Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 38

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts.

This week’s digest comes front-loaded with poetry because I feel there’s been a bit of a deficit of actual poems in recent editions. Of course personal essays are always the bread and butter of this series, along with book reviews or appreciations and the occasional literary criticism, but let’s not lose sight of what we’re all about.

Though as the rest of the digest hopefully demonstrates, poets do tend to be pretty damn good at not losing sight of important things—even (or especially) those things that the culture or the state is heavily invested in us not noticing.


There’s a farmhouse at the edge
of a Romanian village, lonely and thick
with shadows as dusk sets in.
People inside are afraid to turn on the lights.
Once in a while, stones fall
from the sky, dent the roof, chip bits
from the eaves. Stones fall, never bigger
than someone’s fist, never hurled
from great distance to burrow
through the roof and kill.

Romana Iorga, The Meadow Is Filled with Stones

At first I think I hear the binder,
wheels beating, turning at the headrow,
but the fields are bare.
Such a beating, a clattering.
More geese searching for a lake
in this land of furrows? Or
the rector in his Wolesely
come to seek me out?

Dick Jones, FLIGHTPATHS – POEMS ABOUT AEROPLANES

I think of my father,
if I’m meeting him

here. This
night-colored wine
wavers between us,
its taste shaped

by so much waiting.

José Angel Araguz, new poems out in the world!

this morning I was finally able to go outside and breathe I stood on the front porch and inhaled the scent of rain soaked forest then I went out to the deck to take that photo of a sugar maple in my yard I opened all the windows in the house put the screens in then drove to the beach there is some stuff going on with my mental health that I am not ready to write about here and so I am stopped from writing anything at all for now last night I dreamed of a giant cabbage and women with weary intelligent eyes and huge dogs I am okay but not okay I will be okay just checking in here to say hello hello

Rebecca Loudon, Pig and farm report

I’m sick of the coronavirus. Sick of wildfires and hurricanes.

Sick of hate-mongers and a derailed America. I’m sick of Twitter tantrums and conspiracy rants.

Sick of days so bleak, it’s like a chapel of black cats is a safer place to pray.

Sick of flossing with barbed wire and counting the newly bloomed flowers along the boulevard of the bereft.

Sick of watching the walls close in, businesses close down, neighbors move out.

Yet despite it all, I still recall those stories written on your skin. All the stories written on my skin.

I still marvel at our shared storylines, all our mysterious twists and turns.

How they held me, how they held me.

Rich Ferguson, Second Thoughts in the First Person

That video brought to mind something my family used to do years ago, when the kids were little. If someone cut us off in traffic or was rude in public we’d say, “What is her story?” and then everyone would volunteer random possibilities. Her baby was up all night or a stone was stuck in her shoe or she’s late for work (or as one of my sons liked to contribute) “her butt itches but she can’t scratch it.”  It didn’t just distract us from our annoyance, it was a playful way to consider other people’s perspectives. I hoped this practice let us feel closer, for a moment, to the oneness underlying all life on this planet.

Laura Grace Weldon, Reframing the Story

It was freezing in the winter. I got those Dickens gloves without fingertips. It was sweltering in the summer. I took off all my clothes. It was at that desk that I made [Once he forced a small miracle…] and [Fluid the promise…] and many others. I was in the apartment in July 2018 when Sarabande offered to publish the book.

After a year I moved to an apartment closer to the sea. It too had a desk, but a small and charmless one. I adopted the dining table. I lived alone. I could. In March I left in a hurry for Germany without giving the future much thought. All my things are still scattered across that table with no one to touch them.

I’ve been back with my family in Germany through the spring and summer. It’s greener here. I speak the language.

I took the day off as a gift to myself for writing a book.

Sarah J. Sloat, Hotel Almighty

I’ve brought the angel wing into the house now that the temperatures have dropped below 15C. The perennials are dying. Or going dormant.

The honeysuckle has twined its way far fast the trellis I put up in May. It’s choking the thuja, but blooming with such a fragrance that I can’t bring myself to cut it back.

