Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 41

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive, subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader, or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack. This week: horror in and out of the news, an outpouring of appreciation for Louise Glück, the future of academia, menopause, and more. Enjoy.


I spent parts of the weekend digesting the whole of Netflix’s Fall of the House of Usher, something I have been waiting for for over a year, being a huge Mike Flanagan fan and lover of Poe in general. It was everything I expected and more–a modern day gothic chilling tale of corporate greed and evil, of extreme moral ambiguousness, set within the frames of Poe stories and poems. And so many poems, enough to make this writer and one-time English major, quiver with delight. I found myself thinking about Poe and how well it all holds together, even nearly 170 years later. How influential his work still is on the literary consciousness of writers, despite his entire life and career riddled with depression and addiction. How Flanagan takes the work and bends it into something new, yet immensely true to the original. […]

I often think about the Greeks and how pervasively their stories remain in Western thought, but Poe is up there on the list as well. For all of Poe’s wraith-like rants against other writers and his worry that he was an utmost failure (all too often related), he manages to stick. Beautifully horrific things still bear his fingerprints. While if you asked me who I liked more, I would say Nathaniel Hawthorne (who examined similar ideas with a little more subtleness), I still love Poe for all his darkness and bluster, which make the series an especially delightful experience that also got me thinking about my recent waffling in regard to writing poems. How I often feel like no one is listening and maybe no one is. But then Poe thought this as well. So maybe I just need to leave my worries to time and allow the chips to fall where they may. 

Kristy Bowen, darkness and bluster: thoughts on Poe

The drive took a meandering trajectory dodging abandoned belongings and storm-broken dreams. They coasted gingerly along the city streets under the huddling live oaks, still recovering from the trauma of a demon breath, reflection reaching its barren bones to snatch away any good sense. Outside dried mud cracked under the tires leaving crumbly hints and gaping possibilities, inside half-formed intentions simmered between them hazy and tingly like heat lightning. 

Years Later

Long forgotten ghosts are unexpectedly uncovered, teasing her memory, challenging her self-respect. She puts on Fetch the Bolt Cutters. Begins cutting.

Charlotte Hamrick, Snatched: the Means and the End

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

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

Without wanting to labour the metaphor, they are also, quite literally, feeding on wood.

Jeremy Wikeley, Why poems are like mushrooms

Dear special you,
This is not yet
a cat. This is
a bird hiding
from cats. It is
a butterfly
masquerading
as bird feathers,
a flock of dead
butterflies whose
still wings have been
repurposed as
art, frozen in
time.

PF Anderson, Dear You

I’ve been reading and thinking about the power of place lately. I’m reading for possibly the third time Rebecca Solnit’s book from the late ’70s called Migrations. It is about her ambling around Ireland thinking about ambling, about immigration and exile, about power and poetry and the land, about belonging, about what ties someone to a landscape.

She is so freaking brilliant, which is why I’m on my third read. It is so rich with ideas and beautiful prose that I can barely read it, so often do I have to set it aside to think about what she’s said. I’ve never been to Ireland and although I’m of Irish heritage, I don’t feel particularly connected in the way that so many Americans seem to feel. But the sense she talks about of a land and people integrated, stony and lush, windblown and scented — I get this. I walked out today into a damp autumn day redolent of leaves and dirt and pine, hear the strong song of the stream, high from recent rains, and I felt this land settle around me. To quote an old poem of mine, “I wear this world, a wedding gown, a shroud.” I often feel like I can’t get enough of this land, can’t ingest it enough into my cells. I stand helpless and smitten. [….]

When people are willing to kill over, to die over, land, its “possession,” am I to understand that inherently, as someone to whom landscape means so much? Territorial wars, I know, are about much more than enjoying the view from a ridge. “Land” is access to resources, control, power, as well as history, culture. In this way my own connection to land seems innocent, shallow.

War seems the corruption of that kind of innocent connection to land, borders a persistent, baffling machination of land and idea, of land and love. Call me naive. A word derived from words meaning natural, as well as native, born. Maybe our ideas of place are much too small.

Marilyn McCabe, In my dreams I’m always walkin’; or, On Writing, on Place

I am rebuked for silence: hear then my words, O Israel!
I love you beyond reason and beyond sense,
and the wheeling track of the stars knows
the darkest thoughts we’ve shared. I will not

repudiate my love. And this also is a silence, for which
I also will be blamed. So be it. If the shoe were on the other foot
would a Jew be left alive, between the river and the sea?
I’ve heard their words. I listen. silence is good for that.

Dale Favier, I Am Rebuked For Silence

Because I still have an oven, I can bake bread and knock on the crust: 
a hostage might answer.
Because yeast is alive for a short time,
embroider my name in your handmade world.

Oh long reams of sheets on the ironing board, 
I give you my full attention.   
I give you Simone Weil and Malebranche: 
attentiveness the soul’s natural prayer 
Is prayer.  Pray, pray. With feet.  With flowers, stones.
With undone lips, with murmuring surf.

Jill Pearlman, Half-Baked Prayer (So far, so near)

I am happy to announce that you can now pre-order the press’s two latest chapbooks: Corey Qureshi’s What You Want and Jonathan Todd’s Shift Drinks. Both poets are from Philadelphia and both collections address themes of work and struggle, and I’m very excited to have them join the press’s growing catalogue. […]

Also, with each sale, we are proud to be raising money for the Community Action Relief Project (CARP) in Philadelphia. According to their website, “CARP is a mutual aid and harm reduction project committed to sharing resources and redistributing wealth throughout the Kensington community of Philadelphia. . . . [They] provide essential supplies needed for survival, including hot meals, snacks, clothing, hygiene kits, on site wound care, and safer drug use kits.” In addition, they offer community education and a library of radical literature. As before, writers will receive half of all income from sales, and the remaining half will be split equally between the press and CARP.

Lastly, I am aware that this release comes at a moment of acute suffering and horror in the world. As we speak, Palestinians are enduring a genocidal siege at the hands of the Israeli military, all with the direct support and encouragement of the United States government. In solidarity with the Palestinian people, who have lived for decades under brutal apartheid, I will be making an immediate $200 donation in the press’s name to the Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA), an organization providing emergency aid to the people of Gaza. Half of the Gazan population consists of people under the age of eighteen, and MECA is providing vital support to families there. In effect, this amount will match what we anticipate raising for CARP, but with the benefit of being given immediately. Receipts for this will be provided soon.

R. M. Haines, New Chapbooks Available!

on the days i can touch what is lost, what is said?

death of depth
we dare call heaven

milk makes a prison
of skin

tears of grace
original face

Grant Hackett [no title]

Years ago I started using a little patter before the prayer that I borrowed from Rabbi David Markus. It was originally ad libbed to be singable to the Rizhyner’s melody for the prayer, but it’s basically become liturgy in my community. My son sings it to me sometimes. Other members of the community quote it. The opening has become part of the prayer now. And this past Friday night, as soon as I played the opening chord, everyone knew what was coming.

“Maybe you’ve had a little bit of a week,” I sang.

“I don’t know about you, but I’ve had –“

That’s when I noticed the tears pouring down my face.

*

…For the people torn from their homes and shot. For the concert-goers at the all-night dance party whose dancing ended in a massacre. For children, killed and kidnapped. For lifelong peace activists, killed and kidnapped. For over a thousand Jews slaughtered last Shabbat. For my friend whose partner grew up on one of the now-massacred kibbutzim. For the first responders whose job it was to locate and cover every dead body. For the people who were traumatized seeing Torah scrolls draped in tallitot at Simchat Torah because they evoked Jewish dead bodies draped in tallitot. For everyone struggling now with generational trauma. For the hostages in Gaza. For the families of the hostages, frantic and afraid. For the mother I know whose child couldn’t fall asleep in the bomb shelter. For the children and adults who have no bomb shelters and nowhere safe to go. For Awad Darawshe z”l, killed by Hamas while doing his EMT work. For the recognition that someone out there is wailing and mourning every single death this week, including those who weren’t EMTs or peace activists, just “regular” Palestinians and Israelis. For every life snuffed out. For every child now without parents, and every parent now grieving their child. For the inhabitants of Gaza, with electricity and water cut off, whose buildings are now rubble. For the hopelessness and the anguish. For the fact that grief becomes politicized, and strangers on the internet critique for whom and how we grieve. For the fact that I had to firmly instruct my teenager not to watch videos of hostage executions that Hamas has threatened to broadcast. For the fact that not everyone has the luxury of looking away from the death and loss and horror. For every heart now shattered. For the near-certainty that it’s going to get worse before it gets better…

*

“– a little bit of a week,” I managed, somehow.

By now people were singing along with me, quietly.

“And if you’ve had a little bit of a week — ai yai yai yai yai yai yai yai!”

The words of the prayer don’t really matter, I’ve said more times than I can count. I’ll sing some Hebrew. Maybe you’ll sing some English. Then I’ll sing some Hebrew, and you’ll sing some English. But what really makes this prayer work, what gives us the spiritual capacity to let go of our baggage and be fully present to welcome Shabbat, is the krechtz. The cry from the heart, from the gut, from the core. The ai yai yai. We have to let it all out before we can let Shabbat in.

Rachel Barenblat, A little bit of a week

Should we be grateful for banality?
Just the ordinary day when nothing much
happens. A day of choices: act or not, understand

or not, feel or not, live or not, be on the right
side of history or not. This is the blessing. The
ordinary day. The luxury of choice. The safety

of power. The power of safety. The sky too,
just blue, clouds unbothered, drifting. This
day when nothing happens. Thank you, we

can whisper to the unremarkable night […]

Rajani Radhakrishnan, A day of choices

It’s a hard week to write about wonder, but I began the day thinking that it’s moments like these that ask us to recommit to what is best about humanity, in the face of so much evidence of what is worst.

It was always my hope to study wonder not merely through an aesthetic or critical lens, but as a fundamental aptitude and resonance in our human experience. Today, I want to revisit the writings of thinkers who, to my mind, summed up the stakes of wonder as a vehicle for empathy.

Rachel Carson said that “the more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us the less taste we shall have for the destruction of our race,”[1] and I stand by her thinking that wonder and humility are incompatible with a lust for exploitation. If we can wonder at the unlikeliness and singularity of a human life, then we safeguard against the impulse for violence. St. Thomas Aquinas also connected wonder with pleasure and desire “that culminates not so much in knowledge as in encounter with majesty,”[2] waking us to what is most essentially human in us, and what is most capable of feeling.

Reflecting on this quality in Wordsworth’s writings, Kate Rigby argued that the reader is “restored to a sense of wonderment before that which we cannot grasp,” which in turn allows us to “be better placed to live respectfully amongst a diversity of more-than-human-others, without seeking always to subsume them to our own ends and understanding.”

Maya C. Popa, Why Wonder

Today we celebrate Columbus Day: October 12 was the actual day of the first sighting of land after almost 2 months at sea. I’m always amazed at what those early explorers accomplished. At Charlestowne Landing (near Charleston, SC), I saw a boat that was a replica of the boat that some of the first English settlers used to get here. It was teeny-tiny. I can’t imagine sailing up the coast to the next harbor in it, much less across the Atlantic. Maybe it would have been easier, back before everyone knew how big the Atlantic was. […]

I keep thinking of the ship’s logs and the captain’s journals, which Columbus kept obsessively. Perhaps we need to do a bit more journalling/blogging/notetaking/observing. Maybe it’s more calibrating or more focused daydreaming. These tools can be important in our creative lives.

Maybe we need a benefactor. Who might be Queen Isabella for us, as artists and as communities of artists?

The most important lesson we can learn from Columbus is we probably need to know that while we think we’re sailing off for India, we might come across a continent that we didn’t know existed. Columbus was disappointed with his discovery: no gold, no spices, land that didn’t live up to his expectations. Yet, he started all sorts of revolutions with his discovery. Imagine a life without corn, sweet peppers, tomatoes. Imagine life without chocolate. Of course, if I was looking through the Native American lens, I might say, “Imagine life without smallpox.”

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Thinking about Columbus and Our Own Creative Lives

I was deeply saddened to learn of the death of Louise Glück. She is, perhaps, best known for her poetry collection The Wild Iris, which was published in 1992 and for which she received the Pulitzer Prize. The title poem opens the book: At the end of my suffering / there was a door.

Her 2014 collection Faithful and Virtuous Night, also from Carcanet, gave me both comfort and confidence as I was struggling to complete the manuscript of Remembering / Disease. ‘You enter the world of this spellbinding book through one of its many dreamlike portals, and each time you enter it’s the same place but it has been arranged differently.’ Each time I entered this world, I felt closer to home.

Fokkina McDonnell, Austere beauty

It’s overwhelming to spend time with her poetry; you end up steeped in her mythologies, baffled by a personal story both tantalizingly near the surface and never quite within reach. (Consider a poem such as “The Dream,” a poem with two voices, beginning: “I had the weirdest dream. I dreamed we were married again,” and ending with the prosaic explanation, “Because it was a dream.”) […]

I’m trying to share enough so you see the range—this is a poet who published in The New Yorker for fifty years, after all—and the power present in even her early work. I’ve been noticing, as I flip through the pages, how often the color red occurs, as if Persephone’s pomegranate seeds keep replicating into other forms, and reminding us that, whatever is here, in our troubled and besieged turbulent world, it is our world.

Bethany Reid, Louise Glück, 1943-2023

In 2008, I was lucky enough to be one of Louise Gluck’s poetry students at Boston University’s MFA program.

I remember taking the T to her Cambridge apartment, the breakable vases of dried flowers from her garden everywhere, all of us crowded on the couch and floor hoping not to be the one dumb enough to bump something over.

We were all (I think–or at least I was) a little afraid of her, this tiny steel-gray haired woman, so cutting and dry with her poetry and her remarks (but always a bit of sly humor there).

She had pink Himalayan sea-salt on the table–I hailed from Tennessee backwoods and I’d never seen that before. She used a typewriter in a windowed room. I thought she was the most elegant person I’d ever met.

I remember her telling me the end of one of my poems was “Flaccid”–I knew it was bad from my classmates’ giggles (yes, giggles), but had to look up what it meant when I got back to the dilapidated broken-window Victorian apartment my husband and I (21 years old, newlyweds) were renting. Flaccid, added to the vocabulary. And I sure as hell fixed that ending.

Renee Emerson, Tribute to Louise Gluck

My local public library’s poetry section is on the sparse side. However, after renewing my card today, I felt determined to borrow a poetry book. I considered taking out one of Louise Glück’s collections, but I already own copies of the two on the library’s shelves (Wild Iris and Meadowlands). I chose Maxine Kumin’s 1992 book Looking for Luck instead. When I returned home, I learned that Glück has died (age 80). There will be time to return to her books and to seek out her most recent collection, which I have not read; but hers is a voice readers of poetry will miss.

One thing that her poems do is to face, without shying away from, sorrow or grief. They seldom offer sociably-conventional consolations. The consolation is in the spare beauty of her observation, her control of language. That is difficult to do. When I write from despair or deep grief, I find I want to bring some kind of–call it hope?–into the last few lines. I wonder whether I’ve a tendency to want to comfort; maybe my readers, maybe myself.

Ann E. Michael, Poets, horses

Neither the calls of zebra doves nor the down-

sliding notes of the golden crowned sparrow
can quiet my restlessness, this sense of how,

even in the middle of paradise, grief’s mottled
eye continues to offer itself as a gift of welcome—

strands of black tiger eye kukui nut and ti
leaves, a ceremony wreathed around my neck.

Luisa A. Igloria, E komo mai means “welcome”

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

I am someone that gets really paralyzed if I think too much about theoretical concerns. So I try to engage with them but limit them. When I was in grad school, I wrote a poem about a character from Arabic literature. One of the critiques of the poem, in workshop, was whether or not I had a right to take on that voice. Several of my classmates spent the majority of the workshop discussing this question, not even really getting to the craft of the poem itself. They were concerned that the answer was no, I didn’t really seem to have the right. It was a troubling experience for me because 1) The assumption that I was not Arab myself was incorrect 2) It brought up a whole lot of existential tailspinning (am I Arab enough since I don’t look as Arab as some of my family, for example, since I’m not totally fluent in the language, etc.) and 3) It scared me that there was this possibility we couldn’t engage with certain things that elicit our curiosity as writers, and that this list of things we can’t engage with are constantly shifting and hard to predict. Isn’t that an obstacle to empathy? At the same time, yes—it’s hugely important to me that writing is genuine and that writers are aware of their own positionality AND do not obstruct or co-opt the voice or tradition of another. In that way, I suppose I’m always asking: where is my work in relation to empathy, honesty, originality? And do I have a reason why I’ve written this? Those are the questions that feel most important to me.

12 or 20 (second series) questions with A.D. Lauren-Abunassar (rob mclennan)

Over the last decade, Emma Simon has quietly but impressively built up a reputation as a gifted exponent of quirky, well-honed poetry, good enough to grace many well-known journals and to win or be placed in several prestigious competitions. Her two pamphlets – Dragonish (The Emma Press, 2017) and The Odds (SmithǀDoorstop, 2020; a winner, chosen by Neil Astley no less, in The Poetry Business’s annual pamphlet competition) – showcased her poems’ qualities. Notably, as well as containing first-class content, a number (but not too many) of the poems have ostentatious titles, e.g. ‘A Pindaric Ode to Robert Smith of The Cure’. Emma has completed both the Poetry Business School Writing School programme and the Poetry School / Newcastle University MA programme and thereby been fortunate to receive the tutelage of some of the UK’s finest poet–teachers.

When Emma announced that Salt would be publishing Shapeshifting for Beginners, available here, I was very glad, and keen to see how she would work across the broader canvas of a whole collection. For me, Emma’s poems, though distinctively her own, remind me of Vicki Feaver in how she draws, often playfully, upon memories, reveries, a wide range of cultural references and a generally wry viewpoint, to consider the place of women and girls in, and the occasional accepting befuddlement at the weirdness of, our contemporary world. Her tone throughout is commanding: the reader follows her train of thought without question. Glyn Maxwell’s blurb says that the ‘poems are shaped by lockdown’, but they are largely far from being about the pandemic, even, it seems, at a subconscious level. It’s a very witty, clever and enjoyable collection.

Matthew Paul, On Emma Simon’s ‘White Blancmange Rabbit’

Hélène Demetriades’ debut collection, the plumb line (Hedgehog Poetry Press, 2023) , is a superbly crafted, touching exploration of parenthood and of family relationships. The poems are grouped into three sections: Beginnings, Gravity and Departures, each focusing on a distinct stage in the evolution of those relationships, particularly between the daughter and the father. […]

I’ve got to say I thoroughly enjoyed this collection. It is so human, so touching, so authentic, so relatable. It gets right to the heart of family relationships, revealing both the challenges and the rewards.

Nigel Kent, Review of ‘the plumb line’ by Hélène Demetriades

“Ophelia” has a content warning for non-specific sexual and domestic assault. These poems explore allegories for the complexity of feelings that such assaults trigger. Interspersed are fragmentary erasure poems titled “Ophelia”, using Shakespeare’s character. Ophelia is cast as, “torrent, tempest/ whirlwind her body/ the theater of others”. Later, “she will choose cold/ the poison of deep grief” and is described as “o’fire that drowns”. […]

The collection successfully weaves historical and contemporary reactions and trauma from domestic and sexual violence, using allegory and symbolism to explore and illustrate how such violence impacts its victims. “Ophelia” is sensitively and compassionately drawn.

Emma Lee, “Ophelia” V C McCabe (Femmé Salve Books) – Book review

John Guillory writes in Professing Criticism, a 2022 book, that literary criticism “originated millennia ago, achieved a maximal state of organization in the twentieth-century university, and now faces an uncertain future” (xv). He begins with a well-known story: nineteenth-century literary critics were self-trained journalists publishing in periodicals, while universities concentrated on philology–language instead of literature. “Literary scholarship” came into being as a profession after World War I, when it began to serve universities to offer electives and majors to its “clientele,” future members of a professional-managerial class (50-51). From a critic’s point of view, why not jump into the breach with your close-reading skills in pocket, since “professionals” receive higher status and compensation? The new English specialists stressed the exercise of scholarship (knowledge) rather than criticism (opinion). And here we are.

I’m reading Guillory’s tome while preparing to speak on a roundtable called “Avenues of Creative Scholarship,” and I’m only partway in, but what made my jaw drop when he speculated that since literary criticism wasn’t always a university discipline, it’s reasonable to imagine that the whole English Department enterprise was a blip, now ending. Arts and humanities curricula are being destroyed at places like West Virginia University–and declining in power and attractiveness at my own college–so why should this speculation surprise me? But somehow I’d always imagined that the eclipse would pass, perhaps once we got smart and recentered the discipline on what draws students in: reading personally, making their own literary art, asking high-stakes questions about what literature is and does. I mean, that could be true. Even now, there’s a bright ring around the shadow. But Guillory is right. To count on my discipline’s survival–to count on universities surviving in some shape comparable to their twentieth-century versions–is irrationally optimistic.

Witness the shuttering of The Gettysburg Review this week by the administration of Gettysburg College, apparently from a mixture of ignorance and indifference. The Chronicle of Higher Education published a deeply interesting (and paywalled) interview with GR editors Mark Drew and Lauren Hohle in which they discuss how consultants, framing themselves as efficiency experts, draw paychecks from many institutions by targeting the arts and humanities; Drew also reminds us that Kenyon College closed the Kenyon Review for a decade before thinking better of that decision. His own speculation: “The ideal fix, to my mind, is for the magazine to be endowed, either wholly or in part, so that we’re protected from the vicissitudes of changing administrations.”

Lesley Wheeler, Arts and humanities in annular eclipse

When Lesley talks about the closing and narrowing of academia’s support of poetry, literature, liberal arts in general, I am reminded of all my reading on Cold War Culture than indicated the American government was secretly propping up—and using for propaganda—many of the big journals we have come to think of as “permanent” features. Between the fifties and the eighties, the intelligence community thought it was important to show that America had its own artists that could compete with Russia’s—and, of course, they wanted to follow any potential communists into artistic enclaves. So, they gave money to Kenyon Review, Poetry, Paris Review, they helped publish books like Dr. Zhivago. Now, anti-intellectualism is king in politics—the government’s no longer interested in being a patron of the arts. Lesley mentions the patronage that most artists need to live as disappearing—but maybe it was always a sort of mirage. How many people in my generation could even procure a tenure track job in English Literature or Creative Writing? And the chances for the people younger than me, even less. Last week I talked about money and the awards system—a sort of insider trading post about how being wealthy enables you to get more money from grants, awards, and fellowships because you know some sort of secret password—whether it’s a certain college degree, championship by a wealthy mentor, or other. These things feel forbidden to talk about in the poetry world—but I feel it’s also important to point out that the poetry world is as corrupt and given to influence as any field, but also has its havens from that corruption if you look for them.

As a writer, I’ve always felt like an outsider—first, being a woman who did not come (or marry into) money, now, being a disabled and chronically ill woman who still has not won the lottery—and part of me feels like I’ve been beating a fist on the big blank walls of poetry institutions for more than twenty years. I’ve written hundreds of reviews, too, a world that is apparently disappearing, the idea of literary criticism itself being valuable enough to be paid for—was that a waste of time?

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A Week of Solar Eclipse, Loss and Sadness, a Tribute to Louise Glück, and Some Thoughts on Poetry, Academia, Ambition and the Establishment

And yet, here I am, able to recognise in my own body that things are changing, that my body, once again, is unpredictable, uneasy, causing me more anguish. I wrote a poetry collection, When I Think of My Body as a Horse a few years ago. It was about finding a way to be friends with a body that had let me down so badly; a body that had lost us all our children. The collection was about grief, but was also about recognising that my body was precious, my body had done its best.

But somehow, as menopause approaches, I find myself back to feeling my body is an enemy to me. What is there to say? The door is closing, the door is slamming, there is no going back. It is the finality that is daunting. I don’t want to go back. And yet, the well of sadness that is a part of carrying the death of your baby around with you is open again. I look down into it and I see the person I was, in the body that I was in, looking back up at me hopefully. There is no real difference, it is the same body, it is still doing its best, I am still doing my best.

What am I trying to say? That the loss never goes away, but that you fold around it, like scar tissue forming around a foreign object, until it is a part of you, a part of your body and your story. I have stopped trying to fix myself, I have stopped punishing myself, and am embracing myself.

Wendy Pratt, A Childless Woman Approaches the Menopause

Reflecting on my own time in the [Australian Poetry Slam] scene, I’m proud of the performances and the poems, but also wondering what was it that drove me to compete in slams. I was first introduced to them in Adelaide 2016 when I was asked to be a ‘sacrificial’ poet at the SA State Slam Final. I loved  being the ‘warm-up’ poet but it was safe. It took me a couple more years to find the courage (was it courage?) to perform as a competitor. Ironically, I was working on a novel at the time and was writing in residence at Writers SA where I saw the poster advertising the national poetry slam every. single. day. Was it desire to win that made me compete, or something else?

It was 2016. I was 48 years old and peri-menopausal. It might seem strange to say that at 48 I was only just finding my voice; but that’s how it felt. I think there is an alchemy that occurs in the body and mind in the years leading up to and during menopause. However, in our youth obsessed culture, it’s the negative effects of aging & menopause that are emphasised; so much so that older women can feel, at best, devalued & invisible and, at worst, whinging hypochondriacs. Pre-40 me found the idea of women being invisible incomprehensible. To my shame, I remember thinking: what the fuck are these women complaining about, what do they mean … invisible? I’m starting to get it. But it’s a bullshit story. And I’m working hard to let go of these bullshit stories. (More on this to come in future posts, I’m sure …)

So perhaps there were a number of competing reasons that I stepped up to the microphone and performed in a poetry slam. A desire to write something short (writing the novel was a torture and it’s still unfinished), a desire to be seen (fuck invisibility), and a desire to be heard, which became stronger than self doubt or fear. The more I performed, the more confident I became. It’s no coincidence that my first collection of poetry & prose is titled SIARAD, a Welsh word that means to speak.

Caroline Reid, POETRY SLAM PERFORMANCE: Stars

I think I just want to find a life that isn’t centered on how sick I feel, how cancer-ridden my boob is, how ashamed I am of my swollen, painful, unhealthy body.

I need a new hobby that doesn’t function like a mirror – or a selfie.

This morning as I think about running to the lake, fear builds up. I am afraid that the weird sand-feeling will cause me to stumble. The last thing I want now is a broken wrist.

But the squirrels are really active now for some reason. Seasonal? I want to see them. It is one way to stay in the moment – to be with them in those seconds before they scamper out of sight.

Negative capability is just about being in the moment, after all, right? Not judging, not needing to surround anything with meaning or purpose?

Just put the map down for a minute – eh?

Ren Powell, Oh, the Negative Capability

This week had brought renewed creativity. I’ve joined the peaceful space that is Dawn Chorus. It’s a simple concept of bringing writers together to work for an hour before the nitty gritty of life begins. There is a prompt to use if other inspiration if scant, but more than anything this is a place of calm focus, a place to enjoy the simple act of making time to write.

This act has been fruitful. I’ve written two new poems, and a piece of creative non-fiction. They will need to be polished before they go on their adventures, but it feels good to write something new, and to simply give myself space to think. Being a writer is a solitary pursuit, and being a writer with a chronic illness brings an extra edge of invisibility.

Whilst working alone is one of the positives of the surprise redesign diagnosis with M.E. wrought in my life, there is something about working in community with others that brings a different dimension. Accountability feels like too strong a word – no one is relying on me to turn up each morning. Perhaps it’s simple community – the sense that we’re all working to reach a similar goal. A quiet synergy, even if just for an hour. This space to think is hard to pin down amongst the constant chatter and pull of needing to be visible, needing to be part of the world regardless of whether it is a space that feels welcoming. I often wonder how it must have felt to live with so little sound, without the constant hum of traffic or radios, odd clanking of another redevelopment, whirrs of gardens being tidied and the simple presence of so many people. This level of external distraction makes it difficult to simply be part of the world without shouting.

Kathryn Anna Marshall, Being part of the world without shouting

The blockage has finally cleared! Poems that had been gathering dust in numerous in-trays have finally come back to me, all with a polite ‘no thanks’ attached. Oh well. Although having said that, I’ve two poems forthcoming in South magazine and another two in the Hastings Stanza Anthology ‘Bird in a Wilderness’ which we’re launching on Friday October 20 at The White Rock Hotel, Hastings at 7 pm – if you’re anywhere near, do come! The book is partly in aid of The Refugee Buddy Project that does wonderful work in welcoming refugees in the Hastings area.

Robin Houghton, All kinds of poetry news and shenanigans

It was a huge pleasure to be interviewed by acclaimed poet David Adès for Poets’ Corner hosted by Westwords. Each month a poet is invited to read and talk about their poetry on a theme of the poet’s choice.

For this episode, we talked on the theme of Limits of language, limits of experience. in the context of my poetry videos. We covered a lot of ground but the conversation falls naturally into more or less bite-sized chunks. We start with an extended discussion on the nature of video poetry, how they are made, how they can work, and more. Then we go on to talk about some of my specific pieces.

The Youtube clip includes excerpts of these videos, in order: after-image; Palingenetics; and furthermore (indexed); A Captain’s; The Ferrovores; FUTURE PERFECT; and An Introduction to the Theory of Eclipses.

Ian Gibbins, Limits of language, limits of experience – extended interview with David Adès for Poets’ Corner

I’m very pleased to announce that Mark McGuinness’ excellent poetry podcast, A Mouthful of Air, which has recently featured poets such as Mona Arshi, Judy Brown, Rishi Dastidar, Ian Duhig, Mimi Khalvati, Clare Pollard, Tom Sastry, and Denise Saul, has recorded a discussion about my new Salt collection, Between a Drowning Man.

Mark’s method is to focus on one particular poem and between us we chose the poem ‘you are not in search of’, on page 57 of the new book, from the latter end of the ‘Works and Days’ sequence. You can listen to the podcast here. It’s about 40 minutes in length and includes a reading of the poem at the beginning and end. There is also a helpful transcription of our discussion.

Martyn Crucefix, New podcast discussion on Between a Drowning Man

I lost my mind.
I put it here somewhere,
I know I did.

The rain sweeps against the window.
Tonight’s autumn rain.
Waves of it, light, then heavy.
It’s 2 in the morning.
I pace the room,
listening to rain.

Bob Mee, Untitled

the soldiers return
but no one believes them
for they are mute

if you don’t like this war
there’s another one
on the next channel

the adverts are sweeter
a new car in the bright sunshine
turns into a hearse

Jim Young, rumours

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 37

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive, subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader, or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack. This week: changing seasons, ailing mothers, famous poets, non-fungible tokens, unfashionable metaphors, and much more. Enjoy.


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

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

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

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

Robin Houghton, In the land of RS Thomas

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

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

to outshine the dawn.

PF Anderson, Tonight, Waiting, and Waiting

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

Rachel Barenblat, Ready or not

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

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

Wendy Pratt, Beech Mast

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

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

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

Gerry Stewart, Slow Motion

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

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

Renee Emerson, My Time-Saving Mom Routines

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

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

Sarah Russell, Green Tomato Chutney

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

Repented. Repayed. Served Something Other.

***

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

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

Ren Powell, The Courage to Look Inward

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

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

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

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

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

Kathleen Kirk, Mother Tree

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

Luisa A. Igloria, The Caregivers

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

Lina Ramona Vitkauskas, KHÔRA – Passport for Zita

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

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

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

Jill Pearlman, Blasting Complacency

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

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

Dick Jones, KODAK by BLAISE CENDRARS

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

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

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

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

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

Lesley Wheeler, Walking: a footnote

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maggie Smith, Craft Tip

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tim Love, Poetry trends – Metaphors

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

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

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

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

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

Katie Dozier, A Notebook for the Future: NFTs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Susan Rich, Lucy Brock Broido

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

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

What is tsunami?

The crash of her words. Pouring in of world.

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

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

Billy Mills, A review of two anthologies

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

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

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

Edmund Prestwich, Jane Draycott, The Kingdom – review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Memory

it’s a Friday evening
West Somerset

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

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

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

Paul Tobin, NOT EVEN A REFLECTION

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

Kristy Bowen, webs

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

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

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

Rita Ott Ramstad, Maybe you can go home again

毬(いが)は海を 海胆(うに)は林を夢想して 伊丹啓子

iga wa umi o            uni wa hayashi o musōshite

            a burr dreams about the ocean

            a sea urchin dreams about woods

                                                            Keiko Itami

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Ebbs and Flows and Writing Rhythms

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Angela Topping, Summer Slips Away

who hides in the blessing that darkens a bloom

can the bones of birth become another’s life

does the moon still long for sight

Grant Hackett [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 36

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive, subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader, or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack. This week: change and other challenges, the life of the text, book launches, unanswerable questions, and much more. Enjoy.


I read an article yesterday (it scarcely matters about what.) Afterwards I spent a long while working on a terrible poem. Righteous indignation is not a good motivator for poetry. But the news so often fills me with grief and fury. Everyone I know is living close to the emotional boiling point, these days.

We haven’t wholly grieved [a] global pandemic, and meanwhile climate disasters intensify (and climate deniers pretend), and democracy is under attack, and the state where I was born is making it illegal to drive on state roads if one’s purpose is to escape to a safe state for reproductive health care —

— and how many of us live with all of this simmering in our hearts and minds most of the time? It’s no wonder that even when we’re doing all right, it feels like we’re barely keeping our heads above water. Still, that’s no excuse for terrible poetry, so the poem in question will remain locked away.

Rachel Barenblat, Untie

As summer begins to give way to autumn here in New Jersey, six new poem signs of mine are on display outside the Hopewell Branch of the Mercer County Library System — three out front, and three around back.

As Election Day approaches and the landscape becomes cluttered with campaign signage, I like to imagine someone noticing these poem signs and thinking “Wait — what?” LOL!

