Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 20

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: spring storms, writing with disabilities, fountain pens, alphabet soup, book covers, and quite a bit more—a glorious miscellany. Enjoy!


Everything begins in childhood.
The song starts there, the poem.

It was a spring morning when I was born.
It was May. My mother’s hair was long.

The animals and earth were waking up,
preparing for a summer riot.

Han VanderHart, Poem with Birth Ledger and Crawfish

Far too many hate mongers strolling gun gardens.

Far too many bullets serving as the nails for other people’s coffins.

Imagine what it must feel like going to the store to put food on your table, only to find yourself staring down the barrel of a rifle.

Where is our night of star-spangled joy?

Where have all the maps gone to discover new territories of togetherness?

Far too many young minds trapping themselves in the burning bodies of executioners

with no good excuse for their actions.

Rich Ferguson, When Executioners Wander Gun Gardens

After the windstorms, we wake
to snowslides of petals on the grass,
First loss of the season, these lung-soft ghosts.

Fire-striped tulips affront our sorrow,
waving their wild colors as we walk past.
After the storms, we awaken

to what we should have known,
that the first kiss could also be the last. […]

Dark pools of water show up frequently in my dreams, and they show up in my poems, as well.

Sometimes I see animals coming up out of the water such as alligators. In general, when I see dark, murky waters in my dreams, I think I’m dealing with the unconscious mind, memories I might be afraid to look at.

But if I do manage to sit with the fears during the dream, the water sometimes will become clear and the creatures inhabiting the dreamscape become colorful and whimsical, not at all scary and creepy.

Christine Swint, Equinox Lovesong During Late Stage Pandemic

One thing I have noticed lately – with the new medication – is that emotions aren’t blunted, but they don’t bleed outside of their circumstances. I think it is part of this quiet that has settled.

These last mornings I have done the yoga sequence without music or mantras. I have focused entirely on breathing, as one should, but as I never could. I am content with one single focus, one train of thought at a time. My resting heart rate has dropped. When I am hungry I take the time to cook.

I don’t know what this will mean in the long run. But for now, I am going to take it one bright and shiny day, one hard, sharp day at a time. Stacking them like discrete building blocks. When I teach acting, I tell the students never to try to play love/hate at once. Like red and green, you get a muddy, unexciting smear of whatever. Play one moment of love with your whole body, play one movement of hate. Because that is how we often experience it. Give yourself over (within reason) and allow yourself to feel the fullness of each.

I have caught myself on occasion, wondering if I believed what I was saying.

Now though, I’m beginning to wonder if this is what it is to “live in the moment”.

Nothing more. Nothing less.

Ren Powell, An Exceptional Day

We struggle with expressing how we feel – in life and in poetry. As a disabled, sick or cared for person, there may be a balancing act we try to sustain between wanting to still appear independent, positive, in control, and allowing ourselves to look vulnerable and say how bad we sometimes feel.

As a carer, the balancing act may be between wanting to express that we care and love, and suppressing the frustration, resentment, guilt, we may sometimes feel.

There is a pressure to be positive, even when going through hell. Because positive people fight on, put on a brave face, smile through the tears, and are inspirational. If you say the pain is unbearable, the loss of dignity is destroying you, that you can’t cope any more, then you’re at risk of being seen as whining, weak… 

I’m not suggesting that positivity is bad – it can provide comfort and hope to many, but it can, unintentionally, mask some very harsh realities and lessen people’s perception that there are a very large number of people who really need help.

There are acclaimed poets who write about these things, and others – often carers – who make no claim to be poets, but write their feelings in poetic form – and both can help others to understand in their own way.

Where am I going with this? Can poetry make a difference? Can the personal show a broader truth? Can the personal be political? Not if poets and occasional writers of poems are not allowed to express how they’re feeling because it’s either seen as whinging or as not good poetry. If people who write poetry succumb to the pressures to be constantly positive, how will anyone ever know their truth? How will people know change is needed?

Sue Ibrahim, Poetry and care

A collection I only picked up recently is Montreal poet Eli Tareq El Bechelany-Lynch’s full-length debut, knot body (Montreal QC: Metatron Press, 2020), a title that was subsequently followed-up with their second collection,, The Good Arabs (Montreal QC: Metonymy Press, 2021). The epistolary prose poem collection knot body focuses on illness not as metaphor, but writing disability, including chronic and daily pain, expanding the possibility of what has been termed “disability poetics” (following work by Nicole Markotić, Roxanna Bennett, Shane Neilson and multiple others); a body that for merely existing is considered political. El Bechelany-Lynch writes of the many layers and levels of endurance, attempting to comprehend how one might safely and comfortably live within the body. “The pain hovers above an impossible memory.” one piece begins, early on the collection. Writing a pain endured, and even lived, one might suggest. The next piece offers: “I worry that in writing this, I am revealing too much.” Written through a kind of direct and even stark tenderness, the poems of knot body examine the possibilities of a body that exists with constant pain, attempting to negotiate the daily elements of living in a world and culture that perpetually denies their existence. There is something really striking in these prose poems, in the way that El Bechelany-Lynch writes as a way to articulate the self into, if not being, but into an acknowledgment and a belonging; writing themselves into existence that, until this point, perhaps had been pushed into invisibility by just about everyone else.

rob mclennan, Eli Tareq El Bechelany-Lynch, knot body

It is hot again.
Wooden planks
curl up from the deck.
Piano keys stick.

What if I die
while I continue to wait
to live my life?

Send money,
I sent money
Take care,
I took care.

Send help.
Send help.

Luisa A. Igloria, L’estate

It’s all well and good to say, “just breathe”–and I have moments when I intentionally do just that. But life has been moving swiftly and requiring my brain to attend to many other things. Mostly, I now realize, I’ve been getting through the days with my breath held, preparing for shoes to drop or ducking to avoid them. It’s become habit, and most of most days is really pretty good, so I hadn’t noticed the breath-holding until someone else pointed it out. I suppose it’s why I haven’t had much to share here lately; perhaps it’s because, like the blogger whose post prompted the comment, I have so many words that I have no words about quite a lot of things.

Rita Ott Ramstad, “…with my breath held”

I’ve not paid full attention to the importance of words since the turn of the year, at least in blogging terms. In early February, I received notice from Editor Bethany Rivers that she had selected two of my older poems, “Death by Staff Meeting” and “Strong Voice” for publication in Issue 8. Thrilled to see these oldies build their nest among other related writings. And while my feelings about staff meetings really haven’t change much, I can say that strong voice is a bit like a tide experiencing everything in its path.

Kersten Christianson, As Above So Below: The Importance of Words

Although in theory I love cards and stationary and all things beautiful paper and Papyrus-y, I don’t actually send out cards or letters very often. I had to buy a card for a momentous occasion recently, and I was completely addled by how oddly specific greeting cards have gotten. They had greeting cards for every type of couple, every obscure occasion, every combination of life events, and every age, country of origin, and creed. I had to wade through a ton of cards to find just a general one that didn’t list an exhaustive bio and specify the date of the event in question. There used to just be birthday cards, anniversary cards, and sympathy cards, with the occasional, coveted blank card. I don’t know why there now needs to be card for every type of vacation, vocation, and possible life incident. I can’t put my finger on exactly why, but I don’t feel like this speaks well of us as a society. I feel that it indicates a certain lack of faith in our imaginations and our ability to express ourselves. I think it should be a routine practice to buy a blank card, write your own message on it, and send it to a friend or relative at least once a quarter to keep those expressive juices flowing, and to remind people that email and text is not the only mode of communication available to humans.

Kristen McHenry, Dental Shaming, Overly-Specific Greeting Cards, Cat Lady Hero

Those things that we hid from the rest of the world, the shame of it. And those other things, the ones we felt we should have been proud of, even though we weren’t, that we showed to anyone who would look. Things neither beautiful nor repulsive. The things that were soft enough to eat with a spoon, but we used a knife and fork anyway. No one was watching, of course. The things that the paramedics used to stop the bleeding, or the things we used to make a tail for our kite. I’m not sure which anymore, it has been a long time. The kite is gone but no one bled to death. The things we say to ourselves when the night is frightening and empty. Say them quickly. Say them now. 

James Lee Jobe, what we hid and what we did not hide

One trait I developed as a shy child was a capacity to listen to others. I wanted to hear their stories, their points of view, their silly songs, their big ideas. What I regret is that later on, when I gained some self-confidence and began telling my own tales or dispersing acquired knowledge and advice, I lost some of my listening ability. It took hard work and practice on my part to feel secure when speaking to groups, and I started with the hardest practice: reading my own poetry aloud to other people. Eventually the shyness wore off, for the most part.

Then I had to get the listening back. Raising children was a tough balance between saying and listening. I fault myself for not listening quite enough. As an instructor, I found it difficult to listen to a group of students: too much cacophony, too many distractions, hard to gauge where the conversation was headed. I’ve always felt more comfortable with one-to-one tutoring, which makes listening so much easier. As this semester has wrapped, I find I am already dwelling on the fall. What did covid-protocol instruction teach me? Mostly that the listening is even more important than I thought. The students still feel freaked out; overwhelmed by, more than excited about, their futures.

Ann E. Michael, Shy

Can a person who is still living haunt a place?
The future speaks to us in widow’s weeds
while I try to balance the accounts.
I am the sea that swallowed the world.

Mangoes rot before they ripen; shorebirds lose their way.
I examine the recipes from my mother’s battered box,
the buttons my grandmother saved.
I keep my powder dry while I knit socks.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Evocative Lines and a Looser Form

Several weeks ago I was full of big talk about challenging myself to write in form. Yeah, I didn’t do that.

I did fall back on one of my old tricks, and that’s to write a little every day about the same thing. (I say “about” but I really mean take the same thing as a starting point each day.) I did that for about two weeks. It’s good fun to do this, because it’s like chipping away facets in a geode to see various angles and lays of light. I’ve left it to sit in my notebook for a couple of weeks and am just now revisiting where my mind was for those two weeks.

Yes, with such a game, my mind does loop around the same things. But the mind does, right? Gets stuck in grooves. And because in this game, the thing I chose to revisit day after day was a small river (brook, might be more accurate, or stream) that I know, it can bring the same things to my mind, the same memories. But of course, the body of water is different every day, as am I, a bit, with each day I think about it.

To have this view of how my mind shifted and circled over those two weeks is interesting. Of course, if my goal is to turn this exercise into actual poems, works of art in themselves, I can’t rest in my fascination with my own mind. I need to dig a bit about how the two things come together: mind and thing.

Art is to be made of the conjunction. If it’s to be made at all.

Marilyn McCabe, Bits of Blue and Gold; or, On Facing the Raw Material

Book launch days bring a weird energy. That combined with the planetary riffs in Poetry’s Possible Worlds has Bowie’s “Space Oddity” looping in my head, which is a pretty good soundtrack, really. Not that I’ve become untethered like Major Tom, but yesterday was full of “Big Bang Day” social media tweets, pre-party anxiety, and a post-party otherworldly feeling. This book really was 10 years in the making and I can’t believe it’s finally out there.

My launch event, surrounded by art and backed by a table of fancy snacks, felt good. I centered it on poetry’s power rather than on myself. Four fellow poetry professors at my university read favorite poems and talked about why they loved them: their choices were Lorca, Amichai, Limón, and Clifton. I spoke last, reading “Faith” by Tim Seibles, a poem that hit me like a lightning bolt before I had any real acquaintance with his work. Each short chapter in my book is keyed to a single poem and prefaced by the poem reprinted in full, in a bid to make Poetry’s Possible Worlds accessible to non-poetry-insiders. Through “Faith” I write about fiction vs truth in a poem’s world-building; the chapter’s memoir element involves my mother-in-law’s dementia, how it processed through story-telling to silence. As I told the audience, I love how Seibles’ angry, loving poem reaches through skepticism for belief in something. I had planned to read “Faith” before the shootings in Buffalo, but it is appropriate to the fear and desperation people feel in many places around the world, near and far. I would like to have a book launch one day that didn’t occur in a time of crisis–last time, for me, it was pandemic, wildfires, George Floyd’s murder–but this is the world we live in, that poetry helps us live in.

Lesley Wheeler, I’m floating in a most peculiar way

For an atheist, I’ve been a religious attendee of the Edinburgh Christian Aid Booksale from 2008 to the present day, and this year’s sale (still in action as I write this – it runs for a week) is the first after a necessary interregnum because of something called ‘Covid’. This sale is an experiential necessity – there’s no-way of describing it to the lay-person who has never queued for an hour in advance of the opening time and then charged inside like an antiquarian berserker.

It’s not for the faint hearted. Basically, it’s the bibliophilic equivalent of the Pamplona bull-run. People queue outside the very stately, pilastered St Andrew’s and St George’s West Church on George Street in a very civilised manner. I’m not sure if people camp out in advance, but I’ve been there a hour in advance and still have been a 100 yard race away from the door. By 9:45 the queue has usually long snaked behind the edge of George Street and out of view. One of my pet peeves is how known bookdealers walk up and down the queue looking for a familiar face to tag on to. Once a conversation is started, you legitimately jumped the queue. This practice is prevalent and, in my opinion, ungodly.

As soon as the bells ring at 10am, the queue gives way like a hypnagogic jerk and we’re off.

Richie McCaffery, Christian Aid Booksale, Edinburgh, 2022: A post-mortem

A couple of years ago the poet Christopher James wrote a thought-provoking blog which asked the question: Can poets retire?

I thought about this again this week when I discovered a friend of many years has stopped writing. It appears to be a permanent choice.

I suppose the level of surprise was a result of my assumption that he would write for the whole of his life. I have never known him not to write, or at least try to. Of course, there have been short breaks when domestic or professional commitments have taken over, but these were irrelevant. We both knew he would write again shortly, and might come back to it fresher for the interruption. He also happened to be very good at it, which perhaps has enhanced my sense of loss now.

Now, though, it seems, he has closed the notebook for the last time, stopped the habit of scribbling some idea or line on the back of a shop receipt, cut away the hours of wrestling with a poem until finally he has thrown his head back with an almost delirious laugh, knowing he’s got down something that works.

Why? I don’t know. I have asked but have had no reply. It’s too easy to paraphrase Louis Armstrong and say Poets don’t retire, they stop when there are no more poems in them.

I have said several times on here that writing is what I do in order to untangle the world as best I can. It helps me make sense of living. And, hopefully, those who read what I write, find something that resonates, something that reaches them.

If I didn’t do that, would writing be replaced by something else? Or would it be a case of not bothering to attempt to untangle it or make sense of it? Would a different kind of meditation descend, a different stillness, the emptiness that some who prefer mysticism seek? It’s possible. Do I really need to communicate?

Perhaps that’s it. That, for whatever reason, my friend feels no further need to communicate.

Bob Mee, WHAT IF YOU STOP WRITING ALTOGETHER?

I was scrolling FB recently and chimed in on a post about ridiculously rigid guidelines for submissions and the editors who make them.  While I understand there needs to be some basic framework and procedure to save yourself editorial headaches and facilitate easy reading (esp if you have more than one editor considering), some guidelines are laughably complex and send me, as a submitter, just looking for somewhere else. Obviously, you want to have read what they publish and stay within the length and genre guidelines, not use attachments if they prohibit them, etc.  you also want to put it in a  readable font, submit only during submission periods, include a bio if necessary or remain anonymous if they read submissions blind.  These are reasonable and easy, but some get nitpicky about fonts and page numbers and all sorts of minute details that will, they usually say, promptly get your work thrown in the virtual trash.  I always get the impression the editors who love these sorts of guidelines and inflexible rules really get off on their role as a gatekeeper and their ability to dismiss accordingly.

The same day, I was writing about Charles Eastlake and his snooty pronouncements that Victorian decor was overly wrought and ornate and all needed to be thrown in a fire. It was followed by critics saying Eastlake pieces needed to be thrown into the fire.  It got me thinking about gatekeeping and tastemaking on a larger scale and how it works.  I’ve never felt like editing was gatekeeping, but more just a curating of things I want to show people.  But of course, it’s all gatekeeping in some way.  What you choose to highlight. What you do not. I am lucky that I get enough submissions, but not too many that make things unwieldy. And can publish enough to accept about 10% of what I get every summer.  These are numbers I am happy with, though some might raise their noses and think accessible publication is not quite rare and erudite enough. That by having a more open gate, the prize is not worth it.  I always file this under stupid things writers say, esp. when talking about journals and their acceptance rates and whether things are “Top Tier.” I always think you want to be in a journal that has wide reach because people think the work is great, not just because they are hard to get into. The New Yorker for example has great reach and prestige, but I can count on one hand the recent poems in there I actually liked. 

The whole zine community ethos, of which I have always felt more in line with, is “Fuck the Gatekeepers!” and in many ways I agree. Gatekeepers are suspect, and I say that fully knowing I suppose I am one.  What I choose to publish or not publish is very much based on what I like or don’t like. I may pass on something completely publishable that doesn’t excite me. Something other editors have passed on might tickle my very peculiar fancy. Editing is subjectivism at its core, and beyond some basic principles of quality (ie, your poems don’t deal in cliches or sound like dirty limericks) I will at least read it with interest. I also have weird days where I love everything and days where I hate everything, probably for no real reason that has anything to do with literature or poetry at all. 

Kristy Bowen, gatekeepers and community

We build bridges. Bridges between our realities.

Temporary bridges. Retractable bridges. Bridges that will bring us back. Bridges made of dreams. Bridges made of fear. Bridges made of want.

But bridges don’t unite realities. They become an alternative. A sacred middle. Not belonging. Not owning. Distorting space. Distorting distance.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, A sacred middle

when you write haiku
ten thousand rain drops
are filling a lake

Jim Young [no title]

I was very excited that the author Judith Waller Carroll’s sent me a copy of her book Ordinary Splendor from Lana Ayers’s MoonPath Press, which I have the honor of having a cover artist credit on. My photograph of a fox from San Juan Island last year was used as the cover art for the book, and I couldn’t be happier.

I feel like a real photographer now, not just a five-year amateur. I took some real photography classes in high school, but it’s been just the last five years that I spent the time and effort to use a good camera and try to learn the tricks of digital photography beyond my iPhone.

Meanwhile, I’m working with BOA’s designer to figure out what we want on the cover of Flare, Corona. I wish I had a good vision for exactly what belongs on the cover. But that’s why we have collaborations!

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A Week of Podcasts, First Time Cover Artists, Being Under the Weather, and Real Spring Begins

I was delighted when Neil Leadbeater asked if he could use my Redwing photograph for the cover of his latest poetry collection, The Gloucester Fragments, recently published by Mervyn Linford of Littoral Press

I first met Neil at Swansea’s First International Poetry Festival, organised by Peter Thabit Jones (The Seventh Quarry Press, Wales) and Stanley H. Barkan (Cross-Cultural Communications, New York). 

Polly Stretton in her back-cover blurb describes The Gloucester Fragments as ‘a real treat’ and helpfully informs the reader that the new collection includes poems on the themes of ‘nature’, ‘language’ and ‘myth’. And indeed, I am greatly enjoying poems ‘inhabited’ by the Shoveler (‘Frampton Pools’), poems that ‘play’ with the building blocks of language to singular effect (‘Errata for an English Pangram’), and a clever shape-shifting poem that re-casts the Homeric tale of Odysseus and Circe. 

There is so much more: take, for instance, Neil’s clever allusion to nursery rhymes or the way in which he moves deftly from serious subject matter, such as detritus in the Severn, to the magical botanical names of wildflowers like ‘periwinkle’, ‘fumitory’ and ‘hemp agrimony’, which we find sprinkled, or scattered, throughout this vivid and compelling collection. 

Gloucester, and perhaps particularly Gloucestershire, will doubtless evoke different images among Neil’s readers. I think especially of Edward Thomas, and am immediately taken in my mind to Adlestrop, which I visited some years ago on a frosty morning when there were certainly no ‘haycocks dry’ in evidence. Neil’s delightful and inventive response to this well-loved poem by Thomas took me by surprise and put a wide smile on my face.

Caroline Gill, ‘The Gloucester Fragments’, a Poetry Collection by Neil Leadbeater

Paige Riehl:  Thank you, Ann, for discussing your powerful poetry collection Somatic with me. Somatic is organized into four sections that explore the complexities of illness, in particular the diagnosis of hysteria, through the life and treatment of Anna O, the first hysteric diagnosed by Dr. Josef Breuer in the late 1800s. You expressed your interest in the relationship between the creative and scholarly, so would you tell us a bit about those intersections in Somatic as they relate to your process of researching hysteria and Anna’s case and writing the poems? Was it a more circuitous than linear process? From where does your interest in the subject matter stem?

Ann Keniston:  The book evolved from several sources. One was the aftermath of my mother’s death; I actually published a chapbook of elegies about her (November Wasps, Finishing Line), some of which I revised—mostly pretty heavily—for Somatic. My interest in Anna O. and hysteria had several sources: I’ve always been interested in the relation of mind and body, and somehow I stumbled across a bunch of documents about Anna, from the first case study to a radically revisionary article by H.F. Ellenberger published in 1972 to a bunch of more recent feminist and other studies. Anna was kind of a blank screen for critics, it seems, who projected their own interests onto her. Before I ever thought of writing poems about this topic, I compiled a little anthology of those writings as a unit in an honors composition course I was teaching about memory. I just kept reading about Anna and hysteria and got more and more fascinated, and also a little repelled. I began writing poems about Anna, and also in her voice (or that of a more generic hysteric who was also, of course, partly me), and realized that the elegies were in fact relevant to the Anna poems, so I worked to bring those elements of the ms together.

Diane Lockward, Terrapin Books Interview Series: Paige Riehl Interviews Ann Keniston

I am now commuting an extra 30 minutes to our new office at White City, and this is giving me more time to catch up on podcasts and the like. I’m hoping it will give me more time for reading, but the journey is such that every time I start to settle into it; I have to change trains, and this doesn’t lend itself to reading.

However, it has meant I can pick up on my podcast listening. (Aside, as my friend Simon said yesterday, “podcasts are just radio you can listen to whenever you want”). Working from home a lot sort of put the moccers on my podcast listening as I can’t concentrate on them and work at the same time, but I’ve started working my way through episodes of The Verb and Robin Houghton/Peter Kenny’s Planet Poetry.

Recent episodes that stand out are The Verb’s episode about pens with Naush Sabah and Gerry Cambridge talking about, among other things, their mutual love of fountain pens. I love a fountain pen, and use one most of the time, even at work, but I am enjoying writing with the Fisher Space Pen* my friend Mike got me for my birthday.

It’s a lovely thing that makes me think of an alien spaceship, and reminds me that I once started a poem about development of the space pen. It was based on the premise of the millions of dollars invested in the Space Pen and its ability to work in space, but that the Russians solved the issue by taking a pencil. A great apocryphal tale, that sadly, isn’t true. Does it need to be? Maybe I’ll go back to the notes at some (ball) point. I don’t think the “poem” ever really got beyond the idea stage, but who knows what might come of it**.

* I’ve been sing a bastardised version of the Babylon Zoo song every time I used the pen.
**Almost certainly fuck all

Mat Riches, A martian nicks a Space Pen from the stationery cupboard to write a postcard home

My skull is filled with alphabet soup. Occasionally the letters make a word, but mostly they slosh around, defeating my every attempt to make sense of them. It wasn’t always this way. My brain used to be a series of filing cabinets. The drawers were shallow but numerous; an inch of information about any particular subject, miles of breadth. Just enough knowledge to stay in most conversations, not enough to truly master any one subject. That was fine. I liked that. A friend called it “librarian brain.” Who doesn’t like librarians? But “soup brain”? That has neither the same ring nor the same positive connotation. Soup brain means never quite having the details at my fingertips; a blank spot on the tip of my tongue. I don’t think it’s a sign of disease. Rather, it’s a symptom of discombobulation. The circumstances of my external world are so disordered that my internal landscape can’t help but reflect them. My prediction is that the presence of family and friends, along with a place to live and a more stable life, will slowly drain the soup, revealing the long rows of shallow cabinets that have been there all along.

Jason Crane, Soup’s On!

I think, though maybe I’m wrong, that at the beginning of the pandemic, a lot of people had trouble writing because they didn’t want to write about what was happening per se. We were too “in it” for one thing. It was tricky at the beginning. But now we’ve been steeped in it for two years. We know some things even as we don’t know how things will play out. But we can write about now. On Twitter someone posted a poem by Constance Hansen on Four Way Review that took my breath away. It’s a prose poem that starts off:

“I watered the plants. I plucked their dead leaves. I fed the children and dog. I asked the coffee to raise spirits. I made no beds. I made an inadequate donation to a parentless child, survivor of the car wreck that killed my friends. I paid with my thumbprint. I sent another friend money who sent another friend flowers to celebrate a new baby. I pressed C to confirm my vaccination appointment.”

Honestly, the ending…..wow. Highly recommend getting over there to Four Way Review to read it. Not only is it an amazing work, but gets me re-thinking the how of how the heck do we write at this time. At least this is one wonderful possible way that is real and fierce and in the moment and heart squeezing on many levels.

Shawna Lemay, Drawing Out the Creativity

I left Texas at seventeen. I’ve lived here almost twice as long as I ever lived there. And yet some inchoate sense of time and light and season was set there. And those are different here. It draws me up short.

Every year I know I need to brace myself against winter’s long nights, maybe because the days were never that brief where I grew up. I have to remind myself how to seek the beauty in short winter days.

And every year I swoon at summer evenings, how the late light gilds the green hills and pinks the sky at the western horizon. I text friends: It’s almost 9pm and it’s not even dark yet, what is this magic?!

No magic, of course. Just life at latitude 42.7, as opposed to 29.4. Remember those circles around the globe? I grew up near the Tropic of Cancer. I live now near the midpoint between equator and pole.

I was born on the spring equinox (more or less). It seems appropriate, somehow, that I have settled more or less at another midpoint. And oh, how I love these brightest months of the solar year here.

How good it is to sit outside and listen to twilight birdsong as Shabbat gives way to a new week, and to gaze with wonder at the sky — always changing, always perfect, and at this time of year, full of light.

Rachel Barenblat, Light

Light on the ledge of my lids
or is it the sill’s seepage?
From the trees, cacophony

the birds, no doubt
though I doubt —
a circus, pieces of a gambling

game being turned –
clacking and sparring,
castanets, bingo.

The Creator as croupier?
Each element in joy, in play,
the world depends on it.

Jill Pearlman, The Morning Gamble

Sometimes
in the evening

after the stars
have gotten

comfortable,
the trees might start

to talk to you,
the old monk said.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (207)

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 17

Poetry Blogging Network

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

As Poetry Month wound down and May loomed, this week saw a profusion of flowers—alluring yet haunted by death and illness. There were poems to share, new and forthcoming books to celebrate, issues of craft to be hammered out and philosophical positions to be honed. A banner week, in other words. Enjoy.


There are flowers,
so many flowers, so many,

so much to do. Floating. Air borne,
weightless and whimsical. Silly

heart. What are you doing? And then
it rests. Suddenly. My son folds

his arms around me and doesn’t
want to let go.

PF Anderson, Untitled

It’s been a strange, sort of “lost” week, and it’s not over yet, so not even fully lost. I’ve been busy, reading and writing, resting and drinking fluids, but time keeps folding over itself, like laundry, and drifting away, like lake waves… Despite relentless masking and a double booster, I did test positive (home test), and am in my isolation week before resuming my life in the community. Still writing a poem a day for April, National Poetry Month, and that, too, will slip away…on Sunday, right? May Day is coming.

On my first day of very mild illness, it was 80 degrees outside, and I rested on the glider, wrapped in a comforter, reading, journals at hand for any random poems or diary thoughts. A strong southerly wind blew over me. Out in the yard, my husband, mostly recovered from his own lost week, picked up sweetgum seedpods in the yard. Then it turned chilly for a while…

And now, suddenly, violets are blooming everywhere in the grass! The yellow tulips are fully blown, and the pink just beginning. My dark lilacs are also beginning their fragrant opening. Lily of the valley and hosta are spiking up in their distinctive curls! A little of the two-toned hosta has uncurled, green and white. And where are my celandine poppies? Did they not return this year? But my “library lilies,” rescued from a revamp of the library’s gardens, have auto-renewed themselves (ha!) and will give plenty of yellow blooms later in the summer. As much of my reading this lost week assures me, nothing is really lost…

Kathleen Kirk, Isolation Week

Each day flowers turn
petals from east to west, trees
add rings in a seasonal birth
and death. But we are like laundry
on the clothesline being washed
and worn, shedding our skins
without renewal. Our dissatisfaction
is rooted too deeply. Birds scatter
seeds from forest to seaside
safeguarding continued resurrection
while we flap and stumble
on wings we broke ourselves.

Charlotte Hamrick, NaPoWriMo 2022 day 30

Wasps and monkeys regularly cross each other’s paths in this forest that seems to have no end and no beginning. Pink azalea and bougainvillea bloom poisonously. Snakes cannot be seen but their slithering can be traced on the ground at which nobody looks. Peacocks stand here transfixed for hours observing their reflection on the slanted glass. There is a fountain near the hidden piazza from which prosecco flows. Trees as old as souls live here. Any moment, ripe jackfruits and unripe mangoes could fall on you. Jasmine perfumes the air like gas.

The native inhabitants of this forest have never seen the outside world nor do they wish to. At night, they dream of the rings of Saturn.

This enchanted forest has a secret name that cannot be revealed. I am here as a spy. I will report back to myself my findings.

Saudamini Deo, Delhi and other forests

If the child says My window
is a sheet of paper without anything
written on it
, then it means it’s ready
to catch the moon’s milky script,
the emerald peacock’s baby-cries or
its feathered drumroll. If he says
The night light is a little boat no larger
than a apricot in a dark-blue ocean,
right away I’ll trawl the waters with
my upstretched hand to feel
the wind lick my fingers with its
warm tongue.

Luisa A. Igloria, The Window

Sometimes having enough energy/stamina/dedication/obstinance to get through it all is a victory. When the plague burns through everything, no one said what is left standing is going to be a towering superhero. Sometimes it is a tiny, blind inchworm. Swaying just a little. Getting on with it.

The children’s song comes to mind. Measuring a marigold. I know very little about gardening or flowers in general, but I do remember the marigolds in the kitchen garden. How they took over. Beautiful but invasive. They just keep coming up through the soil, self-seeding. Inch after foot after yard.

That’s a lot of busywork for an inchworm.

Ren Powell, Theater of Cruelty

At 4:16 this morning a M3.6 earthquake shook me awake it was reported to have hit between Mount Vernon and Seattle which is basically my house. I made it through a cold and rain soaked April by reading and writing poetry drafts an exercise in humility and endurance. I missed six days but I kept going. It was glorious to jump start the part of my brain that wants/needs to find comfort in playing with language. I took that picture of a daffodil field at the Skagit River between the touristy tulip farms and La Conner. There is a nursery out there that I love to wander in even when the cold wind whistles through. 

I have planted herbs in a pot some chives and tarragon and catnip chocolate mint and peppermint in another. It’s been too cold to plant much else. Lilacs are just now beginning to open around the island. I have a new dermatologist so now I’m trying a cheapo version of some fancy medicine for rheumatoid arthritis though I am not convinced that I have it. My joints ache all the time but doesn’t that just happen when you get old and as of today I am the proud owner of of a Delta dental insurance policy that covers one half of dentures and a bizarre mix of other things some teeth to be extracted some not sometimes pain meds sometimes not if it’s Thursday and the dentist’s dog barfed on his kitchen floor that morning you don’t have insurance for that day etc but at least I moved forward at least I did something. Beethoven said Art demands of us that we do not stand still. I’m locked into the policy for a year. Maybe I can find an adult to explain it to me. In the meantime I will continue to wear a mask to hide my awful broken mouth while I shop for a dentist who does not live “out here” as  in here in the random wilderness. Except for a strange bout of laryngitis that was caused by bad air quality in Seattle a place that used to have the cleanest air in the world I haven’t been sick in two years. It’s been a while since I posted here and this sounds boring to me but here I am snaggle toothed and still crazy.

Welcome to May the most glorious month of spring.

Rebecca Loudon, Pig and farm report

How will you spin fermented want into a poem? Doesn’t
ugliness propagate inside a clever turn of phrase? How can

you return to the place where it all began to go wrong? Don’t
understanding and awkwardness have different half-lives?

Can you imagine holding the sea to account? As if the waves
have learnt to settle scores with the daytime moon?

Rajani Radhakrishnan, The unanswered grumble

Moored at portside, we ponder the uncertainty of what lies ahead. We know there are dangers: the ocean, quiet for now; impenetrable fogs; beasts watching us, lurking in anticipation; perhaps only the monsters of our imagination, the destruction wrought by our greed and disregard for the natural world.

The video is composited from footage from around Port Adelaide along with algorithmically generated animations. The soundtrack is built up from samples recorded at Birkenhead Bridge, which is seen in the title sequence. The audio samples were used to construct a soundscape for Water Under the Bridge, an installation with Tony Kearney, as part of BRIDGE, The Packing Shed, Hart’s Mill, Port Adelaide, Adelaide Fringe Festival, 23rd February – 11th March, 2018. The text in the video is adapted from The White – A Note on the Text originally published in e•ratio 26, 2018, inspired by Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, or The Whale.

Ian Gibbins, The Port Trilogy

While we were staying at the lake, another close friend of our family also died. Ray lived a few houses away, and was in his late 80s; the friendships between our families span three generations. We were able to see his children; we all tried to help each other and talked about the strange feeling of watching our parents’ generation, who have been such strong and constant figures of our childhoods and the long subsequent years, now pass the torch to us when we’re all getting on in age ourselves. 

The late spring weather was pretty wretched — grey and rainy, with days of windy snow squalls — but the lake was a reassuring presence. Every morning when I got up, I’d spend some time looking out at the water and its changing moods, and every evening when it was possible, my husband and I took a walk around the lake at sunset, looking out at the fields as the farmers began to plow, watching the migrating geese and a group of mergansers that had stopped at the lake for a while, and, to our great excitement, observing a bald eagle nest with vigilant adult birds, at the top of a tall pine tree.

Beth Adams, Changes

spring morning
the graveyard fills
with butterflies

Caroline Skaane, a few recent poems

You’ll carve your spine into a divining rod and learn to guide yourself towards calmer, more faithful waters.

All the bizarre and beastly skins you’ve inhabited, you’ll no longer recognize.

You’ll wish them well along their journey, but explain you’ll be taking a different path.

Soon this transformation will be complete, and you’ll become the road sign that says,

rest area ahead.

Rich Ferguson, Though certain pains may shadow you now

Last weekend I had the great joy to read my poem at the Hoffman Center for the Arts in Manzanita, Oregon, which is just up the road from where I learned to read and write at Garibaldi Grade School. To feel the trajectory of my writing come back to where it started 60 years ago was a homecoming of sorts, and the loss I felt as a child leaving the North Coast was replaced with the understanding that this place had never left me.

Judge Lana Ayers who selected my poem for the 2022 Neahkahnie Mountain Poetry Prize had this to say about “Birthday Fires”.

Birthday Fires is a marvel of imagery and complexity in 9 couplets. The fires are birth, creativity, life. The poem reminds us that even as hardships and sorrows sap joy, we can still celebrate and make our own light, as in the final captivating image of the poem.”

Carey Taylor, Full Circle

National Poetry Month comes to a close this week, as does my experiment with revising someone else’s poem. It was a fascinating practice, because it involved a kind of interpretation and re-imagining, taking–in this case–a poem written in Portuguese in 1928, and seeing whether through revising, I might make it mine (if not make it new). In slightly less than a month, I reworked the poem ten times. That’s a pace much quicker than I generally revise my own work. Which also made for an interesting process.