I do have hope. There’s the winter to read, and to learn. And there is something to be said for learning one’s place in the making of things.

Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.

INTERPRETIVE TRANSLATION OF TALMUDIC TEXTS. Gratefulness.org

There is a personal grief in private failures, in every missed deadline – every lost hour.

Ren Powell, Cultivating My Mind

She walked until                                 she couldn’t
identify a single species of tree

to learn anew
                                         which one yielded edible berries
if Pandanus bore flowers
in the rosette                               of spiked leaves

Uma Gowrishankar, the flower discovers the poet

They are cutting down the pine tree on the corner. It was maybe 80’ tall and almost three feet in diameter, perfectly healthy, an old tree full of years. And now it’s mostly wood chips. Today, for the first time in weeks, the sky is blue, and there is more of it than before. I walk past, grieving.

air quality index
counting the trees
we have left

Dylan Tweney [no title]

In a time of grief and gravity and gratitude for some wonderfully-lived lives, I happen to find myself reading Mark Doty’s book What Is the Grass? Walt Whitman in My Life.

And I find this paragraph; and for now, I need add nothing more.

The dead are not lost, but in circulation; they are involved in the present, in active participation. Bits of them are streaming through your hand and mine, just as language is circulating through us. Lexicon and materiality forever move onward and outward in the continuous wheeling expansion this world is. This is no mere philosophical proposition on Whitman’s part, not an intellectual understanding but a felt actuality. We are alive forever in the endless circulation of matter. Nothing luckier, stranger, or more beautiful could ever happen. There is no better place.

Ann E. Michael, No better place

What is a love poem in the underworld, in the light, in that worst of all place in between? I orca between them, or crawl. Liminal. What if the beauty is only that.

In my kitchen, a love poem to the vixen by Adrienne Rich. For a human animal to call for help on another animal is the most riven the most revolted cry on earth, she says while I drink my coffee all sharp and soft.

When covid was killing me, I ate oranges two, three at a time. How my body demanded them, sure they would save me: how I scraped their peels with my teeth for even pulp. How I wished I could get them all the way inside my lungs, rub the dying walls with their acid light. Convinced. If I could just—

Corona: a halo of light, hallucinatory and orange. Too late now for arrhythmic heart, a thing that actually happened. Too late for sacred marriage, also a thing that actually happened. What the body remembers is joy: that part was real, and while some is better than none, all is what is required—and so it was immolated. A fever dream, teethmarks in pulp and bone on waking: the body remembers that salmon colored haze is where this all began. In fire, and cilia burned away. If I could just—
Just—
Even corona extinguished, only the carving is left

JJS, Covid-19 and Other Deaths: The Descent

Before Tisha b’Av, I gathered a group of liturgists to collaborate on a project that became Megillat Covid, Lamentations for this time of covid-19.

In recent weeks we’ve gathered again — in slightly different configuration — to build something new for this pandemic season: a set of prayer-poems for Sukkot and Simchat Torah, which we’ve titled Ushpizin. That’s the Aramaic word for guests, usually used to refer to the practice of inviting ancestral / supernal guests like Abraham and Sarah into our Sukkah… though this year, what does it mean to invite Biblical guests when many of us don’t feel safe inviting in-person guests? That’s the question that gave rise to the project.

The prayers / poems that we wrote arose out of that question and more. What does it mean to find safety in a sketch of a dwelling in this pandemic year? With what, or whom, are we “sitting” when we sit in our sukkot this year? What about those of us who can’t build this year at all? And what can our Simchat Torah be if we are sheltering-in-place, or if our shul buildings are closed, or if we are not gathering in person with others? 