Vote for … poetry?

Bill Waters, Autumn Poetry @ MCL, 2023

As we come into fall, the cicadas are loud outside and constant from the afternoon into the evenings. As soon as the heat clears, it will no doubt feel more like autumn and I’ll probably feel that same excitement that occurs every year, beholden to the academic calendar or not. That new seriousness in new projects and maybe a push to finish others. Every year around now for years, my parent’s house would be overflowing with harvested tomatoes. On the deck, piled on tables and counters and in baskets. A few days in the overheated kitchen and she would turn them into jars of salsa.  I feel like I am still in my gathering phase when it comes to new poems–piling them in a basket and hoping for cooler weather and a greater sense of urgency. 

Kristy Bowen, beginnings and endings

Even close observers find it hard to discern changes around them when those changes are gradual. In the real world our attention is far more distracted. We miss subtle differences, even though noticing something “ordinary” as the sky impacts (and reflects) our mood and attitude.   

Consider most people in human history. Chances are they were good at noticing. When a person spends time gathering food, hunting for game, weaving baskets, or engaged in myriad other hands-on tasks their minds have plenty of time to wander, wonder, and notice. It’s likely they were tuned to sights and sounds and changing seasons, connected to (and sometimes buffeted by) history’s encroachments. It would have been the same for those living 10 generations before them as it would continue to be for 10 generations after them.

In contrast, we’re tuned to a far more frenetic pace, so much so that with each screen scroll and each multitask we wire our brains to expect more distraction. To need more distraction. How do we use our in-between moments, those times when we might wonder and notice? We distract ourselves. People get out phones when standing in line, put a movie on for kids in the car, go for a walk or run with earbuds in, scroll social media while hanging out with friends or family. These behaviors are ubiquitous yet also significant changes to the norm from just a generation ago. […]

I saw the video opening this post thanks to Rob Walker, author of a marvelous book: The Art of Noticing: 131 Ways to Spark Creativity, Find Inspiration, and Discover Joy in the Everyday. He writes, “Small change, and the ability to spot it, matters. These small changes, over time, often turn out to be a lot more important than today’s flashy distraction. What’s the smallest change you can notice this week?”

Laura Grace Weldon, Noticing Change

What we lack of information, we frame
as conjecture. Imagine

how puzzle pieces fit
together or not at all, how a missing space
can have the sheen on the inside

of an oyster shell. It takes work,
even skill, to pry them open—

The waters salt them by degrees, leach
the taste of place into them.

Luisa A. Igloria, A Short History of Oysters on the Eastern Shore

Louisiana is a mystery to me. It feels like a puzzle I will never know enough to solve or adequately describe. I suppose any place is to someone from outside of it, if you scratch even just a little bit below the surface of its food, language, and tourist attractions. Our weeks there were challenging and hard for me in so many ways: physically, intellectually, emotionally, socially. I loved having extended time with Cane’s family, with whom I felt moments of true joy and ease, but disorientation and disequilibrium were far more common. I remember telling my students more than once that learning is often uncomfortable and can even be painful. I learned a lot in our time there. I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to develop a fuller understanding of my husband and his family, of our country and its people, and of what it means to love.

Rita Ott Ramstad, The work of our hands

The graffiti on the NJ and NY Palisades sent a thrill through my childish mind and body. I first recall seeing words spray-painted on the cliffs when I was under age five and barely cognizant of letter forms. The view puzzled and frightened me, partly because of the heights (I was acrophobic from a very early age) and partly because I had no idea what those huge, high-up letters signified. When I got to kindergarten and began deciphering letters, the graffiti confused me because it contained signs that weren’t in the alphabet I was learning at school: Ω, Φ, the scary-looking Ψ; θ, Δ, and Σ, which resembled a capital E but clearly wasn’t. Once I could read and still could not understand them, I asked my father what those letters were and why they were up there on the rocks. They reminded me of the embroidered on some of the altar cloths in church, but I didn’t know what that stood for, either.

Frat boys from the colleges painted their Greek symbols on the rocks long before spray paint was invented, my dad said, possibly as part of hazing rituals. By the time I was a child, the 50s-era “greasers” had begun announcing their love for Nancy or Tina through daring feats of rock and bridge painting; then the graffiti era came into full swing after the mid-sixties, and the process got colorful–the Greek symbols vanished, replaced by “tags.” All of which just reinforces the importance of words in the world.

Ann E. Michael, Language power

In his study of aesthetic experience, Peter de Bolla argues that “Literary works of art are produced in the activity of reading.” I love the verb produced here—it seems to suggest that the reader renders the text fully alive, that the life of the text continues inside the reader’s mind. De Bolla goes on to say that though it seems logical to read a text first, and only subsequently develop an aesthetic response, “this is impossible given that the reading and the response are interactive; that is, one develops in the shadow and in step with the other.” Word by word, line by line, we metabolize what we read, and our singular reactions organically unfold. We question. We discover. What we read changes us.

When we apply the lens of wonder to this idea, we find that wonder can be passed from writer to reader through the page itself. This is no small miracle.

Aristotle (and later Aquinas) suggested that wonder catalyzes the poetic impulse by provoking a restlessness that seeks shape. The poem wants to unearth, discover, and question; it is, as Anne Carson writes, “an action of the mind captured on the page…a movement of yourself through a thought, through an activity of thinking.” It shares psychic ground with the conditions of wonder—there is something unsettling, and therefore generative, about trying to wrestle into language something that exceeds it.

Maya C. Popa, Wonder Wednesday

I’m always reading something but I’m probably worse than ever at floating from book to book to book…and so on. This is not a bad method in so far as comparing ideas, and seeing how one mind sparks off another. It means it takes quite long to actually complete a book, though!

The first volume I read lately in one sitting and then re-read in another was the very delightful book of poems by Sarah Salway, titled Learning Springsteen on my Language App. (If you’ve been here a while you’ll know immediately why this was an insta-buy). The title poem is as delightful as I was hoping, but there are many memorable poems and lines. I’ll talk about one of them, and let you have the fun of reading the rest. In “She did her best” the line comes from a grave stone, and the poem thinks through how that might not be how the speaker would like to be remembered. She says, “It’s important to discuss how we want / to be remembered…” So many devoted and beloveds, all well and good, for sure. The poem ends beautifully:

finding always in the act of writing
the truth: a simple gravestone,
to die with all my words used up but one —

more.

Shawna Lemay, 3 Books for September

Ostensibly, Seven Sisters, which can be found in my collection Street Sailing, is a simple poem about a moment when the narrator (me), watches a hovering kestrel, alongside a similarly awestruck friend; the ‘gawping booted witnesses’ near the eponymous Sussex cliffs. We’d been crossing the downs nearby, winding our way towards the cliff walk, when the kestrel appeared, as if out of nowhere, as though it had beamed in from some other dimension.

I remember standing transfixed for what seemed like an age, as the bird hung there, untroubled by us nearby humans. At the time I recall thinking that it was a kind of living echo of all the tiny skeletal body parts of the microscopic creatures that made up the layers of chalk beneath us – the countless coccoliths and foraminifera.

It was this sense that I wanted to capture when I started writing a poem about the incident. I also wanted to convey the notion that, while this occurrence seemed significant to me, the kestrel would have likely been oblivious to my presence and was just trying to get on with doing what it always does.

Drop-in by Matt Gilbert (Nigel Kent)

[W]e finally succumbed to the rave reviews and saw an Oppenheimer matinee yesterday. I disliked it intensely, although I appreciate many striking elements of the movie others admire: the way the main character visualized the quantum universe in his early years was beautiful, the history often intrigued me, the film’s sound design was great, and it’s full of dazzling performances. I’m as haunted as anyone by an emaciated Cillian Murphy’s slow blue-eyed blinks. There’s even some poetry: a copy of The Waste Land flashes by, and Murphy quotes Donne’s three-personed god sonnet as they name the Trinity project.

There are much more profound critiques of the film than the one I’m bringing–for example, that it gives no time to the profound damage wrought on human beings living downwind of the Los Alamos experiments–but my emotional reaction was also shaped by many shots of Princeton and other elite graduate schools. To quote Jack Stillinger’s book on romantic poetry, Oppenheimer leans hard on “the myth of solitary genius.” Apparently, certain white men are special in their talent and drive; they recognize, help, and fight each other, often working in groups, but the important thing is that their vast intellectual gifts make them profoundly lonely in pursuing their visions (as well as, in poor Oppenheimer’s case, victim to Robert Downey, Jr.’s dangerous spite). What an obnoxious way of portraying insight and discovery: to heroize a few figures and downplay the prejudices and myopias supporting them, as well as the toxicity of their obsessions. Christopher Nolan basically celebrates Oppenheimer as the tortured, talented Batman of physics.

Lesley Wheeler, STILL mythologizing solitary genius

An elderly man in Muncie believes the water stain on his bedroom ceiling is the face of Jesus.

In Syracuse, a woman witnesses random tar stains on the sidewalk and reassembles them into the disapproving look of her mother.

While out for an early-morning L.A. walk, I marvel at how somber gray clouds have formed the chilling shower scene from Psycho.

In moments like these, the entirety of the universe is interconnected, and we are all threads creating the cloth of miracle and madness.

Rich Ferguson, Pareidoltown

With the arrival of my new book of poems, Between a Drowning Man, imminent, I thought it would be useful to re-blog a piece I wrote and posted early in 2019 about one of the key sources and inspirations of the new book’s main sequence of poems called ‘Works and Days’. It was my fortuitous reading of AK Ramanujan’s collection of vacana poems, early in 2016 (all explained below), that set me off experimenting with a similar clipped, plain, rapid, fluid style with its (refrain like) repetitions. I was staying in Keswick at the time and I vividly remember scribbling down brief pieces at all times of the day and night. Outside, and interfering with the various walking expeditions we had planned, the great storm of the winter of 2015/6 (googling it now, it was Storm Desmond) had taken out many of the ancient bridges in the Cumbrian countryside. Inevitably, this fact found its way into the poems and provided the refrain I used in many of them.

It has been a long haul between that period and the poems’ eventual appearance in this new collection and the whole sequence was further formed (or reformed or deformed) by pressures of a second literary antecedent (I’ll blog about that next week) and by the divisive political events in the UK between 2016 and 2019. Click on the blog title below to read the whole of the original post. My first public reading from the new book will be on the evening of Tuesday 24th October at The Betsey Trotwood in Clerkenwell. I’ll be reading alongside 2 other Salt poets:  Elisabeth Sennitt-Clough – ‘My Name is Abilene’ (Shortlisted for the 2023 Forward Prize); and Becky Varley-Winter – ‘Dangerous Enough’ (‘daring, danger and risk in poems that are packed with imagery from the natural world’).

This Thing Called Bhakti: Vacanas and Ted Hughes

Martyn Crucefix, Influences on ‘Between a Drowning Man’ #1

I have been awake for hours, and I’m inordinately proud of myself for not spending my time scrolling through social media feeds that have minimal value.  I’ve been preparing poetry submissions, which means various kinds of scrolling:  through my submission log, through websites, across the Submittable platform.  I’m astonished at how much it costs to submit now, and no, I don’t think it’s a similar cost to paper, ink, envelopes, and stamps.

I’ve just been to the post office, so I have a sense of how much stamps cost.  My local post office has such a great selection of stamps.  Plus, I love getting mail.  I do love the ease of submitting online, but it’s such a huge cost if I tally it up.  I don’t know why I don’t mind spending 84 cents on postage, but $3 is almost always a deal breaker.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Seasonal Stealing Away

Missing things still wander, still wait to clasp my hand.

So I make sandwiches
and drink tea, but plant moon flowers at sundown
and keep my shoes by the door.

Charlotte Hamrick, While I Wait

Song & Dance Man: The Art of Bob Dylan – Vol. 1 Language & Tradition (50th Anniversary), Michael Gray, The FM Press, 2023, ISBN: 979-8988288701, $24.99

Towards the end of this book, the first in a projected three-part reissue of his monumental work on Dylan to mark the 50th anniversary of the first edition, Michael Gray quotes this from Pete Welding:

“the creative bluesman is the one who imaginatively handles traditional elements and who, by his realignment of commonplace elements, shocks us with the familiar. He makes the old newly meaningful to us…”

It’s a quote that might serve as a kind of summary of Gray’s intentions in this first volume, but with a wider remit than just the blues. The book consists of a series of chapters on various traditions that Dylan’s work draws on, folk music, literature, rock ‘n’ roll, mysticism, the blues, along with a couple of chapters on Dylan’s language, charting a move towards and then away from complexity, and one on books about the man and his work. These are wrapped by an introductory introduction to his albums (studio, live and Bootleg Series) issued between 1962 and 1988 and a closing roundup of sorts.

Straight away I found myself in disagreement with Gray’s judgements, his dismissal of Self Portrait as ‘a mistake’ and praise of Under The Red Sky as ‘an achievement that has gone entirely unrecognised’ should, in my view, be reversed. But this is a good thing, I don’t want to read a book on Dylan that confirms my biases and Gray certainly doesn’t do that. In fact, throughout the book his contrarian opinions, such as the complete dismissal of Dylan’s protest songs as ‘rarely of outstanding quality’, draw the reader in to an engagement with the book’s more central preoccupations. And to be fair to Gray, he’s quick enough to self-correct. One outstanding example of this is an almost incomprehensibly wrong-headed reading of ‘Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands’ which misses  almost everything about that great song, but which ends with a footnote that begins ‘When I read this assessment now, I simply feel embarrassed at what a little snob I was when I wrote it.’ If only more critics possessed that degree of honest self-awareness.

Billy Mills, Song & Dance Man: The Art of Bob Dylan – Vol. 1 Language & Tradition (50th Anniversary), Michael Gray: A review

Though I was born of women
too diligent to dance,
I did not inherit vigor–
just one pair of viridian stilettos, never worn
nestled in cardboard like two shining birds.
Nights, they glow like foxfire
on the barren closet floor.

Kristen McHenry, Inheritance

Jane Bluett explores tales, familiar and unfamiliar, how to make sense of a place in the world and find a path through it. She doesn’t restrict herself to the local or current day. In “Almah”, which means young girl in Hebrew and is the word used for Mary, mother of Jesus, whose husband “wrote me down” until “they came to read me, translated, interpret”,

“In England they changed the colour of my skin,
wrote in whispers, gave me a sister.
I became the great impossibility,
and she, the other me, a silent whore.”

A woman’s voice is taken from her, subjected to distortion through a male lens. Further translation even changes her origins, turns her into a saintly, impossible woman. Dehumanised, she’s no longer recognisable. Her story has been lost and the woman behind them reduced to the Madonna/whore template. This theme is picked up again in “Nushus”, focused on the language of Nushu, the world’s only single sex language from Hunan, China, however, the last fluent user died in 2004, “Our nouns slipped silent, our verbs deafened,/ loud as sirens, loud as words” but it ends, “her breath betrays our meaning,/ disappears.”

Emma Lee, Jane Bluett “She Will Allow Her Wings” (Five Leaves) – book review

The second full-length collection from London, Ontario poet (and, from 2016-2018, that city’s poet laureate) Tom Cull, following Bad Animals (Toronto ON: Insomniac Press, 2018), is Kill Your Starlings (Kentville NS: Gaspereau Press, 2023), a collection of poems that appear, carefully and delicately, as though carved out of stone or ice. Across this book-length suite on family and place, Cull offers an assemblage of descriptive, first-person lyrics, setting blocks down as if to build, writing on cars, family, Ikea, masculinity, toxicity and landscape. Listen to how he describes heading west by train out of Ottawa (specifically, Fallowfield Station): “Outside, land is drawn and quartered. / Wild turkeys step through / split-rail fences; a lone coyote pauses / in a pasture, head thrown / back across its body watching us pass.” Cull’s wisdom, as well as his humour, emerges quietly, to rest amid rumination, offering one step and then another, further, considered step: not one word or line out of place. As the back cover offers, this is a book about family and place, although there is a way he writes about masculinity is worth mentioning: his articulations are different, although equally powerful, than, say, Dale Smith’s Flying Red Horse (Talonbooks, 2021) [see my review of such here], offering a sequence of poems, for example, on the male gestures offered through car commercials. “Set it free.” he writes, in the poem “Subaru Wilderness,” the fourth and final poem in the sequence “AUTO EROTICA,” “See the Subaru in its natural habitat; / a hundred thousand mutations, / bionic selection stalking slag ridges— // terrarium interiors—synthetic protein / seats, hot mist, pitcher plants, / neon salamander toes suction cupped / to the windows.” Cull’s threads are subtle, offering a book heartfelt and deep, writing of a father he learned from by example, benefitting from the man’s quiet dignity. “Years after my dad died,” he writes, as part of the wonderfully graceful “AUTOPSY REPORT,” “I moved home temporarily to help get the farm ready for sale. I hired plumbers, roofers, contractors to do the work. Over the course of that year, I met several men, who’d had my dad as their teacher. They all praised his patience, his care, and his demand for discipline and hard work.” The poem ends:

A few years ago, my mom wrote a poem about my dad. The poem
ends with details from his autopsy report:

BUILD: moderately obese
BRAIN: unremarkable
HEART: massively enlarged

rob mclennan, Tom Cull, Kill Your Starlings

Back in the days when I was known as Elizabeth by my school teachers, I compiled a project called ‘Western Australia’. I was in Lower IV 26. 26 was the room number, Lower IV was year 8. In her feedback, written on a pale orange card, my Geography Teacher, the lovely Miss Smith, wrote: ELIZABETH: mainly WESTERN AUSTRALIA. In the corner of that card, she drew a fairy penguin. I’ve had a soft spot for penguins ever since.

On the other side of the small card, Miss Smith wrote this: “Your nice grassy folder had some original and interesting ideas in it, with good illustrations. The range of relevant information was wide, from Continental drift to Camels, and even though you veered from your subject by discussing the Barrier Reef, it was still a good effort. A(-)”. 

Not much has changed in my approach to projects since 1976-7. The anthology I’ve been working on, Festival in a Book, A Celebration of Wenlock Poetry Festival, also has some original and interesting ideas in it, most of them not my own. The illustrations (by Emily Wilkinson) and design (by Gabriel Watt) are a bonus. The range of relevant poetry is wide in terms of the Festival itself, and the poets also veer (as you’d expect them to do) towards love, childhood, loss, celebration of nature, and death. 

A brackets minus. What a mark. Thank you Miss Smith. In old school terms, A was for near as damn excellent considering your age and stage, and minus was for not quite. The brackets? They were for but nearly. My project was: not quite near as damn excellent considering your age and stage, but nearly. I was very happy with this grade. If the anthology is judged by contributors and readers as: not quite near as damn excellent considering her age and stage, but nearly, I’ll be delighted.

Maybe it was that carefully-wrought mark and Miss Smith’s recognition of the effort I’d made that set in my 11 year-old head the bouncy thought that one day I would visit Western Australia, and the other parts of that country-continent that aren’t WA but are closer to it than South Hampstead High School, 3 Maresfield Gardens, London NW3. It’s certainly been a thought leaping kangaroo-like around my head for a few years: a thought I put into action back in the spring when I booked tickets to Perth, via Singapore. I leave in 5 weeks, once I’ve completed the distribution and launch of the anthology. 

Liz Lefroy, I Draw A Comparison

I’m excited to be reading in Liverpool for the first time, at the launch of my new micro pamphlet One Deliberate Red Dress Time I Shone which was one of the winners in the Coast-to-Coast-to-Coast Poetry Prize. Along with two of my fellow winners, Rachel Spence and Ben McGuire (a fourth winner, Sarah Mnatzaganian will launch her pamphlet next year), I’ll read from my new pamphlet on Saturday, 16 September at the Open Eye Gallery, 6pm – 8pm. Tickets are free and bookable here. Come along if you’re in the neighbourhood.

Coast-to-Coast-to-Coast is an initiative created by writer and artist Maria Isakova Bennett who designs and makes limited edition hand stitched poetry journals. This means that my poems will be published within a beautiful handmade cover. Take a look at previous journals Maria has made to see what I mean. I submitted twelve poems to do with clothes and fabric as my competition entry, and the title – One Deliberate Red Dress Time I Shone – is a line from a poem after a self-portrait in stained glass by artist Pauline Boty in which the artist is wearing a red dress. Because of this, I’ve had the idea of wearing a red dress at my launch. I’m not sure how wise this decision is (!) but I’ve found a rather sweet red silk dress from Oxfam Online which seemed to be calling out to me when I viewed it on my computer.

Josephine Corcoran, September and ahead: some workshops and readings

It’s been a long journey getting to this point with Look to the Crocus but I’m delighted with it. 

Through the creating and editing process, the manuscript has gone through many shapes and forms like a snake shedding skin. The final result is a tripart collection: Flowers & Trees, The Long Water, and Mother Moon, and each section is prefaced with a quote from Theodore Roethke. 

It contains my versions of Scottish ballads, close encounters with nature, my relationship with the Firth of Clyde, and elegies to my parents. The presiding poets include Roethke, Transtromer, Plath, W.S. Graham, Sujata Bhatt and D.H. Lawrence.

The cover art was created by Irish artist Brigid Collins after I met her in a special garden.

John Killick was central to bringing this book to publication and I’m hugely grateful for his support for my work. 

Marion McCready [no title]

I don’t usually embark on project collections, that is, collections of poems that focus on something particular. I usually just write what I write and hope that some of it can sit together companionably when there’s enough stuff to think about a collection. But I find myself in the interesting position of having created a “project” collection…but it’s about 10-15 pages short of what would be considered a full-length thing. I’m staring at my page count and the empty pages are staring back from the void.

What if I have nothing more to say on this subject? What if the whole output has petered out and I have this too-big-for-a-chapbook-too-small-for-a-book mongrel of a hybrid thingy? I haven’t written anything new in its world in about a month. I scribbled a few things but they went nowhere, and were of that death-knell tone: self-conscious. Now that I THINK I’m working on a “project” the thoughts are stiff and forced.

Can I trick myself into writing more freely on this same matter?
Should I quit while I’m ahead and just, I don’t know, split it into two chapbooks and be done with it? Should I set the whole thing aside and come at it later, hoping I’ll find something more to say?
Should I sit myself down to keep writing and see if I circle back to the topic eventually?

All those things are reasonable possibilities. What am I doing, though? Staring at the void staring at me.

Marilyn McCabe, Ooh, what’s that smell; or, When a Creative Process Peters Out

You Could Make This Place Beautiful is out in the UK today with Canongate Books! I’m grateful to Jamie Byng, Jenny Fry, Helena Gonda, Anna Frame, Catriona Horne, and everyone at Canongate. (And thank you for welcoming this book so warmly, for telling your friends about it, for giving it to people who might need it…word of mouth, reader to reader, is the secret sauce, isn’t it?)

What else? I found a tiny cardinal feather in my backyard and picked it up before it floated away. Beauty emergency! It now lives in a tiny bowl in my office, where it makes me unreasonably happy.

Maggie Smith, The Good Stuff

Seattle people tend to have a bit on panic in their eyes this time of year because their FOMO is activated by the arrival of the “Big Dark.” We are probably no different, having been here so many years that we automatically go into outdoor plan overdrive on nice days.

Now, getting to Seattle from Woodinville took an hour because literally every way to get everywhere was closed due to city construction—and feel sorry for those dependent on the Bainbridge ferry, which was down for cars, bikes, and scooters for a week. Does Seattle DOT have problems? It does! Do they have a ton of tax money to fix it but somehow manage not to? Yes!

Anyway, once we got downtown, we didn’t want to waste the trip—so we hit everything at once—after navigating the construction on the main UW hospital campus (yes, also a nightmare)—we chilled out at the Japanese Garden and went to the UW district’s awesome Bulldog Newstand, which has a ton of obscure lit mags and foreign magazines of all types, and now they also have fancy ice cream.

The second downtown trip we originally wanted to hit the zoo and Roq La Rue, but because of traffic, everything was closing as we arrived, and we made the decision to only hit Open Books before they closed. We got new books by Oliver de la Paz, Terrance Hayes, Major Jackson, and checked out a ton more. After we stayed ’til closing time, we went a couple blocks down to Elliot Bay Books, where we picked up the new Lorrie Moore book, marveled at the terrific poetry section (where Flare, Corona was fronted at the top—squee!), bought a few more lit mags, and chatted with the friendly book salespeople about our favorite releases and theirs.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Taking Advantage of Sunny September Days to Do the Things We Missed All Summer: a Visit to the Japanese Garden, Open Books, Elliot Bay Books, Time at the Flower Farm

There are so many writers out there; so many writers aspiring to publication, so many writers pushing boundaries, climbing out of the constraints of the traditional, so many writers climbing up, up, up towards prizes and winning and poetry collections and debut books. It can be off putting if you yourself are a writer who is not competitive, or are a writer from a non traditional writing background where the rules of the literary world seem undefined and confusing, or if you are at the beginning of your long journey to discovering your own voice. How do you keep writing?

Mary Oliver’s poem Wild Geese is like a quiet place to come and refresh yourself. Each sentence could be a mantra in its own right, but tied together it is a cool corridor to pass through on the way to your place in the world. […]

This has to be one of the most famous Mary Oliver poems. It also happens to be one of my favourite Mary Oliver poems. Last night, after a challenging day (unexpected overdue tax bill hell) I went out with the dog for a walk. A thick sea fret had rolled into the village. The world was a place of malleability and strangeness. The sound became dulled. A tractor was rumbling across a field, only visible by its headlights. The world was shrunk to the moment and what I could see in my own small sphere of existence. Nothing else entered the sphere. I could see no one outside of the sphere. As we were heading home we turned into the lane and I heard, in the distance, the unmistakable calls of geese in flight. I stopped, stood still and waited until the geese came over our heads, appearing out of the mist in a huge V, their wings beating with a soft, dull feathered sound. Immediately the first line of Mary Oliver’s poem sprang to my mind, and into my mouth. I whispered it to myself You do not have to be good.

Wendy Pratt, The World Offers Itself to Your Imagination

Finally it rains. Slapping and paddling the thick leaves; gliding down (d)rain pipes to be spit out onto recumbent weeds, filling puddles that I see mixed with the mesh of my screen window.  Puddles like a running woman, arms outstretched, hair flung behind her, legs poised and bent.  Now a drip, now a piling, now a pulsing on my phone: Flood Watch in your area!

Now at the risk of life and death, to wonder what becomes of rain after a poet dances it into language.  Does it still slap as sound on the receiving mind, as rain but more so? Do we lose it to a “finely woven curtain – sheer net perhaps – thinly broken, relentless in its fall, but relatively slow, which must be down to the Lightness and size of its droplets, an ongoing, frail precipitation, like real weather atomized.”  So poet Ciaran Carson writes in a poem inspired by the Impressionist painting, “Gustave Caillebotte, Paris Street, Rainy Day, 1877,” the poem a riff on Francis Ponge, ‘La Pluie.’”

Ripples upon ripples in ripples. Enchanting patterns as droplets outside my window dissolve one upon another into larger radiating ripples –teasingly certain, never answering the question.

Jill Pearlman, Wording in the Rain

whose vision dies at the entrance to dawn

on which side of my skin is sky

if dream is the cradle, who is the child

Grant Hackett [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 34

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive, subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader, or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack. This week: remembering Maureen Seaton, gearing up for fall book launches, making videopoems, pondering the big questions, and much more. Enjoy.


It’s rare to read a poetry collection and enthuse about every one included in it. Inevitably some poems will resonate with us more than others. But Matt Morden’s collection, Stumbles in Clover (Snapshot Press 2007) has me savouring every single haiku on every single page. I felt like that when I first bought it and feel it again today.

Nigel Jenkins, on the back cover, said, ‘They are as spare and translucent as it’s possible to be, yet they are deeply affecting…’. ‘Spare’ could easily suggest something that has been pared back to the detriment of content and meaning. But Morden has such a wonderful eye for detail, and humanity observed, that his micro poems expand beyond their physical boundaries. They are like miniature doorways into shared emotions, felt experiences. And the natural world, where it appears, always feels, through suggestion, like a parallel to the human one. […]

I mentioned in a previous post that, for me, the best poets and poetry collections are the ones that fire me up to write too. Here are a couple of haiku written today, thanks to Matt Morden.

unsettled weather
she deletes her Whatsapp
while I am reading it

summer’s end
he buys me a chilli plant
called ‘Basket of Fire’

Lynne Rees, The Sealey Challenge

I came across a poem today that speaks with the voice of my aching heart. I was delighted to find the author is Amanda Gorman, whose poetic voice often resonates with me. She’s a poet for this moment on earth. Young, truthful, gifted, she speaks plainly with vibrant images, simply but with rhythm, alliteration, and assonance. Amanda Gorman is the author of The Hill We Climb and Other Poems. She was the youngest inaugural poet in America.

Right now, we are in a transitional world, upside down in our values, experiencing the hottest days on our planet and the most confusing and dichotomized (is that a word?) society. I am aging. At 74, my heart and my body hurt a lot of the time. We’ve survived a pandemic together, but somehow also apart. That experience has re-sculpted our way of life. Gorman’s poem felt as if it was torn from me.

Rachel Dacus, When Everything Hurts, Poetry Heals

While looking for a nonce meter form to use for this collection about sin-eaters and ornamental hermits, I’ve been wanting to follow numbers. 40. 42. 6.

Today, because of medication, my red blood cells are collectively at a low point—but if left alone, the individual cells would rise and fall independently in a staggered rhythm of roughly 40 days.

It takes 40 days to mend a fracture, and 40 days to replace the epidermis. Hindu women spend 40 days secluded after childbirth. Jesus spent 40 days in the desert. Muslims believe the dead may return on the 6th day or on the 40th.

The list goes on as far as you want to follow it. One half-truth will beget another.

In fact, you can pick any path alongside a river and follow it to the one sea.

This is my path.

Ren Powell, Searching for One True Form

John Greening’s recent, self-confessedly ‘tightly-focused’ little selection from Goethe’s vast output is, in part, a campaigning publication. In his Introduction, Greening notes the difficulties surrounding the great German poet’s presence in English: the sheer volume of work, the range of that work, the man’s polymathic achievements (as poet, playwright, novelist, scientist, statesman, theatre director, critic), the long life untidily straddling all neat, period pigeon-holing. Christopher Reid has called him ‘the most forbidding of the great European poets’, but perhaps the English have come to see him as a mere jack-of-all-trades? And where do we turn to read and enjoy the poetry? Michael Hamburger’s and Christopher Middleton’s translations look more and more dated. David Luke’s Penguin Selected (1964; versified in 2005)is the most reliable source. But tellingly, as Greening says, one does not find young, contemporary poets offering individual translations of Goethe in their latest slim volume in the way we do with poems by Rilke or Hölderlin.

So here Greening sets out a selection box of various Goethes to encourage other translators: we find nature poetry, romance, the artist as rebel, meditations on fate, erotic love poems, a rollicking ballad, dramatic monologue and a very fine sonnet. I like Greening’s determination not to lose the singing. Here, he has ‘shadowed’ the original metres and retained rhyme schemes, though he sensibly makes more use of pararhyme than Goethe’s full rhyming. While not approaching Lowellesque ‘imitations’, Greening has also sought a ‘contemporary texture’ by venturing to ‘modernise an image or an idea if it helped the poem adapt to a different age’. For example, in ‘Harz Mountains, Winter Journey’ (‘Harzreise im Winter’) Goethe’s buzzard has become the more familiar image, in southern England at least, of a red kite. The carriage or wagon (‘Wagen’) driven by Fortune becomes a car in a ‘motorcade’ and another vehicle is imagined ‘winking on to / the slip-road’. There’s also an enjoyable touch of Auden in Greening’s updating of ‘crumbling cliffs / and disused airfields’ (Middleton has ‘On impassable tracks / Through the void countryside’).

Martyn Crucefix, Goethe’s poetry – some new translations by John Greening

I ran into a poetry acquaintance recently, and on being asked, I churned around in my brain and realized it has been 14 years since I got my MFA. The person then asked, “Are you still writing?” I stared at them blankly, thinking, “What the hell else would I be doing?” But I just said, “Oh…yes,” and was left feeling a bit stunned. You who know me well may know that I “quit writing forever” on a regular basis. I’ll have to remind myself of my stunned reaction next time I’m tempted to declare, “I’m done, done forever.” I’ll remind myself how stunned I was by that question, how confused that I would have quit writing, even though that degree is now in the murky past. How startled I was at the thought that not-writing might be “a thing.”

Marilyn McCabe, What’s he doing in there; or, On “Being a Writer”

Oh, well. Once again, I had every intention of following through on the Sealey Challenge this year and posting about what I read. Instead, I did a little traveling and the whole shebang fell apart. I have continued my way through my stack, but will not give extended commentary here. (The post would be very lengthy.) But here is the list of what I’ve read since the last time I posted:

  • Carl Phillips Then the War and Selected Poems
  • Mary Jean Chan Flèche
  • Robert Hass Time and Materials
  • Tiana Clark Equilibrium
  • Roberto Carlos Garcia What Can I Tell You? Selected Poems
  • Edna St. Vincent Millay The Harp Weaver and other Poems
  • Tracy K. Smith Such Color: New and Selected Poems

[…]
I went in to substitute teach for the afternoon on the first day of school at my old building, filling in for a friend who had to attend a family funeral. The kids were nice, the afternoon went quickly, I saw some old friends. But I got home and was TIRED. ALL CAPS TIRED. I legit yawned from 6:30 PM on like I hadn’t slept in days. A good reminder that I retired at the right time. And that teachers have one of the hardest jobs in the world.

Donna Vorreyer, The best of intentions…

If I were doing the Sealey Challenge this year, I would embark on a re-reading of the Maureen Seaton books in my possession, having just learned of her death. I met her in Chicago and took a seminar with her, and she was an inspiration. She encouraged me to send some prose poems to Quarter After Eight, where they were taken. It became a favorite journal of mine, full of the challenging and unexpected. 