No judgment on the outcome, such as it is. The purpose of the prompt was to keep me writing and to remind me to get revising my poems, and it did have the intended effect. When emotional, physical, job or life obstacles clutter the writer’s terrain, attending to a writing project–however arbitrary–can have a salubrious effect. Or at least grease the wheels a bit. […]

One of the things I take away from this effort is that I do have a recognizable voice in my work. That was something I fretted over for many years, the concept of possessing a poetic voice. I have written in so many styles and taken different approaches to work and, for awhile, topic, that younger me worried that I had not developed a voice. Apparently someone long ago convinced me of the importance of having a recognizable voice; now, I barely recall why lacking it would feel like such a terrible thing. But reading my revision of Pessoa’s original, I sense his idea but hear my voice and my interpretation of his idea.

I’m not sure this is the final draft–whether this poem is finished or not, or whether it ever will be. I thank Pessoa for providing the starting point for the experiment and for making me stop and consider whether memory distinguishes who I am from who I was.

Ann E. Michael, Revision revisited

While I was excited to focus on my movement practice after spending so much time on writing, and while I am also looking forward to a new city, my poetry life had gotten a little stagnant. I was still writing, submitting, and publishing haiku, and became an active member of the Austin Haiku Study Group. But I was looking for more.

About a month ago, my waiting paid off. I got the idea for a new project: The Culinary Saijiki. As most people who read this blog probably know, I’m a big fan of food (eating more so than cooking). I’m also interested in the ways in which English-language haiku practitioners approach the seasons in their haiku practice. I realized that food is one way in which people can connect to the seasons, and decided I wanted to go deeper into exploring that connection. I launched the first blog post earlier in April. (I planned to announce it here that same week, but hey . . . I’m moving and wrapping up the semester. Things are a bit hectic.)

In addition to the blog, I’ve also decided to start a companion podcast, where I talk to haiku practitioners about the ways in which food shows up in their work.

Allyson Whipple, Introducing the Culinary Saijiki

“Lemonade in the Armenian Quarter” is an exploration of connection, roots and family relationships through the nourishing qualities of food. Sarah Mnatzaganian’s poems are tender and compassionate. Family is a symbol of support and love that allows its members to find their own way.

Emma Lee, “Lemonade in the Armenian Quarter” Sarah Mnatzaganian (Against the Grain) – book review

I wanted to do a quick reading report on Mary Biddinger’s newest book from Black Lawrence Press, Department of Elegy, a wonderfully nostalgic/anti-nostalgic, goth, reminiscence on a Gen-X childhood and young adulthood punctuated by midwestern vacant lot landscapes and marvelously bad decisions. I am loving it – it might be my favorite book of hers yet, so if you are on the fence, get it.

And just to punctuate this, here are some of my favorite lines from the book, from the poem “Bitch Wire:”

“Like many, I poured my best years into
a springform pan, but they were stupid years.”

I laughed out loud at this, and since I also spent a lot of my teen/young adult years making good and bad decisions in the Midwest, I felt like this book was something I could really identify with. Also, once again, kick-ass cover art.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, New Poem in Jet Fuel Review; Reading Report: Mary Biddinger, and Sun, Spring and Apple Blossoms Pre-Birthday

If you follow my blog regularly you will have seen that I have been delving into my own practice, exploring what it is to write poetry and how I can break out of some of the habits I have fallen into as a poet. I have been learning to take risks with my own work. I have thought about this development in my own writing as a slowing down, a cessation of striving for publication and success and a re-evaluation of what I want to achieve as a writer, and as a person. The two are not mutually exclusive. Happiness and contentment make me a different writer, they make me a better writer, I think. In my quest to find my own way I’ve been reading books and essays by poets and writers who have explored the impulse towards creativity, and I have been reading about the range of expression that poetry brings, how different art forms merge, and particularly about process; how we think our way to the poem. It has done me good. For me, learning your craft should be more than just creating the impulse to write, or finding a muse or being inspired. We can learn so much by listening to other poets not just reading their poetry, but talking about their process.

Wendy Pratt, A New Venture – Writers on Writing: Poetry

My mother died a year ago April 30th, so I’ve felt haunted these past few weeks. Many kind friends have been checking in with me; for now I’m just saying “okay” and wondering afterward what I meant. Truly, I’ve watched people go through life-rocking grief that lasts years, and that’s not me. My mother died sooner and with more suffering than I wished, but she was 81 and in pain and ready to go. I unpredictably have bad days during which I can’t concentrate and have a hard time being around other people–I call them “grief days.” I suspect this time of year will often conjure her difficult final weeks. Yet most of the time my memories and dreams focus more happily on earlier parts of her life. She feels near.

A friend recently said that she can’t mourn her mother even a few years later; there was too much trauma there. My father, ten years gone this May 30th, wasn’t someone I could grieve, either. From my twenties on I was aware of mourning the father I didn’t have–feeling sorrow even more acutely as I watched how loved and supported my kids felt by their dad–but my father was a storm of a person whom we were relieved to see pass. That’s the main personal narrative of my new book, Poetry’s Possible Worlds: learning the extent of his lies, watching the damage he did as he flamed out, and coming to see the ways his life and death reverberated in me, my understanding guided by poems.

The thing is, my mother was, of course, implicated in my father’s violence. I’ve just published a pair of poems about those times in Couplet, an exposure that would have been difficult when my mother was alive and still feels surprisingly risky. Even calling my father “violent” has been a struggle. My mother occasionally slapped us, but to me it felt fundamentally different, just what temporarily angry parents sometimes did in an age when spanking wasn’t taboo. My father’s violence came from a different place; sometimes it was cool, strategic. We never sustained the visible injuries a social worker would have recognized (or rarely? I’m not positive), but it was clear he wanted to hurt us and approached that line too often. His unpredictable temper, so difficult to read, helped wire my brain. I’m still more likely than some friends to sense dishonesty and possible physical threat from others. I trust those instincts.

Lesley Wheeler, Poetry and the truth of it

Having recently read a few gorgeous lyric poems that failed to transport me anywhere at all, I found myself (yet again!) wondering why.

Once more, I reached the conclusion that supposedly universal lyricism without context is just beautiful language that floats in a vacuum without an anchor. It’s to be admired rather than absorbed.

In my view, one ideal way to achieve universality in a poem is via a specific frame of reference. This is crucial to the ability of a poem to create a credible new reality that enlightens and transforms the reader’s pre-existing imaginary world.

Contrary to certain critical beliefs, the specific is a pathway towards the universal and never deserves to be disparaged as unambitious. In other words, so-called anecdotal poetry is capable of generating power that reaches far beyond its initial modest confines. The supposed anecdote is simply a point of departure…

Matthew Stewart, The specific as a pathway to the universal

Let us take, for example:

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils…

This poem immediately demands the reader think about specifics – specifically specific ways of doing things, and daffodils.

What are the problems with that?

Firstly, it prevents the reader exploring their own ideas of how, for example, to wander in a lonely manner, or what they might see when doing so.

If one instead said:

I wandered lonely as a wandering lonely thing

and:

A host of things you could see a host of

then the reader’s imagination is allowed to run free inserting his or her own images as applicable to their own experience.

Even better:

I did something in the way I like doing it

and:

I could see what I wanted.

thus not restricting them to wandering, being lonely, or seeing too many things at once.

Secondly, the nature question. These nature specifics – and they appear in an awful lot of poems – also exclude those readers who do not have access to ‘nature’.

The city dweller is lucky if they’ve ever seen a vale or hill, and their knowledge of daffodils is likely to be either of that circle of yellow planted by the council on the concrete roundabout where the turn-off for Tesco is, or the drooping yellow things they’ve taken out of the green bucket outside the petrol station as a last minute present for Aunty Nora. These daffs are not dancing in the breeze – they’re gasping for air.

So what is this poem supposed to mean to these people?

To sum up: such specifics limit the imagination of the reader and are also exclusive.

While I’m at it, may I suggest that poets are a bit too obsessed with loneliness, solitude, lying on couches, and being vacant and pensive. They should get out there, get some mates, and get a life. And if they can’t be bothered to get off the couch (ok, fair enough), at least watch something decent on Netflix.

Sue Ibrahim, The dangers of specifics and specifically the specifics of nature in poetry

All of us who read poetry spend a lot of our time re-reading.  Whether it’s a poem we’re new to or one we’ve known for years, the impact changes from one reading to the next–something comes clear that wasn’t, it means something different to us at different times in our own lives, it thickens as we know more of the historical context, or look up a word or an allusion, see a pattern we’d missed.  Sometimes it thins as we realize it’s all dazzling surface, no depth.  Sometimes it’s just incremental changes, but sometimes it’s a real shift from something we disliked to something we find deeply moving.

One of the most significant examples for me was Wallace Stevens’ poetry.  I loved the words and images, but I could not find a way in, a way to take hold.  I kept reading for the surface beauty, and because all my teachers said he was a great poet.  Eventually something clicked, I started to see and hear them as whole poems, and he became one of my central poets.  I never understood why everyone assigned W. C. Williams’ “The Red Wheelbarrow” until I knew the historical context of imagism and free verse lines.  I loved the music and beauty of his poem “Asphodel, That Greeny Flower” without paying much attention to what it was saying, the way I listened to rock songs, until someone mentioned it was about a man asking for his wife’s forgiveness.  Then I liked it even more, for a few minutes, until I re-read the poem and discovered that the speaker ends up forgiving himself.

I liked but didn’t sense the power of Dickinson’s poems until I read them without the reductive punctuation that had been added by editors.  And just last week I came to see how much deeper one of Whitman’s short poems, “When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer,” is than I had ever thought when I did a little discussion with the poet Kevin Prufer and he drew an illuminating diagram of it.

Sharon Bryan, Poems You Changed Your Mind About

The latest from American poet Solmaz Sharif, following her Look (Minneapolis MN: Graywolf Press, 2016) [see my review of such here], is Customs (Graywolf Press, 2022), a collection of poems that masterfully examine one’s ongoing relationship with an adopted country and culture that requires constant adaptation, an America that seems to be built on the very foundation of reminding citizens that they don’t, or shouldn’t, belong. Sharif examines that painful space of absence, especially through the extended poem “Without which,” “A without which / I have learned to be.” Or:

Of which I am without
or away from.
I am without the kingdom

            ]]

and thus of it.

Her poems spool, and loop, return to movements monumental and jarring. Hers is a careful, considered lyric, one that slowly places one thought beyond another, composing her pauses and silences as carefully as her lines. Hers is a lyric of phrases, expositions and first-person narratives; a book of boundaries and borders, cultures and collisions, and of lines occasionally drawn in the sand. “Upon my return to the U.S.,” she writes, to open the poem “He, Too,” “he / asks my occupation. Teacher. // What do you teach? / Poetry. // I hate poetry, the officer says, / I only like writing / where you can make an argument. // Anything he asks, I must answer. / This, too, he likes.” Hers is a lyric of phrases and short turns, accumulations, pauses and open spaces. Sharif writes around the spaces left from and through absence, of belonging, exile, colonialism and othering.

rob mclennan, Solmaz Sharif, Customs

I knew Sharon Hashimoto in graduate school, and have long been an admirer. Her first book of poetry, The Crane Wife, was a co-winner of the 2003 Nicholas Roerich Prize, originally published by Story Line Press and now reprinted by Red Hen Press. It was a privilege, this morning, to read her 2021 book, More American.

Samuel Green, the inaugural Washington State Poet Laureate, writes of this book:

I often wonder whether the urge to share joy isn’t one of the most primal human urgencies. Perhaps that’s behind the impulse to read so many of the poems of Sharon Hashimoto’s More American aloud to someone else. “Old memories are ghosts we walk through,” she says in one poems. Hashimoto knows how to let those ghosts bear witness without nostalgia in poems of reconciliation, tolerance, forgiveness, and the sort of love that understands it might never be seen for what it is… (back cover)

And that comes as close as I can to explaining why I’m sharing this book with you. Hashimoto has crafted poems here that collect and treasure family voices, stories of internment and military service, education, and a grandmother, peeling onions, or rising from her bath. Every subject is given such poise and dignity, even when buttocks and breasts are “plump bags,” “socks stretched.” It is a book of family, and a book of witness to that family’s particular (and particularly) American history.

It’s also exquisitely crafted, both the book and the individual poems. In the first section, “Japanese-American Dictionary,” I found myself reading aloud, just for the pleasure of Hashimoto’s words, carefully chosen like ingredients her grandmother uses in her recipes: “shoyu-soaked ropes, / chicken sizzled in garlic and fat. Home // was smell: seaweed, ginger, and rice wine / vinegar” (“Oriental Flavors”).

Language abounds here. “What I knew of Japan / was in my parents’ faces: / okasan, ojisan—the baby sounds / I sometimes used for mother, father,” as we hear in another poem (“A Matter of Loyalty: Question #28, A Nisei’s Response”). These ghostly voices, though, are what I believe will stay with me.

Bethany Reid, Sharon Hashimoto, More American

A short post this week. Three tantalising teasers before the launch next Tuesday of Pressed for Time (Calder Valley Poetry). Shortly there should be a link via the Menu (top of the page) to My Books which will hopefully take you to the PayPal facility. Once it’s up, check out the special offer, available up to may 14th. In the meantime, here are three more poems which I hope will balance the bleakness of some of the work. […]

A poet in Hessle watched a man who pushed
a lawnmower down the cobbled street,
and wished him grass. He saw how a roofer’s trowel
makes diamonds of a slanting sun. Everywhere, 
they told me, there’s a view. Something going on.

John Foggin, Pressed for time……….

This little monster offspring is now available for order! Get it here: https://dulcetshop.myshopify.com/products/animal-vegetable-monster-kristy-bowen

What does it mean to be an artist in a world full of monsters?  What does it mean to be the monster?  This collection rifles through dusty museum halls and neglected cabinet drawers to get at the nature of art and creation in the face of danger—to the body, the heart, to the earth—and how art can both save us and destroy us at the same time.  

Kristy Bowen, animal, vegetable, monster

In some people’s minds his work is considered, well, uncool. Ubiquitous and made into too many copies in bad frames. But I love the work of Andrew Wyeth. I love the strange palette, the odd perspectives, the vast spaces in his work, the shadows, the splatters. I read an article recently that cited Wyeth as saying he considered himself an abstract artist, concerned with how things fill space. This explains his centralization of views through windows and doors, his treatment of walls and fields as vast and interesting subjects, and how often his paintings seem about to tumble off the canvas. And somehow this got me thinking about line breaks.

Line breaks too can serve to disequilibrate the world in interesting ways, can make a wall tilt or roll or file down to a slender needle. I’m speaking both literally and figuratively.  The great power of a line break is the exertion of tension, or its release; the creation of anticipation, of momentary confusion, of a headlong rush or a disconcerting pause. They’re fun to figure out too, in the writing/revision phase.

Marilyn McCabe, The break of noon; or, Line Beginnings and Breaks

When I fell on April 15th and hurt my wrist, I had some seminary assignments I needed to complete. I thought about asking for an extension, but in most of my classes we only get one extension, and I worried that I might need an extension more later. So I decided to see what the dictate function of Word would do.

In the early years of this century, I had done some work with voice recognition software, but I had to make so many corrections that it just didn’t seem worth it. That technology has come a long way. I have been doing all sorts of writing in the past several weeks, and I am amazed at how few mistakes I have to correct.

I’ve written comments for my students’ essays as I’ve graded them, and it’s much easier with voice recognition software. By easier I really mean it’s faster. I’ve responded to emails this way too. It requires some cutting and pasting, but that’s OK.

As I’ve been writing papers for seminary classes that I’m taking, I’ve been trying to observe the process. Do I write differently? Am I formulating thoughts differently? So far the writing process itself seems similar, whether I am typing directly or speaking out loud and watching the words scroll across the page. I go back to correct errors as I notice them with either process. I don’t think that one process or the other generates more errors.

Will I continue using this feature once I have regained the power to type the way I was trained? Maybe. It’s good to know that it’s available and that it works so easily. I do miss the ability to write with any kind of background noise; I can’t listen to the radio for example.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Voice Recognition Software

How to Reject My Work: I accept rejections only through my electronic rejection system (SUBMITTABLE) or via Email. I do not accept rejections delivered in person, through word-of-mouth, or through openly mocking me on social media.

Timing: Rejections may be received year round, though I may experience high volumes of rejection on days I am feeling insecure about my writing.

Simultaneous Rejections: I do so hope you are rejecting at least a couple other writers at the same time.

Response Time: Please reject me within the year. If it has been over a year, I will consider myself rejected. Please reject me before announcing contest winners on your Twitter account or website.

Rejection Fees: Magazines are always free to reject me without fee or consequence, in an effort to promote literary community.

Payment: I am currently a non-paying market.

Formatting Your Rejection: All rejections must be in 12-point Times New Roman font, with 1-inch margins. Form rejections must include one of the following signal words or phrases: Unfortunately, Although, Best of Luck, Elsewhere, Regret. Please include the correct author’s name with REJECTION in all caps in the email subject line (“Emerson REJECTION”). As tempting as it may be, please restrict yourself to rejecting me one submission at a time.

Thank you for your interest in rejecting my work; best of luck elsewhere!

Renee Emerson, Rejection Guidelines for Literary Magazines

in the rain
the lonely sound of a bell
how far it travels

Jim Young [no title]

Diane LeBlanc: The first poem in The Curator’s Notes, “My Mother Was Water,” introduces some of the collection’s central motifs: water, a mother/daughter relationship, origin stories, exile, survival. It serves as a preface or frontispiece. I always wonder if poets choose a poem with great weight for that position in a book, or if a poem gathers force when situated alone before a series of sections. What can you tell us about that poem and about its place in the collection?

Robin Rosen Chang: “My Mother Was Water” was actually the working title of my collection. However, I felt that, as a title, it incorrectly implied that the collection was all about the mother figure. On the other hand, the poem works well as a prefatory poem because it introduces many of the book’s themes. Through this poem, the reader is presented with the importance of stories—origin stories, stories we inherit, stories we adapt, stories we ourselves curate—as well as the types of relationships that are prominent in The Curator’s Notes, namely those between mothers and daughters and between women and men. It also serves as a launching point for my own origin story, while foreshadowing some of the turbulence that ensues.

Diane Lockward, Terrapin Books Interview Series: Diane LeBlanc Interviews Robin Rosen Chang

Forgetting where the car is parked
means something important left undone.

The structure deflated like punched dough
means vulnerability and self-blame.

The taxi that makes stop after stop for hours
is the same as the airport with no signs:

what made you think you had any control
over where you’re going or when you arrive?

The suitcase that won’t hold everything
means the same as the one left behind.

The empty hot tub at the top of the house
is ambiguous, but skylights mean hope.

__________

None of these statements accord with any school of dream (or poem) interpretation I know. I’m also not sure how I feel about placing any single interpretation on a dream or poem. But both are worth holding up to the kaleidoscope, turning them to see what we learn from how the shapes (re)align.

Rachel Barenblat, Interpretation

a mother’s cancer, wired for electricity, wires that were her last connection to this world, then her poor ghost, wired for sound. 

a bell on the neck of the goat, it sounded evil and looked dull. the poor goat had to listen to it clang with every damn step for its entire life. 

lovely, lovely, lovely. above, a blue sky heaven with perfect white, fluffy clouds. below, the slums and the suffering on the streets of the city. 

a dead, beached whale, lit with floodlights, the rotting continued through the long sinews of the night, broken by the sound of the waves. 

the dreams that were cast aside, sins that were never forgiven and never forgotten. yesterday became today, but why? 

poems about beauty? sure. why not? but poems about the ugliness, too. don’t just tell a little. tell it all. every damn bit of it. 

James Lee Jobe, ugly, ugly, ugly

There is a suddenness to beauty, a shock to it. I sometimes think I’m quite dulled to the world these days, but then it happens, I’m pulled through, and that reminds me what I’m here for. What tasks are important to me. And that’s not just writing or photographing, but trying to make the world slightly better, however I’m able. And so my mind is slightly shifted, and I can go on.

Joan Chittester has said, “It is Beauty that magnetizes the contemplative, and it is the duty of the contemplative to give beauty away so that the rest of the world may, in the midst of squalor, ugliness, and pain, remember that beauty is possible.”

And maybe that’s the number one rule of beauty school: it is your obligation to keep giving beauty away. Or, as I often say here, you are required to make something beautiful. Which, can I even say that often enough? I think not.

Shawna Lemay, Beauty School

I’m grateful for another month filled with poems. Thank you to Maureen Thorson and our NaPoWriMo fellowship for this journey. We got all the way to Mordor and discovered there was no Sauron waiting for us, no Mount Doom, no ring that needed to be destroyed. The journey together was the purpose of it all and reaching our destination, the reward. I’m so glad I joined this year. Have an amazing year of writing and living life to the fullest! See you in April 2023.

Romana Iorga, NaPoWriMo Day 30, 2022

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 15

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. With major religious holidays this weekend, Poetry Month just past the midway point, and spring well underway in some places, many poets this week struck a playful or celebratory note, even as serious issues still needed to be wrestled with and poems needed to be written or pored over. Enjoy.


I want to say so much about
this oak and these first bluebells
but what can I say that you
don’t already see and feel yourselves?

The weight of that trunk hunkering
over the frail brushstrokes of colour.
You might even imagine their barely
perceptible scent soon to be booming

through the woods. We are comforted
in these moments, aren’t we? The reliable
return of Spring. By beauty.
The way our small hearts sing.

Above me the first shimmer of green
in the splayed branches. At my feet
these steadfast little gifts. I want to
believe in a world that can change and heal.

Lynne Rees, Poem ~ So much

The author places a blindfold over her eyes and her body in an enormous circle. Flirts with broken taillights and right angles. Throws pages into the river. Still, she shivers under streetlamps, gaslit and ghost prone. Touch her, and she leaves a small black mark on the underside of your wrist. Large enough to bite. What a fight when the author went down and down into the tunnel and came out bearing a single string with which to hang you. A single page smooth and white as the back of a dead woman’s hand. The author could crack her bones each night and assemble anew every morning, but nothing went back together as sound as it began.

Kristy Bowen, napowrimo #15

I’ve taken a little dive into Spanish language poetry recently, with two wonderfully bilingual volumes: Jorge Luis Borges’s Poems of the Night — an anthology of variously translated works focused on…well…la noce, and sleep, and insomnia, death, and sunrise, sunset, and of course, la luna; and America, by Fernando Valverde, translated by Carolyn Forché — an outsider’s view of our strange land.

Side-by-side bilingual translations are, for me, the only way to go when I read poetry in translation. Even if I don’t understand one letter, it’s important for me to see how it looks on the page, see the rhythm of the words laid out, glimpse if, for example, the original language seems to use end rhyme but the translation does not, or whether line breaks are different, or if, (as in one notable experience I’ve written about in these pages) entire stanzas have been foregone. If I recognize the letters, I may try sounding out the poems, just to get them in my mouth, how the language requires my tongue to tick or tangle, my lips to pop or pooch.

Both of these authors are grounded in the land and flinging through the stars. Reading them makes the world new again in the freshness of their perspectives, their imagery, the way syntax is often turned around from the English norm, how some words are softer than the same in English, some harder. Feel how soft “estrella” sounds compared to the relative burst of “star.” (And yet both have their place, don’t they, when we think about the characters of stars on different nights, under different skies, different emotions?)

Marilyn McCabe, Jump a little higher; or, On Reading Borges and Valverde

set fair the pop of the dubbin tin

The haiku above, one of the April contingent in The Haiku Calendar 2022, still very much worth buying from the incomparable Snapshot Press, here, has been talking to me for the past week and a half. Few haiku as short as this – just nine syllables – do as much work.

I picture the poet/protagonist, having consulted the weather forecast, down on his haunches to polish his faithful pair of sturdy black boots, for a walk into the countryside, maybe, or out to the coast.

The familiar sound as the tin-lid’s catch releases is immensely satisfying. Chard is as observant and excellent a haiku poet as anyone writing today, so he knows that the ‘pop’ needs no qualifying adjective, and his choice of the rather old-school ‘dubbin‘ is inspired.

It’s also pertinent to note that Chard didn’t write ‘set fair the dubbin tin’s pop’. His wording enables a double surprise: of the pop itself, and then that what causes the pop is something as apparently trivial as opening a tin of shoe polish.

Except that it isn’t trivial, and it shifts the focus: what we see is an act born of tradition; of someone with standards to maintain, standards no doubt instilled in him as a boy. The day is ‘set fair’, so boots need to be looking their best.

Matthew Paul, On a haiku by Simon Chard

Very pleased to be one of the 21 poets in this zuihitsu portfolio, edited by Dana Isokawa and published in the Asian American Writers’ Workshop’s magazine The Margins. Asked for a note to accompany my three zuihitsu, I wrote this: “I was introduced to the zuihitsu in a workshop on Japanese poetic forms taught by Kimiko Hahn and immediately fell in love with it. How fresh Sei Shōnagon sounds across the centuries! What is the secret to such eternal freshness? Trained in traditional Western forms, I was looking to expand my repertoire by looking again to the East, and what I found was not so much a form as a voice. Sure, Sei Shōnagon is a privileged snob, as a literary friend pointed out with a sniff, but I love to put on her beautiful robe, rub some precious rouge on my cheeks, burn a fine incense stick, and wait for my lover to arrive in the night.”

Jee Leong Koh, When I Go Home with Someone

I’m occasionally contacted by people who have been moved by one of my flower poems and it’s nice to know that my poems are out there and working their way into occasional lives despite my minimal active involvement in the current poetry scene. 

I’m so enjoying the work of Matthew Sweeney at the moment, it has taken me a while to really get on board with his poems but I’m seeing possibilities in his work that could potentially help me move on in my writing. I absolutely love his poem The Owl

Marion McCready [no title]

Dion O’Reilly: Nature, or what we now call The Living World, is a prominent feature in your poetry. Do you consider yourself an eco-poet?

Yvonne Zipter: I’ve never actually thought about it, but I think that’s a fair label to apply to my work. If ecopoetry explores “the relationship between nature and culture, language and perception,” as Forrest Gander posits in The Ecopoetry Anthology (eds. Ann Fisher-Wirth and Laura-Gray Street), then it makes perfect sense to apply that term to my work. Kissing the Long Face of the Greyhound, for instance, is organized roughly as a dialogue between the natural world and humans, the intent being to show how they—we—are interrelated. But I tend to agree with Naturalist Weekly that “labels can be challenging for readers and writers. They have a tendency to limit our ability to see the world. One of the things I really appreciate about poetry is that any given poem may produce different meanings to different people. . . . Any poetry that gets you to think about your role or place in the natural world is beneficial and . . . the labels we give them are only helpful if they contribute to the joy of the audience.” That said, I would be honored to be thought of as an ecopoet.

Diane Lockward, Terrapin Interview Series: Dion O’Reilly Interviews Yvonne Zipter

And what of the one just out of the shadow
of that tree, where the woman stands alone, her eyes
empty, her clothes wet with the failure of escape, all her

longing pressed into the lines on her brow, ordinariness
in her swallowed swear, in the line of her shoulders
unable to hold up the grey sky? What of that puddle

that looks up at her, the lady who wants to leave, the
puddle that wants to follow her feet? What is left after
the rain is no longer rain, after a reflection disentangles
itself from a puddle that didn’t know how to hold it?

Rajani Radhakrishnan, When rain is no longer rain

I had my computer at my sewing station.  I was able to write a bit, sew a bit, on and on through the day.  It was wonderful.

At Quilt Camp, I leave my aging laptop in the Faith Center where the sewing tables are set up. The building is completely empty when we go for meals, and I did wonder if my computer was safe. Then I laughed at myself. Every woman in this room has a sewing machine that is more valuable than my computer–and many of those sewing machines may contain just as much in the way of electronics as my computer. These are not your grandmothers’ Singer sewing machines. Alas.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Last Look Back at Quilt Camp

Glancing out the window at the park across the street I see a man walking with an umbrella. Fat, slow raindrops. A low and dark sky. He closes the umbrella and looks up, smiling at the rain. In my house I begin singing an old song that was popular long ago when I was a young man. I sing the lyrics very quietly. How quiet? Like a field mouse. The man spreads wings that I had not noticed before and he begins to rise up through the rain, his face turned upward, and he gives off a light as he rises, an aura, golden at times, then silver, then golden again. Up, up, up he goes until I cannot see him through the window. He rises through the rain, then higher, through a tiny bit of snow. I am singing now with words that are all but invisible. 

James Lee Jobe, it’s a spring rain far below heaven

pond life
thumbing the pages
of my childhood
british insects ~ birds eggs
underlined with a boy’s joy

Jim Young [no title]

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

I come from a long line of poets. My father was a poet. My grandfather was a poet. My great grandfather was a poet. None of this is true, but I suppose it could be, I never asked any of them. I didn’t really come to poetry as opposed to anything else. My poems are fiction, and non-fiction, and some of them are actually short stories, and others are ideas for novels that reasonably pass as poems. I prefer things that are shorter because it doesn’t take me very long to express an idea or what I’m thinking of, unless I’m intentionally drawing it out. In a poem I can get through a whole event in under a page, in a novel it takes 150 pages and half of that is just people walking from one place to another and talking to each other about the places they’re walking to and from and what they’re thinking about while they’re walking. My poems also include walking though, if that’s something you’re into. […]

What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?

I don’t have a routine. I have two small kids and an old house with a long list of things to fix, and a full-time job. Today I changed the cabin air filter on my car. But now it’s rattling. So I’m doing this, and then later, I will stick my hand in a blower mower and try to fish out a leaf… or a dead mouse… or something. My wife is the best, though. She’ll carve out time for me to write when I don’t. Other than that, I mostly jot poems down on my phone as they come to me. Then, when I have the time, I put them into Google Docs. Then I change the font to Garamond or something hi-brow like that and see if I’m impressed by myself. If I am, I keep it. If I’m not, I trash it. Then I make dinner, or something. I’m impressed by people who have routines and little quirks around their writing. I hear all the time about writing corners or whole rooms. My office has my tool chest and a water rower in it (the water rower was free, I’m not rich, don’t worry), I don’t have room for a writing room. I remember reading this one writer talk about how they had their own writing space and their whole process was some sort of meditation ritual. They even talked about lighting a candle just out of view, something about the eternal flame of creativity or whatever, I’m sure. I remember laughing when I heard it because it was so ridiculous to me but at the same time, that’s cool if you have time and space on your side. I have neither. Also, time is a flat circle. I like to think my routine is not that of a “writer” but some average person who writes. Shout out to average people. If I get that Amazon Prime special I’ll upgrade myself and start lighting candles or something.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Tyler Engström

Watching a Coral Reef on YouTube

The cats and I are fascinated by stripes, speckles, electric blue & yellow, drifting orange, waving pearlescent white, golden dots, glowing eyes under rocks. We are voyeurs to underwater acrobatics, ballets of flipping fins, action chases in invisible undertows, the rhythmic pulse of ghostly tentacles. The cats twitch their whiskers, flip their tails, eyes widened in hypnotic stares while I fall deeper and deeper into a loose-jointed calm, surrendering to my own undertow.

Charlotte Hamrick, NaPoWriMo 2022 day 15

I am wound up. But bound.

I think this inertia is one reason I am drawn toward formal verse when I feel hopeless. Formal verse is somewhat effortless. The poeticized knowledge is guaranteed to translate into something acceptable on some level. There is a sense of sureness in a slavish execution.

I had a graduate student years ago who turned in a draft all too light on research, in which she postulated that a particularly adventurous painter would have (not) accomplished his modernist work had his teachers been prescriptive in terms of his art training. Ah, but the truth is: they were. They were naturalists. His training had been as rigid as a tongue with no familiarity with curse words.

I figure part of the draw of the rigid framework is to discover what really needs to escape from it. Otherwise, we are simply working within the contemporary frameworks we think of as “new”, but are actually familiar enough to give us that sureness of execution. We want the pedigree. It has a purpose, too, beyond the name-dropping.

But maybe the tighter the restrictions, the more meaning can be brought into view? In this same podcast this morning, Anthony Etherin talked about only having written sestinas that were also anagrams, explaining that he didn’t think he would write a good sestina without even more demanding constraints.

There is something fascinating about this idea. I can’t help but think that the attention to conscious constraints is what allows us to bypass our linguistic and cultural, unconscious constraints.

Right now, I am going to pour another cup of tea and write a sestina.

Ren Powell, Weekends are for sextains?

Breathe. Fall. Let the chest fall. Exhale.
Inhale. The air does and does not
move itself. The air is hungry.
The body is hungry for air.
It is a kind of love affair,
the way the body and the air
both lunge and leap, both rise and fall,
grasping at each other as if
this is the true purpose of life,
narrowing to a pinpoint like
vision, like a trajectory,
the point where falling stops and then
eyes open, look up through the leaves
to that blue at the beginning.

PF Anderson, Falling

Today I hit a lull with write a poem a day April so I’ve allowed myself to fail publicly. I went grocery shopping this morning early and tomorrow I have an evening appointment with a new dermatologist. Neither of these things should account for the fear panic in my heart but the panic is there and I’ve learned to listen to my body. The real poem I wanted to write today was a cryptic message I found deep in the bowels of my email account that simply read

ADD PICKLES

now we’ll never know

Rebecca Loudon, Pig and farm report

Parsons Marsh
homelessness comes with
no destination

Jason Crane, haiku: 11 April 2022

I wrote the first version of this poem in the fall of 1987, the day before I began my first “real” job after graduating from college. It had been more than 10 years since I’d quit skating, but these were the words that came to me as I thought about leaving behind my life as a student, the only one I’d ever known. Sitting at my sunny dining table, I thought about how it would likely be decades before I would again have time on a weekday morning to write poems.

I wondered what I was gaining and what I was losing and how I would feel about it all far in the future, at the end of my work life, when I might again be able to spend weekday mornings writing poems.

Rita Ott Ramstad, On taking flight

it could be rain
or a distant headland
on that dim horizon

a lighthouse
white-washed buildings
low stone walls enclosing green

an iron gate to let you in
never go back
there will be lock and chain

Ama Bolton, View from Fjara

Maurice Scully’s Things That Happen, written 1981-2006 and finally published in complete form, one volume from Shearsman (2020).  I’ve been reading this gargantuan work in smaller pieces throughout the decades now, since approximately 2000 when I was living in Galway and editing The Burning Bush literary magazine.  I got in touch with Scully around that time, and I’d received a couple of his chapbooks from Randolph Healy, poet and publisher of Wild Honey Press.  I was immediately drawn to Scully’s work, along with that of other innovative Irish poets whose writing was finally beginning to come to prominence.  Scully and I exchanged a few letters (before email became the primary mode of communication), and he sent me some more of his books as well, and I’ve written about these and others in various essays and reviews — for example, online: of Prelude, Tig, A Tour of the Lattice; and about further of these book-excerpts in various print outlets.  Initially I approached them as self-contained chapbooks or what have you, but especially when larger pieces of Things That Happen began coming out from Shearsman and other presses in the early 2000-10s, the bigger picture began to emerge.  Now there is this single volume of approximately 600 pp., finally bringing it all together and allowing us to encounter it as one.  There’s something about the book itself, a big blue object, minimalist design, an object of apparent import even before being read.  “The book / is fat.”

Michael S. Begnal, Maurice Scully’s Things That Happen

On Saturday night at second seder we’ll begin counting the Omer: the 49 days between Pesach and Shavuot, between liberation and revelation. Here are seven new prayer-poems for that journey, one for each week — plus a prayer before counting, and a closing piece that integrates the journey before Shavuot — from Bayit: Building Jewish: Step by Step / Omer 5782.

This time, seven members of Bayit’s Liturgical Arts Working Group wanted to co-create together. So each of us took one week of the Omer. (I got hod, the week of humility and splendor.)

I also wrote an adaptation of a classical prayer before counting the Omer, and we co-wrote a kind of cento, a collaborative poem made (mostly) of lines from our other pieces woven-together, for the end of the journey. You can find all of this (in PDF form, and also as google slides) here at Builders Blog.