Rachel Barenblat, Liturgy for Sukkot in times of covid-19

To the best of my knowledge, Ellen Bass does not identify herself as a religious poet, or as having any personal belief in God. What I love about this poem is the way that she has kept that worldview out of the picture as it were and created a universe in which it is possible to imagine a being (Anne Lamott says if you can’t cope with the word ‘God’, try David Byrne, the name of your favourite pet, or the word Phil) who is sentient, suffers, and therefore goes through grief like the rest of us, its ‘heart huge as a gray whale’. As I enter a new stage of grieving, this is the kind of god/God I want to believe in. That Ellen Bass has outstripped her unbelief and created this space in which it is possible to spend time believing, if only briefly, is something I am grateful for this morning.

Anthony Wilson, God’s Grief

cut out the dead herb growing spirals inside your chest
inside the sour plum, find a seed with the initials of god

see how the mouth hungers for the unwritten century
collect, if you can, the honey left by ants on the road

in the morning, run and unfasten the gate to the sea
keep the first feather that brushes against your throat

Luisa A. Igloria, resetas (1)

It has been a labor of love to walk this one into the world. There are poems gathered here that were composed years ago in sweeter times – and others written through days more heartbreaking and challenging.  Initially, I envisioned this collection to be one of grief and bereavement.  What else could it be after the sudden death of a husband?  In fact, when I first organized the manuscript under that tarp, it was titled Clutter & Scree – the things left behind, the rubble that proves difficult in which to establish firm footing.  The poems then were largely too fresh, too close, too raw, and at a time I simply needed the motion and process of writing as one might need a trekking pole on a hike.

The manuscript as such did not initially get picked up.  So, I pulled it apart, blue-taped the poems on the walls of an empty room at home, and spent a winter subtracting, adding, writing, revising, and organizing what would become Curating the House of Nostalgia.  I aimed for better balance between between the two titles.  The collection shifted from straight sorrow to envelop the beauty that ultimately embraces and occasionally overshadows heartache in one way or another, often in small ways.  With each day comes night.  What else could this manuscript be from a northern woman poet who refuses to claim the word widow?  This shift was especially important as my now 14-year-old daughter and I continue to move forward in ways that are hopefully both spirited and healthy.

Kersten Christianson, Curating the House of Nostalgia

I recently ordered a 2021 calendar–I favor a portable Moleskine number–but, with heavy-handed symbolism, the order keeps being delayed. I’m a planner by temperament and I SO wish I could anticipate my future doings again. Not possible. It’s all clouds.

For the near term, all a calendar-minded person can do is brainstorm short-term ways to mark the passage of time, because around here, the cooling air and spots of yellow at the tops of trees strongly imply that the fall equinox is near. I keep daily work rhythms, even on sabbatical. On Saturdays, we take walks somewhere outside of this small town, hiking in the woods if we can. I’m applying for writing-related opportunities that might bear fruit next spring or summer. Other people are desperately trying to layer multiple workdays on top of each other right now–work, homeschooling, other responsibilities–so feeling lost in blurry weeks means I’m getting off easy, but to a surprising degree, it’s still a stressor.

Here’s a small anniversary: my fifth poetry collection, The State She’s In, was published on March 17th, 2020, so if it were a baby, it would be a chubby little person rocking forward onto its hands and trying to figure out locomotion. I bought it flowers and arranged a photo shoot to celebrate the occasion. It actually IS a book about time, among other subjects–the history of my region but also the approach and arrival of my 50th birthday, an event that I could watch descending like Wile E. Coyote awaiting the anvil. Processing age and change, I wrote many poems that reference the dreaded number explicitly (as in “Fifty-Fifty”) or use 50 as a formal constraint: poems of 50 syllables, 50 words, 50 lines, and more. I’m sure much of that formal play is invisible. It worked, though. Attacking a number every which way gave me some control over its meaning. I wonder if I could do some version of that by writing poems about 2021? I refuse to give 2020 that honor.

