife women: Anne Sexton, Maxine Kumin, Barbara Swan, Marianna Pineda, and Tillie Olsen – in the 1960s. (They called themselves “The Equivalents” because the program required a PhD or “equivalent” artistic achievement.)

What do women need to succeed as artists now? Well, things haven’t changed all that much – we still struggle to get institutional support, to get paid and respected, to get our work reviewed and in the public eye – and to make friends with women who can inspire, support, and push us forward. I know a lot of men my age with fewer books/accomplishments than me who walked into tenure-track jobs without much effort. A lot of the people doing the hiring, the grant-giving, and the publishing are still men. How can we midlife women put change in the air in the literary and art worlds? Definitely something to think about.

Anyway, change isn’t always a bad thing.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Fall Arrives Early: A Failed Surgery, Visiting with my Nephew, and Applying for a Big Grant

if you were a star
you’d resent it too. that bright
existence at a distance from loss.
so much freedom and nothing
to wish for. how you’d welcome
a comet as a sign of imminent death.
an asteroid the size of a bus as the child
you’ll never have. how you’d open
the pit of your stomach to swallow
the waste of the universe. how
you’d liquify it into light.

Romana Iorga, astronomy 101

I was an avid letter-writer once, a great correspondent, a reliable pen pal. In return, I received long, descriptive letters from far-flung friends and relished every trip to my mailbox to discover what had arrived that day. A letter from a friend? A poem rejection? A poem acceptance? A postcard from a family member off traveling? Critique and feedback from a poetry-colleague on a series of poems? Junk mail, bills…

These days, my mailbox mostly disgorges junk mail and bills. The few friends who write lengthy correspondence usually do so by email (which I do, truly do, appreciate). My keen interest in other people’s thinking, and my opportunity to acquire perspective into their lives, must now be satisfied by other means. That’s why I follow blogs and other “long-form social media.” (I thought I had coined that term, but apparently it has been in the lexicon awhile.)

Is a letter just a blog written for an audience of one? Is a blog a diary written for an imagined public, or is it a letter to the world? What purpose do private journals serve for those of us who keep them? And what’s behind the urge to keep old correspondence? The discovery of a cache of letters features in many novels and in a host of memoirs and histories, so there’s some kind of human-interest frisson resonating there. Perhaps the simple fact that such writings were intended to be private–that audience of one–piques curiosity.

For me the hardest aspect of letting go of past correspondence is that so many of the people to whom I wrote letters have died. In my attic, there are boxes of letters from these departed friends…suggesting a different meaning for the phrase “dead letter.” In a similar vein, there certainly exist blogs by now-dead writers that remain in the cloud, hanging stuck in the interwebs. Are these memorial pages, or are they digital ghosts, and to whom do they belong?

Ann E. Michael, Why don’t you write?

If you called would I go back? Of course. But that call is never coming, no matter how many state lines I cross. “I think I’m getting over it,” I told my sister. As if it ever goes away. We add each tragedy to our nervous system like an organ transplant. The body never rejects these phantoms. It’s only too happy to pump blood into the past. There’s a trail of red in my rearview mirror.

Jason Crane, phantoms

Are we there yet, asks the speaking donkey.
Evidently not, if animation extends only to a 3D screen.
Meaning after the statues have come down
there are still dark, haunted histories.
Meaning we are in the throat of a moment
that hasn’t completely spat us out yet.
We’re working as hard as we can.
We can be as rust-colored fishbones,
as calcium stones, a mouthful of marbles
refusing to translate their brilliance.

Luisa A. Igloria, Post-

Excited to say that our book is now available at Stinkweeds Record Store if you’re ever in Downtown Phoenix. This is especially cool because back in high school, I used to drive out to Kimber Lanning’s original shops in Mesa and Tempe to buy import bootleg CDs. I’ve also seen in-store performances by folks like Jello Biafra and Lou Barlow’s Folk Implosion over the years.

Since Jia’s photos and my poems were heavily influenced by some of our beloved Phoenix bands, we’re proud to have this book available in that same iconic record store for less than it would cost from Amaz*n (in keeping with Kimber’s local indie-first ethos localfirstaz.com).

Shawnte Orion, Stinkweeds Record Store and the Academy Of American Poets

In an average week, I guess I read two poetry collections (and/or journals), but I rarely get so engaged with any of them that I read them straight through again immediately after. That happened to me last week, though, when I read Country Music by Will Burns, published by Offord Road Books. It wasn’t that (m)any of the poems were so individually brilliant that they jumped out at me; rather it was their cumulative power, how they are beautifully crafted to cohere with one another and form a whole. At their best, they have that quality which Michael Donaghy’s poems had, of seeming both impeccably honed and effortlessly natural. Like Donaghy, Burns is a bit of a muso (the Chilton of the Chilterns perhaps?) as attested by the title of his collection, his collaborations with Hannah Peel, and his appearances on the eclectic bills of Caught By the River shows. His poems make reference to the late great Townes Van Zandt, Chet Baker, Warren Zevon, Merle Haggard (twice) and Elvis. I especially enjoyed a trio of sonnets – ‘Bastard Service’, ‘True Service’ and ‘Wild Service’ – which convey an unexpectedly edgy edgelands feel to (presumably) Buckinghamshire. Above all, there’s just a simpatico, warmly melancholic tone about his poems which makes me enjoy them so much.

Matthew Paul, Autumn almanac

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

Poetry got into my mouth. The simple physical pulsations and clicks of it. My mother says that as a small child whilst on the back seat of the car I’d natter to myself and chunner along. Just the feel of vowels flowing through the rub of consonants. I do love a good story, and I love film … and I do actually make fiction. But it’s the scraping of one word against another, or indeed the cracking open or snapping of words, without knowing how many sparks or what colours they will be or where or how far they will fly … that is what really makes me want to make. It is the picking up of sound and … handling it! But it is also the translations, and transformations of sound into marks & patterns ona page … and the materiality of the alphabet and how it can be manipulated withinthe frame of a page, or through the space (place) of a page … or of course, across a carefully placed series of pages … […]

Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?

I am a maker who speaks, as well as writes, in various ways. Making the sound of poetry is essential for me. And so is intercreativity – seeing others listening and then feeling them pick up those sounds and also make with them as I speak is … well, one of the most satisfying and thrilling things in my life.

Unfortunately (and indirectly related to Covid-19) my hearing in my right ear is now impaired, in that certain frequencies and levels of sound are unpleasant. It is improving, and I hope it improves enough for me to be able to speak out loud again to an audience, and also perhaps for me to begin again making field-recordings and sound-enhanced poems … something that has been a vital part of my practice.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Mark Goodwin

Yesterday, I recorded a new autumn poem with my writers group, Helsinki Writers this weekend as part of a Superwood Festival project a local university has organised. It’s one of a series of poems my group is providing as audio for a forest walk. I was nervous about professionally recording. It’s almost ok in my quiet house with no one watching, but reading in front of my friends and a handful of students was a bit nerve-wracking. But it’s a well-paid gig, so I jumped at the chance. It was a lot of fun to work with the other writers and come up with separate poems on a similar theme that worked with each other. I’m excited to hear the final project. 

Even though it was a bit strange to hear my voice played back to me, they made it sound pretty good, even in the raw form. And the experience wasn’t that scary. My poem was one of the longer ones, but I managed to get through it twice and had one small mistake early on for each of those versions, so it wasn’t too bad. They managed to take one line out of one version that was said with better emphasis and put it in the other take which was better overall. So I’m happy with my end.

It was interesting to write a poem that I knew would primarily exist in audio form, to think about what I could say easily and what could be understood from sound alone rather than the words on the page. I made a lot of changes once I started to practice reading it aloud, words and phrases that became tongue-twisters next to each other, images that would be lost unless given space to breathe. Hopefully, it will work, but it’s hard to know until hear the poems next to each other, cleaned up. 

Gerry Stewart, Take One: Recording Poetry

While walking in the park with my daughter yesterday, she wore a sweet voice-knitted melody on her lips.

It came to her naturally as breathing.

It wasn’t a song I’d ever heard before; she was making it up on the spot.

It poured softly from her being, the sonic manifestation of her at that moment.

As she grows older, I hope she builds an inner song garden that can withstand the darkest moments.

I hope she has anti-gravity running through her veins, so falling doesn’t hurt as much.

My daughter continues singing.

Inside the song, outside the song, she wears her melody perfectly.

Rich Ferguson, At the store of perpetual optimism

Then the silence
then the silence
then the silence
the old monk said,
pounding the beat.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (10)

Within the constraints of the format of a blog, it’s difficult to do justice to the complex simplicity of M.R. Peacocke’s poetry. As a consequence, rather than offering up a condensed review of her excellent new collection, The Long Habit of Living (HappenStancePress, 2021), today’s post attempts an in-depth analysis of an individual poem from the book in question. Peacocke’s work very much lends itself to such close attention, rewarding the peeling-off of her delicately applied layers of potential sense.

The poem in question, titled ‘The Path through the Wood’, feels especially significant because it comes to represent something of an Ars Poetica and, by extension, a vision of life itself. The opening lines of ‘The Path through the Wood’ immediately set out the co-existence of opposites. This is achieved via their juxtaposition:

Through the little gate. A breath in, a breath out
measured the interim between is and is not…

‘In’ and ‘out’, ‘is’ and ‘is not’: both these opposites are interconnected by inhabiting the ends of consecutive lines. And then there’s the use of the word interim instead of interval, which might at first glance seem more natural. Peacocke’s choice underlines the provisional rather than the inevitable, the relative rather than the absolute.

As the narrator of the poem progresses through the wood, so conventional vision has to be put to one side:

…One sense became another: sigh of an odour,
taste of the darkness, fragrance of touch. My eyes found rest…

In other words, the absence of sight means that other senses have to work overtime. The consequence is transcendence via unexpected perspectives and sensations. Is the poet referring to a fresh understanding of the world around us or to a creative process whereby experience and anecdote are turned into poetry? Or to both?

Matthew Stewart, A close reading of M.R. Peacocke’s The Path through the Wood

Rob Taylor: Early in eat salt | gaze at the ocean you wonder “how to write about zombies: / when you’re a generation / removed from the soil”. Your parents immigrated to Canada from Haiti, and you were born in Montreal. Did writing this book bring you closer to your Haitian culture? In writing and publishing this book, what insights have you learned about writing about a home you weren’t born in?

Junie Désil: I can’t say that writing this book brought me closer necessarily. I think the fact is I will always be removed from “home” and “culture.” There are ways of being and knowing that I can attribute to my culture and upbringing, but at the end of the day there is a sense of loss at the interruption, whether it’s my parents immigrating to these territories as a result of the political atmosphere in Haiti, or the larger interruption of the collective “Black” history. Certainly, that not-home/un-home feeling informs my writing and, in particular, this collection. I think it’s something you’ll note in many of the Caribbean diaspora writers.

Haiti is there whether I speak to it or not. I suppose it’s like loss, you don’t get over it, it’s always there, it imparts a gauze on your lens, and you either make peace or not. For myself, I found it organized my thoughts and feelings on the subject. It forced me to confront the things not talked about in my family. As a result of who I am, where I was born, the choices my parents made, the choices I’ve made and continue to make, there will always be unknowns and the unresolved. I suppose then that the insight is just that writing about “home” will always be an unfillable hole.

RT: Let’s move from “home” to the other half of that quote: zombies. “How to write about zombies” speaks not only to your distance from Haiti, but also the trickiness of writing about zombies within a Canadian/American cultural context (earlier in the same poem, you list zombie movies you’ve watched: I Am Legend, World War Z, Shaun of the Dead, etc.). Was it daunting to write about Haitian zombies through the fog of American media representations? Do you think the gap between Haitian traditions and pop culture is bridgeable, and if so, was it important for you to try to bridge it?

JD: It certainly was fascinating (appealing to the nerd part of me) and daunting for a number of reasons. The information and the directions I could go with zombies were so vast; I felt inclined to write a dissertation of sorts! I think what was overwhelming was realizing how much heavy lifting the zombie imagery does. For a moment it left me bereft. I know this sounds dramatic, but hear me out. The zombie is a metaphor for the condition of slavery, and here this very metaphor is still “working” across the screen, across various narratives, to be what we need it to be. It’s seeing how this symbol in Haitian culture has become American culture. That even in death/undeath Haitians can’t catch a break. 

Anyway, it was more important to share what zombies mean and that zombies aren’t what we’ve grown up knowing; that zombies have been misrepresented. There was also the thrill of understanding and re-discovering what zombies meant to Haitians, and more so the thrill of discovering that Zora Neal Hurston, a writer whose fiction, essay and anthropological work I long have admired, was also interested in Haitian folk tales, zombies, etc. She really put her whole self into the study of zombies and Haitian spiritual and cultural life.

Rob Taylor, I’m Not Supposed to Be Here: An Interview with Junie Désil

Moving away from such eminently valid individual attestations of the importance of poetry, two particular texts come to me that further articulate the power that poetry can have.  One is Audre Lorde’s essay “Poetry Is Not a Luxury” (1977), which I return to frequently.  While I realize that I am not Lorde’s primary audience in that essay, with my own position(ality) in mind I am nonetheless always struck when she writes,

Poetry is not only dream and vision; it is the skeleton architecture of our lives.  It lays the foundations for a future of change, a bridge across our fears of what has never been before.
 …
The white fathers told us: I think, therefore I am.  The Black mother within each of us — the poet — whispers in our dreams: I feel, therefore I can be free.  Poetry coins the language to express and charter this revolutionary demand, the implementation of that freedom.
(38)

Here, not only does Lorde delineate the power of poetry as personal, political, and beyond, she also critiques those very same Enlightenment values that the Western chauvinists invoke in their quest to uphold white supremacy — the notion that “logical” debate is an inherently positive value (i.e. rather than one that historically tends to benefit white, male, privileged property-holders).  Actually, while Lorde skillfully exposes the tyranny of rationality (here expressed in the Cartesian mind/body split of “white father” thinking), she goes on to identify the fusion of thought and feeling as the best framework for approaching both poetry and political action, and her essay is one of the best I can think of that expresses why, as her title argues, poetry is not a luxury but a necessity in the lives of many.  (Even Auden, in his poem, went on to assert that poetry is “a way of happening, a mouth.”)

The other text is Gary Snyder’s The Real Work: Interviews & Talks, 1964-79 (1980).  In a 1977 interview, Snyder responds to the Auden line by pointing out that poets “are out at the very edge of the unraveling cause-and-effect network of a society in time” (71).  For Snyder, poets do have a social and political function (and what is “power” if not the function of politics?), though it might be out of the mainstream discourse and thus unrecognized as powerful.  Snyder goes on to elaborate that poets are also

tuned into other voices than simply the social or human voice.  So they are like an early warning system that hears the trees and the air and the clouds and the watersheds beginning to groan and complain a little bit. . . . They also can hear stresses and the fault block slippage creaking in the social batholith and also begin to give out warnings. . . . Poetry effects change by fiddling with the archetypes and getting at people’s dreams about a century before it actually effects historical change.  A poet would be, in terms of the ecology of symbols, noting the main structural connections and seeing which parts of the symbol system are no longer useful or applicable, though everyone is giving them credence. (71)

For Synder, poets are (or can be) a kind of advance platoon (even a century in advance) of cultural experimenters who critique existing certainties and in their work register the limitations of dominant narratives.  Both Snyder and Lorde see poetry as existing at least partly in the realm of the dream, and thus point to non-Cartesian, non-rational means of making meaning and even making arguments.

In a way, this is the true sense of the term “avant-garde” — to make that new meaning through new forms of art and modes of living (rather than avant-garde in the mere sense of now-recognized stylistic departures) — Lorde’s “dream and vision” and “skeleton architecture.”  What is becoming increasingly clear, wherever you stand in the recent Rose/Barren-related exchanges (and again, I don’t think it’s an either/or situation), is that political systems and social values, no matter how much “everyone [supposedly] is giving them credence” (per Snyder), which privilege a dominant class and thus inherently oppress others (whether classes of people or even non-human animals and nature), should no longer be given such credence — in poetry or elsewhere in the social discourse.

Michael S. Begnal, Poetry Controversy, “Free Speech” Debates, and the Power of Poetry

Obviously, if you go through the effort of doing the mostly unpaid labor of curating a literary project, you can publish whoever you damn want.  This may be why we do it.   Our own collection of poets like rare birds. Like stones in the hand.  And obviously I too have published people I know, mostly because in knowing them–the reason I know them usually–is BECAUSE I am interested in their work. However, do this too much and it seems a little circle-jerkish, no?    I’m not saying the task of the editor is to be impartial, or front that the quality of the work, or THEIR judgement of it, is objective.  I obviously publish things I like.  Things that excite me for some reason (and those reasons vary from project to project.) I make no claims otherwise, no gestures of superiority as a gatekeeper. Publishing is not The Hunger Games (though some people act like it is.)  

But I also think we have, as gatekeepers, and obligation to promote new voices.  More diverse voices–to seek the out. Voices that aren’t getting published everywhere at once. I’ve been thinking of this tonight as I dig further into the summer dgp submissions for next year.  What I am looking for.  What I am particularly excited by.  And while I spotted a half dozen past authors amongst the offerings (who I will always make room for if I like their project–because I like supporting the authors who support me), I was most excited by the people I had never seen work from before. Some of them writing for decades.  Some of them still in undergrad and just beginning to send out work.I want to see these manuscripts, even if they are not for dgp, because I want to know who to look out for next. If something doesn’t appeal to me but is promising, I will ask them to submit again next period. I would never want to be the press that just keeps publishing the same coterie of poets over and over again.   You will  of course, find some familiar faces next year, but I try to publish a much larger ratio of poets I know nothing about. Who have somehow found this little press and think their work might have a home and harbor here. Judging by what I have read and earmarked for second reading, next year will be amazing and contain quite a few surprises and new authors.  I can’t wait to share them.

Kristy Bowen, notes from the submission wilds

I know there are issues with the reviewing world, that the review tend to lean towards white men writing about white men (yes, yes, not all reviews, etc, but the balance is still far from being even close to right, despite the amazing work being done by the likes of the Ledbury Poetry Critics).

However, whoever they are written about or by, if reviews don’t help sell then it’s hard not to think Well, what is the fucking point of them then? I know they are helpful for the writer of the review—well, they are to me. They help me to engage more. I suspect there is a massive difference in impact (whatever that is) between reviews in the national press (as column inches dwindle there). I know there’s an argument that reviewers pull punches these days, every book gets a prize like it’s some sort of primary school sports day….this article by Dorian Lynskey was an interesting read (and I am a big fan of Ted Lasso). I’m guilty myself of writing some puff, but it’s done trying to find something positive in everything….

I wonder who the audience is for reviews these days, in most types of art I suspect it’s largely fans and the like, but I suspect most poetry reviews are read by poets…I have no idea, it would be nice to think it’s non-poets as well, and that they are all likely to buy the books they read reviews of.

I hope so, this came into stark reality this week when a review I wrote of Patrick Cotter‘s Sonic White Poise was published this week in The High Window (I think I mentioned this a few months ago). Obvs go and read the others too, and the excellent poems in this latest release. However, I emailed Patrick to tell him the review was up and he replied to say thank you—which is lovely to hear, but that it’s only the second review the book has had. That’s quite scary and I guess true of so many books. This reminds me of this article I saw linked to this week, where an author talks about his book getting lost in the pandemic..Again, this must be true of so many authors/writers/artists, etc (and not just during the pandemic).

It’s almost enough to make you wonder why we bother, any of us. Thankfully we all know why. I’d love to hear about the books (or anything else) you’ve bought off the back of a review.

Mat Riches, Review, review…electric blue

The words like warm blankets, “human rights” and “discrimination” should have been keys to open border locks and offer safe passage. Instead the locks resist and become gatekeepers. How do you produce evidence when you only have what you could carry? What can you do to guide or speed bureaucratic processes that will creak along at their own speed when you need shelter and food and trying to speak in a rapidly-learnt language that is still unfamiliar?

The legacy of what was left behind, doesn’t stay behind. After stories of her grandmother’s fear of never opening the door, the poem “Knock Knock” includes,

“here I stand,
one side of the locked door,
noticing how my heart
is racing to open the latch
while my head is pounding
leave me alone,”

“Here I stand” roots the speaker by the locked door. Even though she’s not lived her grandmother’s stories, she still shares that experience of the fear of the knock. She’s caught between the need to open and welcome whoever’s outside while knowing that the outsider could bring danger. It’s not a reaction that can be shaken off. […]

“An Embroidery of Old Maps and New” explores the liminal space between inherited culture, language and traditions and life in a new country where those inheritances are woven into the fabric of a new traditions and cultures. Angela Costi’s poems are a quiet celebration of small, but important steps taken, while not shying away from the reasons that prompted this new life. Readers get to see both the intricacy and delicacy of the top stitches as well as the thumb pricks and calloused hands that made them.

Emma Lee, “An Embroidery of Old Maps and New” Angela Costi (Spinifex Press) – book review

My review of My Mother’s Language/La langue de ma mère by Abdellatif Laâbi, translated and introduced by André Naffis-Sahely (Poetry Translation Centre, 2021), is online at MPT magazine.

This is a generous selection of poems (in a neat, pocket-sized French/English edition – perfect to carry with me on a recent train journey) from a poet widely acknowledged to be one of Morocco’s leading writers, published by the Poetry Translation Centre’s World Poet Series.

I wasn’t familiar with the poet’s work so I was glad of a succinct introduction by André Naffis-Sahely, and an afterword by Yousif M. Qasmiyeh, to provide contextual background. The poems are from across Laâbi’s fifty-year writing career, so a wonderful introduction. The English translation is directly opposite each page of poetry in French, line by line translation, so this is also an ideal book for anyone interested in poetry translating, or, indeed, in general translating from French to English. My French is reasonably good, having lived there for three years, although I am mostly self-taught with regard to grammar. It was often fascinating to read André Naffis-Sahely’s word choices, and made me appreciate the creative work of poetry translation. There is, of course, no need to have any understanding or familiarity with the French language in order to read and appreciate these poems.

In addition to poems that witness Laâbi’s incarceration and torture as a political prisoner in the 1970s, there is a long extract from Casablanca Spleen, published in the late nineties, a poem of fragments, diary entries, notes and observations made when Laâbi returned, as a visitor from exile in France, to the country of his birth.

Josephine Corcoran, My review of a new selection of poems by Abdellatif Laâbi

Two poems per month.

Like I like to say when I’m running, “That is just as fast as I go.”

Writing lately has been in what I like to think of as my “plodding along” pace.

It feels especially slow compared to the breakneck novel-writing marathon I did this summer, or when I’ve really hit a vein of inspiration (whether that is research I’m excited about, or heart-wrenching grief that makes me want to die).

I’ve also been journaling more, reading more, touching up my manuscript Church Ladies (forthcoming next spring!) and my middle grade novel (WSMMLTRAB for short. Maybe needs some title work…)(also forthcoming!).

The truth is life is really busy right now. I used to worry that I would give up on writing during times like this–that it would just drop off the to-do list and never claw it’s way back on. But I know now that it is too much of a part of me to drop away, even when I’ve thrown it to the ground and tried to shatter it.

So, two poems a month.

Better than none.

Renee Emerson, slow & steady

I’ve been thinking about external validation, that siren, that false friend, that bastard. I was in one of my usual and cyclical can’t-get-a-g’d-thing-published-why-do-I-suck writhings. I knew it and was just sort of standing around waiting for myself to be done with it. In the meantime, I finished a project I had developed with both myself in mind, but also some others, including and especially one audience member, for whom I created one specific aspect, thinking that person would love it. The response was tepid. That on top of my see-above-phase devastated me. Which gave me pause.

I refuse to be ashamed at seeking external validation, which popular psychology has given a bad name. As with all things: moderation. One of the things insidious about external validation and what has given it a bad name is that essentially it cedes control to someone other than yourself with regard to your perceived worth or the worth of your work. Whatever worth means. So the trick is to not allow anyone’s opinion to exert that much control over you. To seek external as the central strategy of life is a losing game. To seek it as part of the ongoing, layered, multifaceted, mutli-faced, multi-pie-in-the-faced, many-armed slapstick that is life, well, who can’t?

We all need a “good on yer” to come our way, early and often. And as much as I have a horror of feeling disappointed, have made elaborate mental games to avoid feeding the hopes that disappointment can smithereenize, I think maybe I’m old enough now to learn how to feel disappointment, give it too a little nod of validation, and move through.

Marilyn McCabe, Want you to want me; or, On Validation and Creative Work

This week I have done almost zero writing. Instead, I have been focussing on getting ready to run the courses I have planned for October – two with the York Centre for Lifelong Learning and one under my own ‘brand’. One of my York classes is accredited, and it will be the first time, except as a day retreat tutor, that I have taught an accredited course. I’m a bit nervous about it, but also very excited.

I did all of my degrees part time, two of them distance learning. I was a mature student when I studied for, and obtained, my degrees. I worked full time around my degrees. I come from a working class background and this isn’t an unusual thing. I found my way into poetry and literature through the fantastic Open University and I did my Masters distance learning at Manchester Met. I think it is important that high quality learning opportunities are available for people who work full time and/or are coming to literature, poetry in this case, later on in life. Part time learning shouldn’t be any less quality than full time education and I try to keep that in mind when I am putting course content together. It sometimes means working more hours for less money, because freelancers in teaching tend to be paid fairly crap wages. And that’s possibly why the literary arts and teaching are not areas with strong working class representation, but that’s a soap box for another day. Teaching and workshop facilitating take a lot of time and preparation, so this was a week I was happy to give over to that work, in the hope that when I start teaching again next week I’ll be prepared enough that I can carry on writing on a morning and working in the afternoons. Ha! Famous last words.

Wendy Pratt, A Teaching Prep Week

My first full week of teaching was exhausting, full of positive feelings about my students but inflected by pandemic fears, too. Cases are rising fast here. We’re in person, masked, but students are having tons of unmasked encounters–let’s call them encounters–in residence and dining halls and, I presume, at parties. Prepping for and teaching 6 90-minute classes is as hard as I remembered, even before the grading starts; things are high-powered here, with smart students chewing through material fast, something that’s both lucky and sometimes a major challenge to keep up with. And there are all the extras like advising, reference letters, department meetings and consultations, university-wide meetings and events, etc etc. I’m beat.

Yet I’m having fun, too. I’m prepping Sedgwick’s essay for a senior seminar called “Taking Literature Personally”; during that session we’ll try some paranoid and reparative reading of Frank O’Hara’s poetry (no spoilers, but my lesson plan involves crayons). For yesterday’s class, we read the poem “Philomela” and the essay “Nightingale” by Paisley Rekdal as well as the Ovid tale for background, which is infinitely darker material though just as powerful. Whatever the literature at hand, the flow experiences of rereading then planning discussions feels really good. I wish I had more time to linger in it, but I’m being strict with myself about stopping work when I’m tired. I’m an introvert who HAS to recharge and a grown-up person who HAS to rest and sleep. I’m doing okay at it for now.

Lesley Wheeler, Rereading Sedgwick, or, Oh Yeah, I Like Teaching

Friday night, my step-mom-in-law asked, “What do y’all do for fun on a Saturday?”

I tried to remember.  It’s been awhile since we felt like we had an empty Saturday that we could fill with fun.  We’ve been in the process of life changes, as we’ve been in a downsizing project, downsizing our housing expenses if not our space.  We’ve spent the summer season sorting and packing and moving to a condo we’ll be renting for the next 2 years.  We then pivoted to getting the house ready to go on the market, which it now is.  And now, we’ve been pivoting to the paperwork phase of the project.

But I have hopes that we’ll be in a position to have fun soon.  Will I remember what that looks like?  What is more likely is that about the time the house sale closes, my spouse’s additional classes will start, and we won’t have huge expanses of time to have fun.  

I am recognizing a pattern.  I am also remembering what many a creativity consultant has advised:  don’t wait until you have huge swathes of free time before you do your creative work.  You’ll be waiting forever.  Similarly, I should probably plan for fun in smaller units.  We are unlikely to have a fully free Saturday any time soon.

When I think of what would be fun, I think of pumpkin patches and apple orchards, which I can’t do easily down here.  I need to adjust my thinking to a smaller scale, both in terms of having fun and in terms of creativity.  I’ve been feeling like I’m not writing poems regularly enough.  I worry that in gaining seminary, I’m losing poetry.