Shared with deepest thanks to collaborators and co-creators Trisha Arlin, R. Dara Lithwick, R. Bracha Jaffe, R. David Evan Markus, R. Sonja Keren Pilz, and R. David Zaslow. We hope these new prayer-poems uplift you on your journey toward Sinai.

Rachel Barenblat, New prayer-poems for the Omer journey

“Early on, I divined that this book already exists in the future. / After all, I thought of it; it’s a probability somewhere, complete, on a shelf. / My intention is to consult that future edition and create this one, the original, for you.” -Mei-mei Berssenbrugge, from A Treatise on Stars (2020)

At first, when a hectic term ends, I have no idea how to slow down. Panic rises about whatever work I’ve been putting off, usually difficult writing-related stuff–this year, not only the usual submissions but planning events and media to launch Poetry’s Possible Worlds, although I’ve set up a few things. I’m jazzed about the first one, a virtual conversation with Virginia Poet Laureate Luisa A. Igloria. Called “Exploring Poetry’s Possible Worlds,” it will be hosted via Zoom by The Muse Writers Center in Norfolk and nicely positioned near the close of National Poetry Month on Friday, April 29, from 6-7 pm EDT. Many poems have created transformative spaces for me, and I hope Luisa and I can create one for you. If you’d like to join in, register here.

The official launch date is May 17, so my book is from the future, as Berssenbrugge writes, but advance copies came this week and they’re gorgeous. […]

It’s not all publicity labor and task force reports over here, though. I’m really reading again: some of it’s for fall teaching, granted, but wonderful all the same. I picked up A Treatise on Stars just for the weird, lovely fun of it. I’d never read a full book by Berssenbrugge before and it was way stranger than I expected, all about receiving signals from the sky and dolphins and other people. What a pleasure to sip poetry on the porch, catching her wavelength. Just shifting the enormous pile of books around to see what had accumulated was gratifying, as is thinking about summer trips and even cleaning out my sock drawer.

Lesley Wheeler, Ashes to bluebells

It’s National Poetry Month and I’m feeling overwhelmed by poetry. Wait, that’s not an accurate statement. It’s National Poetry Month and I have a lot of things on my to-do list, some of them poetry related, and I’m feeling overwhelmed. That’s a true statement.

This month my independent poetry press, Riot in Your Throat, is open for full length manuscript submissions so I’m reading subs and hoping to find 2-3 to publish. (If you have a full length manuscript looking for a home, please submit!)

I’m also pulling together my new collection, which will be published spring 2023 by Write Bloody. For me this means printing the poems and then laying them on the floor, seeing what sort of cohesion starts to emerge. It’s also a little overwhelming because at first, it feels like there’s nothing to pull the poems together. And then slowly, as I start to move poems around, to pull poems out and insert different ones, it starts to come together. It helps that my dogs, Piper and Cricket, are there to supervise. Until they decide it’s time to play and nearly make a mess of everything.

Courtney LeBlanc, Overwhelmed by Poetry

I’m down for a saffron sink
a boom smart
a purperglance spree
one, four, one, one
I’m splendid
fifty-three alpha minus
the way I found the spirit’s spanner was
I had a shopping cart chest
a Napoleonic shriner
a headcold of trees

Gary Barwin, EXECUTOR SHRIKES. A little poetic funk

I’m thrilled to be one of the featured NaPoWriMo participants today, along with the inimitable Arti Jain of My Ordinary Moments! It was NaPoWriMo 2017 that brought me back to poetry after a long hiatus and to be recognized like this means the world to me. Many thanks to Maureen Thorson for gathering us again around the fire, so we can release into the wild all the words we’ve cooped up inside us for a very long year.

Today’s prompt challenges us “to write a poem that, like the example poem here, joyfully states that “Everything is Going to Be Amazing.” Sometimes, good fortune can seem impossibly distant, but even if you can’t drum up the enthusiasm to write yourself a riotous pep-talk, perhaps you can muse on the possibility of good things coming down the track. As they say, “the sun will come up tomorrow,” and if nothing else, this world offers us the persistent possibility of surprise.” (Full NaPoWriMo post available here.)

As for my response, it’s an example of what reading nursery rhymes and A. A. Milne obsessively to your children might do to you. The last line came out unintentionally racy, but I’m not apologizing for it. It’s the lucky number 13 that did it! Also, I’m so happy to have found E. A. Shepard’s original illustrations to Winnie-the-Pooh. Today is a truly lucky day. (Did the world exist before the internet? Did we?) And last but not least, if you haven’t yet watched the film Goodbye Christopher Robin, please do. It’s wonderful.

Romana Iorga, NaPoWriMo Day 13, 2022

It’s ink on paper,
it’s not art,
these poems,
the old monk said.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (172)

Zoë Fay-Stindt: […] I’m trying to think about your first question, about what my favorite earth body is… So I grew up in North Carolina and France, back and forth–

Sarah Nwafor: Oh, right! We talked about this because I want to practice French with you. Yes. 

Zoë Fay-Stindt: Yeah! Right, yes. So, I feel constantly inhabited by multiple landscapes at once, and the rivers are what draw me in–what raised me. And I’m realizing, especially being in Iowa where there is very little undead water or water that is alive and thriving, I’m realizing now how much I relied on water because of how dynamic and fluid it is. I relied on that so much for my healing and for my mental well-being. So I’m struggling without it. What about you?

Sarah Nwafor: That’s beautiful. Rivers are important. That’s one of my goals this year is to really be in right relationship with water–water is an intense element but she’s important. Oh, my favorite earth bodies–let me think. Oh, I really love forests so much. Everything you need is in a forest, you know? They have little streams and creeks. And salamanders. They have soft moss, which is one of my favorite things to touch. And of course trees—trees are ancestors. And there’s also something so spooky too about being in a forest. Even now as an adult I feel like I have to watch myself when I’m in a forest. There’s a level of respect that I need to hold myself with when I’m in a forest. I just feel like trees give me like grandfather energy.

Trish Hopkinson, Poet Sarah Nnenna Loveth Nwafor interviewed by Zoë Fay-Stindt

The Easter moon recedes behind
an impasto of cloud. The first Sunday
after the first full moon
after the vernal equinox. Christ.

The booing of the geese, the jeering of the crows.
What else? What did you expect? 
The echoes fade, the light goes. The palette knife
lays down diamonds of silver, squares of slate,

banked snow mounds of white, and the moon
(remember the crescent? That was Ramadan)
is extinguished. You said
there was another life, on the far side:

you said to think of it. What life?
What side? I think of the side
running, running till it runs clear. Maybe
that’s not what you meant. 

Dale Favier, Easter Moon

After all the words of two Passover Seders, what remains? — meaning unsayable.  After flowing wine, a vertiginous sea, questions of morality and freedom, of being a stranger and redemption, after provocations, interruptions, questions posed with incomplete answers —ah!  The inchoate feeling.  A floating satisfaction.  After all the words, no words. We straddled time — we are slaves, we are part of the redemption — and we sat at a table eating fresh fish cooked in spices with fiery sweet potatoes.  The cat stretches her back.  It was a verbal catharsis that, in Avivah Zornberg’s witty terms, rephrases Wittgenstein: “Whereof one cannot speak, one must say everything.”  We talk and keep talking and will talk as long as we can. “It,” absence or mystery and longing for full presence, will elude our desires to fix or define, and we will long after it.

We walk outside, feel the spray of rain on our faces, soft wisps of air that are not-bombs, soft clouds-not-plagues, nighttime smell of magnolia mixed with darkness and awakening mud.  The happening happened and meaning was made. The happening is happening and meaning is being made. We don’t even have to say Dayenu!

Jill Pearlman, Cascading Seder

Stay curious – it will continue to pay off. Learn a new language, or a new instrument, read new literary journals and poets you’ve never heard of. Read fiction and non-fiction on subjects you don’t really know anything about.  Education? Travel? Close examination of the natural world? Yes! The point is, never stop being curious about your world – that is what will drive your writing long term.

Be kind when you can be. Volunteer with younger writers; review someone’s book; do someone a favor who can’t do you a favor back. There can be a lot of competition and not enough kindness in the art world, the poetry world, the work world in general. Believe me, your small and large acts of kindness will reverberate more than you know. A note to someone to say what their work meant to you – or how much you loved their class in eighth grade – or thank them for support during a hard time – that sort of thing matters.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Advice for the New(ish) Writer (Plus Pictures of Birds and Flowers, Because Spring)

This is not
a ritual of feeding
so much as enactment
of a ticking
urge inside you,
the one that insists
on finishing the smallest
task, on bringing every
beginning to its close
and leaving nothing
behind—

If only
each one were
the equivalent of a wish
fulfilled: the bomb
undetonated, the rifle
permanently jammed;
every brick and gleaming
window back in place
at the hospital, the school,
the playground, the theatre,
the train station. Everyone
alive in the country
they love—

Luisa A. Igloria, Cracking Pumpkin Seeds Between Your Teeth at Midnight

The day is a bowl, the bowl is a day, a poem is a bowl. The bowl fills, the bowl empties. Hungry, sated, the bowl goes back and forth. The bowl is endless; the bowl is eternal.

I read poetry to fill up, to empty. I read it with affection, with dismay. I read calmly, for calm, and sometimes for sorrow. I read to feel and to let someone else do the feeling for me. I read for mystery, to not know, to sit and howl in the not knowing, to steep in it, and I read for clarity and understanding and for the shock and howl of that too. […]

I forget what I love, and go to find it in a poem. I am at a loss. I am sanguine. I am losing my confidence. I feel gaslighted. I am dismayed by the world. I need joy. I am unsettled. I go to poetry. I miss beauty. I miss you. I feel alone. I hate. I feel poisoned. Poetry. Poetry. Poetry.

I don’t know what to do with my life. I don’t want change; I do want change. I want light and I want integrity. I want sense and intelligent thought and delight. I want hope. I want commiseration and I want good trouble and I want to be roused. I want the exquisite. I want fun. I don’t want to be told. I don’t want unrest. I want play. I am exhausted. I am foggy. But I am bold. Poetry, I tell you, poetry.

Shawna Lemay, A Day is a Bowl, or, How and Why I’m Reading Poetry Now

If kissing were a mathematical formula, the equation of a circle would equal the shape of puckered lips—

an elliptical sweetness whose radius is centered at the origin of bliss.

Any and all equivalent chord theorems would refer to your joy’s intuited music—

songs soothing savage global anxieties into a geo-born geometry whose main function is to create an earth that is beautiful and round.

An earth that graciously bears humanity’s weight, along with providing an error-free formula stating that true love can exist,

just like the presence of a perfect-circle kiss.

Rich Ferguson, The Formula of a Kiss

I was in my mid-twenties when I decided I was going to write poetry “seriously,” and I started by signing up for a class in Contemporary Poetry.  The book assigned was Poems of Our Moment, edited by John Hollander.  I didn’t recognize any of the names in the Table of Contents, and couldn’t seem to take hold of the first few I tried to read, so I decided to start with the poems by women.  That’s when I discovered that out of thirty-seven poets in the book, just three were women: May Swenson, Adrienne Rich, and Sylvia Plath–names that meant nothing to me.  I could at least follow the Swenson poems, and admired the ones by Rich–little steps forward.   And then I read “The Bee Meeting.”  It was one of those moments that divide our lives into before and after.  It took me over completely, mind and body, as if I’d been abducted not by aliens but by someone who knew deep things about me that I didn’t yet know myself.  I felt as if I had  to write to her, to connect.  And then I turned to the Contributors’ Notes and discovered she was already dead.  Elation, then devastation.  But at least the poems were still there.

Sharon Bryan, Poems that Grab You and Never Let Go

But first came Plath. After Ursula Le Guin, the only female author we studied. Her name was a rumour, freighted with glamour and gossip. Could it be true? What did the poems have to say? Ariel, the classic Faber black and white cover. Lunchtimes listening to recordings (From the radio? There were no audiobooks then.) of someone reading the Letters, all of those notes about rationing, the cold and English reserve. Suddenly, this was literature as life, of having absolutely no choice in the matter. The beekeeping poems. Lady Lazarus. That lampshade. Coming face to face with voice as (what?) persona, mythology, as performance. As absolutely having no choice in the matter. I crawled into the library one night and took out a book of essays, which stopped with an analysis of her. The word pathological. (I had to look it up.) Knowing then that I would spend a good deal of my life crawling into libraries, thinking about poems, and looking up words I did not know. (‘Cut’ was one of the poems we had not covered.) Then, the weather hotting up and exams approaching like the future, those final poems at the end of the book (her life), ‘Edge’ among them. What was it Borton said? ‘A perfect poem.’ That impossible last line, ‘Her blacks crackle and drag.’ The music of that. The inevitability. ‘A sense of something utterly completed vied with a sense of something startled into scope and freedom. The reader was permitted the sensation of a whole meaning simultaneously clicking shut and breaking open, a momentary illusion that the fulfilments which were experienced in the ear spelled out meanings and fulfilments available in the world.’ (Heaney on Lowell, The Government of the Tongue.) The book’s final line, about words governing a life. I knew (we all knew) nothing. But kind of prophetic. This is what it takes. This is what you have to measure up against. It got me going, like a fat gold watch.

Anthony Wilson, Lifesaving Lines: Edge, by Sylvia Plath

THE GIRL WHO GOES ALONE, Elizabeth Austen. Floating Bridge Press, 909 NE 43rd St, #205, Seattle, WA 98105, 2010, 40 pages, $12 paper, www.floatingbridgepress.org.

I was excavating shelves, looking for a more recent Floating Bridge chapbook—which I know I purchased last year—and I turned up this one. Yes, I read it a long time back, with pleasure, but it hasn’t ever made it onto the blog. So, here we are, another book about a poet, walking.

The Girl Who Goes Alone won the Floating Bridge chapbook award and was Elizabeth Austen’s poetry debut. Since 2010 she has gone on to write several books, including the full-length Every Dress a Decision (2011). She served as Poet Laureate of Washington State from 2014-2016. She is an acclaimed teacher and speaker. Her poems capture the “trance-like tidal pull / of sweat and flesh” (“For Lost Sainthood”), while at the same time eluding any grasp. Dave Meckleburg described The Girl Who Goes Alone as “an excellent feminist manifesto,” that “becomes a guidebook through the wilderness of being human that anyone can use.” Exactly.

Bethany Reid, Elizabeth Austen, The Girl Who Goes Alone

The weather warmed and got windy, and that bodes reasonably well for garden prepping even if the last frost date is still almost a month away. I got digging, sowed more spinach and carrots, cheered on the lettuce sprouts, and–with some help from Best Beloved–pried most of the winter weeds out of the veg patch and set up a raised bed or two.

While I was out there pulling creeping charlie and clover and reviewing my garden plan for this year, it occurred to me that my process in gardening parallels my process in writing. My approach to each has similarities, probably due to my temperament though perhaps due to the way I go about problem solving. The process is part habituation or practice and part experiment, with failure posing challenges I investigate with inquiry, curiosity–rather than ongoing frustration. And sometimes, I just give up and move on without a need to succeed for the sake of winning.

I have no need to develop a new variety of green bean nor to nurture the prize-winning cucumber or dahlia. My yard looks more lived-in than landscaped; on occasion, we’ve managed to really spruce the place up, but it never stays that way for long. I admire gorgeous, showy gardens but am just as happy to have to crawl under a tree to find spring beauties, mayapples, efts, rabbit nests, mushrooms. My perennials and my veg patch grow from years of experimentation: half-price columbines that looked as though they might never recover, clumps of irises from friends’ gardens, heirloom varieties I start from seed. The failures are many, but I learn from them. Mostly I learn what won’t grow here without special tending I haven’t energy to expend, or I learn which things deer, rabbits, groundhogs, and squirrels eat and decide how or whether to balance my yearning for food or flora with the creatures that live here and the weather I can’t control. There are a few things I’ve learned to grow reliably and with confidence–ah, the standbys! But the others are so interesting, I keep trying.

Ann E. Michael, Process parallels

For some people, the story of resurrection begins with a cross. For me, it begins with song.

Yesterday morning, walking the dog beneath a grey sky, collar turned up against a chill breeze, I heard the first calls of the varied thrush. That single flutelike tone that burrs close to buzz at the end. A watery sound that means the season has turned.

And though it is not yet the pleasantly green, budding part of spring (indeed right now graupel is setting all the winter dried leaves to tremble), the world is filled with light.  I walked on the beach without gloves.

This time of year requires persistence. Belief that bluebells are pushing up beneath the layers of rumpled alder leaves. Belief that the soil is warming, that soon I will be able to seed radishes. Belief that the fiddleheads will push up like brown knuckles and then unfurl into fronds.

Belief that I, too, am shaking off winter’s dreaming and now turn to doing. Turn to pencil on page. Turn to writers in residence at Storyknife and writers preparing for the Kachemak Bay Writers’ Conference. Like ice that breaks apart all at once on a creek that swells with melt rush.

Erin Coughlin Hollowell, Resurrection

I drove their car back, it was a joy to drive, much nicer than ours. It took about an hour, with my dad in the front seat. They were both getting smaller right before my eyes. He did really well, all in all, and is very stoic, but I can see already that he is changed, he is frailer. They both are. As I drove I pointed out the landscape features and we talked about churches they’d visited nearby, the myths and village folklore that surrounded them, the way the road swept away into the fields, the beauty of it. Mum sat in the back and read her book. There was a sense of role reversal, I thought back to the same conversations we’d had as children, the driving to see relatives in Thirsk, the pointing out of the landscape features, the stories that were attached to those places. I had a sense that we were driving forward to an unknown point, and all there was to do was to move, to progress, to mark off each small accomplishment, to celebrate the wins and manage the losses.

I am sat in my office, just returned from a walk in the lane. It is warm; the first proper warm day of this year. It was good to feel the warmth on my skin. No coat or even cardigan: I wore my cut off jeans and a loose flowered blouse, no make up, hair pinched up in a clip. There is something about this unpeeling of winter clothes that is very freeing. The swallows are back; a pair in the lane, exactly where I first saw them last year. They skim the fields and flit and turn like bats on the wing, they sit on the telephone lines, forked tails hanging, chattering and they bring joy with them. Tiny things, moving across the globe, directed only by the purpose of existence. I stopped to watch the buzzards, paired up again. I was hoping to see the courtship display I’d witnessed last year – that death defying tumble of claws and wings and sudden rise to circle the air drafts opposite each other. Not today.

We have starlings nesting in the porch, the house is alive with their chittering and whistles. The office window is open to the blossom and the grass scents, the rumble of sheep in the fields, the lambs calling back. This is blissful. Life can only ever be lived in the moment you are in. The future, the past, they don’t really exist. There is only this moment.

Wendy Pratt, Travelling Without Moving

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 12

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week, a true miscellany, with few unifying themes. I was excited to see a couple of my favorite bloggers re-emerge from hiatus, and the regulars didn’t disappoint, either. Enjoy. And best of luck to everyone planning on writing a poem a day throughout April—just four days away!


Today the island exploded with yellow the daffodils have been here but the forsythia arrived overnight. There is too much now to say and so I dip my crushed left great toe in to test. There is too much to say that has gone unsaid and so here I am dipping my toe in the ocean here I am saying hello! Hello! Are you there?

*

Panic diary 1

Mushrooms hold their spongy heads as I pass
there goes weeper in her boots and mask
my heart explodes (again) milk shivers in my arms
spring lamb spills her body a blood container
shivering in the grass it is so wet and beautiful
when a woman and a man slow dance to no music
tomorrow is Bach’s birthday one breathes revolution
the slow version dancing alone in my kitchen in bare feet

Rebecca Loudon, Equinox

I spent the winter hibernating.

Not literally, of course, and not completely; I kept getting up and going to work and talking to friends and such. But still, it was a season of purposeful, chosen dormancy. Covid’s omicron strain made it easier than it might otherwise have been because it provided an acceptable (in my circles) reason to go quiet.

Katherine May identifies several different kinds of wintering and ways of entering in to such a season of life; mine has been a wintering of transition, of having “temporarily fallen between two worlds.” I am both retired and not-retired. I am in a process of leaving behind the self I have been for most of my adult life (mother, educator, creative dabbler) and welcoming another whose labels are mostly unknown.

My life has not felt this open in more than 40 years. It would be nice to have the body I had the last time I was in such circumstances, but I’m facing a malleable future with considerably more knowledge and less fear than I had then. I feel more existential threat than I have at any other time, but for now I’ve got a sturdy shelter, economic stability, reasonably good health, and love. I have choices. I am fortunate.

So, what did I do while away?

I read poetry and historical fiction and memoir and self-help. I organized cupboards and put reading chairs in the kitchen and bought a new dining table that sits in front of our big living room window. I wrote poems and memoir exercises and lesson plans and an essay. I took naps on the couch and on the bed, in the middle of sunny days, and against a backdrop of late afternoon rain. I made chicken soup from the whole bird and pizza dough from yeast and flour and beer, and breakfast cookies sweetened with chunks of dark chocolate. I bought a houseplant, and pillar candles for the pedestal holders my grandfather carved at the beginning of his retirement more than 40 years ago. We’ve placed them on the new table. I bought and returned three sweatshirts because none of them was right. I worked a really hard puzzle. I watched TV. I went to the doctor and dentist and physical therapist. I sat outside one day in February’s false spring sun and closed my eyes.

And I began ice skating. (again)

I decided to take a break from blogging and enter into a period of purposeful dormancy because I sensed that I needed some quiet and some space so that things could emerge. What things? I didn’t know, and “things” was as precise a word I wanted when I began. I thought the time underground would bring clarity around writing, perhaps give me some direction in what I want to do or work on. I began working through Julia Cameron’s program for creative recovery and was open to where it might take me. I never expected it to take me to an ice rink.

Rita Ott Ramstad, On wintering

So here I am running the lanes looking for
all the things I would have shared with you:

the planting of young laurels along the hedgerow
on St Vincent’s Lane, the way the moss

has grown sparsely on one side of the stone bridge
but thickly on the other, and how someone

has laid a plank across the stream to cross
from bank to bank. I think I understand now

that grief remains with us. And I never had to say,
Don’t go, please stay, because you never left me.

Mam, the wood anemones are like stars
carpeting the woods. Soon, the bluebells.

Lynne Rees, Poem ~ Never

Here I am at my desk in my bedroom, working on my Zoom class with my Modernity students.

Tomorrow all the Daughters of Charity are in retreat, praying and preparing for March 25, the feast of the Annunciation, when we make our vows again.

With the recent health problems which will not go away, but which are in tenuous check right now, I worry that though I will make it to March 25, I might not make it until the end of the month and our college reunion, or to Easter on April 17, or to see the full flowering of my garden this summer.

But all I can do is try to hold the illness in abeyance by resting and avoiding any food or drink that might inflame my radiated bladder.   So it goes.

Anne Higgins, What is all this juice and all this joy?

on a quiet street
in Luang Prabang
the unexploded ordnance centre —
a grandmother covers
a little girl’s eyes […]

folding a world map
war zone collapsing into war zone
someone will die
from something that will fall
from someone else’s sky

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Margin Notes

I’m sitting under fluorescent lights, half-awake and digesting a lemon-poppy muffin. Are poppy seeds the opiate of breakfast? I’m scanning the wires on a slow Monday for anything that rises to the level of news. There ain’t much. There may be a million stories in the naked city, but up here in the fully-clothed suburbs excitement is thin on the ground. I listen to the first bars of a jangly song from 1990. It sounds like many of the the jangly songs from 1990, with a singer more or less hitting the intended pitches and the guitarist carrying the weight. I can see through the studio’s Venetian blinds that the sun is up. We’re so far from Venice, in every meaningful way. A friend said the war in Ukraine is the international conflict version of a white woman being kidnapped. I google “Yemen” and try to catch up.

Jason Crane, Hum

pale chair
in the arms of dawn
flowers wait

Jim Young [no title]

When my daughter lived in Asheville NC about 12 years ago, I noticed the rain, as well as flourishing vines, and lichen, on so many of the trees. She said that the Blue Mountains in that area are a temperate rain forest, but the humidity bothered her less than here in eastern PA because of the higher altitude: Asheville’s at about 3000 feet elevation. In the last 8 years or so, I’ve noticed the same tree-clinging lichen in my region–a new development. I have lived here over 30 years and had never seen it before. Another thing I notice is how much more vigorous the vining plants, many of them non-native, have become and how rapidly they shoot up into the overstory, choking off the tops of tulip poplars and oaks and pulling down the trunks of dead ash trees. The growing season has lengthened a bit, which is worrying from an environmental perspective even if it means I may eventually be able to grow camellias and figs.

And I can’t deny finding some of the milder weather pleasant, especially the sounds of tree frogs filling the nights earlier in the year. They soothe me at the end of day. Yet these crucial amphibians are very much at risk as the world warms. I may have little choice about whether we can return to cooler, damper summers, but I can make choices about how I live in the world and about what matters. It bears keeping in mind as I work the soil for another season in my garden.

Ann E. Michael, Weather weirding

Rectangular hole.
Pile of earth
draped in astroturf:

like a challah
shyly enfolded
while we bless

candles and wine,
like a Torah
covered for modesty.

This pine box
is a cradle
for an empty shell.

Rachel Barenblat, Graveside

I wasn’t sure if I was ready to delve into fiction again because poetry has been the most healing writing for me with grief. Poetry allows me to examine events and my feelings about them in a structured, beautiful, in-depth way. It’s something that I really needed, especially in the first few months of this year (I typically write 2 poems a month—I wrote more like 5 a month in January/February).

But there’s also an expansive absorption in writing fiction.

I dreaded entering back into the novel because I thought I’d find such a hopeless mess there that I’d never untangle it. Instead it’s been more like street-sweeping, tidying up, trimming hedges (moving whole blocks to whole other blocks, but not as much as I’d expected). My biggest challenge has actually been getting TOO into it—there’s something about editing and writing fiction that sucks me in completely, where it is all I want to do! As much as I love poetry, I can give it 15 dedicated minutes and be done—fiction could eat up my whole day if I have a whole day available.

Renee Emerson, Fiction Brain vs. Poetry Brain

Last night I dreamed that Frank Loyd Wright posted right turn only signs all over town, so everyone was going in circles.

It was one of those situations where a little bit of leftist thinking would’ve gotten the traffic flowing more smoothly.

Upon waking, I made sure grace had all the wax cleared from its ears before asking for any small mercies.

After all, it only takes a slight loss of sibilance to make ‘exist’ sound like ‘exit.’

Now I’m gonna inquire about borrowing a shovel to dig down deep into the earth,

discover that wishbone singing brighter than any tuning fork—

just the thing to melody any lingering miseries down off the ledge of another Monday morning.

Rich Ferguson, A Little Bit of Leftist Thinking in a Right Turn Only Town

I’d been undertaking self-care this past week, though I don’t love that term. I was following the black dog into the shadows because if you can’t beat ‘em join ‘em. I was reading the Dhammapada, Pema Chodron, the usuals. I’d been reading Rilke. I had driven a friend home one evening and we were talking in the car in the dark about a similar loss that we’d each suffered. Hers more recent and mine quite far in the past. I wanted to offer something comforting and I wanted to say that time healed. And time does something, but it struck me that this past week was the 30th anniversary of my loss, and it was hitting me hard! and that time is trickier and wilier than all that. Because of the way that losses and griefs and disappointments will accumulate and compound and because of the way that our understanding of any of those large moments in life is an intricate and changing architecture. The loss, the finding out, for me, was suddenly raw again when for years it hadn’t been at all, and it felt like yesterday, however cliché that sounds, that I answered the early morning phone call, and then dressed and went to my university class in 18th century literature with the kind professor looking at me sidelong from time to time as he lectured, knowing, I felt, that something wasn’t quite right. In short, this experience made me realize and not for the first time that I know absolutely nothing. Who am I to offer consolation for grief when I scarcely know what to do with my own? And isn’t it interesting how all of those contradictions and minor and major griefs of the pandemic have acted upon the usual grief cycles. (And when I say interesting I mean damn it’s a bitch). My current theory has something to do with the darkness healing more than time does, but I suppose they’re working in tandem.

As an aside, because of the kindness of this particular professor, I took a LOT of classes in 18th century literature. Like, a weird number of them. I just trusted that prof.

Shawna Lemay, A Certain Devastation

We are as fish caught in a cloudy
aquarium waiting for algae scrapers,
water siphons, lime and bleach cleaners—

Our Lady of the virtual lament, electronic
embrace, mediated job interview, meeting,
or funeral— In some part of the world

pink blossoms have opened to spring
and in another, a pink wave of protesters
fills actual streets. Our Lady of ICUs

and statistics. Our Lady of terrible risks.
Our Lady of wars and climate injustice
in the throb of an ongoing epidemic.

Luisa A. Igloria, Novena for the Pandemic

We want so badly for our experiences to be explained as simple cause-and-effect events. Because anything else would be irrational. Untrue. Unnecessary pain. Anything else would be the work of a shadow-weaving woman making a weighted blanket from the loose atmospheres of dreams and memories.

But I keep her close, like a lover I know will hurt me. It’s my fault. Holding onto the destructive stories like talismans. The devil you know.

I have a metal ruler in one of the drawers in the studio. It is jagged on both long edges. I am not sure why, and I am not sure how I came to have this ruler in a drawer. in the studio. I catch my fingers on it every time I open the drawer. And yet I haven’t moved it. I haven’t gotten rid of it. (What would I do with it? Where would I send it?) I mean, I bought it after all. I put it there. It must be there for a reason.

Maybe I am misinterpreting the phrase “trust yourself”? Maybe I am misplacing my trust. Maybe everyone (I’m sure of it) feels this way when the season changes and death is everywhere, making room – clearing room – for the sprawl of strange offspring. Another round of the unknown. Mystery eggs.

I’ve learned that more than moths and butterflies emerge from cocoons. It seems nothing that I learn makes for good small talk. And I am beginning to understand that that doesn’t matter at all.

Ren Powell, Contextualizing Anxiety

One meaning of the term storification is the imposing of a story structure onto raw historical facts – being selective and even changing the order of events. One story would be that the older self meets the young self. Perhaps the young self wouldn’t recognise the older one who’d tell him not to worry, it’ll all be wonderful in the end, like a dream. Or perhaps the older one merely recalls the freedom of his earlier life, the not knowing what will happen next. Maybe he’ll re-introduce some of those features into his life now that retirement’s looming. Perhaps when he returns to the group he’s known for a week or so he’ll surprise them, break out of the role he’s too easily slipped into.

Tim Love, Rabat revisited

the muse calls me from my bed
to sit in the dark and write out my dream
in wide spaced words on blank white paper

it’s 4:30 am no car goes past outside
then wobbling in the tail end of the storm
a man weaves along the road

no lights on his bike I note
and from the way he steers
no exact idea of where to go

he executes a sudden turn right
and when I look up again
I take in the emptiness of the night

Paul Tobin, THE EMPTINESS OF THE NIGHT

When we were five years old, my friend Kim and I created a secret realm. It was ruled by a fearsome Queen named Calavina. To escape her evil magic we’d ride a rocking horse wildly, then fling ourselves into hiding places where we whispered desperate warnings to each other. Even when we weren’t playing, we honored that noble toy horse with a royal cape (a small blanket) draped over its back. We kept Calavina’s queendom alive for several years. Then one day we tried to enter her world of adventure and peril but found we were only acting. The enchantment had lifted.

Although the imaginary realms of my childhood weren’t very complex, some children create elaborate domains featuring backstories, unique customs, and made-up words where they propel characters through all sorts of dramatic events.

That’s true of 9 year old Cameron. Under his bed is another dimension.

The world he created rests on a sheet of cardboard cut from a refrigerator box. Some days Cameron spends hours playing with it. The ocean is aluminum foil raised in permanently cresting waves, inhabited by an exotic array of marine creatures made from clay. Forests filled with bright trees and plants are constructed from painted cotton balls, balsa, toothpicks, and wrapping paper.

Dotted between the Seuss-like trees are tiny shelters, each a different shape. This world is populated by creatures made out of beads, pipe cleaners, and fabric. They’re named Implas and their dramas keep Cameron busy. His mother says she has to remind herself that Cameron is the one changing it all the time, that his creation isn’t really growing.

Laura Grace Weldon, Worldplay Creates The Future

I finished that book while the plane was still on the tarmac in Atlanta.  What would I do during the 90 minute flight to Ft. Lauderdale?

Stare at the moon, that’s what.  Was it significantly different staring at the moon from a height of 30,000 feet?  Not really.  It didn’t make the difference that a telescope would make, for example.  But I saw the sky turn reddish purple and then golden and then the huge mostly full disc of the moon emerged, not quite full, but not a half moon either.  I could see the land below, the glittering lights, the dark splotches.  I could see some long lines of clouds that looked more like surf, but I was sure they were not.

An added bonus:  for much of the flight, the cabin lights were dimmed, so the view was even more compelling.  Not having a book to read didn’t bother me at all.

I realize that most of my fellow fliers weren’t as lucky as I was–in addition to having a window seat with a view, I was in that 1 exit row seat that didn’t have a seat in front of it, so I could stretch my legs.  At one point, I looked over to see if my rowmate wanted to look out the window.  At the beginning of the flight, he had been pecking on his phone so intently that the flight attendant said, “Sir?  Did you hear a word I said about your duties and this exit row seat?”  After the lights went out, he fell asleep.  I hogged the window, guilt-free!

I wanted to tell everyone to look out the window, to tell them what an amazing celestial show they were missing by sleeping or staring into their phones/tablets.  I’m willing to be arrested for many activities, but reminding my fellow travelers to look out the window is not one of them, so I stayed quiet.

Last night, I was the quiet mystic, staring out the window at the moon, not the prophet, shouting at people to renounce their false gods and realize how we can find God in nature.  Last night, I was the woman wishing I had a camera that could capture that beauty and realizing that sometimes (often), it’s best to just let beauty wash over us as we fly by night.  

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Flying by Night

Not at Philly’s AWP this week, still avoiding crowds due to the covid-19 thing and the immune-suppressed thing. But I did try to spend the week paying attention to things that fed the spirit and inspired. When spring finally appears in our area, we get these rare sunny days when everything is in bloom and people smile and say hello to each other.

So I went for a walk through a bunch of plum trees in bloom, which smell amazing, and the petals fell down in the breeze. There are also cherry blossoms, and the daffodils have started to open, and so I spent time in the garden, trimming back maples overgrowth, giving the new apple and cherry trees more space and more mulch, and weeding and planting a new pink container “cutting” garden with things I haven’t grown before – snapdragons, carnations, cupcake cosmos, celosia, godetia. Tulip and star magnolia trees are starting to open as well. The air smells like spring, even in the rain.

The news remains grim. My social media feed is full of book signings and panels, friends who are traveling to beautiful places, or people raising money for Ukraine refugees showing pictures of destruction and bombings – it’s enough to give someone emotional whiplash. It’s hard to stay oriented, much less focus on writing or submitting poetry. The spring flowers and deer visitors (we also had a bobcat walk through again) are good reminders that there is still beauty and wildness around us. I miss seeing friends at AWP – my social life has been mostly phone calls for two years – but at least Seattle gave us some warmer, sunnier days so that we could stop and appreciate the beauty of where we are now.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Not at AWP Post: A Seattle Writer Walks through Plum Blossoms, Japanese Gardens, and an Art Gallery

On this World Poetry Day, 2022 I wanted to mention that the wonderful Modern Poetry in Translation magazine has made its 2017 issue featuring contemporary poetry and essays from Russian and Ukrainian poets available free to read online – here’s the link to the issue on MPT’s website.