I would probably start with Furious Cooking.

Sadly, I am not doing the Sealey Challenge this year–voraciously reading a book of poems a day in August–because daily life has gotten a bit too complicated by caregiving, though resting with poetry might have helped. The heat wave did not. Now I think of throwing my ivy comforter on this wooden glider, putting the stack of Seaton books beside me, and at least leafing through, pausing here and there to concentrate on a poem. But the afternoon is spoken for.

Kathleen Kirk, Furious Cooking

This morning, news of 2 deaths took me back to specific times in my life:  Bob Barker and Maureen Seaton.  I was surprised, in some ways, to learn that Bob Barker had been alive these many years, and saddened to realize how relatively young Maureen Seaton was when she died, in her mid-70’s.  At this point, if there’s a cause of death, I haven’t found it.

Bob Barker seemed old when I was first aware of him, lazy summer days watching The Price Is Right, with my mom and sister.  We loved this game show, and I’m not sure why.  Looking back from a distance, the prizes seem less than fabulous, unless one won one of the showcases at the end.  I remember one babysitter pointing out that the contestant was lucky to have won extra cash because she’d need it to pay the taxes on the prize package.

Still, we tuned in, almost every morning, unless we had swim lessons.  And the show went on–and on and on–long after we quit watching, long after Bob Barker stopped hosting it.  Reading the news coverage, Barker seemed like a good human.  I’m glad he lived so long.

Maureen Seaton also seemed like a good person, but unlike many of my peers, I was not her student.  I was an adjunct at the University of Miami where she taught, but our paths rarely crossed.  Once I went to a reading where she and Denise Duhamel read from their new work.  I bought Little Ice Age, which had just been released.  Seaton signed it, and told me how much she appreciated the fact that I bought her book in the hardback edition.

I looked up the publication history–that reading must have been in 2001 or 2002.  Wow.  It seems a lifetime ago, and in so many ways, it’s just as distant a time as my suburban childhood watching The Price is Right.  I went to poetry readings so often that many faces started to seem familiar.  I had dreams of my own book with a spine, and when my first chapbook was accepted in 2003 for publication in 2004, it seemed a tantalizing possibility.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Pivoting to Past Times

I was very sad to hear about the death of poet Maureen Seaton, who was a tremendously encouraging and supportive writer as well as a really fun writer—I’ve been reading her for years, but it is her steady kindness to others that I saw in all the mentions of her in social media. I wonder—does our work matter more, or how we treat people along the way? Either way, if you haven’t picked up anything by Maureen yet, you should. Ed Ochester, the editor of 5 AM and University of Pittsburgh Press for a long time, also passed away—another poet who was known for kind editorial notes and support for writers. Yes, he sent me some of those notes. We feel real sorrow—not just an abstract sense of loss—when these kinds of people pass away. The poetry world can be cold and indifferent, but these were people who made it less so. It’s hard to say this without sounding like a cliche, but they were people who reminded me to be not just a better poet, but a better person, and I will miss them. I want to remember to be kind, how important it is to write that note, or that blurb, or that appreciation or review.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, New Review of Flare, Corona in F(r)iction, Still the Smoke and Heat, Poetry World Losses, A Blue Supermoon Coming…So Look Out (or Up)

The latest from Redmond, Washington poet (and that city’s second official poet laureate) Jeannine Hall Gailey is Flare Corona (Rochester NY: BOA Editions, 2023), a constellation of first-person narrative lyric portraits and self-portraits clustered into four sections—“Post-Life,” “Harbingers,” “Blood Moon” and “Corona”—as she articulates an uncertain future around the weather, ongoing fires and the opening months of the pandemic, and of living with Multiple sclerosis. “You were warned.” she writes, as part of the poem “To Survive So Many Disasters,” “You promised / never to return. You set out on a journey / far from home. You looked out into darkness / and saw possibility.” Her poems explore layers of complication, both from within and surrounding, simultaneously burning out and refusing to fade away. There are moments in poems that see powerful lines occasionally buried, but Gailey writes from the centre and from all sides of each of these ongoing crises, offering her lyric as a way to document what has happened, what is happening, what might still be happening. “Under the mountains,” she writes, as part of the short poem “That Summer,” “the earth tried to shake us off. / The oldest oak trees fell, / people sheltered and burned in swimming pools, / the screams of horses in the air.” She speaks of climate crisis and its ongoing traumas, as the poem ends: “We were tied to a troubled earth. / You said it was too late to leave anyway.”

rob mclennan, Jeannine Hall Gailey, Flare Corona

I had actually forgotten that I’d written this poem until someone shared this image on the site formerly known as Twitter. As soon as I read it, I remembered what was on my mind and heart when I wrote it. I had to search on my hard drive to date it, though — I wrote it in spring of 2015, earlier than I thought. Looks like it was originally written in couplets, though I also like the shape that someone gave it in this image. (There’s a slight transcription error in line 8, but I’m honored that someone liked the poem well enough to share it this way, even without the original punctuation and italics.) It’s not exactly a sonnet, in terms of rhyme or meter, though it’s inspired by the movement of a Petrarchan sonnet — eight lines, a turn, then six lines. My favorite line is still, “God isn’t / a diner waitress saying: what can I get you, hon?” That’s not how I understand prayer to work, even petitionary prayer. Sometimes I can’t help wishing it worked that way, though. I would order so much wholeness and healing and sweetness and fulfillment of hope. 

Rachel Barenblat, Find

Today’s post draws from my research into how, exactly, wonder can work in service of preservation efforts, and how poetry can be the invaluable link connecting the two.

I often revisit the work of my most humble, most brilliant friend, Robert Macfarlane. In addition to being one of the most mesmerizing and thoughtful writers on nature, he has, in my estimation, done the best job of succinctly capturing one of the chief issues we face in our efforts to address threats to the Anthropocene:

“As a species, we will not save what we do not love, and we rarely love what we cannot name.”

Inspired by the findings of Cambridge researchers who discovered that British children aged eight and over were significantly better able to identify Pokémon than organisms found in the natural world, Macfarlane set out to write a book that would reclaim “the magic of naming nature” through “summoning spells,”: short, rhythmic poems. That book, beautifully illustrated by Jackie Morris, is called The Lost Words, and it celebrates the identification and cherishing that naming the natural world allows. He provides a lexicon of slowly vanishing words—acorn, adder, bluebell, and so on—relying on a visual acrostic, whereby each stanza is capitalized to highlight the letters spelling out the thing described. Here is “Bramble”:

Bramble 

Bramble is on the march again,

Rolling and arching along the hedges,
   in to parks on city edges.

All streets are suddenly thick with briar:
   cars snarled fast, business over. 

Moths have come in their millions,
   drawn to the thorns. The air flutters. 

Bramble has reached each house now, 
   looped it in wire. People lock doors,
   close shutters.

Little shoots steal through keyholes,
   to leave – in quiet halls,

Empty stairwells—bowls of bright
   blackberries where the light falls. 

The poem relies on what Francis Spufford in The Child That Books Built called the “gloriously embedded” elements of language to which children are so attuned, “its texture, its timbre, its grain, its music.” Bramble is personified as “on the march again” across rural and urban landscapes, while the tightly woven pattern of full rhymes, “hedges / edges,” “flutters / shutters,” and slant rhymes “briar / over,” capture bramble’s invasiveness. Where things might turn sinister in the fifth stanza, “People lock doors, / close shutters,” Macfarlane redirects the story to acclaim the power and literal fruitfulness of bramble: “Little shoots steal through keyholes / to leave…/ bowls of bright / blackberries where the light falls.” The almost incantatory stresses make the poem ask to be spoken aloud.

In short: the poem enacts the wonder of the thing it describes.

Maya C. Popa, Wonder Wednesday: The Lost Words, Wonder, and Environmental Preservation

when were stars erased by rain

when did sleep still live in a tree

who was the first to murder a dream

Grant Hackett [no title]

I’ve been a bit scant on posting this month because I’ve been a bit scant on everything—inspiration, creativity, energy, and pep. August feels like it has dragged on interminably, and I haven’t been able to get forward momentum on anything. The heat, smoke and terrible Seattle air quality hasn’t helped with my general sense of stagnation and ennui. I’m left to just sit and wait out whatever this is, while I hope for a return to crisp, cool air and a good week of cleansing rain. In the meantime, I haven’t had a lot to say, and I haven’t had the to drive to fight through it and muster up a post anyway.

Despite my listlessness, I have managed to make one decision this month, which is to return to journaling. I used to journal daily, and I can’t pinpoint the exact time that practice fell away for me, but I haven’t journaled in many years, and it feels like it’s time to start again. Journaling always brought me clarity, and I am feeling a need for clarity on many things right now. The act of sitting and writing with pen and paper, physically moving your hands over the page and connecting your thoughts to the movement, imbues a sort of magic. It brings calmness and calls forth truth and orderliness of the mind, which is something I long for right now. And of course, returning to journaling means buying a plethora of fancy new journals, which I am definitely not addicted to and don’t have a hoarding problem with at all.

Kristen McHenry, August Blahs, A Return to Journaling, Training Re-Set

I recently came across this blog post by Naush Sabah about why we send our poems to magazines (or not). I’m in agreement with her on just about all of it, although I needed telling some things; for example:

You needn’t seek to publish every poem you write. Some work is for the drawer, some work is for an audience of one or two friends, some work is better within a book, some work is for the trash and, if you’re lucky, a key to unlock the next piece of writing.

It hasn’t been a conscious thing, but when I think about it, I can put most poems I write these days into one of these categories. I haven’t been sending out as many poems to magazines as I used to, and among those I have sent not many have been accepted. I’ve been a bit disillusioned about this to be honest.

And yet at the same time I can see that quite a few of these poems belong with others in order to have the impact I’m after. In other words, in a collection.

A few might even be poems I should be treating as stepping stones to the actual poem I’m after, the ‘key to unlocking the next piece of writing’ that Naush talks about in her piece.

A funny thing to be saying, given my unofficial role as cheerleader for submitting to magazines. I still believe in the magazines, and still encourage people to send in their poems. But it’s what I’ve always said: it’s not a strategy that suits everyone all the time. Goals and ambitions change.

Robin Houghton, The positives of submitting less to magazines

Scientists say faking happiness can hurt you.

Scientists say the average person walks the equivalent of five times around the world in their lifetime.

Scientists say when you die, some companies will turn your ashes into fireworks.

Scientists say the universe is like a giant brain.

Rich Ferguson, Scientists Say

Last week, I was watering our garden in an effort to stave off the effects of the high heat we’ve been living in. I was in a hurry. I was impatient. I was anxious. I yanked the hose, and I broke off two large branches of a shrub I’d once given up on. It had been all wonky, growing a few measly branches on one side, with the other side of the bush bare. I moved it to its current spot, almost daring it to live. If it died completely there, I figured it was no loss.

It’s not only lived there, but thrived, filling in beautifully. It’s a story that has given me some joy. And then, in one quick moment, I broke off two full branches, returning it to a state of bare lopsidedness.

I was so glad that it was me who did that, rather than Cane. Because it just made me sad. I was glad to be angry with myself, rather than him.

Cane suggested putting the branches in water. Maybe they will sprout roots and we can replant, he suggested, get a new plant out of it. I think that’s not likely, but I did it anyway.

This morning, as I sat here writing these words, the branches were right in front of my face and I noticed something that stopped me:

The branches are flowering. My broken branches. Sprouting tiny little flowers. Not the roots we hoped for, but flowers we didn’t even know to hope for.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Wonky

Who knew, at the bend,
a long slant sun would meet me,

we’d eat a burst of tomatoes 
at night, already in shadow,

a wall of sound, sonic crickets
like monks in saffron robes 

lined from here to the mountains,
soft, soft their silken chant, hand clap.

Jill Pearlman, Slanting

I can now share/remind you that the launch event will also be on the 7th November, at The Deverux Pub in Temple. I will be reading with Matthew Stewart (launching his second full collection. I’ve read it and it’s excellent). There will also be readings by Maria Taylor, Hilary Menos and Eleanor Livingstone. It’s a Red Squirrel Press and HappenStance read off. Who will win? Who will hold the coats???

Come along to find out…I am very pleased as it will be the first time I’ve actually met Sheila, Hilary, Maria and Eleanor.

More details here. And my thanks to Nell for putting this up (and for putting up with me). And very much thanks to Sheila for agreeing to publish me in the first place.

More from me on the book when I have it, but I am very, very excited now and it’s all starting to feel scary. 

Mat Riches, Varroa-iations on a theme

Super-excited to share this cover! Thank you to everyone at Sundress Publications for their work on this! Special thanks to Ani Araguz, my partner and artist behind the artwork on this cover. […]

This piece is entitled “we go to sleep early so we can dream what’s never in it for us.” I love the sense of at once feeling mired and also breaking apart. This ties into the way ruining and becoming ruins because of want are used as a metaphor in the book.

Also, happy to share that the project has a description as well. Check it out:

Is selfhood constructed? And if so, by whom? Exploring queerness, race, body image, and family, Ruin & Want is a masterful meditation on otherness and identity. In a series of gripping, episodic prose pieces centered on an illicit relationship between a student and his high school English teacher, Araguz peels back the layers of his marginalized identity. By reflecting on his childhood into adulthood, Araguz grapples with finding a sense of self when early, predatory experiences have deeply affected his coming-of-age. In quixotic, deeply eviscerating lyric prose, Araguz delivers a troubling but bold memoir that handles this topic with courage while grieving what it costs survivors to reckon with harm’s aftermath. Yet in the midst of this struggle, we find many bittersweet and lingering gifts such as, “For the first time I saw myself as someone worth seeing,” that make this work necessary and unforgettable.

I’ve been working on R&W since 2016. The work has had me learning and growing over the years. The book is a testament to my survival. The final year of work had me realizing that I have been late in embracing my queer identity, something that has been difficult to do until the completion of this book. Still learning as I go.

José Angel Araguz, Ruin & Want cover reveal!

Writing really is a long game. I wrote Murder Girl gets wired in 2007 after I’d relocated from Perth to Adelaide and was still elbow-deep in writing for theatre. I didn’t know about prose poems. I thought I was just writing little sketches (were they poems? were they stories?) with a view to heightening ordinary fuckd-up urban and suburban folk to a kind-of mythological status. I didn’t really know what I was doing. I’d give my characters names like Murder Girl, Violet Sweets, Beef Boy and they’d always drink too much & have low self-esteem. Auto-bio much? Now I can hear rhythms & a smattering of rhyme in this poem, which were the precursors to me writing and performing my first spoken word poem in 2016.

In 2020, when I received funding to record my first collection SIARAD as an audiobook & make some video poems, I wanted to record multiple sound-tracks for this poem, which were then edited & enhanced by the audio genius Jeffrey Zhang. Then, the poet indigo eli introduced me to featherful (not their real name) who agreed to make the video-poem. I still remember the feeling of being blown away the first time I watched it. It exceeded my expectations in capturing the feel of late-night, urban-gothic youth culture in small city Australia. The video poem’s interplay of dark and light, appearing & disappearing, is eerie.

Caroline Reid, VIDEO POEM: Murder Girl gets wired

Earlier in the week, a facebook friend asked everyone if they could think of a time they wanted to stop writing, and what made them carry on regardless.  How did they work through it? I was thinking of responding, but then realized the answer was way too complex and convoluted to deal with in a comments section. There are days when I feel this way about poetry specifically, not really writing in general, of which I have done many different types and genres at various points.  I love that I get to make a living writing other kinds of things now, but poetry sometimes feels like something I could easily drop from my life like a napkin from a table and I’m not sure anyone would notice. It certainly doesn’t contribute financially to my life, nor does the pursuit of it necessarily all the time contribute to my mental well-being. It is a lot of time and effort invested with steadily diminishing returns, something that took me a long time to realize.  That working harder or more or better wouldn’t necessarily show any kind of difference at all. And by returns, I don’t necessarily just mean po-biz things, many of which I have let go of in the past several years.  But more so the sense of purpose that I sometimes lose the thread of at times. Would I not spend my time better by writing things that allow me to make a living rather than dropping poems into what usually feels like a void. Would not these energies be more productive leveled elsewhere?

And yet, I don’t know how I would live without it. Or where I would channel those same storytelling energies. Fiction, sure, but I am not really very good at it.  Essays, maybe. Writing poems, good or bad, have been part of my life since I was a stupid teenager who did a little too well on an English assignment and somehow locked in hard on a genre that most people don’t seem to care about at all. I used to dismiss that Rilke quote about HAVING to write, of dying if you were forbidden to do it,  as pretension and dramatics, but maybe he was right. Sometimes I am not certain how I could ever consider stopping. Sometimes I am not certain how I can keep going.

But there are still poems to be written. Projects to be executed.  I am digging in on the video poems that I will be releasing in September–the villains series–armed with a fancy new microphone […]

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 8/28/2023

One thing I love about poetry is the space it holds for nuanced conversation. It’s so magnificent when poets get their teeth in something, shake it about and snarl at it or fawn over it (or both!). Poems are places where we can wonder about things and be in awe just as likely in response to something beautiful as to something terrible.

Barbie is a spectacular subject for poetry. In addition to the cultural baggage noted above, she offers opportunities for ekphrasis and persona poems. She conjures nostalgia and personal story. She invites reflection on identity and body image. She churns up questions on gender, class and power. And of course, there are all those outfits: Who is she, really? “Just” a doll? Perhaps.

It’s all grist for the mill, as they say — frothy, frothy fodder for poets.

I, personally, haven’t written any Barbie poems, but I always enjoy reading them. Of course there are full collections worth noting, including KINKY by Denise Duhamel, Barbie Chang by Victoria Chang and Never Picked First for Playtime by Dustin Brookshire, which is an homage to Duhamel’s.

Carolee Bennett, barbie in the poetry world

“From From” explores the question “Where are you from from?” (where are you really from) by investigating the awkward state of being American yet being othered by white Americans and of the feeling of incompleteness when you discover your heritage through English sources. Youn’s approach is less direct than Claudia Rankin’s but equally as eloquent. Youn’s studies are inventive, setting up two perspectives to interrogate received knowledge and bias. “From From” is a multi-layered collection that rewards re-reading.

Emma Lee, “From From” Monica Youn (Carcarnet Press) – book review

My father died five years ago. Yesterday was his death anniversary. Five years seems wrong. It feels both too long and too short. In this state of unmooring, one becomes time’s orphan, just as moving from Singapore to New York made me an orphan of place. I have lived in New York as a foster child for 20 years. 20 years seems wrong too, for the same reason. Yesterday I tried to recall the exact day I landed in JFK airport and took the bus to Grand Central Station, in order to board the train to Sarah Lawrence College, where I was to learn how to write, but I could not remember. What I remembered was sitting across from an older Jewish man on the train. He told me he was a jeweler who opened his own shop. Tonight, 20 years after I came to this city to see if I would be any good as a poet, I am having dinner with a younger Singaporean poet and her mom. She is here to pursue further training in the craft of writing, as I did. She will meet a host of interesting people in NYC, the sedulous, the sadducees, the seducers. I hope she will meet my jeweler.

Jee Leong Koh, Foster Child of New York

I visited Magnetic Poetry this morning aka The Oracle. This is what she imparted.
Happy Saturday.

Beneath dreams and
shadows
your sweet tongue
bares a fasting and
a wanting
pants for roses raw and light
licks an ache
a sleeping love
cooling to rust

Charlotte Hamrick, a little something

Highland Park Poetry press has set up a book launch/poetry reading for The Red Queen Hypothesis (and me) with poet Rene Parks and an open mic to follow. This event takes place Saturday, September 9th at 5 pm, at Madame ZuZu’s, 1876 First Street, Highland Park IL. Here’s a link, and here’s another link. It’s a ways to travel from eastern Pennsylvania but a good reason for yours truly to visit a new place, meet new people–including the book’s publisher–and listen to other poets.

Too often, perhaps, I stay around the home front, indulge in my introversion by gardening and reading, and shy away from promoting my work. Lately, it’s been months since I did any submitting. There was my participation in the annual Goschenhoppen Festival, then a short but lovely week in North Carolina, camping and seeing friends. Now, the veggie season is starting to wind down–tomato sauce simmers on the burner–and I will have fewer excuses for why I am not sending out poems.

But my travel for the year is not quite done. In September there’s one more trip away from PA, and after that we can settle into autumn. I have writing plans, so once we return, I need to create a schedule that is flexible enough I can stick to it but framed clearly enough that it feels necessary and not difficult to integrate into my days and weeks. Every one of my writer friends knows how challenging that can be. Wish me luck. There’s a chapbook that’s been languishing in my desk area for quite a long time, but to which I’ve recently returned; there’s a ream of poems under 21 lines that might make up a collection, too. Then there’s the next manuscript, rather grief-heavy at present, that I need to re-think and revise.

Oh, and all those poem drafts I have not looked at in awhile…

Ann E. Michael, Book launch, travel, PR

Ann E. Michael, The Red Queen Hypothesis, Highland Park, 2023

Like her wonderful blog, Michael’s second full-length collection is meditative, witty, and smart, with a scientific and sometimes philosophical bent. Also like her blog, it’s closely observant of the more-than-human world in flux. “The Red Queen hypothesis,” I learned, comes from biology: species must keep evolving to survive. Poems and the people behind them must keep changing, too. In addition, The Red Queen Hypothesis suggests the advantage of sexual reproduction, and there are plenty of seductively “soft persuasions” in this collection. Like the “Stew Cook” speaking to her beloved, this is a book to “fill nooks with aromatic hours.” Shout-out to all the tasty slant-rhymes amid a profusion of traditional forms: rhetoric/ lick, beige/ strange, viola/ Iowa. My sense of knowing Ann pretty well by now might be an illusion—I’ve spent way more time reading her work than with her in person—but then again, intimacy with another person’s way of thinking is one of reading’s chief attractions.

Lesley Wheeler, Holding dear

As I was writing You Could Make This Place Beautiful, taking risks with both form and content, I suspected that for every reader who attached to certain craft choices, there would be a reader who’d chafe at those same choices. (Sort of like, “For every bird there’s a stone thrown at a bird.”) The direct address, the vignettes, the meta aspect of the narration, the privacy boundaries—I knew all of these were “love it or loathe it” choices.

All of this to say: I knew I was writing a book with a strong flavor. But I love strong flavors! Blue cheese. Smoked kalamata olives. (Smoked anything, really.) Very dark, bitter chocolate. Very black, bitter coffee. Chili crisp. Rose lemonade. Dill pickles. Hot curry. An imperial IPA. I find these things delicious, but I also completely understand how they might taste terrible to other people.* Taste is subjective.

You’re not for everyone. Your work is not for everyone. So be it!

“You are not responsible for the world—you are only responsible for your work—so DO IT. And don’t think that your work has to conform to any preconceived form, idea or flavor. It can be anything you want it to be.” —Sol LeWitt, in a letter to Eva Hesse

Whatever happens to your work when you send it into the world, with its sometimes treacherous landscapes, is none of your business, really. You made the thing, and now people can make up their own minds about it. Will everyone love it? Probably not. Will everyone hate it? Also, probably not.

But do you love it? Are you proud of it? Do you stand behind your choices? Have you made something uniquely yours?

Maggie Smith, Pep Talk

Does this story know how to walk into the sunset, arm around the waist of hope? Does it know when to stop, to let the past become the future, let the future rechristen the past, let time recalibrate itself around words — words written now, words written then, words that make no sound? Where the last part of the story stops, more has already happened. Before. ‘On Turning Fifty’ was a milestone-chapbook I released in 2019. Then from the quiet of the year that followed, came ‘The Night is my mirror’. The continuity surprises me, though much of it was inevitable. There was more. From the horror of the pandemic years came the anguished poetry in Duplicity, released in 2021. All the dots are connected now. Do you see the pattern? Do you remember the crow that became a line in the sky? The first line. Do you see what geometry that line has wreaked? How solemn are those polygons? Which side is up? Some of those edges follow the horizon, some of them touch the acute angles of one blinking star in the sky.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Interlude (53)

awaiting the summer rain:
a stick shaped
like a bird’s foot

Jason Crane, haiku: 28 August 2023

On Sunday I was part of a group of poets and musicians reading at an outdoor event in the Italian Gardens in Scarborough. I don’t think I’ve been in the Italian Gardens since I was a child. I have a strong memory of my mum and myself having a day there together, me playing with my Sindy doll and running around the pond and up and down the stairs imagining I was in a fairy world, my mum quietly reading a book in the shade. It was just as I’d left it, though in the mean time it had become quite run down, before receiving funding to be brought back to its former glory. As I sat in the shade with the other readers and musicians I could hear the breeze blowing through the leaves and the scent of the sea and the flower gardens were carried up to us. […]

Mostly I have been stuck in the office this week sending literally hundreds of emails to Spelt competition entrants, letting them know the outcome. Our brilliant judge Jane Burn has sifted through 788 individual entries to whittle down to a longlist of twenty poets. Alongside that I have been pulling the last bits of issue 09 together and sorting out problems with it. We’ll be going to print with it soon. And as if that wasn’t enough, I’m working on yet another Arts Council England bid for some Spelt stuff too. If you know me you will know filling in applications makes me want to pull my own eyes out and kick them out of the window. But I can see a light at the end of the tunnel. After spending so much time at my desk, we decided to have a walk along the beach last night at about 8pm. It was glorious. The sea was a gentle murmer, there were still people on the beach, some of them with little fires which seemed brighter in the dusk. Scent of sausages o the breeze. There were lots of dead jellyfish looking like hazy autumn sun sets.

Wendy Pratt, Late Summer – A Sensory Experience: The Scent of Summer

Heavy trucks cough out a smell of omelettes and salad, financial ruin.

Food is an answer, yes, always, but remember to spit it out.

I stood to one side, didn’t understand, didn’t get involved.

A book called A Very Short History Of Friends.

Guilt is a secret hand opening ancient maps, spreading them out.

Bob Mee, MEDITATIONS ON GUILT

Committing to commas, semi-colons, and cover layouts is an act of courage not demanded of us in the day-to-day virtual or verbal worlds where mistakes can (usually) be corrected at the touch of a few buttons, or with a cough and repetition of a line. It may not feel like it if you haven’t done it yet, but be assured that the process by which Moth, Aunts Come Armed with Tea Cakes (Thirza Clout), Body of Water (Emily Wilkinson), Lucidity (Ross Donlon), and I Buy A New Washer (Yours Truly) (all published by Mark Time) came to be in print form is a matter of precise, finite, and often late-at-night-squeezed-into-the-rest-of-life decision making. It’s also a matter of kind discussion with our editor, Ross, of benefitting from his poetry wisdom and skills.

It’s the finite, deadline bit that’s so difficult: a form of existential angst, made manifest. Never mind that saying, the one about ‘abandoning poems’; when you publish them on paper you have to release them carefully, tenderly, precisely, and, it may surprise some, soberly, and after lengthy and serious thought. This is because you release them to the possibility of changes of mind, misunderstandings, and (oh horror!) typos, as well as joy, understanding, and connection.

Liz Lefroy, I Mark Time

No time for lingering, except to linger
       in a room filled with simple light; no
call to pilfer coins it scatters freely
       at your feet. Bowl, water glass, figs 
softening on a tray—enough of need.
       Clear-eyed, unclouded: even as 
sweetness falls away, you want 
      the making of things that last.

Luisa A. Igloria, Ode to the Unsentimental

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 26

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive, subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader, or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack. This week: rain, heat, rotten swans, a baby elephant, the rose-veiled fairy wrasse, Japanese death poems, and more. Enjoy.


I am borrowing rotten swan to put at the top of my rotation list of favorite images.  It’s the British poet Alice Oswald’s concoction: In her book Falling Awake, “Swan” observes her own wondrously devolving construction as she hovers above herself.  In a 2016 interview in The Guardian, Oswald said, “just as a tree can be a nymph, a poet can be a rotten swan.”

Imagine 70-some rotten swans gathering and living wing to wing in the Sierra Nevada mountains for a week!  Imagine a conference – Community of Writers at Olympic Valley – where poets had 24-hours to write a poem, for six days, and deliver it by 7:30am to be discussed and critiqued by fellow poet-swans!

Misery!?  Communal perversity, self-flagellation, dissolution?  A few went the way of the poet maudit, despairing, scorned like Baudelaire’s Albatross.  Others observed their own emotions and processes hovering outside self, as Oswald’s swan observes her “own black feet lying poised in their slippers” and “china serving-dish of a breast bone” as she flies from her body.   Others dealt in the magic of metaphor – this is that – rapt and suspended by the flash in the blank space between clarities.  That’s where I like to be if I can, between place and place, spellbound as something is happening.  And hopefully convey the discovery as this becomes that.  Some laughed – the joke’s on us! – a took a long, deep, beautiful breath.  

Jill Pearlman, 70 Rotten Swans

I’ve cultivated a taste for logical arguments but I love a good ramble in the rain.

A human being is mostly just water with a sense of purpose.

Thomas Wharton in The Book of Rain (Random House, 2023)

the girl gathers what she does not know into noise

Selina Boan in Undoing Hours (Nightwood Editions, 2021)

Singleminded is efficient but the irrelevant is where new growth comes from. I am drawn to what I do not understand. Curiosity feeds life force. Which comes first, safety or curiosity? […]

Poetry makes do and splendidly. It is not elegant as a millipede but then what is? We make abstract metalwork with words. We obliquely aim. We affirm. We assert. We admit. We reassure. We resume the struggle.

Pearl Pirie, What do you get out of poetry?

As to this post’s featured photograph of a Scops owl: H.D. broke her hip and was recovering in Küsnacht, Switzerland when she was struck by this image printed in The Listener (May 9, 1957). Her poem “Sagesse” describes him as “a fool, a clown” making faces in the London Zoo, but also addresses His Comic Highness with a sort of prayer:

May those who file before you feel
something of what you are–that God is kept within

the narrow confines of a cage, a pen… (Hermetic Definition, 59)

As I smiled at the photograph, I realized I’d come to the point that archival work feels physically taxing. My own injuries were much easier to cope with than H.D.’s, and it’s a privilege to work in an archive (subsidized by a small grant from my college, no less), yet traveling was hard, and bending over files for hours at a time hurt. It felt healthy, though, to spend time conjuring a writer who did her best work as she aged, writing Trilogy in her fifties as well as novels, memoirs, and other great poems in the decades after. Her owl is a Fool, Tarot-wise, and a figure for beginnings rather than denouements.

Lesley Wheeler, H.D. and my owlish, Fool-ish life

As mentioned in a post earlier in June, I spent a few days around that time trying to choose just 3 poems that I might take with me to a speculative desert island. I was asked to do this by The Friday Poem website and they have now posted the results of my labours. [link]

In the end I chose work by Coleridge, Edward Thomas and Rainer Maria Rilke. Of course, the latter has been on my mind a great deal in the last 12 months or so, as I have been working on a new selection and translation of his work (spanning his career from 1899 to his death in 1926). It so happens that I have just signed off the final draft of this book – all 200 pages of it – and it is scheduled for publication by Pushkin Press in the Spring of 2024.

Martyn Crucefix, My Three Desert Island Poems

there is nothing quite like meeting a baby elephant in the woods even if from the back he turns out to be

a shattered tree stump – what matters is the moment you first see him when something like magic happens in you

the transformation of ordinary into extraordinary, the sudden lifting of your heart, and the rest of your run

is filled with gifts: poppies, barley, oh, look, the promise of blackberries and paths yet to be taken

Lynne Rees, Poem ~ from my ongoing run/write series

It’s July, suddenly! Summer moves so quickly, while simultaneously feeling eternal and leisurely. And we’ve been having drought and wildfire smoke, so it’s been looking like August out there for a while, with chicory fully in bloom and Queen Anne’s Lace ready to pop. Now, thunderstorms bring needed rain. The purple cone flower is open, the orange day lily, the sort of lavendar-mauve Prairie Blue Eye, nothing “blue” about it. I’ve been swimming, except for 2 days this week, when weather & circumstances prevented it, and enjoying the ducks at the pool and some neighborhood ducks on my walks to work.

I have a poem in Image, a beautiful journal. The print copies arrived this week, and the online version comes out July 6. I am thrilled and enjoying the issue, full of variety, plus Art, Faith, Mystery.

Kathleen Kirk, Who Gnu?

It’s been just over a month since the publication of my pamphlet Love and Stones, my first publication in five years, and it’s been exciting to do readings again. With my fellow Live Canon pamphleteers, Isabella Mead and Matt Bryden, we had a great launch at The Bedford in Balham, on one of the very last days this year when it still felt cold enough to wear tights!

When I say “it’s been exciting” I feel that I should share a small snippet from my diary in April when Live Canon’s Director, Helen Eastman, confirmed the date for our launch. As you will observe by reading my diary extract, as well as worrying about my hair (I did manage a trim before the big night, by the way), I was also feeling extremely nervous. This has always been something I’ve had to deal with before a reading, to the point of wanting to throw up, and all those wobbles returned once the reality of launch night had been set in ink.

In 2019, I did a three day Linklater Method Voice Coaching course, funded and organised by Ledbury Poetry Festival, which was extremely beneficial to a nervous performer like me. When I was preparing for the Live Canon launch, I kept trying to remember everything that Francoise Walot from Linklater had taught me – but 2019 felt like a lifetime ago. However, some of the methodology did return and after much practising, and with some helpful and encouraging coaching from my son and husband, I *did* launch my pamphlet without any major disasters. In fact it was a wonderful evening with a friendly and appreciative audience. Since then, there’s been a reading in Trowbridge for our Stanza group, a reading in Exeter to help launch Anthony Wilson’s great new book The Wind and the Rain, and, last Sunday, I took part in the Poetry Showcase at Penarth Literary Festival and again thoroughly enjoyed reading to another full house.