Let me remember an idea I had for a poem:  Noah’s wife sells the house.  I’ve been using the Bible story of Noah to explore modern ideas of climate change.

And let me remember that I don’t need a huge chunk of time to write a poem.  Let me do that more often. 

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Free Time and Fun

I am still reading Ursula K. Le Guin’s Words Are My Matter an essay each week or so — and I just came across “The Beast in the Book.” She got me thinking about animals and how we share the world with them, not very politely, and how rich children’s literature is with animals. As Le Guin puts it:

The general purpose of a myth is to tell us who we are — who we are as a people. Mythic narrative affirms our community and our responsibilities, and is told in the form of teaching-stories both to children and adults.

Le Guin doesn’t find it at all curious that children learn to read by sounding out the words in “Peter Rabbit,” or that they weep over Black Beauty. She finds it a shame that as we grow older we lose our facility to identify with animals. I loved this paragraph, about T. H. White’s The Sword in the Stone:

Merlyn undertakes Arthur’s education, which consists mostly of being turned into animals. Here we meet the great mythic theme of Transformation, which is a central act of shamanism, though Merlyn doesn’t make any fuss about it. The boy becomes a fish, a hawk, a snake, an owl, and a badger. He participates, at thirty years per minute, in the sentience of trees, and then, at two million years per second, in the sentience of stones. All these scenes of participation in nonhuman being are funny, vivid, startling, and wise.

I think it’s that “sentience of trees” that really made that paragraph stick for me, as I’ve also been reading Peter  Wohlleben’s The Hidden Life of Trees

Bethany Reid, The Autumn Equinox

Sitting in my sukkah this year, I’ve been thinking a lot about what endures. That might seem counterintuitive: after all, a sukkah is the opposite of that. It’s temporary structure. Its roof is made from organic matter, casting some shade but also letting in the raindrops and the light of the full harvest moon. A sukkah begins falling apart almost as soon as it is built. And yet…

And yet the sukkah will be rebuilt, next year. And the year after. The practice is perennial. When I sit in my sukkah on my mirpesset, drinking coffee and lifting my etrog to my face to inhale its scent, I remember every year I have ever sat in a sukkah. I think of generations before me who built sukkot. I imagine the generations after me who will do the same. […]

One morning in the sukkah this year our conversation veered into American politics.  I used to believe that the structures of democracy would protect us from demagogues. I thought it was generally accepted that government’s function is to serve everyone, to protect the vulnerable, to ensure and uphold human rights and dignity. That structure feels fragile now.

The American experiment is only a few centuries old — an eyeblink in the span of human history. It may prove to be temporary. Some argue that it’s already over, that our constitutional crisis is already here and democracy as we have known it is already falling to gerrymandering, insurrection, cult of personality, and the terrible persistence of the Big Lie.

I think of the later stories in Ursula K. Le Guin’s Orsinian tales, where her fictional European country has become an Eastern Bloc nation. In those stories the government can’t be trusted. Privations are the norm. And yet people continue to live and love, even when multiple families share a single apartment, even under surveillance. Isn’t that what human beings do?

Rachel Barenblat, What endures

drinking coffee black and reading
the poems of osip mandelstam
the ground quivers and shakes
is it an earthquake
or just fine poetry?
now the coffee is finished
and the morning sky is blue
like my grandmother’s eyes

James Lee Jobe, just fine poetry?

Walking night woods, noticing: tired. This one spot smells so strongly of cedar it might be perfume this rotting tree casts into my face. My back hurts, from lack of daily water. I ate too much chicken and rice. Fatigue beyond poor sleep. Uncertainty beyond circumstances. I do not have to settle, I have to root. There must be fertile ground: there are many fertile grounds. Choices of paths.

In the powerline cut, a raptor cry.

In the dark trail, scatters of imminent fall. The awake time.

I plan another lake swim, before it is too cold. A life, too. I wait for enough information. An owl calls.

The compass needle slows, after years of spinning, but I cannot yet read north.

JJS, attendance

will the poem i am buried in :: be the weave of my last words

Grant Hackett [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 34

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week: the changing season, remembering and dismembering, bibliophilia, obsolete office equipment, mountains, labyrinths, pedagogy, and more.


Besides gardening, I gave myself a writing challenge. To write every morning, which I did faithfully at the start of summer, and was successful in completing poems, 100 word stories, lyric essays. As the summer progressed, I had to divide my attention. Big garden commitment. Of course, the gardens need the care of small children. I mean things can get out of control pretty fast. So I fussed over everything every day. You guessed it, in the morning, before the sun got too hot. A chunk of writing time spent in the garden. But not lost time, I think I was writing in the garden. Loose thoughts coming together in my head. Lines repeating as I weeded. It was good work. I am grateful for this life on the farm. How it restores me. […]

I wanted to create several manuscripts this summer, and I was successful. I have a micro-chapbook of prose (lyric essays and a prose poem) called In a Silent Way; a chapbook of  twenty-four 100 word stories called Rock. Paper. Scissors.; andmy fifth full-length poetry collection called The Weight of Air. I have submitted these manuscripts to chapbook competitions and presses. 

On 8/6/2021, I submitted The Weight of Air to Kelsay Books for possible publication.  It was accepted on 8/19/2021, with publication scheduled for May, 2022.  I am thrilled by this good news. 

Soon, the air will change, and shadows will grow longer, and autumn with be upon us. Another change of season.

M.J. Iuppa, Last Days of August: Looking Back on Summer

The rasp of my knife
against charcoal, smell of fire:
an autumn hunger.

Liz Lefroy, I Scrape My Toast

A few days in London was a real tonic. And it’s still pretty quiet and tourist-free. We visited some more of the fascinating City churches, also the much-revamped Museum of the Home, and just enjoyed exploring London on foot.

We also went to the David Hockney exhibition at the Royal Academy, The Arrival of Spring. It’s two (or three?) rooms of the paintings Hockney did in France during Spring 2020, recording the same trees, plants and landscapes as they transitioned from bare and cold to full greenery and colour. I was quite taken aback – the colours are just indescribably beautiful, and the whole idea of Spring and how it always comes back, no matter what… I don’t know why but I started welling up and before I knew it I was standing in the middle of the room completely in tears. I’ve never had that kind of reaction to any art, so it rather took me aback. I guess the last 18 months have been harder than I thought. […]

[M]y bedside reading is currently A Length of Road by Robert Hamberger. It’s an utterly absorbing and very personal account of Rob’s walk in the footsteps of John Clare. It’s a meditation on Clare’s poetry, and also nature writing but mostly a beautiful and honest memoir, and perfect reading for the quiet night time journey down into sleep.

Robin Houghton, Meet-ups, currently reading & other distractions

Fewer people come to the cemetery service each year. When I began serving this community, ten years ago, we would have at least a dozen. We’d set up a circle of folding chairs and pray the afternoon service. And then people would take pebbles and quietly walk through the cemetery, leaving stones to mark their visits to parents or grandparents or great-grandparents. Some members of my shul are fourth or fifth generation; they have ancestors to visit here.

These days only a few people come. Many of those who used to attend the cemetery service each year are now buried in that same cemetery. I like to think that I am still davening with them each year when we convene on a Sunday before Rosh Hashanah. There was one gentleman who always used to come to the cemetery service and then quip, “Rabbi, don’t forget, you’re doing my funeral!” And I’d always say, “No time soon, please.”

The custom of visiting our ancestors at the cemetery before the new year feels old-fashioned. It comes from a time when people didn’t migrate much. Today most of the members of my small shul are not fourth- or fifth-generation members. They’re transplants, like me. I’ve been here now for almost thirty years (and have served as the rabbi here for a decade.) This is my home, and my son’s home. But our beloved dead aren’t here.

Rachel Barenblat, Paying respects

Second: when we ask “where is everybody?” we assume that everyone will be interested in space travel. But here again, we are the odd man out among the intelligent species we know. We are colonists. Other intelligent animals, except possibly corvids, show no interest in moving into other ecological niches. They want to stay where they are. We have the odd notion of going outside our biome: to other creatures I’m guessing that this will be a very weird idea. Possible? Maybe. It might also be possible to take our brains and nervous systems, flay off everything else, put them into tanks, and take them to places our bodies couldn’t go… but why would you want to do such a thing? To more sophisticated creatures, I suspect that’s how leaving their ancestral biomes may strike them. We have no idea if we can create an off-world human biome, over the long term. Maybe we will be able to eventually. But maybe the idea is just plain nuts: biological nonsense. Maybe no one is visiting because no one wants to scrape the brains out of their bodies and fling them somewhere else. Maybe everyone else has a clear picture of how miserable a creature would be, outside its biome, and we haven’t quite figured it out yet.

Dale Favier, A Lonelier Thought

in those days he was expected to wear a suit and tie   over time the act of knotting his tie became a measure   for the thickness   the weave   the stiffness of the silk presented unique challenges   if it knotted easily then it would be plain sailing   if repeated attempts were required to achieve the desired effect then the day lay in ambush

but that was then

that job does not exist any more and he only needs one tie   black   like his suit for funerals

Paul Tobin, THE DAY LAY IN AMBUSH

A present memory and a much older re-memory are bleeding from a nightmare into my days. I suppose this is where the idea of repressed memories comes from? As though the present sends a hook down into the past and pulls up a fragment of a story along with the will to make sense of it.

This dark and stormy night. Fill in the blanks. But I know that – I believe that – there will never be a way to know the objective truth of a re-constructed memory. So I let it be. I admit I am tempted to try to name the atmosphere, a bit like recollecting a taste – the sweet, the umami, the mouthfeel – to shape it into something that can be put safely in a box. Identified and controlled. Like an ingredient in the recipe that makes us who we are. In this case: This darkness. This ambivalence. This vague childhood fascination of knowing there is an unknown something present in the energy that is as explosive, rich, and mesmerizing as death.

Is this a wisdom that only exists in the lifetime before rationalization becomes a habit? A trigger for sense that ushers us to a different kind of innocence/ignorance? A mature and willful distance. The illusion of control that we are so afraid to lose.

If this atmosphere of my memory is real, maybe it has no name because I had no name for it: for a sense memory connected to a psychological process but not to language. So it slips around the traps in my mind and flows into moments of my day, unexpectedly. Darkly.

And I am still fascinated. Like touching a wound. Like sticking a finger deep into the bloody gash to expose the mystery as… mystery.

Here is something as dark and textured as mushrooms. As sickness and birth and sex. Something true that cannot be contained.

Ren Powell, Trying Not to Dismember the Present

We got back from our camping trip last week and I’ve been busy ever since, not in a bad way, but busy all the same. My holiday read was The Essential Haiku – versions of Basho, Buson and Issa by Robert Hass (Bloodaxe Books 2013, f. pub. 1994). It’s a very readable book and Hass offers some clear and concise versions/ translations. Here’s one by Buson, picked at random:

Calligraphy of geese
against the sky –
the moon seals it.

Of course, one poem can’t represent the whole book, but I don’t want this post to be a review, so I’ll move on to my main point, which is that it’s been wonderful to be able to borrow this from the local library. As the ticket on the front cover says, ‘Borrowing from your library is the greener alternative to buying and you’ll be amazed by the selection.’ I’ve been trying to thin out the amount of books on my shelves over the last few months and the last thing I want to do is fill them up again, so for me, borrowing is a good way of saving space. It’s also a great way of trying a book without the commitment of purchasing it. […]

In terms of my own writing, I’ve found some inspiration in the Hass versions and if time allows, I’ll go back to his book and reread some of the poems. The books are on loan until the end of this week, so I’m relying on being able to renew them. I suppose this is the slight drawback to borrowing, although the plus side is that it does give you a gentle push to read them within a time frame, rather than putting them on a book pile (as I’m prone to do) and then taking months to get round to them.

Julie Mellor, Reader’s request

summer
through the two doors
one breeze

Jim Young [no title]

I’ve been listening to a lot of Ricki Lee Jones lately. God, I love her music. I’ve seen her in concert twice, both fantastic performances, if tinged occasionally with bad behavior. (To an accompanist who had apparently missed a cue: “Are you gonna play or not?”) I, who can’t remember the words to songs I memorized in order to sing myself in my own concerts, can remember every word of her songs, so often did I sing along in all those years of my fandom. I’m amazed at my recall. She’s got it all, as far as I’m concerned, jazz, soul, r&b, blues, all wrapped up in great stories. She’s always her own unique self. She’s so freaking cool. She’s got style, man.

And I thought about this when I read this quote somewhere or other from letters between Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West. Here’s something Woolf wrote: “Style is a very simple matter; it is all rhythm. Once you get that, you can’t use the wrong words. But on the other hand here I am sitting after half the morning, crammed with ideas, and visions, and so on, and can’t dislodge them, for lack of the right rhythm. Now this is very profound, what rhythm is, and goes deeper than words. A sight, an emotion, creates this wave in the mind, long before it makes words to fit it.”

Isn’t that interesting? And it seems true that I can have vague ideas about what to write, but it’s when words form with a certain order and beat, then I feel like I’ve got something started. It may not come to anything in the end, but I’ve got a start. With some words and a rhythm I’ve got a pathway, a cadence to get me moving along it. But then there’s the rest of the time, “crammed with ideas and visions” or just, as now, lax and languid, empty of words and music. Come on, Cecil. Gimme a dollar.

Marilyn McCabe, I’m in a halfway house on a one way street and I’m a quarter passed alive; or, On Style

Feeling guilty at the continued failure to Catch Up as planned. I went to see a doctor last week, and discussing after-effects of chemotherapy, and the business of withdrawal from steroids. We talked about the downsides of continuous low-level pain/discomfort. One of them is that to various degrees, you can’t concentrate; in my case it includes not being able to read for any length of time before it all becomes meaningless. Writing is a frustrating slow business…the words simply don’t line up and fall into place. But I’m heartened to find that it’s not just me, and that my doctor has a blanket term for it. She calls it ‘brain fog’. That’ll do for me. It explains why the collections waiting for me to write about (one in particular) are piling up, but it explains why I can do little about it for the time being.

What I CAN do is to keep the Cobweb ticking over.

I just stopped and stared at what I’d written. Can a cobweb tick? I think not. Mixed metaphors? Jeez. Possibly I meant to say that I’d keep on spinning. I’ll settle for that.

John Foggin, Stocking fillers [6 ]: Birds of the air

This fall, I return to school as a student.  I’ll be an MDiv student at Wesley Theological Seminary.  […]

I’m intrigued at my responses to the course requirements.  Once I got the textbooks for the classes, I wasn’t as worried about the readings.  And I have continued to write in a variety of ways in the years since I graduated from college, so I’m not worried about that.

I am relieved that the course papers don’t seem to require access to a research library, but I’m also relieved that the Wesley library will ship books to me, at least according to the new student orientation course materials.

In fact, what’s strange for me is that I’m looking at the page requirements and worrying about my ability to be concise.  When I was in grad school for my advanced degrees in English, I fretted the other direction:  how would I ever write 10-20 pages?  Now I think, hmm, only 4 pages required?  Can I really develop these ideas in just 4 pages?

I feel fortunate that I’ve been writing daily during all the years between undergraduate classes and now.  Not everyone will have that part come so naturally to them.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, A First Look at Seminary Classes

A grasshopper jumps through the window into the van, drawn by the lantern. He isn’t the only jumpy one. I’ve been having a mild but persistent panic attack since I picked up the Vandura on Sunday. My minivan slinked across the landscape like a cat in your peripheral vision. This big beast roars like a lion. You’d think more room would be better, but the minivan wrapped me like a cozy blanket, kept me safe, and gave me only as much space as I was comfortable controlling. There’s probably a question for a therapist in here somewhere. For now I’m going to trust my gut.

Jason Crane, Grasshopper

It is work to write, and to write your best work, and it is a different kind of work to send that work out into the world, maybe to be rejected and forgotten. This all while trying not to worry about the world, dying of covid right outside your door, or how to pay your bills, or why you are writing in the first place and not doing something to fix all the problems of that world outside your door. And yet, a butterfly outside your door appears, and momentarily, help and hope. And you feel you can write, and send out your work, again. […]

My husband is recovering from a paralyzed vocal cord, a fairly serious and maybe permanent problem. We are planning to take some time off and spend nearby in nature, unplugged from the internet and work and news. It is part of a life, a marriage, to being a good writer or a good employee, to take time off, to rest. Especially if you’re in the middle of year two of the plague, if you have immune system problems that make the plague more dangerous that it would be to others, if you feel that you are trembling on the verge of quitting something, if you have become depressed, hopeless, unable to sleep because of anxiety, short-tempered, too angry. It might be good to spend some time with trees in a forest, with waves of a sea bigger than you, to spend time noticing the end of summer blooms, and animal life, around you. In a whirlwind of tragedies, each tragedy might become less real to you, and we lose a bit of our humanity, our empathy, especially when we are stressed and tired and have already felt enough tragedy has happened. (Unfortunately we do not get to control this.) Does the world need you to fix it right this second? Or do you need time to heal yourself before you can do any good in the world? Listen to your self – what do you truly need? And go spend some time listening to the hummingbirds, the dahlias, whatever they’re saying.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Don’t Do Their Job for Them – More Breadloaf Thoughts and Rejections, Recovery, Rest, and Dahlias

Old, obsolete office equipment is a fascinating subject to me, since I’ve spent almost all my working life in offices (including my own; well it’s more of a room with a PC in it, but hey ho). When I first started in local government in Kingston in 1992, there were cupboards still full of weird gadgets which looked like instruments of torture: Gestetner duplicators, comb binding machines, gigantic hole-punchers, etc. As I may have related before, there was one word processor between 11 of us and it broke down regularly; and for the processing of many millions of pounds of student grants and fees per year, we used an old and creaking mainframe computer which churned out reams of print-outs. […]

Obsolete office equipment is also an excellent subject for poetry. I’ve written previously about Emma Simon’s delightful poem, ‘In the Museum of Antiquated Offices: Exhibit C, Fax Machine’, and have just come upon another, ‘Elonex Word Processor Circa 1998’ by Kath McKay, from her fine collection, Collision Forces, Wrecking Ball Press, 2015. As I’ve experienced at first hand, from Saturday writing sessions with the Poetry Business in Sheffield, Kath is a very perceptive and articulate poet who tells it how it is. This particular poem opens pricelessly:

Boxy as a Soviet car, it took up two thirds of my desk,
while others slimmed down, became pencil like.
This bod had to warm up. Every day rebooted seven
or eight times.

I’m sure many readers can empathise with that. The opening simile is perfectly judged, comically conveying a sense of this piece of hardware being innately behind the times. I like too the dry humour in that exaggerated second line and of that ‘bod’.

The poem goes on to encompass a search for her partner’s personal details following his sudden death, an event which understandably dominates the middle of the book:

Later I scoured the hard drive for your bank statements, spread sheets,
calendars: something of you coiled deep.

The last seven lines of the poem consist of a litany of old machines. As I implied when I wrote about Emma Simon’s poem, this obsolescence has a poignancy to it, and, of course, an ecological cost too, both to the extraction of the raw materials required for new products and to the waste of the old: about 10 years ago or more, an article in the Richmond and Twickenham Times, back when it still contained some proper-ish local journalism, revealed that hundreds of knackered computers from the local FE college had shamefully ended up dumped on a beach in Ghana.

Matthew Paul, On office machinery and Kath McKay

Over the years, and across more than a dozen poetry collections—including a volume of collected poems and a selected poems—since Air Occupies Space (Sesame Press, 1973), Canadian poet Don McKay’s poems seem to have become quieter. They were never exactly “loud,” I suppose, but there’s a level of quietude, almost zen-like, that his work has achieved over the past few years. To paraphrase McKay himself, he’s been composing poems enough that any bird would trust to light upon. His latest collection is Lurch (Toronto ON: McClelland and Stewart, 2021), a collection of lyrics that write of what we are in severe danger of losing entirely: of rhizomes, fungi and birds, examining a landscape that begins just there, at the edge of the bush, at the edge of the water. “Let’s pause and listen for what’s happening / underground,” he writes, to open the poem “RHIZOSPHERE,” “with the roots, the rhizomes, and / their close associates, the fungi and the worms.” There is an attention he puts enormous energy into, seeking clarifications on geologic time and the mechanics of birds. His interest in birding is well-established, going back to Birding, or Desire (McClelland and Stewart, 1983), with the evolution of attending the earth’s geologic shifts and consciousness within a decade or two, such as Another Gravity(McClelland and Stewart, 2000) and Strike/Slip (McClelland and Stewart, 2006). I mention all of this because of how the poems in Lurch extend everything he’s done prior, furthering conversations and concerns around nature’s frailty, both human and environmental, concerns around ecological disaster and the length and breath of the earth’s own history, even well before the emergence of human civilization. As he offers to close the poem “PROBLEMS IN TRANSLATION #23: BACK DRAG,” writing: “the back drag at my feet will not translate / as either fate or misery but / chuckles to itself—mountain / to boulder to cobble to / sand, affable and unhuman, the ancient / geologic joke I almost always / not quite but very nearly get.” He writes for the extinct, including the Passenger Pigeon and the Eskimo Curlew. He writes out the losses and those still to come, as he explores his certainties and uncertainties, and the long, slow process towards a particular kind of enlightenment that might never emerge. As he writes to close the poem “WIND’S INSTRUMENTS”: “Until here’s a little skirmish / come to ruffle your hair and lift / the fireweed fluff, to loft a pair of ravens / into aerial duet and hang plastic bags / in trees like shredded / non-biodegradable ghosts.”

rob mclennan, Don McKay, Lurch

In some language
the word for mountain
also means library.

Tom Montag, IN SOME LANGUAGE (67)

And then, thanks to one of [Victoria] Chang’s Notes at the back of the book [Salvinia Molesta], I assigned myself a little compare-contrast homework. Chang says her poem “‘Ars Poetica as Birdfeeder and Humingbird’ is conversing with Louise Gluck’s poem ‘Witchgrass’ in Wild Iris, in particular, her lines: ‘I don’t need your praise / to survive’ and ‘I will constitute the field.'” So I pulled out The Wild Iris, possibly my favorite book of poems ever, and re-read it, starting with “Witchgrass” before going back to the beginning. It hits me every time, that last line. And here’s the last stanza before it, too:

     I don’t need your praise 
     to survive. I was here first,
     before you were here, before
     you ever planted a garden.
     And I’ll be here when only the sun and moon
     are left, and the sea, and the wide field.

     I will constitute the field.

And in Chang’s poem, “I am not

     a weed, I need your praise to survive.
     The field will consume me.

     The field has chosen sides. The field is
     not hungry for the middling.

     How I hate the field and what it sees, its
     teeth digging out the ochre

     of mediocre….

Ah, the poet’s worst fear! Being mediocre. And how wordplay partly disperses it! This and the other ars poetica poems in Salvinia Molesta are bracing, honest, inspiring. It feels good to be schooled so.

And it was frequently August in The Wild Iris.

Kathleen Kirk, Salvinia Molesta

Consider this ending of “Did You Fail Lithium or Did Lithium Fail You?”

. . . . . The inevitable ditch
into which everything falls is filled
with dank water, toads, milfoil.
Word is sent for some desiccant.
Word is sent for a sump pump.
Word returns empty handed.

And the reader is left thinking of all the ways words are unable to make things better.

The poet lives in a world where even such things as stones and tomatoes have personality.

Or even cancer cells.  “Girls Gone Wild” is about breast cancer cells who “want/to take a road trip, reach/the lymph highway ASAP,/spend spring break travelling or/ beached somewhere warm like her liver.”

After describing treatment, the poem ends with acceptance:

She came back with a scar her oncologist called
disfiguring but she figured
it was healthy scar tissue, more bonded
than the sorority sisters that hung out there before.

The poet has strong political opinions which she expresses briefly in the voice of an alter ego called The Deaf Woman, avoiding dogmatism, concealing anger. 

Ellen Roberts Young, Recommendation: Risking It by Sylvia Byrne Pollack

“What to Expect” [by Katie Manning] is one of my new favorite list poems (you can read it in full in the podcast transcript).

First, I love that it calls What to Expect When You’re Expecting on its shit. (If I remember correctly, there’s a section on poop.) And yet — I also identify so clearly with the poem’s (and the book’s) anxious hopscotching.

Second, I admire the texture and sounds Manning achieves with the repetition of the directive “Expect” and the alliterative quality of the listed items (arranged alphabetically like the book’s index). There’s also lots of assonance throughout, and I particularly love how the long “i” interrupts a pair of short “i” sounds here: “Expect ribs, ripening and risk.” The effect is a ripple I process like notes on a scale.

A “do, RE, do.”

A down, UP, down.

A wave I ride.

The sensation matches the content of the poem.

Its surprises bob up like rubber duckies released from a small fist at the bottom of the tub.

Carolee Bennett, “expect ribs, ripening and risk”

 I keep stalling and starting on the spell poems. There are days when I open the page and something appears miraculously from my fingers tapping across the keyboard and others when I immediately close the file and do something less interesting, but more productive–post to Twitter, read e-mails, check submittable.  Since it is August and I am prone to distraction and waiting to buckle down more seriously in the fall, I am less worried about my languor than I would be other times of year. That it could turn into months of writing nothing, which still could happen, though not recently.  After all, I will be getting my glorious long mornings back with the library being open later during the term, which gives me nothing but time to write in the mornings if I want it since i do most of my press work these days in evenings and midnights. In summer, if I linger too long in bed, I am mad dashing into shower and out the door, but during regular semesters, I have several hours to dally over poems if desired. To approach the day as if my time were, at least for a little while, my own. 

I may also be stalling since the spell poems I feel are the last segment of the collapsologies manuscript I started during lockdown.  Finally. It actually hasn’t been that long in book writing time, but still it feels like forever. Life in general feels like it has been forever, but also like I snapped my fingers and nearly two years passed. While I was not really present and while I was acutely, anxiously very present.

Kristy Bowen, writing things loose

Every labyrinth hides
in the ordinary.

A letter in faded script on brown
paper, folded three times, precisely.

The kitchen drawer that leads
to a case of unused cutlery.

A birdcage with rusted perches
that held pairs of blue-feathered birds.

Luisa A. Igloria, All the Days Behind This One

When I began teaching, there was a paradigmatic war raging in English departments between traditionalists and those who believed in the kind of teaching [William] Stafford espoused. I was wounded in more than one skirmish in my first years of teaching. From my (admittedly limited) vantage point, I’d say that the movement toward standards and accountability ushered in by 2001’s No Child Left Behind legislation gave the win to the traditionalists and killed Stafford’s kind of pedagogy.

When I read [in You Must Revise Your Life], “The student should not worry about standards. I won’t. And I will never try to make the student either complacent or panicked about external obligation. Never. That kind of measuring is not what art, what writing, is about,” I sighed (page 94). Equating writing with art ignores the writing that is done not to create art but to gain admittance through gates; that’s a kind of ignoring I once did but now can’t do. I’ve come to understand the privilege inherent in such a position, and the disservice I might do by not being explicit with students about what they need to be able to do to pass through barriers to schools, scholarships, and jobs. But I sighed also because in the schools I’ve known, writing has become a thing so broken down into its concrete, measurable parts that we’ve lost sight of the whole; we’ve turned process into something nearly void of space for discovery or wonder–something essential to all kinds of writing, even the gate-keeping kind. I might argue that the same has been true of how we view and work with students. There was a lot of talk of “the whole student” in my early years of teaching, but that’s not terminology I’ve heard for years. I suppose we are turning back to that now, with understanding borne of the pandemic and our recent emphasis on social and emotional learning, but our high school students have spent their entire eduction in a system driven by data, test scores, and the attainment of discrete skills and bites of knowledge. The reasons for this are myriad and complex and not really germane to my main point, which is that the students I will be meeting in a little more than a week are going to be different in important ways from those I once taught, as will the context in which I’ll be teaching.

And that’s OK. I am different, too. I need to revise my practice as I have been revising my life.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Some thoughts on revision

I know that these are not easy times and that the disasters are piling up. There is the feeling of a culmination of grief, which then rolls into another seeming culmination. I’ve been listening obsessively again to Leonard Cohen’s You Want it Darker. It plays in my head and I wake up and it’s there. So it seems strange to not just put it on. “Steer your heart,” my man sings, “past the truth that you believed in yesterday / such as fundamental goodness and the wisdom of the way.”

Some days I think I no longer believe in fundamental goodness. We’ve seen so much otherwise. So. Freaking. Much.