Published in 2017, here’s the opening paragraph from Sasha Dugdale’s editorial:

“This, my last, issue of MPT features poems of conflict and protest from Russia and Ukraine. The conflict in the Donbas region of Ukraine is politically intricate, and at the same time it is diabolically simple. In 2014 Russia covertly invaded an area of Ukraine with an ethnically and linguistically Russian population after illegally annexing Crimea. A fierce war broke out, with daily casualties and atrocities, and even now it smoulders on in the area. Propaganda and false truths draw a veil over the war and its many casualties and victims, and serve at the same time to heap grievance upon grievance; to ensure that peace will remain provisional and uneasy.”

And here’s one extract from ‘Home Is Still Possible There…’ by Kateryna Kalytko, translated by Olena Jennings and Oksana Lutsyshyna:

“Home is still possible there, where they hang laundry out to dry,
and the bed sheets smell of wind and plum blossoms.
It is the season of the first intimacy
to be consummated, never to be repeated.
Every leaf emerges as a green blade
and the cries of life take over the night and find a rhythm.”

Do dip in to the issue, I was so glad to be able to return to it and read it in light of what is happening now, to help me better understand something of the history and politics of Russia and Ukraine.

Josephine Corcoran, Ukrainian and Russian Poetry at MPT magazine

Moving on to the poems themselves, one of Helena Nelson’s greatest attributes is her knack for observation. Not just watching people and then portraying them, but the capacity to pick up on the nuances and undercurrents that play crucial roles in social and human relations. One such example is the closing couplet to ‘Back’:

…She is back. He is glad. And the bed is glad
and a pot of coffee is almost ready.

The ‘he’ and ‘she’ of this extract are the Philpotts, of course, the protagonists of this book. Their relationship, a second marriage in middle age, is evoked via snapshots such as these lines in which emotion is conveyed indirectly through the active role of objects such as the bed and the pot.

In technical terms, meanwhile, this couplet is fascinating. For instance, the penultimate line features three anapests before a iamb kicks in, drawing the elements together and offering a musical reassurance that’s mirrored by semantic warmth.

And what about the punctuation? At first glance, it might seem artificial or unusual. Two three-word sentences without conjunctions are then followed by a longer, unexpected sentence that goes against convention, not just by starting with a conjunction but also by refusing to place a comma midway through (at the end of that penultimate line). However, this punctuation is actually riffing on our expectations, surprising us and then turning inevitable, guiding us through the couplet’s delicate cadences.

As the clichéd rhetorical question goes, which came first, the chicken and the egg? In this case, however, we’re referring to the poet and the editor. Is Helena Nelson such a scrupulous editor because of her highly tuned understanding of the importance of the tension between sentence and line or has her poetic skill-set been further developed by her work as an editor?

Deep down, of course, the important thing remains that her awareness of syntactic and semantic cause and effect, already keenly felt in her first full collection, Starlight on Water (The Rialto, 2003), has only increased over the years. In fact, one of the aesthetic pleasures in reading this book is derived through observing an expert at work, admiring her control of sentence and line, learning from it.

Matthew Stewart, Nuances and undercurrents, Helena Nelson’s Pearls

Hayden Saunier:  I’m fascinated by how poetry manuscripts develop. In Self-Portrait with a Million Dollars was there a central idea or proposition or moment that these poems gathered themselves around? A series of explorations that you return to again and again?

Patricia Clark: These poems that became a manuscript that came to be named Self-Portrait with a Million Dollars are not poems of a project, or an agenda. I can’t work that way—with an aim at a project defined ahead of time. I want to write out of my obsessions and, over time, see what results. What are the threads that unite these poems? Feasts, pleasures, and the falling away, the inevitable loss of such pleasures. The longing for connection with others, with ourselves, and with the world. The elegiac thread of loss, lost moments and chances, and also lost loves and selves, missed connections. The awfulness of flux. We want stability—but stasis is a horror—and we get only fragments, of course. Robert Frost’s description of a poem, each one as “a momentary stay against confusion.” Brief, yes, but such great moments and fragments! […]

Hayden:  “Feasting, Then” opens the first section with a call to attention to the small marvels and gifts surrounding us in the natural world. “And the Trees Did Nothing” is a poem that confronts our romantic notions about that natural world as the human one literally collides with it—there’s an icy jolt of “knowledge.” These are two examples, but all through the book, your attention and your language focus our eyes and ears on vivid, resonant details of both worlds. How did you develop this keenness of observation?

Patricia:
Thanks for the compliment on “keenness of observation.” I’ll say right off, it has taken me years. And I’m still not really satisfied. How does one describe what one sees: whether a sky or a tree? Impossible. The real sight still escapes one, I think. What I am up to, I believe, is trying to tell the truth about something I see in the physical world. When I get stuck in the poem, I return to that, over and over. What was there? What else was there? Was that everything? And don’t make it too beautiful? what was on the ground? Some trash? some dog poop? Let the “divine details” (Nabokov’s words) speak. And they will and the poet can step out of the way. And back to another poet, William Carlos Williams—”No ideas but in things.” I have no “idea” what a poem is up to—I want to let the details speak and tell the story, tell the moment. If I can do that well, I’ve done my job, I believe. And it’s not easy, even then. If I get the “small” picture right, the big picture of the poem (its meaning, its thoughts and movement) should take care of itself.

Diane Lockward, Terrapin Books Interview Series: Hayden Saunier Interviews Patricia Clark

What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?

Every job I’ve ever worked has necessitated a writer. Most writing does not look like writing. Keeping logs, taking minutes, composing emails, organizing meetings, talking to people, creating to do lists, saving meeting notes. I’ve been a writer working at Wendy’s, in a homeless shelter, as an executive assistant, shelving books in a library, or even scrapbooking with my mom. Writing is the work of gathering, of finding an order for things. Sometimes it makes it on paper. I think a lot of people are writers and they don’t really know it – especially working people. Writing is more often than not something a person volunteers to do. But it happens everywhere. Someone has to be willing. I guess the job of a writer is to keep doing that work, to keep recording for the benefit of the group, to keep giving people new visions of reality to think about, to keep reminding people of what happened. […]

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

Several years ago, when I was thinking about starting to write after a long hiatus, I asked a possibly unfair question to a friend, What do people need from me, as a writer, right now? She really surprised me by saying, People need the same things you need. They need to know how you healed.  And I think that’s an interesting place to start from.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Abby Hagler

The starting point for me when I think about my own relationship to craft is the first exercise June Jordan gave in the first poetry workshop I ever took. We were, she said, to reproduce in a poem of our own the precise scansion and rhyme scheme of a nursery rhyme. We didn’t have to use the same rhymes, just the same rhyme scheme, and we were only allowed to use off-rhymes if the nursery rhyme did as well. We were also not to allow ourselves even a single extra syllable in a line. I don’t remember which nursery rhyme I chose, but I can still see the green cover of the notebook in which I struggled for a good two or three hours to craft the lines that would meet those requirements and the deep satisfaction I felt when I succeeded.

Later, when I read Professor Jordan’s poem “Getting Down to Get Over”—she was never just “June” to me—I began to understand what it mean for a poem to be composed, in the musical sense of that term. What I noticed first was the way she used nursery rhyme-like rhythms in different parts of the second section:

she works when she works
in the laundry in jail
in the school house in jail
in the office in jail

Then at the end of that strophe:

drinkin’ wine when it’s time
when the long week is done
but she works when she works
in the laundry in jail
she works when she works

The rhythmic structure of that entire poem is worth studying, and I studied it carefully. I scanned some sections, tried to imitate others, and that process transformed the way I looked at the work of two other poets who are in some ways so radically different from each other and from Jordan that connecting them as I am going to do here would seem counterintuitive at best: e. e. cummings and John Donne. (And yet there are also ways that cummings wouldn’t have written as he did if Donne had not written, but that’s for another post perhaps.)

Richard Jeffrey Newman, The John Wisniewski Interview Continued: What Writers Have Influenced Your Work?

The library was closing in five minutes. I went to the new poetry acquisitions and quickly perused, grabbed a book whose cover had caught my eye when I first saw it advertised and then a book by a name I keep hearing here and there but whose work I had not read, and checked out under the stern eye of the library desk workers eager to chase the last of us out so they could go home on this day of unseasonably nice weather.

And I struck some gold nuggets with that grab-and-go. Both books have something to teach me about letting go of my careful and guarded poetry voice, about being reckless on the page, about being vivid and strange, about something true that’s told in blood, in guts, in the gasp of incompleteness.

Jake Skeet’s Eyes Bottle Dark with a Mouthful of Flowers is full of horseweed and barbed wire, bleak with bottle caps and smoke and the dead, the ruined, words sometimes scattered across the white field of page like shards of glass. […]

Tracy Fuad’s book of poetry about:blank is some deadly serious play. It’s funny and funny/not funny and funny-peculiar. I have no idea what’s going on. But I’m engaged.

Marilyn McCabe, You only got a broken wing; or, On Reading Skeet and Fuad

As I work on another time travel story, I find myself thinking deeply about what it would mean for the present to change the past. This is the kind of thing I ponder in my best thinking places — where running water or wind is involved. That’s why I dictate more and more poetry and prose on my phone. I think well in the shower, washing dishes, or walking my dog.

Today I found myself thinking about what the world and literature and women’s lives would be like if history had erased Jane Austen and her books. Suppose someone from the future could time travel to dissuade her from writing – or even to kill her? I write in the genre of women’s fiction, and I often wonder about our predecessors, the female authors who carved out a path for many of us to follow in writing our stories and poems. What if one of the towering figures in the history of women authors suddenly had never existed?

Rachel Dacus, Which authors would you erase from history?

Rejections hurt. But they are inevitable if you want to get your writing published and read beyond your immediate circle of friends and family. No matter how carefully you research your market, select the poems that you think are a best fit for a publisher/magazine, you will still get rejections. Mostly they are not a reflection of your work but simply that the editor couldn’t fit your work in their next publishing window: they’d already had 14 cat poems and yours was the 15th or they had 3 slots for collections, two of which went to poets they’d already published and yours was only just edged out by a brilliant debut or the editor’s best friend (if you’re into conspiracy theories).

It’s also demotivating and demoralising to learn that getting one poem/book/collection published does not make you immune to rejections. It’s a foot in the door and reassurance that your work is publishable, but one success doesn’t guarantee the next.

The best way of coping with them is to see writing and publishing as two separate activities. Writing is what makes you a writer, not publication. It’s hard to hear, but writers are not entitled to be published. You’ve written something, edited it, polished it, put it aside and read it again, but you are not entitled to get it published. Publication is not the end stop of writing. Not all writing journeys can end in publication. Sometimes the journey is about the lessons learnt, skills gained, characters created and developed and craft practised and all these need to be and should be celebrated. They are still achievements, even if the poem or collection was not published.

Emma Lee, Rejections and Successes

a whizzy line
sucks up ink
retrograde progress

Madonna of Glastonbury
with all that chaos
peace and war and art

I boiled a book
a brown book
mapping the overload

Ama Bolton, ABCD March 2022

Past blue herons wading among reeds. 

Across the broken bits of stalk in the harvested wheat fields. 

Through cities of stone and steel. 

Past people with their hearts on their sleeves. 

Step by step, mile by mile, you make your way to the fire. 

What will you do when you get there? 

Friend, you won’t truly know until you start to burn. 

James Lee Jobe, You are going on a long journey, to the fire.

Sometimes, I like to remind myself that the world which seems like it might just fracture at any minute goes on. I look back through my old poetry notebooks for poems written “on this day” but that never saw the light. Like this one from this day in 2019, before I could have ever imagined what this day in this year would have looked like. And even though it probably isn’t a hopeful poem (and certainly isn’t a finished poem), it does give me hope.

Release

I suppose you want
to hear about flight
and blood. Let me

tell you about stone.
By mid-winter, the world
is graywacke. Every-

thing splinters against
its solidity. The wind
comes with its blunt

nose, but can only find
purchase in the alder
branches. I have no

songs about the tedium
of hunger. I pull each
foot out of darkness.

My voice is not shaped
for your kind of beauty,
but in a month or two

when thaw releases
form, turn over
these stones. Find

what has been
grinding all these years.

Not toward you at all.
Toward the sea. The sea.

Erin Coughlin Hollowell, The Wobble

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 10

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 in the poetry blogs, the still-unfolding invasion of Ukraine, and war in general, remained on many people’s minds, but made room for other topics as well, including dying or departed fathers, questions of identity and mask, and varying approaches to levity and grief.


Now’s not the time to tell your story. They said. Not when the
skies are ablaze, not when we wonder if the edges can be pulled

together again, not when a contrived dystopia keeps spawning
reasons for the anticlimactic end. There is a hierarchy of suffering,

a taxonomy of hurt, your role now is to pause, to witness, to
gather shards of cloud-grief and sew them into the first rain.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, They said

Even in the earliest literature, exile is a fate akin to death. A man without a community will die a slow death of some sort.

(Romeo does return from exile, but that wasn’t really a great decision.)

But how long can a blind man wander the desert in exile before he stumbles onto something venomous? But Oedipus didn’t go it alone. His children led him through it – to another town, where he was accepted. Then the earth swallowed him. Sophocles didn’t write about the years of wandering. He wrote a happy ending: death in the bosom of a community.

Maybe I will write about the desert years. What dies out there, what doesn’t.

I will write about what and who we bump into out there. How we can reach out to people we once knew – but, now feeling the contours of their faces with our fingers, we know them intimately for the first time. It is possible.

Ren Powell, What We Take Into Account

I’ve felt heartbroken by current events, as well as frightened, and not just for the Ukrainian people. Even if it is contained, the ramifications of this war will be felt by all of us, and who knows where it will end: are we, in fact, going back to the Cold War years? Will all the diplomatic, economic, and collaborative progress of the last forty years be lost? What about nuclear containment? What kind of weapons will be unleashed? Will nuclear facilities be protected, or will there be another horrific event like Chernobyl? Will the conflict spread to Eastern and then Western Europe? It’s unthinkable. The scale of the risk is so much greater and more complex than the well-meant but naive yellow-and-blue flags and sunflowers cropping up all over social media. If you send aid, please do it through established and reputable channels where it has a chance of getting through.

It is a very sober time: a time when I feel called to silent reflection, learning, and meditating on history and on the present, as we still deal with Covid and climate change and all the other pressing problems of our personal and shared lives that seem dwarfed by each day;s news. I haven’t been able to write much, but I’ve tried to draw. I hope you are finding ways to cope, and would be glad to have you share your thoughts.

Beth Adams, Day by Day

Palm trees in El Paso
are haloed in snow

rarer in mid-March
than the Russian tanks

bombarding a Mariupol shoe
factory, the psychiatric

hospital, a maternity ward,
apartments emptying to

missiles. A hotel sauna,
a subway — deep space

underground — targeted
humanitarian corridors

hemmed with smoking autos,
plastic bags and rolling

luggage left behind.

Maureen Doallas, Late Winter (Poem)

The Apocalypse feels like it’s knocking at the door. Are we going to answer?

The picture at left was taken this week after 1) spending two hours getting four fillings in my front teeth and 2) getting my hair cut and colored. These things are a total waste of time if a maniac ends the world in nuclear war or the pandemic kills me. Yes, I think about weird stuff like that. How do we respond of existential despair and threats of war and pestilence? Do we think harder about how we spend our time, our money, our love, our votes?

So, in a way, every act – going to work, kissing your spouse, petting your cat, is an act of rebellion against nihilism. Stopping to take pictures of trees – something I started doing when I was diagnosed with terminal cancer over five years ago (I was told I did not have six months, FYI…always get a second opinion, kids!) – is to make a record of the beauty as the world continues.  Until I stop, or it stops. My philosophy.

Speaking of that, I saw the first cherry blossoms this week in Kirkland, and I also photographed another early spring bloom, quince. Quinces look like ugly shrubs in the winter, and then they have these beautiful blooms and fruit. I’ve always liked those kinds of things. Apple trees with their twisted arms and shrubby height, how fragrant their blush petals are, their fruit that hangs on ’til September. Bulbs that when you plant them seem like nothing, brown little lumps, then bring their tulip petals and daffodil trumpets during the cold early spring. So here are some pictures of March flowers. Are you writing poetry, or sending it out, or getting ready for AWP? Good job. I have been struggling with poetry’s relevancy in the last week or so, I admit. It feels…frivolous. Extraneous. I know that it is good for the soul, but maybe my soul is feeling a little fractured right now.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, The Apocalypse is Knocking, First Cherry Blossoms, Cats From the Past and More History Repeating

Once a fox, feeling sad, looked up at the sky and waned to be a cloud, distant from the concerns of foxes  and casting only immaterial shadow over chickens. Then it began to rain and his small fox heart, no larger than a tulip, squirted water everywhere. The fox, his suffering now intense, ate a chicken and so was sad no more. 

Gary Barwin, Fox Fable (from a MS of Fables)

Yes, yes, I know. My promises to resume posting regularly here have been about as reliable as the Tory government’s…no, I’m not going to go there. I have the urge to blog, and to write more generally, and I suspect one of the main reasons is the utter chaos out there at the moment. So, I’m going to restrict myself to talking about poetry, and literature more generally, and birds, and history, and maybe some cricket (although, there’s not much about England that inspires me at the moment). I can’t guarantee it will be upbeat, exactly, but it will definitely be more fun than the news.

Matt Merritt, I’m back (again)

s l o w l y
lowering the volume
thick snow

Jason Crane, haiku: 10 March 2022

Next, have you read Ledger by Jane Hirshfield? If not, I highly recommend it. In fact, I did recommend it, on a recent CBC Edmonton radio program. You can click here to listen. (Alternatively you can watch me recommend another book of poetry on the CBC Ed news at 6. Just scroll to about the 28 minute mark here.

One poem in Ledger by JH begins, “All day wondering / if I’ve become useless.” And this speaks to me right now. Lord I do feel quite useless.

Shawna Lemay, Even an Angel Needs Rest

We buried my father, Marvin Wolfe Barenblat z”l, on Friday. He was eighty-seven years old. He was generous and funny and opinionated. It will be a while before I really understand the spiritual impacts of the fact that that both of my parents are now gone.

There are so many stories. How he grew up in San Antonio with immigrant parents. How he met my mother. Work and travel and parties. (Everyone agrees that my parents knew how to have a good time!) The places he went, the stories he told, the bargains he struck. His gregariousness. His smile.

Mine are small stories, the stories of a youngest daughter. Just as the photos above are photos that are not necessarily representative of the whole: these photos show my parents as newlyweds, then my father and me, then my father and my child. These vignettes are the picture of his life that I can most easily paint. 

Rachel Barenblat, Marvin Wolfe Barenblat z”l

On the road’s verge, geese stand looking unctuous,
vaguely irritable as I pass them
going 50 on the route I’ve taken for decades
and this time I recall two years back, when my dad
was failing, how eagerly I sought any sign
of seasonal change—
early-flowering witch hazel, or crocuses, quince,
swells in daffodils’ green emergence
while inside myself the slow emergency of his dying
began to open from probable to imminent.

Ann E. Michael, Synthesis

My dad sings “Sweet and Low”:
his doctors advised him that singing 
would strengthen his voice. It’s a song from a songbook
already old when he was a boy: we’re drifting backwards,
as old men do.

His voice wanders back and forth across the notes,
hitting some by accident. We used to sing in the car, 
driving home at night from a day on the mountain,
and I’d watch the snowflakes in the headlights:
they’d fall sleepily into view, and speed up
suddenly into white streaks that flickered away:
somewhere in the dark behind us 
they must have settled softly to rest.

Dale Favier, Sweet and Low

Emotional ups and downs these days with family and world. With weather and woe. Spring interrupted by snow. Books and poetry steady me, and sunshine! When I woke up today, it was 9 degrees. How will I walk in the parade? I wondered. In layers! It worked. The sun was shining, and I was toasty warm in boots, several socks, and various green and other layers, under a glittery green hat, handing out sunflower seeds for Ukraine on behalf of a candidate in the local St. Patrick’s Day Parade. In Chicago, they dyed the river green again. Here, we had a small but lively crowd, who knew to stay on the sunny side of the street. Dates and duties, tasks and meetings, appointments and worries–it all crowds my mind. Then I visit my folks, play cards, and we love each other into a state of calm. Each morning, I write a poem. Each evening, I fall asleep on the couch, reading.

Kathleen Kirk, Sharin’ of the Green (and Pink and Blue)

My last AWP was in 2019 in Portland, OR and I loved it. I loved the time spent with writers, fueled by coffee and creativity and late nights talking about writing and poetry. So while this year will look a little different, I’m still hopeful I’ll get that high from being around my people. […]

I need this time with poets and writers and presses. I want to wander the book fair and have authors sign their books – last time I bought 15 books, which I felt was a reasonable amount since I had to fly home and needed to fit them all in my suitcase without it going overweight. This year, I’m driving so I’ll have no such limitations. I wonder how many I’ll buy…

Courtney LeBlanc, AWP 2022

I mentioned on Facebook that my new glasses finally came in, and earlier than expected! The instant I got the text from the optometrist, I took off from work, dashed over to the eye doc’s, collected my new and glorious specs, and came home to pop out my contacts and try them on. The first thing I did was test out an old paperback poetry book that I’ve had on my list to read forever, but haven’t been able to with a 15-year old prescription. Voila! I was actually able to read the print. I wanted to cry. The new specs are so nice that I’ve even overcome my vanity enough to wear them to work a few times a week. Also, unbeknownst to me, it turns out that the frames are Kate Spade, so not only can I see, I’m also fancy. Look out world. I’m watching you—through my new, properly-prescribed lenses. I can see everything.

Kristen McHenry, Lessons from the Squat Rack, Farming Simulation Hell, Glasses Glory

One of my poems has been included in the Hope Rage Sunflowers anthology to raise money for Ukraine. Like many I am shocked and saddened and have been doom scrolling the past two weeks, so it feels good to have a way to help, even in a small way. 

From the editor: Hope Rage Sunflowers, the FFS Fundraiser bookje (PDF) is out now! Please donate directly to https://ukraine-hilfe-berlin.de/spende/ Send a screenshot of your donation to annickyerem@gmail.com or in my DMs with your email & you will receive this beautiful anthology of poems & artwork.

Gerry Stewart, A Way to Help Ukraine: Poetry Anthology

Yesterday morning, I headed over to my church to help at the food pantry.  Along the way, I stopped to get some peanut butter and jelly; the woman who runs the food pantry told me that of all the donations they get, peanut butter and jelly are the items they get the least.

I was amazed at how the food pantry has grown.  We now offer used clothing and other items (some toys, some backpacks, that kind of thing).  A local Girl Scout troop also runs a closet which offers trendier clothing for teenagers.

Our church has 2 fellowship halls, and the food and clothes pantry has taken up most of one of the fellowship halls.  Once, this would not have been possible–we would have needed that space for something else, like Sunday School classes and fellowship/outreach (like a women’s group and a men’s group).

As I bagged food, I thought about the news stories of people driving truck loads of supplies and food into Ukraine.  That is not our ministry.  We have people who come to our food pantry on such a regular basis that the woman who runs the food pantry knows about food allergies. In a way that makes me sad; we all want a food pantry to be a stop-gap measure, a response to an emergency.  In a way, this ministry feels like one of the more vital ones that we do as a small, neighborhood church.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Food Pantry Portents

Their children lived, somehow, through two wars:
the first one an invasion; the second, a war of liberation.
Because they hid in the church, they know that underneath
new tile and blood-red carpet, there used to be a crack
right down the middle of the aisle. When they left
their homes, running from the rain of bombs, one of them
carried a pair of socks but forgot his shoes. Another
couldn’t explain how it came to be that he’d lifted
the rice pot off the stove, still warm and steaming.

There are ghosts inside every bell tower, or walking
the now clean hospital halls. In front of every
flagpole in every square, pigeons peck at shadows
where prisoners were lined up for execution.
Every stone: an old name, a story.

Luisa A. Igloria, War Stories

Whether we like it or not, absolutely everything we write has its origins in our identity. Even when we use a persona, a context that’s far from our own lives, a filter of fireworks or devices, we are always writing out of who we are. That process might be more or less overt, and we might well be reluctant at times to recognise it (even to ourselves) but our identity runs through our poetry as if through rock.

Of course, over the last few years, many poets have emerged who’ve wielded their identity to terrific explicit effect – be that with an aesthetic, emotional, social or political aim. However, I also enjoy poetry that assumes, assimilates and textures its identity, using it more to enrich the genre’s capacity to create a whole new emotional world that casts fresh light on previous ones.

As a consequence, I’m especially drawn to Tamiko Dooley’s new poems on Wild Court (see here). They’re so similar yet so different, so strange yet so familiar. This is very much the effect that I seek in my own poems about life in Spain.

Matthew Stewart, Writing out of who we are

I just finished re-reading* Judy Blume’s Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret in the context of a manuscript I’m working on. In the work-in-progress, the speaker confides in and seeks guidance from an alter ego named Gertie, similar to how Blume’s protagonist Margaret talks directly to God throughout the well known novel. “Luckily for Margaret,” as the synopsis on the back cover says, “she’s got someone to confide in… someone who always listens.”

Like Margaret, the speaker in this new manuscript has a built-in sounding board and companion. Gertie, however, isn’t any kind of god — that’s not my thing. Instead, what I’m trying to do is to bifurcate the speaker’s internal dialogue. Instead of the speaker talking to herself or to God, she’s having conversations and exchanges with an “other” (a persona: Gertie) and exploring what that may offer by way of protection, comfort and confidence.

Speaking of confidence, I’m not 100% convinced I can pull it off, but I’m following where it goes anyway. That includes consulting this terrific throwback, which I originally read when I was in middle school along with a bazillion other preteens.

Carolee Bennett, “luckily for margaret”

The following is the sixth in a series of brief interviews in which one Terrapin poet interviews another Terrapin poet, one whose book was affected by the Pandemic. The purpose of these interviews is to draw some attention to these books which missed out on book launches and in-person readings. Lisa Bellamy talks with Jeff Ewing about what’s it’s like to write in multiple genres, his use of point of view, and his unique writing process. […]

Lisa: In some poems, the narrator views characters from a different perspective, as in “As the Crow Flies,” or from a third-person perspective, as in “On the Death, by Trampling, of a Man in Modoc County.” What does this change-up do artistically for you, as a writer?

Jeff: It’s very freeing to get away from the constant “I.” Seeing the scene from an abstracted point of view—in “As the Crow Flies”—or a third person, really does allow me to put myself at that vantage. To get a wider, more objective view of the action. The default “I” point of view of a lot of poems—mine included—does convey a certain intimacy, but it’s also constricting. Claustrophobic. I get itchy and anxious after a while. It’s clearly the point of view a writer has the most authority over and experience with, but there’s a danger of coming to see it as genuinely authoritative. As a reader, it makes me suspicious and a little resentful. Like most people I get tired of myself, and it’s a relief sometimes to break out of that.

Diane Lockward, Terrapin Books Interview Series: Lisa Bellamy Interviews Jeff Ewing

I like being an old man, but friend,
I have no intention of being a quiet old man.
I am going describe everything,
The sun, the moon, the North Star,
Even boring things like my family, politics,
And the sounds that trains make at night.
My ‘I’ poems will be like death;
Inescapable. I feel another coming on me.
Even as I am just finishing this one.

James Lee Jobe, the inescapable ‘I’ poems

Yesterday, at a NeMLA panel called “Hybrid, Feminist, & Collaborative,” the writer and artist Mary-Kim Arnold talked about “feeling like a hybrid” as a child born in Korea then adopted into a New York family. Explore her whole amazing website if you have time, but here’s one piece that literally stitches image to text in a stunning way. Anna Maria Hong, who organized this panel, read “Siren” and showed a clip from a forthcoming Bennington musical theater production of her hybrid novel H&G, which looks extraordinary. Scheduled to speak third–and read for the very first time from Poetry’s Possible Worlds!–I revised my prefatory marks on the fly, having realized some things. First, I don’t feel like a hybrid. I often feel monstrous, though, like Anna Maria’s “Siren,” particularly in moments of apparently unwomanly anger. And I’m always deeply interested in who gets monsterized and how and why. Second, I’m interested in genres and the spaces between them because I have a powerful drive to understand the rules. This comes partly from watching my immigrant mother studying to be a middle-class American; it’s probably also true that I’m an observer by temperament. Maybe even more importantly, I’m the eldest child of an alcoholic father whose moods were unpredictable, intense, sometimes violent. I needed to figure out what genre I was in every day to navigate the plot twists.

March has already had a lot of ups and downs, but that panel was a peak for me. That’s academic conferencing at its best: you’re rattling around in your own head then a good conversation rings you like a bell.

Lesley Wheeler, Fairy monster godmother gets the chair

We think we create our own personalities, that we have the freedom to create our selves, but this is another lie of capitalism and (often anyway) of white supremacy.  On some level Kerouac himself understood that, though he would never have framed it in those terms.  I’ve been rereading his Book of Dreams (1960), an often-overlooked novel(?) in his oeuvre, and it’s a compelling text, not least for its insight about the functioning of the mind.  Kerouac attacks Freud for his mere interpretation of hidden motivations (“Freudianism is a big stupid mistaken dealing with causes and conditions instead of the mysterious, essential permanent reality of Mind Essence” [Book of Dreams, 2001 edition, p. 282]), and instead (influenced by Buddhism) sees dreams as part of the same mind-matter that constructs the waking world as well as the sleeping world.  I think there’s an obvious component to subconscious dreams that do lend themselves to interpretation of/connection to daily quotidian conscious life, and clearly I subscribe to a certain degree to materialist “causes and conditions,” and I’d suggest that Kerouac’s unfiltered confessions in this book are in fact open to a variety of interpretations.

But again, these dynamics are perhaps merely the surface overlay of personality.  Though most of Book of Dreams is just that (the actual dreams, without attempt to explain or interpret), Kerouac at times does make comment about the nature of existence, consciousness, and art.  He writes,

words, images & dream are fingers of false imagination pointing at the reality of Holy Emptiness—but my words are still many & my images stretch to the holy void like a road that has an end—It’s the ROAD OF THE HOLY VOID this writing this life, this image of regrets—— (pp. 280-81)

We can’t escape these particulars or dynamics; they are the stuff of the world and inevitably of art.  We might perhaps be able to turn off the conscious mind’s investment in them only sometimes, through meditation, say (which Kerouac apparently was not very good at).  We (or I) might wish that Kerouac was sometimes better at negotiating the shit that the world threw his way; the alcohol didn’t help.  But before it all turned bad, and coexisting with the regrets (his or mine or everyone’s), Kerouac throughout much of his poetry (by which I mean also his prose) demonstrated tenderness for all living things, through his poetics lived deeply in the world, and elaborated an innovative style out of which good things came, and which is delightful in itself.

Michael S. Begnal, On Kerouac’s Centennial

And so I stood there, staring at it,
For too long, in an otherwise dull
Museum, wondering if Pound
Ever played the trombone, not
Just this one, any trombone,
In all of his long, weird life.
The guide hovered ever closer
As if suspecting I’d rumbled them.
I tapped the glass to alarm her more
And, seeing her jump, moved on
To a case of prehistoric pots,
Most of which were broken.

Bob Mee, EZRA POUND’S TROMBONE (SOMETIMES YOU JUST HAVE TO HAVE FUN)

If my nerves were sturdier,

if I could let your apocalypse talk
roll off my back,

if my favorite nightcap were plunging off a cliff
and being pulled back,

if I didn’t like to kick off my boots

and the Ultimate Fight weren’t your morning caffeine,

if you didn’t love to troll and tease me,

if I didn’t ask, for the sake of beauty and continuity,
Is there time to slice the cucumber,

we might roll together in bellylaugh when you predict, They’ll
just take out New York.

Jill Pearlman, Armageddon Blues

This is a terrible thing to say out loud, but here it is; judge me as you wish: I’ve found myself in a reading quagmire of not-very-good poetry.

These are collections that have risen in contests to be accorded the winning spot. By not-very-good, I mean, the poems are, for example, boringly obvious, drearily strident, frustatingly short-falling of what they seem to be reaching for, inert, so coded to some inner key that they’re inaccessible. Yes, there are some cunning turns of phrase here and there, some good sound work, some lively choices of images or words, some poems that work, by which I mean, transport me beyond themselves. There may be, and I’m being generous here, a chapbook-length (like 18-20 pages) of decent poems in each of the three full-length (and by that I mean, over 75 pages…) collections I’m referring to here. Maybe.

What am I missing? Is it just down to personal taste? Am I reading too fast, reading too crabby? Is my aesthetic too damned narrow? Do I just not know good poetry when I read it?

It brings me huge distress, because I feel I have to question what I think I know about poetry. And I have to question what I think I know about my own poetry, and how to make it better.

Marilyn McCabe, I’m on the dark side of the moon; or, On the Perils of Reading Poetry

I’m learning it’s quite easy to become the hermit I’ve always been, sleeping and working strange hours.  I am getting a lot done.  Getting the shop ready for the update next week and keeping up with daily freelance projects. Catching up on things like orders and author batches and getting new layouts polished off in the afternoons. Even with a lot of stuff to accomplish in any given day, it is more purposeful and less chaos, which has changed so much about how I feel and done wonders for my general baseline anxiety levels. Even printing is more orderly and systematic and much less tearful than it used to be (this has to do with some outsourcing, but even in the interiors are less stress-inducing when I am not constantly past my deadlines already). I did not expect quite this much of a change, but I should have. 

As for creative work, I’ve stalled out a bit on my collage series, not really liking the results just yet, but need to spend time with the poems they accompany to get unstick. The poems I am happy with, the art, not so much. I did manage to finish up what will hopefully be the final proof on animal, vegetable.. monster, and barring any significant issues, should have it under wraps a couple weeks into April.  Which of course, means I now turn my attention to promo and trailers and such. 

Kristy Bowen, hermit life and abroad

trying on dream clothes
that of course always fit well
and are tailored to perfection
I talked jazz with the assistant

there are worse ways to pass a night
than buying threads
but you wake
unsatisfied with your tactile wardrobe

no matter how hard you try
on successive nights
the tailors shop eludes you
in that vast city inside your head

Paul Tobin, A VAST CITY INSIDE YOUR HEAD

The latest from Cobourg, Ontario poet, writer, editor and publisher Stuart Ross is The Book of Grief and Hamburgers (Toronto ON: ECW Press, 2022), a blend of essay, memoir and prose poem that moves its slow way through and across an accumulation of grief and personal loss, attending the personal in a way far more vulnerable than he has allowed himself prior. As the back cover attests, The Book of Grief and Hamburgers was composed “during the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, shortly after the sudden death of his brother – leaving him the last living member of his family – and anticipating the death of his closest friend after a catastrophic diagnosis, this meditation on mortality is a literary shiva, a moving act of resistance against self-annihilation, and an elegy for those Stuart loved.” The form of lyric homage and recollection certainly isn’t new, although one might think it not as prevalent as it might be, and I can only think of a handful of examples in Canadian writing over the past thirty years, such as George Bowering’s book of prose recollections, The Moustache, Memories of Greg Curnoe (Toronto ON: Coach House Press, 1993), James Hawes’ writing Peter Van Toorn through his new chapbook Under an Overpass, a Fox (Montreal QC: Turret House Press, 2022), Erín Moure writing her late friend Paul through Sitting Shiva on Minto Avenue, by Toots (Vancouver BC: New Star Books, 2017) [see my review of such here], or even Sharon Thesen writing Angela Bowering through her Weeping Willow (Vancouver BC: Nomados, 2005), a chapbook-length sequence that later landed in her full-length The Good Bacteria(Toronto ON: House of Anansi, 2006).