Josephine Corcoran, One month of ‘Love and Stones’

I like giving readings. I like the strategizing: what to read, in what order, what to convey with my choices; the preparation: what to say in between, how to pause, how long, what cadence. I don’t like the scramble to find opportunities to read. I don’t like schlepping to places I don’t know in the hopes of find a receptive audience. I don’t mind reading blindly into a screen, even though that’s so otherworldly and disembodied. Or more un-worldly and un-bodied. I don’t like that awful feeling when I’ve launched a poem into a room and I can hear the soft thud of it on the floor because, for whatever reason, impossible to determine in the moment, it just didn’t “work.”

Early meanings of “read” imply interpretation. As reading a palm or tea leaves. I like this idea: reading you my poems is an interpretation. It’s a translation of sorts, turning my own words into something that lives off the page and flutters around a space, landing in your ears, a whisper, a breeze, a thump, a game of telephone. There’s something risky about a reading. Hold onto your hat, listener, a word wind is coming.

Marilyn McCabe, You got to feel it deep down; or, On Reading(s)

How to decide what categorizes memoir-ish poetry collections? On the one hand, maybe everything ever written by any poet, since connecting the personal with the so-called universal has long been considered the job of poetry. Even narrative and heroic epics, when they are lasting and successful in their aims, contain some aspects we might call personal (motives and emotional responses to a situation, for example), though the writer’s life and its events may be obscured by centuries.

But memoir is not autobiography; readers should keep that in mind. Maybe it’s Vivian Gornick who said that autobiography is what happened and memoir is how it felt–I’m sure I am misremembering, so don’t quote me on that. In a past interview in the New York Times, Sharon Olds derided her own poems as narratives–even personal narratives–but sidestepped the term autobiography; she still refers to the first-person in her own work as “the speaker.” […]

Where does that leave us as readers? I don’t know–and I think it’s okay not to know. That said, I have recently read a number of poetry collections that fall decidedly on the memoir side of the continuum and found them interesting, informative, well-written, at times beautiful and also at times hard to read (i.e., profoundly sad). If you, my reader, are intrigued by the challenge of what is or is not memoir in poetic form and are open to experiencing the circumstances and knowledge of other lives and perspectives that such work offers, here are a few books you might investigate. There are many, many more–this list is just from my more recent perusals. Not one of them is anything like the others.

Edward Hirsch, Gabriel, a poem; Jeannine Hall Gailey, Flare, Corona; Emily Rose Cole, Thunderhead; Daisy Fried, The Year the City Emptied; Sean Hanrahan, Ghost Signs; Lisa DeVuono, This Time Roots, Next Time Wings.

Ann E. Michael, Autobiographical?

Me before writing my seminary research paper:  It’s useless; I thought I had good ideas but now I don’t remember what they were.

Me after writing the first paragraph and figuring out my overarching point, my long awaited thesis statement:  Maybe I should try to get this published.

Me, watching others achieve poetry publication success:  I thought I might have a first book.  But I haven’t yet.  Clearly my poetry has no worth.

Me, reading this poem that was published in 2009, which I rediscovered yesterday from reading this post as I wrote about watching Missing again:  This poem is brilliant!  I should compile a new manuscript to submit as my first book and start sending it out again.

Insert a moment of gratitude for literary journals that still exist online, and a moment of sadness for that moment in 2009, when I thought we were creating a brave, new literary community. 

Me, parking the car in a place at camp where it won’t be in the way:  I’m tired of always moving cars, all summer long, and why is it so damp all the time?

Me, seeing one of the berries in the bramble bushes in the vacant lot along the side of the road, as I walk back from parking the car:  It’s a sign from the universe that I belong here.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Thoughts in the Bramble Bushes

I wish I was named after the beaver, or the giraffe,
an animal strong enough to shatter a lion’s skull
with a single blow of its hooves.

In Dutch my name means people, folk or even
battle folk. My grandmother died at 55.
I’m beyond that age. I am an animal after all.

Fokkina McDonnell, Birthday

I’m a member of a local special school’s governing body, which met yesterday. The school’s headteacher, in presenting her admirably clear and thorough report, raised the concept of ‘the restless school’: one which is never content to rest on its laurels, but instead constantly seeks to improve, for the benefit of the children and young people, the staff and the school community as a whole. On my walk home, as my thoughts shifted elsewhere, I took the concept and applied it to my own ‘improvement journey’ as a poet.

I like to think that I’ve never been complacent about my poetry, that I couldn’t be found guilty of coasting, to use another well-worn school-context term. What’s my evidence for that? Well, my reading, and writing about, other poets for a start, all of which feeds, whether consciously or otherwise, into the choices I make when I write my poems. Most of all, though, is the business of drafting poems, pausing for however long is needed (days, weeks, months . . .), redrafting, and so on, until I feel it’s in a steady state of sorts and ready for sharing.

Matthew Paul, The restless poet

1. Japanese Death Poems: Written by Zen Monks and Haiku Poets on the verge of death -compiled by Yoel Hoffmann gets a 4.4 on 5 for being such a fantastic compilation that tells you everything you need to know about the form and its history.
2. The book includes an explanation of haiku and tanka tradition and has poems written by Zen monks, by famous and not-so-famous poets just before their death and by Samurai warriors before committing seppuku/harakiri.
3. The death poems generally use one or more accepted symbols of transience: cuckoos, dewdrops, plum petals, seasons, clouds from the western sky (where the next world is believed to be), fireflies etc. Like this one:
Today, then, is the day
The melting snowman
Is a real man
– Fusen
4. There is irony as much as nature aesthetic – all accomplished in admirable brevity. The book, wherever possible, gives the background of the poet and poem, the backstory and the little bits that otherwise would have been lost in translation.
Had I not known
That I was dead
Already
I would have mourned
My loss of life
– Ota Dokan
5. This one by Tomoda Kimpei, a little-known poet, stands out for its craft and wisdom, echoing the mental state and calm acceptance of death that the poets display.
In life I never was
Among the well-known flowers
And yet, in withering
I am most certainly
– Tomoda Kimpei
6. Poem after poem speaks to the skill and life of the poets and so many resonate across centuries and cultures:
I cast the brush aside—
From here on I’ll speak to the moon
Face to face
– Koha

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Reading List Update – 12

Now, the rose-veiled fairy wrasse lives in the ocean’s twilight zone, 131 to 229 feet below the surface. It is not widely admired or interacted with there (the recommended maximum depth for scuba diving is 131 feet), and yet, they are, and are, and are as they are—ecstatically colored translucencies, one of the ocean’s many Tiffany lampshades.

“Nothing can permanently please, which does not contain in itself the reason why it is so, and not otherwise.” What could please more permanently; and, yet, I cannot explain how anything beautiful exists, let alone at depths, so apart from our paradigms of admiration. “Otherwise” makes more sense. We know there are blobfish, which look just about as exciting and appealing as they sound (no offense to them; I’m sure they’re amazing company). You might assume that everything beyond a certain distance from the sun looks like something Source began, then left to languish half-completed in the drafts folder…

That’s not at all the case, however. And listen, I get it: the sheer ingenuity of biodiversity, the chastening influence of randomness. Some things just are, and writers can exhaust themselves—or worse—risk a sort of mawkish self-aggrandizement trying to muscle the world into legibility. That is not what I am suggesting; I dearly need the unaccountable. I need Coleridge to be wrong—not in principle—but because “reason” and “otherwise” are limited by their human beholders, and we’d do well to believe in possibilities more sensitive and nuanced than we may even begin to understand. We can feel them.

Maya C. Popa, Wonder Wednesday (on Thursday)

If Heaven, river. What greeny something. Shine, Kawartha Highlands. Lake, and early hum. Once, in the shadows. Glowing outwards, temperate. Ontario syntax. Reassuring this, and self. A revelation, you. I see the world. Claw, in architecture. Bipolar lift, a tongue. A peace the mind can breathe. Although the dark remains, small lights in favour. Celebration, soar.

rob mclennan, A manifesto on the poetics of Asphodel Twp.

The Books from the Margin book club choice for June was Helen Mort’s brilliant debut novel Black Car Burning. I’m always interested to see how writers who are known as poets come to the fiction genre. Black Car Burning is beautifully written, but it is also a gripping read. The plot is textured, with the landscape itself providing tone and character. Helen Mort doesn’t shy away from difficult themes, including the Hillsborough disaster and immigration. She tackles big subjects elegantly, with a careful eye for the nuances within polarised opinions. The book club met up to chat about the book, and books in general, last week. It was a lively and intelligent discussion group, as usual, in which we found ourselves exploring what it meant to write about trauma that was not directly our own, who owns the story of a town, how we write about immigration and the cultural difficulties, and joys, that a multi cultural societies deal with. Thank you Helen for your thoughtful and fascinating answers to our questions. [click through for an interview]

Wendy Pratt, “I see all the things we write and publish as markers in time.” Helen Mort on ‘Black Car Burning’

I must confess to being profoundly moved by this pamphlet. This isn’t a tale of heroism or of a self-congratulatory story of victory over adversity: this is much more subtle: it is humbler and more relatable. This is the story of an ordinary bloke, like you and me, faced with the worst illness imaginable, who  survives, but who reacts along the way, like any one of us might. Rebel Blood Cells is honest, authentic, impressively crafted poetry that makes the unimaginable imaginable.

Nigel Kent, Review of ‘Rebel Blood Cells’ by Jamie Woods

And did you know July is Disability Pride Month? I did not until CLMP posted a reading list for it, including wonderful books by friends like Ilya Kaminsky, my own new book and a poem of mine. I feel honored to be in good company, and ordered a couple of books off the list immediately. Here’s the list! Feel free to support disabled writers in July! […]

I’ve also been working on my next book in preparation for a weekend writing retreat with my friend Kelli Russell Agodon. We are going to exchange books, talk shop, bring some books to read and maybe take some outings for fancy tacos, ice cream, or a lavender farm or winery. I also attended a wonderful online talk by Orion on fairy tales and climate crisis, which was really interesting (and I re-subscribed to Orion,) and had our book club where we discussed Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, and our next book up, the poetry book Our Dark Academia by Adrienne Raphel, who I’d never heard of before I picked her book at Open Books, Seattle’s all-poetry bookstore (where I’m heading today as well, along with a stop at the Frye Museum to see this exhibit by Kelly Akashi.)

As you might be able to tell, after six months of doing promotion work for Flare, Corona, readings, radio interviews, social media, etc, I felt my inner writer and creativity needed a little bit of a boost, a refill, if you will.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Happy Almost-4th with Birds on Display! Foreword Reviews Flare, Corona, Writing with Friends and Other Ways to Nurture Your Inner Writer, and Disability Pride Month

I want my poems to sound as if they were
written in a different alphabet,
the old monk said.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (513)

Today, it was a blissful creative work day entirely, which began with coffee and muffins and formatting some postcards and placing a cover order for the press and for those–my five favorites from the sea monsters series.  As expected, the smoke has drifted out, but the humidity has replaced it, which means I don’t stray very far from the fans. Then the first couple sections of the book, making the changes in the file as I went, nudging margins and addressing any tenacious typos that have managed to survive this long (there were quite a few in the reformatted tabloid poems where I changed line breaks and sometimes was missing spaces and punctuation. )

Since I finished finalizing the GRANATA poems last week, I thought I would send them out and see if they would land anyone’s eye.  But I find that spotting cool new little journals is hard since abandoning Twitter. I finally just started working my way through new-to-me journals in the P&W list, though I know I’m probably still missing out on the rare uncatalogued gems or mags too new to be listed there. I did manage to batch them up in 5s and send them like little ducks out into the world.  Though, as a whole, that mss. will need a lot of rearranging when I get to it–the kind where you print it out and spread on the floor to make sense of it, but that is a project for fall perhaps.. I also made up some poetry postcards for instagram next week with the leftover pieces I didn’t submit so those are ready to just post whenever. 

Kristy Bowen, rare writing and art days

A sprinkler drops water on my thirsty ferns. Heat rolls over them like a big wave over newbie surfers. I huddle inside in the chill wind of the A/C, remembering a sultry summer sun pinking my hands full of blackberries in a time that is no more.

Charlotte Hamrick, Morning Meditation: Heat

Texas broke me. Late on the 4th afternoon of nothing but driving, it was 104 degrees in Fort Worth. When I got out of the car at a gas station, it felt like stepping into a furnace. When I hit that wall of heat, my tenuous hold on OKness melted.

I felt overwhelmed by how foreign such huge swaths of my country feels to me. I felt overwhelmed by how much of the land is empty, or only very sparsely populated. I felt overwhelmed by our history. We passed so many towns that are shells of what they once were. Old buildings with empty or boarded-up store fronts. Dilapidated motels, falling-down gas stations, shuttered restaurants. I felt overwhelmed by the scope of ugly commercial sprawl. We passed so many towns with nothing but chain restaurants and gas stations. I felt overwhelmed by how many Americans are living such hard lives. It’s one thing to know it from images and stories, and another thing to drive through places and see it first-hand.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Broken

Every family has its hardship
foods, its illness foods—in ours,
I remember my mother’s
cracker soup: a pack of pulverized
Sky Flakes, water, milk, salt, and
pepper made richer by the heat
of the stove. An extravagance:
onions, celery, a chicken wing.
The uncles were always talking
about the war that still felt
as close as yesterday; what they
found in the ditches and ate—
snails, frogs, mushrooms foraged
in the woods. Fronds, rinds of fruit,
blackened peel; even the humid
rain that salted dusty towns. Look
at the wide and generous platter
made by the dark, night after night.

Luisa A. Igloria, Provision

We shall grow old together,
without words, in faith and grace.
Now will, as it must, become then.

Enough light to walk the cliffs for years yet.
Enough time for our ghosts to go on believing
even when this house is a rectangle of earth.
Enough shape for the guardians of memory
to inherit the fragments of our lives.

We are always more than what happens to us.

Bob Mee, OF NUNS, GOLIATH AND WAXWORKS

向日葵の眼の無数なる夜の道 片山由美子

himawari no me no musû naru yoru no michi

            countless eyes

            of sunflowers

            a night road

                                                Yumiko Katayama

from Haiku, a monthly haiku magazine, December 2021 Issue, Kabushiki Kaisha Kadokawa, Tokyo

Fay Aoyagi, Today’s Haiku (June 27, 2023)

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 25

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

This past week, I was saddened to learn of the death of John Foggin, a one-of-a-kind poet from Yorkshire who I sense will be very, very missed in that part of the world. I loved his down-to-earth but always thoroughly researched and insightful blog, full of generosity and humility toward other poets, and I thought the poetry in his final collection, Pressed for Time—the only one of his I’ve read so far—was absolutely stunning, one of my favorite reads of 2022.

For those able to attend the celebration of his life on July 14, family members have blogged the details. For the rest of us, here’s a celebration of life, poetry, and embodied wisdom from poets around the world. Rest in peace, John, and thanks for all the light you brought into the world.


I remember a young woman dressed in velvet burgundy that I only saw from behind. The dress came off her shoulders in a deep V; she was bent close to hear what the not- yet-anointed Nobel prize-winning poet was saying. I still remember her exquisite skin: airbrushed before airbrushing existed. I watched as if through bulletproof glass.

Whomever I was with that night, told me Heaney was the most famous living Irish poet and that he came to Cambridge every spring. It was 1989, Seeing Things was not yet published; The Spirit Level, still a few years off.

After that party, I would see Heaney in his oversized tweeds hurrying along Plimpton Street quite regularly. Usually, he’d be carrying his dry cleaning in a plastic cover, his arm straight out in front of him as if the suit were leading him down the sidewalk and not the other way around.

I learned he lived at Adams House on Bow Street directly across from my first apartment (an over-the-top economic divide existing from one side of the street to the other). I found it funny and rather embarrassing that across the street from this white-haired, world-famous poet, I was staying up into the early hours writing my first real poems.

Susan Rich, Seamus Heaney: Dry Cleaning and a Nearly Unknown Poem

I keep thinking about all the way we humans meet and how often we squander these meetings. Whether it’s inviting folks into a public space, at a dinner party, a coffee with friends, a presentation, a poetry reading. I mean, I have totally squandered these moments throughout my life. But how can I change that? If you have read the book The Art of Gathering by Priya Parker (mentioned on this blog before if you recall) you will have received many great tools to turn a gathering or a meeting into a beauty shock, really.

She talks about how we need to avoid having “housekeeping” details as our opening. She says instead, “your opening needs to be a kind of pleasant shock therapy.” She says, “It should grab people. And in grabbing them, it should both awe the guests and honour them. It must plant in them the paradoxical feeling of being totally welcomed and deeply grateful to be there.”

And then, and I love this, she talks about the giant vases of flowers at the Four Seasons. (In Edmonton, you might think about the Hotel MacDonald, or in Banff at the Banff Springs Hotel). She says these flowers are “honour-awing.” These flowers are “stunning and maybe taller than you, and that awes you, intimidates you, makes you remember that you don’t live like this back home. But of course the flowers are there for you, to honour you.”

I actually think having a giant painting of flowers in your home, or one by your door, can do the same thing. But you know that I am ENTIRELY BIASED WHEN I SAY THAT.

And you know what, I’m okay with that :)

What are other ways that we can honour and awe each other when we meet?

All I know is that I want to be part of that beauty shock therapy stuff. I want to honour-awe you. And then I want you to pass it on.

It’s something we can do.

Shawna Lemay, Flowers to Honour and Awe

Summer flashes its shiny switchblade of long light, pries spring from its hinges, and slips boldly into its celebrated season.

Summer sings a radio-friendly popsong of let’s get it on. It rocks the mic with sugar-sweet honeysuckle harmonies.

Waves its freak flag of feeling good. Bonfires and festivals, Indigenous sun dancers and pagan revelers decked out in flower wreaths.

Rich Ferguson, Summer 2023

School is finally done and the sun is shining. The weather has been amazing, so hot and clear. Not great for the garden or the forests to go so long without rain, but the long days of light and heat are a relief. Beach weather, park weather, proper summer weather while we off to enjoy it. […]

I’m enjoying what I’m writing now. My style has changed a bit over the past year. My poetic style is always changing, but I sometimes get caught in a loop of subjects or styles, writing very similar poems for a period and when something comes along to shake me up, I find it refreshing. 

I use prompts to push me out of my rut. Writing from different points of view, occasionally trying a structured form (I’m currently trying to write a palindrome) and looking into unusual events for inspiration. I’ve even managed to put a bit of humour, sometimes black humour in my poems, playing with ideas that often aren’t found together. 

Gerry Stewart, Slowing Down into the Summer, Summer, Summertime

We’ve reached the point of tilt, when the earth falls towards the dark. Happy solstice. Yesterday I rose at 4am to drive down to the beach at Filey. I took my place on a memorial bench and sat, bleary eyed at first, then slowly coming alive in the light and warmth of the rising sun. I felt a genuine, primal sense of awe, as if I was connected to all the summer solstice sunrises that have ever been. The sun rose over Carr Naze, laying itself across the sea. I’d made a promise to myself that I would witness the solstice sunrise, rather than watching footage of Stonehenge, this year. I had promised myself the experience of magic – the early start, the silent streets, of being awake when other people are fast asleep and of seeing something utterly beautiful. I wanted to place myself before the sun in a ritual of my own making.

There were a few of us down there, a scattering of people taking their places to see the sun arrive on the longest day of the year. Afterwards I came home to the miracle of coffee and a purring cat, my husband softly sleeping, and I set to work and wrote until seven, after which I read and listened to the radio. It was the perfect way to see the longest day in. I like the idea of creating my own rituals.

Summer is a time when I revert to my child self. How I value not overthinking clothes; throwing on shorts and T-shirt and sandals and feeling bare skin against grasses and plants, feeling the soft shush of moving through long grass, the squeal of swifts overhead. Early summer mornings, when the world is fresh and dewy, the air filled only with birdsong and rose scent, there is such joy in the variety of green.

Wendy Pratt, A Square Metre of Summer

I can hardly believe it’s summer. That’s a strange thing to say considering I’m a stalker when it comes to warm weather. I obsess over temps and hours of daylight on the weather apps all winter, a season I loosely define as “the months I need a heavy coat.” Living in Upstate NY, this means (to me personally) early November through late April or early May. So roughly half the year I’m dismayed by the cold and lack of light — and constantly monitoring for glimmers of hope.

And yet every year, when summer is finally here, I manage to be surprised. Not by the calendar. I understand how that works. What surprises me, always, is the extent of my relief. Well, relief and belonging, which I greet with both awe and gratitude, as when you’ve found something you thought you’d lost, something you knew may not be guaranteed.

Hello, sunshine.

*

The arrival of summer this year coincides with finishing my Gertie manuscript, which means I successfully immersed myself in (and stuck to!) the revision schedule I’d created for March, April and May. That type of discipline and focus was made possible, I believe, by a habit I’d established through work (January through April) with D. Colin on what she calls a 365 Journey. I ended up bowing out of that 365 accountability group because I was so deep in the revisions that I didn’t even want to talk about the process. However, I’m grateful for the experience and energy of that approach and will absolutely tap it again in the future.

For now, I’m reading, resting, keeping up with Morning Pages (now over 230 days) and doing some generative writing prompts to shift my brain back into the world in which I write new things.

Carolee Bennett, hello, sunshine

The skies bend
their hammocks of rain.

Summer is a flag that unfurls slow and fast,
just as uncertain as we are.

A parent wheels
a chair-bound child through the clinic doors.

Luisa A. Igloria, Oasis

In terms of cancer diary facts:
1. My eyelashes are falling out now. Entering turtle-territory.
2. Hemorrhoids. No one mentioned hemorrhoids. Please.
Who benefits from decorum when talking about chemotherapy?
3. The most recent biopsy came back.
The second lump in the left breast is also cancerous.
4. Still waiting on the BCRA results.
5. I wake with headaches every single morning.
Sometimes at 2 a.m., again at 5 a.m.

I take pain relievers around the clock – staggering the different prescriptions. I take a nap when I need to. I take a walk with the dog when he won’t stop laying his snout over the keyboard to get my attention.

And I give everything I have to metaphors.

But I am grateful to have the play to work on now. B. is whispering in my ear that it is just a matter of “getting it done”. No excuses. Meet the deadline.

*

It’s almost 9 am. I’ve walked Leonard and clipped his nails. On my third cup of coffee now, I can settle down with the adaptation. I am honestly happy that I don’t make my living writing, because it makes the work that much more joyful. It’s a little revelation to myself after all these years. My motives are clear – if I ever had any doubts.

I can hear the rain coming down outside the window. Leonard is breathing heavily in his sleep.

Lear says, “When the mind’s free,/The body’s delicate.” I think there may be something to the idea that it is also true that the delicate body can free the mind.

Ren Powell, Catching Up

In this mortal frame of mine which is made of a hundred bones and nine orifices there is something, and this something is called windswept spirit for lack of a better name …‘ So said Basho in the opening to The Records of a Travel-Worn Satchel, one of the travel sketches that preceded the more famous The Narrow Road to the Deep North. Basho acknowledges the odd fact that whatever we might pursue (in his case poetry) it’s never enough to truly satisfy the spirit.

A couple of weeks ago I bought a second hand bike – the mortal frame of my old one was beyond repair and I hadn’t used it in years. I’m now, very slowly, trying to get back into it. I took the above photo up at Dunford Bridge on the Trans Pennine Trail. I’ve been up there a few times now, seen a hare crouched in the grass, heard a cuckoo twice, watched endless curlews circling the moor, and come home tired but refreshed. I’m not intending going very far on my journey and won’t be kitting myself out in lycra, but I’m enjoying the weather, the peacefulness of the trail, and the sense of freedom that comes with getting out into open countryside under your own steam. To compliment that, here’s a lovely haiku from Penny Harter, whose book of haibun, ‘Keeping Time: haibun for the journey’ I’m reviewing at the moment. Apologies for taking the haiku out of context, but I liked the calm sense of purpose in it:

fog shrouds
the field’s edge
we keep walking

Julie Mellor, this mortal frame …

This is the first really long road trip I’ve taken since I was 14. It’s feeling a bit revelatory.

The most striking thing about the miles we’ve covered so far is how empty of humans and the detritus of our civilizations they are. Miles and miles of nothing but open land. The highlight for me was a small group of horses living their best life somewhere in western Wyoming, running free, eating grass, no fences in sight.

The low point was a small town that used to be the home of a state penitentiary, which was operational until 1981. The main drag of the town was pocked with shuttered motels and empty restaurants. There was a neighborhood of what might have been charming homes. We’d hoped to eat there, but we couldn’t find any place we wanted to enter, and, honestly, the whole town felt creepy AF (even before we stumbled upon the penitentiary, which is two blocks off the main street) and we got the hell out of Dodge right after filling up our tank. (Later, I googled the penitentiary, and it IS creepy AF. Operational until 1981, with a grisly history. Now it’s a tourist attraction? And apparently haunted?) It was clear that the town was once thriving, but whatever it had was probably built on the misery of that prison. The whole thing left me feeling sad and icky and unsettled.

Driving through miles and miles (and miles) of land so different from what I know, I had a lot of thoughts about our country and its divisions. I won’t share them, as I know I don’t really know anything about what life is like in the places we’ve driven past, and they are all just speculation. I can say that I found myself having an easier time understanding why so many of us have such different world views; we are living vastly different lives. I knew that before Friday, but in a more abstract way. Something about driving through all these places makes it more concrete.

Rita Ott Ramstad, On the road

Last week seemed to be a week of farewells.

There was the sad death of John Foggin, I didn’t know John, but his work was excellent and his website, The Cobweb, was an absolute trove and gift to beginners and old lags alike. His last full post from 2022 is just such a trove. Go, go read it. I’ll wait.

This week saw the final OPOI reviews from Sphinx. We knew it was coming, and it’s very much case of don’t be sad it’s over, just be glad you were there at the time. It will live on as an archive and as a way of approaching things.

Mat Riches, For years I shrunk weekends

I want to believe
that heaven is down on Earth
—here—where the light shaft
shoots through a downpour,
the rainbow, the charcoal sketched
rain cloud, the snowbell piercing ice
to make way for the grape hyacinth,
the snowflake, the whiteout
that in the hours we spent on our bellies
in the sun on the front lawn
when we were six and seven
searching for four leaves
among the clover blooms, how
we weren’t looking for luck,
but the Heaven we always believed in.

Cathy Wittmeyer, A Poem for My Sister, Listening in Heaven

Yesterday, these two lines came to me.  Those of you not steeped in feast days or prophets or the early parts of New Testament Gospels may not recognize John the Baptist, whose feast day was on Saturday–shorthand for saying that I wasn’t surprised when these lines floated up through my brain late yesterday as I took a walk: I have eaten your locusts and wild honey / and I am not impressed.  

This morning, I got rid of the second line, and now the stanza looks like this:

I have eaten your locusts and wild honey

And created a new menu with the bones

Of all the deer killed by carelessness.

And then I wanted to write a bit more, but I wasn’t sure what.  I peered into my dirty coffee cup and the next stanza emerged:

I drink my wine out of a dirty

coffee mug and bathe in the creek

that comes from the cooling

ponds at the nuclear plant.

I have no idea where this poem is heading or if it is going anywhere.  I’ll keep the document open in case anything else bubbles up.   I’m composing on the computer instead of by hand, and for the past few months, I haven’t written by hand.  Hmmm–is this change permanent?

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, John the Baptist Inspired Stanzas

submersible 
the tip of the iceberg 
of our anxiety

Jim Young [no title]

The solstice came this year gently – a little overcast, temperatures in the 70s, and the sunset lasted til almost past 9 PM. We celebrated more simply this year, a trip to 21 Acres, a local farmer’s market, where we bought local honey, cherries, peas, and carrots, and a sunset spent at the lavender farm down the street, where the blooms have just started on the oldest lavender plants. It was lovely to feel the grass, smell the lavender, feel the sun – not too hot or punishing – and welcome in this fraught season. (Fraught because of the wildfire risk and because MS patients tend to [fare] worse in the heat.) […]

I am grateful to WICN and Mark Lynch for interviewing me for their station about my new book, Flare, Corona. It was a pleasure – we talked about a shared love of 50’s sci-fi movies, health crises, and more. We actually went on talking after we were off the air, and it was so fun, It felt like talking to a friend, which means that guy is really good at his job!

Here’s the link to listen to the whole thing: Jeannine Hall Gailey – 90.5 WICN Public Radio

Anyway, I hope you enjoy and it gives you some insight into the book, writing during a pandemic, and killer shrews.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Welcome Summer! Celebrating the Solstice and a New England Radio Interview about Flare, Corona

I’m drinking tea and watching the sunrise and I feel like writing a blog post and taking a moment to process and share some poetry and thoughts and photos here on my blog from the amazing Windrush 75 concert at The Royal Albert Hall before it fades into memory, and before I jump into the next shiny thing. You will find more clips on my insta and tiktok and twitter but I have always liked to treat this blog like a scrap book, keeping an archive of highlights and my adventures in making books and poetry and gigs over the decades. Thank you to anyone following this page, hello to any new people who find me here. Welcome. 

Firstly, thank you for all of your comments and messages about this one gig and poem. I was blown away by your messages, thank you. I was so honoured and so excited to be invited by Trevor Nelson to perform and write a piece for the Windrush 75 Concert. I was also nervous about it as I knew I wanted to write something new for it. I was not sure where to begin to try to capture this moment in history and experience, and my own feelings about Windrush and heritage and ancestry and migration and colonialism and empire in a poem to be broadcast on the BBC and perform to peers and elders on such a big stage. 

I left London and headed south to perform two lovely shows in Exeter and Totnes and stayed down there for a while with dear friends on the coast. I looked at the Devon skies and seas and sun rises and went deep into the themes of this poem and the process. I knew right away that I wanted to fill the Royal Albert Hall with the ocean, with timelessness and the weight of ocean water and our conversation with it. 

I wanted to share in that united feeling that we are not all in the same boat, and that so many of us came here by boat, and that many are still arriving by boat, and how we are all connected in blood and saltwater. I wanted to celebrate that we share the same time in history, that we share an ancient resilience and courage. As some of you know I am currently working on the second Mrs Death Misses Death novel and so this was setting the tone for me and leaking into my writing, I was visualising and dreaming of Mrs Death filling the Albert Hall with ocean, with ancestors and ghosts, with loss and grief, and with BIGlove, ONE Love. 

Salena Godden, Poem: My Heart Is A Boat | Windrush 75 | The Royal Albert Hall

“Genetic memory” was inspired by the theory that memories may be inherited, and that perhaps we “remember” our ancestors’ formative experiences. The details in the poem are pulled from my grandparents’ lives. For example, my father’s father, Raymond Edward Smith, was the first Columbus, Ohio, resident reported killed in action at Pearl Harbor. On Christmas Eve, his parents were informed that it was a mistake—their son was alive. My grandfather never spoke about Pearl Harbor, but reading about genetic memory, I wondered: Could I be carrying traces of experiences like this one? What if?

Maggie Smith, Behind-the-Scenes Look: “Genetic memory”

This is a poem about me – the poetic I is also the actual I in this poem – listening to a particular song by one of my favourite bands. It’s my thoughts on the song itself, and what it meant to me in 2019 when I listened to it and had a moment of clarity. I wrote it for myself, not publication, but when I decided to share some of my work, this was included. There’s a lot more to it than that, obviously…

Firstly the song I was listening to. William’s Last Words is the final track on the Manic Street Preachers 2009 album Journal for Plague Lovers and is sung not by James Dean Bradfield – lead singer, huge rasping soul voice – but by Nicky Wire, the bass player with a softer, less confident delivery. The lyrics to the song, and all the songs on this album, were recovered from notebooks left by the band’s former guitarist and childhood friend, Richey James Edwards, who had gone missing fifteen years earlier.

The lyrics read like a goodbye message, a break-up letter, a suicide note: given the context of the album, it feels like a final note from Richey himself. But it’s actually a great example of editing, as the original typewritten notes for the song show something very different – lines and phrases have been taking from what seems to be a vignette with allusions to Launce Olivier’s film The Entertainer, about a music-hall star. And when you find that out, it does seem a little artificial, but the words that remain, the poignancy, the fact they got Nicky to sing it, it all makes for a song that is a beautiful as it is sad, as natural as it is manufactured.

Why was this important to me? Why did I write a poem about it, and not an essay?

In August 2019 I was hospitalized in Cardiff with Acute Promyelocytic Leukaemia – an incredibly rare and easily fatal form of blood cancer. And the drugs weren’t working. My mental health was suppressed by Lorazepam, Diazepam, and Prozac. I refused to get angry. I couldn’t be happy, but I couldn’t cry. And my god I needed to cry so bad.

Drop-in by Jamie Woods [Nigel Kent]

I’ve got five visual poems from the ‘Classic Crimes’ series in the new Seneca Review. These were accepted last year and it’s great to see them out. I got to see them in the issue, my mother having forwarded one I had sent to her house. Generally when a print magazine sends me a copy in Germany I end up paying customs on it, so not to seem ungrateful but I ask that no one do it anymore.

I like the batch Seneca took! The poems are: Without Speaking, Side-Wisps(pictured), I Shook My Head, To Be Deplored and Spell. They’ll go up in color online. In the print issue they are in b/w, which I thought they might not come off well. But they look fine.

(I’ve always wondered, on that note, what Hotel Almighty looks like on Kindle. I realized well after publication that it’s all in b/w.)

I put them all up on Instagram over the past few days if you visit there. If you don’t mind the explosion of ads. If they are ads? It seems more like being force-fed cat and baby videos.

Sarah J Sloat, The Mustaches of Scoundrels

A funny thing did happen the other day, I suddenly wrote four poems – a sort of sequence I suppose – out of nowhere. But I haven’t really given poetry writing a lot of headspace lately. The ‘sudden burst’ actually came after listening to an online book launch by Pindrop Press. I was enjoying poems by Lydia Harris, and was inspired enough to buy her collection, Objects of Private Devotion. I haven’t started it yet though, mainly because I’ve been ploughing though historical novels to try to gauge where mine sits. But also, I have two poetry books to review for the Frogmore Papers, plus Jill Abram‘s debut collection Forgetting My Father (Broken Sleep) waiting to be read. Patience!