Lesley Wheeler, 6 month birthday for THE STATE SHE’S IN (time does not exist)

I’ve been trying to take things a little slower lately. Maybe it’s the shortening days, maybe it’s a hangover from lockdown when life slowed almost to a standstill and I was actually able to notice the small things for the first time in ages. As I write this, there’s a wasp crawling up the pane of the patio door. It does this busily, zithering about (zithering, if I remember rightly, is a word I picked up from Jacob Polley’s Jackself – he uses it to describe greyhounds I think, but it suits wasps equally well). Of course, the wasp is trying to find an exit, in order to survive. Everything it needs is out there, beyond the glass, easy to see, hard to reach. If the wasp slowed down a bit, it might realise how close it is to freedom. As it is, it continues to buzz frantically, getting nowhere. Eventually it will burn out and drop to the floor exhausted.

Okay, I’m not the wasp. Not exactly. But I know that feeling of trying too hard to get to something that seems close, tangible, achievable, having to work like fury to get there. Poems that come out of that state of mind generally don’t please me, and neither does the process of creating them. I’m not saying that I now intend to sit about and do nothing in the hope that poems arrive unbidden. Most likely they won’t. But I have promised myself I won’t be so anxious about ‘doing’ things and overloading myself. Hence the photograph above. We spent Sunday picking blackberries to make some wine. I had a hundred other things I needed to do but I gave myself over to picking this humble fruit. It was slow work, but the sun was out and the fruit was ripe and I felt like I was doing something important. The blog didn’t get done on Sunday because of this. It didn’t get done yesterday because I had a heavy day at work. I’m writing it today because I feel like it. This is as it should be.

Julie Mellor, Blackberry moon

I’ve recently took a little inventory of new projects and while this year has been a doozy on all other fronts, and while I was paralyzed a bit when it came to writing and creating through the spring, there is still quite a bit of work to show for the summer months–the overlook poems, the tabloid pieces, the bloom project, and now, my series of plague letters.  While visual art feels a little bit harder to settle in with (mostly due to time constraints) I am enjoying the video projects. On the whole, a productive season as we settle into fall.  I have a few more epistolaries and then I’m not sure where to go next, but we’ll see what I’m in the mood for.  I have a notebook full of projects and ideas that are ripe for the picking.

Today, warmer weather, but it’s supposed to get colder by the end of the week. There has also been strange milky white skies from the smoke in the west way high in the atmosphere.  People are dying and the worlds on fire, so it seems hard to exist sometimes. To person sometimes. I’ve been busy, so less for the doomscrolling now that the semester has started and my days are full with reserves and ILL.  I spent the weekend in Rockford, which at least granted some outdoor campfire s’more activity in a summer that has barely been a summer.  As always, I most like coming home. 

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 9/15/2020

This week was so stressful, among other things, I broke a tooth in my sleep. My regular dentist couldn’t get me in because three other patients had done the same thing that day. Hoping to get it fixed on Monday, but of course every dental trip brings anxiety because of Covid risk. […]

The enforced enclosure of the terrible smoke did result in one good thing – I got to catch up on my reading. Besides reading Joan Didion with my mom (this month: The Book of Common Prayer), I finally read the wonderful third book from January Gill O’Neil, Rewilding. (Pictured to the left: Sylvia loved my “fall mood” table so much that she came and put her paws directly on January’s book! She really does love to cuddle a poetry book!)

This book addresses the natural process of rewilding – what happens when we leave a field or a stream alone for a while – and the dissolving and building of bonds between family members during a divorce. January’s language is clear and straightforward, but lovely, in this collection that will move you and make you rethink your own search for your rewilding self.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Field Guide Book Giveaway Winner, a Heck of a Week: Broken Teeth, Birds in Smoke, and Saying Goodbye to RBG, Poetry Reading Corner – Rewilding

A rare glimpse of an owl hunting in the park. I imagine a field mouse running for its life. Watching, I feel so hollow. I am a steel tube. Something is missing inside of me. Empty. What? The owl rises back up from the field, flapping hard. She has something in her claw, but I can’t tell what it is. A slow mouse, perhaps. She lands high up in one the tall pines to eat in privacy.

James Lee Jobe, No, you fool, it’s only the moon.