The difference in the examples I’ve cited, of course, is that each of these were composed around a single person, whereas Ross explores the layering and accumulation of grief itself, one that has built up over the years through the deaths of his parents, and a variety of friends, mentors and contemporaries including David W. McFadden, Richard Huttel, John Lavery, Nelson Ball and RM Vaughan. While this particular project was triggered by the sudden and unexpected loss of Ross’ brother Barry in 2020, twenty years after the death of their brother, Owen, and through hearing of the terminal cancer diagnosis of his longtime friend, the Ottawa poet Michael Dennis (one shouldn’t overlook, as well, the simultaneous loss of their beloved dog, Lily), all of these relationships are referenced, explored and layered through an attempt, through the narrative, to come to some kind of, if not conclusion, an acknowledgment of how best to allow for this space, and to move forward.

rob mclennan, Stuart Ross, The Book of Grief and Hamburgers

Outside my window, there’s a murder of crows that would rather you call them a choir.

For a small fee, they’ll sing a song to keep your heart from exploding.

The war of the week channel shows me that those once considered the salt of the earth can sometimes turn into quite the lousy seasoning for your slice of life.

Rather than reaching for another snack, I keep all fingers crossed.

Perhaps good fortune will arrive any moment at the local greyhound station.

Rich Ferguson, On the War of the Week Channel

Not surprisingly, the terrible destruction in Ukraine is on my mind right now, a bloody livestream in my head and heart as I go about my safe, ordinary life here–feeding my cats, doing the laundry, shopping for groceries, going for a walk.  I was at one extraordinary event, a reading via zoom earlier in the week, with Ukrainian poets and their English translators–and 850 people there to watch and listen.  There was, not surprisingly, a lot of weeping, and some of mine was for the gift of being in that group, sharing the grief and the beauty.

With Ukrainian citizens arming themselves and joining the fight, it’s hard to draw a clean line between them and designated soldiers, but I’ve when I read any battle story I’m drawn to the lives of civilians, the impact of war on them.  It only occurred to me today that might be because I am one of those affected civilians.  I was born during World War II, and my father was away in the South Pacific for the first three years of my life–something that shaped my childhood and has left ripples through my adult life.  My family didn’t suffer any of the horrendous effects of having war on their home ground, but they were affected by it nonetheless. Wars touch everyone in some way.  Those of us who write poems have to find our own vantage points, what only we can say about the unfolding events.

Sharon Bryan, Civilian Life in Wartime (via Bethany Reid)

Despite the doom-and-gloom-scrolling I do from my Hong Kong apartment, I’ve found solace recently in writing more light verse in response to the news. Reading, writing, and publishing light verse in response to current events has kept my spirits buoyed — knowing that my words are in the company of other wonderful writers of light verse who are staring into the face of tragedy, loss, suffering, and war and responding with humor and wit offers a strange kind of comfort.

It is easy to watch the news and despair. However, we all do what we can and give the world what we can. At this moment, what I can offer is not something weighty, but something light and witty. Basically, writing in response to the news has both helped me return to the comfort of the writing desk and kept me going.

Scot Slaby, Wagging news doggerel

some of my favourite movie posters
find a healthier balance
make things right
world-leading and deliberate cruelty
my new collection
women cannot send their sons to die
every day is a memorial day
increase the vegetable patch
exclusive member deals

Ama Bolton, Lines from my Twitter feed #2

Each week we talk about how to recognize and respond to the earliest hints of conflict, from the interpersonal to the global. We begin to see myriad creative, collaborative ways to respond. We also begin to recognize some of the things we’ve heard about, witnessed, or done ourselves have actually been examples of nonviolence. At the end of each session, I ask participants to share stories of peace in action. These stories strengthen our bones, build our world anew.

One day a woman describes driving home when she comes across three young teens hunched with menace over a fourth. One holds a length of wood at his side and it appears he’s used it on that boy. She finds herself pulling the car over, standing at her door, yelling leave him alone.

All four look up, incredulous. Why you stop for him? one boy jeers. She comes closer till the cowering boy stands up straight, his face impassive, and walks away.

She says, Does it matter who I stop for? Next time it might be you.

Laura Grace Weldon, Peace In Action

Any two things
are related,
the old monk says,
once you see both.

Tom Montag, TEN OLD MONK POEMS (57)

baffled
along the long groynes
the sea’s roar

Jim Young [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 8

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 found poets, like almost everyone else, glued to the news as Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine. But there were still books to read and write, writing problems to ponder, and causes for celebration, however muted. And spring might or might not be just around the corner.


When I say it’s a sunny day, what I mean is it’s raining frogs.

When I say it’s quiet outside, what I mean is, isn’t that the sound of Nero’s fiddle?

When I say everything will be OK, what I mean is, it looks like history is practicing its blindfolded, knife-throwing trick again.

When I say, listen to the world sing in the key of life, what I meant is, our earth is moaning a vertigo blues that sends our souls reeling.

When I say I do my best to look on the bright side of life, what I mean to say is, there are days when my inner child should be named Dostoyevsky.

Rich Ferguson, When the Truth Serum Hadn’t Completely Kicked In

We made friends with several Ukrainian folks when my husband worked there years ago. We keep in touch; ever since the seizure of Crimea in 2014, we have been worried despite our friends’ apparent unconcern. But life was normal. On Monday, Y. called to discuss a recent job offer; should she take the position with a big corporation? On Thursday, she called at 9 pm (pre-dawn in Kyiv) to say she could hear bombing over the city and was thinking of hiding in the woods near her suburban house.

Now, she’s trying to get to Poland.

What rattles me is the way this reminds me of September 11, 2001, when things were initially so mundane and typical and then…not.

Here’s a poem from a visit we made to Lavra-Kiev in more peaceful, warmer, sunnier times. May such times return to all of us, and soon: https://aboutplacejournal.org/issues/the-future-of-water/praise/ann-michael/

Ann E. Michael, What war does

Everything I’ve looked at since yesterday has been through
the idea of a fistful of seeds buried deep in a pocket

We too will lie down and wherever we are, bodies
could turn into flowers without need of permission

Names are so beautiful said in their first tongues
Everywhere, their sounds fill shelters and trains

They should be heard like bells or prayers,
outside in a square filled with sunlight and trees

Luisa A. Igloria, February

Those of you who are students of history could not be unaware of the parallels to WWI and WWII right now – the financial instability, the crazed dictator and his alliance with an equally sketchy country or two, the global pandemic and war stresses at the very same time, and the stubborn slowness of the US government’s response to both pandemic and war. You know Woodrow Wilson never even publicly addressed the 1918 flu, despite the deaths of one out of every ten Americans from it and he actively increased infection by shipping infected young soldiers around in too-close quarters? Did you know most Americans didn’t want to help Europe in WWII, despite so much evidence that Hitler was a monster and committing heinous crimes – and that we refused refugees’ applications to enter the US, especially of Jewish people, even Anne Frank? (True fact!)

And despite all of this alarming information, the birds are singing louder, the flowers are starting to show their willingness to bloom despite temperamental weather. I feel like I should be tougher, more resilient, like the flowers. My body betrays me – lying awake, uneasy dreams when I do finally get an hour or two of sleep – the fevers, dark circles, nails splitting and a nagging cough. My body knows things are really not okay, no matter what meditation apps I use, or deep breathing exercises I try, or cures of tea, soup, and vitamins.

In the unease of the end of February, let’s hope for a better spring – easing up of pandemic death rates, an end to Putin’s ambitious power grabs (and China’s eyeing of Taiwan in the background) that put the entire globe out of balance – a time when we can once again see our friends and family, that America defends its allies and welcomes refugees from despots. The hope that my doctors can help sort out the haywire immune system problems that keep me from living the life I want. If I can banish the discouragement brought on by plague, and war threats, the political strife in America – maybe I can write more poems. Even if the poems can’t bring peace and health to the planet, or even bring an end to my insomnia.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A Week of Insomnia, the Threat of Nuclear War and Ukraine Heartbreak, Spring Approaches but with Record Cold and Snow (plus bobkitten!)

If you want to start a world war,
do something stupid and keep doing it,
the old monk said.

Tom Montag, IN THE NEWS

There is a video on the news: Putin dressing down the head of his own foreign intelligence service. I don’t know that I have ever seen a man so terrified.

And I don’t know that I am not reading something into the video. I am not sure who would qualify as an “expert” in body language. And I would not claim that, but after teaching movement for stage (body language) for more than 20 years, I would say I have consciously observed enough to be justified going with my gut feeling here.

I wish I weren’t. I wish I could unsee the fear. Because now it is in my own body. Mirror neurons and all that.

Today I want to work on a particular poem sequence with erasure that is part of the wasp project. I feel guilty for turning back to such a personal subject matter.

And my body is completely confused. The mirror neurons set in motion. The image of Putin, leaning back, sighing, chuckling. It brings up memories of helplessness that my body can not sort, or shake off. The hide-under-the-desk drills, the step-father cleaning his gun…

Again, my doctor’s words (recklessly paraphrased): no matter the veracity of the details of the narrative, the emotions are real.

The neurons record. So maybe I can keep my head down in a small bubble of time and space and trust that my personal little project is still universal.

Then I can look up and take in what I can of the world here and now. Weaving, sewing myself in and out of the fabric of community?

That life isn’t an either/or of the individual and the community – it is a messy and very unregulated, self-deceiving geothermal pool. In the shadow of a volcano.

Ren Powell, In the Shadow of a Volcano

I sit with a flask of coffee on the edge of the wood where
the wounded tramp the by-ways, where
the left-behind pause at a milestone.
There are those who walk a thousand miles
from here to nowhere and back again.
The earth can take you into itself.
Pass down the hill, a prayer can’t hurt.
Stamp out the frost from your toes,
stamp out clumsy words, regretted.
Bitterness, perhaps. No, not really.
An echo: I’m not that hard to find.
I wish you would find me.
Nothing lasts for long, oh that old line.
An echo: a siren, an explosion. And another.

Bob Mee, FEBRUARY 24, 2022

–Periodically throughout the day yesterday, I looked at the brilliant blue sky with its beautiful cloud sculptures.  I thought of ICBMs and wondered where Russia has them pointed these days.  I can still sing all the words to Sting’s “Russians,” or at least the refrain.  Does Putin have children?  Can you imagine having Putin as your dad?

–My friend sent me this message:  “I wish I could come over and we could have tea and bake things and not be in wwIII”; I responded, “I can arrange tea and baking but there may only be 1 man who can help with the decision not to go towards WWIII–and I don’t think Putin shares our love of tea and baking.”  I spent the rest of the day thinking about tea and scones with Putin and remembering a different song composed by Sting, “Tea in the Sahara.”  

–My friend and I also shared an interesting exchange about women in previous world wars, plucky women in war rooms, and what would that look like today?

–I thought about electromagnetic pulses and all the ways our data can be destroyed.  I asked my spouse if we should take a screen shot of our bank balance page, print it out, and save it.  My spouse told me about the special nuclear weapon that Russia has that will do something to the stratosphere and wipe out humanity immediately.  I said, “So I’m hearing you say we don’t need to bother printing proof of our bank balance?”

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, On the First Day of a Land War in Europe

What is colder than sadness? What if that sharp bulbul cry is
not song, just wretched swearing at the sky? Awake so far

ahead of dawn, I have already bargained for a thing you
would call happiness with a thing you wouldn’t call god.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Awake

All I want on a Sunday morning is to
luxuriate in my laziness. I want to watch
old movies with the volume turned up loud,
the newspaper crackling as I shift my supine
body on the couch, the words of duplicitous
politicians and photos of narcissistic socialites
mashed under my ass.

I want to gaze out my window where heat
rises on the street like steam from a gumbo
pot while I lie, cool as a nectar cream snowball,
in my Maggie The Cat slip, painting my toenails
a color called Bad Influence.

Charlotte Hamrick, A Poem for Liz

Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, mixed marriage of the ardent.  Tolstoy the pacifist, the vegetarian, the disciplinarian who insisted that Levin (Anna K) thresh his fields.  Only fools would grab sabres, run to kill others, with great faith and grandeur, to save fellow Slavs.  In August, subvert nature and its harvest, let villages starve while sending villagers to fight long-distance wars? Dostoevsky livid, he wanted to take Constantinople.

Tools required: nimble minds.  Torah students must argue 70 interpretations, fully inhabiting each point of view.  After diving into the kinks, pits, ears, and flesh of each angle, they reject most.  But they hold the key. They have recovered unknown faces.

Jill Pearlman, Mixed Marriages

I forgot to tell you
this is not a film.

When the bodies of two men
were washed out on a shore.

When tanks rolled over
a school yard.

When borders opened
for some people.

When forty years
became four days.

When I stopped giving
promises to my son.

When the morning light
took me hostage.

Out of mercy.

Magda Kapa, Not a Film

When the USSR, which just existed for us  as a big pink blob on all the school maps, shattered into other colored, smaller blobs when I was a teenager, I remember noting it briefly and being a little relieved that all my childhood bedtime fretting was much less of a threat.  There were other threats, but they seemed less large and looming over the midwest. My high school AP Bio teacher, who was responsible for the environmental fervor that drove me toward studying marine bio and various snippets of wisdom (including why sex was pleasurable from an evolutionary stance, because otherwise we’d all rather nap and eat donuts,  which was a shocking revelation to a bunch of 11th Graders) off handedly one day talked about war and starvation and how any country (though he meant Russia) could be starving and wave their weapons around threatening the rest of the world unless we helped them. I had a couple years not fearing nuclear war, but there it was again..because the weapons didn’t just vanish. They were still tucked soundly in their silos, sleeping, getting faster and more powerful in the intervening 30 years. They’ve been there all along.

A couple years later, in college, I remember reading about how Emily Dickinson is notable for barely, in her work, in her letters, talking about the Civil War. Sure, Amherst was far from the Mason-Dixon line, but people usually say that she was disengaged from the world in isolation.  At the time, I thought, how sheltered and privileged.  The older I get, the more I understand the need for shelter sometimes for mental health. For turning away from things you do not have control of. Some people, mostly soft bellied Millennials and Z-ers are freaked out, rightfully so.  Many of the X-ers have danced this dance before and are no more worried or less than we were as children. The internet means it’s much more raw than the drone of the 6 o’clock news of our childhoods. Some say, there is always war somewhere. Someone is always in crisis, it’s just on a larger scale and with bigger weapons than usual. 

I float somewhere in between, my X-er shell uncrackable, but a tiny sense of panic underneath the ice..  The problem is my panic is all used up after two years of Covid, so I don’t think my energy reserves are big enough to truly freak out. Again, I am tired of living through history–through big things like wars and deadly pandemics and whatever other atrocities dominate the news. I just want some quiet. I’ve also been thinking about my nightly viewing of Reign, all those European countries just fighting over nothing and conquering things to conquer them. Men and their endless warmongering and male toxicity.  It might be time for a complete news hiatus. (which also means a social media hiatus, because things like Facebook are as troubling as the news for doomscrolling. ) 

Kristy Bowen, the poets, when we talk about war

what do you want now
you have everything in the world
pussy cat

Jim Young [no title]

Writing pals — I noticed how my tiny terrier is almost always curled up touching my foot or arm as I write. Do you have a furry, feathery, or finny writing companion? Mine is named Terry, and she’s almost always curled up next to my leg.

Creative people spend a lot of time alone. I think the silent, soothing presence of another being is a spur to imagination. It feels to me that I’m telling my stories to my dog as I type. I write on a laptop most often, on a couch or in bed. Yes, I’m one of those people who has to have her feet up to think!

Terry always has to be nearby, though sometimes she chooses an adjacent couch to mine. I find myself reaching over to give her a cuddle when I’ve finished a passage or a page of writing. As if to comfort us both that this story is progressing.

On Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, I see so many writers posting pictures of pets! And those photos give me inspiration and heart too. It’s as if we’re all in a large space, silent together, fingers tapping, pets breathing and circling or sleeping nearby. A community of beings who don’t need to speak while we’re — ironically — speaking.

Rachel Dacus, Dogs, cats, birds, and writers — a love story

I won’t try to play it cool and tell you I was happy but not surprised. Nope, I full-on screamed with unexpected joy! All day I had been prepping myself to cry and feel disappointed but instead tears of joy leaked out my eyes as I danced around the room and my dogs jumped around me in excitement. (They are sweet but simple dogs so if I’m excited, they’re excited without understanding why. Just one reason I love them so much!) I then called my husband at the office (I still work from home most of the time) and screamed in his ear. Then I called my sister and screamed in her ear. Basically, there was a lot of screaming and dancing in my house that afternoon.

Courtney LeBlanc, Screaming Again

After a tricky ten days, it was a real boost to hear that I had won First Prize in the ‘Wee Collection’ Challenge, set last November by Mark Davidson of the Hedgehog Poetry Press. This means that my sequence of seven interlinked sonnets will be published as a slim pamphlet. 

Watch this space!  

In other news, I very much enjoyed taking part in the ACW-Trellis online poetry day last Saturday. Participating poets came from England, Scotland, Ireland, France and Albania. I read ‘Dunwich in Winter’ from my 2021 collection, Driftwood by Starlight (The Seventh Quarry Press).

Caroline Gill, First Prize (Publication)

here is the field guide to being complete,
the instructions that have been so needed
for so very long.
touch the rocks,
touch the afterbirth of the calf,
call out across the crust of the icy fields.
monosyllabic,
sewn to the underbelly of trees.

James Lee Jobe, being taller than all of the short people in the world

If you’re human, odds are you’re finding it hard to concentrate right now.

It’s hard to settle in. (Understatement). Maybe we’re not supposed to settle in. I’m flitting from book to book, from Twitter to Instagram, from post to post, poem to poem. I don’t have answers; I’m looking for hope. I’m looking for wisdom. I don’t wish for consolation even, but evidence of deep thinking. Evidence of the human and the humane. […]

I said I was reading things but not wanting necessarily to be consoled. But I do admit that I generally read Charles Wright to be consoled. He sits in his backyard, his voice drawls soft and steady, but he tells it like it is:

“The world is dirty and dark.
Who thought that words were salvation?”

“We wait for the consolation of the commonplace,
the belt of light to buckle us in.
We wait for the counterpart,
the secretive music
That only we can hear, or we think that only we can hear.”

Shawna Lemay, It’s Hard to Concentrate Right Now

we unfold the sofa-bed
and curl up downstairs
visitors in our own home

the moon stares blindly
between the curtains
night holds its breath

I wake at 5.15
to a blackbird’s song
in the calm before dawn

at 7.25 a long sigh
passes through the sycamores
like a foreboding

Ama Bolton, Eunice

In the “back on” of my poetry life, I have 1) submitted some poems 2) researched and prepared some other submissions, and 3) looked again at a chapbook manuscript I will probably submit in March. Everything feels slow…but at exactly the right pace. Meanwhile, the poetry notebook continues to fill up with drafts, including a recent one based on a nightmare (morning mare) that I call “Scary America” in my mind (and in the notebook) but which I realize was premonitory, as in one day in advance of Putin’s actual attack on Ukraine, which had been looming darkly in my brain as well as the news. The dream was like a juxtaposition of the June 6 insurrection in the USA if it had continued into an overthrow of our government + the Russia/Ukraine situation. I feel further and weirdly connected, as my Life Sucks character Babs was of Ukrainian ancestry.

Kathleen Kirk, Back On

The gods will ask me
did I do right by what resides
in all the lavish desert—for the lizard’s eyesight,
for Coyote
who dissolves into the bush?
For the disgraced
night sky, mottled with a light that isn’t hers.

And I will say, it wasn’t love as I have known it.
Instead it was a falling in.
A disability of love.
I could do nothing
but paint the nothing I became.

Kristen McHenry, The Artist

Since my first full collection, The Knives of Villalejo, back in 2017, I’ve had perhaps my most fruitful period ever in terms of placing new poems in high-quality journals. In fact, I’ve published a total of 44 poems in outlets such as The Spectator, The New European, Stand, Acumen, Poetry Birmingham, Wild Court, etc, etc.

However, in that same period, absolutely everything I’ve submitted via Submittable has been rejected – a total of 31 batches of poems, all declined. Why? What might the reasons be?

Of course, one immediate reason may be that more people submit to journals via Submittable than via other means, while another suggestion might be that many of the most prestigious mags use Submittable. Oh, and an additional option is that younger editors tend to work with the platform, and my poems are less to their taste. Nevertheless, I do believe that I’ve accumulated a pretty decent and broad list of credits elsewhere (see above) during that same period.

What’s my point? What potential conclusions could be drawn? Well, I’d argue that the use of Submittable is extremely detrimental to the type of poetry I write. It favours work that catches a superficial eye rather than poems that layer their effects with subtlety. This isn’t to knock editors’ decisions, just a reflection on the way Submittable potentially skews their choices. Do you agree? If so, is the use of Submittable changing the poetry some people write and subsequently read? Is this a change for the better…?

Matthew Stewart, Poetry submissions via Submittable

That morning
Dad asked where you are
three times.
Each time I answered
I watched him lose you again.

Magnified and sanctified,
I whispered in Aramaic.
My horse’s ears twitched.
The mourning doves
murmured amen.

Rachel Barenblat, Trail

Effective music is not the words, it’s the intervals between the notes, how the notes are made: plunk or draw, hum or tatat. I’ve mentioned this before. Music has an emotional narrative made up of tension and relief, just as a story does, or a poem. I once tried to write a poem using just sounds to communicate an emotion. I don’t know if the poem worked, but it was a fun project.

And of course choice of words should be governed not only by meaning, significations, suggestions, but also sound, as we word-ers go about our poem-making. I think I do this intuitively, but it’s useful to be reminded.

Some words weigh more than others, sonically. “Indubitably” is going to do something different in so many ways than “yup.” (Now I want to write a poem that uses both…) I read a poem recently that was drunk on the short i sound of “if,” making use of something of its uncertainty, its effort toward something. There’s something certain about the landing in a word like “jump,” the satisfying ump signifying you’ve stuck the landing, versus “leap,” which even though ends in a p (as all falling things land) the eeee sound takes you out into the air, that silent a like your open mouth, your wide eyes. There’s a p coming, but how long, how far away? eeeee

Marilyn McCabe, Singin’ la la la; or, On Music and Poetry

lung wrecked in the wing back chair
my father was marooned in his house

he rewatched the programmes
he did not like the first time round

told me that there was a certain
safety in knowing what comes next

Paul Tobin, LUNG WRECKED

Of course, Ukraine has been on my mind lately, like it has been on everyone’s mind. Yesterday, someone on my Facebook feed posted a field recording of an old Ukrainian woman singing. I was very struck by the song and her haunting voice as well as by her powerful presence. However, the thing that struck me the most was her hands: strong, thick and always moving as she sang. They were very expressive: a life, emotions, age, strength. So, I made this video using two of my poems which I feel relate to loss, strength, war,  grief and love; I feel like they connect to a sense of what is happening now.

I used a close-up of this singer’s hands in this video as well as introducing other visual elements. The music is a remix that I did (adding various clarinets and saxophones plus a bunch of electronics) to a recording of a rehearsal which my sister-in-law Pam Campbell sent me of her singing with her group Tupan. 

Gary Barwin, A Singer’s Hands

I’m bothered by the abrupt shift from a protective warmth to the skin of a boat in icy seas, which morph into a harbour where the last ferry  pulses and slide like a birthday cake off the plated sea. Every one of the phrases rings true, but belong in different places in space and history. I can make connections with the typical folk-tale of a man who steals a female selkie’s skin, finds her naked on the sea shore, and compels her to become his wife, and how the wife will spend her time in captivity longing for the sea, her true home.  She may bear several children by her human husband, but once she discovers her skin, she will immediately return to the sea and abandon the children she loved. But then I have to connect that with what well may be an Orkney harbour, a CalMac ferry, the shimmering bodies, the skintight suit that may (or may not) be a diver’s wet suit. Everything is real and baffling. And everything is precisely placed, filmic. I love it. Just don’t ask me to explain it. I keep coming up with different answers.

John Foggin, My kind of poetry: Marion Oxley’s “In the taxidermist’s house”

The prose poems in We Are Hopelessly Small and Modern Birds are curiously built, with each stanza-block existing as a single breath, a single thought, composing a semi-ongoing narrative amid lyric bursts. Through a lyric of surreal narratives, Lefsyk’s poem offer a story that exists in a shimmering dream-state, shifting in and out of focus. “OCCASIONALLY,” she writes, to open a poem early on in the collection, “OUR APARTMENT COMPLEX floats out to sea. As it was, Kant and I had our noses somewhere in the distance. ‘Most likely there is no meaning in things,’ Kant says. ‘Or only in the ultimate logic of certain animal forms and avian noises.’ // For this reason my bones feel like the small broken bones of a very tiny goldfish.” Set in five sections with an opening salvo, a poem-as-dedication “for and after FEDERICO GARCİA LORCA,” her narrator speaks from a ward and of doctors, dentists, husbands and philosophers in poems composed out of a kind of easy-flowing, clear and liquid motion. As well, there is something interesting about the way she writes of the body and the self, the narrator writing from a perspective that verges on primal, seen through a surreal lens. “IF I WERE A WIFE and a mother I would be a wife and a mother.” she writes, mid-way through the collection. “All my children say: ‘Build me,’ but the son takes my pelvis and runs it through the supermarket. // I go into and out of this supermarket whenever I want.” After having gone through this collection, I’m genuinely curious to find out what she’s been working on since.

rob mclennan, Sara Lefsyk, We Are Hopelessly Small and Modern Birds

Heather Swan: David, your book, Years Beyond the River, is filled with such a wide array of specific language describing the plants and animals in the landscapes you inhabit. Did you cultivate this intimate knowing and capacity for naming these things as an adult or did you grow up knowing them? And what is the importance of that naming to you?

David Axelrod:
That’s a great question to begin with and the answer is yes and no, or more precisely it wasn’t and isn’t an either/or matter for me. My maternal grandfather was enchanted by living things and plant lore, and I was prone to grotesque cases of “poison ivory” as he used to say (he also enjoyed punning). It was he who taught me about the cooling effects of the crushed stalks of jewelweed, that is, spotted touch-me-not, which grew in abundance in the creek bottoms and along farm lanes. I recall him washing my legs with the crushed plant after I’d inadvertently walked through poison ivy in shorts, and for once I didn’t suffer the consequences of my blindness to things. I’d found an ally! He taught me to identify animal tracks, common birds, trees by leaf and bark, the stars, and stories of rare things I must never miss an opportunity to see should they ever return, such as the Ohio Buckeye or Halley’s Comet, which he saw as a child. We even planted a small forest together of birches and pine. I realized that only by knowing a name would I even be able to begin to perceive what is named. The animating anxiety there is being otherwise blind to what we can’t name. I’m reminded too of something Zbigniew Herbert wrote in his poem “Never About You”: “Don’t be surprised that we can’t describe the world / we just speak to things tenderly by name.” That tenderness is what I hope to convey when I name things in poems. It’s the tenderness my odd grandfather felt for life and wished to share with me.

Diane Lockward, Terrapin Book Interview Series: Heather Swan Interviews David Axelrod

It feels entirely selfish and strange to be thinking about anything other than Ukraine and Kyiv, and those incredible people taking up arms against Russia and how utterly 2022 is is to have a Ukrainian president who is famous for being an actor/comedian who played the president in a sit-com. What a time to be alive. I’m watching WW III beginning on TikTok and Twitter because this is the world we live in today, one of mass communication via social media apps. I genuinely think that while those platforms have and will be used to disinform they are also one of the greatest ways of informing people. I’ve just read that the hacking contingency Anonymous hacked Russian state TV and played either (depending on your source) the Ukraine national anthem or Rick Astley into Russian homes. I don’t know if that’s true, I desperately want it to be true.

And so I limp to the end of February literally not knowing what the future holds, but knowing this: the birds are building nests, the rooks are in the rookery that overhangs the road and are carrying twigs about, the snow drops are out, the daffodils are emerging. The corner of my garden which was horribly flooded by a burst pipe and completely dug out during the pandemic, the corner that just so happened to be my source of spring joy with its overflowing snowdrops has, this year, come back with even more snowdrops, as if the obliteration of the soil woke them up and made them work harder to be even more splendid. Spring is coming and I will be grasping it and enjoying it. I’m so ready for winter to be over.

Wendy Pratt, Heading into March like…

Before the ice cracks
there’s a sigh
like the last attempt
at holding things
together – the moment
before whatever is going
to happen, happens –
the slightest tremble
under the skin
invisible to the eye.

Lynne Rees, Poem ~ Walking on thin ice

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 6

Poetry Blogging Network

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

This week found many poets suffering through the winter doldrums—which is not to say that blogging dropped off. Quite the opposite, in fact, probably because writing is a coping mechanism for so many of us. But there were also plenty of light moments, although they had a certain surrealism about them. And of course there were poetry-related enthusiasms to share, as always. Enjoy.


February. A grey white month. More light but still cold. The forecast is for two weeks of snow showers. A month that still belongs to winter though the light lingers later now, long slow sunrises and sunsets when the clouds relent.

Today, a walk along the beach because it was a balmy 28 degrees. And that isn’t me being funny, 28 degrees feels quite warm indeed when the winter has been one of slashing winds and single digits. Bishop’s Beach is an active beach, windrows of cobbles shifting and reforming, great tidal changes, snow and ice at the top, waves at the bottom.

I walked mostly at the highest tide line because closer to the water’s edge would have meant crossing deep channels. But walking closer to the bluffs means cobbles which slide and clatter. Twist underfoot and crimp an ankle. Slide down toward the water almost as efficiently as ice so that one finds oneself scrambling to stay on stable footing.

I actually enjoy this kind of walking because it forces one to stay in the moment. If you’re walking with someone else, it forestalls any prolonged conversations. But the sheer kinetic effort allows me to focus on the here and now.

Erin Coughlin Hollowell, Winter beach wisdom

A dirty sky, and a dreary cold day ahead. This winter has settled into my bones as no other ever has: for the first time I understand people going away to sunny places for vacations. I could stand a week or two dreaming in the sun.

Dale Favier, Golden

post-storm driving
through an arboretum
of glass

Jason Crane, haiku: 6 February 2022

I haven’t seen my favorite eight-year-old since Christmas Eve. Her parents are, again, being careful because of Covid case counts in our area. Although I miss her and her younger siblings so much I feel tearful writing this sentence, our occasional phone call lets me talk one-on-one with her in a way we rarely get to do during visits.

Today, our nearly 90 minute call started with guessing games. What Am I Thinking is her favorite. Some of today’s correct guesses turned out to be ladybugs, clouds, and atoms. Then we played Would You Rather, which simply consists of taking turns making up questions like, “Would you rather travel by hot air balloon or sailboat?” and “Would you rather be an elephant or a whale?” but she’s so darn mature these days that she tends to say, “I’d like to experience both.” This lasts until our questions get much sillier, like “Would you rather eat worms or garbage?”

She switched screens to show me her room which she recently cleaned and organized. Her large stuffed bear, who she’s named Friendly Bear, holds its own toy animal pal under one arm and a book under another. “I know you’ll like this,” she said, “because books are your favorite thing.”

We discussed which superpowers we’d choose. I said healing, so I could help heal the world. She said she’d like to be able to fly. “I’d fly over right now to hug you.”

We discussed what it’s like to talk to animals and trees. She and I agreed, they are very good listeners. “Especially when you’re sad,” she said. I told her I don’t hear dogs or trees answer in a way I can hear with my ears, but I sometimes I feel what they say inside of me. “Me too!” she said, “We’re just the same!”

Then she talked about how her mind likes to go so wild that she doesn’t notice time passing. She said, “I look around and say to myself, ‘How is this real? How am I real?’” and I said, “Me too! We’re just the same!”

Laura Grace Weldon, Just The Same

Yesterday I taught movement class and was introducing the students to Laban’s method for describing movement dynamics. You break down an action: “kick”, “snap” etc. I asked them to pick a verb that we could deconstruct into Laban’s categories fast/slow, strong/weak, etc. One student was trying to be difficult and said: “Mmmm”. No problem. We can break down a word that is not a verb, that is not a word. Because sound/utterances also have dynamics.

I had a banal little breakthrough about the link between movement and sound. Nothing original or earthshattering, but one of those beautiful moments where experience precedes acquired knowledge. Like catching a fish bare-handed from a dark stream.

This morning I read about the Tetris effect: where we experience the movements we have executed during the day as we are falling asleep. And there is the imagined speech of our inner monologues, which I know can slide out of linguistic grooves, shaking the consonants and fricatives that give it context, but keep its truth.

It seems scientists focus on what we take from this realm into sleep. And don’t acknowledge what is indigenous to sleep, and whose shadows we cram into our pockets: what little gods’ humming fills the spaces between the stop motion bits of our days. A color – or a shade of grey.

They don’t acknowledge what gods and ghosts welcome us back at night, putting a warm hand on our forehead, pushing us under the surface.

Ren Powell, I See Ghosts

crossing by river or drowning by bridge :: shall i visit the same dead

Grant Hackett [no title]

I have been dreaming about maneless Eurasian cave lions. In these dreams, I see Palaeolithic paintings of horses, eight-legged arguing bisons, extinct rhinoceros, ancient bones of bears, sparkling formations of rocks that resemble tourmalines, and etching of one woman whose head is turning into a mammoth’s. The name of the man who has printed his hand with one crooked finger can only be known by 32000 year old lions who do not speak. 

At the end of the serpentine cave, there is a six year old boy eating an apple that he has just plucked from a blossoming tree. He doesn’t know that a wolf is right behind him. Tens of thousands of years later, archaeologists will find his footprints right next to the wolf’s. 

Near the river, while watching this scene, I am playing Schubert’s Ave Maria on an ancient flute made of a hollow bone of a vulture. 

At the end of these dreams, I inevitably find an abandoned book of prayers in which the word God has been replaced by two words: Grotte Chauvet

Saudamini Deo, God and Grotte Chauvet

February moves across midnight fields of love notes, Jim Crow stones, sorrow bones, and emancipation.

It’s like chains that lose themselves in moments of song.

It’s like a guitar made of blackbirds and brambles.

It’s like a ghost home reminded of its living sweetness.

The night winds remind us we’ve come a long way to find warmth, we have a long way to go to find healing.

Rich Ferguson, Upon a February

The hotel room speaker with its choice of reassuring white noise was designed to soothe unpredictable and unfamiliar noise to enable hotel guests to sleep. This masking of unpleasant noise with pleasant noise is the only current treatment for tinnitus. There is no cure and hearing aids can worsen the problem by making the tinnitus louder so are only used if there is also underlying hearing loss. However, when everything you hear is competing against the constant ringing/buzzing/static of tinnitus, hearing is frequently difficult.

Even a relatively quiet room can seem noisy depending on the frequencies of the background noise. If you are trying to hear someone speak against background conversation and tinnitus, separating out the noises and focusing on the one you want to hear takes a lot of cognitive effort. Staying home and using text based chat is easier but feels isolating. Not everywhere can be made library-quiet and background can help even out the unpredictable, irregular noise that interrupts a conversation.

This week is Tinnitus Awareness Week. I will never know silence. But I will never be alone either. My tinnitus is always there, but it’s not constant. There are loud and quieter periods. It is not always the boring static I usually have. Sometimes it mimics other sounds or has a rhythm that can be interpreted into song. A companion.

Emma Lee, Blanket of Sound

As I pass, they quiet. I move,
they start again, we play this game
of love, of fleeting signs and flipping
our display, of feigning and igniting,
such delicately tuned engines.
In the glitter of winter sun, why shouldn’t
songbirds rock the hedge — I walk on.

Jill Pearlman, (Valentine) Birds of Play

Finding time to write is not easy for me. Almost all of my time is taken with working in publishing and teaching. I work from the time I wake up until about midnight every day. I work on weekends. When I walk my dog, I make phone calls. When I drive to the beach, I make phone calls and when I walk on the beach, I make phone calls. I wrote this poetry during my few free evenings and in the early mornings. I wrote out the first drafts and then worked on edits. In the first drafts, the narrator sounded wild around the edges, but eventually I got the dark of the poems into stanzas and into that heady place that we consider a publishable poem.