Another project I’m involved with at the moment is an anthology that the Hastings Stanza is putting together, to be published in October under the Telltale Press imprint. There are four of us on the editorial “committee” and at the moment I’m busy on the typesetting. I think the standard of poems is pretty high, though I say so myself, so it’s a pleasure to work on.

Robin Houghton, Midsummer update: poetry projects, novel stuff, podcast…

Catherine Truman and I have been working together on projects bridging art and science since 2006. Here is a glimpse of our current project, The Taken Path. This is a speculative, durational project that hangs of a poetic idea: what would we notice if we walked the same path, once a month over the course of a year and filmed the journey? […]

Together, the two videos attempt to illustrate the largely unsolvable problem of representing the uniqueness, the ephemerality and perceptual uncertainty of lived experience. We cannot attend to everything that happens around us and we cannot fully portray those elements of our experience that do take our attention, form memories, generate lasting significance.

Ian Gibbins, The Taken Path: a durational project with Catherine Truman

I’m intrigued by Quietly Between (Fort Collins CO: A Viewing Space, 2022), a quartet of solicited poem sequences and photography by American poets Megan Kaminski, Brad Vogler, Lori Anderson Moseman and Sarah Green that each respond to the same very particular prompt. As the original prompt, included at the back of the collection, opens:

15-25 images/cards (combination of text and image).

Begin with place and time.

Place(s): where you are/were. Both text and photos could be of your present place. Or one element is, and the other draws from something else.

Time: some element of time is incorporated into the project. In the film All the Days of the Year, Walter Ungerer returns to the same place in Mount Battie, Camden, Maine every day for one year. He sets up his camera, and takes thirteen, ten second shots while turning the camera clockwise. […]

Via the poetic sequence, each of these four poets offer their variation on the stretched-out lyric sketch, allowing this collection to emerge into a book about being present in temporal and physical space, each poet blending lyric and photographic attention from their own particular American corners, across a quartet of American states moving straight west from the Midwest to the Coast.

rob mclennan, Quietly Between: Megan Kaminski, Brad Vogler, Lori Anderson Moseman and Sarah Green

First up is a shout-out to Goran Gatalica who was kind enough to share his haiku collection, Night Jasmine (Stajer Graf) with me. This multilingual translation collection (the haiku are translated from the original Croatian into English, French, Italian, Czech, Hindi, and Japanese) is filled with vivid examples of contemporary haiku navigating traditional themes with a contemporary sensibility.

The book is framed within the cycle of seasons, starting with spring and ending in winter. Here is a selection of four haiku, one from each season:

empty commuter train –
listening to spring drizzle
through an open window

August flood –
a softened meadow
reflects the stars

mother’s death –
I fold the first autumn rain
in my handkerchief

family reunion –
the half-frozen pond
flickering

Across these four haiku, one can get a sense of the sensibility Gatalica works with throughout Night Jasmine. There’s the haiku that frames an immediate sensation, as in the first one here which lingers over a moment of rain.

One sees the theme of rain come up again in the “August flood” and “first autumn rain” of the second and third haiku above. Rain continues to change life, but not suppress it; even in the grief of the third haiku, there is the animation of the folding handkerchief.

No rain in the last one here, but water is present in the “half-frozen pond.” What I love in this last one is the way the animation and presence is implied in the reflections on the pond, of fire, of the reunion itself.

To read more haiku by Gatalica go here. To learn more about Night Jasmine as well as to check out a reading of the collection, go here and here, respectively. Lastly, if you’re interested in a copy [of] the book, reach out to me via my contact form and I’ll put you in touch with the poet.

José Angel Araguz, shout-outs: haiku, flight, & opportunity

Patricia Smith has collected over 200 cabinet cards, cartes de visite, ambrotypes, daguerreotypes and tintypes from garage and vintage sales, online markets and estate sales. However, only a few images had names, and often just a first name. A studio address might offer a location. “They are wraiths, their stories growing dim”. Smith’s mother moved from Alabama to Chicago. Ashamed of her impoverished roots, her mother severed her past, refusing to put names to the people in photos. Actions that also severed her daughter from history. These poems put imaginary voices to the photos, sometimes drawing on the location to incorporate a historical event such as a yellow fever outbreak in Memphis or lynching in Virginia. […]

Publishing the images alongside the poems gives readers the opportunity to see how they complement each other. Each poem gives voice to the silent images, left without name and without family connections. The collection is about more than the featured photographs. It’s a reminder of how families were cut from their roots and exploited. How, in an effort to fit in with a white community, people purposely lost their origins and sometimes their names. The difficulty of tracing family trees when names are lost or changed, means most give up. It can also cause friction between generations as younger generations research a past older generations deliberately discarded. Patricia Smith empathically gives the people in the photographs voices, succinctly conveying what might have been their stories.

Emma Lee, “Unshuttered” Patricia Smith (TriQuarterly Books, Northwestern University Press) – book review

The eponymous figure from Grünbein’s sequence’s 11th poem,‘Hans im Glück’, draws on one of the stories in The Children’s and Household Tales of the Brothers Grimm (1812). In the original, Hans has anything of value taken from him, bit by bit, yet he remains optimistic, refusing to acknowledge reality. Within the context of Porcelain, Grunbein treats this is as an additional image of the myth of the city of Dresden as undeserving victim. Interestingly, the same figure appears in Ulrike Almut Sandig’s collection, but her presentation of Hans is more poignant, less ironic, as even the boy’s language is stripped from him and he tries to write a letter to a loved one: “what are you up to? // + esp: where r u? / ru ru // ru”. In the context of I Am a Field Full of Rapeseed… , the boy might be thought of as a refugee, forcibly having his culture and language stripped from him, though one of the strengths of the poem is that it also works as an updated fairy tale, a little myth of loss and diminished presence with more universal application. Such re-purposing of several of Grimm’s tales is one of the most striking things about this collection. Sandig announces in another poem, “we find ourselves deep in the future of fairy tale” (‘the sweet porridge’) and she, like Angela Carter before her, redeploys the fairy tale’s surreal narratives, bold characterisation, its humour and violence, its symbolism and moral intensity for her own purposes.

Martyn Crucefix, Greedy alpha-creatures: the poetry of Ulrike Almut Sandig

Through her erstwhile directorship of Malika’s Kitchen, staging of the highly successful ‘Stablemates’ series of readings and ever-supportive presence at many poets’ launch events and other readings, Jill Abram, as much as anyone in the UK poetry community, has championed, and continues to champion, its happily increasing diversity of outstanding voices.

As an exceptional poet in her own right, Jill’s poems have been appearing with increasing frequency in high-quality journals in the last few years. It’s therefore excellent news that Jill’s debut publication, Forgetting my Father, has recently appeared from Broken Sleep Books. It’s available here, with an attractive cover designed by Broken Sleep’s owner and principal editor, Aaron Kent. It consists of 23 tremendous poems about family, Jewishness, bereavement, the passage of time and much besides; above all, how memories, and their jewel-like details, still colour the present.

Matthew Paul, On Jill Abram’s ‘Inheritance’

A year ago this month, Gina Wilson died. The two of us met just over a decade ago on the Writing School run by Ann and Peter Sansom of The Poetry Business. We were both psychotherapists, working in private practice.

Gina was published first as a children’s writer – novels (Faber), poetry (Cape), picture books (Walker Books). Her adult poems are ‘complex, though deceptively simple’ and ‘tough and compelling, no verbiage, no sentimentality’ (Kate Clanchy).

Gina’s poems ‘lure you into thinking you’re on safe, possibly domestic territory. Then they catch you unawares, taking off at an unexpected, often surreal tangent.’

I am grateful to her family for permission to share three poems from Gina’s poetry pamphlets (Scissors Paper Stone, HappenStance, 2010; It Was And It Wasn’t, Mariscat Press, 2017.) [Click through to read.]

Fokkina McDonnell, Photograph with a Very Small Moon

Like jokes, poems have finely tuned relationships to time. They are, like music, unfolding in a culture of time, of kinds of time and their corresponding effects. They are, like heartbeats, rhythmic or arrhythmic. In her research into medieval wonder, medievalist Carol Walker Bynum argued that the wonder reaction is a significance reaction—our experience of wonder is an instinctive recognition of meaning. Our experience of that meaning, as I’ve argued elsewhere, would be different were the eventual end of all feeling not guaranteed (more on mortality and wonder here).

But, we’re alive for now—so, the issue gets crafty. Since wonder is fundamentally a question of vision in its widest sense, we are left to ponder “the zodiac of [our] own wit” (Sir Philip Sidney). Whatever mental constellations we report, we must also be able to recognize a sky beyond them.

Maya C. Popa, Wonder Wednesday

So look, I’m not going to try to bullshit you into saying that either one of these poems is good. I don’t usually do the good-bad dichotomy with poems to begin with. The reason this newsletter is called “Another Poem to Love” instead of something like “Great Poems You Should Read” is that I figured out a long time ago that there are a lot of poems out there that just aren’t for me, and that doesn’t make them bad. It just makes them not for me. Like I said earlier, people are wired differently.

But when it comes to the question of which poem is more interesting, I think the one done by the Vogon Poetry Generator wins easily. I mean at least it’s weird, and the closing line, “Corrupt, corrupt brilliance? That’s what a slug’s life is about? Really.” is jarring and funny. And if you’re high, it’s probably hilarious. Somebody do that and report back, would you?

Whereas the ChatGPT one is predictable. The most fun line in there is “When Vogons come, plug up your holes” but only if you read it with a dirty mind. Which you should. That’s my definitive poetry statement here. If you can read lines of a poem with a dirty mind, you should. Discourse!

Brian Spears, So Long and Thanks For All the Fish

Back in 2014, a reply-all unsubscribe outbreak on the Malahat Review listserv brought such joy to my heart that I wrote a found poem compiled from the various replies. You can read that poem here.

One might have thought that in the intervening nine years, the Malahat Review would have addressed this flaw in their listserv system but, bless them, it appears they did not. We’re back at it, and the replies are even more confused, angry and conspiratorial this time around (this is Pierre Poilievre’s Canada we’re living in, after all).

Rhonda Ganz has stepped up to write a found poem for this year’s meltdown. I present it below. If you’d like to contribute your own Malahat Review listserv found poem, please email it to me at roblucastaylor(at)gmail(dot)com and I will post it here. And most importantly, enjoy the madness while it lasts. It will be another nine years before we get to do it again!

[Five more found poems have come in since this post. Visit Rob’s blog Roll of Nickles to read them all.]

Rob Taylor, this makes me nervous

For all my time with others, I still feel I move about in the world alone–this is true when it comes to writing, to social things, to work, to love. Even in love, I am resistant to giving up parts of myself–my peace and privacy that only usually exists when no one else is in the room. It’s never really loneliness, not in the moment, though I have been lonely. Acutely so after the death of my mother especially. Like a gaping hole of loneliness. Cosmologically lonely, if that makes sense. Absolutely lonely, though I was surrounded by family and friends and partners. It was like someone had torn a hole in the universe and all the air was bleeding out. Time closed it, but it still yawns and gapes every once in a while, though just as often in a group as alone. Sometimes more so in a group of people, especially ones where she should have been. My dad is different..a more acute and situation-specific kind of lonely, but still with sharp edges. 

I frighten myself sometimes, with my love of being alone, which feels enjoyable yet wrong somehow. Articles crop up in my feed occasionally about the importance of being social animals. How much I relish my days alone and uninterrupted with nothing but cats for company. I enjoy the company of people, some exquisitely, some more than others, but I am most myself when alone. It’s the baseline. The blank state to be returned to necessary for creativity and productivity. Which may be why introverts love midnights so much when it seems the entire world is sleeping but them.

Kristy Bowen, aloneness vs. lonely | the introvert heart

Haven’t I lived at
different distances from myself? Alone and

young and afraid, I didn’t let myself too close.
Who would want the mirage to unravel? When
I could bear to say it aloud, to myself, find
words for estrangement, abandonment, apathy,

find words to console those words, I began to
tolerate myself, in small doses. Before the sink
holes opened again. What is the antonym of
father? Of mother? What is the colour of

disaffection? The man is smiling at me, watching
my experiments. I wonder what he sees. How far
away he is. How far away I am. What is the perfect
distance for the surreal to sharpen into truth?

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Part 52

夏空へ両手あげ脱皮する少女   酒井弘司

natsuzora e morote age dappi suru shôjo

            raising both arms

            to the summer sky

            a girl casts off her skin

                                                Hiroshi Sakai

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

Fay Aoyagi, Today’s Haiku (June 24, 2023)

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 23

Poetry Blogging Network

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


These lovely, almost-summer days have gone on and on, and I have been outside whenever I can be, reading on a wooden glider draped with an ivy-patterned comforter. Meanwhile, the ground was parched and the creek has twice gone dry. Until today! Sprinkle, then steady light rain, episodic, but enough to make all the plants stand up happy and straight, with some of them appearing to grow an inch in a day. The first day lilies have opened, making it seem to be true summer! 

Swimming started this week–oh, how wonderful! That, too, makes summer seem here to stay…though it doesn’t stay, and already I am aware how swiftly it will go by. I lap swim early, wash the chlorine out of my hair, and walk to work. Sometimes at work, during our 15-minute breaks, we take walks around town. Friday, we walked to the university library and saw a ceramics display, 100 pieces based on poems. I love my life.

In it, this lucky life, I am balancing my sorrow. And some ongoing stress. I am grateful I can do so. And glad that these clematis blooms opened on the fence, despite the weeks of drought. Some vines did not even produce buds. But seeds I planted at the re-mounted little free library did come up. More to be glad of and grateful for!

Kathleen Kirk, Rain, Finally

I dreamed the other night of discovering a sonnet by a woman writer whose name I only knew vaguely. Someone had taped it up on a door frame. I don’t remember the words, just that I found it moving and skillful–all one enjambed sentence, shorter than usual lines, hitting the rhymes and iambics in a satisfying way. I guess I wrote the sonnet, really–I am a woman writer whose name some regular poetry readers only know vaguely–to whatever extent the poem existed at all. Talk about ephemera! A poem “read” by one person, in a dream.

I haven’t been writing poems in my waking life, although I’ve been rereading H.D.’s poetry and researching what scholars say about her use of Tarot cards. Next week I’m taking a family vacation in midcoast Maine, and on the way home I’ll get dropped off in New Haven, CT, so I can spend a few days with her papers at Yale’s Beinecke library. We know H.D.’s book-sources for the Tarot but not what decks she used, it seems, at least when she started, around 1930, mailing readings from England to her childhood friend Viola Jordan, who was by then raising children in New Jersey. H.D. scholar Susan Stanford Friedman quotes a 1941 letter to Jordan in which H.D. wrote, “I got one pack in Vienna and have an English one with rather silly pictures” (202). The pictures on the Rider-Waite-Smith deck that was widely available don’t seem silly to me, although another very knowledgeable H.D. scholar tells me the RWS deck is likely, given how widely available it was then. These questions might not lead to recoverable information, in the end. There were lots of European decks floating around because Tarot was a game as well as a divination practice. Ephemera.

I don’t know what I’m doing with this project, really, other than following curiosities and seeing if there’s an essay in there somewhere, probably a hybrid scholarly/ personal one, as in Poetry’s Possible Worlds. There are H.D. connections in Maine, too, so in a way I’ll be bringing these thoughts on vacation. She sometimes summered as a child in the Casco Islands near Portland, a landscape that strongly influenced her first collection, Sea Garden, although she casts her references in that book as Greek. I won’t get to the Casco Islands but we’re going to visit Camden, Maine–Millay territory–if only for a few hours.

There’s a great verb: “summering.” Dreamy, with a wealthy scent. I don’t think I’ve ever done it, but maybe I should post the word on the frame of my office door for inspiration.

Lesley Wheeler, Summering, ephemera

We proceed error by error in our writing rooms, in our studies and in our studios. But also, as Cixous talks about, there is the ecstasy of technique. There is the endless practice, the attention to detail, to form, to the mechanics. The beforehand is work work work. The truth of a piece lies to some extent there. There is the knowing, the accumulating of knowledge regarding the materials, the history of art-making broadly and then super specifically pertaining to the work at hand. And then there is the letting go of all that you know once it’s been absorbed so deeply. It’s not something you hold but something you are. And maybe this sounds a bit flaky. But that’s the point where the beauty leaks, the light seeps, the mystery glows.

Shawna Lemay, Tornados and Truth in the Atelier

I always make final choices about line and sound while sitting at my laptop, reading the poem aloud to myself over and over again, making changes in service of the rhythm, music, and pacing. Here you can see several places with assonance (vowel sounds, like the long “I” in pines and fire); consonance (consonant sounds, like the “L” in smell and soil); and alliteration (consonant sounds specifically at the beginning of word, like the “L” in little and lashes).

I broke the line to create pauses where I wanted them, slowing the poem down, and to build tension and suspense. Look at the line endings I’ve marked with arrows. Here the reader has questions that they must read on to have answered. Some lines I liked on their own because they have their own integrity and meaning apart from the rest of the sentence. For example, “I’m thinking I don’t want to die” means something on its own, so that line feels charged. When the reader reaches the end of the sentence on the next line—“in a room”—the meaning is clarified, even transformed.

Maggie Smith, Behind-the-Scenes Look: “A Room Like This”

Mid-flow, everything screeches to a halt. Mid-pentameter “doth” and I am thinking, what the Hell am I doing? Sacrilege to mess with Shakespeare. Where do I get off?

How do I marry the archaic language to a heightened, but accessible language? And then there is the fact that my lines just beg to run into hexameters. Alexandrines. I have no idea why. But I am tired of fighting it.

So be it.

But then there is the question of whether I should toss out all of the names and give the characters new ones. I find myself giving Regan’s lines to Goneril to better build their spines and distinguish one from the other, as I see them in my story. I’m thinking someone in the audience is going to be scrolling through their memory at that point, instead of following the dialogue.

On the other hand, why not. Regan has digested Cornwall. Kent, the Fool. This is not an exercise in paraphrasing doctrine. More like sampling. And drawing from the well that is deeper than even Shakespeare.

Shakespeare’s passages as Easter eggs in something new. Nothing really new here in terms for “stealing”.

Ren Powell, Crisis of Confidence

A friend said the other day she’d seen no bumblebees in her garden this year, another wondered why there was so little buzzing in hers. 

Often in my mind when I’m on the allotment is self-taught French scientist, Jean Henri Fabre, whose Book of Insects is probably in my lifetime top ten. Observe,  he urges, learn. 

Fabre bought a patch of barren land in Provence and on it studied insects. He replanted thyme and lavender which had been dug up for vines, and from then on wrote about bees, beetles, the praying mantis, wasps….

Jackie Wills, A man, his land and its insects

Eventually the group ran its course. Matt became instead my unofficial, unpaid mentor. We wrote to each other frequently, and we would speak on the phone once a week too. He would sometimes ring me up to read me a poem he’d just written. When he eventually got a computer, he’d email them, then ring me up for my thoughts. Over time, our relationship changed from great poet and mentor, to one in which we [were] more equal and would help edit each other’s new poems. He had a small circle of poets he would show his work to, and I was one of them. He said I had the gift for putting my finger on just where the problem was, but this was because he I had absorbed so much from his ever-generously given edits he’d suggested on my own work.

In 1996, I edited a festschrift for him, which was no mean undertaking, because it had 83 contributors and was all done by snail mail. I had to type up the whole book myself, alongside a full-time teaching post and being a mum to two young children. But it was a labour of love, for by this time, after a friendship of 23 years, there was a deep, close and loving relationship between us.

This only deepened further over time. I was a regular visitor to his house and I also went into college on many occasions. I used to attend readings with him, because he wanted company. We travelled to Anne Stevenson’s 70th birthday party together and stayed at the same B&B. When he retired from full time lecturing, he was even more keen for me to visit, and we enjoyed going for a swim together in his daughter Cathie’s swimming pool. He would always email me afterwards and thank me for coming.

He dedicated one of his critical books to me, as well as a pamphlet. I was heartbroken when he died of complications after a heart-bypass operation we were hoping would make a ‘new man’ of him, as he himself said. It was 2009, the year I left full time teaching and was hoping to be able to spend more time with him. Sadly, that was not to be.

I learned a lot from Matt’s poems and from Matt himself. I learned working class people could be poets, that Latinate lexis could be mixed with local dialect, and never to be ashamed of my education. He wasn’t an influence over my work, but I learned how to edit my own poems without remorse.

Angela Topping, A brief history of my friendship with Matt Simpson (1936-2009)

I had set aside the summer writing time to work on my middle-grade novel draft that has been languishing on my jumpdrive for a few years now, but after deleting the horrible prologue, I’m not sure I have the energy to go back to it just yet (besides that, novels are just a different beast)

Instead I’ve been thinking about pantoums and sonnets and sestinas. Formal poetry was scarcely taught to me–not once in high school, maybe very breezily in undergrad, and a hard week in my MFA (me, crying in my professor’s office, telling her I was simply too stupid and redneck to write in meter).

I am interested in form, but struggle to hear meter. Is it the way I talk? The Southern accents I grew up with? What I read or don’t read? Though I do read a number of formal poets.

Renee Emerson, thoughts on form

While I’ve struggled with reviewing today, and I’ve managed about 15 minutes all week to look at a draft of poem (and that was mainly about cutting the repetition of conjunctions out), there has been some positive poetry news this week. I’ve been putting off approaching the various writing societies out there for readings. I may have mentioned I have a book due out in November (and don’t worry, I will mention it a few more times in the coming months), but having now 85% sorted the launch of my book (Venue sorted, readers almost all sorted, setlist started…I just need to sort the actual books, outfit choices, a haircut, flyers, invites, etc), I’ve got to think about getting the book out there and promoting it.

These things don’t sell themselves, so having written to a few places that are within striking distance of Beckenham I now find myself with two gigs booked already for 2024..and one more TBC. Ok, so the two booked ones are in January and September, so I’m not sure it constitutes a tour, but it is incredibly pleasing to see that people who have no idea who I am (as far as I know) prepared to have me come and read to them.

Mat Riches, Let’s get critical…

Our regional drought continues. I sometimes entertain the idea that the universe is telling me I might as well consider moving to the Southwest–where my children now reside–since the Mid-Atlantic area currently has less rainfall, higher temperatures, and lower humidity than where they are. Granted, this is likely to be a temporary situation; but for the present, I get the chance to walk on crunchy grass and hard soil daily and see how I like it. And to see blue skies for days on end, and see how I like that. What next?

Speculating on “what next” comes rather naturally to me, a reflective sort of human being; but making goals and ambitions toward accomplishment–not so much. Lately, though, the years-ahead thinking has been moved the forefront of my thoughts. It’s all those dang Medicare and Social Security and AARP mailings, in part, and my peers and I heading into the so-called retirement years. Inescapable: the conversations crop up around the dinner party table, while having coffee with a pal, or on a phone call with siblings. People keep asking me what my new goals are. I suppose, having reached the age Social Security (used to) kick in, I was expected to come up with new goals? Must have missed that memo.

Goal: the word is of uncertain origin, says Etymology Online, but appears in the 14th c “with an apparent sense of ‘boundary, limit.’ Perhaps from Old English *gal ‘obstacle, barrier,’ a word implied by gælan ‘to hinder’ and also found in compounds (singal, widgal). That would make it a variant or figurative use of Middle English gale ‘a way, course’…” And there’s the further meaning of a stake that signals the end point of a game. Interesting that goal can be an obstacle, a limitation, an end-point, or a pathway.

Ann E. Michael, Goals, sort of

A high-backed, slatted chair
as throne in a long-stemmed garden.

A city beyond it with glass, suits, revelers:
It changes by the hour.

Cars bead the bridge, a laudable
organization if only we knew what it was.

Jill Pearlman, Waiting for June

We were really fortunate. I don’t want to romanticize this moment. Lots of people lost a lot. Some people died. I almost used the term “terrible beauty” above to describe it but no, it wasn’t beautiful. There’s a sense of relief that comes when you realize that you’ve come through mostly okay and so have your people, but that’s not beauty, terrible or otherwise. It’s just life.

But you can find humor in the way you view these terrifying storms. And so now, given that hurricane season officially started just a few days ago, I bring you this poem, “Problems with Hurricanes” by Victor Hernández Cruz.

Hernández Cruz was born in Puerto Rico, moved to New York when he was young, and has been a distinguished member of the Nuyorican movement for decades now. I have loved this poem of his in particular for years in part because of the way he grasps the absurd power of the storm by treating it was great seriousness. He does this by putting most of the poem in the voice of a campesino, a peasant farmer.

A campesino looked at the air
And told me:
With hurricanes it’s not the wind
or the noise or the water.
I’ll tell you he said:
it’s the mangoes, avocados,
Green plantains and bananas
flying into town like projectiles.

And if you’ve never been in a storm like this, never experienced a tornado or derecho (for the record, I’ve been through those too and would rather a hurricane), then you might think “that’s crazy, of course it’s the wind and the noise and the water.” What damage could a banana do? The answer is that anything can do a lot of damage if It hits you at 90 miles per hour.

Brian Spears, It’s Hurricane Season Y’all

The planet excising parts of itself as a cancer–fairly standard imagery now.  The planet practicing plastic surgery has a nice alliteration.  The planet as feeling trapped in a wrong body and excising the parts that don’t fit–forest fire as corrective surgery–perhaps this imagery is too transgressive?

But maybe we want transgressive imagery.  Maybe in an era of apocalypse, transgressive imagery is what we need to shake us out of our complacency.

Living in the most southeastern part of Florida, cleaning up flood after flood after hurricane after flood, I always wondered how people could be complacent.  Now that I live in the mountains, where climate risk is much lower (not true of all mountains, I know, but true of mine),  I understand complacency.  Yesterday, it took me a few hours to wonder if the haze outside might be more dangerous than I thought.  I looked up a different chart from a different government agency, one that measures fire risk to lung health.  Our particulate levels weren’t particularly good, but for those of us without breathing issues, it was fair.

I looked up my old address in DC.  This morning, the code is purple.  I am glad I am not there.  My air quality here in the NC mountains is green.

A new apocalypse, a new metric to be learned, new charts to follow, new numbers rising and falling.  But don’t turn your back to the ocean, which is always rising, and faster than we’ve been told.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Apocalypse in Flames with Tint of Ocean

I can’t stop the dog writing a book on the history of dogs
(It’s still in the research stage but I haven’t the heart to interfere.)
The dog insists on silence while he’s working.
We tiptoe around him, communicate with an elaborate
Selection of signs, try to avoid boiling the kettle.
The sound on the television is muted.

Bob Mee, A POEM WRITTEN WHILE UPPER CLASS POLITICIANS AND THEIR FAWNING ACCOLYTES SPOUT LIES ON A SUNDAY MORNING TV SHOW

In what has already become a somewhat forlorn attempt to arrest my book-buying urges, I thought I would, at long last, take up book-borrowing from Rotherham Library. I’ve been a peripatetic but often prolific library-user over the years since I was allowed to join Old Malden Library when I was six, so it’s a wonder, really, that it took me two years of living in Rotherham before I availed myself of the local treasures to be had. That’s right, treasures. In my experience, every library has them, and much serendipity can be gained by stumbling upon them. […]

As in all public libraries, the ‘Poetry’ section is especially random. But I came across Helen Dunmore’s penultimate collection, The Malarkey (2012), which was a bit of a curate’s egg for me. But when she was on form, she was a brilliant poet, e.g. in the strangely chilling, NPC-winning title-poem and, especially, in the remarkable ‘Barclays Bank, St Ives’, in which she framed – with her unerring, almost-mystical eye – what are presumably the bank’s customers:

Old men with sticks and courteous greeting
who have learned the goodness of days
and give freely the hours it takes
to reach the fathomless depth of the pipe’s tamped bowl
or the corolla of that daffodil
damply unfolding [. . .]

It’s a true exemplar of how poetic magic can be conjured from unlikely material.

Then there are university libraries. I suspect I’ve written before on this blog about the kid-in-a-toyshop wonder I experienced when I went to university and discovered that its library contained every poetry collection and novel I’d ever wanted to read but hadn’t managed, in those pre-internet days, to track down. There was also the University of London library in the superb Art Deco Senate House – used for the Ministry of Information during the war and, thanks largely to Orwell’s first wife working there, the model for the Ministry of Truth in 1984 – in which I wrote my (dreadful) dissertation; and the library at Essex University, into and out of the paternoster lift of which I was wholly incapable of swanning and instead clambered with Stan Laurel-ish inelegance.  

Matthew Paul, On library going

In relation to music, people sometimes talk about hauntology, about the ghosts of imagined futures haunting the present, in the form of musical styles from the past and the technology used to produce them, a nostalgia for a future that never came to pass. Could the same be said to apply to poetry? Movements in the arts don’t change simply because it’s ‘time for a change’ but because the world changes. The brighter future many saw to be promised by the ideas, social movements and technological advances of the twentieth century has not yet materialised. If poets in 2023 still find themselves writing poetry that would not have seemed out of place forty years ago, it may be because they still find themselves working, in many ways, in a similar milieu.

Dominic Rivron, Hauntology in Poetry

Or maybe you’ve got good omen bones, enjoy the taste of homecooking bones.

Bones glowing like a Van Gogh nightlight. Bones doubling as billyclubs to pummel away those blues bones.

Open-road bones, home-sweet-home bones. Dream bones, tree bones.

Rich Ferguson, 206 Bones

Today, I was thinking how dare the world celebrate Father’s Day and Mother’s Day so carelessly close together. Especially here at the top of the summer, where I feel like I am finally climbing out of a dark hole. And yet there it is. In the months after my mother’s death, I wrote an entire book of poems. I don’t have the urge to do so for my dad, though the home improvements series references parental losses more generally. Really, my father and I’s relationship was far less fraught with the stuff poetry is made of, though maybe it’s just a different kind of poetry I don’t really write. […]

Perhaps, it’s a book already written–my love of horror that charts so many projects, but particularly DARK COUNTRY is all him. As is perhaps my reading and writing habits in general. I am thankfully a little less shell-shocked than I was all of 2018..maybe because it’s easier somehow to lose the second parent than it is the first? Or is it that we were there with him in the last moments? His illness and death came on and went out even more suddenly than my mom’s. He was there and then gone in a matter of a couple weeks I have often debated in darker moments whether it was better to be there in the final moments or to not to be there in the final moments. I’ve decided both were just their own special kind of horrible. At the very least, my dad does not appear in dreams thinking he is still alive. He doesn’t appear in my dreams at all, though my mother still knocks around from time to time. But then again, his absence is another kind of sadness.

Kristy Bowen, the year without fathers

It’s been slow-going to say the least.

And for that slowness, I am so grateful. I can’t believe, reading back through the years and my process in these many entries, that I am finally at a place where I can say that truthfully, but I am. I am grateful that the agent didn’t sign me. I am grateful that I put the book away many times. I am grateful for the publishers who passed on it saying it was “lovely but too quiet” or “memoir is impossible to sell without a large platform” or “you can write but it’s clear you’re too close to this subject to be objective.” (That last one stung the most and was also the most correct.)

I am grateful that the old saw, “it only takes one YES,” turned out to be true with CLASH–a publisher that has seen and is excited about my vision for the book– and that it turned out to be true at a time in my life when I am no longer feeling frantic about the project. I am no longer desperate to write a book that will honor or memorialize my father out of some sense of writerly/daughterly obligation. The book is not about (and never was, really, about) my father.

Sheila Squillante, Sustenance, Redux

In a similar tone, ‘The Acceptance’ concludes with the word ‘Welcome’ being signed. But the 30 lines preceding this hark back to that ‘complicated man’ (a phrase from ‘Dementia’, from The Perseverance), the poet’s father. Though dead for several years now, he continues to haunt his son’s dreams and a number of these new poems. In ‘Every Black Man’, the ‘dark dreadlocked Jamaican father’ meets his prospective, English mother-in-law for the first time. He’s already drunk, there is shouting, he lashes out, she racially insults him: they never meet in the same room again. The father’s ‘heartless sense of humour’ is turned into a slow blues: ‘I think that’s how he handled pain, drink his only tutor’ (‘Heartless Humour Blues’). And the man’s ‘complication’ is reaffirmed in the poem, ‘Arose’, in which, talking to his embarrassed son, the father boasts of the great sex had with the boy’s mother, but then is touchingly remembered, calling out her name: ‘Rose? And he said it like something in him / grew towards the light.’

But All The Names Given also pays more fulsome tribute to Antrobus’ mother. In ‘Her Taste’, despite her conventional, English, religious background, she drops out, joins a circus (literally, I think!), has various relationships, and eventually gets pregnant by Seymour, the ‘complicated man’ from Jamaica, who left her to raise the children. Thirty years on, she’s defiant, independent, ‘holding her head higher at seventy’. We see her leafing through a scrapbook of her past, ‘rolling a spliff on somebody’s balcony’ or again, ‘in church reading Bertrand Russell’s ‘Why I’m Not a Christian’.’ Despite such moments, the maternal portrait does not quite possess the vivid distinctiveness of the paternal one. But, with the benefit of the passing years, Antrobus can now write, ‘On Being A Son’, in which he unreservedly praises Rose in her neediness, her self-sufficiency, her helplessness with IT, her helpfulness in so much else. He concludes, channelling her voice: ‘mother / dyes her hair, / don’t say greying / say sea salt / and cream’.

Martyn Crucefix, ‘The Man Overstanding’ – on Raymond Antrobus’ ‘All The Names Given’

Was it impetuous, inconsiderate, almost arrogant? Was it an opportunity deliberately contrived, a portal jimmied open, a shaft of light dragged through it, not to see but to make shadows dance? Wanting to say it all — without knowing what ‘it’ was, what ‘all’ might contain and what ‘saying’ would beget — to write without a plan, with trepidation, without an endgame, with a surfeit of angst, is, even at this age, either stupidity or violence. Very likely, both.