“And there you are – happened a few minutes ago.” In a sense, this is the retrospective acknowledgement that a subjectivity—you—has been constituted by this text, and that someone is now looking back upon and narrating you’re having happened here. And now, this “voice” is proceeding to weave you into its own material, which is sutured to the cosmic and the violently technological. That is, “you” exist here as subject in a process of analysis, subdivision, transduction, routing and relay, etc. As reader, you are partly subjected: an operation is happening here, and it is not immediately clear what it intends.

R.M. Haines, Reading the Pharmakon: Part III

why do i re-read this?

is that turned corner stuck in my craw?

are the words vesiculating

in your / my / that heart?

so many question marks that

i have to re-read it again and again 

that turned down corner

stuck in this my crowing

Jim Young, why do i re-read this?

Readers who think they can see what a poem’s “about” (who can paraphrase) have a foundation to help appreciate the poem. It probably means that the poem has some cohesion, which also aids conventional understanding. It may only be a prop to be discarded after use, but there’s no harm offering a helping hand to readers, is there?

If a collection has aboutness (e.g. a theme or two), the themes can provide the narrative for a review, which helps both poet and reviewer. It makes commercial sense for the back cover to say what the collection is “about” even if a minority of the poems match the description. If the poet’s autobiography matches the theme, so much the better.

But “aboutness” isn’t univerally popular. I’ve heard poets say of a poem of theirs that “If I knew what it’s about I wouldn’t have written it.” I rather like trying to discover what a poem is “about”, which is perhaps why I’m not so keen on single-theme autobiographical collections. I like trying to work out how a poem achieves its effect, which leads to psychology and market awareness more than soul-baring. Even if a poem doesn’t work for me, I’m interested in how might it work for others.

Tim Love, Aboutness

Richie McCaffery is an unusual poet. To start with, his poems are immediately recognisable. And then there’s his commitment to his method. Instead of shedding a skin after every book, reinventing himself for the following collection, he chips away at his concerns. This quality shines through once more in his new pamphlet, First Hare (Mariscat Press, 2020), which builds on the foundations of his previous books, layering them with additional nuances in both aesthetic and thematic terms.

I’ve mentioned in the past that McCaffery is one of the best in the business when it comes to so-called poetic leaps. This device involves the invocation of an object, person or situation, followed by an unexpected, startling comparison with another object, person or situation. The comparison might at first seem incongruous, but poets of McCaffery’s skill render it inevitable and enlightening, thus capturing their reader.

One such instance in First Harecan be found in Lighthouse. This poem portrays a picture that’s hung on a bedroom wall in the first stanza; the second stanza introduces the figure of a sleeping partner; the third then brings both elements together as follows:

…It’s drawn in such a way
to imply that the onlooker
is deep in the eye of the storm.

Matthew Stewart, The darkening hue of the years, Richie McCaffery’s First Hare

I was also very pleased to discover the work of Jamie Baxter as a result of Matthew Stewart’s (him, again, FFS!!!) success this week with placing a poem in The Spectator.

I urge you to seek out this poem by Jamie. I am going to dig into his poems as soon as I find some more. I understand he’s not got a pamphlet or book out yet, but I hope this is resolved soon.

And to go and get a copy of The Spectator to see Matthew’s poem. I know there are many things wrong with The Speccie (not least that they continue to give Rod Liddle, T*by Y*ung and James Delingpole opportunities to peddle their racist, shortsighted shite*). However, it does feel like this is a shift into a different world for Matthew’s work. I am sure that Hugo Williams has a very different editorial approach.

The idea of being published in poetry journals and websites, etc is, of course, an absolute dream. He’s been published in a great many of the “biggies” and, still, of course, it’s important to try to get into them. I certainly won’t give up, but when you’re being published in places where the opportunities to be seen and read by folks that may not normally read poetry are increased is a massive achievement, and for that I applaud the lad.

*Please note that I know Matthew does not share the views of that particular bunch of shithouses.