Writing poetry for me requires being alone in a quiet place. There’s not much quiet in the world, it’s full of noise. Slowing down enough to be at the pace of poetry requires stepping away from the internet, the phone, the television, and entering the void. The Loneliest Girl was written at the bottom of the well. I was down there in the dark finding my way with a flashlight, a pen, and scraps of moonlight.

When I was a child, I once spent the night at the bottom of a well. I remember when the moon rose above me and I stood to throw up my arms and yelled, “Save me!” But the moon was far away and sailed on and left me in the dark. In the morning, someone found me and threw down a rope.

Writing these poems felt like that night in the well. We are lit by our own imaginations when we write poetry, we are sailing on a canoe in the dark over the moon going to find language, story, the island of forgiveness. Sometimes I think every poem is a prayer to the universe to forgive me for not being perfect. Poetry is the language of silence. I have found my way there in The Loneliest Girl, and I emerged with a book in my hands.

The possibilities of Medusa & The Loneliest Girl – guest blog post [by] Kate Gale (Trish Hopkinson’s blog)

The buzz and whine of the shredder
is company for a whole afternoon. I dig

deep into each folder in my file cabinet
and lift out who knows how many years’

worth of dead paper—ancient receipts, stale
explanations of benefits or of where our

money went. When did we buy that? Why?
Where is it now? Still, I know more things

brought some version of happiness into this
life we’ve made, even if briefly. I would stand

in a queue in the rain to listen to a rapturous
writer or a beautiful song; would walk miles

through foggy green countryside, wait
patiently for a herd of sheep to finish

crossing the lane.

Luisa A. Igloria, Sixty

Lunerd: only accepts moon poems

Purretry: only accepts cat poems

For Goodness Ache: only accepts poems with the word “ache” somewhere in the poem

Poe-a-Tree: only accepts poems about trees

Poe-atry: only accepts poems about Edgar Allen Poe

Then I Woke Up: only accepts poems where the whole poem is actually just a dream

The Franco Review: accepts author photos first, the poems after

After: Only accepts poems that are “after” (in the style of) another poet

______: only accepts poems that use blanks, like Jorie Graham poems

The Graham: only accepts poems by Jorie Graham

Renee Emerson, Themed Literary Magazines that Should Exist

This morning, I wrote a poem.  You might say, “Of course you did.  You’re a poet.”  But I’m a poet who does more writing in other genres these days:  blog posts, e-mails, seminary writing, social media updates.  I’ve been here before, so I no longer fret.  I know that Poetry Kristin is always there, observing, making connections, tucking details away for later poems.  Poetry Kristin can outwait everything that competes with poetry for my attention.

I always feel like I am not having much luck creating whole poems, but this line came to me this morning, as I was getting a sweater out of the back of a closet and wishing I had a door to Narnia back there: we pass our planetary wealth in sweaters. I sat with this line–and these ideas of enchantment, sweaters, closets, cheap junk jewelry, portals of all sorts–and I slowly began to see a poem shimmering through.

Who needs a portal to Narnia when a poem shimmers in the pre-dawn?

I tend to think that I’m not writing poems, but my poetry legal pad tells a different tale.  The last time I wrote a poem was January 31–not that long ago, especially considering that was the week that I was severed from my job.

It seems so long ago, but it was only last week.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Enchantment, Sweaters, Poetry, Portals of All Sorts

Four rejections in 36 hours. I become depressed. Twenty-four hours later I’ve done two more submissions. It occurs to me to wonder if, in fact, I have not a writer’s work ethic for publication but a gambling problem.

One more roll of the dice. Maybe this time. Come on baby, mama needs a new pair o’ shoes. Maybe this is not the noble seeking of the writer for the reader. Maybe this is just an addiction.

Someone posted on a writers’ FB exchange that every submission moves one closer to publication. It’s a nice thought but flawed in terms of the laws of probability. Every submission has a 50:50 chance: yes:no. (The maybes don’t count. In all my years of doing this, my maybes have NEVER turned into a yes with the next submission.) Every time.

I guess there may be the rare occasions in which a writer has caught an editor’s eye, and the editor becomes more inclined toward acceptance with each promising submission. (I don’t really believe that, but I’m going to offer it to you as some sort of solace.)

I think I’m addicted to the hit of possibility, grubbing in the smoke-filled, ding-crazy hall of chance, and you, editor, are my one-armed bandit.

Marilyn McCabe, There’ll be time enough; or, On the Publication Gamble

As I close out my first week of working wholly for myself, I will give a massive shout out to the ability to actually complete things. I mean, like to the end. I’ve pretty much lived the last 18 or so odd years in a state of half-finished.  Half finished projects, half finished layouts, half finished orders strewn about.  When I had the studio, I could spend a couple hours working, but always had to switch gears and go to work.  Ditto the last couple of years. Even when I worked on things at night, I was at the end of my day and less productive, and had to often stop to go to bed.  Or weekends, to do whatever of my own stuff (housecleaning, errands, etc,) that badly needed attending. And then of course, there was the energy wasted shifting gears, moving from one things to another, whether it was an e-mail interruption or a phone call or a suddenly pressing task that needed to take precedence.  And even when you moved back to the original, it took time to refocus (if you could at all.)  I think only  in the absense of such circumstances do you realize how not at all productive they are. How much they cut away, not only from the quality and quantity of output, but your general mental drain and feelings of burn out. […]

I’ve talked with friends about the energies it tales to constanly be switching gears, and how much time and energy it takes. To pause, refocus on something else, to go back, then refocus again. At the library, distractions were constant, even when I purposely tried to ignore the dinging e-mail notification on my pc and the phone. I’d be working steadily and get interrupted by a student worker question or needy patron or broken printer.  Come back and get distracted by the news or social media, and then get back to what I was working on and then get interrupted again.  This was actually less difficult and more micro  than the shifting I would do during the day at large. Writing in the morning, press work, commuting, library (where I could potentially be working in three different modes and for three different jobs). No wonder I was mentally exhausted all the time. Sometimes I tried to devote days to one or another line, but some things, like ILL processing had to happen every day or get backed up to move smoothly. And e-mails. Sometimes 3-4 accounts to check.  Egads the amount of time to just get through them (and I feel like I never really do.) If I had an exhibit to hang or web pages to build on top of that, it was even more intense. 

So needless to say, despite feeling a little strange that I am spending so much time alone (which is fine as an introvert, but I don’t want to become Miss Havisham levels of mad) things are going quite well. I even consented to a pre-Valentines outing to a movie and maybe dinner after.  And  it occurred to me that weekend plans were usually NO because I need to reset and rest, but now I will not hit the end of the week quite as frazzled, so am much more open for outings, especially as (hopefully) the covid rates continue to fall. 

Kristy Bowen, switching gears

You can see it through the window, the saint’s face
pressing against the pane of glass,
his breath making a tiny fog.

You are outside in the cold air and the saint is inside,
the glass and a number of sins are still between you.

It is the gray of winter and the entire world seems
to be painted in shades of black and white and gray,
like some old movie.

On the other side of the window the saint breathes again,
exhaling as hard as he can, and with his finger
he begins to write you a message
on the foggy glass.

James Lee Jobe, The warm breath of the saint.

The end of January found me in some amazing company! I got to participate in two release readings for A Harp in the Stars: An Anthology of Lyric Essays (U of Nebraska Press, 2021). I’m still pinching myself to make sure I’m not dreaming about having a piece included in this gorgeous book!

On Saturday, January 29, The Writers Place in Kansas City hosted a reading on Zoom with anthology editor Randon Billings Noble and contributors Dorothy Bendel, Heidi Czerwiec, and me. Lyric essay as labyrinth? Lyric essay as body wash instructions? I loved hearing these essays aloud and sharing my “Nevermore” in such company. The sponsor was also special to me: I helped connect us to TWP, and this organization gave me a scholarship when I was an MA student at UMKC. I’m honored to be a member now.

On Monday, January 31, San Diego Writers, Ink sponsored our reading, and my former student Madi Bucci, who is now their administrative assistant, was our Zoom host! This time I got to read with Randon Billings Noble, Laurie Easter, LaTanya McQueen, and Maya Sonenberg, and I was once again stunned by my fellow contributors. Have you ever seen a lyric essay take the form of a word search (and then have it gut you with its content)? Well, you can if you read this anthology, and you definitely should.

Katie Manning, Readings in the Stars

It fascinates me how inherently collaborative and interconnected creation almost always is, even if it is not explicitly shown. We don’t only stand on the shoulders of giants, we get a boost from everyone.

Gary Barwin, BIG SAD: a video and notes about collaboration, influence and process

Yes, our trip today to Open Books – the first place I visited as a tourist to Seattle on the recommendation of one of my English professors at University of Cincinnati – reminded me of how things have changed since we moved here. Pioneer Square – a rowdier, bar-filled tourist spot that once housed Elliot Bay Books – will be the new home of Open Books, which lived in sleepier, more residential Wallingford since before I came to the town as a visitor. Elliot Bay moved to hipster – but now more “corporate condo” than “hipster artists and bars” – Capitol Hill. I used to meet friends at Open Books – see pictures – and I’ve had almost every launch reading for my books there, too. See a picture of one of them below. I’ll have to make new memories at the new location.

I used to spend hours in the rundown former funeral home that housed the Richard Hugo House when I first moved to town, imaging I was in a real artist’s place – and then I volunteered there for small local lit mags for a while. Back then, yes, there were drug deals in front of the place, it wasn’t at all accessible, and there was a rumor of a baby ghost in the basement (along with a baby’s coffin) but it felt charmingly quirky, much like the area of Capitol Hill, where you could get a drink at a dive bar with pinball machines or papier mache unicorn heads. Now, Hugo House is housed in the fairly cold, corporate grounds of a re-done condo building (and paying much more than it used to on rent, which leads to more fund-raising and less, well, artist-nurturing), and it just doesn’t feel as cozy and welcoming and well, artistic. It is more accessible (bonus!) and has bathrooms you don’t accidentally get locked in…and no ghosts (yet…)

The places that I’ve relied on to meet other writers – like Open Books and Hugo House – are changing, and have changed, and while I’m sad about that, I recognize that a city doesn’t stay the same, and a literary scene doesn’t stay the same. During the pandemic, we haven’t visited Seattle much, and we used to go every weekend, to hang out, to visit Pike Place Market or one of the many bookstores and coffee shops, always exploring new (to us) neighborhoods. Seattle’s increasing homeless problem, litter, and crime are unfortunate side effects of growth and some serious housing affordability problems as well as a lack of resources for the poor, the mentally ill, and people who age out of the foster system. Our politicians have promised fixes but haven’t (as yet) delivered. Does this affect the art scene in Seattle? Yes. Did the pandemic hurt our art scene? Unquestionable. Do we have AWP coming out next week? Yes we do! Do I want to show Seattle in its best light to my friends who come to town? Yes I do! So I will keep exploring to find out where writers and artists are hanging out now. Maybe I’ll find the next new cool artistic hangouts. I hope so.

And another problem – I live in an “ex-urb” of Seattle, Woodinville, a sleepy area of farms and wineries and a surprising number of hidden charming corners, but it has almost nothing that you could call “culture.” No art galleries, barely any indie shops, we have one Barnes and Nobles and a couple of coffee shops besides Starbucks but it’s been hard for me to build a community out here – and I encountered similar problems in 2012 when I was Redmond’s Poet Laureate, working hard with schools and librarians and visual artists and local language clubs to try to generate interest in poetry and art. Even though Redmond has Microsoft and a fair number of millionaires, and Bellevue’s real estate is now more expensive than Manhattan (said our local paper this weekend,) it’s tough to attract people or the funds to create cultural centers where art, music, theater, and poetry might thrive. I’ve dreamed of throwing salons in the area, which is beautiful, and I’m sure has a lot of artists, musicians, and writers in it, it’s just…I can’t find them, or we have no gathering places.

If I had unlimited funds and time, I might build a poetry bookshop/coffee shop/art space myself here in Woodinville, where real estate isn’t quite as pricey. I lived in Napa for a year, and they had a wonderful mix of wineries, indie book shops and restaurants, and unique gardens, farms, and markets that just made for a lovely quality of life. (Fires, earthquakes, and high taxes – all endemic to California – notwithstanding.) They even had their own writer’s conference each year! We need to start something like that. I’ll keep dreaming…

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Happy (Almost) Valentine’s Day, Faux Spring, and Thinking About Changes in Seattle’s Lit Scene

Christine Stewart-Nuñez: I know you are a prolific storyteller and an author of many novels. As I read Tell Me How You Got Here, I kept looking for an overarching narrative, but the collection refused me in the most satisfying way. I enjoyed swinging from poem to poem by collecting imagery and emotional impressions. Can you tell us more about what the genre of poetry opens for you that novels may not?

Emily Franklin: I started life as a poet, publishing in high school. In college I worked with great poets (Tom Lux, Kimiko Hahn) and thought for sure I would keep writing poetry while I worked numerous other jobs (cook, construction, teacher) but wound up being pulled into fiction writing. It made sense since I wrote mostly narrative poems. After years in the fiction world, I found lines of poetry coming back to me. For me, writing poetry is about sharing the biggest truth in the smallest form. I felt relief in trimming words and focusing on line breaks, really paring back in order to tell what needed to be told.

Christine: As a child, I maintained collections: knicknacks, earrings, dolls, stickers. Having moved a lot as an adult, I’ve let go of this tendency–with books a hearty exception. Tell Me How You Got Here appeals to my love of things because so many objects shimmer with meaning. Can you tell us more about your relationship to artifacts?

Emily: I’ve always been fascinated by what people (or crows!) collect. What people keep is also who they are or markers of what happened to them. Having moved a ton growing up, what we keep has special significance to me. I wrote Tell Me How You Got Here considering the amassing we do—and the sloughing off of items either when children grow out of things, or when a house floods (which happened to us), or what remains for people to sort through after someone dies. I like the record keeping of objects, and the freedom that comes from letting some of those objects or what they represent go.

Diane Lockward, Terrapin Books Interview Series: Christine Stewart-Nunez Interviews Emily Franklin

It has been some time since I’ve seen a book by Vermont poet Bianca Stone, since her full-length debut, Someone Else’s Wedding Vows (Octopus Books and Tin House, 2014) [see my review of such here], having clearly missed out on Poetry Comics from the Book of Hours (Pleiades Press, 2016) and The Möbius Strip Club of Grief (Portland OR: Tin House, 2018), so I was curious to see her latest collection, What is Otherwise Infinite (Tin House, 2022). In sharp, first-person narratives working around (as the front flap of the collection offers) “how we find our place in the world through themes of philosophy, religion, environment, myth, and psychology,” Stone composes poems as threads connecting accumulating points; her narratives stretched as sequences of stunning lines and connective tissue. “Time does not go beyond its maiden name.” she writes, as part of “Does Life Exist Independent of Its Form?,” ending the stanza with the offering: “how uncomfortable we are with happiness.” I remember, years ago, Ottawa poet, publisher and archivist jwcurry describing the long poems of northern British Columbia poet Barry McKinnon: how every poem worked its way toward, and then away from, a singular, central point. In comparison, Stone isn’t writing with such length, nor with a single point, but up and away from multiple points-in-succession. It is as though she is composing poems as a series of communiques across telephone wires, connecting pole to further pole to build each poem’s thesis. Through What is Otherwise Infinite, the dense lyric structures of her debut have become far more complex, extended and philosophical; there is a further depth of attention here, one that could only be achieved through experience, as the second half of the poem “I’ll Tell You” reads:

my sister tells me things
that frighten me
what I mean is
how did we get here
made of gingerbread in the oven
eaten by the mother
eaten by the wolf
my little pale nephew standing on the porch
explaining lava in the netherworld
that if you fall in a certain hole
in his game
you keep falling forever
and you don’t get to keep
any of the things
you made.

There is something curious in the way Stone attends to the “infinite,” writing around and through Biblical stories and texts, illuminated manuscripts and other religious depictions, considerations and conversations. “Human nature is bifolios,” she offers, as part of the poem “Illuminations,” “versos, even blank pages / with preparatory rulings for the scribes, never painted upon. / Little books of suffering saints and resurrections. / That’s what we are.” A few lines further, offering: “On this sheet / the Evangelist dips a pen into an inkpot / and rests an arm on the side of a chair, / inspired, like Luke, by the dove, / preparing to set down an account of a life / on paper made from the skin of sheep.” There is a wit to these poems, as Stone offers both guidance and clarity through lived experience and wisdoms hard-won, articulating her takes on depictions of the spiritual from sources high and low. She writes from a world that includes faith, medieval texts and trips to Walmart, and both a sense of ongoing intellectual and spiritual pilgrimage alongside flailing, falling and being nearly overwhelmed. “A serious drama in a cosmic joke. / Scarred,” she writes, as part of the poem “The Way Things Were Until Now,” “masked, dangerous. / And what of the new Eucharist? / How hungry I always am. How I long to lack. / Though in Walmart / my heart beats a little faster. / I want the world to heal up.” Here, Stone becomes the pilgrim, and the composition of these poems-as-pure-thinking are, in effect, as much the act of pilgrimage as they are the articulation of that same journey. “I don’t know. What is it to be seen?” she writes, as part of “Artichokes,” “I can forget / it’s language I long for. Man and his ciphers / cannot save me.” This truly is a stunning collection, as Stone offers her narrator a chaos equally physical and metaphysical that requires balance, one that can only be achieved through a constant, endless and attentive search.

rob mclennan, Bianca Stone, What is Otherwise Infinite

As Judi Sutherland mentions in the introduction to her new book-length, beautifully illustrated poem, Following Teisa (The Book Mill Press, 2021), rivers have long played an important role in U.K. poetry. From Wordsworth to Oswald, water in general is perhaps more present and prevalent as a symbol, an image, a leitmotif or even a theme in itself than in other countries. This might well because the poets in question are living on an island or in a dodgy climate, of course. However, leaving aside attempts at cod psychology, the fact remains that Sutherland is acknowledging and tapping into a rich seam.

History and the significance of place are both important cornerstones of this collection. The title itself, for instance, references an 18th Century long poem about the River Tees which was titled Teisa, Sutherland explores our relationship with the evolving role of our surroundings. In doing so, her perspective is also crucial, as explained in the following extract from the introduction:

…I moved to Teesdale in 2014 and felt dreadfully homesick for my previous village near the Thames. I started walking by the Tees as a way of getting to know and love my new environment and decided to repeat Anne Wilson’s poetic journey for a different generation…

In other words, Sutherland engages as an outsider. There’s no forced attempt at vernacular, for instance. Instead, she invites us along on her own exploration of the River Tees, portraying it in language that’s both rich yet deft, as is indicated by the opening lines to the poem itself:

How it wells up from nowhere to chase
gravity downhill, becomes a rill,
a rickle of old stones, then hurtles rocks,
purls and pools in reed…

There’s huge skill present here, not just in the assonance, alliteration and internal rhyme, but in the precise way it’s all patterned and  interlinked, one device starting before the previous one has come to an end: downhill-rill/rill-rickle/rickle-hurtle/hurtle-purls/purls-pools. The effect is to mirror the onrushing movement of water.

Matthew Stewart, History and place, Judi Sutherland’s Following Teisa

The way it breaks is
the way it breaks,

the old monk said,
whether you’re talking

about a storm,
a walking stick, or

a line of poetry.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (131)

I have been learning much and enjoying Robert Alter’s The Art of Biblical Poetry; as much as I found his texts on biblical narrative intriguing, this book appeals to me more not just on the levels of scholarship, history, and explication but because he clearly loves and understands poetry. Which cannot be said about every scholar who writes about the Old Testament books (and they are many).

For example, Alter recognizes that trying to categorize biblical poetry into formulaic genres is useful only in the most general way, because the most enduring (poetically ‘best’) verses persist as significant and special because they are excellent poems. Which means they may not follow stereotypical genres or fit the “given conventions of style” of a type of poem. Indeed, he refers to the author of Job’s Voice from the Whirlwind and the prophetic author known as Deutero-Isaiah as geniuses. Then he provides evidence of this genius through explications that rely not only on scholarship and historical sources and contextual information but through the beautiful poetry itself.

Convention gives writers of both verse and prose a solid framework in which to construct their own discourse, but good writers always exert a subtle pressure on convention…remaking it as they build within it.
Robert Alter

Paradoxes and “radical ambiguities” abound in these ancient poems, and the urgent ideas they chose to convey through poetry manage to feel significant even today, thousands of years later. The fictive aspect of poetry–its imaginative spur–appears in the biblical imagery of (imagined) apocalypse, (imagined) utopia, (imagined) peace and bounty. [Non-believers might add: (imagined) god.]

Alter writes with some wit and considerable modesty, though maybe it’s false modesty since he’s clearly attached to his arguments concerning the Masoretic text, translations of biblical Hebrew, and the structure and syntax of these poems. At any rate, his style permits him to write for the non-scholar. Much appreciated by this non-scholar!

Ann E. Michael, Psalms, Job, & poetry

Recently Mr. Typist bought a microscope, and it took me back to a strangely happy memory of when I was in grade school and we would go out into the woods behind the school, gather pond water in baby food jars, then look at it under a microscope. The first time I saw a paramecium, it filled me with elation and a deep sense of spiritual comfort. It felt like such a miracle that there could be an entire unseen universe of tiny busy life forms carrying on their functions, breathing, excreting and pulsating deep under the surface. I loved looking at the paramecia, and if I had a better brain for science and math, it would have inspired me to become a biologist. When it warms up a bit and we get through a fairly daunting apartment-improvement project, Mr. Typist and I are going to go gather up some water samples from our local parks and shorelines and see what we find under the lens. I’m super-excited about it.

Kristen McHenry, Fun with Paramecia, Gym Fail, Appeasing the Coffee God

Step outside yourself, the air here tastes of stubborn
wonderment. The statelessness negates gravity, wings

tickle the fears in your back. There are more moons
than you can count, each one a different shape.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, What if I don’t want to go back?

When I posted a photo from this series of cocktail still lifes, I used the caption, Photography: a magic or an art? They’re just photos of three drinks mixed with various spirits, but I had a lot of questions floating around in my head at the time, as happens. Like, how are photos believable and in what ways are they simply pretend? What is beauty for? And can it be an antidote for the fuckery of the world? I was mixing these drinks up one afternoon like they were potions or cures. I was thinking about love because someone had said about the protests/illegal gatherings, that you know there’s something off about them because there is no love present. How did we even get here? Historians will be dissecting this time period forever. What happened to people? When did some of us stop caring about others? And I don’t mean just the anti-vaxxers etc. What about us too? Is it just generally harder to care about others because of distance, space, isolation, our hardened hearts? I know I have changed a lot in these past two years. I hold myself back, I’m less open-hearted.

If people can change, can they also change back? Is there a drink or a potion or a magic trick for that? I don’t know if I’m going be able to completely transform, you know, but when I’m not dead-tired and soul-deadened, I want to. If I can change, can I believe that someone with opposing viewpoints can also change? If I want you to see me for my spirit and aspirations, is it not only fair that I try to see yours?

Shawna Lemay, The Spirit in Aspiration

I find myself taking my time when returning from tasks outside of the house, taking the Ghost Lake route, my mind wandering the contours, the black peat fields, the terraced valley sides. I watch the crows, I watch the way the rain makes the leafless trees darker, so that their bark is black, the water filling every cell, every crevice, every crack. I feel like I am absorbing this week in the same way, letting the darkness of it into me, filling me up until it comes out of my mouth, or at least out of my fingers, leeching out of my finger prints, through the pen, the computer, onto the white of the page. This is where I am right now. […]

Tomorrow is a new day, though the rain is set to continue for a good week. I have lots to look forward to: I am loving my own The Caged Bird Sings course, my Friday afternoon group are so engaged and willing, and kind and fun, it is genuinely the highlight of my week. Next week I’m also looking forward to running a workshop for the Poetry Business on de-romanticising the rural, you can book a place here. I love talking to people about poetry and finding new ways to write, so I’m really looking forward to working under the PB banner. And I’m looking forward to the private course chats I have scheduled over the week. I’m also meeting a new writer friend for coffee. It’s going to be a very ‘people heavy’ week, something I’m not used to, being the rural hermit that I am, but perhaps something that will do me good.

I see so many people facing so many challenges lately, I want to give us all a hug. Spring’s on it’s way, though, catkins in the lane, the jackdaws are poking their heads into last year’s tree-hole-nests. We just have to weather it out.

Wendy Pratt, A Challenging Week

and so here we are
funeral day
and the new patio isn’t half finished
they will have done a bit more by the time
we come back from the crematorium
they are not turning the soil there
with a red digger like ours
they / we are burning memories
deep into the patio of the past
the flowers of ash
would make good fertiliser
on the wind from here to the garden
is but a breath not taken
one foot in each world
we withdraw one from the sinking
and place two on a brand new patio
how nice it all went

Jim Young, for janet

I’ve finished reading James Joyce’s Ulysses in time for its centenary year. This wasn’t my plan when I picked it up for the first time in, when was it? 2009 I think. It’s taken me twelve years with many pauses, re-starts, pauses. 

The copy of the book I bought at the Keele University bookshop (I was studying for an MA in Creative Writing at the time, was open to influence) has travelled with me, sat on various shelves, its spine cracking, the edges of its pages yellowing. 

The book was recommended to me by Scott McCracken, by Miss Cooper, by Jeremy Fisher, by Pope Innocent III, by Sue the Librarian, and all of them in it for the literature. I took it with me to France, to Italy, to Wyle Cop, to Ceredigion, and even to Dublin itself. It weighed me down with its great reputational promises and its respectable unrespectability. I began to think it had defeated me.

What is it to be so famous and to represent a formidable pinnacle of literature, to become reading for the super-diligent? By degrees, Ulysses became a monument to a decline in concentration, to my perception that the pandemic and Facebook between them had done for my ability to read at length. What I could manage had been reduced to Guardian articles, or, on a good day, Billy Collins’ poems. […]

The final reading was all done and dusted in less than a year among the bed sheets and pine cones and sometimes with the sea lapping at my feet at Fairbourne. Penelope is the most wonderful thing I’ve ever read because it’s wonderful, and because it came like that cold beer, crisps and pie I ate all at once at the pub at the foot of Cader Idris after misreading the largescale OS map on the descent.

So yes to the book which sat on my shelf plump and teasing with its thousands upon thousands of tiny pawprint words yes the twelve years the eighteen episodes yes the rollicking kidney of Irish history fried up in memory yes the guffaws yes the blushes and the winding boredom with another mug of coffee yes the classical religious literary references assumed in hours of lying there propped up on one hand making no sense and then sense coming unravelling its freewheeling veracity all over the inside of my imagination and yes yes I will read it again Yes.

Liz Lefroy, I Say Yes

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 5

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 saw poets saying goodbye to long-time jobs, grieving the dead, going for walks, collaborating on poetry videos, getting grouchy about new books or their own poems—or even the flow state in which they write, and much more. Enjoy!


It’s February 3, and I just went through the house, changing the calendars from January to February. We are snowed in. Last night’s rehearsal was cancelled, and perhaps tonight’s will be, too, which is really a preview performance, but, egad!–we have barely had a dress rehearsal. Anxiety balanced by yoga. I did not see any groundhogs in real life or on the news (because I wasn’t watching the news), but I did see what I thought was a large owl, hunkered down in the snow, scanning the yard for small prey. It transformed, via head movement, into a rabbit, a huge rabbit, just sitting out there in the snow, flicking its now visible ears.

Kathleen Kirk, No Groundhogs

All this desk work has meant I’ve been walking the dog later in the day and often catching only the last sliver of daylight. This is a good time of day to be walking – the air smells of earth and damp, grass and sheep, hedgerows filled with shouty sparrows preparing to roost. Sometimes the sun catches the tops of the beech trees as its setting, and the branches become rose gold in the light. The windows of the cottages are warm squares and the train, if I see it run through the village, is a gallery of empty seats, sleeping heads, newspapers, books and laptops slicing into the black. This winter we’ve been spoiled by some wonderful sunsets. I like to catch the sunset from a hill at the far end of the village, watch it slide down the valley, then turn and walk back as the dark encroaches, pulling the colour out of it all until the lane is silver, the hills charcoal, the village a brightness of lamps and warm living rooms.

The tax return this year was probably the worst I’ve had to submit in terms of complication and stress. […] Doing my accounts […] is a bit like travelling back in time, I can feel the anxiety and stress and weekend working leaching out of the numbers. It made me ill with stress, but also helped my business (my business being me, effectively) survive the pandemic. I lost work in lots of face to face areas and had to drive up business in the online areas and I’m proud to say that after seven years of being self employed and edging sideways towards making my living from creative writing with some tutoring and teaching, I earned the same in 2020/21 as I did when I left my job as a microbiologist. It was hard, hard work, but I have reached a bench mark that I set myself years ago, and that makes me happy. I’m still working out how to manage my time to give me more writing time, but it is happening. Small goals, small steps with an image of what the main goal is. I’m getting there. Sometimes I am so stuck in the stress I forget that the outside world exists. As soon as I’m out in the weather, though, it’s like I feel real, as if a papery version of me exists in my office, but the real me exists only outside in the dusk and the weather.

Wendy Pratt, Walking at Dusk

The ladder serves the myth
that elevation is a need. Because stars and gods
live in the sky. Because the higher you go, the

further it still is. You move seven squares forward,
dodging a venomous fang, not quite at the
lowest step. It has been raining for days. If

there was a sky, it has collapsed into the ground.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Paradox

It’s winter, nights are in the low teens, and the ground out here is covered with snow. I’m still hiking in the local woods most weekends. My class at Rosemont college is off to a good start–brilliant and insightful students. My monthly local workshop is still going strong after more than 10 years. We’re on zoom at the moment, but we all hope to be back in person soon, as soon as it’s safe.

The writing has been going well, and publishing hasn’t been too bad either. My book manuscript has been a finalist about 5 times so far. I’ve had new poems published by Greensboro Review, UCity Review, Cider Press Review, and some others. Later this year I’ve got poems coming out in Sand Hills Review, Kenyon Review, Louisiana Literature, and Verse Daily, with hopefully more to announce soon.

My 2020 book, Muddy Dragon on the Road to Heaven, received a very positive write-up in Broad City Review, which you can read here. If you’re interested in checking out the book, you can find it here.

Grant Clauser, 2022 Update

I stared into the sun.
The last thing I remember, tears

were simmering in my eyes and your name
had frozen on my tongue.

Karen Dennison, Poetry and science 9 – Leaving

I am elated to announce that Mother Mary Comes To Me: A Pop Culture Poetry Anthology has been selected as a 2022 Book All Georgians Should Read by Georgia Center for the Book. Karen Head and I worked for seven years to find a home for this project, so this honor is a testimony to perseverance and to the brilliant poets who contributed their work. And, of course, to Madville Publishing who loved the anthology and has made the whole publication process a pleasure. 

Collin Kelley, Anthology named 2022 Book All Georgians Should Read

I’d like to say a public thank you to Presence for sending me books to review from time to time, and for having faith in my haiku. Sometimes it feels like I’m working very much on the fringes (probably no bad thing). Lockdown enabled me to follow some new routes too, but that has also led to me feeling a bit out of the loop (again, that might not be a bad thing). Nevertheless, Presence has linked me to the haiku community and I really appreciate that sense of fellowship.

Another poetic community is The Poets Directory who have invited me to read at their ‘virtual stanza’ event. So:

Join us on Sunday February 13th at 19:00 for the December Poets’ Directory Live! Virtual Stanza event via Zoom. The event is part of the Poetry Society’s network of Stanza groups and brings poetry into your home every month. With readings from the excellent Chaucer Cameron, Julie Mellor, Damien Donnelly, Rory Waterman and Pascale Petit.

I have to say I’m in awe of the poets I’ll be supporting. Anyway, I’ll be taking a deep breath and hoping for the best! The free online event takes place on Sun 13th Feb at 7.00 – further details can be found here. Hope some of you can join us.

Julie Mellor, Reviews and readings …

A nightmare crossdresses in lullabies.

A hesitation builds dirigibles of yesness.

A quiet, quarantined heart manages a highway hum.

A fleeting second impersonates forever.

Rich Ferguson, Once Upon a Moment’s Noticings

How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to translation)? What do you see as the appeal?

Translation of poetry is on a continuum with writing it, even if, in a sense, it’s also unwriting (taking things apart). Having “translated” only a small number of poems, with only the most rudimentary knowledge of the language of the original (Russian), I can have little to add to what real translators think and do. Even the occasion of my first involvement with translation was a bit of happenstance: In 1989, Lyn Hejinian and Arkadii Dragomoshchenko paired five American poets, of whom I was one, with five Russian poets for a sort of experiment in translation. This was during Perestroika, so before the fall of the USSR, and the enthusiasm for communication across what was left of the iron curtain was high. The idea was to do it transpersonally, not just transtextually. So the ten of us met in Stockholm and Helsinki, and then Leningrad, to talk face to face and, with that dialogue as a kind of substrate, to read and translate each other’s work. “Translation,” on these terms, involved a great deal of talking, eating, drinking, smoking, reading, walking around, guessing, second guessing—being—all activities (except smoking) that figure into my own process. […]

David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?

All of the above. Definitely every instance of culture I consume, plus human conversation—the sound of people talking—really anything that crosses my perceptual bow. Lately I’ve been interested in what John Rapko calls “proto-art”—what you might think of as “found” objects in nature (or culture), naïve works, things that were once thought “primitive” or were at one time thought important, now not. The attraction is the lack of finish or determined meaning—the fact that meaning can occur unintentionally or quasi-intentionally. That there can be an unadulterated, unfiltered perceptual reward in something that didn’t mean to be art. Perhaps a weird thing for someone who makes art to say.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Jean Day

why are children who will never bear a child :: the lullaby that i sing

Grant Hackett [no title]

Destiny
is rhyme
and spring

nine hells
three heavens

our
remains hard
and sweet sugar.

Ernesto Priego, 3. La calavera

I have begun to think of Higher Ed as a bad boyfriend, who breaks one’s heart again and again, and apologizes profusely and each time, one thinks it might be different. Not an abusive boyfriend, in that one’s face isn’t broken and it’s not bad enough that one knows to run away. There’s potential–one wants it all to be different. But the Higher Education bad boyfriend breaks one’s heart in so many ways.

Let me hasten to say that I feel fortunate in so many ways.  Since we spent much of 2021 thinking I would lose my job, we made alternate plans.  I am so grateful to Feb. 2021 Kristin who went ahead and applied for seminary and candidacy.  I am so grateful that we have sold the house.  I am so grateful that I have a vision of an alternate future.

While I will miss many of my colleagues, I am also grateful that someone else will have the task of leading the campus through the accreditation visit in 2 months.  I was not looking forward to many of the changes that were barreling towards us.

I will return to the campus today for a final time to box up books and load up the car.  When the HR person asked if I had any questions, I thought, I have so many questions.  But the one I asked was “I have more personal stuff in my office than I can get home today in my little car.  How do you want me to handle that?”

This morning, after a night of restless sleep, I woke up with a Meat Loaf lyric in my head:  “I want you, I need you, but there ain’t no way I’m ever gonna love you.” Thanks Higher Ed Bad Boyfriend! Now listening to Jimmy Buffett’s “Breathe In, Breathe Out, Move On.” That man doesn’t get enough credit for his skillful lyrics.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Play List for Job Loss: Higher Ed Bad Boyfriend Strikes Again

On Friday, people at work, as goodbye-for-nows were exchanged and tiny celebrations hatched, kept asking me how nice it must be going to be to have my time be my own.  I laughed, of course and said I’d probably be busier than ever, which is no doubt true, but it will feel different.  Especially since, for one, I have the freedom to set my own schedules and routines in a way I have not for, well, really since ever. College was something dictated by class schedules and play rehearsals. Grad school at DePaul had a little more free time when I wasn’t in classes, but was largely a time of full-time study and some writing. Since, I’ve been working full-time in addition to fitting all my more creative pursuits around it (and there was that crazy 4 year span where I was also getting my MFA.) My outside pursuits happened largely in the in-betweens and in odd hours either early or late in the day. My course was entirely dictated by work schedules, which is what will change. 