But it had to be done. Not because it was unique. Not because it was the most terrible thing in the world. Not because it almost killed me. But, because it was ordinary. Because it happened. And because I survived the way ordinary people survive ordinary things — with ordinary difficulty.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Interlude (42)

Someone on Twitter this week talked about how depressed she felt after her first book came out. I tweeted back something like: “That’s normal, you’ve got it all built up in your head so there’s inevitably let-down, book launches (now more than ever before) take so much effort on the part of the author—social media, readings, constant promotion. It is tiring.” And those things are the truth. Flare, Corona is my sixth book of poetry, and my eighth book altogether—but you never really get used to it. It never gets easier. Even if you have a great press, even if you’re totally healthy, even if you’re not coming into year three of a pandemic.

See the goldfinches in that picture. One of them is about to get off his perch—the other is mid-flight. You get the sense these birds are putting in a lot of effort. If you’re mid-flight, you’re thinking about your destination—if you’re just launching, you’re thinking about how you’re going to make it. It’s sort of like that with books.  There’s the book launch—maybe a party with friends or with your publisher—a few readings, a few reviews, maybe even good ones. Maybe you sell a fair number of books. Then the excitement fades, and guess what? You’ve launched, but you’ve still got work in front of you. My first poetry book still has readers, believe it or not—and it was published in 2006, the publisher changed hands, and I don’t even know if you can buy it through regular channels anymore. The point is, after the three months of book launch activities have faded, the book goes on. Sometimes you get tired. Sometimes—and this is completely normal—you feel discouraged that the book didn’t do as well as you’d hoped.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A Week of Dentists, Downtime and Summertime Rain: The Ups (and Downs) of New Books

I’ve been a letter-writer since childhood; since first I felt confident enough to summon words that would magically describe my inner world (more than the little events of my life, which interested me far less) to anyone willing to read them. I wrote to my great-aunts, to peers I found in the “pen-pal wanted” section of the periodicals I read, to the few friends I’d made during our summer holidays at the Adriatic seaside: more than anything, this was perhaps an excuse to indulge in an inner monologue necessary to understand myself and the world by relating them to others.

I loved the feeling of the ink flowing on the paper through my fountain pen, of words gliding through my fingers to become materialised thought on stationery. 

As happened for many, my epistolary habits decreased with the advent of computers, e-mails, the Internet, mainly because people stopped writing me back, but I never quite lost my enthusiasm for the written (written, as opposite to printed) word, the scent and feel of various kinds of paper – nor my notion of letters as papery birds. I somehow always envisioned them, and still do, as intricately folded aeroplanes in the shape of cranes, sparrows, swallows, gulls, for how else could they reach their destination, if not by flight?

When someone very dear to me was suddenly and unexpectedly jailed, shortly before Covid held the entire world captive, written letters became once more my only possibility to reach the person I so desperately needed to talk to – this time, not to develop my own thoughts and ideas, but to keep him, and myself, alive. A prison sentence always extends to everyone involved, not only the inmate.

I resuscitated my paper birds, and sent them on an uncertain journey across the North Sea, from where I lived to where he was locked up, and along with the 243 letters I would write – one for each day he would spend in prison – poems would come to me as well; poems that were probably what my letters had been before: a way of understanding what was happening, and of coping with it.

Drop-in by Alexandra Fössinger (Nigel Kent)

I believe that preserving the human component is not only necessary in order to save art or to show that there is something essential and inalienable about the human experience. Of course that is true. But I also believe it is the act of writing itself that is so very precious and worth saving.

It makes me quite sad to think of a new generation who may never keep a private diary, kids who may never turn to writing as a source of knowledge, self-discovery, privacy and solace. Why write, when there are programs everywhere that can get the job done for us?

As you all know well, writing is not about getting the job done. It is not yet another task to complete, a form to fill out, a set of data to input. Writing is a best friend when we’ve needed one, a pathway into ourselves when we could find no other way through. I don’t need to go on. You, my dear readers, all know exactly what I mean. That’s why you’re here. Each one of you knows how much writing, the act itself, has given you over the years. And you know I’m not just talking about lit mag credentials. I’m talking about really given you, whether you’ve published a single word or millions.

With all these programs doing the writing for them, will the next generation know the joy and power of the act of writing?

Becky Tuch, How should writers & editors handle AI submissions?

The decision whether to use a contraction (e.g. who is or who’s) might seem insignificant at first sight, but like any syntactic choice, it’s pivotal to how a poem works. As a consequence, it’s one of the first things this poetic geek notices when reading a poet’s work for the first time, taking it as something of a signpost to how they treat language, to their love of detail.

First off, one thing seems clear: we should never turn our back on any resource when attempting to achieve poetic effects. There’s no fundamentalism along the lines of always going either for the full or abbreviated form. Instead, the strongest poets seem very aware of the importance of their choice in each case.

Matthew Stewart, To contract, or not to contract, that is (or that’s!) the question…

For instance, fiddlehead
              fern seems identical to nail;
and the word for coconut resembles 
              the word for being discovered,
exposed— it all depends on 
              the accent mark—whether
it is acute, or grave, or circumflex.
              The cow in the field perhaps
thinks it grazes on the breast
               of the earth while underfoot,
a snail undertakes its epic journey.
              Two eyelash marks can help
tell apart lover from friend. 

Luisa A. Igloria, Diacritics

I’m coming out of the deep woods, twice in a week. How’s about that huh?

First this Wednesday for a pre-press fair reading (often held on Friday night but a changed up time slot and venue this year.) and then again on Satuday afternoon at the Jack Purcell community centre where I’ll have a table, or more exactly, a half table. Come and chat. Come and trade or buy, or bring me snacks.

Wednesday the 14th, I’ll be reading from 2 or 3 new chapbooks. I’ll be reading with writers I enjoy which will be a particular delight. Dave Currie, Jennifer Baker, Vera Hadzic and rob mclennan. I am something of a completist getting all the writings of these people.

Pearl Pirie, Public Appearances

I’m struck by the poems in If I Could Give You a Line (Akron OH: The University of Akron Press, 2023), the first I’ve seen but the second collection by Rhode Island poet Carrie Oeding, following Our List of Solutions (42 Miles Press, 2011). If I Could Give You a Line is a collection of poems borne out of a landscape, set as a book of cartography that seeks meaning through placement and mapmaking, examined through sentences. “A man walks through a field and makes a line.” the sequence “THE MAKING OF THINGS” begins, ‘’It is made of nothing but breath, // legs, the willingness of soft grasses. The failure of pencils. // The success of pencils. The phrases that failed you, // but you still have a body. // It is a field of wheat and blindfolded children.” I’m amazed at how Oeding composes moments through which her poems transcend themselves, such as the “blue, blue, blue” offering of the short poem “I KEPT A VOICE IN MY PEACOCK,” the first half of which reads: “It said it wasn’t a peacock. It was a map. / It said it was meant to be read. I read my peacock / and got lost. Peacocks don’t roam. I got lost on very little. / I wanted more, so I left my voice. I didn’t have any / plumage, so I shouted blue, blue, blue, and hoped someone would notice / I was doing all of this without a voice. I hoped someone would notice.” Her poems are composed as extended sentences, stretched-out thoughts that accumulate into lyric prose via deceptively-straightforward narratives. “I forget the line is simple,” she writes, further along the extended sequence “THE MAKING OF THINGS,” “but then remember the line is simple.”

rob mclennan, Carrie Oeding, If I Could Give You a Line

One of the opening poems in If I Could Give You a Line begins with my obsession with artist Richard Long’s A Line Made by Walking.  Visual art is a major influence in If I Could Give You a Line, and this particular work excited me for how much it said and proposed about the physical line. The brilliant simplicity of thinking about mark making and the line in this way. It prompts me to think about the line and art making in the eight-sectioned poem.  

In If I Could Give You a Line, I play around with the traditional triangular relationship between artwork, poet, and reader. I don’t think my relationship with the reader is as traditional as a lot of ekphrastic poems. The book started with my envy of contemporary visual art and the immediacy I feel when I walk into a gallery or museum and experience that engagement with something made. I like that it’s a little impossible to be that immediate to my reader, but still be gesturing to them. I am exploring what it means that a moment of looking, as in a museum or as speaker in a poem, can feel both public and private at once. That tug and pull also connects to some of the speakers as mothers who want to be heard as artists but feel limited. What is the value of making something when they often feel ignored. Making art as a parent changed in something for me, and I am trying to figure that out, even though I am not always directly writing about motherhood. I am always writing about artmaking. I guess I can’t shake that every poem is an ars poetic, for me.

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Carrie Oeding (rob mclennan)

I started writing poetry around the same time as I started getting into philosophy, back in middle school, bumbling my way along, so they’ve always influenced each other. I’m always asking myself what the difference is between these, well, acts of mind. What does poetry do? How does it work? I’m fascinated by how people answer these questions. My first book is Remains, which was republished in 2022 by Tiger Bark Press. My mum died in a bizarre car accident in 1995, and the book is my way of understanding her, I mean, the complicated, wonderful person she was, not just the fuzzy memory. I spent a couple of years talking with some of her childhood friends, college friends, talking with my family. We had two large trunks of letters and photographs and artwork in the basement. But Remains is also about how that whole idea, understanding her, isn’t really possible. The Pigs is my second book, and I’m glad, kind of stunned, really, that I finished it. I changed so much while writing it, and it’s so different from the first book.

I know that The Pigs is a very personal book for you, as it is rooted in your experience as a public school teacher. That experience unfolded against the backdrop of multiple school shootings, from Sandy Hook to Parkland, as well as the increasingly hardened police presence in our schools. Can you tell us more about that history and how this book came about?

Hardened is a good word. After the shooting in Uvalde, there was talk about “hardening” schools by locking doors, restricting access, and increasing the presence of things like police and security cameras. These are often proposed with the conviction that they’re protecting kids. This is how The Pigs began. I was angry. I wanted to open, and soften, this idea of what it means to protect kids, what it really means, especially in the context of a school, which is not about protecting but about growing. And I resist as much as possible these forms of love that are really forms of coercion and control. The more I read about school shootings and the people involved, the more I found myself writing about who I was in middle school. I was a violent, angry, lonely white kid. Change a few small details in my life and I imagine that things could have ended much differently. How did I make it out of childhood? What did I learn, then, to start becoming who I am now? I’d forgotten. I was trying to remember. The Pigs is my attempt to give that back to myself more intentionally.

An Interview w/Tim Carter (R. M. Haines)

Luke Samuel Yates focuses on everyday life and small details which show how relationships are built on little interactions, brief conversations and people pass without really communicating and missing the signals each is trying to convey to the other. The poems are packed with characters too busy to move into the future to pause a notice what’s happening in their present surroundings. Wry observations from a poet who recognises the importance of the immediate.

Emma Lee, “Dynamo” Luke Samuel Yates (Smith/Doorstop) – book review

When actors are in rehearsal they will often have a person whose role is to supply the correct line when the actor forgets or fluffs the script. I was recently asked to be the prompt in a production and this poem arrived as a result.

today’s unique selling point is that when words fail us
we can call line
and the appropriate dialogue will be supplied
all we have to do is repeat what we hear
and this drama that is our lives may continue until
the next person fluffs their speech

the director tells us to take ten
we look at each other and wonder what to say

Paul Tobin, TODAY’S UNIQUE SELLING POINT

One of the first clues into the framing narrative of Dear Outsiders by Jenny Sadre-Orafai comes straight from its stunning cover. This image of two people blending into one only to reveal the sea, one learns through reading, works to evoke the experience of the two siblings who serve as the speakers for this collection. Sadre-Orafai makes use of the first-person plural throughout in ways that reflect the blurring of boundaries and experience.

The presence of the sea is a starker matter; its presence speaks to the death by drowning of the siblings’ parents. The other element to take note of is the title itself. The first-person plural “we” here often feels like it’s addressing the reader in a direct, intimate way, similar to a letter.

These elements come together in startling and powerful ways. In “Low Recitation,” for example, a scene of the two siblings looking over maps quickly devolves:

We try to see different pictures, but the blue is kudzu, silencing the land. Name the world’s seven continents. Name the world’s five oceans. We think we see our mother’s body shape there.

José Angel Araguz, microreview: Dear Outsiders by Jenny Sadre-Orafai

15. The stories in Tanakh (the Hebrew scriptures) land differently when one can see the topography of spring and desert, valley and hill.

16. Even the names used for places, neighborhoods, and structures here convey identity and politics. Settlement or neighborhood? Security fence or separation wall? 

17. To really describe this place of promise, maybe I would need God’s voice: conveying all possible meanings and nuances at once.

18.  At the Great Mosque in Ramle one might sit on the floor, press palms to the lush carpet, and ask God for peace and wholeness for this place and its peoples. Of course, one might do that anywhere.

19. Everyone is on top of each other here. Different communities might be only a stone’s throw apart. I’ve known that for years, but when I’m away I forget just how true it is.

20. In her poem “Jerusalem,” the poet Naomi Shihab Nye travels from “I’m not interested in who suffered the most” to “it’s late but everything comes next.”

Rachel Barenblat, Fifty truths

After the headache cleared, I took a quick trip up north to my parents’ place. There was a moment, not recorded by my phone, when I was driving on a road that follows a shore’s path, and the swath of trees that borders the road gave way to a clear view of the water. At the moment of clearing I could feel something in my body shift and calm. When I was growing up, my parents were not boat people or water people, despite where we lived. I did not grow up on the water, in any way, but it was always there. Big bodies of it, surrounding me, as if I were a peninsula. Where I live now there is a big river–several of them–but a river is a straight line running past, not a surrounding sea.

As we got in the car to leave, my son said to me, “I can smell the beach,” and I took in a deep lungful. Yes, I could smell it, too, and feel it, standing on the pavement next to the car next to the house. Something damp and fecund and salty. I miss it when I am there, in it. I get it in my lungs and realize that I don’t feel as at-home anywhere else, even back in our neighborhood park full of fir trees that stand like sentinels, reminding me so much of the trees in my first neighborhood, the one at the top of the trails that took us to the beach, that I took a picture of the park trees this week, days before my trip home, while in the midst of the migraine that almost canceled the trip.

Migraine is another kind of home.

A notebook is a kind of home, too. This summer, I will be living and working in a place without easy internet access, and I’m wondering if I should go old-school–do all my reading and writing off-line, with paper and ink. I wonder what that might do, how it might feel?

I wonder if it might feel like going home. (You can never go home again.)

Rita Ott Ramstad, Of roots and wilting and home

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 21

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive, subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader, or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack. This week: Memorial Day, music as an aid to writing, poetry and magic, the art of translation, and more. Enjoy.


I do not want to speak its grammar of hammers, its sick syntax of power and profit.

But I will honor the war dead with prayer, song and flowers.

I’ll clean away the relic heaps of angelic weeping strewn across battlefields.

Rusted dreams will be unearthed. Pulsings of peace will be reshined into shimmer.

Rich Ferguson, I do not want to be a tongue in the mouth of war

And from out of
the shade of
the cypress, the blue
shirt drops each boule
behind the coche,
completing a triangular
wall. “Once”, he says,
still stooping, his hands
on his knees. “There was
a time once”. The red
shirt lights a second
cigarette, shakes out
the match, steps up
to throw. “There’s always
a time once”, he says
and he looses a boule.

Dick Jones, PETANQUE PLAYERS AT ST. ENOGART

Happy Memorial Day Weekend, a time when Seattle usually has a lot of rain, but we’re going to have beach weather instead. I had to snap the picture of my typewriter on the one day the cherry blossoms had fallen but before they were blown away by storm. It went straight from a cold rainy spring to bright hot summer, nothing in between. Lilacs and rhodies bloomed and died under the heat.

I’ve been a little down health-wise this week, but feeling grateful for news about Flare, Corona – a new essay out in Adroit, guest blog posts, really kind thoughtful reviews.  One of my readings and interviews is up on YouTube in case you missed it in real time – and I have two readings coming up next week. It seems like I am either responding to e-mails about book-related things or thinking about book-related things. I forgot how much work this whole “new book coming out” thing is!

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Feeling Busy and Grateful: Two Upcoming Events for Flare, Corona, Interviews, Reviews, and Articles, Writers & Books Interview Online and More!

I have always heard the conventional wisdom that when one’s writer self feels uninspired, one should read poems, and/or return to the writing that made one want to be a writer.  That wisdom can work for me, but it runs the risk that I’ll feel even worse about my own failures to launch.

Happily, this week I had the best kind of inspiration.  On Sunday, I read all of Jeannine Hall Gailey’s Flare, Corona straight through, instead of a poem here and there, the way I read the book before I had time to consume it in one gulp.  My brain returned to the poem “This Is the Darkest Timeline” (you can read it here, and you can hear Jeannine Hall Gailey read it here).

She includes an explanatory note in the book:  “‘This is the Darkest Timeline’ refers to a common phrase in comic books and pop culture in which any multiverses and string theory result in one timeline that is the best and one that is the worst” (p. 101).

That comment, too, inspired me.  And so, this week, I wrote this poem, which might be finished, or it might need a last stanza to tie everything together.  I do realize I tend to overexplain in my creative writing.  So I am still letting it all percolate.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Timelines and Poems

I saw that timelessness which doesn’t
keep to one name, its old-young face
wrinkled and wizened as if already
spackled with a biography of years.
We held out our arms to receive
you. We trembled from the joy
and terror of what we pledged.

Luisa A. Igloria, Born

Judaism is a religion of the book and Siddurs are often central to a congregation’s identity. Unlike the Torah, everyone handles them week-in week-out. You use them at home. There was a lot of contention when the Reform one was updated a few years ago.

As well as various services, blessings and songs, contemporary Siddurs act as an anthology of readings – passages for reflection grouped around individual themes. I loved these, as I love all anthologies. And I was always struck by how diverse the Reform selections were – there were passages from Rabbis but also secular Jews – philosophers and writers, extracts from Anne Frank’s diaries. There were also poems – usually English translations of Hebrew or Yiddish originals. The selections seemed – and seem – an important way into a rich culture. I was always much more interested in them than the regular prayers.

The Liberal Siddur has readings of this kind too – they are integrated into the service and read aloud together. There is another difference, too: some of the passages are taken from texts not written by Jews.

Last week, for instance, we read the reflections on the theme of loneliness, which included two poems I am very familiar with from the secular world: Robert Frost’s ‘Acquainted with the Night’ and John Clare’s ‘I Am’. The poems were unattributed – you would have to go to the back to know who they were by.

All of which felt very right to me, even revelatory. These are very special poems. Robert Frost’s poem, in particular, has meant a great deal to me, so I’m glad it might be finding others. And service creates a moment in which poetry like this can be heard. When we talk about the declining role that poetry plays in our everyday lives, I think we have to talk about the loss of regular spaces in which people are in the right frame of mind to take it in.

For so much of our history, this has meant religion. It is why poetry is read at weddings and at funerals. I say this as someone who has very little faith in the traditional sense of the word – and who has very mixed feelings about the role of religion in public life.

Jeremy Wikeley, How Robert Frost and John Clare made their way into a Jewish prayer book

Happy bank holiday. I’m sure everyone is gathered around a BBQ waiting for this, or are you gathered round a radio listening to the last knockings of the football season? NB this post is being brought to you with half an eye on Arseblog live and the football coverage at the Grauniad. Also NB…other ways of amusing yourself/passing the time are available.

I can’t exactly remember why, but I think it may have something to do with a Mouthful of Air or The Verb podcast a while back where someone (possibly Paul Farley in the latter) mentioned John Clare, but it set me off thinking about how little I know about Clare or of his work. I’ve been wondering about him ever since I first read Brian Patten’s ‘A Fallible Lecture‘ from his collection, ‘Storm Damage‘.

Mat Riches, Butchers: A Clare and Present Danger.

May was a quick month, wasn’t it? The return of sunshine. Possibilities. Beginnings and endings. Petals everywhere.

I started two different posts in the last month, but I didn’t finish either of them. They were angry rants that I suspected no one would care much about. I hardly did, even though I care very much about the issues they addressed. (Hence, the anger.) I didn’t care about my rants, though. I found myself wanting to do other things with my time. So I did them.

I signed up for and began a poetry class with Bethany Reid. I first met Bethany nearly 40 years ago, when we were both students in Nelson Bentley‘s poetry workshop at the University of Washington. In our first session, she shared words her sister-in-law gave her when she was a young mother struggling to finish her dissertation and thinking about putting it aside until her children were in school:

“‘Nobody cares if you don’t finish your dissertation. But you will care.’”

Bethany continued: “Nobody will care if you don’t write your poems. But you will care.”

As I sat with those words, they opened up something in me that I didn’t fully realize I’d been keeping closed. […]

When I retired and people asked if I were going to do more writing, I was non-committal. I didn’t know if I wanted to. I didn’t know if that would be a good use of my time. I still don’t, but my thinking is shifting, and Bethany’s words are providing some kind of catalyst. “No one cares” is so freeing. If no one really cares about the poems I don’t write, I’m free to create whatever I want, however I want, just because I want to. I don’t have to justify the resources I give to it by thinking that the work will really matter to the larger world. I can write poems simply because I will care if I don’t. That’s reason enough when I have the resources I need to make writing a higher priority.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Come what May

Paul Simon’s hit, ‘The Boy in the Bubble’, has been playing in my head, partly because I watched a great documentary on him and the South African musicians he collaborated with on Graceland, and partly because of how May is panning out. It’s that refrain, “These are the days of miracle and wonder…” that sits in the allotment trees, that follows the big dog fox as it checks out my polytunnel, that questions the insane number of tomato seedlings I have. […]

While it’s hard not to be brought down by all that’s happening – old woman with dementia tasered by police, teenagers chased to their deaths, waiting lists, no GPs, no dentists, one in two young South Africans out of work, war in Sudan, I’m inclined to hope art is cleverer than money, politicians and warmongers and will continue to make its point with a photo, a poem, a drawing, a soaring tune or a lyric that won’t leave your head because it’s there, in the trees by the path, with the blackbird’s own miraculous sequence of notes.

Jackie Wills, A month of wonder

The hawk-and-girl poems from Good Bones had their own soundtrack, which I might call “Sad Americana” if I had to title it. I steeped my mind in songs from Bon Iver’s first album, For Emma, Forever Ago, Iron & Wine’s The Creek Drank the Cradle, and Gillian Welch’s Time (The Revelator) and Soul Journey. I remember listening to a specific playlist on my iPod when I was at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts on a residency in November 2011, singing along quietly to “Creature Fear” and “Over the Mountain” and “Miss Ohio” as I walked the grounds, watching the horses graze, and found a secluded spot to write. These songs make up the weather of Good Bones, the light and season of them—golden, but turning. Rusting the way autumn rusts.

Maggie Smith, On Writing & Music

The first time I heard Villa-Lobos’s Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5 was at a dance performance at Rutgers University in the late 1980s. A woman in a red velvet dress danced & tumbled through a large patch of grass laid out on stage.

Afterwards, the choreographer, whose name I’ve forgotten, said she wanted to combine a very plush natural thing (thick green grass) with a very plush man-made thing (velvet). I loved that idea. The dance and music were enthralling. I’ve been a Villa-Lobos fan ever since.

I thought of that performance while making this little box which uses red velvet curtains from a magazine photo shoot. I added leaves from an old apple-a-day calendar. The insect is a fishing fly, and I don’t know where the other scraps come from.That’s part of the fun of collage, minding your fair use of course.

I like that this box was a box of aspirin, which like music, helps with pain.

Sarah J Sloat, I empty my chest of the faraway

I don’t know how long I will be singing, but I know how much I missed it, and that it means a great deal to me to be able to do it again. Of all the things I’ve done, singing is one that keeps me firmly attentive to the present moment, and is perhaps one of the best ways of finding the joy that being fully in that moment can provide. And it still seems miraculous to me that, with only our bodies, we can take a collective breath in silence, and, the next moment, bring forth the extraordinary music that only a choir of human voices can create.

Beth Adams, I Couldn’t Keep from Singing

You will have just got off the train from London Bridge. It’s 1976. The end of a day studying Medicine which you begin to hate. And now back to Eltham Park, to digs you’ve loathed since you arrived (the well-meaning landlady is no substitute for your mother). Probably you walked past that little music shop somewhere near the station, spending minutes gazing at the red sunburst acoustic guitar in the window. If it doesn’t sound too weird, I can tell you – you’ll buy it and strum on it for 10 years or more. I can also confirm your fear: you fail your first-year exams. The Medical School allows you to leave . . . But listen, that sense of failure and lostness, it will pass.

Keep on with the music, though your playing is not up to much and your singing … well, the less said. But writing songs will eventually lead somewhere. And the illicit books! You are supposed to be reading the monumental Gray’s Anatomy, textbooks on Pharmacology, Biochemistry, all emptying like sand out of your head. You’ve yet to go into that charity shop and pick up a book called The Manifold and the One by Agnes Arber. You’ll be attracted by the philosophical-sounding title; in your growing unhappiness at Medical School you have a sense of becoming deep. The questions you ask don’t have easy answers. You have a notion this is called philosophy. Amidst the dissections, test tubes and bunsens, you’ll find consolation in Arber’s idea that life is an imperfect struggle of “the awry and the fragmentary”.

And those mawkish song lyrics you are writing? They will become more dense, exchanging singer-songwriting clichés for clichés you clumsily pick up from reading Wordsworth (you love the countryside), Sartre’s Nausea (you know you’re depressed) and Allan Watts’ The Wisdom of Insecurity (you are unsure of who you are). Up ahead, you take a year out to study English A level at an FE College. Your newly chosen philosophy degree gradually morphs into a literature one and with a good dose of Sartrean self-creativity (life being malleable, existence rather than essence) you edit the university’s poetry magazine, write stories, write plays, even act a little (fallen amongst theatricals!).

Martyn Crucefix, ‘Letter to my Younger Self’ – a third brief Royal Literary Fund talk

In the United States, literary journals are often the first to go when institutions cut budgets. That’s where my ire flows, not at vulnerable literary publications charging a nominal fee, fearing every issue might be their last. Here’s a partial list of lit journals—university and indie publications—that have recently closed or are on shaky ground:

Catapult (Funded by a daughter of one of the Koch brothers, the decision comes as part of an effort to “focus all resources on its core business of book publishing and its three imprints: Catapult, Counterpoint, and Soft Skull Press.”)

The Believer (This link takes you to a VICE article about how the new owners created a backdated page on The Believer directing readers to the best hook-up sites—and sex toys. That’s one way to make money. Happily, the original publisher, McSweeney’s, is in negotiations to buy back The Believer.)

• Alaska Quarterly Review (“COVID-19 and Alaska’s Budget deficit forced the cut of Alaska Quarterly Review’s funding from the University of Alaska Anchorage.”)

• The Antioch Review (The magazine remains on a “thoughtful” pause.)

• Tin House (Tin House has shifted “resources to Tin House’s other two divisions: Tin House Books and Tin House Workshop.)

• ASTRA Magazine (Done and done.)

Some journals, like the United Kingdom’s Granta, have wealthy and influential benefactors. According to Glassdoor, a Granta Publications Assistant Editor makes about $50,000 annually. I couldn’t find Granta’s annual budget but they have a robust masthead. This is ideal. If I were a wealthy philanthropist, I would do my civic duty by throwing a few hundred grand at the literary journal of my choice. I mean, editors absolutely deserve to be paid for their expertise. Most literary journals would welcome a generous benefactor’s support. I know Hypertext would.

Christine Maul Rice, Why We Charge Submission Fees

The tension between ideals and money is acute in U.S. higher ed. Where I work, as in many other places, we’re struggling to keep up humanities enrollments, although creative writing courses remain in demand. Partly that’s due to misinformation about credentialing. Even though W&L is a rare hybrid–a liberal arts college with a business school–English majors do slightly better getting jobs and places in grad school than the university average (96% for English majors!). Yet our majors are ribbed constantly for their apparently impractical choice. The stereotype drives me crazy. Studying literature in small, writing-intensive classes like the ones I have the pleasure of teaching–including analyzing the apparently arcane and useless art of poetry–gives students skills employers prize. That’s far from the only reason to study literature; the main one, for me, is that thinking about any kind of art makes life far richer and fulfilling. But actual riches? A relevant consideration, especially now that higher ed is a huge financial investment. (Bigglebottom costs $60K per year, my students decided.) And we don’t even know yet how AI writing tools are going to change the educational landscape. Teachers’ lives may well get much worse.

Beyond credentials: one reason creative writing is attractive to students is that they’re making things. Creation feels magical. English-paper-writing is creation, too, but not of a kind students particularly want to share with others or keep practicing after graduation. That’s a real problem for the field. Co-creating websites isn’t always going to be the answer to that problem–much less websites for fictional magical liberal arts colleges–but my students’ delight in the process is a lesson to me.

Lesley Wheeler, The magic of making things

I’m absolutely delighted to have Poetry as Spellcasting in my hands! I’m so grateful to editors Tamiko Beyer, Lisbeth White, and Destiny Hemphill for including me in this gorgeous anthology, and for helping my essay become more fully realized, more deeply itself.

And while I haven’t finished the book yet, I think the power of the writing is enabling precisely that sort of transformation, helping us perceive potential and cast off constraints so that we can all be more gloriously ourselves and make the world a more beautiful and just place to exist. Just take a look at the opening of the first poem of the collection, “Awakening of Stones: Hypothesis/Central Argument” by Lisbeth White:

In the new mythology, you are always whole.
If and when you fracture, it is not apart.
Apart does not exist here.

You will know that upon entry.
You will know each fissure as it breaks open your life.
You will know the cracked edges of your splendor.

I hope you will consider buying (or borrowing!) a copy and also joining us for the virtual launch on Wednesday, May 24th, 8 PM ET, featuring Destiny Hemphill, Lisbeth White, Tamiko Beyer, Amir Rabiyah, Ching-In Chen, Lou Flores, yours truly, Sun Yung Shin, and Tatiana Figueroa Ramirez.

Hyejung Kook [no title]

Out into primordial: fairy mounds submerged and fern overtaking. Ghosts here, but good ones. Except for the ticks it’s oasis.

Dumuzi writes me all the time, though I told him not to when Kurgarra and Galatur dragged him away. It didn’t have to go down that way. Fruits of choice and all that.

Gmail doesn’t let you block people, you know? Just mark as trash.

A swallow dives. Yeah, yeah, I say. A thrush calls, then a daylight owl. Obviously, I answer.

JJS, Inanna Gets Letters

At the moment I’ve been working on a number of poems. This first one was prompted by a visit to some friends who have foxes living in their garden. They live in London. As I was leaving the phrase the fox garden came into my head and I spent the next seven days ruminating on it. When I sat down to write I got the bare bones down but it took another two weeks to get this serviceable draft right.

Paul Tobin, THE FOX GARDEN

Sometimes, from here, you can see the Isle of Man on the horizon. When you can, it’s a mirage: if the conditions are just right, the atmosphere refracts the light, making the distant island (which lies way beyond the visible horizon) appear surprisingly close. You can see its principal hills spread out from left to right. I’ve never caught it in the act of appearing or vanishing, though, although, the other evening, conditions were such that you could only see the tops of its hills poking above the milky obscurity. One can see how myths arose of magic islands that appear and vanish and, scanning the horizon to see if you can see Man from Silecroft, it’s easy to start doubting the science that tells you that what you’re witnessing is no more than an atmospheric effect.

Dominic Rivron, Silecroft

summer sea
all that glitters
is not cold

Jim Young [no title]

Because my workplace office is now in the library, however, I have been picking up the occasional, usually contemporary, novel that appears on the library’s New Acquisitions display. This is where I found R.F. Kuang’s book Babel, or The Necessity of Violence: An Arcane History of the Oxford Translator’s Revolution. Imagine an alternative Dickensian-era Britain, with the underlying power struggles between education and political power as per Pullman’s His Dark Materials series, and the almost-believable otherworldliness (and creative footnotes) of Susanna Clarke’s fiction…with the late-adolescent outsiders who bond over knowledge that cements the Harry Potter books…and add some genuinely academic background on linguistics and etymology.

That’s about as close as I can describe Babel by means of other books, but what I really enjoyed about the novel is the way it got me thinking about how dismayingly interconnected education and scholarly pursuits are with power structures such as governments, politics, wealth, and colonialism. Kuang deftly shows her readers how the focus on knowledge that her characters love and possess talent for inevitably leads to a narrowness in their perspectives that differs almost dangerously from an uneducated ignorance. They are good young people, but they operate as elites in a fundamentally callous system. The system either corrupts or smothers. The “fun” part of her world construct is that power operates on the use of words: on languages and their etymologies, which are magical enhancements.

But of course, power does hinge on the use of words, doesn’t it?

Ann E. Michael, Novels & words

For a while now, I’ve been lamenting that I haven’t had the chance to incorporate poems into my classes. My AP Language and Composition classes and Humanities class both suffered this year with a dearth of poems. Poetry isn’t assessed and is marginalized in many of our schools’ curricula. I suspect that this may be the case for others out there, and maybe not just English or Humanities teachers alone. If you’re a teacher of science, maths, computer science, social studies, English, business, and you want to include more poems but are not sure how to do it or where to start, what can you do?

Well, thinking about next year and changes I’d like to make to my English and Humanities classes, I recently had an idea: what if I get generative AI to show me poems that all make arguments? That way, my AP Language and Composition students can get what they need & can read more poems. What if I can get generative AI to curate poems based on units of study around the history of the U.S. and the struggle for equality? That way, my Humanities students can integrate their learning with a study of poetry. If generative AI can be used to intentionally create curricular windows into the genre I love and which is marginalized, I can also then intentionally embed poetry-reading pedagogies as I go throughout the year!