Mat Riches, Echo Location

Lately I’ve been feeling some sadness about the cool classes that I used to teach, about all the classes that I will likely never teach again.  Of course, I’m remembering the fun parts, the actual teaching, not the endless grading.

Part of my sadness is triggered by finding some old teaching materials when I cleaned out some boxes, materials from almost 20 years ago now, back when I was first teaching creative writing.  I cut out all sorts of pictures of humans from magazines, mainly from ads.  Each student took a picture from the envelope–some terms I let them look at the pictures, while in others it was done blind.  Then I asked a series of questions to help people think about the picture as a character.  Then I walked them through the character’s deepest desires in a way to help them think about plot.

I kept the pictures because I thought I might want to do the exercise some day–but I’ve never had any trouble creating characters.  Plus, there was always the chance I might teach creative writing again.

I also had a huge interoffice mail envelope full of words that I used for a sestina exercise.  First we read a sestina and tried to ascertain the pattern.  Then I had them choose six words and put them in the end of each line in the correct order.  Then I gave them some writing time to see what happened.  Did we create brilliant sestinas?  Rarely.  But it was great fun.

I realize that even if I had gotten the kind of teaching job where I used these teaching materials all the time, I still might arrive at a time when I needed to decide whether or not to keep them.  Sandra Beasley has a poignant blog post about the closing of an MFA program, and I think we’re just seeing the beginning of lots of program closures of all kinds. 

My grief is not that kind of sharp grief, but more the mid-life kind, the kind where I stumble across an artifact and think about where I thought I was headed and where I am right now.  I realize it’s not where I’ve ended up–that could still change, although many of my options look a bit less bright now than they once did.  But finding those artifacts is like getting a letter from my past self, in a way.  What would my future self observe?

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Letters as Teaching Ideas, Artifacts as Letters

My devotion might have been particularly acute because I had nowhere else where I taught on a regular basis. Tampa will always be where I developed my workshop style: bright, performative, probably reading- and vocabulary-heavy, hopefully with a lot of laughter to ease the rigor. Tampa is where I developed my first dozen go-to hourlong lectures, which I’ll carry with me for the rest of my teaching career. Tampa is where I discovered what I’m most gifted at (line edits) and what I spend way too much time on (line edits). Tampa is where I had the time to form lasting mentorships with students, often seeded by the solidarity of shared identities or reference points. 

Tampa is where, ironically, I learned these mentorships were not limited by geography. I took student work with me to Cyprus, to Kansas, to Ireland. I conferenced with a student on my wedding day, while someone fussed with the back-closure of my dress. I conferenced with a student while I was hunkered down on the floor of my SW DC apartment with my dying cat. 

Students, you have been so, so kind and patient with me, and you trusted me with such valuable material of life and art. I’ll never forget that. 

On the scale of 2020 losses, this is bearable. I’ve already heard from teachers delighted by the UT transfer students landing in their respective low-res MFA programs. I have every faith that they’ll thrive. I’m fortunate to have a final two talented students, both of whom I taught in earlier semesters, with whom I’ll get the satisfaction of shaping thesis manuscript–one last poetry collection, one last nonfiction work.

That said, I wish we’d gotten a proper send-off. When we met in January of this year, though there was open concern, there was also a resolve to rally and recruit. By February, the program had been shut down via an e-mail. In March, all of our AWP gatherings were cancelled. The June residency moved to Zoom because of COVID-19. I suspect the January 2021 capstone events for our last round of graduates will also be online or, even if there is an in-person component, it will feel risky for our scattered (former) faculty to fly in for the festivities. We deserved one more dance party. 

Sandra Beasley, “The End of an MFA”

Much has been written about meetings by Zoom, Google Meet and the lamentable MS Teams. In general terms, I can only add that online work meetings have been more focused and more courteous, with much less interruption and talking over one another. For poetry, it’s been a boon, of course, enabling launches and readings to be attended from anywhere in the world, and Leicester. Not that I’ve been to that many – work’s been so full-on that frequently the last thing I’ve wanted to do of an evening is continue to stare at a screen. There have been some memorable events, though, chief among them Happenstance readings/webinars involving Alan Buckley and Charlotte Gann, in support of their respective brilliant recent collections. It isn’t the same as being there in person, naturally, because you can’t go and talk to the poets after and get them to sign copies of their books, or natter to other poet friends.