But. On numerous occasions lately I’ve also found myself extending my hand involuntarily. Maybe the trick is not to go looking for goodness elsewhere until we’ve re-located it in ourselves. Let us get back to flying; let’s steer our way at least in small patches and pockets and patches of time away from heaviness. It’s okay to take a flying break.

Shawna Lemay, Look at the Flowers

when the world is asleep
I eat mountains and drink rivers
the mountain bones are sweet with meat
and the rivers are cool and delicious wine
when the world awakens again
I feign innocence
as though nothing has happened
o I am a clever boy
I am a brazen man

James Lee Jobe, cool and delicious wine

a sun comes up where no sun existed :: that morning is not to be solved

Grant Hackett [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 33

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week, the world is still broken; poets on a large island in the north Atlantic are obsessed with water; musings on compassion, light, Cassandra, and Calypso; some unusual accounting systems, and more. We end on an uncharacteristically upbeat note.


broken world –
monsoon clouds like Band-aid strips
on an ebbing sky

Alternating between banal work and the feverish dystopia of my newsfeed, it does feel, sometimes, like the world is coming apart in an insane hurry, everywhere. In the middle of war and hate and climate change and the pandemic, if there is a safe place, it seems like it is getting smaller and smaller or fading away in the fog. Meanwhile, there’s poetry, rare but still able to say that, once, there was a time, somewhere, safe enough so a poet could, for a while, put pen to paper. 

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Broken World

A whole evening,
just stars and crickets.

Tom Montag, A Whole Evening

If I were asked to name one signature theme or image for U.K. poetry over the past twenty years, it would be water. British English has so many words for different types of rain and for the movement of liquid, and numerous poets seem to reflect those riches in their work.

Am I right…? If so, why? Is such close attention to water a consequence of the U.K.’s climate? And does climate have a deeper connection not just to our everyday experiences but to our poetic lives…?

Matthew Stewart, Water, water everywhere…!

Mist crosses
the pale wetlands.

Beneath the mill
eels are trapped.

A plane overhead.
Too low, so loud.

In the distance,
gunfire, rapid.

Bob Mee, IRRELEVANCE

You, my regular reader, may remember that several of my blog posts have been inspired by those of Matthew Stewart. In this case, it’s slightly different: a welcome instance of synchronicity.

It must be difficult to be a poet in Yorkshire and not feel a need to write, at least once, about reservoirs. Near where I grew up, in south-west London, the reservoirs were more often not forbidding places with no or limited access, surrounded by high walls, which kept the water out of sight, and grassy banks grazed by strangely suburban sheep. When they were visible, the water was enclosed by undisguised concrete. Some are havens for urban birders – Stephen Moss undertook much of his formative birding at Staines Reservoir.

Those in Yorkshire tend to be tucked away, in moorland hills, and properly absorbed into their environments. Therein lies their beauty, perhaps: the knowledge that even though we, and the creatures who live in and around them, appreciate them as natural lakes (and who doesn’t love a nice lake?), they are artificial , existing only to be functional; to provide clean water to the great conurbations of the Ridings. Peter Sansom’s marvellous ‘Driving at Night’, the opening poem of his 2000 collection Point of Sale, begins:

The res through trees
is a lake or calm sea on whose far shore
a holiday is waiting, a fire laid in the grate,
the larder stocked with tins, milk in the fridge,
and on the hearth a vase of new tulips.

I know instinctively what he means. The contentment invoked in those lines is topped off by that ‘new’: these are pristine tulips, with no sign yet of their heads drooping.

I’ve mentioned previously Ted Hughes’s poem ‘Widdop’, about the reservoir of the same name, a few miles north-west of his house at Lumb Bank, which he subsequently gave to the Arvon Foundation. Its opening lines are as vividly memorable as Peter’s:

Where there was nothing
Somebody put a frightened lake.

Matthew Paul, The poetry of reservoirs

“A Thirst for Rain” is after Rosemary Tonks, and starts,

“I have lived them, and lived them.
Swollen afternoons of seared skin
when nothing mattered more
than the crow’s love of bone
or the damselflies’ tangled rise
above idle water.”

Rosemary Tonks (1928 – 2014) authored two poetry collections, six novels and was chiefly active on the literary scene in the 1960s. She renounced literature in the 1970s and seemed pretty much forgotten until a collected poems, “Bedouin of the London Evening” was published in 2014. Her poems focused on urban, cafe scenes or undermining pretentious potential lovers. Their tone is conversational and dryly humoured. Anderson’s poem matches that atmosphere, where a narrator looks on a full life where all that mattered was the next meal, the next love.

Emma Lee, “Sin is Due to Open in a Room Above Kitty’s” Morag Anderson (Fly on the Wall Press) – book review

I’m definitely not able to keep up with a book a day for The Sealey Challenge, but I’ve read more poetry this month already than I’ve read in the last year. So a successful attempt for me. I maybe need to do something similar with some of the poetry magazines I get as I can never keep up with all the reading for them either. 

It’s been storming here after such a dry summer, we’ve been flooded with so much rain. So it’s nice to curl up with poetry in the evenings after work as a way to wind down. […]

Day 21: Nobody by Alice Oswald. A heady mix of mythical and modern-day imagery, aeroplanes and styrofoam floats on purple seas, dawn waking rosy-fingered behind net curtains. I loved Greek myths when I was young and really enjoyed the the current retelling of Circe and Achilles by Madeline Miller, so this 2019 collection by the Oxford Professor of Poetry caught my eye. This book-length poem plays with the stories of the poet from ‘The Illiad’ who was to spy on Agamemnon’s wife, but then was abandoned on a stony island which allowed the wife to be seduced with the tale of Odysseus and his faithful wife from ‘The Odyssey’. The poem is punctuation free, line breaks shifting across the pages leaving large white spaces and images that seem scoured by tides.

The sea is the strongest character in the book, its moods set the tone, but the poem says ‘the sea itself has no character just this horrible thirst’ and that feeling is strong throughout the book. The speakers feel like a true nobody of wives and poets, gods and sailors, it’s never clear who you’re listening to. The poem feels at once ancient and new, jumbled, found in pieces on some beach. I’ve just discovered that the book was meant to go with a collection of watercolours by William Tillyer, but I don’t have that version. Shame really, as a quick internet search shows that they would really expand the poem. A captivating read.

Gerry Stewart, The Sealey Challenge: Days 15, 16, 18 and 21

trees falling
into the arms of the sea
that still makes rain

Jim Young [no title]

I have visited Eyam in Derbyshire where plague victims cut themselves off from surrounding villages in order to contain the disease. I have explored the remains of Scottish villages that were abandoned during the Clearances (my poem, ‘The Ceilidh House’ on p.16 alludes to this). Stones, graves and broken walls can tell a powerful tale, and sometimes these features are all we have to go on. 

But Pompeii and Herculaneum are different. We are, for example, confronted with the reality of normal aspects of life, including shopping (the Market of Macellum, a fast-food counter …), art in the form of wall paintings and mosaics, garden features and so much more. It is as if the inhabitants have just gone out for a short while, leaving their stone guard dogs at the ready. 

And yet it is not at all like that. I find I only have only to stare at the plaster casts made from the remains of the people (see here; and also top right on this blog page for a photo of a figure, head in hands) and their animals (dog, boar or pig, and horse) to begin to sense something of the horror. […]

Let’s turn more specifically to ‘Wildfire’. This poem was written during the pandemic; it was not intended to be a ‘happy’ poem. Poets use the currency of metaphor and sustained metaphor. How much of my poem was actually about the eruption of Vesuvius in AD79? This is a question I continue to ask myself. 

What I knew from the outset was that I wanted the reinforcement that repetition would afford. ‘Wildfire’ is a villanelle (think: ‘Do not go gentle into that good night’ by Dylan Thomas). The form, allowing for only two rhyme sounds throughout, and the ‘pared-back’ nature of my theme seemed complementary. 

Maria, you highlight my line, ‘I wonder who will live and who has died‘. Images of those 103 heart-wrenching plaster casts (the child, the man crawling along the ground …) were rarely far away, but I was also trying to understand what was behind the words written to Tacitus by Pliny the Younger, whose account of the eruption was discovered, or recovered, in the 16th century. Hence the epigraph at the top of my poem. 

I tried to absorb the text of the letter in translation and attempted to imagine what it might have been like not only for the Younger Pliny, but also for other survivors such as Cornelius Fuscus. Some of those who escaped asphyxiation from the pyroclastic flow at Herculaneum probably left by ship almost as soon as they became aware of the danger. 

At the time of writing (my records state I began to draft ‘Wildfire’ on 20 April 2020), I had been in lockdown for some weeks. My outlook was changing, and perhaps that was partly why the subject for this villanelle came to me at that particular moment of flux. People we knew were beginning to catch Covid. There was fear in the air and the virus seemed close at hand. 

Caroline Gill, DRIFTWOOD BY STARLIGHT: Questions from Maria Lloyd (2)

When the Buddhists ask what it costs to extend compassion to everyone without judgement, maybe the answer is that it costs me the awareness of my own vulnerabilities? Not only to the damage earthquakes and violence can do to my body, but to the damage fear can do to my (for lack of a better word) soul.

A decade ago I worked with people who were escaping situations like those in the news now. And it was so easy to look for – and find – excuses to withhold compassion. Because the alternative was too painful to bear gracefully, “sensibly”.

It is a stereotype that I have heard women often bandy about: that men can’t listen without trying to fix everything. But isn’t that all of us? What we can’t fix we sometimes justify as not deserving fixing? Because it is all so difficult.

Many times I’ve watched newspapers fall apart in a tub of water. Watched the previous day’s news dissolve like the darkness at 4:30 when the sun nears the horizon in the east.

A deep breath. A dog on a leash. A human body struggling with the cost and the value of compassion.

Ren Powell, Accepting Helplessness

I died in the village. It was morning.

I died in the village, everyone came. There was a buffet.

Scorpions crawled over my eyes, into my nostrils, into my ears. Scorpions. 

The wind had a sound like music from the other side of the world. People painted their faces and danced. Monkeys screamed from the distant trees. 

Women covered my corpse with a white cloth. It might have been a table cloth.

James Lee Jobe, I rose above my body and looked down.

To love the high sun before the hurricane when people with the best muscles are allowed to use them on the boulevard. To study the canvas of sweat on my burnt orange tent dress, a diagram of where the body folds.

To love the light and shadow chasing each other across the grass, the atmosphere the Impressionists would have painted with a tint of violet.  To feel shadows looking like a pair of hunting dogs tired from their day, lolled out under a pair of chaises longues.  

To wait up with the too-humid night sky, its swirling winds with nowhere to go,  like small-town hoods, lazy and looking for a fight.  To wake up to a hurricane, expressing itself.

To stay in the indelible truth of a face, even the eye of a hurricane. To stave off the heavy arms of the past and the cut-free kite of the future as the hurricane passes.

Jill Pearlman, The Volatile, Mutable Moods of Summer

I used to dream I was swimming in full dark, in ocean
unlit even by stars: no way to know if I was headed in, or out,
or parallel to shore until I sank from exhaustion. How awful
would that be, if it turned out I was swimming the shoreline
the whole time? I don’t dream that any more: now salt crusts
and burns my lips the same way, but I know there is no landing.

JJS, Oceans

Today was the last day of the two week journey of this year’s Virtual version of Breadloaf. There were at least twenty lectures from amazing writers of all genres, including non-fiction and screenwriting, several long workshop sessions, pitching sessions, hanging out in a virtual Barn, and even Breadloaf readings on Zoom. […]

I was nervous that Breadloaf was only for younger writers, but I met people of all ages and backgrounds, which was great. I thought my workshop was full of really talented writers, and I was impressed by the level of writing at the attendee readings as well. The atmosphere of one of the oldest and most prestigious writers conferences in the country was much less stuffy or pretentious than I imagined it would be – could the virtual aspect of it make it seem more accessible?

I got lots of advice on publishing and lots of encouragement as well. A lot of kindness from people. I think it will have been a worthwhile thing to have done looking back. Now I need to actually apply the advice from workshop and on publishing and get to revising and sending out my work. I hope I stay in touch with at least a few friends I made, and crossing fingers for the manuscript that was sent in from one of my pitch sessions. You never know!

In a year (and a half) characterized by so much lack of socialization, going to a virtual writers conference was a great way to feel like I wasn’t totally isolated and that I was part of a larger writing community. It was also fun getting advice from other people who had been to Breadloaf before me about how to get the most out of it.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Virtual Breadloaf, Some Writer Conference Takeaways, and End of Summer Musings

I’ve been working flat-out on honing the manuscript of an essay collection, Poetry’s Possible Worlds, due from Tinderbox Editions late this year or early next (I suspect the latter at this point). It’s a blend of memoir and criticism with a good dose of cognitive science and narrative theory, plus thirteen 21st century poems reprinted in full to anchor the short chapters. Recounting the close of my con-man father’s life, it’s also the story of reading poetry through personal crisis AND an analysis of how “literary transportation” works when you enter a poem’s pocket universe (that’s immersive reading or getting lost in a text, for the layperson). I’ve been drafting this book since 2012 so it’s really important to me. Closing in on a final version I’ll submit to an editor, though, always makes me nervous. You’re down in the weeds, seeing ways a sentence here and there could be made more elegant, checking the bibliography, and wondering whom you’ve inadvertently omitted from the acknowledgments. But it’s also the last time you can try for the 30,000 feet perspective, imagining how the book will be received by others and trying to catch those moments of obtuseness or under-explanation that inevitably linger. Hard work in multiple ways.

This book, though, works through challenging personal material. On the good side, there are stories of travel, particularly my 2011 Fulbright in New Zealand; reflections on growth and change; and positive representations of sustaining relationships. The dark stuff involves, of course, tales of my dishonest and narcissistic father but also workplace harassment; a long-ago sexual assault; Chris’ mother’s dementia; and my mother’s first round of lymphoma in 2015. It shook me to spend time with that material again. Worse, since my mother died of the lymphoma’s recurrence in April, I had to put my sentences about her into the past tense. No wonder I was resisting finalizing the ms.

I did the same thing to myself in July, at the Sewanee Writers Workshop. I had to finalize my workshop ms in May, and it was full of poems about my mother’s death and other tough material. Somehow, for the last couple of years, I’ve finally been writing about childhood abuse and mental health. My mother always read my poetry books, but I think at some level I knew she wasn’t likely to read this new stuff. I’m freer to be honest than before, and some of what hurt me long ago was my mother choosing not to protect us from my father. Again, no wonder Sewanee was emotionally intense.

Lesley Wheeler, When revisions are even harder

I’m growing back my mustache. It makes me look like one or both of my fathers. Not a look I’m going for, but you can’t help DNA or random chance. There are other things I can help, though, like that time I saw my father’s hands at the end of my own arms and decided right then and there to turn in a different direction. If I had the chance would I do it over again? Probably, yeah. Take a better shot at being the guy my kids might someday write poems about. The time machine only goes forward and we all move at the same speed.

Jason Crane, Mustache

I was thinking about unpaid work and the stresses even those things entail. Even creative work, especially something you put so much into that gives little material reward.  The hours devoted to perfecting a poem or manuscript.  Doing the work of submitting and editing and keeping track of things. Battling printers and assembling books. Designing covers and interiors. A couple months ago, I went around thinking I wanted anything but this. Grad school, new jobs, new directions.  Anything but poetry and libraries. Maybe film studies, or graphic design, or marketing. I eyed the tents pitched along lake shore drive and the food assistance lines on my commute and had sudden fears that I was one paycheck from the streets and always would be continuing to live the life I do. Not that there is shame in these things in any way. Shit happens. The world is fucked up and the rich get richer on the backs of everyone else.  But, without any safety nets,  my own fear is very real.   I pictured myself 20 years down the line…the retirement savings I only barely have–how it’s impossible to save when you live paycheck to paycheck. And does it even make you happy anymore?  Does anything? And even if it does most of the time,  should I be living some other sort of less rewarding or creative life to make sure I can sustain myself later? 

The winds shift back of course.  Much like my winter doldrums, the spring returns and I feel again, if not enthusiastic all the time, at least neutral. I spent a lot of time building this life, making sure I made the right choices, but why do I sometimes hate it?  If money was no object (had I married a rich man…lol… or been independently wealthy) I would choose this life. I did choose this life, all along, each decision a choice to get me to the present.  But sometimes I feel like my priorities were wrong somewhere along the way.  That in seizing some things, I gave up important ones–ones that would have made me more financially secure. Just more secure in general. The early days of the pandemic terrified me.  I though for sure I would lose that job that I sometimes complain about. That academia would tumble into rubble.  That society would crumble into rubble. (all of these things in addition to getting sick.)  On the flipside, my priorities are different somehow in terms of  my creative practice.  It also, however,  made me scared and therefore, apt to cling to it even tighter. I know I can’t work in a state of instability.  Of uncertainly.  Creatively or otherwise.

Which  is, of course, the worst of all puzzles.  To have the stability that allows writing and artmaking to happen, but also to not get swallowed so completely by that other work that there is nothing left for the poems or art. What do we give up in terms of stability and work we may even enjoy to do this work we somehow still need to do. And even the those things, how we keep them from feeling like cages of a different sort. 

Kristy Bowen, stability & uncertainty | the creative life

I grew up in a word-loving family and my own kids have taken that much farther than I might have imagined. When very young they developed an unnamed game of verbal jousting I call, in this post, Game of Slurs, although the post doesn’t go into just how amusingly over-the-top they could get with inventive word pairings. They also played, with only minor nudges from me, all sorts of dictionary-based games including my favorite, Blackbird. And all of us have unconsciously incorporated words into our everyday conversations that, apparently, seem strange to those around us. When they were younger, some of my kids consciously modified what words they used when, but these days they not only use whatever obscure words they like, they also, well, “experiment” on others to see if they can get them to start using such words too. […]

In many ways, the language(s) we speak shape the way we think. We will never know what ways of thinking about, seeing, and interacting with the world are lost to us when we speak only one language. This is even more troubling in relation to entire languages going extinct. The Linguistic Society of America reports there are more than 6,500 languages used worldwide. Eighty percent, by some estimates, may vanish within the next century.

My problem, as a writer, takes place in a much smaller arena — my head. Much as I love words, it often seems impossible to fit meaning more than partway into language. I might manage to get a pinch of the inexpressible in, but that’s it, and only if I’m lucky. It’s like trying to stuff a galaxy into a suitcase and still zip it closed.

I hope we all do what we can, in these troubling times, to use language clearly, kindly, and well. Even more, that we make every effort to listen.

Laura Grace Weldon, Definitions and Beyond

And on the prose front, oh, that annoying George Saunders is at it again, being all smart, and funny, and generous of spirit. I’m reading A Swim in the Pond in the Rain, which presents a handful of Russian short stories and then Saunders basically walks us through how each story is operating and challenges us to use some of that craft in our own work. In the process of all that he had this to say…  “a story responds alertly to itself.” Which is such a useful thought, I find, when considering the moving, or non-moving, parts of my poems, including the ticking of time itself.  

And later he takes a pause from talking about prose to include this little sidebar thought on what poetry is: “…poetry, i.e., truth forced out through a restricted opening. That’s all poetry is, really, something odd, coming out…The poet proves that language is inadequate by throwing herself at the fence of language and being bound by it. Poetry is the resultant bulging of the fence.” 

Damn that guy.

Marilyn McCabe, Human kindness overflowing; or, On What I’m Reading

“Lyric address is usually indirect.” (This, despite the frequent use of apostrophe in lyrical poetry, which Cullers argues is used indirectly most of the time.)

Lyrical apostrophe “posits a third realm, neither human nor natural, that can act and determine our world.”

~

“If one were to treat lyric as a domain to be mapped, one would need a multidimensional space.”
Jonathan Cullers

I especially like that last one. Lyric as Kosmos, as universe (and possibly universal). It jives with Whitman in some ways–resonates, at very least, with his idea of poetry as vast and of himself (as poet) containing multitudes.

Something to aspire to be, to write, to wrap my mind around.

Ann E. Michael, Lyrical

The third full-length collection by Somerville, Massachusetts poet Natalie Shapero, following No Object (Saturnalia, 2013) and the Griffin Poetry Prize (International) shortlistedHard Child (Copper Canyon Press, 2017) [see my review of such here], is Popular Longing (Port Townsend WA: Copper Canyon Press, 2021), a collection of narrative lyrics composed through wry observation, sharp commentary and consequence, and the occasional rush of breath. Her poems are pearls of logic, urgency and contemplation, composed of worn irritation and deadpan delivery. The poem “Have at It,” for example, opens: “When you work here for ten years, you get / a blanket. The blanket has their name on it, / not yours. I am conducting an anecdotal / survey of longtime employees, and I have yet / to find one person who uses the thing / to keep warm.” The mind moves quick, but the poems unpack slowly, as though not wishing to overlook a single thing.

As she writes to open the poem “Tea,” referencing, of course, contemporary reenactments of the 1773 American “Boston Tea Party” protest against the British: “I can’t get away from it. / Felted-up reenactors shoving a great fake crate of it / into the Harbor and jeering. / After the tour group leaves, they fish it / back out and towel it off, / unbutton their waistcoats to smoke.” I’m fascinated by the ways Shapero takes an idea or a subject and dismantles it, studying every small piece through her evolution of sentences. The poem “Tomatoes Ten Ways,” for example, extends thought across a great distance, yet turning every moment over to see what lay beneath, writing: “I just want to get // back now, back to my kitchen, back / to my peeler and ladle and electric / oven where decades of hands // have worn the temperature marks / clean off the dial—it’s always a guess. // Cooking is important. It prepares us // for how to sustain each other / in the emptiness ahead.” Through attempting to seek answers to impossible questions, Shapero manages to uncover separate but equally important truths, ones that might have otherwise lay fallow.

rob mclennan, Natalie Shapero, Popular Longing

Recently I dreamed I lived in a waterworld, and now this cover!–art by Jeremy Miranda, Searching–for Patient Zero by Tomás Q. Morín (Copper Canyon, 2017). And I kept intersecting with the book as I read along. The title poem, “Patient Zero,” which makes you think of AIDS, or Covid, or the movie Contagion, is really about love as “a worried, old heart / disease,” quoting Son House lyrics to lay out a theory about humans and animals stricken with “something…divine and endless.” Love. […]

There is a remarkable long poem called “Sing Sing” about a prisoner who keeps drafting a letter to her parole board. In it, I learn that “Sing Sing” must come from “the Sint Sinck / tribe who fished and camped // the shores…” Indeed, looking further, I find that Sint Sinck means “stone upon stone,” and are the white stones of the famous prison at Ossining, New York.

Kathleen Kirk, Patient Zero

I’ve been reading Ellen Bryant Voigt’s 1995 book Kyrie, a series of poems set in 1918—during the (yep) flu epidemic. One poem begins “How we survived…” that is a perfect prompt, but it has an image in it that so freaked me out I don’t want to share it. I cast around, reading poem after poem: “You wiped a fever-brow, you burned the cloth. / You scrubbed a sickroom floor, you burned the mop. / What wouldn’t burn you boiled like applesauce / out beside the shed in the copper pot.”

And there’s this poem, the first in the collection, which seems to predict the future of that survival:

Prologue

After the first year, weeds and scrub;
after five, juniper and birch,
alders filling in among the briars;
ten more years, maples rise and thicken;
forty years, the birches crowded out,
a new world swarms on the floor of the hardwood forest.
And who can tell us where there was an orchard,
where a swing, where the smokehouse stood?

—Ellen Bryant Voigt

Bethany Reid, Your Poetry Assignment for the Week

This morning, I reflected back on the month of August as a month where I came to realize–once again, and over and over again–how much of the world seems to be held together with tape and a patchwork of chewing gum and maybe a thin veneer of paint here and there.  But frankly, the whole summer has felt that way, and perhaps this whole pandemic time, and maybe it has always been this way, but many of us can go for months or years before we’re forced to reckon with this knowledge again.

Humans like to think that we’re in control, and many of us will go to great lengths to maintain that illusion.  For me, this summer has brought week after week of almost daily reminders that we’re not.  Those reminders have ranged from the small to the huge, from the personal to the global.

When I think of the early days of June, I remember a time when it seemed that we might be turning a corner with the COVID-19 crisis.  Vaccination rates continued to chug along, and we finished a K-12 school year with few student deaths and not as many outbreaks as I would have predicted.  The world at large seemed calm–or am I remembering it wrong?

Then the condo building in Surfside Beach, just south of here, collapsed, and suddenly, it seemed that more buildings than we’d have expected have serious structural issues.  And here we are, two months later, and it begins to feel like all of our foreign policy has collapsed and lies in ruins.  The domestic political situation has felt like rubble for over a decade now, so that’s not anything new.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Summer 2021: Things Fall Apart

For any of us who care about other parts of the world and the people who inhabit them, it’s been a difficult and emotional week. I’m not going to get into any of it here. Suffice it to say that this blog wouldn’t have been named what it was [the cassandra pages], back in 2003, if I hadn’t foreseen much of the tragedy that would unfold as a result of American foreign policies — though I fervently wish I’d been wrong.

Obviously we need to continue to do whatever we can to alleviate suffering and work for justice and for positive change, while caring for those closest to us as well. Our primary responsibility is to remember to take care of ourselves so that we have a chance of being able to help others. What does that mean for you? Have you ever thought about it in depth, and written it down?

Beth Adams, Drawing my way through a rough week

August: early rains in the south,
and fires in the west. River birds sketch
figures on water. Dearest ones,
whatever accounts were entered there
have yielded up their remaining
balances. I’m spending every
bright pebble I find. The shallows gleam
with all the currency fallen from the moon’s
poor-box—greens and blues, discs of scarred
copper. Meanwhile, every drawer of this house
hoards a collection of all we fed to our ghosts.
In the end, there will be nothing left to collect.

Luisa A. Igloria, Ledger

After sitting in paralysis from another form reject for too long, I decided to take things into my own hands. I wanted to give myself something back—a small token of appreciation for showing up for myself in the first place, something that would turn this salty moment into a celebration. I wrote rejection fund on a scrap of paper, slapped it on an old (extra large) mason jar, and have since filled it to the brim.

For each rejection I get, I put a dollar in the jar. And when I find something—a new treat I’ve been craving, an application fee I couldn’t quite swing, or a much-needed cocktail at the end of a particularly long week, my rejections—and, let’s be clear, my faith in myself and my own (mostly) tireless championing—refill my cup and tenderly guide me back into the work.

And you know what? What started as a kind of goofy self-help move has been astoundingly grounding through the submission process—especially as an emerging writer. I realized I now had something to do with all that stalled, stale, sometimes paralyzing energy left over from getting a “thanks, but no thanks” for the work I poured so many hours into. I even found myself looking forward to those emails so I could tip myself again. Something totally out of my control now felt a little more manageable, something I could now take the reins on and say, “no, thank you!”

Because what many of us (hopefully) come to realize, is that not only are the rejections not ours, but the acceptances aren’t ours, either. They have nothing to do with me, and while I can celebrate the successes and grow from the critiques, I don’t want to hang my own worth on someone else’s yes or no.

My rejection jar helps restore a little bit of that agency. These poems I write day in and day out are small new friends, landscapes to grow and warp and feel the world through, come to new selves and new understandings with. They are stamped and sealed only by my acceptance, my rejection. I get to say when they feel like “good” or “bad” poems to me, “ready” and “not ready,” scrap versus actual potential. And then we can see where they might fit—or not—in the external world. Beloved literary editors—sometimes brusque with over-work, but often kind, thoughtful, and generous, too—have their own tastes of what makes a poem a good fit or not, and nothing about these rejections is personal.

Today, I count $28, and I’ve already taken some of that cash for a spin (my first purchases: two new rejection lipsticks, Desert Rose and Voyager #50). That money doesn’t feel like a sadly accumulating pity-puddle. No—it’s just proof I’m still doing the damn thing.

The Rejection Jar – guest blog post by Zoë Fay-Stindt [Trish Hopkinson’s blog]

It has all felt a little magical. I tend to be skeptical of most things, and I have looked askance at the current fascination with manifesting, but… It feels like that is what has happened. Right before the pandemic hit us, Kari wrote something about wanting to stop blaming others for her unhappiness and it struck something deep within me. I was so tired of being unhappy and so tired of feeling powerless in my unhappiness. I hate toxic positivity and any solutions to personal problems that don’t consider systemic causes of them, but I sat myself down and made a mental list of all the things that weren’t working for me and asked myself what I could do to change them, by myself. I quickly realized I would have to do two things: Be open to what I started calling “radical lifestyle change” and tell myself and those close to me the truth of what I wanted (and didn’t), despite fear of my truths and of others’ responses to them. Sometimes it was scary and it was never easy, but when I remember my life two years ago and then look at what it is today, it feels like a damn miracle. (But to be clear: It’s not. I could not be where I am without systemic structures and advantages that have allowed me to make the choices I have, primarily the one that is allowing me to both draw retirement income and return to work.)