Over the weeks since I decided to leave, I’ve been thinking about how I want to structure my day, now that I am free to choose when and where to focus efforts.  There will be the freelance stuff…maybe 3 hours a day. The press/shop which will now get 4 hours daily which will be so much more generous than the previous 1-2 and weekends. (which means more on-schedule dgp releases, more time to clear the inbox, better marketing,  faster order turnaround, and new shop offerings.)  Daily writing, time my own writing and art projects, maybe 1-2 hours rather than hits and misses all week or manic sprints to finish on deadlines.  I’ll have the discretion of nights, when I can either do more work if I want or chill as needed.  Same with weekends (this is one thing I am looking forward to..a little more work/life balance…because I have never had it.)  I’ll also be working maybe 8-9 hours daily and not 11-12 so that will be great.  Also, no commuting, but much more ample time for walks. 

Kristy Bowen, of work and time

The present is still raucous

as vaudeville, or extravagant with drama:
clumsy actors stepping into wet cement,

falling on their knees; raising their eyes
to a tarpaulin sky as a calliope whistles

a carnival song, not quite drowning
the sounds of funerals and thunder.

Luisa A. Igloria, Soundtracks

I’m wrangling with a poem right now that was sparked by an interesting tidbit of science research. This is often how poems begin for me. I spun that out a bit and then tried to bring it back home, to me, to my life, and then spun it out again to include a “you.” I liked the movement of it. (Sidebar: I got a sciency poem rejected recently because it was too personal. I thought that was funny. I’m nothing if not a science experiment myself.) But in the end it felt sentimental, that is, there was a superficial emotionality to it that was unearned.

Was it in how the poem landed? Was it a question of language? Was it some problem inherent to the poem’s…what…journey or something, its heart or something?

A friend took a squint at it, rearranged it some, took out a line, made some suggestions. That helped smooth the sentimental edge but the poem still didn’t quite…what? It didn’t do whatever it is I want a poem to do: Transcend its details or ask an unanswerable question that needed to be asked or flip my thinking on its head or suddenly rearrange the world in a new way or…well…any of those magical things a poem can do.

It’s funny, isn’t it, what a poem can do, and how a poem can fail to do “It,” that poemy thing. Such a small figure, a poem, and how vast it can be. And how confounding.

Marilyn McCabe, Cruisin’ with a six; or, Anatomy of a Revision

If I pick up a new poetry book, I want to find images, language, meaning, that provokes me into sensing or knowing something I didn’t sense or know before I began. This is a fairly basic and generalised summary, yes, but it’s a fair test. I don’t mind a lot being asked of me – in fact, it can be thrilling to find yourself immersed in poetry or writing that challenges you on several levels. I’m happy reading experimental writing where you sense the poet isn’t even sure where the poem is going, or where some images connect easily and others are hard to pin down, or is doing something that at times is just plain mad. (See previous reviews of the work of Peter Finch and Michael Kriesel.) Part of the fun of reading poetry is having to work at it. I want to sense that a writer is really trying to work at their craft – and not just in a technical sense. More often than not I find the restraints of ‘form’ tiresome.

It’s also plain that not everyone can produce something extraordinary, even once in their lives – and even the best writers can and do release stuff that is sub-standard, that is published because of who they are, not how good it is. That happens in all areas of publishing: look at Bob Dylan’s Self Portrait album, for example, when as I understand it he had fallen out with his record company and just bashed something out that he knew very well was a long way short of what he could do. People still ran out to buy it. Me included. So, to a certain extent, if you want to go on reading poems, you have to allow for some forgiveness and tolerance.

However, I think the problem I found was that all six of the books I read felt similar. It felt as if they were all coming out of some kind of collective mindset, that ‘this is what poetry is and this is the way to write it’ as if they were a part of some kind of club where everyone knew what the limits and boundaries were and created collections that sat safely within them. It felt as if they had all read the same ‘How To Write Poetry’ manuals.

Bob Mee, I BOUGHT SIX POETRY BOOKS. NONE OF THEM INTERESTED ME.

I first met Dana Gioia at the West Chester Poetry Conference somewhere between 2008 and 2012. I was wearing a name tag that included where I lived at the time, Frederick, Maryland, a small city north of Washington, D.C., most famous for being the resting place of Francis Scott Key.

Immediately after we shook hands, Gioia launched into reciting “Barbara Frietchie” by John Greenleaf Whittier. It was a delightful connection to have made! I knew that Gioia had been head of the National Endowment for the Arts and had founded (with Michael Peich) the poetry conference I was attending. What I didn’t know was how his precise recitation in that slow baritone could at once captivate and soothe.

In high school when I first decided that the rest of my life would be this lifelong journey with writing, I cherished the book Letters to a Young Poet, given to me by my sophomore English teacher as a graduation present. I’ve carried that book with me everywhere I’ve lived and worked — from the east coast of U.S. to the upper Midwest to Shanghai, China and most recently here to Hong Kong. This is part of the reason I share Dana Gioia’s six-part series below. In the same vein as Letters to a Young Poet, Gioa’s new YouTube video series is a good place to start if you’re embarking on a writing life or simply beating yourself up for not writing as much as you would like. Unlike Letter to a young Poet, Gioia’s series provides practical wisdom on engaging (or reengaging) with a writing life given the busy demands of working full time.

Scot Slaby, If you want to help anyone start their writing journey, show them this

One of the best things about sharing creativity online is when other creative folks make something beautiful and new, arising out of / inspired by / in conversation with something that I created.

Like this right here, created by two longtime blogfriends:

The Gifts from Allan Hollander on Vimeo.

The audio recording is by Allan Hollander, and the animation is by Alison Kent.

The poem was originally published in my first book-length collection of poetry, 70 faces: Torah poems (Phoenicia, 2011). If you don’t have a copy, I hope you’ll consider picking one up wherever fine books are sold. 

Rachel Barenblat, The Gifts – video

Some years back my old high school friend Hilary McDaniels Douglas invited me to write some music for her aerial dance company Project in Motion, based in Las Cruces, New Mexico. She requested that I set a poem by Rilke and of course I couldn’t resist. I also included a poem whih appeared in my book Moon Baboon Canoe that I’d written and that felt appropriate. The overall theme of the piece was to be about water. 

Last night I began exploring a video clip of moving letters. (Full disclosure: I stole it off the Internet.) I transformed it: I layered it, expanded and contracted it, changed the colours and the movement and generally played around with it. It was riverine. It reminded me of the flowing letters in Justin Stephenson’s spectucular film about bpNichol, The Complete Works. 

I loved how the letters moved and replaced a poem that I’d stuck over top with an audiotrack of a funky distorted saxophone-based track that I’d made with a video of my hands moving. I realized that I’d need a much more flowing audio track and remembered the Rilke track that I’d made for Hilary. It was all about flowing, movement, and in my poem, it mentions hands. The whole thing worked so well together. I began transforming the video to be all about the Rilke track. I’m really thrilled with how it turned out. From a series of associations and accidents, this lovely thing that I stumbled on. [video link]

Gary Barwin, On Fishes: a video setting of a poem by RIlke and another guy

My uncles worked the Ship Canal
tugmen, exempt from The Call Up
free to drink each St Monday dry.
My mother was at war with them
the hostilities endless.
I could never fathom the reason
and she was not the kind to ask
even when I was grown and she frail
with aching hands of knotted oak.

Paul Tobin, DRINK ST MONDAY DRY

This morning I learned that 65 species of animals laugh. A few years ago I wrote Are You An Anthropocentrist? with examples of our fellow creatures making tools, doing math, demonstrating altruism, and so much more. Pretty sure laughter is just the iceberg edge of what we don’t yet recognize…

Laura Grace Weldon, Where I’m Finding Delight This Week

it’s about opening your mind
unbotting the furnace
raising the sluice gates
watching the leaves rush
down to the sea’s page
too fast to stop
too fast to review
emptying the lake
that never empties
screaming the silence
of devil may care
the never ending cataract
of clenched teeth in rictus

Jim Young, flow ~ now what’s to know

For those poets who aren’t on Instagram yet, or do not feel confident using it, I have to say, I was so grateful for this Instagram book review yesterday – and unlike some reviews, this generated sales – at least as well as I can measure on Amazon sales rank – right away! What a shock!

Thank you to TheBookshelfCafeNews for the shoutout and poets, go get on Instagram and let’s start talking about poetry books there. I am still getting used to the medium (sometimes I forget hashtags, and I’m still not confident in my ability to post “stories”) but think it is definitely worth being on there. There’s less of the negative vibe that can sometimes get overwhelming on Twitter, plus as many pictures of baby animals or cool art as you want to include in your feed. Yes, it’s still owned by evil overlord Facebook (or Meta) – but seems slightly less evil? Maybe this is because I only follow poets, Ina Garten, and a lot of red panda, fox, and zooborns accounts. Anyway, I encourage you all to give it a try. You can follow me there at @webbish6 – I mostly post pics of birds and flowers, the occasional selfie and poem – a lot like the blog, without all the words. Also, if you have helpful tips for others (and me) who are writers on Instagram, please leave them in the comments!

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Happy February, Inching Towards Spring, Hoping for a Better Month, A Nice Review on Instagram (and Thoughts on Instagram for Poets)

The world iced, every inch glistening in the sun.

Zigzag tracks of our house cat that has walked away.

Across the bay, a tanker moves at a glacier’s pace.  

V is talking — the garage door pasted shut,

my eye straying to those lights, frozen droplets

in the branches — champagne.  

If I didn’t have myself, where would I be? 

A moment deep and wide for drinking.

Jill Pearlman, driveway Olympics

I’ve been reading proofs for Poetry’s Possible Worlds, so this is a busy and stressful moment. I’m always mildly panicky at this stage, wondering what errors I’ve overlooked, but it’s about time to type up my list of necessary fixes and send it back to the designer. It makes me think of my mother’s advice on housework: just keep the counters and other eye-level spaces clean, nobody looks at the floor. What would the floor be, the bibliography? Sigh. Some reviewers, especially any scholars who may read the book, will TOTALLY call you out on a dirty floor.

Proofing this particular book makes me think of my mother in other ways. It’s about reading poetry during a time of crisis, especially focusing on my father’s implosion. I only realized late in the game that it’s also very much about my mother, and not only because she was the one who discovered his string of affairs and called quits on the marriage. She was the person who gave me piles of books as well as the habit of reading for pleasure, consolation, education, and imagining future and alternate lives. Poetry was always in the mix, too, often long poems like Tennyson’s Idylls of the King. I read Chaucer in the Penguin translation as a middle-schooler, not knowing I should be intimidated. They were just stories.

Lesley Wheeler, Pretending the house is clean

When winter is over,
then we will grieve.

Wait for the rains of spring,
the buds on the tree branches.

James Lee Jobe, hold it all in for now

My friend Jon Appleton died on Sunday evening at the age of 83.

Yesterday afternoon, a brilliant blue day, we drove to Mont St-Bruno and took a long walk around the Lac Seigneurial; it was the right thing to do. I may write more about this eventually, but for now, I’ll let Tomas Tranströmer speak for me. Jon loved Sweden and poetry, and although he also spent a lot of time in warm places, such as California, Hawaii, Tonga, southern France, I always think of him in the north: Vermont, Sweden, Moscow. One of my most vivid memories of him is from a visit to us in Montreal some years ago, when there was an absolutely huge blizzard, one of the heaviest and stormiest I can remember. Being Vermonters at heart, none of us wanted to stay in, so we bundled up and decided to go out and see if we could find a restaurant that was still open. I can still see Jon, wearing his Russian fur hat, cavorting in the snow-filled street and laughing with delight: “This is aMAZing!”

He was a person who lived life as fully as possible, and who for many of his students and friends was — as this poem says – “a half-open door leading to a room for everyone.” Like Tranströmer, Jon suffered a stroke toward the end of his life. It affected his speech, which he gradually recovered, but he wasn’t able to continue composing music. During our last visit to him, he showed us the art studio in his retirement complex, where he said he was enjoying doing some painting. And even in the last two weeks he was writing with great pleasure about a new recording being done by Yoshiko Kline of some of his piano works, and working with an editor on the final draft of his autobiography. The creative spark never went out, and the best way I can remember and honor him, and what he gave me, is to try to do the same.

Beth Adams, The Consolation of Snow

I didn’t know that my cousin’s favorite food was pierogis. My aunt Darlene is making a batch of them to take to the dinner after the graveside service. “She won’t get to eat any, but it’s the last time I can make them for her, so I’m doing it.” I remember my aunt Violet’s cabbage rolls (they are one of my specialties). But if I ever had pierogis, I don’t remember. So, I told my aunt I’d make them, too. She told me how she makes them — in great detail —  and then said, “You can find a recipe on-line.”

I thought of that poem by Grace Paley, “The Poet’s Occasional Alternative,” about making a pie instead of writing a poem.

Bethany Reid, Pierogis

I have definitely entered a new phase of life. Where people I love, from 25 to 70 are grappling with mortality. And there are people, too, whom I do not love, but featured in a few revenge fantasies. I’m seeing how poorly written my fantasies are, how unrelated they are to real emotions. Thin storylines with hollow characters.

The wonderful – literally wonder-filled – thing about this is that I see how unfinished I am. It’s like I have opened the door to a new world. Moved from black and white to color, from a sunset projected onto flat walls, through the doorway to the “real world” which is too big to take in, and too immediate to ignore.

I want to hold someone’s hand, get my feet wet, and listen.

I read the chat messages in a quiet moment. I pay attention to the few songbirds that have overwintered near the lake. I almost wrote, “lonely songbirds”. I figure if I can learn to stop projecting, I can better see the world as it is: its brooding, its illness, death, and its love.

Ren Powell, Existential Helplessness

One last line opens,
the old monk said,
and one last line closes.
It works either way.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (126)

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 3

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: redefining productivity, being formless, emulating crows, stealing Jesus’ wallet, beginning with the stone in the shoe, writing like you believe your voice is worth hearing, painting the chaos, joining a drum circle, feeling the winter blues, building synagogues in Minecraft, learning Japanese, celebrating William Stafford, and more.


snow drifts, thick
and slow past
the window

each day
the death count
rises

i am glad to be old
to not witness
what is coming

Sharon Brogan, even in sleep

Time is of the essence: not a premise to justify acceleration and a headless chicken rush towards mindless ‘productivity’, but one to frame a culture of thoughtfulness and generosity. A form of active resistance to the commoditisation of everything we hold dear, not as a draining effort or a daily grind, but through reflective thought and meditation. Better things must result from careful consideration; the ongoing, permanently panicked emergency-response mode of the 24/7 switched-on mode only leads to collective burn-out and shortcircuits any important projects’ goals. This is more a mission statement than a new-year resolution; an ambition more than a promise. To make more space where there is little; to re-own the time perpetually robbed from us.

A type of via negativa for personal and professional life (because it remains important to separate them, particularly in fields such as higher education, or the arts), where that which we don’t do leads to positive, productive outcomes. To define ourselves also for what we decide not to do, rather than for all the things we do, or for doing all the things. This would mean re-defining “productive”, and, importantly, resisting auto-exploitation. Auto-exploitation is never purely individual- overperforming hyperachievers do also create more labour for others who are likely to be in less privileged circumstances, and who are already overwhelmed within their own exploitative conditions of production. Less can be more, much more, in a different sense to usual quantification. A different way of being with ourselves and the Other would require to stop turning ourselves and the Other into means to ends. We need to start from our own positions.

Ernesto Priego, Switch It Off and On Again

My student is researching wolves for a role I wrote for him. He tells me that wolves howl as a form of grieving. I don’t know where he read this, or if it is true, or how we could ever know if it is true. It does make sense to me. The sound tugs up a fear for us because we recognize the vulnerability inherent (probably a prerequisite) in grief.

Loss. Aloneness. It is all a matter of perception, really. The recognition of our disconnection. Nothing is really lost. Except perhaps the illusion of having had. What do we ever have/own/possess? We experience, and cannot possess experiences. We can’t even possess the memory of experiences, because memories are also impermanent: morphing and reassembling, like metal shavings following a magnet.

I am formless at the moment. Even memories of my former selves are formless. I’ll run now and something within me will howl at the moon. Something in me will change shape, pulled by the earth’s magnetic field. Every cell in motion, rearranging, experiencing the morning before dawn.

Ren Powell, Butterfly Goo and Moonlight

Because dawn comes as I write 
and in the stillness before the first bird 
there is a restlessness, and the trees rock, and trail their fingers
over the fence tops; and the last bit of moon 
is eaten up by cloud.

Dale Favier, Because The Tuning

Outside the crows are cawing, cutting up a ruckus amongst the magnolia branches. Squirrels are on the ground eating peanuts, laughing at the crows in squirrel-talk , chitchitchit = hahaha!

Crow flap their large black wings, fanning the flames of outrage to each other, Can you believe this shit? Caw!

Crows leave nothing on the table. They take the dishes, forks, strawberry jam and biscuits and throw it all up in the air, clatterclatterclatter = listen to me!

Were that we all were like the crows. Letting it all out, leaving nothing inside to fester and mold.

Charlotte Hamrick, Morning Meditation: Crows

It’s been a strange week here in the UK. The pantomime that is our political system appears to be thoroughly broken. The government seems to be totally incapable of doing what they tell us we must do. Perhaps it is due to that sense of entitlement public schools appear to imbue these second raters with. Some Catalan friends of mine were saying how funny the actions of our crime minister and his troupe of clowns are. I had to reply that they do not have to live with the madness that their actions generate.

A poem about stealing Jesus’ wallet. It arrived nearly fully formed.

lifting Jesus’ wallet you confessed
was easier than you ever imagined
the real mystery was locating it amid those flowing robes

you continued by describing the contents:
four crisp ten shilling notes
a religious medal of St John the Baptist
a return tram ticket to Barrio Alto
various coins of different denominations and epochs
all too perfect to be kosher

I began to wonder if He
had let you steal it so
you would have something to worry about in the night

Paul Tobin, SOMETHING TO WORRY ABOUT IN THE NIGHT

“Poets dwell on death,” some fool will say.
Because they are blind.
And so the evening passes,
And one by one or two by two the people leave,
And so return to their own eternities,
To the depths of their own being.
Finally it is just you and your death.
And neither of you speak.
The silence is magnificent.
And then, with a tired sigh,
Your death stands up and walks toward you.

James Lee Jobe, The Grand, Wide Evening of You and Your Death.

Back in October, when I decided to play a bit with some short fiction writing, I told myself not to worry about poems. I was, after all, between projects, having wrapped up the collapsologies manuscript with the grimoire poems.  I toyed with a couple new things that are still on the horizon, but I wanted a shift.  I also wanted to figure out my life and writing poems wasn’t on my top list of things to be worried about in the grand scheme of things.  I gave myself permission to sit October out on my daily writing.  Then November. By December, I had taken on some freelance writing, which I was trying to squeeze around my regular obligations to see if I liked it, so my mornings, what time there was (it’s harder for me to get up early-ish in winter) was devoted to the drafting and research necessary for that.  I actually extended my poem vacation through early February, when I would then be working on my own and my schedule (and concentration) much kinder.

I wasn’t going to write poems, but then Monday night, somewhere between washing the dinner dishes and going to bed, I had a first line and just went for it.  For one, it was unexpected to be writing at all, especially in the evening, when my brain is usually on low battery power.  Granted, I’d been home all day for MLK day and mostly just folding chaps. Also, odd when specifically I said I would not be writing poems, and yet, there I was. I went back in once before bed and tweaked some things, but haven’t looked at it to see if it’s any good since. It may be the start of something, though it may also just be a snippet of a dead end, but as I wrote it, I realized how much I missed it.  This is, of course, after whining all summer and into fall about whether or not poetry felt worth it, or whether anyone was even reading, or why I kept doing it, even thought the effort / compensation  ratio is kind of dismal.  That maybe I should focus on writing for paying markets. Or who the hell was reading any of this anyway?  I always long to be one of those writers for whom process is all important, audience be damned, but I actually want readers, however they get there. As someone who, in the fall, was adjusting financial income streams, poetry seemed a  poor place to fixate my efforts. Especially now, when I should be seeking out things that actually allow me to, you know, pay rent.

And yet, like the ex that occasionally shows up at 3am, there she was. A poem.  Maybe not a good one, but still.  I think I’ll keep her. 

Kristy Bowen, poeting in winter

I love drab birds and in winter I love the trees, sugar frosted.
Coffee and milk. Moss in the forest, the cool shady spots where it grows.
Morning light. Pink-apricot rose petals.
Daughter’s smile. So many poems.
Leather sandals. Pale blue sky. Suitcases. Home.
The chair in my garden where I can sit and no one can see me.
Daydreaming and night dreaming —

and poem dreaming.

Shawna Lemay, I Love, I Hope; I Hope, I love

So this is a bit spooky. All week I had in mind these marvellous final words from Lucille Clifton’s poem of grief and acceptance ‘The Death of Fred Clifton’. They’ve been going round my head for a while now. Last year I came close to using them as an epigram for the collection I was working on. They gave me the wild idea (it’s January, grey and cold and I am still grieving) to do a riff reminding myself of the things I love, both in poetry and the real world, and the overlap between them, just, well, because.

And then Shawna Lemay goes and pretty much writes the blog post I wanted to write. Which isn’t just fine, it’s great, because Shawna is the best and one of the main reasons I keep going. But just to add to the love and the hope, if I may, for a moment, here are some of the things, as in things that I love and need to have near me just now:

blethering on the phone with Josephine Corocoran about all the poets she is reading and I am not reading and who is accepting and not accepting our poems and how to keep going in spite of all of this

the Frank O’Hara book Shimi gave me for Christmas which inexplicably I did not own and have been gobbling up ever since a bit like when I first fell in love with him 123 years ago

the very tender poems of love, memory and grief in Adam Zagajewski’s last book, Asymmetry, beautifully translated by Clare Cavanagh

Anthony Wilson, The things themselves

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

Nursery rhymes would be the accurate answer, and my immersion in the Yorùbá culture that included ewì, poems that were mostly orally delivered. As I learned to read by myself, an early anthology of delightfully-illustrated poems fascinated me. I do not remember the title, but it included such poems as Wole Soyinka’s “Telephone Conversation” and Christopher Okigbo’s “For He Was A Shrub Among The Poplars.” In my first three years of secondary school, one of my favorite subjects was literature-in-English, in which Mrs. Ukpokolo helped us dissect poems and find their internal life. Studying the anatomy of poetry this way, especially  the poems in West African Verse, an Anthology edited by Donatus Nwoga, gave me a poetic framework I still draw on today.

3 – How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?

I tend to feel my way around new projects. I do not start off knowing what a project is about. But because there are “eras” in my thought life, I tend to ruminate on particular topics for months at a time, while my mind grapples with paradoxes or things I do not understand. The poems that I write in these periods tend to be equation proofs that help me know what my questions are, and give me some answers, which raise further questions, and so on. The shape (and using another mathematical analogy, the slope) of the initial poems help me intuit the direction of the project. This tends to take 3 to 5 months. I then pause and try to structure my thoughts, outline as much as I can, and continue with a firmer idea of what my current exploration is.

4 – Where does a poem usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a “book” from the very beginning?

It begins with the stone in the shoe. The stubborn notion. Or the poignant phrase that drops in my mind. I don’t know how my brain draws associations that become the often-arresting realizations and images many of my poems present themselves with, but I have learned to respect them, and put them in my Notes app. Sometimes, I can develop these phrases into a stanza or an entire poem (if I have thought about it for long enough), but more frequently, I accumulate several fragments that help me sketch out a poem. I then take some time to build it out. I don’t often start off writing a book. I tend to discover after a while that what I am writing is a book. This is easier when older manuscripts are “complete,” and the new poems stay afloat till I can decide what to do with them.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Tolu Oloruntoba

David Cooke’s poetry might be rooted in anecdote, but those roots are simply his point of departure for words that reach up towards the light. In this respect, his new collection, Sicilian Elephants (Two Rivers Press, 2021), builds on his previous work.

Many of these poems, all written from the perspective of a U.K. resident, were probably crafted prior to the consequences of the fateful referendum. However, their openness to Europe now grants them a fresh impetus in the context of Brexit. At first glance, excellent poems about gardening and DIY might seem geographically limited and limiting. In fact, the opposite is true.

Matthew Stewart, A reflection on who we are, David Cooke’s Sicilian Elephants

Just a quick note to let you know that the new issue of Constellations: A Journal of Poetry and Fiction arrived in my mail today. A loooonnng time ago — in my writing group — I shared a poem called “The Rule of Three” about an encounter I had with a student/veteran (some of you may remember). It’s one example of how I always learned as much or more from my students than they ever did from me.

No, it’s not on-line, but I may be persuaded to share it with you. Constellations is now open for submissions.

Also — drum roll, please — my poem “Even in Winter, You Must Marry It,” will go live January 19 at Cordella.org. Look for it under “Field Notes,” or click on the poem’s title (above).

I first learned about Cordella when I was searching on-line for poems by the late Jeanne Lohmann. If you’re unfamiliar with her work, follow this link to read a sampling. It’s an honor to have my poem published at the same site.

At this rich on-line venue, you’ll also find Cordella’s newest issue: Kith & Kin.

Bethany Reid, Poems, poems, poems

We read words but we also hear silence. This is what I love about poetry, those two things at work. The word works with and against the word next to it, and above and below it, but also with the silence laced through the poem by punctuation and breaks, and sometimes the imposition of        

Ha! See what I did there? I’m not saying anything new, of course. And there’s much more to be said and that has been said on rhythm, on how words rub up against each other to create emotion. I just felt moved to share again my wonder about this stuff. How we bundles of chemical equations and biological impulses have this crazy thing called emotion that is conjured up out of relations: one note to another, one word to another, one silence to another, you to me.

Marilyn McCabe, Looking at the river, thinking of the sea; or, On Poems and Blank Space

“Extended Release,” now in Guernica, is one of those poems that came to me in a rush, the kind that writers sometimes refer to as a gift, in that it arrives in near-final shape. I jotted in a dim living room during my mother’s last weeks, when she was in and out of hospitals and nursing homes as we sought a diagnosis and, we hoped, a cure. I had been taking care of her in the house she shared with my brother when she suddenly couldn’t hold a spoon steady. I called the home nursing service; they said to call an ambulance. My mother’s reproach when she saw the EMTs–“Oh, Les, what have you done”–will haunt me forever, I’m sure, as well as the difficulty of negotiating treatment for her pain. I think she trusted me to be ruthlessly kind, if you know what I mean, and she was disappointed that I didn’t catch on that she could have slipped away without fuss that night. Days later, I would be the person who discovered her death, and I have a gut feeling she waited to let go until I was on watch because she thought I could take it. She always told me women were stronger than men and seemed to think I could endure anything the world would throw at me. I guess I have, so far–not that I’ve had the hardest life by a long shot, but I’ve kept plowing along. Maybe that’s just what I need to believe, that she thought I was strong.

The balancing force to my regret was our exchange about what comes after pain. My mother was spiritually all over the map, sometimes describing her many reincarnations and other times saying, “When you’re dead, you’re dead.” But she really did talk, as I recount in the poem, about what people wear in heaven. We compared notes on what heaven might be like, for us, if it existed. That was one of the best conversations we had during those last difficult weeks. She seemed peaceful and curious. It was a gift to be there and mull over possibilities with her. People’s kind responses to this poem have been gifts, too. So many people have been through this with loved ones. I wonder if it’s any better when someone dies suddenly, without that month of pain and uncertainty. I suspect not.

Lesley Wheeler, Literary sources and afterlives

Working on my collection of poetry Church Ladies, I sometimes would read through poets who do similar work (persona poems from the perspective of women of faith…it is a little niche), and then that little nagging voice says “oh why even write this, This Poet does it better!”.

Let’s be totally honest: maybe they do.

However, they don’t do it the Same.

Unless you are straight-up plagiarizing them, you do have a unique voice that will come through on the topic, whether you want it to or not. I’m a believer that voice doesn’t have to be found so much as it needs to not be suppressed.

So when you are finding it difficult to write because So-and-So and their perfect iambic pentameter on the exact subject you write about in less than perfect somethingmeter, just stop it. Stop it! Turn off the social media, skip out on workshop (if you aren’t in a class that is), and just buckle down to work on your own stuff. Maybe take some time to read poets who have completely different obsessions from your own writing. Then write like you believe your voice is worth hearing too.

Renee Emerson, Tips for Writing Productivity: Eyes Forward!

Just an image:
an old man,
thinner, his
trousers loose,
belt tightened
as far as it goes.
An old man
in a check shirt
open at the neck,
one hand on
the door frame
the other raised
in a wave of
farewell.
Is he smiling?
It’s up to you.
The image began
as mine but
it’s yours now.

Bob Mee, IS HE SMILING?

sweaty plaid dad had a gadabout

Jason Crane, haiku: 20 January 2022

Sometimes you can’t
get far enough

away to see it,
the old monk said.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (111)

I propped my watercolor box on the chair near my knee, and started painting directly, laying down one color after another, as quickly as I could, to try to capture the energy and chaotic over-crowding of the scene before me. The terracotta pots and wooden table gave the picture a little bit of unification and structure, but basically there wasn’t any overall composition to be had. Nor were there strong shapes – just the big fleshy leaves of “Fang”. The geranium in the background, the butterfly-like triangles of the oxalis, the succulents, and the busy needles of the rosemary plant were all similar enough in size to compete with each other, but not stand out. I just kept at it, adding brushstrokes, dashes, lines, dots. Once all the color was on the page, I went back with a pen and sketched in some loose shapes and lines, and finally added the vertical window blinds in the background with watercolor.

The only solution, it had seemed, was just to go for the visual clutter. Feeling dubious, I posted the image on Instagram, with the slightly apologetic comment, “Once again, fascinated by the busyness of plants.” A little while later, my friend Michael Szpaskowski and I had this exchange:

Michael: “And that that ‘busyness’ becomes the compositional imperative here is great. Both truthful (I’m not saying that artistic truth is always of this nature of course) and very beautiful.”

Beth: “It is both the compositional imperative and its greatest obstacle. The urge is to bludgeon the busyness into some sort of submissive order, but that wouldn’t be true. So then what do you do?…I like aspects of it, but it still doesn’t entirely work for me. Tonight I was thinking maybe if I tried it from a high angle, the ovals of the tops of the pots would give a compositional rhythm that might unify the picture a little more. But not sure if I have the energy for another try!”

Michael: “Oh it is precisely its ‘awkwardness’ that I find so winning!”

This was a very helpful exchange, because when I studied the image again with his words in mind, I realized that it was actually OK not to have a strong and obvious composition or structure; instead there’s color and life dancing all over the image, and the loose horizontal and vertical lines do just enough work to hold everything within the frame.

Beth Adams, Making Sense Out of Chaos

the chaos is real
tangled inside and out
you try to iron it like a shirt
but it creases against skin
over every warp, every scar,
over the forgotten, the elapsed —
like the delusion of stretched blue sky
that turns as it comes closer,
into viscous cloud, into grimy light,
dead stars falling into unopened eyes:

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Chaos

What is it about January? You have to trust that living things are asleep and not dead. The garden is brown and damp. In January I examine any magnolia tree I come across, looking for buds: signs of life. Even though days are getting longer it happens so slowly. Generating every extra minute of daylight seems a huge effort for Gaia.

On the other hand, I was in the British Museum recently looking at the Parthenon marbles, and I was so struck with the energy and verve that still shines from these 2,500 year old carvings. Despite the difficult relationship between humankind and the natural world, I’m uplifted by the way that the creative energy of humans channelled into art can endure, and still have the power to amaze and inspire people hundreds, if not thousands of years into the future.

Here’s a bit of joy in a dark month: this evening is the online launch of Sarah Barnsley‘s excellent first collection, The Thoughts (Smith Doorstop). I’m a bit biased as Sarah is a good friend and a Telltale Press buddy – I’m proud to say we published her pamphlet The Fire Station in 2015. The Thoughts is compelling, and a bit of a page-turner (if poetry can be described that way); it’s formally inventive, sometimes a painful read and sometimes painfully funny. I’m so pleased to see Sarah’s name up in lights. She’s a fine poet and it’s so well deserved that she’s been picked up by Smith Doorstop. Buy, buy!

Robin Houghton, Nature sleeps. Thank goodness for art

I was delighted to get a surprise call this week from my long-time poetry mentor. Long story short, he encouraged me to start sending out work again, so the plan of publishing new works on this blog has now transformed into a plan to write and submit one new poem a month. I’ll still post a previously published poem once a month, but I’m going to save the new work for sending out. It feels like a strange journey to be embarking on again after all this time. I can’t pinpoint exactly why and when I stopped sending out submissions, but at some point, I just lost patience and got sick of the gatekeepers jealously guarding their insular little lit mags that are only read by a niche group of other poets, all bowing to each other in their exclusive mutual admiration circle. I want to write poetry for the people, man. Seriously though, I never had any patience for the snobbery and academic parochialism that pervades the poetry world. There is a reason why most non-poets are fearful and distrustful of poetry, or just plain find it incomprehensible. First off, the way it’s taught in school is awful. For people who do not naturally resonate with metaphorical language, bashing them over the head with a “gotcha” about the meaning of a poem is just cruel, not to mention unimaginative. And these weird little “schools” that proliferate for the sole purpose of encouraging incomprehensible poetry that only other academics can understand is the height of pretension if you ask me. The bottom line is that normal people want to read musical, ear-pleasing, relatable work that has a surprise or two thrown in. Maybe one day I’ll start the lit mag equivalent of those jumbo crossword puzzle books and call it “EZ Poetry.”

Kristen McHenry, EZ Poetry, Busted Bubble, a Vision of Vision

I’m struggling with
my clown ear

and on the other side

I’m also struggling
with my clown ear

Gary Barwin, Need to Know & Clown Ear

Last night, we went to a drum circle in the Arts Park.  They happen every month, but it’s on the night of the full moon, which means that if I’m in class, I can’t go.  If it’s rainy, I bail out.  Last night it was chilly, but that wasn’t a deterrent.

It was led by a group from Resurrection Drums, which was a pleasant surprise.  It helped to have leaders to get a rhythm going.  They also had drums, which they passed out to people who didn’t have one.

My spouse and I had brought a drum of our own and a shaker, so we didn’t need the drums.  I was happy to have the bits of instruction that they scattered throughout the night.  For someone who has listened to as much music as I have, as wide a variety of music, I am still staggeringly bad at picking out the beat, and I can be even worse at maintaining it.

What I love about a drum circle is that it doesn’t matter.  The stronger drummers carry the rest of us along.  All of the beats get incorporated into the larger experience.  It’s a metaphor for our larger lives, but I realize it more fully in a drum circle.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Full Moon Drumming

snowflakes
falling through
my open hands

Jim Young [no title]

My heart keeps breaking. A friend just died, not of Covid but of Parkinson’s, and though we knew it was coming, and he and his wife had time to prepare, it is still a shock and will be an ongoing sadness. Some of us mourners will read some of his poems at his memorial service later this month. You can donate to the William Morgan Poetry Award here.

Another friend feels “done.” It’s not quite despair but a kind of retreat into “winter blues.” He expresses himself here and encourages our response, in words or the wise use of our time.

My parents are tired of the brutal cold, though grateful for the recent sunshine, as am I. They are very old: as of January 15, the same age, 89, for about a month, till Dad turns 90 in March. They have lived miraculously healthy, productive, creative, lucky lives, right up until now. More gratitude! But the end of their lives has been shadowed by this pandemic, as you can imagine, since we are all under the same shadow. Like my friend Basel, above, feeling the winter blues, I am weary.