Scot Slaby, AI + Curriculum + Poems = A Powerful Combo

I thought I’d share the process of creating a poem, the draft of which is below. 

I came across John Masefield’s poem Cargo (which is below, also) and, as I sometimes do, ran it through a number of languages in Google Translate. I imagined it was something like how story or language is transmuted through various cultures as a cultural meme travels.

Then I took the raw data translation (below, 2nd) and revised it, mixing in some local and contemporary language (the Starbucks’ drink) and thought about a comment I’d made to a friend about poems as being connection machines, how in “the dance of connection, who leads?” so then I added that in, then abstracted that line a bit, making it more oblique. 

Gary Barwin, On Poem Writing with Google Translate and One Eye Closed

Don’t write just
the good ones —
write them all,
the old monk told
the poet.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (483)

For every raised voice that claims to have read a Wordsworth or a Rumi (no, these days is it Darwish and Rupi), there are a hundred that cannot name two contemporary poets. Not even one from their own country. What those wasting, shrivelling, screaming poets need, as they talk with the moon and measure the rhyme of a sea they have never seen, are cheerleaders. People who aren’t poets. People who don’t care if anyone else reads a poem or cares. People who will hype a poem, a verse, a line, a poet. Did I say that in the plural? No, a poet who thinks she is a metaphor for something yet to be known, who shuffles reality and shade, dealing cards with no hope to win or lose, that poet needs just one cheerleader. Just one. So that the morning starts with kindness. So that the afternoon sky stays up where it should be, bearing its sun. So that the night will fill itself with words like fireflies, a suggestion of light and motion that rejects being bound to a page. Think of it. A poet somewhere. A poem somewhere. Both birthed in anonymity. Both complete just from being. Just from writing. Still needing to be read. Still hoping to be read. The idea of a fruit, still waiting on a bee.

unwrapping its sky —
                                 one by one
the night shows off its stars

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Poets being poets

Rather than go back to writing, I thought I’d check emails and twitter for messages. No emails – excellent. No messages on twitter either – excellent again.

Then suddenly I saw a thread about new literary awards sponsored by a coffee shop chain. OK, So-What Stuff. Anyone who has read this blog for long knows I think the benefits of these things tend to be, in most cases, over-rated.

Then I noticed that poets were getting wonderfully grumpy because the new awards had excluded poetry. Apparently, according to the organisers, who would presumably be involved in the handing out of the money and therefore could be said to be entitled to an opinion, poetry wasn’t worth bothering with. This had provoked a river, a veritable torrent, as Frankie Howerd once might have said, of abuse from slighted poets.

It turned into the best bit of a varied morning. One poet I’d never heard of but who seemed to be assuming some kind of authority on the matter, claimed the decision of the organisers had undermined his entire art form. Marvellous.

Another called for all poets everywhere to block the coffee shop chain until the organisers changed their minds. Even more marvellous. I imagined marching protests in the street, poets holding placards maybe emblazoned with haiku, poets wearing T-shirts with angry slogans, poets shouting cross poems at anyone trying to go through the door, opening GoFundMe pages to cover legal costs, printing costs, and the price of coffees purchased at rival chains. The protests could spread across the country town by town, city by city, year by year.

Bob Mee, A MARVELLOUS MORNING: CROSS POETS, WINDOW CLEANERS AND JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES

Been late on sharing news of some of my former students: First, there’s N.K. Bailey, a PNW poet, who published a chapbook, A Collection of Homes with Bottlecap Press. Bailey is a dynamic poet whose work is intimate and imaginative. Also, I’m proud to have worked with Sarianna Quarne last fall on her honors creative thesis, the poems of which are featured in her self-published chapbook, Church Confessional Booth, which can be read for free on her site. Quarne’s work often uses the image as a jumping off point for charged, lyric meditations. Also, also: I’m happy to share that I recently had an essay of mine published in Bert Meyers: On the Life and Work of an American Master which is part of The Unsung Masters Series from Pleiades Press. I’ve written about Bert Meyers for a number of years on the Influence. Glad to have worked out this memory and experience with Meyers’ work! Thank you to Dana Levin and Adele Elise Williams for the opportunity and for being great to work with!

José Angel Araguz, poet as instagram photo dump

I was interested to see these poems because I firmly believe it is wrong for anyone to be stateless. [Mona] Kareem’s family belongs to an Arab minority denied citizenship when Kuwait became independent. Her family is classed as illegal, and therefore denied employment, education, and welfare. Despite this, her father is an erudite man. In her early twenties, Kareem went to America to study. She was not allowed back into Kuwait, so she was forced to take asylum in the USA, where she eventually gained citizenship. The suffering her family have endured is appalling. Out of this suffering, she writes. However, these poems are life-affirming, and perhaps a way for her to be present in Kuwait with her family, if only in her imagination.

Her poems are strongly visual and metaphorical. Everything is precarious and temporary. In ‘Perdition’, a series of images conjures up different losses. These images often yoke together beauty and pain: ‘the night is strangled / by a choker of stars’ is one example. The images are often surreal: Roses jump to their death/ from the rails of my bed/ as my mother/ tries to tuck me into the desert of life’. This poem is a strong opening to the book.

Angela Topping, I Will Not Fold These Maps

The joys of reviewing translations from languages one less-than-half knows are boundless. This is especially the case when the originals are by a poet I’d never heard of before; but in the case of Ivano Fermini I expect I won’t be alone in that ignorance. In fact, so little is known about Fermini that I had a moment wondering if he might be an obscure member of Robert Sheppard’s European Union of Imagined Authors, but no, he’s real enough.

On the plus side, my sketchy Italian and the lack of biographical information meant that I approached The River Which Sleep Has Told Me with an open mind. Ian Seed includes a helpful interview with Milo de Angelis, Fermini’s one-time friend and editor as a kind of preface. I was taken particularly by the statement that for Fermini, poetry was ‘a question of naming things and each time finding the right word, which is to treat each individual thing with its own unique name, that which entreats us and lies beneath dozens of other banal words, and which demands to be said with millimetric precision.’

This drive away from treating things as members of classes and towards avoiding the predictable goes some way towards making sense of the formidable disjunction that typifies Fermini’s use of language. This is easier to trace thanks to the facing-page Italian/English text, which Seed consistently mirrors in his translations. This formal procedure allows for disjunction within and across lines, with each line a gnomic utterance within a set of similar riddles.

Billy Mills, Three Translations: A Review

Oh lover, what a word,
what a world, this gray waiting.
I kept your photo in a bottle of mezcal,
touched my eyes until they blistered,
the dark liquid waking me up
in a stolen cup, white sand in my mouth

Charlotte Hamrick, You lied to me

I’m both struck and charmed by the slow progressions of lyric observation and philosophical inquiry throughout “Canadian-born poet based in Scotland” Alycia Pirmohamed’s full-length poetry debut, Another Way to Split Water (Portland OR: YesYes Books/Edinburgh: Polygon Books, 2022). “I see the wind pull down the tautness / of trees and the swans at the lagoon part / through the wreckage.” she writes, as part of the poem “MEDITATION WHILE PLAITING MY HAIR,” “Each one is another translation for love / if love was more vessel than loose thread.” There is such a tone and tenor to each word; her craft is obvious, but managed in a way that simultaneously suggest an ease, even as the poems themselves are constantly seeking answers, seeking ground, across great distances of uncertainty and difficulty. “Yes, I desire knowledge,” she writes, as part of “AFTER THE HOUSE OF WISDOM,” “whether physical or moral or spiritual. / This kind of longing is a pattern embossed / on my skin.” It is these same patterns, perhaps, that stretch out across the page into her lyric, attempting to articulate what is otherwise unspoken.

rob mclennan, Alycia Pirmohamed, Another Way to Split Water

Anthony Wilson’s sixth collection, The Wind and the Rain, is due out from Blue Diode Press next month. I was delighted to be asked to provide an endorsement for this excellent book. It reads as follows…

Throughout The Wind and The Rain, Anthony Wilson walks the tightrope of simplicity. He peels off layers of language, paring it back to its core, searching for the means to express the intensity of grief. In his skilled hands, less becomes more.

Matthew Stewart, Anthony Wilson’s The Wind and the Rain.

“Survived By” is subtitled “A Memoir in Verse and Other Poems” and dedicated to the poet’s father Terry R Wells (1945-2020). It’s a personal journey through a daughter’s reactions to her father being diagnosed with terminal cancer and what she learnt by surviving her father’s death, written with the aim of helping others. […]

Thankfully it’s not a self-help manual. […] The vocabulary is conversational, there are no attempts to dress up what’s happening in pretty metaphors or oblique messaging. “Survived By” is direct and concerned with authenticity, a human seeking compassion.

Emma Lee, “Survived By” Anne Marie Wells (Curious Corvid Publishing) – book review

I recently delivered a writing workshop at The Adelaide City Library aimed at generating new material and drafting a piece of writing using an object or piece of clothing as a prompt. I really love presenting this workshop, and am always amazed at the diversity of work produced.

Afterwards, someone asked me how they might develop their work and get better at writing poetry. They were new to poetry, didn’t plan on going to university to study but wanted to work at writing and editing poetry. I realised that I didn’t have a clear answer, so went away, thought about it and emailed them my suggestions few days later […]

After I wrote this list I was clearing out some papers when I came across an old printout from Writers SA titled Six Top Tips for Writers. The tips were almost identical to the list I’d come up with: Read, Join (a group), Learn, Practise, Enter (writing comps), Connect (with the writing community).

Caroline Reid, Want to get better at writing poetry?

I’ve always been an artist and writer who embraced and grew within the online community. There was a before time, when I scribbled and banged out bad poems on a word processor and sometimes submitted to journals via snail mail and mostly was rejected. But after 2001 or so, my identity as a creative developed entirely in the virtual world. First in online journals and listservs, later in blogs and journals like this one. It all existed long before facebook (and way long before Instagram, which I did not even join until 2017). Sure I did readings, and took MFA classes, and occasionally published in print, but the center of my creative existence was still overwhelmingly online. 

And it was good for a while. I felt like people saw the fruits of my work and I saw theirs (even this feels like its harder..I see the same posts and lots of ads, but not even a 10th of the people I follow.). Now the silence that meets dumb facebook posts about pop culture or randomness, my cat photos and lunch photos, also meets creative work. Resoundingly and absolutely. And yet, my generation knows better than everyone that the internet is not the real world, and yet it’s hard not to feel like it is… I’ve noticed a disconnect going back to the pandemic, and granted, it may have had much to do with that. I felt its undertow in 2021 and 2022. I feel it more now. Or it bothers me more now.

Weirder ad-heavy algorithms, general disengagement from the internet and social media?  Who knows..but it’s rough and I am trying to untangle my feelings of validity from it nevertheless…

Kristy Bowen, creativity and invisibility

I’ve been thinking about how poets end their poems, and particularly about poems that end in ways that delight, surprise, and lead us to deeper questions.

Here’s Charles Olson on finding the end of a poem: “You wave the first word. And the whole thing follows. But—You follow it. With a dog at your heels, a crocodile about to eat you at the end, and you with your pack on your back trying to catch a butterfly.”

And now, a selection of poems with surprising, striking endings.

Maya C. Popa, Wonder Wednesday: Poetic Endings

In a small diversion that isn’t as devious as it first appeared, I’ve been reading this essay from my friend and fellow geopoetician, the ethnologist and activist Mairi McFadye, https://www.mairimcfadyen.scot/fragile-correspondence/2023/essay dealing with the clearances and the consequences of the community buyout of Abriachan Forest. She talks about how the loss of language leads to the loss of local knowledge, the exploitation and degradation of the land, and in this case, the removal of the local people. It’s a wonderful essay, raising many of the issues and preoccupations that inform my poetry, and I can’t recommend it warmly enough.

But the point I’m working towards is that the Lang Toon doesn’t really have those problems. On the contrary, throughout its very long history, people have been brought here to serve whatever needs the ruling classes felt were important at the time, and abandoned. These houses were built for the managers of the mines, all gone, and later of the electrical industry, all gone, and now we are mostly a commuter town with people living here and working in Glasgow or East Kilbride. This too has consequences for land use, local knowledge, and community building, and though I feel there are grounds for optimism, I realise there are a lot assumptions I’m going to have to unpick as I go into the next poems, the next book.

Elizabeth Rimmer, Light and Airy

The Quote of the Week:

“The things you think are the disasters in your life are not disasters really. Almost anything can be turned around: out of every ditch, a path, if you can only see it”

Hilary Mantel.

Every week when I set my planner up, I try to find myself a motivational quote to look at; something to keep me going when I feel panicked and anxious, which always happens at some point during the week. I turn to HM quite often. This one, especially so because, while I’m writing I am weaving the story of myself, my land ancestors, the voices of people who are long gone, into the work. I want to know that the path is there, that I am finding the path for them, as much as for me. The bad things that happened to us, the bad things we did, the disasters that befell us, there was a path in there. I looked for it, and I found it.

Wendy Pratt, Never regret anything, because at one time it was exactly what you wanted.

Maybe an anonymous text taking root in the reader’s imagination is an even greater form of validation when it comes to expressive writing? Maybe the participants know this instinctively, when they hand over their texts thinking they’ve done a good job of conveying their experience to another human being? Or maybe not thinking this – not processing the actions on a conscious level – just given the opportunity to use words to communicate the way we use a knife to whittle as stick into a shape and then hold it up, without ambition, and say: do you see a horse, too?

There’s a strange Norwegian children’s song: (what follows is a trot, not an attempt at translation)

Look at my dress
It’s as red as the rose
Everything I own is as red as this
It’s because I love all that is red
And because the postman is my friend

Then we are told to look at the blue dress, because the seamen is her friend. And so it goes.

And I say: Look! This thing I am doing, jumping from a thought, to a symbol, to another person, to you – it binds everything together.

So very like a dance we can do together, even when we are physically so far apart.

Today is the first day of the new everyday. I am not and will not be dancing by myself.

Ren Powell, Look at My Dress

Someone snapped the light switch, and suddenly it’s summer.  Suddenly people are having fun.  

The question mark of an existential figure that walked the streets alone, toting laptop and phone — he’s been replaced by friends and families walking in public and laughing with glee, spilling onto streets eating and drinking.  

They’re living plush as the young grass, right now.  Something we always knew but forgot, and had to go back to origins to retrieve.  

Maybe this bright green exuberance will become parched, and our wandering techie will go back to being malcontent –  “I hate the sun!”  

But for a moment on Memorial Day weekend, Ezekiel has his day, in all his doubleness: All flesh is grass, all its goodness like flowers of the field.  

Dead soldiers had lives as frail as grass.  At the same time, all that grass – all that goodness – what splendor!

Jill Pearlman, Ezekiel Does Memorial Day

Most days
I forget.
Mind busied
with counting
how many meetings
are scheduled.

Did I make room
in the car
for my son’s double bass,
is there milk
in the house
for tomorrow’s cereal?

But then
your voice knocks
and my heart wakes,
remembering —
being alive
is revelation.

Rachel Barenblat, Revelation

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, 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, subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader, or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack. This week: writing and landscape, poems haunted by death, poetry as prayer, and more… a bit more. This is a shorter than usual edition, due I suppose to the start of summer vacations and/or immersion in that too-long-postponed writing project. Regardless, enjoy!


To bite down on the very thing itself
that gives shape to our sounds, voice
to our breath? Holding the idiom close
one would think what we’d say was so
powerful, it required warding off in a
deliberate act of self-harm—and yet
the bite is most often accidental. O
Friend, my wish: please let it shape
every syllable, every blessing and chant […]

Lori Witzel, Biting one’s tongue / Che le sa

This is a time of writing. I wonder how I will look back on this time of early mornings at my desk, moving through the book at pace, pouring myself into it as if I was trying to fill a well with myself. This is how it was with my last poetry collection too: an unstoppering of myself, a release of all the animal thoughts in my head that have been sitting caged for years, waiting for their freedom. It is both exhilarating and exhausting. So much of memoir writing, and this is a memoir of sorts, is about excavation of self and I find myself in a strange position of actively grieving my dad whilst capturing that grief on the page and linking it in and in and in to a sense of belonging, or a lack of a sense of belonging. I once visited Wharram Percy, an abandoned medieval village near Malton. The place had a magical feel about it, and by that I don’t mean Disney magic, I mean something earthy and unseen, as if the lives of the people who had lived there flickered under the ground, a turf fire never quite going out. It was beautiful: the little lake with ducks bobbing, the roofless church, the little graveyard and the footprints of houses, the paths you could walk where the last inhabitants had walked. Seen from above, on google earth, it’s easy to see the village laid out. But up close it is raised mounds, fields with those typical medieval plough lines still embedded in the ground, trees, water. It doesn’t really look like a village. You have to bring it back with your imagination, you have to rise above the ground to see the impressions. This is what it feels like to write this book. This is how it feels right now to walk through the chapters, placing a house here, a field here, a lake here, a bog, a fen, a marsh here. I place wolves at on end and the sea at the other. If the landscape is an archive of ourselves and itself, then these are the scars we leave on it and in it.

Wendy Pratt, The Shells of Ourselves Left Behind

Last night, I considered how solo walking, especially at night (again I’m aware of my positional privilege in this) is not like being in a bell jar but a diving bell, carrying your own environment with you yet having a connection to the outside—the air tube. It’s ultimately about the self and our connection and individuation from the world. Is it “I am because my little world knows me?” or “I know the world and so I know myself?” Mark Strand: “In a field/I am the absence/of field./…/ We all have reasons/for moving./I move/to keep things whole.” We send out feelers, signals. We echolocate. It’s psy(e)chogeography. We sense the shape of our inner landscape by travelling through the one surrounding us. 

Walking with my dog expands this landscape. I think about how he echolocates, what sense of the world and himself he might experience, how we experience each other—a kind of conceptual leash between us, a dog-human umbilical cord. At night, I walk Happy without a leash so our connection, like Philip Pullman’s daemons in The Golden Compass, is entirely relational, an invisible attractive force between us. We walk in parallel yet always with one eye on the other.  

I quoted Mary Ruefle’s line about the creation of the lyric poem, “the moon was witness to the event and…the event was witness to the moon.” That’s like my dog and me. The world and me. And, walking while wearing headphones, the beginning and end of a Möbius strip made of music, story and imagination. A strange loupe. 

Gary Barwin, The Selected Walks

I was flicking once again through the Down At The Santa Fe Depot anthology of more than fifty years ago when I settled to read the calm, confident poems provided by DeWayne Rail, who was then a young teacher in his mid-twenties. […]

He creates/ recreates the sense of place, or more accurately, of an isolated farming family battling to scrape some kind of living against the odds. It made me think of how much our upbringing roots our poetry, of how far we really travel. Although I have lived all my life in the English Midlands, as have most of my ancestors these last three or four hundred years, my working life was carried out on the move, which offered another perspective, of what it is like for those whose life consists of leaving, of going, of shifting landscapes, of life among strangers with their own histories.

For many years it was this life on the move that seemed to dominate my work but as I get older I find the sense of a home, of the ghosts of childhood and of a more distant past before I was here, comes to the surface more often, if only to provide a balance. Perhaps this is why renewing my acquaintance with the poems I have by DeWayne Rail has been so fulfilling – and has led me to find out more about him.

He remained in Fresno, teaching at the city college for thirty years, writing stories, poems, non-fiction, enjoying his family, with interesting in birding, gardening, chess, and playing the guitar. It sounds like a life quietly, honestly, fulfilled.

Bob Mee, OF DeWAYNE RAIL (1944-2021)

Taking care of myself is taking care of the writer in me. And as I talk to friends, walk, run, even watch TV, I’m thinking and experiencing. I’m making connections. I’m not at my computer and I may not even write anything down (in my notebook or my phone), but thinking is part of the writing process. Yes, thinking counts. Inspiration can strike at the unlikeliest of times.

Earlier this year I moderated a book event for Lee Martin in support of his beautiful new novel, The Glassmaker’s Wife. He said something about research tricking you into thinking that you’re actually writing, when really all of that work is “pre-writing.” But I’m all about the pre-writing. It’s an essential part of the writing process. It counts. We’re all filling the tank with gas, then revving the engine a little, before we speed off.

Maggie Smith, Pep Talk

I’ve had some publications out over the past months. One I’d like to mention is Bluestem, which published some of my little box poems this month. I make these with small pharma, cosmetic, cough drop and light bulb boxes. And whatever else is at hand. With these, I like working with the idea of the interior landscape. A kind of revelation. It remains hard for me to give up language and do pure wordless collage. Have I done it? I don’t think so.

I was lucky to have someone ask to buy the one pictured, as well as another one with the same short text:

the window was open
and the poem left slightly ajar

This text is one of my favorites because I like the idea of the poem being left slightly ajar for something beyond words to come in, i.e. visual poetry. At the same time, a poem left ajar also makes me think of the reader entering with her own memories, associations and point of view. I will make more of these.

Sarah J. Sloat, Interior Landscapes

In retrospect, what felt best: thoughtful reviews such as those quoted here, and private notes that affirmed the book’s success at reaching people. Riding the small press bestsellers list for months was awesome. Holding the book in my hands and knowing I did well by its ambitions. I didn’t achieve everything I fantasized about–no top venue reviews, and many of my applications for events and post-publication prizes struck out–but so it goes for everyone. There will be a next time. I’m very slowly building toward a book in a similar hybrid mode with the working title Haunted Modernism (that’s the concept, anyway–the title is probably too common). I’m revising a second novel. And my sixth poetry collection, Mycocosmic, is already contracted for publication with Tupelo in winter 2025. Meanwhile, it feels good to be heading into a summer of writing and revision–challenging activities but quiet ones.

Yet I’m aware that I still owe plenty to Poetry’s Possible Worlds. Publishing industry energy is all about the three months after a book appears, but the whole point of a book, I think, is that it lasts, and with some luck holds up over time. A slow burn is exciting in its own way. I will keep stoking its little fire, because what I want more than anything is for the book to appear on the radar of people who might enjoy it.

Lesley Wheeler, Voyaging to and through Poetry’s Possible Worlds

The Taste of Steel / The Smell of Snow, containing poems by Pia Tafdrup originally published in 2014 and 2016 and translated by David McDuff, was published by Bloodaxe Books last year. The Tafdrup/McDuff/Bloodaxe collaboration goes back more than 10 years now. The Danish poet’s work inclines to themed series of collections – The Salamander Quartet appeared between 2002 and 2012. The current volume presents in English the first two collections of another planned quartet of books, this time focusing on the human senses. In fact, the ‘taste’ book here feels much less conscious of its own thematic focus than the ‘smell’ one, not necessarily to the latter’s advantage. There is often something willed, rather laboured, about some of the work included here, which is most disappointing given Tafdrup’s earlier books. But her curiosity about the world remains engaging, her poems are observant of others, often self-deprecating, her concerns are admirable (environmental, the world’s violence), plus there are several fine pieces on desire and female sexuality. […]

In both collections, Tafdrup gathers poems into brief, titled sections of about half a dozen poems each and the ‘War’ section extrapolates the sense of personal conflict and loss to more global/political concerns. ‘The darkness machine’ opens plainly, if irrefutably, with the sentiment that a child “should be playing, not / struck in the back by a bullet”. The point is made more powerfully (because less directly) in ‘Spring’s grave’ with its repeated pleas to “send small coffins”. ‘View from space’ adopts the even more remote perspective of the Cassini space probe’s view of the planet, but also ends with plainspoken directness: “that’s where we ceaselessly produce / more weapons, practise battle tactics, / turn our everyday lives into a night of hell”. The concluding genitive phrase makes me wonder about the quality of the translation; I have neither Danish, nor the original in front of me, but does Tafdrup really use such a cliché?

Martyn Crucefix, Pia Tafdrup: recent poems from Bloodaxe Books

I was going to write about metaphors. And the language of cancer. About cancer that is an inside job. Radical little cells just wanting to live.

When I touch my breast, I know this knot of cells isn’t the fault of something I ate, or inhaled, or thought. It’s not a manifestation of unresolved anger. It’s a slip-up in cell division. This, too, is nature. And nature is not our romantic notions of symmetry and dividing lines between the good and the evil. Trees are uprooted in gale winds. Bacteria hitch a ride in a flea, on a rodent, on a boat to land on a pier and ultimately all-but wipe out a human culture. Life happens. Sometimes it is not to our advantage. That isn’t the same thing as evil. That – this – is nature.

B. told me last Christmas that she didn’t believe in silver linings. I understood that to mean she didn’t believe we’re handed something nice in a kind of yin-yang balancing of good and bad as comfort or recompense. She did believe in the “this, too” and in choosing to hold everything – and not in spite.

My junior high art teacher told me that there are no true lines in nature. We impose those in our imaginations.

And I see now that painting is just another form of storytelling.

I am not sure how I want to talk about cancer. But I am not going to offended by anyone using language and imagery that differs from mine. Understanding other people’s perspectives is everyone’s responsibility. Discussions should be everyone’s little sandbox for joyful exploring. Build a castle. Knock it down. Start again.

Life is not a book that comes with an answer key in the back.

Ren Powell, How to Metaphor

The beautiful thing about keeping a searchable blog or journal, either online or offline, is that I not only rediscover my past poems, but I also see how cyclical my despair is.  I came across a post from 2013 with this nugget:  “I can’t remember when I last wrote a poem, although I could easily look it up. It’s probably not as long as I think.

But more importantly, I can’t remember when I last felt like a poet. When did I last make interesting connections of unusual links that would make a good poem?”

It is good to remember that my brain has been making those links, even when I am not conscious of the process.  It is good to remember that I’ve felt like a failed poet before, often just before the times when I would go on to have creative bursts.

I shouldn’t be surprised that I haven’t written many poems lately.  I want to remember the writing that I have been doing:  blogging almost every day and doing a variety of writing tasks for the 6 graduate classes I’ve been taking–not 6 hours of graduate classes, but 6 classes.

I have a bit of a break this summer, so let me do some strategizing to reclaim my poet self, to let the poems in my brain make the ascension from my brain onto the page.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Letting Our Poems Ascend from Our Brains

I have two poems from my new chapbook Love and Stones on New Writing, an online project showcasing new writing from alumni, staff and students from the University of East Anglia (where I completed my MA in Creative Writing in 1997). I’d recommend that you read the poems on a laptop or similar, if possible, rather than a mobile phone in order to see my intended line breaks, particularly of my sunflower poem.

My first poem ‘In Lockdown, Solitude Becomes a Flying Lover’ was inspired by a postcard of the painting ‘Over the Town’ by Marc Chagall, and refers to the first lockdown in 2020 when my solitary writing life was interrupted by my family returning home.

The second poem ‘sunflowers exist, sunflowers exist’ was written during the early days of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine when I saw a widely shared clip of a Ukrainian woman telling Russian soldiers to leave her country and offering them sunflower seeds “so that sunflowers will grow when you all lie down here.” This poem is after the book-length poem Alphabet by Inger Christensen, translated by Susanna Nied.

Josephine Corcoran, Two poems from ‘Love and Stones’ at New Writing (UEA)

The class begins Friday, May 26 — two classes, sort of — one on-ground, 3:30-5:00 (at my house; there are a couple seats left), and one on-line, 11:30-1:00 (plenty of room).

The title is “Your Memorable Poem.” My theme is inspired by a friend who, looking at a poem by Naomi Shihab Nye, said, “I could never write a poem like that.” Of course it’s not easy (if it were, then we wouldn’t need NSN), but I think you could. The way to begin is to look very closely at how the poem is made, not to “slice and dice it,” or “master it,” but to sit with the poem, as if interviewing it, or sharing a meal. What did this poet do, in order to create this poem’s effect on us? We’ll have a little time to write, and time to offer feedback to each other.

Bethany Reid, Upcoming Poetry Class

The cover image of Harry Clifton’s Gone Self Storm is Mark Tracey’s beautiful black and white photograph of Howe Strand, which shows a ruined building silhouetted between the running sea and the sky. The poems themselves are haunted by death. Parts One and Three are dedicated to the memory of dead women, the first being the speaker’s mother or stepmother. Part Two begins with a short sequence set in the Glasnevin cemetery, and most of its poems are elegies or addresses to the dead. What’s really distinctive, though, is not this elegiac subject matter but the way ideas of change and disintegration have been absorbed into its style and expressive procedures.  Many of the poems slide like dreams between poles of fragmentary but extremely sharply focused distinctness on the one hand and uncertainty on the other. This is clearly deliberate, suggesting how ungraspable things become as they slip into the past. Moreover, the speaker’s uncertainty about things surrounding him extends to uncertainty about himself.

Edmund Prestwich, Harry Clifton, Gone Self Storm – review

the trumpet player
leans in and whispers
into my ear
a poem about death

Jason Crane, poem: (untitled)

My debut essay collection is coming out in November, and when I began writing it, it was to be a memoir about my relationship to the loss of my father through the lens of food. It has morphed and changed many times in the intervening years (and I will write about that process, too), and now it also includes my life as a mother to my children, as well as my relationship to my mother and her death. I didn’t expect that when I started, just like I didn’t, for a long time, expect that I would miss my mother when she died. That sounds horrible, I know. But she’d want me to tell you that, too. She was big on honesty and acceptance and done hiding behind alcohol or shame. We had a rough time for a long time. I understand now, in a way that I couldn’t when I was younger, that she had a much rougher time inside her addiction–a place where you are ultimately very much alone.

Sheila Squillante, Our Lady of the Artichoke

The book is marked by a “mollusk dawn” of self-awareness, a tectonic paradigm shift, a reevaluating and resetting the axis of meaning or towards gelling into meaning. And (spoiler alert) a finding of core truths in the value of family and of love.

We are witness to [Diana Hope] Tegenkamp as she realizes the other side of the binaries as on p. 14—

Her mother mouthing the words in a choir as instructed is recast wider, “mouth moving,/making its own silence” with “Song, and cries/held in”, meditating on the implications of not being heard, at an individual level or the level of Highway of Tears. A mandated silence numbs. If you are closed to your grief, you are also closed to your joy and your history.

Pearl Pirie, Girl Running review

In the old days, the dead were not 
            immediately escorted to a final 
resting place in the earth, nor lifted
            onto a funeral pyre. Their hair
was oiled and dipped in the fragrance 
            of orange groves, their faces
turned toward the high-shelved
            mountains where they would perch
in rows like figured birds— No longer on 
            the ground terraced by the farmer’s 
plow but not yet in the canopy of the gods, 
            wreathed with smoke they presided  
at the house-front wrapped in blankets. 
            Coming and going, you’d feel 
it was you they held vigil for; you 
            they couldn’t yet bear to leave. 

Luisa A. Igloria, Vigil

It just happened that this week I have been editing and laying out three chapbooks that are appropriative in nature. One is Catharine Bramkamp’s Unconscious Words, poems plucked and molded from bestselling novels from the past decade or so like Game of Thrones and Gone Girl. The other is Colleen Alles’ collection of poems found in Jane Eyre, Reader to Tell You All.  The third is Erika Lutzner’s chapbook of centos Think of a Have Made of Glass, All the Bees, Theoretically At Least, amazing centos created from the lines of older and newer contemporary poets like Plath and Sexton and, blushing, even me. I am a fan of these kinds of poems–centos and blackouts and related forms.  Appropriated and re-worked texts. I have written my own (from Plath) and published quite a lot of chapbooks through the dgp series that include them. Obviously, as a collage artist, most art feels like appropriation in some way (though you should always credit your sources and be honest about your process, especially in writing.)

And of course, AI springs to mind, especially as I embark on training for the project I’ve recently signed on to that is supposedly supposed to help AI be a better poet. Exciting and slightly horrifying. Because AI is all appropriation (the bad kind with no credit, which complicates things.)  The very worst a bot could do would be to go off and start penning centos, stealing lines of poetry, but I am not sure even this is something a bot could do well without dissolving into chaos.

Kristy Bowen, plunder and reveal

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

It’s very weird to care deeply about scribbling in notebooks and blackening pages and reading all the time and buying too many books and hosting a podcast about writing and being interested in what your friends are reading and writing and sending actual letters and postcards to people and agreeing with Morrissey when he sings “There’s more to life than books, you know, but not much more” and then finding yourself talking to some guy in an airport bar and the guy says, “Why read books? I haven’t read a book since high school” and he’s proud of it. I’m all for whatever gets you through the night—and for me it’s books, it’s always been books—but for most people, and more and more, it seems to be other stuff. If people want to spend their time playing Shiny Bubblegum Princess games on their phone that’s up to them, but it doesn’t give me any pleasure. The writer’s role is clearly much diminished. But all that really means is that if you still feel compelled to write, knowing nobody gives a shit, it means you’re really a writer. It also means you’re free to write whatever the hell you want. Not having a role, or having a role so small it amounts to the same thing, means spirit is free to play where it will. And maybe that then becomes the role. The more people who are free, on whatever level, to do what they love, creatively, the more energy must be injected into the larger culture. In any case it’s very pretty to think so.

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Jason Emde (rob mclennan)

To say that poems are prayers is now so common as to be somewhat hackneyed. (A poet I know Tweeted an attempt to update this with the pithy but somewhat unconvincing edit that poems aren’t prayers, but rather why we pray.) If poets can bend religious imagery toward secular texts in this way, then I think it’s not too bold to think of literary criticism as a type of sacrament, a ceremony or ritual one does in order to connect more fully with the divine.

In the Quaker tradition, they do not speak so much of sacraments as of disciplines, such as fasting, meditation, prayer, and quiet. I think of writing criticism in this way. With a discipline, it isn’t necessary for us to be in a completely perfect mindset before we start. The point of a discipline is to do it, and in the process, the right mindset will sometimes come. Do the disciplines enough, and eventually you’ll be in the right mindset more often. Wrestle with sloth and envy through criticism, and maybe, one day, you’ll have just a little bit more control over these things all the time.