You guys: At the core of my life is a healthy, loving, committed relationship. We are creating a home that feels just right for how we live and want to live. I have time to nurture my health and relationships. I have time for creative work outside my for-pay work and to learn how to live in more congruence with my values. And now I get to go back to school, doing the kind of teaching I’ve missed for more than a decade, in the place I loved more than any other I’ve worked. I know it won’t be the place I left, and it’s going to be hard (Covid alone assures that), probably in many ways, but I am so excited to finally be tackling what feels like the right kinds of hard in this very hard time. To be starting a new chapter. To revise the ending of my story.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Maybe you can go home again?

To sound like an electric guitar of scars singing stories of old wounds that learned how to heal themselves.

To never possess a dead man’s curve in our highway smile.

To be the hangman’s rope that unravels itself until there’s never no more hanging to be done.

Rich Ferguson, Untitled #99

they do not understand
the beneficence of drink
how it grants distance

smooths out life’s wrinkles
they badger him
and he hides his habit

evenings spent
on park benches
slowly observing

the clouds change shape
a tin of the cheapest Pilsner
warm in his hand

Paul Tobin, HIS OWN CALYPSO

I had been thinking about Andy Warhol saying, “All the Coke is good,” which inadvertently prompted me to remember, all the light is good. I’d been limiting my photography excursions to evening or mornings, because that is when many interesting or surprising things happen in terms of light. But when you’re on vacation, for example, you haul your camera around all day, you wear it like a drastic necklace to the detriment of your spine and neck alignment, and you take photos in all sorts of light. Your time in a place is limited, and so you take photos in all the light. All this, really, to say, make your art when you can in whatever light is available. Write in early mornings, during your lunch break, don’t wait for a perfect time. The perfect time is now.

Shawna Lemay, All the Light is Good

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 32

Poetry Blogging Network

This week brought some unusually thought-provoking posts considering we’re still (barely) in vacation season. I particularly liked what A.F. Moritz told rob mclennan about how he first perceived poetry as a child just learning to read, because this was so like my own experience: “The poem was to me the same thing as a beautiful spring day, by myself, unbothered, and yet still nurtured by people and nature, in transit between home and the woods and the fields, passing along under the walls of the factories, down on the stream bank…” Yep. And I still feel that way, all these decades later. Anyway, enjoy the digest.


Restoration of all that we lost
was never the point:
it is something entirely
other now.

Our job
was to bring
new. To make larger.

Scarcity was not the assignment.
Neither was grief.

JJS, insomnia dawn, end of summer

David (Gill), my archaeologist husband, was a Rome Scholar at the British School at Rome in the mid-1980s. We had recently married and were to spend that year living in the School, where I washed bones and sherds of pottery in my spare time. By then I had taught Classical Civilisation A Level in two different school settings in the UK and had gained a qualification in the teaching of English as a Foreign Language (RSA TEFL). I believe this qualification is now known as a Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults or CELTA.  

I was fascinated by the Ostiense area around the Piramide Metro station in Rome. My eyes were immediately drawn to the imposing pyramid tomb of Caius Cestius. You can read more about the tomb here

The ‘Non-Catholic Cemetery for Foreigners in Testaccio, Rome‘ was nearby. It contains a memorial stone to Keats, who died from TB at the young age of 25. 

It has been documented that the poet wanted the words you see above as his epitaph: ‘Here lies one whose name was writ in water‘.

There is also a memorial tablet to Shelley, who drowned in a shipwreck off the Italian coast at the age of 29. The tablet bears the famous ‘sea-change’ line from The Tempest.

It is a well-known fact that Shelley’s heart failed to burn when his body was washed ashore and ‘cremated’; Mary Shelley kept his heart, which was found among her possessions after her death. Edward John Trelawny, who also gets a mention in my poem, was an author friend of Shelley’s. Trelawny was able to identify the body of his friend on the beach.

There were often a lot of colourful cats in the area around Piramide Metro Station. It was some time before we realised that there was special provision for stray cats nearby. My reference to ‘bread and circuses’ was perhaps in part due to the free hand-outs the cats were receiving. It was, of course, also a nod to the satirist and poet Juvenal, who evoked Roman life so vividly (Juvenal, Satires, X. 70-81. Penguin translation here).

As a cat-lover, I have often observed how felines have a way of whiskering their way into unexpected places. A couple of the Testaccio ones sneaked into my poem.

Caroline Gill, DRIFTWOOD BY STARLIGHT: Questions from Maria Lloyd (1)

I’m home from Sewanee followed by a pretty decent week at the beach. It was wet in North Carolina, but we hot-tailed it to the beach whenever the rain stopped for a couple of hours. The surf was wild, the water hospitably warm. Our rental house on the sound had kayaks and bicycles we made the most of, plus an insane parrot and flamingo decoration scheme, which I’m inclined to put down in the “plus” column. If you see some metaphors in my beach report, so do I. This summer was packed with challenges–and sometimes opportunity–for me, my family, and friends. It’s not over, but my tan is fading. My tarot spreads, a pandemic hobby that hasn’t run out of gas, are full of aces and fools, signs of new beginnings, but also upside-down wheels and travelers. They hint that it’s time for change, although I’m resisting it. […]

Speaking of change: my poem “Convertible Moon,” a sapphics-ish elegy for my mother-in-law, appears in the new issue of One. I wrote it maybe five years ago, right after she died, and rewrote it many times, struggling to open a hyper-compressed poem to the air. Meanwhile, an etymological riff of a poem, “In Weird Waters Now,” appears in Smartish Pace 28. That one came fast. I drafted it, polished it, sent it off, and it was taken on the first try. I’d like more magic like that in my life, but in my experience, you earn the breakthroughs only by keeping your writing practice alive, and that’s time an overstuffed workday tries to edge out.

Lesley Wheeler, Convertible and weird

No angels have marked
any doors to announce
if someone has passed.

In the market, life
appears to go on
as it always has.

Mounds of ripe
fruit draw hordes
of bejeweled flies.

The hills go on, also—
keeping conversation
with themselves.

Luisa A. Igloria, Hill Station [11]

Thanks go once more to the Secret Poets who could see the shape of this poem so much more clearly than I could. You can read the previous draft here. I have though [all by myself] added a title. […]

There was some confusion over exactly what the narrator was doing with the photograph, why they needed to add a story, were they a journalist? I had not seen them as such. I was thinking they had been refining a story, a tale to tell others, as we all do.

The vision of others can help to improve our work beyond our imaginings. I suppose it’s a riff on the old saying “many hands make light work”. Something like many poets make for clarity.

Thank you Secrets.

Paul Tobin, OUT DISTANCE THE RAIN

I am thinking that the key to serenity is to divide the day into segments and focus on one thing at a time. One task, one worry, one hope. But most days it feels like I’m trying to herd angry little shrews. I suppose it is progress to be able to stand apart and watch them scrambling, though. Writing is both difficult and not. Morning journaling is difficult, but my mind is sliding effortlessly back towards poetry. At least towards the desire and the atmosphere. It’s like sitting down with an old love and finding – oh, yes, I remember this ease.

Holding two truths at once: not everything is characterised by ease now. I dream I wake often. It has been happening for over a year now. Most often I have symptoms of Covid 19, but lately I have an allergic reaction to an herb and lie waiting for my tongue to swell. I itch. I wonder where/when the line is: time to call an ambulance, or too late. I’m awake now and get up to check my torso for rashes. My lips for swelling.

Ren Powell, A False Awakening

You tell me you’ve heard the howl of wolves when the lush forest lifts its skirt.

I tell you I have a bottle of highway wine and a guitar that can outplay a death rattle.

You tell me life can sometimes seem as strange as a dandelion on a dog leash.

I tell you I dreamed you into my life with the long end of a wishbone, and with the short end I cleaned my fingernails.

You tell me if you pay close enough attention to the stars in the night sky, you can witness constellations offering instructions on how to escape a burning life.

I say sometimes tears and music sound like the same song to me.

You tell me to grab my guitar, see if we can strum our way to daylight.

Rich Ferguson, A Brief Conversation Along the River Midnight

[Y]esterday I did a painting of a branch of monkshood, Aconitum, from G.’s garden, and found myself struggling to find the patience to do that sort of detailed botanical painting after a long hiatus.

But I’d wanted to capture its fantastic shape – those dark blossoms that are so evocative of the monk’s hoods for which they’re named, and because it feels somewhat connected to G. himself, who lives an intentionally contemplative life. Monkshood has quite a history. The botanical genus name Aconitum (there are 250 species) is most likely from the Greek word for “dart,” because it was used in antiquity and throughout history as a poison on arrow-tips for hunts and in battle. A couple of grisly anecdotes: in 1524, Pope Clement VII decided to test an antidote for this plant — also known as the “Queen of Poisons” — by deliberately giving aconite-tainted marzipan to two prisoners; the one who received the antidote lived but the other died horribly. And in 2020, the president of Kyrgyzstan touted aconite root as a treatment for COVID; four people were hospitalized before his suggestion was debunked.

So in the middle of the summer harvest, it felt rather exotic to learn all of that about a common plant of northern gardens — in fact, there’s quite a bit of it in one of the city’s gardens in a park near my home.

I think the limitations of the pandemic have created greater pleasure in these small things; I find myself paying closer attention, and appreciating the first ear of corn, the succulent strawberries, the succession of bloom and the phases of the moon. I dreamt the other night that I had awakened at my father’s house at the lake, and looked up through the bedroom window to see the sky glittering more brilliantly than I’d ever seen it, with millions of stars.

Beth Adams, Gathering the Summer Fruits

The primary task I’ve been concentrating on this summer has been mundane but time-consuming — I’m slowly repairing and repainting and reorganizing our home after 14 years of five people and 2+ dogs living hard and really taking it out in the worst way on the walls and furnishings. It’s slow going, especially considering my swollen joints and also my special talent for distraction, yet it’s… going.

But when I haven’t been spackling or taping or painting I’ve been working on my manuscript collaboration with M.S. and it’s ALMOST FINISHED. I hope I’m not jinxing us by typing that out, but we have about two-three poems and cyanotype pairings to finalize, and then we’ll have something that’s “complete” if not finished (meaning it may need editing and some revisions on my end, and maybe some re-scanning of artwork on M.S.’s end). But we’ve MADE A THING and it’s very exciting considering that we never thought we’d make ANYTHING when the pandemic began.

In fact, we exhibited the poems and the cyanotypes at the 10th Annual New York City Poetry Festival on Governor’s Island at the end of July. We printed poems and art on laminated canvas (since we needed some protection against possible wind and rain).

Sarah Kain Gutowski, The Best Laid Plans are Just the Plans I Make and Then Flagrantly Ignore

why is sunlight inside the sparrow :: older than the sun

Grant Hackett [no title]

As I waited for the AT&T person to finish making my phone line communicate with the outside, I ended my day by reading Patricia Smith’s brilliant and terrifying Blood Dazzler, a good reminder of all the aspects of life that threaten us:  hurricanes and poverty and bad information and poverty and learned helplessness and poverty and forced helplessness.  I loved this cycle of poems that revolve around Hurricane Katrina, and each subsequent reading only increases my appreciation of the work.

I wondered about my own ruminations throughout the day and wondered if I could create some sort of poem cycle that connects Afghanistan and the health of a nation and the personal health choices that lead to ruin.  Or maybe I want a simpler poem, a poem about a woman hearing about the dire circumstances of Afghanistan’s women and children, a woman sobbing in the car as she goes to pick up her books on hold at the public library, a woman who has spent her day at work trying to make the educational path easier for college students.  Let my brain ruminate on that a bit before I attempt to catch it on paper.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Across Decades, A Woman Weeping for Afghanistan

Towards the end of February 2020, on a chilly evening in Cambridge and in what turned out to be my final attendance at a public event before lockdown forced all such pleasures to become online affairs, I sat at the back of the Latimer Room at Clare College to hear Maria Stepanova in conversation with Irina Sandomirskaia on the subject of ‘Memory’. Of the many interesting things they said that evening, one comment that passed between the two women has stayed with me more than any other – though I may be paraphrasing (my memory, ironically or appositely, not being my strongest faculty): “The present is a battlegound for the past”, Stepanova said, or some phrase very similar. This strikes me as true; but it is not its truth particularly that is the reason it stays me, or necessarily its originality, it was after all used in conversation not poetically and it is a phrase which may well have been used many times before, but it is in relation to Stepanova’s poetry that it takes on extra significance for me. And there is a sense in which the idea behind this phrase, although it may sound rather grandiose to say so, changes everything. Stepanova was speaking specifically about the Russian state manipulating the memorialisation of the siege of Leningrad, but the idea of battling over the past is a truth which we in the UK see played out over the treatment of public memorials to those with links to slavery, and in conflicting perspectives on how our history as an Empire-building nation should be treated. The battleground metaphor contains not only ideas of opposing sides and violence, but also loss, mourning, pain, genocide, devastation, confusion, fear, pity, humiliation, the obliteration of the individual to the group and to the earth, and many other associations which, when applied to memory, either individual or cultural (ultimately both), rightly conflates the past and the present into a single physical zone in which those who are living use whatever power is at their disposal to gain control over the dead. And the weapon used in this battle (although real war stripped of all metaphor is its ultimate expression) is language. Memory is an event in the present, it is an event of the mind that takes place through language, which in turn is a social activity that is subject to negotiation and power play. Our language moreover is a social activity in the vertical as well as the horizontal sense (to pilfer and distort Helen Vendler’s expression), i.e. we use it and morph it in dialogue with those in the present but it is bequeathed us by those in the past. Any language possible in the present (and to the extent that we cannot think in any precision without language, any thought possible in the present) owes its meaning to the past. This is what I mean when I say that Stepanova’s phrase changes everything. And while Stepanova writes specifically about Russia and what she sees as Russians’ “strange relationship with the past and its objects” (‘Intending to Live’, 2016, trans. Maria Vassileva) I think my point above about her work’s applicability to the present cultural moment in the UK holds, as I will try to expand in the final part of this essay. My reading of War of the Beasts and the Animals (Bloodaxe), the recent collection of Stepanova’s work translated by Sasha Dugdale, essentially a selection of poems from as early as 2005, is steeped not only in the idea of the present battling for the past, but also in the idea encapsulated in the quote that began this essay, specifically the notion that “a fictive poetics forms around the hole in reality” and perhaps something can be learned about this hole in the same way that we can learn about black holes by the way light bends around them.

Chris Edgoose, Like something about to be born

The Chinese lunisolar calendar puts us between 立秋 lìqiū, or start of autumn, and 處暑 chùshǔ, or limit of heat. Certainly the heat here lately has felt limiting, but the term more likely refers to the end of the hottest days of the year. My backyard world fills with haiku imagery for waning summer and impending autumn: katydid and annual cicada calls, birds starting to flock, morning glory and goldenrod, ripe pears, apples beginning to redden, hosts of butterflies. I watch as a hummingbird visits sunflowers, cannas, buddleia, corn tassels, and zinnias. Ripe tomatoes and zucchini weigh heavily on their vines.

Yesterday, a doe nibbled pears while her late-born twin fawns wove between her legs and the Queen Anne’s lace beneath the tree. The air hangs so humid, even the monarch butterfly’s wings seem to droop. A sense of waiting.

And I prepare for the fall semester. Cycles continue: that’s a good thing, isn’t it?

~

Therefore, to engage my intellect when my expressive ability with words seems sparse, I’m reading about theory. Specifically, the theory of the lyric in Western poetics, which turns out to be abstract and scholarly (no surprise, really–theory tends to be scholarly). My guide for this outing is Jonathan Culler’s book Theory of the Lyric. This text manages to be relatively readable despite its terminology; and as the terminology for the lyrical poem encompasses a long history of definitions, rhetoric, explanations, subgenres, and antiquated jargon, the going occasionally gets tough. I’m learning a great deal, however, about poetic experimentation over the centuries.

I now recognize that I have subsumed the idea of lyricism as it came down to American writers through Romanticism (see Hegel). It’s just that the concept of subjectivity in the lyric, and inward-turning emotion and the poet as speaker, has been so pervasive in Western poetics and pedagogy that it seemed a basic premise. Yet it was not always thus, and certainly other cultures employ lyricism differently and view it differently. It’s never an easy task to view from outside what is inherent in one’s own culture, but that’s where books like this one enlighten and challenge.

Ann E. Michael, Cycles & theories

the colors of my rain are silver and blue
and the sound of this rain is music
an etude for piano or cello
one note per raindrop
sixty-four years old
and still these poems command my life
a rainy night
a cup of tea
my notebook

James Lee Jobe, one note per raindrop

Recently I saw a call for “voice-driven writing.” What does that mean? Is there such a thing as voice-less writing? Even dry bureaucratese has voices. Even multi-authored works have a combined voice. What on earth could they possibly mean? 

I read hither and thither in this particular journal. I did not get the sense their choices were any “voicier” than any other current lit mag. Are they seeking poems that are speaking out of personae, real or imagined? Must the poems be I-driven somehow? I’ll have to go back and try to categorize what I’m reading there, how many I’s per poem, how many you’s or the absence thereof. 

What were the lit mag editors trying to rule out when they came up with that language for their submission instructions? Voice-driven as opposed to what, image-driven? Do they definitely not want anything resembling haiku? Voice-driven as opposed to sound-driven or rhythem-driven? Do they not want anything that could be rapped? What have they gained by specifying this mysterious category? 

Marilyn McCabe, I can here it; or, On “Voice-driven” Poetry; or, Hunh?

I’m learning that the trick is to let the story move off in some other direction. Don’t follow it down. Because the story wants you to follow it. It wants to sidle up next to you and look into your eyes with its own big, wet stare and say, “I get it, buddy.” It wants to lace its fingers into yours and feel the pulse of your wrist against its wrist. The story wants you to lean against its shoulder so it can take your weight. It wants you to come over and hang out. Don’t do it. Once you enter the story gravity increases until you find yourself couchlocked and groggy. It’s not too late at that point, but the door is so much farther away than it was when you came in. No, better to let the story continue on its way. Let its footsteps fade into the night. You’ll thank yourself in the morning.

Jason Crane, The Story

Not knowing how to celebrate or mourn
weakens the scalp of thoughts:
assign patterns, draw maps,
break time into chants
as counter-narrative

disregarding
the morning light wash
mossy tree bark, the bird cries
in looping urgency
mistaking radiance for heat

The dimple of yellow enfolds
the false daisy in the backyard
when she asks:
at what point did you stop looking?

Uma Gowrishankar, Uncoupling II

For me, self-publishing, though it took years to come round, was a kind of natural choice. The reasons were many: Less time struggling up the river and past the bottleneck of books that are just as good–many better– as mine. Less frustration as a midcareer author in a publishing world where so much focus is on the next new thing and first books even in the tiny sliver that cares about poetry at all. While I’ve had publishers who usually gave me input on design anyway, it was nice to have total control over timelines from the start. I found myself at the close of 2020, having just released a new book with my regular publisher that spring, with a build up of projects that I wanted to see in the world as full-lengths. I had sent a couple to my BLP for first dibs but they had passed. I did not then want to spend 100s of dollars playing the open reading periods/contest submissions. While I suppose I could have sought out traditional publishers for all three, I am not sure I was keen on waiting years and years for them all to be released. My takeaway from pandemic year is not [just] that any of us are vulnerable to death or disaster at any time–so seize the day–but also to try to live that life free [from] anyone’s permission or approval that these books are somehow less than my other traditionally published ones because I am putting them out there under my own imprint (I call this my FOOF era, ie “fresh out of fucks”). Sometimes you talk about self-publishing and seizing the means of production and people look at you like you just threw up on their shoes. Whatever. Since I had the means and the ability to make books happen after years of publishing chaps, something of a following of readers (small, but enthusiastic..lol..) why not do it?

I don’t know what road I’ll take after these books.  Maybe a little of both is nice.  I love the community aspect of publishing with an existing press and the design stuff is a heavy load, so it’s nice to have someone else in charge of it (formatting the book took many, many days and then still needs work once you’re in galleys.)  Things like review or promo copies are nice to not have to worry about. Sales figures were about 30 percent less with feed overall than sex & violence a year earlier (which was a bestseller at SPD after all) , but the earnings were significantly more since I get a larger portion of profits. I like being able to control the timeline, but it’s not the most important thing going forward since this weird clustering of projects isn’t always my reality. 

Ultimately, launching a collection is hard even with a publisher backing you up, but double that if you’re on your own. I feel like selling books now is hard anyway with a lack of readings and events, so I’ve no idea if one approach is better than another in the long term–so we shall see…I’m just making it up as I go along…

Kristy Bowen, the self-publishing diaries | pros & cons

I was very saddened to learn today that the leading Estonian poet Jaan Kaplinski has died, aged 80, of motor neurone disease.

I have blogged about him several times over the years. You can find these posts here, here and here.

As I have said before, he is one of my go-to poets.

My love affair with his work began in the early nineties, when The Harvill Press began putting out his work in beautiful volumes: The Same Sea In Us All (1990), The Wandering Border (1992) and Through the Forest (1996).

Bloodaxe Books published a sumptuous Selected Poems in 2011, as well as a three-book compendium, Evening Brings Everything Back in 2004.

I re-read him most years, and am now doubly motivated to spend time in his wry, wise and riddling company.

Bloodaxe have published a summary of his life and work here, at the end of which is a video of Kaplinski reading his poems in English.

Anthony Wilson, RIP Jaan Kaplinski

How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
I guess this is a three part answer. I replicate the history of humankind with regard to poetry. I already loved it when I could not read, and so I knew poetry the way people did before the invention of the technology of writing. When it was illiterature, not literature. I didn’t learn to read and write until grade one, but when taught it, I learned it to an adult level within a few weeks. For grades one through three, I came “first”, in print culture, to “fiction”. Story-telling, or the tale, I think you might say. Mainly the tales of Troy and Arthur and related materials. Then toward the end of grade three, I went to library to find more Edgar Allan Poe stories and found a big  volume with Poe’s poems in the end. I came to them first because I’d started reading from the end. And I was immediately astonished and absorbed and from that moment I never wanted to be anything else but a poet. I recognized a new and “modern” form of what I’d heard with such absorption when I was a “primitive”: Isaiah, Jeremiah, the Psalms, the Gospels, skipping songs, rhymed taunts, nursery rhymes–children’s poetic culture. Truly ancient and at the same time “folk” elements. All that. I recognized a special and specially wonderful form of the “music” I already loved, though not yet of course in a thematic way: folk songs, good popular songs, art songs to a certain extent (I was a music student). But beyond any such consciousness I was simply engulfed by the wonder of the poem. The poem was to me the same thing as a beautiful spring day, by myself, unbothered, and yet still nurtured by people and nature, in transit between home and the woods and the fields, passing along under the walls of the factories, down on the stream bank…

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with A.F. Moritz

I didn’t do any reading over the trip, but I’m back on the horse with #The Sealey Challenge: Day 9: Glimt av opphav – Glims o Origin by Christine De Luca, a Shetland poet. Christine’s poems are in the Shetland dialect of Scots and then translated to Norwegian by Odd Goksøyr. Christine gave me this collection when she visited Helsinki a few years back promoting a project because I speak some Norwegian and have studied the Scots language in university. I really enjoyed reading these poems out loud, in Norwegian and Shetlandic, seeing how the languages are so closely connected. Her poems examine the overlapping of the two cultures as in ‘Thule Revisted’/’Tilbake to Thule’ where Norwegian sailors arrive in Shetland to the delight of the locals as well as various characters, places and cultural highlights of the islands. The poems range from their geological beginnings to modern day, even beyond Shetland. 

I love that Christine doesn’t shy away from mixing science and its language with that of history and old myths, bringing Shetland into the modern age with a generous nod to its origins, hence the title. The poems are rich, linguistically, images and sounds evoking the place, the people and their stories. Beautifully crafted.

Gerry Stewart, The Sealey Challenge: Days 9, 10, 12 and 14

The first poem is about Tater Tots, and the second poem is about “buying weapons,” so I definitely encountered the unexpected in Made to Explode, by Sandra Beasley (W.W. Norton, 2021). And then it all came together in “Einstein, Midnight,” one of several prose poems in the book, in the sentence, “Anything, in the right hands, can be made to explode.” Many details of history here, including how the poet’s personal history intersects with American history. In “My Whitenesses,” I learned what the epithet cracker means and found these three pithy lines:

     My performative strip
     of self, still
     trashing up the place.

Jam-packed with meaning. And in “Monticello Peaches,” a poem about Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings and her brothers, I learned the difference between cling and freestone peaches. It’s hard to bear the poem “Black Death Spectacle,” about Emmett Till. “Kiss Me,” about Ruth Bader Ginsburg attending the Cole Porter musical Kiss Me, Kate, makes me never want to see it, alas, and to wish again she were still alive. Oh, how “Winter Garden Photograph” hit me in the heart, with the words “Carl died. Life is over” written on a calendar that survives grief. And “Lazarus” is a glorious poem in the grand tradition of cat poems that makes me miss my cat, all my cats. Ah, so it is a Blue Monday in the blog, and another Poetry Someday in pursuit of the Sealey Challenge.

Kathleen Kirk, Made To Explode

So, during the first week of Breadloaf, I mostly went to lectures, plus I had my editor/publisher “pitch” sessions, which are fifteen minute Zoom meetings with either lit mag editors or book publishing people. I got Graywolf and Four Way, which were both lovely, but I was so nervous about them! I can’t believe I was so nervous about pitching poetry! This was also my first time at any Breadloaf, because they offered a Virtual option. I wish all the big conferences offered this, because I got to meet writers from both coasts, but also France and Australia, which I think makes the whole conference more interesting. It also seemed that the conference faculty and attendees were more diverse than at least I was expecting. […]

One thing that surprised me about the lectures – the ones with the “superstars” were only okay, and the ones with writers that were new to me were the most thought-and-poem inspiring. I wonder if expectation factored into this – or as another Breadloaf attendee observed, prose writers are just better at prose presentations, or less well-known writers work harder on their talks? Two of the best lectures this week so far at (Virtual) Breadloaf were by Jess Row and Tania James, two writers I didn’t know about before the conference. My loss! Jess talked about writing the political and economic within scenarios of apocalypses and Tania about writing surprise (including example short stories about transforming into a deer or eating children.) Both were brilliant.

I thought I’d be writing way more (I’ve only written one poem this week) but I feel like thinking about ways to write after each lecture was good and the pitches were good, but everything online seems to take way more energy than in person and I ended up napping way more than I expected (this could also be related to the heat.) All this staring at screens did motivate me last week to go get an overdue eye exam which resulted in two new pairs of glasses, including readers – prescriptions plus some magnification for computer reading. Both pairs were pink – one sparkly, one neon. It seems metaphorical – looking at life through literally a new lens. I’m looking forward to next week, when I’ll be really immersed with hours of workshop AND lectures. And then it will almost be September!

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A Week of Wildfire Smoke and the First Week of Breadloaf: Late Summer Edition, Plus, the Sealey Challenge Continues

Setting off back home in a sudden cold squally downpour that emptied the harbourside and streets in seconds, as Andy drove us up the main street, I saw the Bethel Chapel was for sale. Which was when I learned that my friend Patrick Scott had died. The stunningly converted chapel is /was his house. Last time I saw him there was at Staithes Art Week, a couple of years ago. […]

Patrick was a good friend, at one time the editor of a book I wrote about teaching writing, a fellow member of NATE, one of the generation that revolutionised English teaching in the 70’s. His last post was as Director of Children’s services for York, but earlier he was English Advisor for Cleveland/Teesside, a post that was previously held by another friend and mentor, Gordon Hodgeon . I’ve written at length about Gordon; if you don’t know about his story and his poetry you should. There’s a link at the end of the post. Another friend and inspiration, Andrew Stibbs, (NATE alumnus, former head of English in Cleveland, pioneer of mixed ability teaching, Leeds University lecturer in English in Education, painter, musician, cricketer and gifted poet) had been a member of Brotton Writers with Gordon, and equally a good friend of Patrick. All three have died and I miss them, terribly. All three are bound up with my memories of living and working on Teesside and in working as a teacher-trainer. All three are somehow present whenever I go back, say, to Staithes.