Write Out Loud Woking, hosted by the estimable double act of Greg Freeman and Rodney Wood, has seamlessly gravitated from the cafe in The Lightbox to Zoom, enabling guest readers from far afield to join in the fun, welcoming and diverse proceedings. I’ve tried out five or six new poems in those Zoom readings, which has been very helpful for hearing where the poems catch and need tweaking. More to the point, it’s been lovely to see all the regulars, like Karen Izod, Heather Moulson, Ray Pool and Greg and Rodney themselves.

The Red Door Poets have also moved to Zoom and at a time of day more conducive to my occasional attendance. I’ve also attended a few Poetry Business virtual residential weekends and one-off workshops, all of which were as inspiring as if they were in-person.

Heading towards the last session of this current, 2019–2021, Poetry Business Writing School programme, I’ve been grouped with Jim Caruth and Philip Rush, two poets whose distinctively personal poetries are right up my street. So far, we’ve had two very enjoyable Zoom sessions, comparing notes on various poets’ poems and workshopping our own, with another session due soon, shortly before the final Zoom session with Ann and Peter Sansom and the other participants. The plan is still, I think, that, Covid restrictions permitting, there will be an end-of-programme celebration next February or so at the Wordsworth Trust at Dove Cottage in Grasmere. I know from last time how exciting a prospect that is.

Matthew Paul, The last six months

I’ve been thinking, as I often do, about how both photography and writing are on many levels about waiting, the discipline of waiting. Someone last week on Twitter wrote that hope is a discipline. And I was thinking about how photography, and writing, but maybe more tangibly, photography is about hope. Photography is about waiting and hoping that the light will be interesting or workable or better yet, magical. Photography is about that hope that our seeing and our skills will converge with a lucky or split second, with a sweet moment of light or an essence or quality of the day that is surprising or at the very least lovely.

A book I’ve been dipping in and out of for months is Blind Spot by Teju Cole. I highly recommend it for those interested in photography, writing, noticing, being alive, alert.

The intro to the book is by another writer I admire, Siri Hustvedt. In it she says, “The camera’s eye is not the human eye. The camera takes in everything inside its frame. We do not. Human beings have poor peripheral vision. Details vanish because we cannot focus on everything at once. Sequences blur.” Because I do a lot of my seeing with a camera, I often see things at least twice. Anyone who processes their photos in Lightroom or another program, is looking at what they’ve shot in a way that is not our usual way of looking. And so that in turn affects future seeing, looking, noticing. Am I any better at seeing the world than anyone else? I doubt it. But the discipline of pursuing an image I’m interested in seeing in a digital form has taught me a few things. Well, obviously, the discipline itself is a thing.

I’ve learned that sometimes we see what we’re not seeing. We know, somehow, that those things at the outside edge of our peripheral vision are there. The camera has trained me to trust in what lies beyond the focal point. Anyway, the book is great because it’s an amazing example of how we process what we see, what’s in the frame, what’s just out of it, and then all those other things we bring to an image, things from way beyond it. We process a lot more than we think we do. But it’s good to sit with things, process how we’re processing, to allow ourselves tangents, peripheral thoughts, precision but also blur, quirkiness and the obvious, not to mention the ordinary and the odd, expansiveness and detail.

Shawna Lemay, Waiting is a Discipline

As news of Ginsberg’s death moved swiftly on Friday, I saw a slew of reactions along lines I’ve come to expect in the aftermath of any perceived political threat: “Of course they can’t fill her seat until we have a new President!” (Yes, they can, if enough Republican senators toe the party line, which they have done unfailingly for the past nearly four years.) “Now we really have to get out the vote!” (Sure, of course, but with respect to the question of the Supreme Court in general and Ginsberg’s seat in particular, that ship really left the dock in 2016.) Inspirational memes about coming back to fight another day. (Without any acknowledgement of how unfair the fight is, or how the unwritten but fundamental rules of engagement have changed, or how losing this fight might make future fights almost impossible to win.)