Meanwhile, I continue to rehearse Life Sucks, a sort of perfect play for our times, given its title, and we are in that stressful time moving toward production week and an opening in early February. I am in the “What was I thinking?” stage I encounter with every play, but all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well, no doubt.

Kathleen Kirk, My Heart Keeps Breaking

In my son’s Minecraft world
there is no pandemic.
No one spits at nurses
or lies about elections.
No one’s father has dementia.

My son thinks I’m playing
for his sake. I build
shul after shul, and in each
I pray for a world
where evil vanishes like smoke

like the mumbling zombies
who go up in flames
every time the blocky sun rises,
gilding the open hills
and endless oceans with light.

Rachel Barenblat, Tending

The one good thing about being sick all week is I caught up on my reading! Pale Horse, Pale Rider is Katherine Anne Porter’s semi-autobiographical account of living through the 1918 flu as a single journalist in Denver, when the hospitals were overcrowded and they couldn’t just order an ambulance as they were too busy. Her vivid hallucinations while sick for a month with the flu are unforgettable (she sees the nurse’s hands as ‘white tarantulas’), as is the ending. I also read Katherine Mansfield’s short story “Garden Party,” about an upper-class family organizing a party as their poorer neighbor falls down dead in front of their house. Again, feels so relevant.

To add to the cheer, I’m also reading Osamu Dazai’s No Longer Human with my little brother, and though it is bleak – written in 1948’s Japan, about an individual who suffers multiple childhood sex abuse traumas,  grows up to be a cartoonist, tries to commit suicide, is put in an insane asylum – my brother made the astute observation that it shares a lot with Kafka’s Metamorphosis. It’s been read historically as thinly-veiled autobiography, but I’d argue it’s more ambitious than that – it’s Dazai’s attempt to embody the suffering, corruption and dehumanization of Japan during the WW II years.  It’s the second-best selling book in Japan of all time, and you can see why – despite the bleak subject matter, Dazai’s writing is stunningly beautiful, even in translation (he writes with a different pronoun that the Japanese “Watashi” for “I,” except in the prologue and epilogue, but that can’t really be translated into English, which is a shame). If you want to discover Dazai but want something a little more upbeat, read his warm and funny collection of modernized fairy tales in Blue Bamboo. I’ve been teaching myself Japanese for almost a year now, and I’m sad that I’m still not fluent, but I am starting to pick up a little more on the slight variations of words – pronouns, seasons, puns. Some part of me wish I’d picked something easier, like Italian, but Japanese literature is kind of an obsession of mine, and I’d love to read these books in the original, eventually. Or at least be able to have a really simple conversation in Japanese.

The other accomplishment I’m proud of is that my NEA application is in and done. I mean, I did it with a fever and on a lot of cold medicine, so it may not be the best application I’ve ever done, but it is finished! I was in isolation while waiting for my PCR test (two of my doctors told me that I for sure had covid, based on my symptoms, so better safe than sorry) and the only thing that is good for is reading and getting grant applications done. Wishing you health and safety this week, but if you do get sick – either this nasty flu or covid – I hope you have a good window view, a stack of books, and someone to bring you unending soup and hot tea.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Signs of Spring, a Week of Illness – Covid or Flu?, Hummingbirds, Hawks, and Deer, and the NEA application

I wonder why there are far more books than time to read them.

Or if forgiveness can ever be given freely, or is it only offered on the installment plan.

I wonder if miracles ever need manicures or what happens to the many thoughts and feelings of those who pass away.

I wonder what weapons will look like in fifty years. Or our government, or how we’ll relate to one another.

I wonder what wonder will look like in fifty years.

Rich Ferguson, World of Wonder

Once I thought even a small garden
could multiply my hopes. I planted

bulbs in a plot. Citrus and persimmon, purple
streaked verbena. But never again the ridged

yellow of ginger flowers, never again
the ghosts of white-throated lilies declaring

their own thirst.

Luisa A. Igloria, Greenhouse

I have long thought of myself as an apprentice to light, which also means, I am an apprentice to darkness. Not opposites but a necessary union.

I suggest to students that in their poetry there must be joy in order for the sadness to have depth. There must be love in order for loss to have meaning. Shadow gives shape to light.

And so I remind myself.

I am an introvert, an introvert’s introvert. And yet to keep that solitude from being overwhelming, strategic forays into community. This week, it was a bright evening as one of the featured readers for a celebration of William Stafford held by the Lake Oswego Public Library and the Friends of William Stafford. For anyone feeling that poetry makes nothing happen, I suggest listening to the tenor of those lovely people reading poems by a beloved poet who has been gone almost thirty years.

And then wave after wave of sadness for the passing of Thich Nhat Hanh on Friday.

Erin Coughlin Hollowell, A Handhold

Not so fast, walker
on the winter beach

under a shrouded moon.
Desire far outstrips

your first unsteady steps.
No sight, no fixed points:

Recalibrate. A roar answers
your question before it’s asked.

Jill Pearlman, Le Noir (Winter Beach)

i beheld a bell breaking into light :: but what did the sleepers hear

Grant Hackett [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 52 + New Year’s 2022

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.

The last week of the year always has a kind of aimless, limbo-like feeling, as several bloggers observed, so I was impressed by how many still managed an end-of-the-year post. The selection below doesn’t quite reflect how many of those posts included favorite book lists as well, so really, quite a lot of riches for those with the time to click through.

Here’s hoping 2022 brings a bit of peace and sanity, but if not, there’s always poetry. Happy New Year.


Years ago, I worked for an organization that always closed down during the week between Christmas and New Year’s, and as such I became habituated to taking those days off and have made it something of a tradition. Nothing is going to get accomplished in that time anyway. It’s an informal national “down week” as it should be, because these are frozen, dead, throw-away days in which humans are not meant to be functional. Hence no post last week. I’ve been off since December 23rd, doing nothing but loafing around and making a full-time job of trying to keep warm in the 15-degree weather in our under-insulated apartment, shivering in a turtleneck (thanks, Mom!), a hoodie, a knit hat, and double socks.

Kristen McHenry, Days of Loafing, Re-Discovering Dorothy, History Buff

It’s the break of day, New Year’s Eve. I’m writing from the warm, night-morning-darkness of my living room, the only light is that of decorative twinkle and the snow glow outside. My holiday boon is scattered on the nearby table, gifts that are already page-tabbed and folded open. I’ve finished Amy Butcher’s Mother Trucker, and working through Robert Hass’s Time and Materials by day and by night, Ken Gould’s mystery, Death’s Grip, along with Kerstin Ekman’s Scandia Noir read, Under the Snow. As is the case with readers, these are 4 named titles. Waiting in the background sit short stacks of 24 additional titles, patiently awaiting their own cracks in spine. There is a new blank book awaiting rough writings in chicken scratch scrawl, bright beaded earrings, magnetic haiku and coffee poetry sets, and real coffee from a friend to accompany all of these wild ways to spend winter time.

Kersten Christianson, New Year’s Eve: Closing the Book of 2021

at the end of every verse
leave a promise —
what shall we do with sleep
without a morning to wake up to
what shall we do with rain
when skin cannot endure the wet
what shall we do with all this
longing, without the grammar
of hope —

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Leave a promise

I have begun and started this post so many times in the last week. Usually I really look forward to writing the end of year blog, to look back at the good things that have happened. But this year it fels really different – every time I look at my 2021 diary at the months that have passed I feel sadness at all the things that didn’t happen, all the people I didn’t see, all the times when my daughter missed out, when I missed out.  And I also know that I’m lucky because I am healthy and I’ve been able to do some things.  I can’t stop thinking about friends who are still isolating, still unable to leave their houses.

It’s hard to look back on a year that has been threaded through with a low hum of anxiety, but I have had some lovely things happen this year. Probably the most obvious one of those is the publication of my second poetry collection All the Men I Never Married.  But perhaps more than any other year, it has felt like a year where I’ve been able to try out different ways of my work reaching a wider audience – so I’m going to list a few of them here, just in case there are other people out there with slightly more time on their hands than usual, in this strange gap between Christmas and New Year.  

Kim Moore, END OF YEAR BLOG

Today I undertook one of my favorite and also least favorite projects of the year–transferring all my random slips of paper and no-longer sticky post-its into a new sketchbook/planner for 2022.  Good because its bright white blank pages are sort of exciting, least because it just makes me remember all the things I never got a chance to get to.  I started the post-it system after years of lost to-do lists and actual planners and trying to understand bullet journaling and a million things that did not work to keep my mind organized.  The premise was simple..the front pages sort the days of the week, the coming weeks, the coming month, the coming year.  As things arise, I write them on the 1 inch post-its and stick them to the corresponding day.  Obviously stuff gets moved and transferred to coming weeks and I suppose gets done eventually if if ever does. 

I have spreads for dgp projects in the works, including columns–layout-cover designs–proofing–so that I can see at a glance what is happening with each book. I have a section for monthly goals, though as the year goes on, I usually lose track of filling these pages out, but occasionally they help me finish up things. The worst, though, is a section titled “PROJECTS’ where every idea I have –for poems, for art projects, for shop lovelies–usually just sort of go to die, only to be moved to the next planner every late December. I also have pages for the library and things happening there. Admittedly, I didn’t even change books between 2020 and 2021, since so much was just lingering from the previous year. There are ideas for art & design projects that I’ve been moving from book to book since 2013.  Also writing projects.  Occasionally, like unusual creatures, I finish them eventually, but more often not. I might seem productive on occasion, but not half as productive as I’d like.

Kristy Bowen, new year, new planner

The fae character in my novel Unbecoming was, I now understand, incredibly fun to write because in imagining her, I got to inhabit the person I might have been if I were thoroughly, deliciously selfish, unworried about anyone’s future. I rarely consciously knew what she would say or do next; instead, I would take a break from writing and hear her whisper her next lines. The last dictation I received is her last quotation in the book: “I don’t know what I want, but I want it very much.” Word.

Speaking of traces of the past: one last magazine issue with a poem of mine slid under the old year’s wire. “You Know Where the Smithy Stood by the Clinkers” just appeared in the new National Poetry Review. It’s based on a lecture given several years ago by W&L archaeologist Don Gaylord. It immediately helped me see the buildings I work in in a different way, but I had to revise the poem many times, mostly by paring it down, until its architectural bones became clear. The past is always present, even when you suppress difficult memories.

Lesley Wheeler, Sacrifices, gifts, and a year in reading

It’s become a tradition and a privilege to spend New Years Eve with L. and B.

L. is the one who invited me to eat 12 grapes at midnight. She and B lived in Spain for a few years. I believe that to make a wish with each grape is her own twist on the Spanish tradition. Today I reread the blog post from 2020 and realize that my 12 wishes last night were nearly identical to those two years ago: synonyms and shifted specifics. New perspectives. New approaches.

I’m not sure what to make of that in terms of my personal growth. Walt Whitman contradicted himself because he contained multitudes. I repeat myself. I think that is because I contain a multitude of threads as well, and am on a dialectical path. Where it ends doesn’t seem to be as important anymore. Only that I keep moving towards something.

The word “ease” had come up a lot over the past two years. Maybe the past three years. But this morning I read the word “gentle”.

I lingered on the word gentle.

I read Dylan Thomas’s poem again this morning with more empathy – and a different understanding – than I’ve had before. It’s wonderful, because for the first time I see the specific context of the speaker’s perspective. I see the words “old age” (would that Death allowed us all that experience), and the speaker’s projecting his own fears onto his father, and onto every other old man’s evaluation of their worth in the world. I think I’ve read this poem always making way for the poet/speaker’s greater wisdom, and I read the advice in the poem as a kind of sutra. I am thrilled no one deprived me of this discovery: that this (projected) perspective is not wrong, but is only one perspective. A true perspective, but not the true perspective. And that is not to say that no one has ever analysed the poem this way, explained it, described it to me. But if they did, I wasn’t able to take the lesson in.

Long live the hyper-realistic beauty of the unreliable narrator.

Ren Powell, What Falls Away Gently

As 2021 stumbles to a close, it might be obvious to anyone who was paying attention (and I don’t know if anyone was) that I was not writing in here much in recent months; to be precise, since September. In many ways, September and onwards was a big improvement over the rest of my life since the start of the pandemic in early 2020. I got a new job working with children’s literature – so far, on course to be my best job ever – and before starting, I had time to visit my family in Canada. I also spent September weekends as part of the Sea Reconnection exhibition, which as an art-and-poetry exhibition was a first for me and certainly a highlight of the year.

I haven’t felt much like writing, though. My pandemic experience has avoided the worst that many have experienced (severe illness, death of loved ones, prolonged unemployment, etc) but at times I feel like it’s sort of flattened me out. I hope to get back into more of a writing frame of mind in the months to come, even in small ways, which I think will help.

Clarissa Aykroyd, Ten years of The Stone and the Star

Pull out the drawers,
and balled-up socks
sigh of their own accord.

Throw open the windows
and huddled shapes
of air unfold

forgotten wings. Old
beds of ash retire
into the soil so flint

or a match could strike
a small yellow flame
to brilliance.

Luisa A. Igloria, Encadenada

Yesterday we went for a long walk at Parc Jean-Drapeau, site of Montreal’s Expo 67: this geodesic dome, designed by Buckminster Fuller, was the United States pavilion for Expo, and is now a museum dedicated to the environment. But yesterday we were pretty much the only people on the two islands in the middle of the river, and even though it was a grey day, it was just what I needed. Lots of wildlife tracks in the snow, many birds including a huge flock of robins (what are they thinking?), the St Lawrence roiling along in its winter mood, red rose hips against the snow, junipers loaded with blue berries, overgrown plantings, a greenhouse where large tropical plants were being overwintered, and many odd graphic images from the desolation of winter and the decay or remnants of structures built for Expo that have fallen into disuse. I hope you’ll enjoy taking this walk with me, and I wish you all the best for the year to come.

Beth Adams, A New Year’s Walk

I have got a great deal out of writing this blog this year. The feedback is as immediate as social media, and far more fulfilling. There is always a chance someone will read it, so it never feels pointless. I write about whatever I want, however I want: that anyone is listening at all is a luxury! Yet, having had a month or so away from blogging, I can see how my relationship with it might have some things in common with submitting poetry to magazines, or using social media: that feeling that I need to just keep publishing; that fear of rejection, which only feeds the desire to publish more.

Is there a solution? Jonathan Davidson suggests we broaden our understanding of what sharing poetry entails to include a greater focus on different kinds of reading (e.g., out loud, at special occasions), and on reaching more non-poets. I agree. Davidson’s focus is largely on collections, but I think the insight can be extended to individual poems. Why should the default ‘end point’ be publication in a magazine?

For most people I know, poetry is a marginal art, so it’s a fair assumption that by placing a poem in a magazine you will have a greater chance of finding an appreciative reader (i.e. another poet) than sharing it with someone you know. But the end result of this way of thinking isn’t just a self-fulfilling prophecy which keeps poetry on the margins: it effects our idea of what a poem even is.

There are ways of rethinking how we share poetry among regular writers, too. I suspect a lot of writers engage with poetry groups and workshops, at least in part, as steps towards publication. But there is no reason why they have to be. I attended a regular poetry evening when I was at university. I have never produced so much rubbish in my life, but I have rarely felt so much like I knew why I was writing.

My own solution over the last few years has been to try to publish less poetry, and more writing about poetry. I can see this wouldn’t appeal to everyone. It may end up with me not publishing any of my own poetry at all (which isn’t necessarily a disaster). But I’ve also found that I appreciate poetry – writing it and reading it – more, not less.

Jeremy Wikeley, A Year in (Not) Publishing

Imagine how it feels when the sky is dark and you’re the first star. That’s Frank’s trusty Tree Service. You’re the first tree. You’re reborn. You’re a tree and you’re reborn as a tree. And soon you’ll be surrounded by a forest of trees reborn in a forest reborn and filled with trees.

Gary Barwin, Rise Up, Trees: Frank’s Tree Service.

year’s end
bald pines hold
the sky in place

Julie Mellor, year’s end

I was sad to read that Kirsty Karkow had died, on Christmas Eve. She was a fine haiku and tanka poet. I had some correspondence with her twenty or so years ago and had been in online kukai groups with her in the late ’90s. She’d lived in Maine for many years but was born and educated in England. On Curtis Dunlap’s old ‘Blogging Along Tobacco Road’ blog, which was always a pleasurable read, you can still find Kirsty’s admirable contribution, here.

Matthew Paul, On Sylvia Kantaris and Kirsty Karkow

I cannot recall where I learned of Byung-chul Han, but I’ve had the pleasure of reading one of his books of philosophical essays (The Scent of Time) recently, and seldom has a philosophy text resonated so immediately with my circumstances. In this book, Han argues for contemplative time. He says it is essential for humans and human society and claims the “acceleration” of everyday life robs us of the value of reflective thought and “slow time.”

Raised and educated in Germany, where he now teaches, Han invokes the works of several German philosophers to provide a starting-point regarding the acceleration of time. He draws on Nietzsche, Arendt, Husserl and, to a larger extent, Heidegger…but Derrida, Aquinas, Aristotle, and others as well. He also quotes from quite a few poets, such as Celan, Hölderlin, Büchner, Handke, Ch’iao Chi, and spends two chapters on Proust (but of course…).

Han posits that the point-like, algorithmic availability of information runs counter to knowledge and wisdom, which require experience, which in turn requires duration and connection rather than arbitrary retrieval: “Promising, commitment and fidelity, for instance, are genuinely temporal practices. They bind the future by continuing the present into the future…creating a temporal continuity.” He criticizes the very technology that permits a person like me to learn about his work (I am certain I heard of him online somewhere). That criticism says the faster we go, the further we are from our earthiness–the airplane removes us from earth’s gravitational field as well as from the soil, “estranging the human being from it.” He adds, “The internet and electronic mail let geography, even the earth itself, disappear…Modern technology de-terrestrializes human life.”

Strong opinions, large claims. But oh, I thought at once of Whitman and his long expansive drawling poems when I read, “Instead of leisurely strolling around, one rushes from one event to another. This haste and restlessness characterize neither the flâneur nor the vagabond.” The whizzing about leads to anxiety and a lack of durable relationships. People hover instead of connect, swiping left or doomscrolling, feeling bored–which is a kind of empty-mindedness. I observe this trend of rushing and hovering in my students and among my colleagues. I have not found much Whitman-like lounging in current poetry publications, but a great deal of anxiety appears in contemporary poems. Writers reflect the times. Context shapes us.

Ann E. Michael, Slowing time

year’s end
waiting for candy
in the rain

Jason Crane, haiku: 31 December 2021

Field Guide to Invasive Species of Minnesota by Amelia Gorman

This gorgeous chapbook explores the ecological dangers of Climate Change and the emotional impacts of human nature. These poems flirt with the speculative, presenting a near future that feels nurtured by the here and now, offering visions of what could be while feeling anchored in what has been. The pairing of botanical illustrations with these lush poems is the kind of book I love to have and hold in its physical form, so that I can flip through its beautiful pages.

Andrea Blythe, Books I Loved Reading in 2021

The end of the year rolls near and I am just lifting my head towards my blog. It’s been forgotten in the shuffle of working life and as that end-of-year-in-review feeling rolls in I have to be honest with myself about several things. 

Where I am at geographically, career-wise, with a view to my family and my energy levels means I cannot place much focus on my writing. And 2022 will be even more difficult. I’m starting my teacher training course in January while working full-time at a school and raising my kids. I’m currently fitting writing in at the weekends, but soon that will be taken over by my course. I will continue to try and do a bit of writing, but compromises will be made. 

And it hurts to think I will have to put it aside or squeeze it into the cracks. I would love to be working as a writer even part-time, but I need to focus on a career that I know will give some financial security. I’m finishing off a commission for some poetry this week and coming to the end of an editing job. I hope other small opportunities present themselves, but I will have to protect what little time I have to study and spend with my kids as much as I can.

My book will obviously not be published in 2021. I knew this was the case from early summer as nothing seemed to be moving forward, including communication. Maybe something will happen next year, but I no longer hold out much hope. My book was accepted about the time my decades-long relationship fell apart, so it felt a positive part of my renewal, a reason to look forward and celebrate my hard work. Then Covid and Brexit and Time bulldozed on through and here I am, still waiting, trying to be patient. 

Gerry Stewart, The End of 2021 Draws Nigh

2021 was also the year I launched a book during a pandemic! What fun! Strangers came out in April, and was formally launched in May, with an online event featuring Sadiqa de Meijer and Sue Sinclair, and hosted by my editor Luke Hathaway. You can view that here. Unable to tour the book, this summer I took my tour local, with readings around Vancouver (even those were fraught – one was canceled by a record-shattering “heat dome,” another was rained our and had to be moved into the overhang area of an elementary school playground… normal stuff!). I loved getting to hear new poems from fellow pandemic-launching poets – eleven total guest readers over the course of the series. Readings at the Vancouver Writers Fest, Word Vancouver, and the Real Vancouver Writers Series kept me busy all fall, and helped me feel like it might really be reaching readers out there in the world! Reviews of the book and also interviews about the book kept me afloat despite the lack of in-person connections. Thank you to everyone who spent some time with Strangers in 2021 – it meant a great deal to me.

Rob Taylor, the 2021 roll of nickels year in review

I’ve been thinking as I look at my stats for the year that there’s some sort of link between my running this year and my writing. Correlation isn’t causation, etc and I don’t have the charts to hand (the wherewithal to tally up each month to make the chart),but I know that up to June this year I finished 10 poems and was roughly averaging 40-50k a week, and between July and now I’ve finished 5 poems and am averaging about 20K a week.

I’ve also run less overall. Last year it was 1600K, this year it’s just over 1500. I was aiming for 2000K, but

I think the reason behind these declines are that I was up a lot earlier in the first half of the year, and using the time after the runs to work on poems. I was training for Race To The King, and when folks mentioned I’d be struggling for motivation after that I didn’t believe them. How right they were. A combination of injury before the race, and exhaustion after has left me struggling to get back into the right frame of mind. It’s been the same with writing, the mad kick bollock scramble of the second half of 2021 has just left me with no interest in picking up a pen. I have no doubt it will come back. I can see a draft I started a coupe of weeks ago staring at me and I know I want to get to it, so I have faith.

Mat Riches, Run on lines…

When I look back at previous goals and roundups from around this time of year, I can see that pretty much every year I say I am going to cut back work, live a healthier lifestyle, live a ‘less chaotic life’ and have never quite managed it, until this year. My favourite mantra of this year, and one I’ll be taking with me into next year is ‘Everything in your life is a reflection of a choice you have made. If you want different outcomes, make different choices.’ Changing habits, changing learned behaviour, thought habits, unhealthy coping strategies etc is not about will power. Will power plays its part, but rather than being a shield you use to protect you from cravings, will power is tool you can use to reinforce the positive habits, affirming to yourself that you are worth change, that you are worth nice things, good health, a happy work/life balance. This year I managed to over work myself to a point at which I triggered an underlying heart condition and very high blood pressure. In fact, what I’d thought was the menopause turned out to be my body struggling with what I was doing to it. The doctors I spoke to told me I needed to cut down caffeine, alcohol and stress to manage it. Reader, I did not know who I was without caffeine, alcohol and stress. I cut back caffeine consumption to just first thing in the morning and the occasional afternoon cup of tea. Knowing I could still get my Wendy strength coffee first thing meant I was happy to cut back for the rest of the day. The stress and the booze were much harder to cut down. I enlisted the help of a personal health trainer to help me change my terrible relationship with alcohol, which you can read about here and reader, it worked, it continues to work. I had my first hangover in four months this week. I’ve taken the brakes off a little over Christmas and drunk more than I have been doing and amazingly found that I don’t really want to drink much anymore. Which makes me a cheap date and a complete and utter lightweight. This is my biggest achievement of this year. I know there will be people who don’t really understand that cutting back booze is a big achievement, it’s not like I have gone Tee Total, but the change in my health, my happiness, my anxiety and my self confidence is noticeable. I’m not going back. I’ve done this before and never quite managed it because I gave booze up completely without changing my thought process around it. This time it really does feel different. I have altered my thinking, altered my motivations.

Wendy Pratt, 2021 – My Year in Review- Best Books, Best People, Best Moments, Best Foot Forward

even when I did not know your name, sparrow,
I knew your song, the particular way
you break the silence

Han VanderHart, Bird Song Sounds Out of Tune Only to the Human Ear

Do you remember at the beginning of the pandemic there were all the jokes about the line “I hope this email finds you well.” And let’s face it, for the last couple of years, we haven’t been well, or at least not all the time, and certainly not in all the ways one would wish to be well. What even is wellness now? I don’t want any easy and pat wellness advice myself because this stuff is hard and recurring and complicated and we can be more than one thing at once, anyway. One thing I do know, is that what we normally think of as wellness is not this steady stream. Sure we can be resilient but we also get to take breaks from being resilient. (Which is perhaps a form of resiliency). So what I hope for you in this coming year is that you find your way to a wellness, and in the times when things are more crumbly, you find ways to return and return to a space where you feel okay and sometimes even content and happy.

Shawna Lemay, Keeping Your Appointments in 2022

Let me be the photographer staring down into the lens
of a Box Brownie, let me really see my mother’s red hair,
my father’s best trousers, my brother’s barely lived in skin,

our white socks and Start-Rite sandals, or deeper still –
the cotton handkerchiefs in our dress pockets, Dad’s tattoos
hidden under his long sleeved shirt, the sand beneath

the soil and grass under our feet, the scent in the darkness
when we opened the coalbunker door, what we knew then,
what we didn’t know, what we were unable to even imagine.

Lynne Rees, Poem ~ 1963

Palpable: what else to call poems with lines such as “I RUB MESSAGES INTO THE WALL B/C I KNOW / SOMEDAY I WILL BE DELETED.” The urgency implied in the typographical choice to use all caps (here and consistently throughout the collection) brings with it the implication of presence. Words in all caps are emphasized, given more presence before the eye. Such emphasis and presence are more often associated with brand slogans, protest signs, even text messages–a set of seemingly incongruent examples that yet are totally in line with the world interrogated by Abi-Karam. Only that these are poems, and the poetic space is flexible enough to hold a human pulse despite these implications, and resilient enough push back, to voice and be a voice.

José Angel Araguz, microreview: Villainy by Andrea Abi-Karam

The first poems in Danger Days by Catherine Pierce (Saturnalia Press, 2020) lead one to expect that this book will be all about end times and apocalypse.  The fourth poem dispels this idea: “High Dangerous” is the name her young sons give to hydrangeas.  But there is danger there too: the bees in the flowers.

Pierce finds danger in many supposedly ordinary places.  In motherhood, for instance, in “How Becoming a Mother Is Like Space Travel.” (Both find themselves rearranged.) “Abecedarian for the Dangerous Animals” covers five kinds of animal: bees, bats, the cassowary, the golden dart frog, and humans. […]

One set of poems addresses the history of words, in a series she calls “From the Compendium of Romantic Words.” In each poem she explores, deconstructs and plays with a particular word.  My favorite is “delicatessen” which begins:

Noun.  Notable for a sibilant elegance heightened
by the suggestion of cured meats.  Not deli,
a vulgar nickname, a fly-den, a swing-by, but
a long sigh of syllables, a time machine.  Inside
its languid hiss: flannel suits, stenographer glamour.
When the word is uttered, a skyline materializes.

Ellen Roberts Young, Recommendation: Danger Days by Catherine Pierce

Love Letter to Who Owns the Heavens [by Corey Van Landingham] brought back to me memories from January 1991. I was visiting friends at the University of Maine in Orono (UMO) and trying to rekindle a romance with a boyfriend from high school. He refused to see me, so I met friends in the Bears Den where we ate and watched TV. It was the night coalition forces launched the attack on Iraq. A screen in the corner of the room in the student union broadcast the bombardment. Here’s what Wikipedia says about the moment: “The war marked the introduction of live news broadcasts from the front lines of the battle, principally by the US network CNN. The war has also earned the nickname Video Game War after the daily broadcast of images from cameras on board U.S. bombers during Operation Desert Storm.”

I can’t recall if we were horrified but know for sure we were mesmerized. And, even though I was just 18 at the time, I’m ashamed to admit that I was more pained by the romantic abandonment than by what I saw on TV. Even though the scenes from my UMO visit have stuck with me, I never bothered to include them in a poem. If I had, I’d probably have written about the boy and not the televised introduction to war in my lifetime. It’s a daunting task to consider even now.

I’m still not writing much about world events in my poems, but thankfully my interrogation of our complicity in them has evolved, and Van Landingham’s poems support this necessary and difficult line of questioning. In “{Pennsylvania Triptych},” she writes, “To participate in the demolition is to be a part of history. Is what I tell myself…” She goes on, “As if, ante- / bellum, white and wealthy, with your father’s / father’s sprawling fields, you wouldn’t have let the / house staff serve you pheasant.” We must come to terms with our participation in dehumanizing others if we are to understand how to stop it.

Carolee Bennett, “the body becomes a downloadable thing”

How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
It was completely administrative! I decided to apply to MFA programs last minute and the deadlines were coming up. I had to put together a portfolio and figured it would take less time to write poetry than to write prose (ha!). I became a poet thanks to early deadlines. But I kept with poetry because I love its sparseness— it’s a form in which what you don’t say is as important as what you do say. Absence speaks, it’s mystical— a fairytale in itself. […]

What is the best piece of advice you’ve heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
In writing: act as if everyone is enlightened but you (Sandra Alcosser).

In general: “Dlatego dwie uszy jeden język dano, iżby mniej mówiono a więcej słuchano.” It”s a common Polish saying, loosely translated: “you got two ears and one mouth to speak less and listen more”. In fact, come to think of it, this applies perfectly to writing too.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Anna van Valkenburg

An interesting poem shows consideration-in-process. To “consider” means “be with the stars,” doesn’t it? Who doesn’t want that from a poem?

Poems in which the poet knows too much at the outset can tend toward flatness, I have found. The movement, if there is movement, in such a poem is of a busy person through a room who gives you a brisk nod. “Oh, there goes old whatsisname. Hunh,” you think. And that’s that. A more interesting poem wanders in, sits down with you, says something unexpected, ponders, ask you something, maybe, tells a tale, perhaps, shows you something, and in some way you share the moment.

You still might think, Hunh. But it’s a lingering hunh, a “I want to think more about this” hunh, or a “I never looked at that way before” hunh. You might want to call that poem some late afternoon and see if it wants to go get a beer.

Marilyn McCabe, Don’t stand so close to me; or, On Poems That Know Too Much

I am feeling forlorn this New Year’s morning.  Forlorn weather –  53 degrees and pouring rain, and likely to do so all day.

Last night I went to a New Year’s Eve gathering with eight other old folks –  55+ on the menu at Perkins Pancake House.  Very subdued.  It was a long table and I was the last to arrive and I didn’t get to sit with the friends I enjoy conversing with.  Not even any wine.  We closed the place at 8PM.  Sigh.

I drove home, remembering the New Year’s Eves of my wild youth:  in Philadelphia several with Patrick and his friends, in Baltimore in the apartment at Wellington Gate, and on Barclay Street, even a few in the early years of life in the Daughters.  Sigh.

So it goes.  I keep teaching Slaughterhouse Five to my Modernity class, now on Zoom due to COVID.

Anne Higgins, The times are nightfall; look – their light grows less

But for today, let me not focus on all that is coming at me/us in January.  Let me enjoy one more day of tropical drinks by the pool.  Let me focus on reading fiction, since I won’t have a chance to do that much once my seminary classes get underway.  Let me enjoy meals with loved ones and views of a different coastline.

And perhaps I will write a poem.  A few days ago, I made this Facebook post:”It is oddly foggy on the west coast of Florida this morning. It looks like it snowed overnight–or that something dreadful has happened to a lot of mermaids.”

Since then, I’ve continued to think of mermaids and sea foam and the death of mermaid dreams–or is it the resurrection of the girlhood dreams of mermaids?   I came up with this line to begin a poem:  Some days it is better to be sea foam.

Yesterday, the morning fog that looks like sea foam was tinted in different colors, which made me think that maybe sea foam doesn’t represent one eternal idea, but many.  

A poem is percolating, and I want to remember.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, A Soft Ending to Vacation

I know it’s a little cheesy, and harder during a pandemic year, but I still went through the steps of doing my yearly inspiration board, and using my hands to cut and glue things makes me feel like a kid again, and there’s something innately…optimistic about putting up words and pictures that make you feel happy and hopeful. This year, words like “friends,” “inspiration,” “magic,” and “happiness” made appearances, along with images of foxes, pink typewriters, blooms and butterflies.

Anyway, I encourage you to try it yourself, even if it’s just a temporary one on a corkboard, or posting inspiring things on your fridge. What could we look forward to? What are the best possibilities? I’m far too good at looking at the dark side.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Happy New Year! Snowed-In Seattle, Inspiration Board for 2022, Variant Problems, and Late Celebrations

We are born into this life with all its bombs & birdsongs, diseases & deities, poverty & purity. Born into criminals & kissers, debtors & creditors, greed & generosity. Born into freedom & detention, flowers & fault lines, climate change & genocides. Dancing, singing, weeping, raging. Slaving, building, crushing, creating—the beauty & brawl of it all.

Rich Ferguson, Into This

The lines of this poem are a factory that employs
the dead. Ghosts of people that walk
on concrete floors, their eyes
like blank sheets of paper. Do you
have a pen? Me neither.

What is a day? Rows and lines
of broken things – dreams, hopes, love.
No, that’s too hard and I reject it.
A day is you with your shoes off.
You are running toward me
laughing. You are telling me
about some poet from The Gaza Strip
or Kentucky.

James Lee Jobe, Their eyes are like blank sheets of paper.

How lucky the kitchen was stocked with tiny marshmallows and French chocolate
waiting in dishes for guests that would never come…
a list of movies, a fireplace with stacks of crackling logs
six-point crumpled Kleenex fluttering as paper snowflakes in an infinity of patterns
tables littered with bottles —- cough syrup, elderberry, zinc —
and cake vying for room with white test kits

We laughed into delirium when time was a stream of barely noted
notches in the inevitable: 
and talked of dreams, Rebbe Nachman, how to organize notebooks
not optimists but expecting each day would get better

New Year’s Eve was a muted affair; 
even if historic and global, we could say we did it in our pyjamas
in our own creaturely language
although we were still stuck in the indeterminacy

Jill Pearlman, Merry Quarantine

In spite of this, I’m starting this year feeling more optimistic than last year. Perhaps misguidedly. It’s not as if there’s a safe pair of hands in charge in the UK. But there are signs that the covid virus might be becoming less dangerous, which is something to feel hopeful about, even though we are still far from being in the all clear. On top of this, I have my own creative projects ticking away, and time to work on them, and my husband, Andrew, and our two grown-up children are well, we’ve navigated our way through the past two years and we’re still talking to each other and supporting each other’s plans. I’m so glad we’ve all been here for each other, at the end of a phone, if not always in person.

Josephine Corcoran, Light Ahead (maybe)

So, there we are. A year of recycled poems, stocking fillers, stand-ups, long-delayed appreciations and reviews, and far too much about being unwell and sorry for myself. And let’s be fair. In the world ‘out there’ it was a truly horrible year, a sleep of reason beginning with a failed putsch by morons led by a moron in the USA, and ending with tsunamis of incompetence, criminality and sleaze in what passes for government. What keeps me sane? You do. You and the poets whose work makes the world a better place. Go well. Stay well.

John Foggin, 2021: That was the year that was

You find the edge
of the wind right

where it ripples,
the old monk says.

You can almost
taste the sand.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (93)

 the extravagance of sun after a swim

Jim Young [no title]