What do I make of it. Here am I, writing a poetry blog. What do I know. I say that poetry lets you say what you can say in no other medium, and that is true, when it’s working. But how does that fit with what I described as a week of writing which set itself to challenge us to explore our self-imposed taboos and preconceptions, to query what we think we mean by the ‘truth’ and to be more daring and take more risks.

I’m approaching what I’ll write next with great caution, because I fear to be misunderstood, and in any case I may be wrong. However. I rejoined my Zoom course the next day, head buzzing, not sure of anything in particular. A bit numb. What to be daring about, what risks to take, and why? Possibly I was feeling oversensitive, but it struck me that what I was being challenged to feel more open about, or to, were issues of gender politics, of sexual identity, of sexual violence. Could I write about a parent’s genitals, for instance. Could I challenge self-imposed taboos? Well, yes, I could, but my heart wasn’t in it, I couldn’t give myself up to the game. I sense I missed the cultural tide, recently. But it’s set me thinking about something I read a long time ago, that the Victorians (officially) couldn’t write about sex but wrote with amazing freedom about death, whereas, since the late 60s exactly the opposite has been the case.

John Foggin, A game of ghosts. i.m. Patrick Scott

More than a decade ago, not long into single-motherhood, I got to spend a week in residency at Soapstone, a retreat for women writers on the Oregon coast. For a week I got to live by myself in a beautiful cabin in the forest and do nothing but eat, sleep, walk, and write. And do dishes, of course. A significant part of the Soapstone mission was stewardship of the property on which the writers’ cabins were located; I remember a sign encouraging us to use the dishwasher. It said that it was better for the land than handwashing, which felt counter-intuitive. It said it was better to run a half-full load than to use the water required to wash by hand. Sometimes I washed by hand, anyway, when I wanted just one cup or a particular bowl. […]

Washing the dishes recently, I realized I’ve come to like washing the dishes by hand. Something about the soap and warm water, the ritual of it. While the chicken finished baking in the oven, I washed all the things I’d used to prepare it. I’m learning to do this, to wash as I go, in small batches. I like the small, neat stacks on the bamboo dish rack, the cups that fit perfectly on the bottom shelf. I’ve realized we don’t need as many dishes as I once thought. We wash so frequently that we don’t run out of them in the cupboard.

My Soapstone experience was transformative, but not in the way its founders and board hoped it would be. For an entire week, I did nothing but write. I had no children to feed or bathe or stimulate or soothe, no papers to grade, no partner to answer to or tend. I had only to feed myself and write, and by the end of the week I understood in new, deep ways why I was having such a hard time getting anything written. I concluded that writing was something I was going to put on a shelf. I could always come back to it later, I told myself.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Washing the dishes

I was in the middle of sorting out the launch for the new issue [of Spelt] at the time and I began to feel quite worried about it. What if he was there, this man, in the audience? What if he was quietly watching me? My friends and I went out on the town for a few drinks and weirdly, we saw someone who looked just like the guy we thought might have sent the message and we laughed because …no way…but then I began to think, what if it was?

All this from one email. All this from one person who wanted, at best, to be an edgy poet, at worst wanted me to be shocked so they could gain some satisfaction from it. All this upset.

I went through this laughing it off then feeling uneasy then feeling angry cycle for about a week. Then I put a call out on social media for a woman editor or poet who I could just talk to about it, to see if I was being silly. And another woman editor did. She was angry on my behalf, she justified by shock and uneasiness. We talked through what we might realistically do about me getting my confidence back and not letting this person spoil my enjoyment, how I might feel safe again. This blog is one of those things. I do not have to protect this person. He has violated my right to feel safe.

While I won’t name him, I have in fact flagged him up as a potential problem to other woman editors. I have trigger warned them. The other thing I am doing is to set up a group for women editors so that we have a safe place to talk about this sh*t, because any woman with a public profile deals with this stuff.

I feel empowered again. We had the launch for the new issue and whether he was there or not, I didn’t give a f*ck. It was a smashing hour of really top quality poetry and CNF from writers who want to be part of Spelt.

Wendy Pratt, Your Right to Express Yourself Versus My Right to Feel Safe

I want to get back to dreaming, you know? This morning I put on red lipstick and my black sunglasses and we, my daughter and I, went to the Italian Centre and bought pasta for our pantry and then sat in the cafe and drank a coffee on the patio. I’d put on all my jewelry, all my rings, earrings, even. We took no photos but I came home thinking maybe the world isn’t that that terrible. Maybe we’ll make it through. Maybe we can be gorgeous at Italian grocery stores at the end of the world. Maybe we can dream little dreams.

I came home and set up this still life (didn’t actually drink the wine though…yet). And then I went to my poetry shelf, to keep up the happy buzz and took a book outside and sat in the sun and read and jotted down a bunch of phrases that made me excited.

The book? I keep missing C.D. Wright who left us in 2016. Once in a while you’ll google an author you love to see if they have another volume coming out, but this won’t happen. I took her book with the gorgeously long title off the shelf instead: The Poet, the Lion, Talking Pictures, El Farolito, a Wedding in St. Roch, the Big Box Store, the Warp in the Mirror, Spring, Midnights, Fire & All.

And these are the phrases I copied out into a notebook, which almost seem to make a poem themselves, or maybe they’re a call to action, or maybe they’re just words with zest (just!), or maybe they’re a reminder to create sparks whenever you can, and to listen to Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On, (which she mentions at one point), and to write and share and enjoy the work of others, and fall in love with it and wax poetic about anyone whose work you happen to love, or anyone really — their gestures, their annoying beautiful tics that you will miss when they’re gone. [Click through to read them.]

Shawna Lemay, Seers and Dreamers

and ~ finally
the falling blossoms are turning
to flakes of ash

Jim Young [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 31

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week: wildfires and harvest metaphors, Covid worries, learning to swim, reading books for the Sealey challenge, and much more.


Mountains of fire, the forest
Is a fantastic red blaze.
Lightning in the summer sky,
The earth is as dry as old bones.
And we burn, each of us is an ember.
This is the hour to hold on to hope,
The hour to keep faith and have courage.
May we not fail, and if we do fail
Let it be brazen. Let it be fierce.
Let the final light of being
Illuminate the entire earth.

James Lee Jobe, each of us is an ember

When I began this pastel a month ago, I was thinking with longing about the silvery olive trees in Greece, billowing in the wind off the sea and the mountain tops. That was before the wildfires began that are now raging across the mainland and the Peloponnese, bringing enormous destruction, suffering and loss. Today I look at this picture with different eyes, and have been thinking of the legend of Prometheus, the Titan who stole fire from the Olympian gods and gave it to humans — for that deed he was glorified by humans, but punished by Zeus, who chained him to a rock where an eagle continually preyed upon his liver, until Hercules freed him many centuries later. But it has taken three millennia for us to begin to understand the deeper meaning behind that myth, and why the gods might not have wanted man to have fire, and to start to recognize the results and the price of our selfish neglect of the earth and all its gifts.

This particular olive tree grows at the top of a hill in Epidaurus, site of perhaps the most perfect ancient Greek theater, and of the shrine of Asclepias: a sacred place of pilgrimage and healing for the ancient Greeks. I had climbed up all the steps of the theater to the very top, and then looked out over the back in the opposite direction, where there was a farmer’s road and a grove of olive trees, whose leaves made rustling music in the wind.

In the pastel, I tried to capture that sense of restless, continual movement against the stony ochre-tinged earth and the tall mountains in the distance: the time I spent contemplating that scene remains a memory just as vivid as that of the theater and the surrounding shrine.

Beth Adams, Olive Trees at Epidaurus

Since my last post here, my main creative accomplishment has been to keep the door open to both writing and visual art just for the pleasure… no expectation to make reading notes and no expectation to write anything more than notes or jot down bits of inspiration. I quietly kept my toe in the writing waters by finishing up a micro class with Sarah Freligh and Zoom workshops with both the Madwomen and members of my local poetry community.

I also let expectations go for my social life, for wellness pursuits, for schedules, for work, for play, etc. I am terrible at going with the flow, but I did surrender to it.

I realize now that this was a delayed response to the Collective Big Pause (i.e. global pandemic and associated social distancing/lock downs). I don’t do well with transitions, and I loathe uncertainty. I prefer clear paths over liminal space. I appreciate deadlines and established time frames. While so many of you leaned into the stillness of the pandemic, I didn’t know what to do with myself.

I don’t mean the solitude got to me: Solitude is a good friend of mine. I mean that while many were able to soothe themselves with familiar pleasures (like favorite hobbies) or even seek new pleasures (like fresh projects or development of long-desired skills), I pretty much froze. I understood that I could be (maybe even should be) using the time differently, but instead I just sat in it. I worked online during the day, and at night and on weekends, I got numb. I checked out.

The last few months, early spring at first, now deep into summer, have been about easing my way back into feeling. I’m not all the way there yet, but starting with pleasure seemed wise. Savoring morning coffee. Working my muscles hard. Putting my ear to the creative ground and capturing bits of language. Shooting the shit with my boys whenever the opportunity presents itself and for as long. Absorbing sun. Reading books cover-to-cover. Painting my nails. Eating and drinking what I want.

Carolee Bennett, the annoying chewing sounds my brain makes

brown water grey headland
litter of shattered shale
wave lines slant to the shore

junction 23 roundabout
a mass of moon daisies
horses up to their knees in buttercups

I have the right
to be absolutely
wrong

Ama Bolton, Desire Lines

I grew up in small towns. On top of that, I lived in the country, not in town. I think living in relative isolation was good preparation for living in a pandemic. Honestly, I’m only now starting to miss in-person socializing. A little. One good thing about isolation of this kind is that you have almost complete control over your life and how you want to spend your time because you don’t have a lot of outside choices. There have been minimal demands from “out there” and I’ve spent almost every day doing exactly what I wanted. Kind of like it was before I started grade school. I was an expert at entertaining myself. I had books, I had nature, I had animals. I was never bored. During the past year and a half I have rarely been bored. I feel sad for people who need more stimulation. I’m sure it’s been much harder on them.

Charlotte Hamrick, Favorite Fiction: 2nd Quarter 2021

I have to admit, my three days a week in the library (courtesy of all those extra vacation days I’d been hoarding the past couple years) have made this summer seem a bit lengthier than they usually are. While most pass in a stack of weeks that are indistinguishable from the next. Now there’s some space between the work weeks–days I can devote to other kinds of work–mostly writing and the press, but sometimes a little painting thrown in. They make the days I go downtown feel like a singular week and not just one bleeding into the next. But even still. we are already knee deep in August it seems. Already creeping closer to the beginning of the semester while side-eyeing the news headlines. Columbia seems to acting from a place of hope I’m not sure they will get to just yet. The edict a few weeks back about going maskless on campus was snatched away even before most of us actually took ours off for any period of time. There are plans for in-person outdoor convocation and 75 percent reduced instruction, but I still feel like they are being way too optimistic given that even in well-vaxxed Chicago, our positive rate is somehow, impossibly creeping up nevertheless and the rest of the state is a giant, under-vaccinated mess. I fear for the folks I know in Florida and have a governor intent on killing everyone it seems. Even places under good leadership are failing.

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 8/7/2021

I don’t want to reckon with my choices:
feels like that’s all we’ve done for 18 months
(should I mask, is this safe, what if
we meet outside and never breathe together?)
I don’t want to query who will live
and who will die, who by wildfire and who
by flooded subway, who intubated and alone
and who will have enough while others lack.
I just want all of us to thrive: our hearts
at ease, our hopes in reach at last.
Come close to me, God. Comfort me with apples.
Remind me the world is born again each year —
even if I’m not ready, even if this year
I’m not sure I know the words to pray.

Rachel Barenblat, Sonnet for our second COVID Rosh Hashanah

I’ve staged this harvest, taking only enough spuds at a time for the next meal in order to achieve that tub-to-table-in-20-minutes freshness which has been the whole point, or at least a good part of the point. I’ve served them with mint from the window box, and roasted them with rosemary which grows next to the mint. With the next and final serving, I plan to smother then in buttery sage – the window box sage is flourishing, having been dug up and sent to me by Morar by Royal Mail last autumn. She’d read I didn’t have any to go with my parsley, rosemary, and thyme (I Bottle Abundance). 

The rest of the point of the harvest has been to do with the pleasure of engaging in the physical world, the necessity of it. The joy of it is the reminder that growth often takes place out of sight … but oh … this is beginning to sound like it’s heading in the direction of a sermon …

You’re right, dear reader: I’m going to use my potato harvest as a metaphor for creativity. You see, all the while these Charlottes were growing underground, I’ve been working on poems hidden in a file on my computer since 2019, now published by Fair Acre Press. I’d originally hoped their coming to light would coincide with Beethoven’s 250th birthday in December 2020. This late harvest has also come in stages: a Zoom launch, a reading at the Poetry Pharmacy, and then a performance in mid-Devon on a summer’s evening of extraordinary heat and calm. 

Carol Caffrey and I had hatched the idea of a joint event back in the spring when our host, Richard Higgins, was looking for productions for a short season of open air events. It had seemed, then, so theoretical, so impossible: the chances were that it would never happen.

And then, it did. 

Our journey down the M5 and through the high-hedged lanes was long. When we saw our names in huge letters on arrival at Brushford Barton, it was as if we had dug our hands into the soil, and, unbelieving until the moment of contact, found potatoes … 

Liz Lefroy, I Harvest My Crops

grain theory

there is something i need more than facts. i need a good theory. or better put i need a theory about good. consulting scientists seems useless. they want the former while i seek the later. what makes something anything or us good. i am listening to kenny garrett play his sax with miles davis. I believe that will be the starting point of my search for the theory of good. when miles plays a song you dont listen to the song you just listen to miles. the song will appear at some point but you just stay lost in miles and it will come when it feels like it. 

someday. maybe tomorrow. i will come to you all and report my findings in the middle of a five hundred acre field of rye…

the loose sounds
of jazz
composing a melody
out of a ‘riff’

Michael Rehling, Haibun 213

I like distinctions, categories, naming things. But then if I think too much about them, categories, they fall apart. I’ve been thinking again about this idea of “narrative” poetry and “lyric” poetry. Many intelligent things have been said about those categories, I’m sure, none of which I can remember at the moment. 

But I’ve been thinking too about time, as I often do, and time seems to be the primary distinction between the narrative and the lyric poem. A narrative unfolds over time; a lyric is of a moment. Is that true? 

I was asking a friend recently about a poem of hers that unfolds over a short period of time but is focused on the feeling of a moment. She describes what she’s been up to in her work recently as “trying to use fragments of narrative as part of an attempt to creat a non-narrative experience.” 

Is a narrative poem just a long way toward a lyric moment? I don’t know. Maybe. Isn’t the whole point of telling a story to give that moment of impact? When all the notes of the song come together in a resonant chord? 

But that idea of music is the purview of the lyric, isn’t it? The etymology of narrate is gnarus, meaning knowing. Not much is known about the origin of the word lyre, or Greek lyra or lura, that stringed instrument of long ago, but made its way to the French lyrique or short poem expression emotion suited for singing to the lyre. Or something like that. 

Marilyn McCabe, It’s time time time that you love; or, On Narrative, Lyric, and the Restless Eye

I’ve been in a funk this summer, and feeling, frankly, as though all this writing is pointless. Aren’t there already enough books in the world? Despite good friends, despite a class in which I was assigned to write one metaphor per day. (Which can also be similes, “This weird funk, purple like Puget Sound at dusk,” or brilliant word substitutions: “A blue funk washed over me.”) Despite walks. Despite baking many loaves of sourdough bread.

But it is August, and that means POPO, or POetry POstcard Fest. I don’t always sign up for August, as I participate in my friend Carla’s February postcards event each year. But this year, August postcards feels like a good idea. Somewhere I have a quote written down, about letting go of expectations and big-picture goals and doing just the one next right thing. The metaphors can be that next right thing; the postcards can be that next right thing.

Bethany Reid, Writing a Postcard

My grandfather cutting cantaloupe on a summer morning as he readies for work, the light shining through the sink window’s short curtains. He sprinkles his melon, soft and vivid as the Hermistons I offer to my son like jewels, with salt. Paul Harvey’s voice is tinny through the radio, and my grandmother is still sleeping in their bed upstairs. I like not needing to say anything, having him all to myself, being cared for only by him, who makes me a piece of toast in the toaster that now sits on a shelf in my mother’s kitchen. He dies of a heart attack at 63. The night he dies, I sleep in that bed with my grandma, in his spot. 

I sit at my kitchen table and read a piece my friend Sharon is writing about grandmothers and canning and writing. About preservation and sustenance. She writes that she cans with words, not food. Then I read my friend Bethany’s piece about doubting the purpose of writing, she who writes multiple books through decades of mothering and teaching. I consider my history, the jars of applesauce my great-grandmother sent to our suburban house every fall that she made from apples grown on the farm, and how three generations later I am only just now, well into a sixth decade of living, beginning to learn how to grow food. I consider the tomatoes ripening in a bowl on the table, the literal fruits of my labor. I consider the one book of poems I cultivated, now nearly 20 years ago, and I wonder if the writer in me is a pale hosta. Maybe she is. Or maybe she is a rat, scratching at survival through blog posts and Instasnippets. Maybe she is an invasive, drought-resistant perennial with deep, woody roots. Maybe she is none of those things and all of those things. Maybe she is everything in the garden–the hostas and rinds and rats and tomatoes and trumpets and weeds and bees, being fed by whatever they can find there, wherever they can find it. It’s a conceit that brings comfort, here on the edge of the cusp of autumn, these brief weeks of both harvesting and fading. 

Rita Ott Ramstad, On the edge of the cusp

clutching the letter —
her dad lifts her up
to the mail slot

Bill Waters, Haiku about family and friends

–As I looked at all the glassware, I thought of our younger selves, the ones who wanted to have a glass for every possible type of drink.  Have we ever made margaritas or martinis?  No, but if we do, we have the glass for it.

–I gave away the one, lonely wine glass, the first one I ever bought, at a store near the B.Dalton’s in a mall long ago.  I bought it the summer after I graduated from undergraduate school.  I imagined that a grown woman needed a wine glass.

–Why did I think a grown woman only needed one wine glass?  And why is it so small?

–How did we end up with so many pillowcases?  Where are the sheets that once went with these pillowcases?  Do the pillowcases miss the sheets that have gone on to other destinies?

When I got to the Good Will drop off station yesterday, I was surprised to see a line of cars.  I patiently waited my turn, watching the people pop out and haul their stuff to the pile:  a pair of shoes, a child’s scooter, bag after bag of stuff.  And then I added my two bags of stuff and my carton of glassware.  I pondered the basic question:  what will become of all this stuff?  Will it go round and round and round again?

There are larger questions, of course.  Do others really need my cast-aways?  How does the earth bear this burden?

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Wisdom from the Good Will Drop Off

Before becoming self-conscious of all the things I’m doing wrong, I didn’t used to think about swimming when swimming, but I did sometimes think about poems. Some poets like to go walking. Personally I rarely get inspired when I’m out and about. And I have to say I don’t really write anything in my head while swimming, but being in the water is fraught with metaphorical energy, as are (for me and many others I suspect) swimming pools generally. I’ve had a ‘lido’ poem on the go for at least a decade, I think it’s currently out somewhere but I won’t be surprised if it comes back rejected again. Unlike ‘Lido’ by Alison McVety from her fine collection Lighthouses (Smith Doorstop) that sticks in my mind, the swimmer ‘left to plough on’ in the rain, ‘ten years gone and I’m still turning and swimming, turning and swimming’.

I’m now trying to remember various ‘not waving but drowning’ type poems, particularly one by a (currently living) poet whose brother downed… perhaps you can help me out? I think I read it in a magazine some time in the last ten years. I just did a search for ‘poem about a brother who drowned’ and it threw up an extraordinary list of results, all of the ’25+ Heartening Poems for a Deceased Brother’s Funeral’ variety. Funerals are probably the only time 99% of the population ever wants to encounter a poem, to be fair. Anyway, if I ever get to do a flip turn I’ll let you know.

Robin Houghton, Not drowning but waving

I’ll preface this by saying that I’ve been on holiday for this past week which is extremely useful in refusing to be worn out. And when I say holiday, I mean that I’ve not been at my day job but have instead been working on the proofs for my book, Everything Affects Everyone, and sorting out various parts of my life and planning just a little into the future. We also went to Banff, and I visited this little tree growing in a stone fence, and which I’ve taken photos of for years. Still, this little tree refuses to give up its hold and boy do I admire and love this little tree for just rooting in and keeping the faith. I have communed with this little sapling for years via my camera lens, which I guess means that it’s not really a sapling, is it? Returning, I never really expect it to be there. Afterwards, I don’t think much about it. We go home, life resumes. But every year when we return to Banff, I mosey by and when it’s there it’s such a pleasant surprise.

Shawna Lemay, On Refusing to Be Worn Out

walking sideways
in bosherton’s lily ponds
freshwater crabs

swansea’s mirage
drinking with the dead poets
in the kardohma

dreams of empire
all the red in the atlas
fading away

laugharne
around every corner
dylan

blue pool
half the depth
of my trepidation

Jim Young [no title]

‘What’s wrong with me?’ you used to ask as you watched
the man you knew you were slipping from your grasp.
Oh Daddy, why can’t I just remember the good times?

Bingo, helping you with your Spanish homework, the time
we went to Laugharne together to Dylan’s boathouse,
how you used to say to me, ‘You’re just like your mother.’

But still, after all these months, when the curtain first
goes up on my memory it is the latter darkness
that steps towards the footlights. I have to believe

this will pass, that grief will loosen its shroud
and the stage will flood with light and I will be
filled with joy, with the grace of your well-lived life.

Lynne Rees, Poem ~ Stage

He recants forms, the shape and texture of her throat once
translucent as a lotus stem, an old woman’s pouch now. When
she lifts her feet to cross the threshold, he turns away to burrow
in the pastel core of silence, looking intently at the emptiness
as the air decants with the freedom of uncoupling.

Uma Gowrishankar, Uncoupling

I’m starting to worry about having a job. I don’t mean whether I can find one. I mean whether it was a good idea to find the one I’ve got. I work just three days a week and that seems like not that much until I think THREE OUT OF SEVEN DAYS THAT’S ALMOST HALF and then I start questioning everything. Without the job I make about $250 a month doing my little things I do. Sending people weird emails and making the occasional podcast. I used to make twice that but I gave one of my shows to someone else because if there’s one thing I’ve always been good at it’s financial planning. I mostly don’t watch other van life videos or Instagram accounts anymore but the other day I caught up on one of my favorites and he’s out there climbing mountains and paddling across lakes and I have, like, five polo shirts so I can wear them to work and I wonder if I’ve slid back too far. Right now I’m listening to the rain on the roof of the van and thinking about the loon calls I heard earlier and remembering the smell of the high desert and that time I drove as far as you can drive until you have to start paddling toward Havana and maybe I should go to bed and think about all this tomorrow.

Jason Crane, Havana

What turned out to be four lines of the poem appeared as I was driving along the M4 in rain like stair rods. I found myself repeating them over and over in my head to avoid forgetting them, building on what was one line, then two before getting to the fourth one. I was just debating whether to ask Rachael to write them down for me or to ask Siri to take a note (that would have felt weird, talking gibberish into my wrist while R and F were listening), but thankfully a services popped up, so I could type it up to come back to.

It’s a start. Who knows what will come of it.

Mat Riches, Vona Groarke’s Trumpet

I’m really delighted that my video accidentals (recalculated) has been selected for the International Review of Poetry, Videopoetry and Video-Art for the special on-line 10th edition of Bologna in Lettere, screening on 4th August 2021, curated by Enzo Campi.

This video started out life as a more-or-less standard poem. But then I realised that I could replace many of the verbs, prepositions, conjunctions and other linguistic elements with mathematical operators or symbols used in algebra, statistic,computing and engineering. The implementation of these operators and symbols in the piece is all internally consistent, so that a given symbol always means the same thing. Video was the ideal way to integrate the new text with the original poem via the voice-over. Most of the images were filmed in and around my home in South Australia.

Ian Gibbins, accidentals (recalculated) at Bologna in Lettere 10th edition

I’m writing from a blessed weekend of rain after a 51-day drought here in the Seattle area. I took a long walk under the cloud cover and my garden is much happier. […]

So, the month of August is often a good month to get in a dose (or 30) of poetry with The Sealey Challenge, with the goal of reading a book of poetry a day and posting about it. So far, I didn’t quite make it to that (lots going on, read above) but I did read two new books and revisited a few old favorites, plus ordered a few signed copies of new books from friends. I also plan a visit to Open Books in Seattle when I can get the time.

I notice all the reading inspired me to write a few new poems – something I rarely do in August unless pressed – and helped me stay calm during a time of great stress. Also, Sylvia really enjoys getting in on the Sealey Challenge by playing model cat.

I encourage you all to do a little poetry shopping and/or revisiting old favorites on your shelf if you get the time, and posting about it. The conversation about poetry couldn’t happen at a better time – we all need a positive distraction from the endless stress of the past year and a half.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A Week of Too Much Drama, Sealey Challenges, Possible Good News, and Virtual Breadloaf Starting Tomorrow

Summer is almost over here in Finland, after months of high temps and no rain, thunderstorms hit last night and it’s been raining all day. Schools start back in a week, so we’re on the wind-down. 

I’m torn about going back, I will miss the lazy days, but I would really like to talk to adults again. My stress insomnia has already started up, but hopefully that will pass once I go back for our orientation. 

I’ve decided to try the Sealey Challenge this month, to read a poetry collection a day for the month of August. I have to admit I’m not good at keeping up with my poetry reading. I buy collections and dip into them, but often struggle to sit down and read the whole book at once. 

I’m not sure if I’ll get through a whole collection in one day and will sometimes feel I’m not doing justice to the poet. I read fiction quickly, too quickly to appreciate play of language and technique unless I force myself to really slow down like I’m doing with my current reread of Sunset Song by Lewis Grassic Gibbon which is a beautifully poetic novel and needs a slow read. 

I will treat this challenge as the introduction to the poems I’m reading, a first splash about and then I can spend some time fully exploring my favourites later.

Gerry Stewart, Sealey Challenge: Day 1

The river runs through this book [Postcolonial Love Poem by Natalie Diaz]. “The First Water is the Body” begins, “The Colorado River is the most endangered river in the United States–also, it is a part of my body.” Later, the “I” becomes a “we.” “We carry the river, its body of water, in our body.” In the poem called “exhibits from The American Water Museum,” water is like language: “I am fluent in water. Water is fluent in my body– / it spoke my body into existence.”

Love poems wind in and out. Animals. Snake, wolf, crane, coyote, bull, tiger, horse, yellow jacket, all the animals on the ark. More basketball. In “The Mustangs,” her brother is a high school basketball star; the team is beloved by the whole community. “We ran up and down the length of our lives, all of us, lit by the lights of the gym, toward freedom–we Mustangs. On those nights, we were forgiven for all we would ever do wrong.”

It was a beautiful day to read this book outside. I love August, its pure summer feel, its poignant, back-to-school-soon, summer’s-almost-over-feel—but it isn’t! Summer goes on and on, long past school. And now August is the Sealey Challenge for me, a poetry book a day, a lushness of reading in the green afternoon, the coneflowers blooming, phlox, round two of golden lilies, the oregano flower-headed and leaning out into the lawn. I love how I can read these poems to learn, to experience beauty and desire in someone else’s language, culture, voice. I’m reading for joy!–though, yes, I encounter grief–and for knowledge. I learn that “Manhattan is a Lenape Word.” I learn the “Top Ten Reasons Why Indians Are Good at Basketball.”

And what a thrill to find Kearney, Nebraska in a poem, a town I lived in as a child, and the sandhill cranes. In a heartbreaking brother poem with a dismantled Polaroid camera. What a book! And what is a sky hook? Ah, now I know!