Jacob R. Weber, Literary Criticism as a Secular Spiritual Discipline

May I recognize my hilly landscape
and not expect to live in the plain.
Know that I am the hills and ravines,
the sun-drenched fields and deep shadows, 

gulleys, mustard fields, yellows,
veils of light that drape like silk slips […]

Jill Pearlman, Confused Spring Prayer

It was a day of record-breaking heat (and no air conditioning), so I doubly appreciated the people that came out, and the store putting out several fans. I also packed a cooler with water bottles (and sparkling rose) and boxes of macarons—because people need sustenance during a book signing.

The reading itself went okay—you can see the whole thing here on my YouTube channel—did you know I had one? Minus Martha Silano’s excellent introduction. (Hey, you have to be there in person for some parts!) […]

Any reading where I can walk out with new books and a borrowed recording of Sylvia Plath readings is a good reading in my book, and it was a really good venue, especially the “Parlor” for afterwards visiting.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, The Open Books Flare, Corona Reading, Interviews and Podcasts, Things Breaking Down, Heat Waves with Goldfinch and Hummingbirds

When I reached the Cliffs of Moher, a
thick fog covered everything. Cold, damp, not
a glimpse of rock or sea or sky, as if something
had bitten off one edge of the world. Isn’t a
lot of life just like that? Opaque? Ill-timed? A
function of disconsolate variables? Like us.
Ordinary. Incomplete. There are no reasons to
wake up. There are no reasons to continue.
There are no prizes for winning. You find a
level that is just enough. That works as long
as the tea is warm. That is good for a couple of
verses. That is as short as a long sigh. Enough.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Part 47

that garden moment
when the only thing moving
is the music

Jim Young [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, 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, I was charmed by the outpouring of affection for Linda Pastan on social media, most of us not realizing how many other Pastan fans were out there until she died. Judging by the size of the reaction in my feeds, she was at least as popular as Charles Simic, which might surprise a critic or two. So Pastan appreciation bookends a digest full of new book and manuscript news, strategies for writing better or more regularly, and the usual weird and wonderful assortment of essays, reviews, and poems. Enjoy,


I am still in shock that Linda Pastan has died. I liked knowing she was in the world. We first met when I was sixteen and she visited my high school library to give a poetry reading. 

Twenty years later we met again at the Bread Loaf Writers Conference. She was the one that suggested I return to graduate study for an MFA. As she hugged me goodbye at the end of the two weeks, she asked me to keep in touch with her so she could follow my career. I looked over my shoulder sure she must be speaking to someone else. As a creating writing professor now myself, I’m stunned by how much power that one sentence had to change my life. And yes, reader, we did stay in touch. I last saw her when she came out to Seattle with her husband for a reading. […]

I wonder what it means to write one superb poem after another but not to win the Pulitzer or become Poet Laureate, to not be given the gold ring by the powers that be? Pastan did not take multiple lovers (as far as I know) or commit suicide; she did not behave badly. I remember telling a professor in my graduate program that she had been an important influence and I could sense his dismissiveness. I’ve since heard that same story from several women poets who wanted to study her work. Why not Eavan Boland was weirdly the response.

I am hopeful that someone organizes a book of critical essays on Pastan’s work or perhaps is already at work on a biography. Perhaps that will be me…

Susan Rich, Linda Pastan (1932 – 2023)

In the Belly

As a woman carries an insect, unconscious
of the sign it shapes with diplomatic footfalls
across her skin, she carries me. As a lake
lifts the sky’s image, all burnished admiration, or
proffers a crushed cup, a leaf, a rainbow slick
of grease. […]

“In the Belly” is one translation of Imbolc, a.k.a. St. Brigid’s day, midway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, a time for lambing, spring cleaning, and many blessings, including lengthening daylight. I’m no expert on Irish, pagan, Christian, or any other kind of festival, but this seasonal turn matters to me. I wrote the poem above around Imbolc years ago, when a sensation of being held up by a benevolent force arrived suddenly and very strongly. I perceived the feeling itself, and the poem accompanying it, as gifts.

Lesley Wheeler, She carries me

It is strange how an absence of weight makes me feel heavier rather than lighter. Her warm, black-furred body, usually pressed against my hip all night, has been replaced by emptiness when I reach out for her in the dark and fall into a depth of grief I thought had passed. Perhaps that one small grief for a cat calls out to the others that are still sheltering in my heart. And maybe all they want to do is shake off their sleepiness for a while, take a walk around my bed. Still here, they say, proving to me, once again, that grief is the proof of great love. But this addition of a cat’s life to the parade seems, for now, almost unbearable. This will pass, I know. We owe it to ourselves, the living, as well as to the memory of the dead, to turn our faces to the light of the world, remind ourselves of the joy we have gathered, the joy there is yet to be gathered. 

Lynne Rees, Prose poem ~ When cats curl up in your heart and fall asleep there

This year, as I thought about the feast day of Saint Brigid, I thought, I could make a woven cross. Sure, I don’t have reeds or rushes, but I have cloth. I have so much cloth. Just a year ago, I didn’t have enough to even think about a small project, much less a bigger one. But now I have enough cloth for several large projects and any small project I might want to do. […]

I am glad to have had this experience, although it took longer than I thought it would, about an hour from start to finish.  I tried to do it meditatively, giving thanks for women like Saint Brigid, who founded some of the first Christian monasteries in Ireland, most famously the legendary one in Kildare.  She also founded a school of art that focuses on metal working and illumination. 

Now let me go out for a walk.  We got our first dusting of snow last night, and it’s beautiful to look at from inside.  Let me go get a closer look.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Saint Brigid’s Cross in Cloth

There is maybe a melancholy
in the burdened curve
of its filaments, but
there’s a wisdom too
within the flesh of its anthers.

And, if you peer close,
there on the single stamen eye,
the limpid markings
that they call old man’s tears.

Dick Jones, OLD MAN’S TEARS

Nine years ago, I reviewed Rebecca Farmer’s first pamphlet, Not Really (Smith-Doorstep, 2014) on this blog, admiring its subtle treatment of love, suffering and death, noting…

the role of ghosts. They crop up in several poems. They are characters. They take on human traits. As such, their haunting qualities are exacerbated.

And today, as I sit down to write about her second pamphlet, A Separate Appointment (New Walk Editions, 2022), I’m struck by how much of my previous review holds true for these new poems, which seem to present two different strands – roughly speaking, hospitals and those afore-mentioned ghosts – that intertwine. In these poems, Farmer reminds us that death cannot exist without life, and that the living have to contend with others’ deaths.

In this context, the final stanza of ‘The Ghosts regret joining a self-help group’ provides an excellent illustration of the latent tension between life and death, Farmer’s work inhabiting a no-man’s land between the two.

Matthew Stewart, The intertwining of life and death, Rebecca Farmer’s A Separate Appointment

Weekend mornings are for writing, and submitting writing, and keeping the coffee hot and topped off. This morning, I’ve supplemented that routine with the read of an interview, the listen to a podcast, and a read of an article written by poet friends; each piece as diverse and wonderful as the thinker writers behind it. Worth your time to read and listen and marvel. Thank you, Eric Coughlin Hollowell, Lisa Stice, and Vivian Faith Prescott.

Kersten Christianson, Untangling by Beach, Military Poetry, and Salmonberry Dreams

snow
the lights of the houses
on the river

Jim Young [no title]

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

There are loads of roles writers can take on. Amanda Gorman took on a public role with her inauguration poem “The Hill We Climb.” Jericho Brown and Ilya Kaminsky seem to be part of larger discourses that go beyond poetry.

I often remind myself of all the Archibald MacLeish books that lined the book aisles of every thrift store in America I’ve ever been to. We’re all writing in a historical context about things that address very specific historical contexts. If we’re lucky one or a few of pieces might speak beyond that, but that isn’t really up to us.

I recently read Ted Hughes’ translation of Racine’s Phedre. I think poets translating poets is an essential role that those of us who are bi- or multilingual should consider. It’s a service to the craft.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with David Harrison Horton

The other evening I was in Lewes listening to Jackie Wills and Grace Nichols being interviewed by Mark Hewitt. One of the topics they discussed was the idea of having a ‘personal canon’, in other words those poets or poetry collections that have either been formative influences, or that you dip into regularly for inspiration. The talk was of how important it was to remember that poetry is very much a matter of personal taste, and that it’s pretty difficult for everyone to agree on ‘the poetry canon’, except perhaps for Shakespeare and a handful of other ‘greats’.

It made me think of the huge variety of ‘exemplar’ poems you come across in poetry workshops. On Grace’s list were Derek Walcott, Elizabeth Jennings and Sylvia Plath. She very cannily declined to mention the names of any living poets, for fear (she said) of upsetting anyone, since many of her contemporaries are her friends.

I started wondering who would be on my list.

Robin Houghton, A quickfire ‘personal canon’

I was especially pleased to hear Pat Winslow’s poem ‘As for the owl’ which carries a dedication to the late, much-missed Helen Kidd. By a strange coincidence, Helen was one of the members of the Old Fire Station Poetry Workshop (led by Tom Rawling by in the 1980s) ) about which I talk in my piece.

I also talk about growing up in rural Wiltshire in a house with few books. My years spent pursuing science – beginning to study medicine at Guys Hospital in London – then my drastic shift to studying Philosophy and English at Lancaster University, where I worked with the Scottish poet, David Craig, on one of the first Creative Writing courses in the UK. At Worcester College, Oxford, in the 1980s I was writing a DPhil thesis on the poet Shelley while also attending poetry workshops with WN Herbert, Peter Forbes, Pauline Stainer, Keith Jebb, Anne Born (and Tom and Helen).

Kathleen also asked me to say something about the poets I go back to and I talk a little (and read from) Walt Whitman, Robert Frost and WS Merwin. Trying to pick contemporary poets to highlight is an impossible task but, on this occasion at least, I speak about Marvin Thompson, Nancy Campbell and John McCullough.

Martyn Crucefix, Interviewed on ‘Poetry Worth Hearing’

Can’t force a poem,
only invite it.
Like spring.

Keep the door propped
the circuits open
bag packed

for when
Elijah arrives, singing
better days coming.

Build a perch
for the goldfinch
from painted willow.

Even if
it’s hard to believe.
Especially then.

Rachel Barenblat, Open

If nuclear winter were just a long dream of spring.

If clocks took an occasional time out to give us more breathing room between good times and the grave.

If lies wore prison stripes and could be easily recognized.

If police brutality was nothing more than that song talking about how early one morning, the sun was shining,

and everything was tangled up in blue.

Rich Ferguson, Blue

Throughout my reading of Year of the Murder Hornet I kept marveling over Cane’s ability to linger over the spaces in between things. Specifically, the choice to include additional white space within the lines of each poem emphasizes both how stalled shifts in the pandemic can make us feel as well as how necessary it is to take our time. By take our time I mean in terms of reading the situation — whether it be assessing what the reality behind phrases like “the new normal” actually is like, to preparing (mentally, physically) for the changes brought on by decisions at our jobs or by the government which we have no say in.

The poems “Essay on Gentrification” and “Minority Report” also work in this vein and are good examples of how this collection takes its time interrogating the nuances of life during a pandemic, nuances that are often lost in debates and political discourse.

José Angel Araguz, microreview: Year of the Murder Hornet by Tina Cane

Lee Ann Roripaugh’s fifth volume of poetry, tsunami vs. the fukushima 50 (Milkweed Editions, 2019), was named a “Best Book of 2019” by the New York Public Library, selected as a poetry Finalist in the 2020 Lambda Literary Awards, cited as a Society of Midland Authors 2020 Honoree in Poetry, and was named one of the “50 Must-Read Poetry Collections in 2019” by Book Riot. She is the author of four other volumes of poetry […]

What are you working on?

I’m currently in the process of finishing up my sixth volume of poetry, a manuscript titled Kaze no Denwa / The Wind Phone. While conducting research for my prior book, tsunami vs. the fukushima 50, I learned that a man named Itaru Sasaki had placed a phone booth with a disconnected rotary-dial phone in a hilltop garden overlooking Otsuchi, Japan—a century-old town decimated by the 2011 tsunami. Sasaki originally used the phone to process his grief over the loss of a beloved family member. He described these conversations as phone calls made “on the wind.” After the tsunami, survivors who’d lost loved ones started visiting Sasaki’s phone booth from all along the Tohoku coast—making pilgrimages to speak to their dead on what became known as the kaze no denwa, or “wind phone.” Apparently, visitors would share their daily news, or express their regrets. Sometimes callers would plead with their deceased to please come back, or beseech them to look out for one another. Sometimes they’d simply say that they were lonely. In the most heartbreaking phone calls, callers would apologize for not having been able to save their dead. 

Needless to say, I found these accounts of the wind phone resonant and incredibly moving. But also, because I’ve been thinking a lot lately about intersections of loss (environmental loss; personal loss; parental losses due to aging, death, and dementia; losses due to trauma; losses due to disasters such as COVID-19 or climate change), I began to ask myself what it might mean to write a “wind phone” poem. And so I began drafting direct-address elegiac poems that speak to these types of grief, putting them in conversation with one another: my father’s death, my mother’s Alzheimer’s, extinction, climate change, COVID-19, as well as psychological and emotional losses due to abuse, illness, or trauma.

These direct-address poems are interspersed with poems written in five parts that circulate associationally and linguistically around a single word, or concept. I’ve been thinking of these poems as “mappings.” I also wanted to set these mappings in dialogue with an ancient Japanese map called “Jishin-no-ben.” “Jishin-no-ben” represents an ouroboros, a dragon eating its own tail, circling around a geographical area in Japan. This map was apparently meant to serve as a visual explanation, or warning, for the earthquakes and tsunamis that had occurred there. These are poems in which I map out a larger context for the disasters creating the griefs, or losses, that are spoken on the wind. Each section also contains a hybrid prose poem/lyric flash essay “notes” piece that unpacks some of the related psychological underpinnings, or fallout, of trauma. 

Thomas Whyte, Lee Ann Roripaugh : part one

It is one of those mornings when I put my fingers on the keys and stare a few moment at my hands. The pattern of blood vessels on the back of each. Ropey and bluish, like a coarse crochet work. There are still things these hands will learn to do, or learn to do better. They are the rough beauty of solid machinery. They are their own “back in the day” and still going.

They are the touchstone for earned wisdom. Sometimes offering the touch that frightens young and old alike. Where bones become stone, and foreshadow everything overwrought in our poems.

As here.

I wonder what it would be like to live without mirrors – without looking at oneself, or pieces of oneself, as a constructed and staged other.

Ren Powell, Can We Look Away?

I haven’t felt like writing lately. I mean, as in I don’t even have the desire nor does it bother me. Or does it? I saw a call for micro poems this morning which closes today and began looking through my files. But that’s done writing, not to-be-done writing, so it doesn’t count. I keep seeing calls for submissions and think should I try to write something? but the thought flows away like a cloud with another destination. I have made some minor changes in the essay I’ve been working on from time to time. I have a vague feeling I’d like to sub it here but I don’t know that I’ll make the deadline. I’m not sure if what I’m experiencing is a general malaise or a rebellion. (Isn’t that a provocative statement?)

Charlotte Hamrick, Reading and Eating

A few days ago, realizing that the daily haiku practice was reminding me of why I stopped last year, I changed the task on my daily to-do list from “haiku” to “write something.” That’s what I’m trying to do each day. It doesn’t need to be a haiku or a poem or a story or any specific thing. I just need to write something. I guess I mean something more than a photo caption or a tweet. Something that exists for its own sake, if that makes any sense.

Most days I’ve written something. As time passes, I’ll probably come up with a stronger feeling about what “write something” means to me. For now, though, I like that it’s nebulous. The idea is to just keep using my brain and heart via the medium of words. The rest will work itself out.

Jason Crane, Write something

They say when the migratory cranes come to the
Phobjika Valley, they circle the monastery three
times. They fly around it again when they leave
after winter. The places we go to sink deep into
our bones.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Part 32

It’s been a challenging few months for poetry.

I don’t know of another art form that is subjected to such frequent death threats. When have you heard someone proclaim the death of music, dance, or the visual or performing arts? None of these seems to inspire the type of fury that poetry does. As Muriel Rukeyser wrote in “The Resistances,” the first chapter of her essential book The Life of Poetry, “Anyone dealing with poetry and the love of poetry must deal, then, with the hatred of poetry, and perhaps even more with the indifference which is driven toward the center.”

Erica Goss, Poetry Survives Latest Death Threat

The road from spark to book is long. Longer than you would guess. For some writers, that moment from inspiration to finished book can span decades. My newest collection, Corvus and Crater, was a year in the writing and revising. That’s pretty quick, even for a poet. After you finish the manuscript, there is the long road to publication – and well, that took three years. But I’m very excited to announce that Corvus and Crater will be released next month by the wonderful publisher Salmon Poetry.

Corvus and Crater sprung from my fear that with the weight of responsibilities of my beloved work at Storyknife Writers Retreat and the Kachemak Bay Writers’ Conference I would just never write again. That I would become a full-time arts administrator, zero-time poet. A past poet. So, on my birthday in 2019, I set myself an assignment: write a poem each day with fifty-four syllables – six lines of nine syllables apiece. There was no end destination – it was just a way to keep myself going.

The limits of the form really pressurized my writing, and the poems became a conversation with myself and with the books I was reading and the ideas that I was surrounding myself with. And because they were all written within a one year period – they held together as a manuscript. Here’s the description I wrote for the book: the enigmatic poems of Corvus and Crater explore a single winter though the eyes of Crow. The wheeling constellations, seasonal rituals, and Alaska’s charismatic landscape feature in a struggle to claim home and bodily agency, to control the myths and stories that form us. Composed of fifty-four sestets of fifty-four syllables apiece, Corvus and Crater resides in the tension between gleam and darkness, introspection and outward conflict, the self and the world.  

Erin Coughlin Hollowell, Introducing Corvus and Crater

Here’s a bit of glad tidings. My manuscript The Red Queen Hypothesis won the Prairie State Poetry Prize and will be published before the end of 2023–maybe even by the end of this summer! It’s thrilling to have won an award like this.

In fact, I should be jumping up and down with glee that RQH finally will see print, as it has taken me numerous submissions, two acceptances that did not come to fruition, and a considerable number of pauses to reassess the manuscript. But my initial feeling is more of relief than elation. Relief that now I can turn all of my focus to newer work: a manuscript nearly completed and one that I’m just starting to collate and imagine. Well–not all of my focus in those directions. There is the work of promoting the new book, work that I find difficult and challenging because it’s not really in my wheelhouse. Highland Park Poetry is a tiny independent non-profit press and doesn’t have the resources to do much promotion; Jennifer Dotson, Founder & Creative Engine behind the organization, runs several contests, produces a newsletter, and hosts a Facebook page of contributing poets. She also hosts a poetry podcast and at least one reading series…a busy person, working on a small budget. People like her and Larry Robin are the guardian angels of poetry in the USA. Many thanks, Jennifer. I’ll do what I can to promote my book.

Ann E. Michael, Book news!

Well, this week held a happy surprise: three boxes of books arrived at my door yesterday morning! Since the book’s official release date is several months down the line in spring, I was happy but also felt that I was suddenly behind on everything related to the book.

The book is bigger and more square and substantial feeling than all of my previous books (which should make shipping more interesting), but it felt absolutely terrific to be holding a book that was six years in the making—and contains some of my most vulnerable work, from the most challenging time in my life.

I tried my hand at making videos again (this time, a short unboxing video) and took pictures of the cats with my book. I was so overwhelmed I felt literally light-headed!

Jeannine Hall Gailey, The Early Arrival of Author Copies of Flare, Corona (!!!), Celebrations with Poet Friends, Fun Videos, Imbolc/St. Brigid’s Day/Groundhog Day and the Sun’s Slow Return

In school, I was struggling with forming perfect letters, but at home, I was filling notebooks with things only I could decipher. When we mastered printing and moved on to cursive, it was better, though I was still not as neat as I would later be, when in high school, I modeled my perfectly slanted penmanship after my French teacher with her perfect little crossed sevens.  I still continued my brand of writing even after I was learning how to actually write–it was faster, less laborious, and really no one was reading it anyway, not even me. […]

My mother, in her later years, once remarked to a stranger, at a reading they accompanied me to at a university, that she always wondered what I was doing, hiding in my room with my pen scratching across some notebook, or writing hunched over the coffee table cross-legged on the floor, even in summer when I was not studying. Only now she saw the fruits of it in the poems that I read and published (this was 2008 or so). That she finally got it–what I was doing all that time.  What I continued to do. 

Still, I love a pretty notebook and occasionally buy one just for the beauty of it, even now when so much of my writing happens through the click of keys. I also decorate my notebooks much as I did in high school to keep them identifiable according to which writing job they’re for. They sit in a stack underneath my monitor, though I do, at least, throw them out when they’re full.

Kristy Bowen, on graphomania, or for the love of notebooks

When I was a little left-handed kid growing up in Ireland we used fountain pens and I always smudged the letters as I wrote. I was really happy when I began going to Hebrew school and found out that Hebrew is read from right to left—the opposite of English. I could write clearly while all the other right-handed kids smudged their writing and got ink all over their hands. This was electric: this idea that language could be turned around. That it could make you look at things differently. Your inky hand. The page. Your way of being in the world. I know that in the modern world, in modern Israel, Hebrew is used to ask for an oil change or go on the Internet and order socks, but for me, my first association these particular letterforms, the Hebrew alphabet, the otiyot, was that it was the language of my ancestors, the shape of my people. Ancient, mysterious, and numinous. Not that they didn’t speak of socks and B.O., but for centuries, it was a sacred, but not an everyday language. Its shapes: thick lines of black-and-white each ending in a little curl like a black flame rising. Was this flame something to do with the temple? With eternal light? Or perhaps an arcane Kabbalistic alchemy of words. The prayerbooks in the shul of my childhood were musty and worn, like the old tefillim of the praying men…or the threadbare carpets. The prayerbooks had been shaped by use, the way an old tool takes the form of the hand that touched it. And it seemed like the Hebrew letters had also been shaped this way: They had been worn over millenia by the touch and speech of those who had muttered their sounds. And Hebrew, at least in the traditional shapes, seemed to preserve the motions of ink and brush, the motions of a scribe not writing so much as drawing the letters, his hand floating above the surface of the parchment like a hovering bird.

Gary Barwin, BROKEN LIGHT: THE ALEFBEIT AND THE MISSING LETTER

One thing I noticed about painting stripes onto paper is how much more difficult it is than I had imagined. For instance, I couldn’t go ahead and paint each sonnet in one sitting but had to, instead, wait until each stripe was dry to prevent the colours bleeding. Sounds blooming obvious, doesn’t it, but not to me! I’m conscious of using a lot of paper for this project so I’m grateful to have in my possession a box of different sizes, types and colours of paper that were left on the pavement of a neighbour’s house. They originally belonged to a lady who died, and her family gave away some of her belongings rather than discarding them when they sold the house. I think about that person each time I make a poem using some of her paper. I hope she feels my gratitude, wherever she is. As well as painting, I’ve also been pattern making, using Sharpie pens, and I’m going to cut into these patterns to make more visual poems.

Josephine Corcoran, January Update

Wednesday was the biggest day of action for decades but the government didn’t care. They appear to be only interested in ruining the country. But enough of the public school educated elite who are not interested in the people they are supposed to represent, I found an old poem the other day, one I had forgotten about. I rearranged the layout and changed the odd word.

DECOUPAGE FOR THE MIND

He can think photographs
scry alternate worlds

He holds the light sensitive paper to his forehead
his thoughts embellish it with another life […]

Paul Tobin, DECOUPAGE FOR THE MIND

In the adjoining room a man from Missouri is proud that, according to the radio station KCFZ, four of the thirty-four greatest poets who ever lived are from Missouri. He tells his seven hundred and sixteen followers on Twitter about this and waits excitedly at his laptop for replies to come in, for retweets and likes. After twenty minutes he walks into the communal kitchen to make himself a coffee but there is no milk and he can never understand people who take their coffee without milk. He returns to his room. Still no replies. His day has taken a morose and bitter turn. He tells himself: Somebody, somewhere, will pay for this.

Dolores tells Edith, who helps her with washing and dressing: Dance until the bagpipes kill the sheep. That’s what you must do. You’re young, my dear, so very young. And after all it is forbidden to climb the steps of the pyramid of Kukulcan and Avian Flu has been found in otters and foxes.

Bob Mee, DANCE UNTIL THE BAGPIPES KILL THE SHEEP, SHE SAID

Moths tuck themselves
into drawers, where they
work out their hidden
citzenships in scripts
of perforated silver.

The taut threads
of the hammock loosen;
day loses to night,
and night again to day,

Who was I
before the earth
shook my world to pieces,
before parts of barely formed
history were buried along with beams
of a house that no longer exists?

Luisa A. Igloria, Dear Exile

how far from her moon shall the sleeper wander

how far from water can one drown

when all that is dust returns to song
where will i be found

Grant Hackett [no title]

As I shared in December, I’ve planned a kinder, gentler approach to my creative life for 2023. The new approach is like sensible shoes: not quite as sexy but less pain, more mileage. At least that’s the idea. And so far, so good!

I’ve been keeping up with art and writing by doing at least one small thing each day.* Some days, I’m happy with what I get done. Other days, it’s hard to believe that these small efforts will reach critical mass. And on both types of days, I’m trusting the process. Overall, that means less fretting, so that’s an early win for the self-imposed shake-up.

It’s also helping me reconstruct the idea of myself as a poet and artist, and I’m shamelessly nurturing that both on my “regular”/poetry Instagram (@carolee26) and my visual art Instagram (@gooduniversenextdoor).

Carolee Bennett, the shake-up is shaping up

Even if one reads the haiku merely as an expression of curiosity – that the moon has appeared to align its bright white roundness into and with the roundness of the glass’s bottom – it is still a magical moment, like the alignment of planetary bodies.

A more cynical reading might be that including ‘the well / of’ enables the haiku to fall unobtrusively into a 5–7–5 pattern and provides an alliteration with ‘whisky’. For me, though, the addition truly enriches the poem. This haiku is the exception to the rule that 5–7–5 haiku in English are generally too verbose and therefore need trimming: here, cutting back to a 5–4–5 would diminish the poem’s effectiveness.

Matthew Paul, On a haiku by John Hawkhead

I spoke to a new writer the other day. They were rosy-cheek-excited about how they were writing right along, happily, regularly. They also mentioned they’d signed up for a course at a community college about how to get published.

I groaned inwardly. (It’s possible I groaned outwardly.) I know the way excitement about a creation leaps quite readily to trying to put that creation out in the world. (I fall prey to it still all the damn time.) I also know how people are happy to take your money to tell you some handy things without mentioning the other stuff, specifically, in this case, the waiting, the doubt, the rejection after rejection after rejection. (I may have mentioned to them that last item.)

What I didn’t mention that maybe I should have , or maybe not, not quite yet, is that vital, hard-won, takes-a-lifetime-to-learn, oft overlooked middle step: the revision step. The put-your-tender-darling-in-a-drawer step. The read-read-read step, which means not just read slaphappily, but read as a writer. Which means read with questions in mind: what is pleasing me about this work, displeasing me, and why, and how can I apply any lessons learned to my own work.

Marilyn McCabe, The real thing come and the real thing go; or, The Bad News About Revision

I have finished my poetry manuscript. “Finished”? I finished it last April, too, and sent it out, then withdrew it from several contests. I couldn’t say why it didn’t feel ready, it simply didn’t.

A friend suggested that I not think globally, condemning the entire ms, but to instead focus on individual poems. What I actually did was ignore it. I took a class. I worked on my send-out practice. I (finally) returned to my mystery novel. Then, in October, I finished the rewrite of the mystery.

And the poems were still sitting there, muddy and neglected, their unwashed faces looking up at me.

I again found useful distractions. A short story re-write, notably. Then, I broke my arm and was unable to type.

Bethany Reid, Where You’ll Find Me

As with many writers, I’m better known outside my community than within it.

Sure, a couple dozen of my poems have appeared on signs at local events, and yes, the people in charge of the events liked my work (thank you so much! <3), but I don’t think anyone who didn’t already know me connected the poems with the poet. (In one instance, someone looked at one of my poem signs and actually turned to me and said “Who is Bill Waters?”) So I’m hoping that an article in the widely circulated Hopewell Valley Neighbors magazine (pictured below) will serve to introduce me to readers where I live.

It’s not that I’m seeking attention. It’s just that local publication will add greater credibility to my reputation so that perhaps I’ll have an easier time getting people interested in future public poetry efforts. “Have you seen this article? Here are the kind of poems I write,” I’ll say in a way that’s both enthusiastic and modest. (In my dreams! In real life, I’ll probably just stammer something out and then wish I were someplace else.)

Bill Waters, Hopewell Valley Neighbors magazine

This is one of a couple of poems that I can date fairly precisely — at least in terms of the year. I was working in London and living in Luton when I found an online poetry forum called Crystal Lake Poetics. It ceased a long time ago, and it was pretty small, but this was the early days of the internet — before the social media world that we are familiar with today. The forum was based in America, and it had a chat box where I chatted most nights to a couple of girls from Denton, TX, and one from Stockton, CA who had lived in Denton. The time difference therefore was pretty substantial! And that is what made me think of portraying these conversations like the scene in Turandot, where Princess Turandot has decreed, as related in the famous tenor aria, Nessun Dorma (None Shall Sleep), that none shall sleep that night until the unknown prince’s name is known.

We really were like shadows nattering back and forth, talking about everything and nothing; occasionally I’d start something poetic based on these discussions. I remember a favourite random acronym that got flung into the chat window related to tacos with extra cheese and lots of mayo, though I can’t remember it exactly enough to recreate the acronym!

Giles L. Turnbull, Poetry On Stage

I don’t know about you, but sometimes a poem just hits hard and is the right thing to read at the right time. It’s been one hell of a week at work and in life. Despite the wonderful news this week that I now have a publication date for my Red Squirrel pamphlet and that work can now begin in earnest on it (not that it hasn’t already, but you take my point, I hope), the week has been dragged down by the continued decline of our eldest cat, an unexpected and unwelcome outlay on a new washing machine, and a hectic week that has barely allowed for a moment to pause.

So when I sat down to read my copy of Pearls this week after it had made its way to the top of my TBR pile, I found myself being absolutely smacked round the chops (in a good way) by reading the poem above. I felt Philpott’s pain. I was there with him in every sentence.

Mat Riches, Pearls before sauces

What burdens would you let that abyss
of worn satin swallow?
And what would you tuck away
in the place of honor, that one-off
disfigured, awkward pocket
where you stash your favorite secret
like a stale and stolen butterscotch?

Kristen McHenry, Baggage

Judith‘s large-format Buttonhole binding is made from a huge charcoal drawing done in 1989, torn apart and machine-stitched onto washi paper. The charcoal cover and pages are sealed with beeswax polish. The book smells wonderful! […]

Here are some photos of my Buttonhole binding. On cotton rag paper pages dyed with vegetable waste I have handwritten a found poem written on a dreadful day when I avidly consumed the news on BBC Radio 4. The silk for the book-cloth was alum-mordanted and dyed with red cabbage leaves and onion skins. The cover is lined with a piece of marbled paper that has been lying in a drawer for years.

Ama Bolton, ABCD February 2023

Weren’t we lucky, once?

I want to say that we had no idea how good we had it, but that’s too easy and not quite true. Filling out an intake form recently, I wrote that I am, right now, the best I’ve ever been. And I am. That is true. Sure, I would love to still have my 20-year-old body–and so many of the things and people and places and opportunities I’ve had and lost since then–but not the fears and worries and nearly unbearable weight of the impending choices my younger self struggled to carry.

Yes, we had so much. Yes, we had it all ahead of us. Yes, there is something wonderful about a mostly blank slate. And also: It was terrifying and hard and confusing because there was so much we didn’t know and so much pressure to get it All Right. We didn’t know, then, that all right was a fantasy, a myth. That we would never be entirely OK, no matter which choices we did and didn’t make. That simply choosing right would not prevent wounds or heal the ones we didn’t even know, yet, that we had. That even the golden ones among us would suffer. That our lives would always be as they were and had always been, a terrible, gorgeous mix.

Rita Ott Ramstad, And don’t it feel good

I had taken these still life photographs at about the same time I learned about the death of Linda Pastan. I knew she had written a poem about still life, so I looked that up. I read her obit in The Washington Post, finding it interesting that she placed first in a contest in Mademoiselle magazine where Sylvia Plath placed second. She was 90. Poets always feel so timeless in their work so this was a surprise, too. In short, I did all the things I always do when a poet I’ve read and admired died. Took her books off my shelf. Read a few dogeared poems.

It never seems enough, but there it is. […]

I recently picked up Diane Seuss’s Still Life with Two Dead Peacocks and a Girl. I’ve honestly just opened it up and read a line or two here or there and you know that thing where something is so freaking good you just can’t? Yah. I mean for sure I will read it, but also, it’s hard when it’s also your big subject and likely this writer did it so much better :) But that’s GOOD too, right?

Because, here is the big secret of the writing life. We can all do it. Some people will get more acclaim and some will deserve it and some will maybe not quite so very much but none of that actually matters. The writing matters. Your life is going to be made so much more amazing by doing the writing you do, or whatever art you make. So just persist and be rigorous and joyful and delight in the whole beautiful ridiculous mess of it, sometimes rubbish, sometimes chocolate cake delicious. Laugh at your successes and laugh at the rejections and your bloody anonymity and be graceful and humble and raise your eyebrows at times and take such a deep and wonderful delight at everything that everyone is making. Because it could be fucking otherwise? You’re here. This is your time. Make whatever things you have always wanted to make. Please. Trust me it’s all worth it. You’ll look back some day at your little pile of books or stacks of paintings or files of photographs and go, huh! And really, ain’t that pretty cool?

Shawna Lemay, Still Life and Learning to Abandon the World