Kathleen Kirk, Postcolonial Love Poem

Delayed due to lockdowns and pandemic but finally available is Jordan Abel’s incredibly powerful NISHGA (Toronto ON: McClelland and Stewart, 2021). His first book since his third poetry title, the Griffin Poetry Prize-winningInjun (Vancouver BC: Talonbooks, 2016) [see my review of such here], the critical memoir that is NISHGA utilizes archival scraps, talks, interviews, visual poems and other forms into a book-length collage that speaks of and to generational trauma and the residential school system, and the ways in which he has used his work to engage larger conversations about aboriginal culture and colonialism, and an exploration on his own identity and indigeneity. As he writes early on in the collection under the title “Notes”: “I remember talking with a colleague of a colleague at a book launch in Vancouver. She came up to me after my reading and wanted to talk. At some point, she asked me if I spoke Nisga’a. I said no and she asked why. But it wasn’t just the question why. There was something else there too. She didn’t say it, but she wanted to know how I could have been so irresponsible. How I could have been Nisga’a my whole life but never bothered to learn the language. As if I had access. As if I could just flip a switch and know. as if I hadn’t wanted to. As if I hadn’t felt that hole inside me. As if filling it was that easy.”

He writes of generational violence that rippled out from the residential school system, and how his work in The Place of Scraps (Talonbooks, 2013) [see my review of such here], for example, responded directly to some of those concerns. He writes of his background as Nisga’a but without access to his biological father, a Nisga’a artist who left when Abel was still an infant. Abel speaks of that disconnect; of growing up Nisga’a without knowing or even meeting anyone else Nisga’a until, as an adult, he briefly met his father for the first time. There is an enormous amount of pain throughout this project, and Abel maps some dark and difficult histories, from his own personal disconnects to a generational trauma, prompted by that original break due to the theft of his grandparents as children. How might anyone respond in such a situation?

rob mclennan, Jordan Abel, NISHGA

Twenty years after the most deadly terrorist attack on United States soil, what comes to mind? 

For many of the 117 poets whose work was selected for the forthcoming commemorative anthology Crossing the Rift: North Carolina Poets on 9/11 & Its Aftermath (Press 53, September 11, 2021), what comes to mind is “the morning / rainfreshed” (Jeannette Cabanis-Brewin, “Tony Writes to Say He’s Alive”), “[t]hat September morning’s iris of sky” (Debra Allbery, “The Wakeful Bird Sings Darkling”), cloudless and blued into brilliance before exploding into unforgettable images of fire and toxic smoke, of bodies falling and returned to dust. For others in this anniversary collection, memory remains “one of those days when you remember / exactly where you were,” when “we lost the last of our innocence” (Kaye Nelson Ratliff, “Infamous Days”) and were forever after to carry “the long litany of the lost” (Glenis Redmond, “Witness the Whole World”) into a “new age of wars, two wars abroad that never end, and one at home to rip the fabric of our nation apart” (Robert Morgan, “A Sickness in the Air”).  

The clarity of what is remembered, and of what was and continues to be done in consequence, acts as both thorn and spur. Raised as  they are, individually and collectively, the poets’ voices guide us through the wreckage of our common history and challenge us to seek something better.

Maureen Doallas, 9/11 Remembered: ‘Crossing the Rift’ (Review)

“The Thin Line Between Everything and Nothing” is a collection of flash fiction that shows how small moments can create the longest life changes, as exemplified in “Sarajevo Rose” where a man thinks back to his regular purchase of fresh flowers after a woman dropped a coin in the market place, “He doesn’t remember dropping his sister’s hand. The building shook with the blast. When he looked up, his sister was gone. Damir has read how Sarajevans painted red roses in the shell’s concrete scars. When his flowers wilt, the petals fall to the floor. Damir never picks them up.”

Most stories though are told from a woman’s viewpoint. The woman’s story starts with being a war reporter, in “Bulletproof” where “they loan me a flak jacket, a big blue thing designed for men. It squashes my shoulders, metal plates pinning flat my chest, breasts yielding to the weight of them.” Of course, she wears it for protection, but also because “there are more male journalists on the frontline than women, because men are better at the warry stuff, and women more lightweight. I wear it because I don’t want to rock the boat and give the news desk another reason not to send me to do this job. I wear it because I’ve told them I am the best ‘man’ for the job. I wear it because I want to be part of the solution and not part of the problem.” The problem isn’t that it’s ill-fitting or the sexism inherent in war-reporting but what it doesn’t protect her from: the very thing she’s there to report on.

Emma Lee, “The Thin Line Between Everything and Nothing” Hannah Storm (Reflex Press) – book review

In a recent interview, poet and essayist Erica Hunt shared the following in response to a question about the best writing advice she’d ever received:

From Rachel Blau DuPlessis in “Statement on Poetics”—paraphrasing now: A poem is “bottomless,” “intricate,” and “tangible” in detail. I like thinking this is true regardless of “school” or length. Here is what it has helped me to appreciate: A poem is a work made through language that bears rereading, to discover that difficulty is never without love.

Erica Hunt, interview

I’ve come to realize that these latter two concepts, rereading and difficulty, have become integral to my poetic practice. I have long considered rereading central to poetic experience. Rereading implies dwelling, lingering, becoming engrossed in the matter at hand. That we may read and reread a poem, each time coming away with more, with something different–that is poetry’s lifegiving gift. If nothing else, we reread because one can’t catch everything all at once. We look words up, try phrases aloud, wonder: Who talks like this? Life’s a cacophony we sense music out of; why shouldn’t art be similar?

The other concept, difficulty, is something that I have been slower to embrace. On one level, this reluctance seems natural. There is, for one, the early difficulty of the classroom, the way poetry is traditionally taught to be a kind of puzzle, a use of language shrouded in mystery, the poet a wizard behind a curtain, knowing more than you and deigning to obfuscate the ordinary for you to luck upon. And there are definitely poems that live up to this tradition; and this type of poetry remains teachable but not graspable, or, to use a word Hunt quotes above, tangible.

This occurrence of a poem being out of a reader’s grasp brings with it a number of connotations. On the one hand there is gaslighting; we have had whole generations believing that they are at fault for not understanding “great” poetry, which often leads people to give up on poetry altogether. This brings to mind the implication of the literal “grasp,” that there are certain people whose touch and presence around poetry would sully it. I try to dispel this kind of thinking in my own teaching practices by showing that linguistic difficulty should be embraced in good faith, that we can engage with a poem and allow it to teach us how to read it, but also that we should trust our reactions as readers as well. This good faith is a human trait, a way of endeavoring and persevering.

Finding ways of endeavoring and persevering is central to the body of work gathered in Hunt’s Jump the Clock: New & Selected Poems (Nightboat Books). Across Hunt’s lively body of work, one comes in contact with a voice able to interrogate while remaining attuned to language’s vulnerable and raw personal nature. When reading Hunt’s poems, one feels attuned to language’s plasticity at the service of connecting and not intellectual indulgence. To put it another way, her poems meet a reader half way and allow the reader space to work out meaning as well as a meaningful experience.

José Angel Araguz, microreview: Erica Hunt’s Jump the Clock

A woman cradles a skull in her hands like a bouquet.
The sun carves scallops on every window. Each face
accepts the signature of time. Lie closer to the floor
where it is cooler. Dip a cotton square dipped in water
to lay across your brow. The procession
is just starting or ending. It begins
and ends at the same place.

Luisa A. Igloria, Acts of Levitation are Difficult in the Heat

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 30

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week: summer reading and writing find their apotheosis in the writer’s retreat and the writers’ conference, and we have reports on both, along with considerations of other sorts of renewal and reinvention. Other major themes include childhood memories, and translation of all kinds.


An August Sunday in the city —  empty, empty, empty.  The streets are clearer, blacker, more asphalty, an open stage, an asphalt canvas.  Things, so subservient to people, step up their presence and shine. The shopping bag is always heavier than the slim arm of the walker whose shorts seem longer than his legs.   Orange day lilies have their heady moment, erupting through scrabbly soil and gravelly roadsides; they earn their nicknames — outhouse day lily, roadside, railroad, ditch, washhouse, mailbox, tiger, tawny.  The posts of street lights commune with trees.  The bike dreams the leisurely biker. 

It reminds me of the older version of boredom that used to be baked into summer — good boredom, a chance for something else to erupt through the hard-wired, conquesting surface of  the year’s ambitions.   Reverie and its twin, ennui, will get edged out by extreme weather, health, plagues, breakdowns, etc.  An air current lazing through a screen door, undeterred, unhampered is good work if you can get it.

Jill Pearlman, The Thinginess of Summer

Swayback barn,
the darkness inside.

The wood thinks
of the earth.

The trees there
think of the wind.

Tom Montag, SWAYBACK

Blogger/poet/bookmaker Ren Powell recently suggested going fallow for awhile “to see what comes of it.” I tend to go through fallow periods quite accidentally. Used to call them writer’s block, but I don’t view them like that anymore. Fallow strikes me as a more accurate term for a number of reasons, some of them etymological. In current agriculture, a fallow field remains uncultivated purposely, to rest and improve the soil’s fertility. That seems more accurate to my current state of mind than “dry” or “blocked.”

Consider the field left fallow: plenty goes on there. Weed seeds germinate and sprout, annelids and arthropods, insects, and beetles, in their various life stages, multiply and move about. Voles, mice, toads go a-hunting. Bacteria do their thing. It’s not a lifeless place, the fallow plot.

Ann E. Michael, Fallow me

Yesterday I celebrated myself which is what you do when you embrace radical aloneness the day began at 2 AM when a tsunami alert went off on my phone telling me to prepare for evacuation it was the 8.2 earthquake off the coast of Alaska and didn’t affect us here but the water was exceptionally choppy with strange currents I went back to sleep once I knew my little boat wasn’t setting out 

I did get my ears pierced (again) not at the mall but at the shop where I got my tattoo re-inked right before the plague swallowed us the earrings I chose to keep in my ears are small green gems on surgical steel posts posts that have flat backs so they won’t poke my neck while I sleep which is why I always removed them in the past 

Rebecca Loudon, Pig and farm report

I have the enormous advantage, now, of being sixty-three, which is the precise age at which one discovers that one will never make oneself new. Whatever I make will be made with the materials at hand: I am a wary, slow-processing, obstinate man who requires a lot of transition time — who likes to wake up before the sun, and to have a couple hours to get used to the idea that a new day is underway, before having to cope with broad daylight. I’m not going to magically turn into anything else. Turning myself into an ideal human being — decisive, quick-witted, and flexible — now that, that would be a task to inspire despair. But I don’t have to do that. I only need to find more fun within my measure, and to take on problems of reasonable scope. Everything else, everything else I can let fall away. I can let it drift away in my slow, dark wake.

Which is not to say that I am not in need of redemption. Oh no, I am not saying that. Not to say that I don’t need a visionary journey, which involves a substantial risk of never returning. I do need, as Paul Simon would say, a shot of redemption. But don’t confuse that with learning to live. They’re two different tasks: they accomplish two different things. Don’t get muddled.

Dale Favier, Learning to Live

We are summer people, all seasons people. Howling, prowling, hallelujah people.

People with pets and houseplants, debts, and dances with wolves.

Punk rock people, easy-listening people.

People of solitude, people rocking Budokan.

Heart flutter and double step, roughneck and smooth-talking people.

Tribal people, marginalized people.

People of the machine, people who’ve built their dreams by hand.

Extraordinary people, earth-loving people. People that create new sounds from alphabet soup.

Rich Ferguson, People

it says nothing, it says everything
hold it up to the light again,
some days, you’ll see a poem

An abating second wave (really?), an enraged monsoon (climate change?), a monday-friday grind that mocks attempts at writing, a shrinking world of poetry suddenly made beautiful by an unexpected poem that drops into my timeline – how’re things in your world? What have you been writing? 

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Hold it up to the light

It’s almost August, and I’m still behind in all things poetry-related but so enjoying each day, each moment of life in summer. Today, I did post a review of What Happens is Neither, by Angela Narciso Torres, at Escape Into Life, and another review is coming soon, August 4, of Dialogues with Rising Tides, by Kelli Russell Agodon. Indeed, my fond (meaning both affectionate and foolish) hope is again to attempt the Sealey Challenge, reading a poetry book a day in August, and posting about it here. My friend Kim enjoyed that last year, as did several of the poets who found themselves here, and I love the whole idea of the challenge. But can I do it this year? 

Today, pursuant to the challenge, I did read a chapbook in advance, as I will be otherwise occupied on August 1 (volleyball, friends). Still, I may post in the middle of the night.

I’m swimming again, which is meditative, a wonderful body-mind blend. I continue to be busy with many details. I think I have a weensy bit of what they are calling “re-entry anxiety,” though I feel calm most of the time, and not at all troubled by wearing a mask into all businesses, even if others aren’t, but my particular county is a current hotspot and masks are being required again, not just recommended, so maybe we’ll see more…masks…or rude resistance, alas. The schools will be requiring masks, a relief!

Kathleen Kirk, Almost August

The firehose of radiant joy in the return to swimming and the successful beginning of rehabbing covid-damage-wrought has passed; now it has become the steady irrigation of my normal relationship with the water.

Somewhere in there, it just quietly became the day to day experience of swimming again.

In other words, equal parts home and hard work. Perfectionist-struggle-frustration mixed with relief-joy-relaxation. […]

And, life, in spades: as I become healthy and strong again, my responsibilities and worries broaden back out from “survive” to “live in this mortal broken world and create as much beauty as possible.”

The cleanup has had me doing less this month than since vaccine, as I’ve been variously on liquid diet and doped up or running around to appointments while also trying my best to be present and accountable for family, book release (3 this year, oof), trying to figure out how I want to and can rebuild my professional and financial life in a sustainable shape post-covid, and refilling my own still-depleted well.

JJS, the quiet joy

No one teaches animals
to resent their bodies.
Show me how to love mine.

As Zohar reminds me,
there is no place
where God is not:

even my asthmatic lungs,
my animal being,
my imperfect heart.

Rachel Barenblat, We are animals too

One of the things this week reminded me of was the importance of the support of friends and family during hard times. Nearly everyone I know has had some hardship with mental health this last year and a half, and we are all in need of more kindness, more tolerance, more support. This week I talked with family, friends all over the country, and even caught up in person with one this weekend, all of which helped me and Glenn regain some sense of normalcy with all the craziness.

The whole thing with Simone Biles, who had a very challenging childhood even before she was sexually abused by her US team gymnastics doctor and went on to become the face of the 2020 Olympics, made me think about how even the very best, most talented people are challenged by the past year’s super stress, that a lot more of us are at our breaking point than we might think. I am wishing that Simone gets all the friend support she needs after this very public “failure” or more accurately, “refusal to perform while she wasn’t feeling up to it.”  It’s a reminder that we are more than our performances, and we all deserved to be valued as human beings, not just gymnastics medal winners, or for the things in our past that we’ve accomplished.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Minor Disasters and Lost Voices, The Importance of Friend Support During a Plague Year

This week has redeemed itself after nine hours of driving across country to the edge of Wales. We have landed in the most peaceful and silent place in the world. Just what we all needed.

I’ve brought some work to do this week and what I’m now starting to worry isn’t enough books. I have a review I must write this week, I’m hoping I may actually manage a poem of my own (not worried if I don’t though.)

I note today is the first day of The Sealey Challenge. I’ve never heard of it before, but it sounds like a good idea. I won’t be actively taking part, but I think I manage at least some reading of poems almost every day of the year, so I won’t beat myself up for not joining in. Most of my reading this week is magazines anyway to help alleviate some of the TBR backlog.

Mat Riches, No States, man

Two years ago I applied for Storyknife and I’m a little emotional tonight that I’ll be driving out early in the morning.  I have so much gratitude for this experience, and also for new friends. Maura Brenin, Storyknife’s Chef, is a poet with food.  Lunch, dinner – each day was something brand new to me and all of it healthy, nourishing, sustaining, and lovely! I’m seriously going to have to up my game from grocery store bag salad and frozen chicken. 

And Erin Coughlin Hollowell who is a poet and Executive Director which means she is not only a woman of words, but oversees all the paperwork and budgetary issues, sets the wasp traps, weeds the flowerbeds, and consults Fish & Game when dork boy moose has wild eyes, flattened ears, and runs wild circles through the yard.  She has an electric drill in one hand, pen in the other, and I’m happy to call her friend, as well.

I was lucky to stay in the Peggy cabin, named for writer Peggy Shumaker.  Peggy’s space is one of creativity and good sleep.  It seemed only fitting to read a few poems tonight from her book, Cairn

And thank you to Writer Dana Stabenow – at work up the hill writing her 55th novel. I enjoyed the evening she joined us for supper. 

The walls are naked again and I’ve just bundled up 66 poems, friends!  They are poems dabbling in stars, lust, shelter, and birds.  They are of wild places and states of being. Some new, many edited and revised. I’ll take them home and hang them in an empty room for the winter.  Sucker holes will light them up with sun, and through an open window, an invite – Come hither, wind.  Do your work. Eventually, I’ll find a path through this writing.

Kersten Christianson, Storyknife Writers Retreat, July 2021

If you’ve read either of my haiku collections, you’ll know I have a fondness for rivers; but then, who doesn’t? Living in the middle of England, fifty-five miles from the nearest coastline, landlock naturally means that I gravitate to rivers and canals. Rotherham is where the Rother ends, at its confluence with the Don.

The upstream Don has long ago been split so that part of it forms and is shadowed by the Sheffield and South Yorkshire Navigation, i.e. canal. It bends round the back of Rotherham United’s New York Stadium, in the New York part of the town, because the steel produced locally was used to make the fire hydrants in NYC. There, today, Lyn and I saw the first of probably five or six lots of sand martins. I don’t think there is a collective noun for sand martins and I’m struggling to think of a word which would be appropriate other than something like ‘joyfulness’. They are one of my favourite birds and always an absolute pleasure to encounter. I’ve written a few sand martin haiku over the years, and this, written on the Skirfare and published in both Wing Beats and The Lammas Lands, is probably the best of them:

river loop—
a sand martin squirms
into its nest hole

Matthew Paul, Quiet flows the Don

The weather has been a bit rubbish here so I’ve been catching up on some reading and writing. Magazines tend to drop through the letterbox all at the same time, so I’m still working my way through current issues of PN Review, The Dark Horse, Poetry, The Poetry Review and Lighthouse. So far I’ve particularly enjoyed poems by Donna Aza Weir-Soley in Poetry, Isabel Galleymore in The Poetry Review (‘Then, one spring in which every dawn came/ pigletty and the blossom trees were really putting in / the work’), Diane Thiel in The Dark Horse and Josh Ekroy in Lighthouse.

Poet friend Claire Booker kindly gave me a copy of The Language of Salt, an anthology of poems ‘on love and loss’ which so far looks to be an excellent range of poems from poets both known and new to me.

Meanwhile I have a number of full collections by my bed – Sometimes I Never Suffered by Shane McCrae (Corsair) has gripped me, particularly I think because I’m deep in Dante at the moment. I found McCrae’s ‘Hastily Assembled Angel’ sequence strange and moving. Then there’s Mortal Trash by Kim Addonizio (Norton). I always reach for Addonizio when I’m feeling jaded or all out of fresh words and it’s like a shot of adrenaline. YEEESS!

Robin Houghton, Currently reading & other summery (?) things

Conference veterans told me that Sewanee has been democratized in a big way: lunch tables with agents used to be arranged via sign-up, cocktails at the French House used to be limited to faculty and fellows, etc. All of that is gone. Did I still feel the hierarchy? Absolutely. Some of it is what we’re here for, frankly. I want to hear from writers whose achievements I admire and get a window into what high-profile publishers are thinking. Sometimes, though, I felt invisible, and my ego took bumps. A graduate student advised me on how to submit to a magazine I’ve published in multiple times, sigh. One editor told me, during our twenty-minute meeting, that I should sit down with him at a meal sometime, and when I did, he didn’t even acknowledge I was there. (That one was hilarious, actually. Over it.) The jockeying for status could be intense. But other people at every level of career success were remarkably open and kind and funny and encouraging. I suspect these dynamics are bound to occur when humans get together for any common purpose: dentistry conventions, quilting bees, spiritual retreats. Imagine the delicate snark of monks.

My occasional feelings of invisibility are partly on me. I started off anxious, which made me quiet, and then powerful readings and workshops stripped off my doing-okay veneer. I (briefly) fell into a pit of grief about my mother then climbed out again. Feeling fragile, I don’t think I made the most of my opportunities, although I relaxed some in the final few days and gave a good reading. I also remembered, oh, I don’t want to compete with the literary players, although it’s good to join the lunch table once in a while and see how it feels. I REALLY get that people have to protect their time and energy. But watching the eminences here and elsewhere, I aspire to be one of the friendly, non-power-hoarding types, if I ever hit the big league, which isn’t friggin’ likely for me or anybody.

The career introspection triggered here has been useful. I clarified for myself about what I want for future book-publishing experiences, for instance. I met a ton of writers whose work I like and will follow. Shenandoah will get subs from new people this year containing the sentence, “It was such a pleasure to meet you at Sewanee!” I’ll send a few of those subs to other people. It’s all good.

The most important thing, though, is the work itself. I have a lot of feedback to sort through, but I’ve already identified some habits I’ve fallen into as a poet that need interrogation. I have ideas about how to transform some messy poems into their best selves. I also see how to improve work I’ve been doing in other genres–the fiction and nonfiction talks and readings have been great. Even advice that I wouldn’t implement gives me information about how my work is coming through to different kinds of readers.

A few more readings, a booksigning party, and then I pack up and drive to NC tomorrow to meet my family at a rented beach house, where the long decompression begins! Well, not too long. Damn you, August, I am not ready.

Lesley Wheeler, Conference report containing not nearly enough gossip

12:30 a.m. I’m in the van listening to The Fugs First Album because I’m getting an advanced degree in Catching Up On Shit I Missed The First Time Around. My rage is diminishing so I need to avoid yours. The youngest shows me Queen Anne’s Lace growing from a mud patch. I think she quickly crossed herself like the flower was a miracle. Maybe I imagined it. It’s hard to write seriously while The Fugs are playing “Boobs a Lot.” We make jokes and watch Fast & Furious movies and I miss my own kids but I can’t go back there. I had a girlfriend once whose dad played with the Holy Modal Rounders so I’m two degrees removed from The Fugs. She also went to school with Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins’s kids but I don’t feel like I’m two degrees from them even though I loved Bull Durham. Now “Nothing” is playing and it’s bringing up some hazy memory of hearing this song live but I’ve never seen Ed Sanders so maybe I imagined that too.

Jason Crane, Nothing

that old song
I am sunk in the flowing
of the way it was

Jim Young [no title]

I remember the principal I hated calling me to his office to accuse me of things I didn’t do, to tell me I was nobody, to shame me. I remember feeling shame even though I was innocent.

I remember being guilty. I remember leading a pack of girls in making Donita cry in the bathroom. I remember hating Donita and not knowing why, and hating myself for making her cry, and hating the other girls for following me, and hating Donita even more for crying behind the locked door of a bathroom stall while we taunted her from the sinks.

I remember going to the library every Saturday and consuming books like they were candies. I remembering reading all weekend long to go numb, to pass time, to dream, to escape.

I remember my friend Toni developing full breasts when the rest of us wore training bras, and I remember the day Mr. Buer had us vote on whether or not he should throw Toni’s beautiful map in the garbage because she’d turned it in without her name on it, and my despair at things I couldn’t name as I watched it slide into the wastebasket while tears rolled down her cheeks.

I remember my dad, years later, telling me that it was so hard to watch me lose my confidence as I became a teen-ager and what happened, anyway?

Rita Ott Ramstad, I remember: Elementary school edition

Back in the late sixties, NASA was looking for a way to select for the most creative scientists and engineers. George Land and Beth Jarman created a creativity test to identify those who were best able to come up with new and innovative ways to solve problems. It worked remarkably well. Land and Jarman, as they explain in Breakpoint and Beyond: Mastering the Future Today, used the same basic test on 1,600 three-to-five year old children enrolled in Head Start. They were shocked to discover a full 98 percent of children age five and under tested at genius level. They managed to get funding to test these children over time. Dishearteningly, only 30 percent of 10-year-olds scored at the creative genius level. That number dropped to 12 percent at 15 years of age. They expanded the scope of their research, giving the test to 280,000 adults with an average age of 31. Only two percent were, according to the results, creative geniuses.

George Land attributes the slide in creativity to schooling. When it comes to creativity, we use two forms of mental processes. Convergent thinking is necessary for judging and critiquing ideas, in order to refine and improve them. This is a fully conscious process. Divergent thinking is more freeform and imaginative, resulting in innovative ideas that may need refining. This process is more like daydreaming. Land suggests many school assignments require children to use both processes at once, which is nearly impossible, resulting in predominantly convergent thinking. We are taught, unintentionally, to turn off our creativity. Now that is painful. In my view, creativity is the essence of who we are. If anything, it isn’t connected to pain, but to healing.

Laura Grace Weldon, Writing, Creativity, Suffering

In the ticking drone
and hum ablaze in the trees—

In the wet and darkblue provinces
crossed by long-legged birds—

In the tender aglow
of disappearing afternoons—

sometimes I catch hold of those
parts of a life we didn’t lose

after all

Luisa A. Igloria, Here

I’m in a place I’ve never been to before, staying here for two weeks, and I’m more unsettled than I usually am in such a situation. I love my rut and routines. Change makes me anxious. Usually, though, new places make me curious and happy to explore, happy to find corners where I’m comfortable, happy to find new things to look at. But somehow here, I don’t know. It’s odd. So I’m trying to write out of this strange unsettledness. 

I think that’s a good thing. I hope the work comes out as strange as I feel, as uneasy, a bit jagged. (Or maybe that’s my insomnia talking. My old stand-by, an over the counter sleep med, seems to have deserted me in effectiveness. There is nought between me and the void of sleeplessness.)

Maybe this is the strangeness of the entire past year catching up with me, or the losses, the uncertainties. 

Maybe it’s just that I’m very place-oriented, alive to how I interact with my environment, and this place is not, for some reason, sitting easily on my skin.

Marilyn McCabe, Step right up; or, Writing Out of Uncertainty

Another thing that has given me a bit of whiplash has been the sorting that I’ve been doing:  boxes of memorabilia, boxes of rough drafts, shelves of books, closets of clothes.  This sorting has been giving me a case of the twisties, where I go whirling into space and worry about a crash landing.On the one hand, I’m amazed: look at all the stuff I’ve written through the years, and here’s every card my parents ever sent me and letters from all sorts of friends through the years. On the other hand, it makes me sad. I look at a huge pile of short stories I wrote and old poems, and that mean voice inside says, “Why aren’t you a more successful writer?” I look at cards I’ve kept from people I can no longer tell you who they are, and I feel sad for letting go of people. Then I wonder if they let go of me because I’m such a bad friend, even though I think I’m a good friend. That’s a bad spiral.

It’s so easy to remember all the times I let people down, but not think about all the times that I’ve been supportive. At times, as I’ve sorted through things, I’ve wondered if my spouse would have been happier with someone else, someone with more similar interests, someone who wasn’t as self-contained as I can be. Maybe he would have been happier now, with healthier habits.

Or maybe he’d have felt smothered and left that person and now be living under a bridge. I do realize there are worse outcomes than what he has now and the ideal life that I imagine he could have had with someone else.

I also look at old pictures, and I feel like this woman that once had interests and read books, but now gets home from work and just watches mindless TV. I tell myself that once we get the move done and the house ready for market, I’m likely to have interests again. And getting all the seminary and candidacy stuff done has been a huge project. I do have interests, but they’re not the usual ones that people talk about. But then there’s that mean voice in my head again.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Of Whiplash and Twisties

Many thanks to the editors at Hoxie Gorge Review for publishing my new poem “Union Square” in the latest issue. You can read it at this link, plus be sure to check out all the lovely poetic company I’m in. 

Honestly, I haven’t written anything since January and after the cancer diagnosis and treatment, I’d totally forgotten I had submitted work to a few journals. The acceptance by Hoxie Gorge was a nice boost. I’ve got a bunch of lines in search of poems on the Notes app of my phone, so “Union Square” (which I wrote five years ago!) finally finding a home is good motivation. 

I’m in the middle of the third week of radiation treatment and, so far, the only side-effects have been a little dry mouth and some soreness in my jaw. I’d be thrilled if that was the extent of it. 

Collin Kelley, New poem “Union Square” in Hoxie Gorge Review

I have two new poems, ‘To Love One Another’ and ‘True Crime’ in The North magazine, Issue 66, (the ‘Apart Together’ issue) available to pre-order here. In the same publication, I’ve reviewed new poetry collections by Katherine Stansfield (Seren Books), Maria Taylor (Nine Arches Press) and Jackie Wills (Arc Poetry).

I’m continuing to post new visual pieces, at least once a month, at @andothermaterial, an Instagram account for my visual poetry, collage poems, mixed media, experiment, playfulness and seriousness. I’m delighted that a recent piece of my visual work has been selected by the Centre for Fine Print Research at the University of the West of England to be made into a badge for a symposium on Printed Poetry at the Arnolfini arts centre in Bristol in October. First time I’ve been published on a badge!

Josephine Corcoran, New poems, reviews and visual pieces

Well, I should be on holiday – campsite booked, tent in the boot – and then my lovely lurcher got a grass seed in his paw! So, between hot poultices and visits to the vet, I’m writing a quick post: a review of Scattered Leaves by Kanchan Chatterjee (published in Presence earlier this month). […]

Scattered Leaves is full of the sights and sounds of India: tea sellers and border guards, monsoon rain and muggy nights. There is often a feeling of time passing, tinged with a sense of loss, as in the following:

long night …
the heap of incense
grows

fresh firewood
ashes at the burning ghat …
year’s end

Themes of aging and death often centre on the poet’s father:

dad’s monitor glows
through the ICU window
a sudden cuckoo

after the chemo
a cuckoo calls in between
dad’s whispers

Sometimes Chatterjee’s use of repetition can lack impact; there are a few haiku which are almost identical. Nevertheless, this book is full of finely observed detail, depicting a country where tradition and progress exist side by side, where ‘the faded chrysanthemums/ on mom’s shawl‘ and ‘a plastic rose/ nodding on the dashboard‘ inhabit the same cultural space.

Julie Mellor, Scattered Leaves

Toronto poet, translator, editor and publisher Mark Goldstein’s latest, Part Thief, Part Carpenter (Toronto ON: Beautiful Outlaw, 2021), subtitled “SELECTED POETRY, ESSAYS, AND INTERVIEWS ON APPROPRIATION AND TRANSLATION,” exists as an incredibly thorough book-length study that opens into a field of thinking; a book about literature, poetic structure and approach. Comprised of essay-scraps, quoted material, interviews, poems and translations and other materials collaged into a hefty study around writing, Goldstein tracks the varieties of ways in which literary work is built. In many ways, this collection expands upon everything he has done through his own writing up to this point, including the suggestion that literary translation and appropriation exist as but two points along a spectrum of literary response and recombination.

The scope and accomplishment of this work is remarkable, opening into a collage of multiple directions, all while furthering a single, coherent argument that connects translation to appropriation—an approach that runs from erasure to recombinant works to more conceptual works. Goldstein argues how all of the above can be seen as a variation on translation: the act of reworking and changing forms (and, for more conceptual works, context). There aren’t too many critics outside academic circles in Canada working on ‘personal studies’ on poetry and poetics in this way, and Goldstein has previously offered that one of his examples and mentors has been the infamous bookseller and critic Nicky Drumbolis, a literary thinker that produced his own life’s work, God’s Wand: The Origins of the Alphabet(Toronto ON: Letters Bookshop, 2002).

Structured into nine chapters, the first four of which are grouped under “ON APPROPRIATION,” and the final five under “ON TRANSTRANSLATION,” Goldstein writes of translation and Paul Celan, one of his deepest and most enduring influences, and how Celan’s work has helped shape his own aesthetic and thinking. He writes on specific works by Caroline Bergvall, Lyn Hejinian, Ronald Johnson, Pierre Joris, John Cage and Charles Bernstein. He writes on flarf, Oulipo and translation. He offers poems, both in his own translation and of his own making. He quotes long passages from multiple writers and thinkers, shaped and collaged together, and in many cases, simply allowing the material to speak for itself. There is an enormous amount of play displayed in the shaping of this collection, and Goldstein is clearly having a great deal of fun working through his research. In one section, he translates a single poem ten different ways, offering translation as a shaping and reshaping of form, playing off structures and rhythms utilized by poets including Susan Howe, Robert Creeley, Amiri Baraka, Ted Berrigan and Gertrude Stein. Through Goldstein, translation isn’t a simple matter of allowing readers of one language the opportunity to experience writing originally produced in another language, but a way in which words are shaped, categorized and shifted, and the possibility of a far more open sequence of choices.

rob mclennan, Mark Goldstein, Part Thief, Part Carpenter

On many occasions, the whole set of connotations of a word in one language simply cannot be conveyed in another. One such example would be the statement Espero in Spanish. In English, this could be translated in several ways, but the three main options would be as follows:

1) I wait

2) I expect

3) I hope

The translator firstly finds themselves forced to interpret which version the original writer might have intended to communicate, as all three cannot be succinctly retained in English. Secondly, meanwhile, they’re consequently obliged to remove any ambiguity that the original might (or might not) have sought to play on among those three potential meanings. And thirdly, the verb esperar is loaded with the same three etymological, social and emotional connotations that cannot be conveyed in English by a single word. 

In other words, for instance, when a Spaniard expects something, they’re linguistically aware that they’re also hoping and waiting for it. An English speaker is not. No matter how we dress up a translator’s syntactic and semantic dance, how can such tensions ever be resolved to any degree of satisfaction, how can the same ambiguities and multiplicities of meaning be preserved? 

Matthew Stewart, Espero, an example of the perils of translation

This week I’m excited to feature the work of friend and dynamic poet, Dimitri Reyes. His recent collection, Every First & Fifteenth (Digging Press), came out earlier this month and is connecting with people on a variety of levels. I have long admired the presence in his work, a presence of honesty and clarity.

This honesty and clarity can be seen in “3rd Generation,” featured below along with a statement from the poet. This poem incorporates presence in terms of naming and switching between languages, in both cases using the necessary words to say what’s needed. Along with that, there is the clarity of experience. When the speaker of this poem states “Our countries are our minds,” it is a clear if heavy truth.

Anybody whose family has a history of immigration and marginalization can attest to the trauma and weight of navigating on a number of planes: the physical, the mental, the emotional, all as much as the linguistic. This navigating means being always switching and performing, questioning one’s self and one’s validity, trying always to figure out who we need to be to fit into a given moment. Much like the title of his collection and its allusion to living check to check, the marginalized experience is one of negotiating what space one finds one’s self in and what one needs to survive. This constant motion wears on a person.

And yet, in the face of this exhaustion, and often because of it, one scratches together a sense of clarity. Our survival is earned not in some vague notion of “earning” associated with bootstraps, but in actual effort and perseverance. Because what is presence if not a kind of perseverance? When the poet states that “Our countries are our minds,” they are acknowledging the multiplicity of existence. Reyes’ ability to articulate and speak to that multiplicity is a gift, one that I am glad to be able to share with you here.

José Angel Araguz, writer feature: Dimitri Reyes

Melanie Hyo In Han was born in Korea, raised in East Africa and lives in America. Her poems are drawn from her experiences and explore culture, belonging and identity and knowledge gained through translation work between English, Korean and Spanish. […]

In “Sandpaper Tongue, Parchment Lips”, Melanie Hyo In Han explores what compromises are made to belong when your cultural and ethnic heritage differs from the people around you and asks how far those compromises should go. She acknowledges her attitudes towards heritage and language and how these impact those closest to her. There is trauma, sensitively approached and probed. Ultimately, these are compassionate poems, driven by a desire to share and communicate, carrying the reader as witness to reach a shared understanding.

Emma Lee, “Sandpaper Tongue, Parchment Lips” Melanie Hyo In Han (Finishing Line Press) – book review

Today, I’d like to think aloud about making a convincing photograph, on presenting photographs, on being intentional with our work. All with the caveat, I have no idea what I’m doing and am really just learning this all as I go. But what I’m learning about photography might also apply to the practice of writing, or painting, or making any art, and maybe even life, so here are some things that I’ve been reading:

 “Making a convincing photograph of a beautiful place is as hard as writing a convincing story about good people. We want to believe, but a lot of evidence stands in the way.”

—Robert Adams, in Art Can Help.

And then with Edmonton, there is beauty here, but a lot of evidence stands in the way of that too. Part of me thinks that before sharing a photo I should ask myself certain questions: is the photograph convincing? Is it beautiful? Does it astonish? What am I hoping that the photograph will convey? Is it worthy of taking up real estate on the internet, the feed, the flow? Is it part of a conversation? What does it say?

What happens anyway if we just assume a place has beauty? Take that as a given?

But then I remember that sometimes we learn the answer to these questions, only by throwing our work out there. When we allow our work to be seen, it changes how we see it. So, when we steadily share work that maybe isn’t always stellar, there are a lot of things we learn about how we wish to proceed. Complicated and contradictory at times, yes?

Shawna Lemay, A Convincing Photograph

Del Toro is always much loved for his monsters and creatures, but it’s those incredible sets and wide shots that kill me. Crimson Peak’s crumbling manse filled with black moths. The cabin in the woods of Mama where the children are found, midcenury, but also in ruin. Pan’s labyrinth and its steep staircase into the earth. So much of filmmaking is that visual–those wide, unwinding shots. An immersiveness that swallows you completely. With The Shape of Water, I kept pausing the movie to make it last longer, to marvel at what was on the screen. 

I try to think about how that sort of world-building translates to poems. Since most poems are pretty short–even most series or books of poems are short–you have less time, but I’d like to think this makes it more difficult but also easier, especially given that poems have permission to be more dreamlike than fiction. To create that world in a small book demands skill. Rather than setting it up carefully, you have to jump right in before even building the boat sometimes  Or you are building it as you go.  So often when I am assembling a full-length mss. I am looking for the series of work that not only share thematic similarities, but also exist in the same world.  Or could if it were real. It’s not necessarily limited by time or space.   

Kristy Bowen, film notes | underwater world-building

You see that I made a distinction between ‘real poems’ and ‘stocking-fillers’ which, when I come to think about it, is as foolish as putting a capital P on Poetry or a capital L on Literature, and thinking that is a tenable proposition. For that, mea culpa. Because sometimes I’ve set out to write a bit of ‘entertainment’ and found that the poem has ideas of its own. I guess this is particularly true of dramatic monologues. There’s a long tradition of the dramatic monologue in music hall performance, and it sort of slips into the folk scene, via Marriott Edgar’s brilliant creations like ‘Albert and the Lion’ which were immortalised in Stanley Holloway’s recorded performances of them . You can hear their influence in some of the work of Pam Ayres and Mike Harding. 

There’s the music hall at one end of the spectrum, and, I suppose, Shakespeare at the other, and in the notional middle, between the two kinds of performance art, there’s the printed poem. So many of them sink into your subconscious sense of how characters can be created, how they can be made to sound, from the appalling duke of Browning’s ‘My last duchess’ to Tony Harrison’s dead Iraqi soldier or David Constantine’s five monomaniacs in ‘Monologue’. If you were to ask about the appeal of the dramatic monologue for me, it’s the liberation of wearing a mask, and the genuine enjoyment of discovering the accent, the ideolect of the persona. 

John Foggin, Stocking-fillers [5]. Trades and voices

behind my eyes
I see Anne Sexton’s little owl
draw breath

between dungaree thighs
dark as Byron’s night
and drawl out

unnoticed rhyme
punching in the words
like rivets

Dr. Omed, On Reading Sexton’s To Bedlam And Part Way Back

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 29

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week: sea changes, uneasy sleep, farm animals, and more.


between dahlia and dahlia i find all things :: forgotten by the ripening light

Grant Hackett [no title]

Deep in the season of cherry light five days before my 68th birthday I am content a continent of quiet joy this feels new this feels miraculous unsick in the head unsick in the foot or knee or rib or gut here in my good green heaven with my cats and books and little want little need of much else I do fall into my right rhythms in summer my skin is happier standing in the water at the edge of the earth in the full moon low tide that kelpy vegetal fragrance that signals the birth of beginnings that signals music under my fingers wood waking up in the form of going back to beginning scales and etudes and arpeggios to slowing down Bach until my practice takes over again 

yesterday I drove to town for the farmers market and on road back that narrow slip of land where I can see water on both sides of me I saw a golden eagle sitting on a wooden post and I stopped my car in the middle of the road to look at him so huge taller than a bald eagle and heavy muscled I took no photo I just sat with my hands on the steering wheel and trembled he was incredibly wild an untamed rare thing not meant for my eyes but he showed himself and this was a gift

Rebecca Loudon, Pig and farm report

Summer is not my season. I waste much of my energy hmphing and rssnfrssning about the heat, the humidity, the people everywhere where I might want to be, the legions of imagined lyme-carrying ticks dangling on every branch, the real legion of poison ivy creeping creeping toward me, and the closed notebook. Closed closed closed. In spite of my intentions to get down to it, start that daily practice I’ve thinking about.

Except here’s the thing. I know that come autumn, I will look back in my notebook and find all kinds of stuff I managed to sneak in there while I wasn’t looking. It happens like this every. year. I don’t know how I do it.

It is true that some of what I find has actually been written in the spring. I don’t pay particular attention. When I do these dives into my pages, I don’t care when I find stuff, I just care what I might be able to do with it. Like even now, I may sound like I’m bragging to admit, but I find myself with a chapbook-number of similarly themed poems I somehow churned out in the late winter/early spring. This is not, to me, terribly good news, as I already have two full length manuscripts, one of which also has a chapbook-length version, that are gathering rejections like dust. Damn my f’ing productivity.

But if I’m not creating, making something, trying something, then I’m fitful and depressed. Well. It is possible I’m fitful and depressed while I’m creating/making/trying. But it’s a DIFFERENT fitfulness and depression. More pleasant.

So as with the weather and the world, so with my notebook, I’m looking forward to discovering, come fall, what I’ve been up to over the summer while my notebook seems to be shut tight. Creativity will out. It will have its way, sneaky as tears, as a sigh, a nervous tic.

Marilyn McCabe, This ain’t no fooling around; or, Letting Creativity Have Its Way

“Keep a green bough in your heart, the singing bird will come” is a Chinese proverb that serves as epigraph to this new collection from Empty Bowl Press, selected and edited by Holly J. Hughes. In a time of drastic examples of climate change, in the face of predictions of “pornographic” damage to come (Mark Lynas, Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet), it gives me heart.

The collection features artwork from Jocelyn Curry, Susan Leopold Freeman, Anita Leigh Holliday, Sandra Jane Polzin and others, and poems and prose by a wealth of northwest writers including Judith Roche (1941-2019), and our new Washington State poet laureate Rena Priest. Woven throughout one sees the panicky facts of destruction: “A raft of debris as large as Africa” (Kathleen Flenniken, “Horse Latitudes”); “smoke / hangs like a veil, a scarf we can’t breathe through” (Sharon Hashimoto, “Back Fires: September 2020”). It’s time, these poems and prose pieces exhort us again and again: “We’ve stayed calm for too long,” and “It’s time to move quickly” (Iris Graville, “Not Just a Drill”; “Truth time” (Risa Denenberg, “Posthuman”).

And all that’s so worth saving calls to us from every page: “Surrounded by birdsong in many languages / walled in by forty-, fifty-, sixty-foot cedar, fir, hemlock / maples leafed out, honeysuckle beginning” (Ronda Piszk Broatch, “Apologizing for Paradise”); native blackberries “carry the taste of my childhood forest on a summer day” (Irene Keliher); “we pick up and play and write and sing and dance so that the Honduran emerald hummingbird the leatherback sea turtle the mountain gorilla the tiger salamander…” (Penina Taesali, “The Word of the Day”).

Bethany Reid, The Madrona Project, v. 11. no. 1

My devotional mouth
pours blood
in these dreams and

I wake with ribs breaking
from the inside out

heart rate a frightened hare
capable of 30mph but frozen still instead,
rattling the grass with arrhythmic horror.

I lived that way for months, you know:
no metaphor then, no
metaphor now, a tachycardic
un-poem, my cardiac muscle.

JJS, below

So a visit to Woodland Park Zoo was just what I needed after a week of strange insomnia and high anxiety (days with only one or two hours of sleep in a row, which almost felt like no sleep.) Hell yes, I paid extra for the “Dinosaur Experience” and then hung around the red panda cubs (mostly grown now) that I visited in November. It was wonderful to be outside on a serene cloudy day, with so many happy children (kids love dinosaurs, which they definitely should) and I came home, had dinner and slept blissfully for six straight hours. Doing what you love is absolutely good for sleep. And good for your writing. I hadn’t submitted any poems this month, but the day after my visit I submitted to two places.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Zoo Visit with Dinosaurs and Red Pandas, Speculative Poetry – Practice and Teaching, and The Importance of Fun for Your Health

I wanna dig up our buried pains and recycle them into zen envelopes in which we can send love letters to one another and ourselves.

I wanna have sentiment’s plumber on speed dial for whenever our eyes leak.

I want our book smarts to develop a more nuanced sense of carnal knowledge.

Rich Ferguson, Declaration of Desires

I can see much more clearly now that both poems are concerned with the superficiality of not just this relationship but possibly many of the relationships that at some point in time feel real and substantial. I’m thinking of work friendships as much as romantic ones. Another thing is how the memory massages events of the past to the point that misremembered details get re-invented. For example in this case, the name of the hotel changes from one poem to the next. ‘Closure’ ends with reference to a ‘false heart’, ‘Let’s Pretend…’ is a wholly imagined scenario in which even the existence of the first poem is questioned. What exactly was ever true or false? Does the second poem change the first one? Which version of the narrator is the more reliable?

Robin Houghton, Lighthouse launch: reading a new poem and its prequel

The lights are always on 
in the room of escape & leisure.
If you’re passing by, you might mistake it 
for the dim glow of a falling miracle.

Mona Kareem, THE ROOM OF ESCAPE & LEISURE

Lastly, the above photo, taken in that apartment in Rome on our last day there. I said to Rob that this one is just for me, for us, to remember what the view was like, the feeling of standing at the window, as we often did that month. It had rained, as it often did in November, and then cleared. But the image has taken on meaning for me now — it’s a bit more poignant. It says more perhaps, without me trying to say it.

Shawna Lemay, Making Serious Art

One day last week, I was in the middle of the day in the middle of the block in the middle of downtown and smelled not the lake, but the sea. It was just a moment, like a hole had ripped in reality or geography and the lake, which has its own scent when the wind is right off it of fish and water and grass, but this was thick and salty–also fishy, but different. I looked around to see if there was a stray mermaid, or perhaps someone with lotion or shampoo that smelled like the ocean,  but no one was anywhere near me and while I’ve been decking myself in coconut bath goods and maybe smell a bit like a pina colada at times, I don’t carry the sea on me. 

Oceans smell different. Parts of the ocean smell different.  The Gulf of Mexico looks and smells different in Mississippi and around St Petersburg’s crazy clear depths.   Having been granted a half tuition scholarship, I almost went to U. of Miami my freshman year, who had a busting marine bio program and the benefit of being anywhere but the midwest I was struggling to escape from. In the end, it still would have been unaffordable. When Hurricane Andrew took a bite outta that area a few months later I was glad I’d wound up in North Carolina. There, the Atlantic was different from the Atlantic I’d visited in other Florida spots as a kid.  Rougher and more dangerous even while it was beautiful.

In a few years, after I was back in the midwest, another hurricane would whip across Wrightsville Beach and on the Weather Channel,  I’d watch it wreck the pier we spent so many nights at–eating fries from the snack bar and playing video games. I was so young and optimistic and always in love with the wrong person. But my hair would get sea-salty just from proximity. I’d go to class still smelling like the ocean.  They would rebuild the pier–nicer and more sturdy for future storms. Over a decade ago, I took a birthday trip to Myrtle Beach and took so many photos of the water with my camera, and felt again, the way the Atlantic makes you feel like the sand is moving and not the water. I imagine what it would have been like to stay–whether or not I’d become the biologist I intended at 18.  I was a poor scientist  and the coast was so far away from my family. But also, I’m not sure I could constantly live under threat of the sea, every August, possibly rising up to swallow you.  So I remained landlocked. I’ve been to Mississippi, to Gulfport a couple times where Karina did swallow most of the town.   Where my aunt huddled in her closet while the wind and water ripped the house apart around her.  Where they built a 13 foot high memorial filled with objects of the dead. When I was in New Orleans, every resident began most statements with “Before Katrina–” and a sort of sad shrug.

Kristy Bowen, what dark swimming lies within

I bow into endless waves
(Your face, Your embrace)
and You wash over me.

And I — I am my prayer.
In the rush of Your waters
reshape me like tumbled glass.

Rachel Barenblat, Seaside Mah Tovu

3 o’clock this morning. Fitfully sleeping beside my friends’ dog because I’m pet sitting while they’re away for the weekend. Suddenly the TV at the end of their bed blazes to life and Columbo’s face appears large as an Easter Island head. His voice booms out. He’s asking a delivery driver about someone with a bird name as I frantically search for the previously unknown remote that the dog must have rolled over on. As the driver makes a series of bird puns I push the dog and scramble my hand through the sheets. The truck drives away and Columbo shakes his head with a smile. I leap from the bed to find another way to shut off the TV. I mash the power button. Darkness and silence descend, blessedly, on the bedroom. The dog sleeps through the whole thing.

Jason Crane, Dark Night Detective

In his youth, during the war,
my father said they’d walk
the paddies after dark, looking
for snails and frogs; for what
called or moved or startled
against their feet in shallow
water. One body for another,
to boil for sustenance and pick
clean until the smallest bone,
until the shells are nothing
but dark coils of moonlight.
Echo of what once was saved,
currencies no one would
even think to steal.

Luisa A. Igloria, At night when I can’t sleep

I’ve long avoided translating poetry from Spanish, despite multiple requests over the years, because I’m convinced there’s a tipping point for certain linguists, including myself, after which their growing awareness of the layers and depths of nuance in the original language disarms them as translators. 

What do I mean by this statement? Well, thanks to Carmine Starmino’s Facebook feed, I encountered Katia Grubisic’s excellent new essay in The Walrus (see here to read it in full) about this very subject, including the following extract that expresses my stance perfectly:

“Literary translation…is a pack of lies. Every word compensates, approximates; every sentence omits far more than it includes. Choice is begrudging; while the chooser wrangles every possible permutation and absence, the reader trots around in the target language, blissfully oblivious to what is missing, what’s been cut, inserted, made up, woven in…”

Of course, you’re within your rights to challenge me as to what the alternative might be, because translations, however imperfect, are the only way for us to access any poetry that’s been written in a language we can’t speak. And my reply would be to recognise that you’re right, but also simply to ask for your understanding as to why I can’t take on any translations myself.

Matthew Stewart, The perils of translating poetry

Still mulling about how language changes and whether or not I agree with Emerson:

“Language is fossil poetry. As the limestone of the continent consists of infinite masses of the shells of animalcules, so language is made up of images, or tropes, which now, in their secondary use, have long ceased to remind us of their poetic origin.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Well, maybe not the tropes’ poetic origin but the words’ cultural origin. Their social origins, because language is inherent in human culture–we must communicate to survive. And if that means language includes words with violent origins or male hierarchical origins or race supremacist origins or nationalistic origins, the words cannot so easily be erased. We use them as they are, regardless of their nasty backgrounds, tropes and metaphors and all. An accretion of meanings alters the words as cultures evolve and change.

That doesn’t mean we should not critique or examine our words.

Ann E. Michael, For example

I’d forgotten this poem by the time it appeared. I’ve written stories with women in trees, and wrote a whole novel once that kept a woman high in a redwood. I’ve written poems that were self-portraits-as-dryad, and trees often invade my lines. So it wasn’t surprising to reread and find that by the close I had found it worthwhile to communicate with a tree.

Thoreau crept in, who also loves trees, and also those wandering Walden-girls who pick up radiant leaves. I suppose the whole poem is a sort of gathered leaf that “improved the time.” And who I am but one of those girls, grown older? A noticing sort of girl who picks up leaves.

And what does it mean to see the a tree as the axis mundi, the center of the turning world? The tree from that mountain garden of Eden, the knowledge of good and evil, turned by legend into the cross on the hill that drips blood onto the buried skull of Adam? I hadn’t remembered the poem, and so was surprised that the leaves become a series of radiant words.

Well, it was pleasant to see it again. And to remember the moment of stopping to stare at the corner of Fair St. and Church St. That rain-slicked, brilliant tree! It seems a lonelier poem than I expected when I began to read. All that saying of logoi at the end, and yet the woman is alone, alone in her invisibly-walled, rainless room. Perhaps she had to be lonely to know that all things are speaking.

Marly Youmans, Rain-poem, rumination, Russian

Working my way through a chapbook by Brooklyn poet Anna Gurton-Wachter recently [see my review of such here], part of my response included making my way to the internet and ordering an edition of American poet Bernadette Mayer’s Midwinter Day (Turtle Island Foundation, 1982; New Directions Publishing, 1999), as well as a copy of Piece of Cake (Barrytown NY: Station Hill Press, 2020), a book composed in August, 1976 by Mayer and her then-husband, the poet and editor Lewis Warsh (November 9, 1944-November 15, 2020). For whatever reason, it was Piece of Cake that first caught my attention when the two books arrived: a book composed in first-person prose on alternate days, said to be “arguably the first significant male-female collaboration in 20th-century American poetry.” Mayer and Warsh each write alternate sections throughout the entirety of a single month from the relative isolation of a rental house in Lenox, Massachusetts, as they attempt to write and read, taking alternate days with their infant daughter, Marie, so the other could focus on writing. For whatever reason, this is a manuscript that was composed and completed, but lay fallow for some forty years, until prompted by the “determined efforts” of their now-grown eldest daughter.

The writing and the interplay between the two writers, including family moments, literary gossip and recollected stories are entirely compelling (the further one reads, the further one gets hooked), but I find it more interesting, in certain ways, the absolute pleasure knowing that Marie Warsh would have such access to an intimate, open and detailed paired document by both of her parents during her own infancy. I can’t imagine too many people who would deny that for any one of us, such a document, from either of their parents, let alone both, would be an incredible and uniquely rare gift.

rob mclennan, Bernadette Mayer and Lewis Warsh, Piece of Cake

This is a journey of fusions: traditional foods merge with new tastes, provoke memories or sensations that are equally both familiar and new. The poems mediate on the feeling of being an outsider in a place now called home and the need to create new traditions so as to create a sense of belonging in a place that doesn’t necessarily want you. Food is usually at the heart of family life: shared meals become shared conversations and food is a symbol of hospitality, a welcome enabling guests to stay longer. Most socialising is done around a meal. The poem hints at a merging of identities: oyster sauce is not traditionally British and a pie isn’t traditionally Chinese. A British-born Chinese person adapts to multiple cultural identities: this could be an opportunity to forge a combined identity or could be a form of separation, never completely belonging to British traditions yet not entirely Chinese either. Hence not knowing “what would be waiting at the table” while also knowing it would nurturing and sustaining. […]

“sikfan glaschu” is a culinary tour of Glasgow eateries from small family-owned restaurants to familiar, large chains. The food, and traditions implied through food, is a lens that explores relationships to traditions, how these can be shared or used to divide and asks questions about belonging and identity. Overall the poems have a celebratory tone: food is to be shared and offers a chance to be curious and understand other cultures, to share and come together.

Emma Lee, “sikfan glaschu” Sean Wai Keung (Verve Poetry Press) – book review

Every one who has reviewed or endorsed Herd Queen seems to say much the same sort of things, as Di acknowledges when she brought me up to date on what she’s been doing since 2016. I asked:

“…..if you could write me a bit about what’s happened since May 2016, not least how you came to to put “Herd Queen’ together. I suppose I’m partly asking, because Herd Queen bucks the trend (it seems to me) of the thematically organised collection. What I like about yours is that chunks of it could be freestanding pamphlets, and in any case it’s wide-ranging in its range of characters, voices, forms, moods, landscapes…..it is, in fact, refreshing, as most endorsers and reviewers seem to agree. And I bet it’s the only collection I’ve read to be briefly reviewed in The Countryman!

A few big ‘life stage’ things have happened to me since May 2016 – I became sole owner of Candlestick Press in that year, then in 2017 our private animal sanctuary here on the smallholding became a registered charity specialising in disabled and special needs livestock – see www.manorfarmcharitabletrust.org. And then in June 2019 I was diagnosed with a brain tumour.  The latter two events definitely fed into the development of Herd Queen – understanding the real focus of our animal care work and what a difference we can make to the welfare of those creatures in our care, and then finding strength in their situation for my own health issues. These experiences have surprisingly made me more light-hearted and joyful as a writer, and more determined to share light and shade in my writing – there are some dark pieces in Herd Queen but I wanted there to be humour and solace as well, from unexpected sources.  Life throws us these curve balls but it’s up to us what we make of them – if we’re adaptive and resourceful like the animals, then we carry on living for the day and making the best of what we have, or at least try to.

And you’re very right to comment on the thematically miscellaneous nature of the collection!  It was pieced together out of several wholes – where there was a short sequence of work in one particular direction at one time – but what I’ve tried to do is unite it all under one concept, that of the vigorous and challenging caprine Herd Queen who will zig and zag all over the hillside to protect her territory and her companions, covering plenty of ground in the process.  Someone once said that my writing is muscular in style and I took that as a compliment (maybe it wasn’t intended that way!) so these different forms and voices and moods are flexes of those muscles.  I do hope it isn’t a messy read, and that it doesn’t cause too much head-scratching for the reader – the first section is intended to be an extension of the land and animals themes of Reward for Winter, the second section an exploration of human and family relationships from a variety of sources and then the third is the naughty section… 

It does mean of course that the book can pop up in unexpected places like Knitting or Yours magazine or The Countryman, as well as reviewed in literary journals like London Grip or Raceme. 

John Foggin, Catching up: Di Slaney’s “Herd Queen”

Yesterday I spent a long time writing – or trying to. I got the words down well enough but nothing worked. I couldn’t find the point, couldn’t connect the strands. So after a while I deleted the whole lot and went off to talk to the pigs, who had spent the time far more productively in coating themselves in mud to protect against sunburn.

Bob Mee, WRITER’S BLOCK? NOT WORTH THE WORRY

Write a poem about the rain. Or the wind.
Write about what you learned at university.
Or did not learn at school.
Write a list poem about what has disappointed you.
Write part two of that poem about the reasons you have to be happy.
Write in praise of your favourite possession.
Write about dancing with another being in your kitchen.

Anthony Wilson, Writing prompts (blog post ending with a line by Shawna Lemay)

How does the flâneur come back to her city after a war is over, after a breakup, an illness, a chasm, a separation of any sort?  When I’m walking my little city (really more of a village), I find that taking stock of sites of loss is too risky. Instead, I keep my feet on the ground and eye attuned to what remains, what’s there.  It goes without saying that my eye also registers what’s not there — the invisible makes a strong mark. 

What delights me is the people who pop up unexpectedly — faces whom I knew as part of a daily geography, key to the routine and habits that made up a 24-hour-day.  If I lived in a real village, they would sell cigarettes and phone cards in the tabac, or be handing off a baguette in exchange for a few coins, or be selling fresh fish or putting new soles on my shoes.  In the urban village, they could be the doorman at the apartment building, or be the super, the bus driver, gym trainer, the face at the entry to school. 

Jill Pearlman, A Flâneur Surveys the Damage

What good is sorrow
When love still grows
In every fresh smile?

What good is weeping
While turtles still crawl
Through the tall grass?

James Lee Jobe, love still grows

calm sea
swimming with my son
into the cove

Jim Young [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 27

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. Travel turned out to be a major theme this week—appropriately enough, as I had to drive 40 minutes to a place with good WiFi in order to finish the digest. Other themes included the body and its ailments, and how hard work affects writing and thinking.


Shapeshifter, it’s time
For you to be a human again.

James Lee Jobe, Fur and bone and feather.

I decided at diagnosis that I wasn’t going to dwell on it. There’s too much writing, traveling, and fun still to be had. I’m giving myself permission to have a whopper of a mid-life crisis; I might even start a bucket list. 

The week before my surgery, I closed on my condo in Midtown. Moving in after the surgery was a fresh hell, but I’m here and happy in my new nest. Being able to walk a block or two to everything I need – supermarket, drug store, restaurants, MARTA – is even better than living on the Atlanta BeltLine. 

Although, I can walk pretty easily to the Eastside Trail if the mood hits. I’m also in walking distance to the Proton Center, not that I’m eager to make that trek, but at least it’s convenient. A couple of weeks ago, I walked over and had a mold made of my face for the radiation mask. That’s the closest I want to get to mummification. 

Collin Kelley, Living with the Big C

Due to mini-strokes and constriction of the blood flow in her brain, my mother has developed the same form of cognitive decline that my mother-in-law had: vascular dementia. In both cases, aphasia ravaged their speech as their conditions worsened. My partner’s stepmother also had aphasia due to stroke, so I have now witnessed the condition up close among three women who had very different backgrounds and personalities. As aphasia presents most noticeably as a loss of verbal expression (talk about being at a loss for words!), the condition fascinates me (a person who loves words).

And devastates me. My mother had never been “good at words” the way my father was, but she was a compassionate listener and often could find the right things to say when my glib and witty friends and family members could not. I recall many times when she would ask to talk to me alone and express something she’d been keeping to herself and reflecting upon, waiting until she could “say it the right way.” Now, she can say almost nothing “the right way.” Rain becomes snow; snow becomes green; hat becomes clark; tomato becomes red; table becomes place…and even these are unreliable substitutes, likely to change from one conversation to the next. The pronoun she has vanished from her lexicon. Her vocabulary is little better than a five-year-old’s, and she inadvertently invents words that are essentially meaningless while trying to convey meaning.

She can still read, a little, and slowly. A few months ago, I gave her a book by Eloise Klein Healy, Another Phase. Healy, a well-known poet, was stricken with Wernicke’s aphasia and–with a devoted speech therapist’s help–regained the ability to compose poetry again, though the work she now produces reflects her profoundly-changed expressive abilities. My mother was pleased that she could read the book and that Healy could make poems even with aphasia. And Mom understood the poems–had memorized a few image-lines that she liked. This stunned me–memory’s often wrecked by vascular dementia, or so we are led to believe. But my mother has a good memory. She merely has extremely limited verbal expressiveness–an inability to locate the right word, and a loss of numeracy and literacy. Alas, the result means she cannot make her ideas and thoughts known to others. Isolating.

Ann E. Michael, The right words

Who is she now/this body/after/all this wrack joy yes extraction no/shrinking fast/swimming the summery streets of lake current/his veins/the temporal slides/the bleeds/needle in her teeth/mending/mending/arched beneath/yearning toward in muscled reach/cut cleaved pressed lost/in utter clarity/when asked I wonder what has changed/she can only say it has changed/she does not know what that will mean/she is/she was/she will be/turning to bone as she sinks/whales and seals and salmon pour from arterial yes/and also/but why/something now is locked away that wasn’t

JJS, who now this body

Moon phase for July 4 is Waning Crescent,
says the moon app. The photo of the moon shows it
melting in the space darkness.
The surface is like the skin
of an old man who’s seen the world:
wounded, marked, dry.
When we don’t see it,
the moon forgets about us.
We don’t. We wait.

Magda Kapa, Waning Crescent on July 4

The government notes that self-isolation has proved an effective measure in reducing harm to others.

In light of this, the following measures also now apply to those who have not been isolated by current legislation.

Those with any physical illness which could be passed on to another person must now self-isolate.

Those with any mental illness who currently feel, or have felt in the past, that they may harm others, must now self-isolate.

These measures will be enforced immediately.

In addition, those with any physical illness which cannot be passed on to another person, but who are causing stress to another person who is having to look after them, should self-isolate.

Likewise, any person with a disability of any kind, or who is old, and requiring others to help them, and thus being a burden to those people.

People with any mental illness, who while not intending harm to others, are bringing the people around them down, should also now self-isolate.

Those who have self-isolated out of fear, whatever the cause, should continue to self-isolate.

No further action is required for those who are already isolated for other reasons, including, but not limited to, poverty, lack of transport, and/or lack of friends or family.

Likewise for those who have self-isolated because they simply prefer being on their own.

The government will keep this matter under review and further statements will be issued as required.

Sue Ibrahim, Government statement

In Stardew Valley, the game that I have nattered about extensively on this blog, the farm animals are simple creatures. They are either happy or unhappy. When they are happy, a heart pops up in the dialogue balloon above their heads. When they are unhappy, a gray scribble appears, denoting their displeasure with missing a meal or being cold or God knows what other lack they are suffering. This weekend has been a gray-scribble weekend for me. I have been walking around with a scribble above my head, unhappy and impervious to any of Mr. Typist’s usual cheering-up methods. It’s not grief, it’s not exactly depression, it’s just a deep sense of dissatisfaction and restlessness. It’s a sign that something needs to change. In the past, I would find these periods of malaise daunting and would be intimidated at the prospect of change, but I’m not this time around. I’m ready. I have full clarity and intent and I know my worth. Interestingly, I did a Tarot card reading this weekend and came up with multiple sword cards, concluding with the Queen of Swords, a woman who stands in her truth and is ready to receive.

Kristen McHenry, Scribble Head, Bro Move, Pool Nostalgia

Iceland’s landscape is gorgeous, but its soundscape is striking, too. I expected to hear crashing breakers and waterfalls, but I forgot there would be a million unfamiliar bird calls. I spotted oystercatchers, terns, gulls, fulmers, eider ducks, redwings, and sandpipers, but more often I heard screeches, warbles, clicks, and chattering from birds I couldn’t see, much less identify. There was a sea cave near Hellnar full of gulls and maybe other white-and-grey birds–I couldn’t climb close enough to see them well–but their cacophony carried. From around a bend in the trail, they sounded weirdly like small children in a playground, some cackling, one crying from an injury. We never saw puffins or seals, but from steep field after steep field, the sheep had plenty to say.

What might stay with me most was the voice of ice on the move. The ocean beach near Jökulsárlón, noisy with sea-sounds and high wind, was so visually amazing we kept laughing with surprise at the black volcanic sands littered with glassy iceberg fragments, and just behind them, larger blue chunks of Vatnajökull bobbing on the waves. (The joy gets a lot more muted when you learn that this arm of the largest glacier between the Arctic and Antarctic is melting so fast that it will be a fjord in a few years.) We heard the ice much more clearly at a couple of less-visited glacial lagoons, Breiðárlón and Fjallsárlón, where we could tramp out to the edge of the lake and listen without other people nearby. The nearest floes were slushy; you could see as well as hear them crack then separate. Larger noises came from further away, including a rumble from the edge of the glacier. We froze to listen, wondering if it was calving.

Lesley Wheeler, Listening to Iceland

I’ve been in the garden a lot, dabbling as a gardener for the first time in my life and finding it very enjoyable, not to say relaxing and satisfying. I’ve combined my image-making and gardening interests by using flowers and foliage from the garden in my pieces, and adding text.

Andrew and I have been to London a few times, mainly moving our student son out of his accommodation for the summer and visiting our daughter, who’s lived in London for nearly a year now. How fast time has flown. I read somewhere that time moves fast when nothing much happens.

Josephine Corcoran, July Update

On the last morning, you’ll rucksack-up, / then lower your pack to the floor,/ consider the weight of things.’ My sons are moving on, and I’m travelling alone with the weight of a Brompton, folded. Companionship comes in many forms, and I have projected personality onto my bicycle – she is blue, she is named Boudicca. 

Blame the blockage in the Suez Canal, or the pandemic rush to get bicycles out of sheds, but the cycle shop nearest to London Euston is all out of bicycle clips and reflective ankle bands, and has been for months. Whilst telling me this, the kind assistant passed me a clutch of rubber bands in assorted sizes. “Try these,” he said, with the confidence of someone who can speak several languages. Boudicca, were she able to do so, would have commented that I looked like a low-budget Tintin as I climbed onto the saddle, and set off for Tufnell Park.

This is the birthplace of four symphonies, the violin concerto, / a clutch of quartets …’ 2018 – Pasqualatihaus, Vienna. 2021 – the Tufnell Park Tavern, Tufnell Park. 

This city’s a miniature of empire‘ – as true of London as it is of Vienna. The cycle route took us down the back streets, under railway bridges, past car repair shops, close to tower blocks. It took us over tarmac, and took us over glass. Nearing the pub, I felt Boudicca’s back wheel resist the road in the way it does as a tyre deflates: instant lethargy, forewarning of the need to lie on one’s back with one’s wheels in the air.

Liz Lefroy, I Repair to London

knowing your purpose is the fall of rain :: how gently can you live

Grant Hackett [no title]

When I was a kid, I sometimes played out entirely fake situations and conversations in my head, and sometimes, spilling out of my mouth.  The car was one of my favorite places to daydream on long rides, and I remember crouching down behind my mother’s seat, whispering,  conscious that she’d notice that I was mouthing my made up scenes, and already, at 5 or 6 kind of self-conscious about it. I was never one to have an imaginary friend–but more–had many that lived in my head an enacted out their stories,  When it came to writing, before I even knew how, I would fill notebooks with squiggles I imagined as stories.  While I often pulled others–my sister, my cousins, neighbor kids–into my play, I spent a lot of time in this imaginary life myself and it didn’t go away as I got older.  When I wasn’t reading in other people’s written worlds, I would just sit in my room with music on playing things out in my head, something that continued into high school. Hell, maybe even adulthood.

I wonder often if novelists and other story makers live this way–esp. since I do even as a poet. How so much of writing and thinking about stories and characters and world-building feels like like a dissociative state sometimes. And is that all writing is? So much time in our heads with other people, other lives, that we are never fully in this one?  

Kristy Bowen, film notes: writer brain

One day a door opens in the ground
and you know this is every door
you’ve ever read about in tales and fables.
The animals watch to see what you do
after you pass into the country beyond.
The trees are full of birds; at first
they make no sound, and then
they open their mouths in bursts
of rifle fire.

Luisa A. Igloria, Ex-Paradiso

Where does the time go, eh? It’s been a month of missed weekly posts and IT DOESN’T MATTER ONE JOT!!

In that month I can barely say what’s happened, but I can confirm I completed Race To The King and went to the funeral of the magnificent Lorraine Gray. I was asked to read, alongside my two closest friends, Adrian Henri’s ‘Without You‘ (and that reminds me, I must order Andrew Taylor’s book about Adrian), some other folks read Auden’s ‘If I Could Tell You’, so it was a beautiful, poetry-filled event…(Oh yes, and very, very boozy, but it’s what she would have wanted.)

So much of the last few weeks have been spent fixated on that run and then Lol’s funeral that I now find myself a bit bereft of focus. The football has been a welcome distraction, but concentrating on anything seems to escape me at present. I sat down earlier to try and look at a poem for the first time in a month, and while I know the ideas are ok, nothing grabbed me enough to want to write more of them. I was listening to Johnny Marr’s interview with our esteemed laureate yesterday while on a tip run and he talked about turning up, the act of craft, etc and I think perhaps I am out of practice. My habit of daily writing has fallen way by the wayside (as has writing these posts), so it’s time to do something about that. Not, again, that it matters either way…

Mat Riches, Falcon, Falcoff

I was off the grid for a week in early June for a family gathering in Michigan, and now it’s nearly mid-July, and I’ve been “off the grid” in all kinds of ways before and since. My last post, in early April, was mostly about March, and time still feels suspended. I wrote a poem a day in April, as planned & hoped, and I have continued to read books of poetry but am way behind in my reviewing,* as that takes concentration, re-reading, and a clear mind. I’m also reading fiction, nonfiction, essays, comics, and letters as a kind of escape as well as a way to focus. I’m walking to work. I’m swimming laps again, as this year the pool opened! I feel good but weird.

I guess I’m surprised that coming out of Covid isolation was somehow harder than being in. But why?** I’m not scared, just wary. I worked from home till June 1, 2020, and have worked masked at the workplace ever since. I’m vaccinated and go unmasked with other vaccinated people, friends and family I trust. I still wear a mask to the grocery store, though many customers, cashiers, and other employees don’t. Cases (and deaths) went way down where I live but are on the uptick again. I accompany my parents to medical appointments, where people all wear masks in healthcare settings. I was part of a masked theatre audience and will be again. But I walk to work unmasked, and it is so nice to see people’s faces again.

Kathleen Kirk, Off the Grid

What’s been (sort of) interesting about working through the pandemic is how difficult it’s been to think. I only work half time and yet, my ability to really delve deeply into a book or subject has been wanting. The library went through cycles of being closed and open but was always doing curbside pick-ups and this was quite honestly more like factory work. In the Zaretsky book [The Subversive Simone Weil: A Life in Five Ideas by Robert Zaretsky] he says,

“The act of thinking, Weil discovered, was the first casualty of factory work. A few days into her job, she was already reeling from fatigue. At times, the unremitting pace reduced Weil to tears. In one unexceptional entry, she wrote: “Very violent headache, finished the work while weeping almost uninterruptedly. (When I got home, interminable fit of sobbing).”

In her factory work, Weil said that she profoundly felt “the humiliation of this void imposed on my thought.” What are the rights of workers now, and what are our obligations to them?

Shawna Lemay, What Are You Going Through?

end of a shift
floating in the tiredness
of cared hands that soothed
or could not soothe the some times
when
time had taken the intellect away
in ways that intellects could dissect in the pages
of books devoted to the subject
and yet
this tiredness is not to be found in
the pages of any book
it is to be found in the muscles
of a mind exercised with thoughts
of the left behind that were once
the foremost but are now
simply pity in your hands
the
empathy of a washed goodnight
in the glory of walking away
just one more time
until
is such an implosive word

Jim Young, night nurse

Folk festival folk:

They work in council housing departments
and sing sad songs of flooded seams and firedamp,
poss-tubs, pinnies, lockouts ,blacklegs,
disasters, deprivation.

Or tutors in evening classes
who know The Ballad of Sir Patrick Spens,
and Matty Groves by heart; they sing without
accompaniment. And slow. And flat. They never miss
a verse. They sing the chorus after every
one, bring unimagined nuances to
the meaning of interminable.

Some sell insurance; or work in call centres,
and sing, at length, about the whaling,
silver darlings, foundering trawlers, ice;
shawled fisherwives on shivering wharves
gazing at the widowing sea.

John Foggin, Stocking fillers (3)

Summer teaching started for me this week. Excited to start new conversations and encourage young writers to engage with articulating their authentic selves while navigating the rules of different spaces. Am exhausted, won’t lie, but that’s also the life.

Did want to share two quick things:

First, here’s another article to help navigate the ever-evolving pandemic we’re in. I worry I alienate people by coming back to the high stakes we’re living in, but then I wouldn’t be staying true to myself if I didn’t. I mean, carrying on like things can go back to “normal” alienates me, so, really, this be quid pro quo, no?

Second, here’s a poem I found while seeking out ideas for a post this week:

thank the weeds
for pulling you
closer to the flowers

(Rich Heller, Lilliput Review)

I purposely share it with my aforementioned sense of feeling alienated and like a harbinger of doom. In my case, I’m working out the weeds of worry and survival, all of which doesn’t bring me down, not exactly. It brings me down and it makes me look up and value what we’re surviving for.

Here’s to the weeds.

José Angel Araguz, not in the weeds, the weeds are in me, so to speak

I was going to post the old song “I’m glad I’m not young anymore” that Maurice Chevalier sang in “Gigi”  but the lyrics don’t really apply in my case.

However, I am glad to be in the 70’s now, not back in the years of the 70’s.  Glad to be here now.

Some regrets, and one of them is that there wasn’t digital photography until so recently.  The film camera made one abstemious about what photo to take, since film cost money, and developing the film cost money and time.  There were photos of events and persons that I simply wish I had, to help my memory along.

I am glad I won’t be around in thirty years to live in the world that is coming.  

Anne Higgins, I’m glad not to be young in 2021

Before there were digital cameras, we took pictures and sent film away to have it developed.  I loved getting the prints in the mail, and I saved all the negatives, in case I wanted reprints.  I rarely wanted reprints, but I saved them.

Yesterday, my spouse and I sorted through the photo albums.  We didn’t do any digitizing–that’s a much more complicated project.  We knew that we had kept all sorts of photos, and yesterday it was time to look at them again.  We haven’t looked through most of those albums in decades.

Here are some insights:

–I was worried that the non-archival albums might have bleached the pictures away, but they’re still in good shape.

–I use the word “good” rather loosely.  These pictures were never high quality.  It’s not like we had parents who gave us quality camera equipment.  We had instamatic kinds of cameras–not Polaroids, not that kind of instant.  The kind of cameras we had took 110 film.  How do I still remember that?  Probably from decades of ordering that film and sending film away.

–Then, as now, I kept every picture.  Consequently, I have pictures of parts of the floor, a window here the side of a car, a strip of floor, all sorts of accidental photos.

–I also kept lots of photos of humans whom I no longer remember.  I dutifully wrote names on the backs of pictures, but those names didn’t help.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Sorting Photos

In a week in which, inexplicably, a kerfuffle was kicked up over Ange Mlinko’s not-extravagantly-unreasonable comments about Adrienne Rich in the London Review of Books, the poetry contribution to the same edition of the LRB, Emily Berry’s Paris, seems to have passed more or less without comment. I’m surprised only because Paris is a prose poem and prose poems always seem capable of getting someone’s goat; I would at least have expected someone to take to Twitter with a complaint about how this sort of thing ‘isn’t poetry’. I’m posting about it now not to bemoan the form of Berry’s offering (if interested, see more on the subject in relation to Jeremy Noel-Tod’s prose poetry anthology, here) but to celebrate it as a complexification of literary power dynamics, an exposé of authorial paranoia, and a parody of Proustian psychological observations.

This week is also of course Proust’s one hundred and fiftieth anniversaire, and so it is appropriate that the LRB should mark the occasion, even if it is tucked away in the sub-text of a prose poem. Berry is very witty in shrinking the vastness of Á la recherche du temps perdu to what is (prose/poetry debates notwithstanding) basically a single paragraph. And it is a paragraph repleat with ironic thoughts on that most thoughtless of modern mechanisms for capturing lost time, the selfie. What took Proust thirteen years to write, and most readers months if not years to read, is whittled down to a minute or two for readers of the LRB and a single moment of posing for the protagonist of the poem.

Chris Edgoose, Paris by Emily Berry

Composed in sections, halts and hesitations, Medin explores memory as a series of conversations, attempting to seek what might not otherwise be known or revealed without pushing too hard. Writing on her mother as part of “BROOKLYN, NOVEMBER 15, 2018,” she writes: “I have to be careful when asking questions, or else she’ll say it again: stop.” She writes between generations, from her mother and grandmother to her own children; she writes between geographies, from the family home in Paraguay to Argentina, to the United States. She writes a story and a prose in transit, in transition, perpetually in motion. To uncover another element of her own story might be to shift the entire narrative. In the same section, she adds: “She did not have time for documenting time. On top of that, who keeps a journal? Although she is writing this to me on a screen, I can hear her shouting: ‘I have never known anyone who keeps a journal.’”

This is such a remarkable book, and the ease of her prose is enviable. I keep having to hold back quoting page upon page, pushing the whole of this collection through my computer screen and in front of my own commentary. Medin writes of physical, emotional and temporal distances she wishes to travel; of cognitive distance. She writes of connection and disconnection, centred around family, and specifically, her mother. As she writes: “My mother’s domain. Her house. Was my house. this is no nostalgic writing. There is no desire to recover what’s gone. No need of further separation, of a wall built across.” As well, I’ll admit that I’m left to conjecture the purpose of the words set in bold throughout the text, but to read only those words through the collection, one can see a single, extended poem hidden in plain sight. There are layers beyond layers here. To thread such together, for example, from the opening poem, offers: “To open and close, to cut / into pieces / not your daughter, / not you. / yet, / a mother.”

rob mclennan, Silvina López Medin, Poem That Never Ends

Paul occasionally mentioned the poet Brian Jones (1938–2009) – not to be confused with the Strolling One – and a few years ago, his own publisher, Shoestring Press, published a selection of Jones’ poems. I must get round to buying a copy. In the meantime, I recently bought a lovely copy of Jones’s Interior, 25 poems published by Alan Ross in 1969. There is something Larkinian about his poetry, though without the misanthropy or suppressed bigotry. More than anyone, though, his poems remind me of Dennis O’Driscoll’s: droll, acutely aware of mortality and on the nose.

A three-part poem ‘At the Zoo’ was always going to appeal to me, because I adore zoo poems, and zoos in fact, hard though it is not to feel simultaneously thrilled by proximity to the creatures therein and repulsed by their captivity. The third part concerns Chi-Chi, the giant panda who was brought to London Zoo from Frankfurt in 1958 and was a major attraction until her death in 1972, and opens thus: ‘This is the panda that wouldn’t be shagged!’. After a superb simile, ‘wondering kids hoisted like periscopes’, he elaborates on the panda’s situation and attitude:

This is the girl
who would have none of it, who let the world
proclaim and plan the grandest wedding for her,
who travelled in state and with due coyness
one thousand miles in a beribboned crate,
who ate well at the reception, honoured the ritual,
and when the time arrived for being shagged
chose otherwise, rolled over, went to sleep.

Anthropomorphic, to a degree, this may be, but it’s fine writing, with a deceptively easy rhythm.

Matthew Paul, On Brian Jones (no, not that one)

A new episode of the New Books in Poetry podcast is up. I had an amazing conversation with Carl Marcum about his new book A Camera Obscura (Red Hen Press, 2021).

A Camera Obscura is a lyrical exploration of external and internal worlds. The heavens described in these poems could be the stars glittering above our heads, the pathways of faith, or the connection between human beings. Playing with scientific understandings of the world, along with the linguistic conventions of the poetic form, A Camera Obscura is a compelling journey that simultaneously drifts through the cosmos while being rooted to the ground beneath our feet.

Andrea Blythe, New Books in Poetry: A Camera Obscura by Carl Marcum

How rare to travel as an amateur or emigrant, so ignorant of a well-trod place that you let the place’s magic play with your “free gaze.”   I, Rhode Islander, arrive with little knowledge of New Mexico.  D.H. Lawrence, Georgia O’Keeffe, retirees and moneyed Texans stay way in my back pocket.  I take in a sightline that’s not East Coast congested, but vast and open. The roads are straight — endless — cutting through an artist’s range of pinks, ochres, yellows.  The desert unfolds like an ocean of silver-sagebrush meets horizion.  Everything breathes on thinner oxygen.  The light makes rocks and cactus levitate.  Cactus are wan and colorless until they burst into hot colors like cartoons.  Veils of rain trail from navy-dark clouds you can see in some distance town.  Sunset over a layered plane that looks like the bottom of the sky.  In sum, an otherworldliness.   

As poet Adam Zagajewski writes, to the emigrant, a rush of rain on a Paris boulevard can be Notre Dame’s equal.  He also talks of how a workaday place falls prey to the “innocent sabotage of the free gaze, thus splitting it into disconnected atoms.”   So the morning sunbeam opens the doors of vision.  It doesn’t negate the tragedy of the native tribes but observing legacy of history in situ, witnessing the past in landscape, the native absence and presence becomes more felt.  Paul Celan’s term “what happened,’ expresses the horror of what can’t be named here too. 

Jill Pearlman, Santa Fe on Thinner Oxygen

I recently won a small amount of money in a poetry competition. Poem here. I have spent the prize money, many times over, on books.

I’d like to show you some of them. First up is Untravelling, an achingly beautiful new book by Mary Frances from Penteract Press. On each page a found landscape is paired with a few lines of cutup text. Every page is a meditation. It will mean something different each time it is read. It would be the perfect companion to take on a long journey, actual or metaphorical.

Ama Bolton, A binge of books

Sometimes the wind
in the Sandhills
wants nothing

and the cottonwoods
are happy.

Tom Montag, NEBRASKA SANDHILLS (30)

How to hold fear for so long
my shoulders learn a new shape.
How to watch numbers climb
higher, and then higher.
How to hold funerals
and kindergarten
over Zoom.

How to read subtle signals
via eyes alone.
How to re-grow scallions in water
because there might not be
more to buy.
How to feel our connections
though we’re apart.

Rachel Barenblat, How To

Remember last week’s advice to myself? Stay open to connections, calmly watch for sprouting seeds?

Yeah, okay.

So I tread softly through the noise and haste. Sat calmly amid the sun and rain. Tinkered with the poem. Tinkered with the poem. TINKERED WITH THE DAMN POEM.

Rolled the poem up and beat it against the desk.

Decided clearly I know nothing about writing poems.

Quit writing forever.

Decided to go back to school in the plumbing trade.

…Then I got an idea.  …

Marilyn McCabe, Waiting on a friend; or, On Writing and Patience

I’ve seen an ink that refuses to write anything but trouble in the blood.

When the grenade demands a final cigarette before its detonation, ask it to reconsider.

See if it might like to put all that bang into creating a beautiful floral arrangement for a stranger.

Rich Ferguson, Meditations at 2 AM