Initially these responses filled me with frustration because they remind me of 2016 me and because I cannot understand how anyone paying real attention now can think any of those responses are grounded in reality. Later, they filled me with sadness because that is just where a lot of people are, and it’s how they hang onto hope, and I have to accept that reality, too.

Please don’t misunderstand. I know that hope is crucial and that we are truly doomed if we all lose it, but it needs to be a critical hope. Our hope needs to be grounded in what is actually true right now today, not in what used to be true or what we wish or believe to be true–which means facing and feeling our sorrow and fear rather than pushing them away with half-truths that make us feel better. We need to accept the contradictory truths that things are terrible and that hope is reasonable so that we will take actions that might actually make a damn difference in our fight to make a better world, one in which we can all live and work without threat of death and raise children who believe they can make good lives for themselves on the soil from which they sprang.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Testing, testing

The universe is
a pair of angel
wings. I have seen them.

The angel itself
is dark matter, of
course, which I have not
seen. See dark matter?

Don’t be silly.

If you could see dark
matter, you couldn’t
hope to see the wings.

Tom Montag, THE UNIVERSE IS

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, 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. This week: abundance and loss, fire and ash, falling, the fallen. Fall.


The apples are falling into bags which find their way to my doorstep, the damsons have relaxed, forgiven themselves for not being plums, the dish and the spoon are getting well used, and the courgettes are running away with the beans. Even the herbs in my window box are making a final push for the sun, over-stretching beyond their theme tune … Parsley, Chives, Rosemary and Thyme – with a ladida and a hey diddle diddle and damn the absence of Sage and a fiddle! 

I’ve saved jars, and jammed some fruits into them, I’ve baked an apple tart, sprinkled it with almond flakes and cinnamon. In years gone by I pickled. I stoned. I peeled. I cored. But this year’s new harvest trick is bottling. 

Bottle. What a word. I bottle, you bottle, he, she, zhe, they, bottle. We’ve all bottled it through lock-down and here in the northern hemisphere we’re facing, well, we’re facing west and the lowering sun, and the coming of the colder months. But before that, the plenty, abundance of good things to store, to shore us up, turn into something warm and friendly, encouraging and faintly medicinal for whatever lies ahead. It’s cordial. 

Liz Lefroy, I Bottle Abundance

This [click through for photo] is the University of Chicago “Great Books of the Western World” collection, edited by Mortimer Adler and published in the 1950s. My grandmother, a single mom on a budget, scrimped and saved for months to buy this for my father when he was quite young, maybe 12, and it shaped the rest of his life. He eventually went to the University of Chicago, and became a research psychologist, a scholar, a book collector, and a deeply engaged intellectual with a broad ranging curiosity and knowledge of the world. He kept this collection with him always – I remember it in his library when I was growing up – and it’s still right here next to the bed where he slept until last January. I’m staying in this room now, visiting my stepmom, and realizing just how long the influence of something like this can last. My dad truly believed in the life of the mind and dedicated his life to it, and his life – not to mention these books – are a testament to how the mind lives on in the pages we write, the people we talk to, the students we teach, and the children we raise.

turning the page ::
a vase of dried reeds on the old bookshelf

Dylan Tweney [no title]

The week was heavy and emotional. My eyes were permanently swollen from crying and I had a headache that wouldn’t go away. I slept little and ate like crap. But every day I held my dad’s hand, I kissed his forehead, I stroked his face, I told him I loved him. I spooned ice into his mouth and at the end, I spooned morphine into his cheek. I injected meds into his catheter. I emptied his urine catch and I changed his dressings. I performed these tasks with love and heartbreak.

My dad was unresponsive the entire time but I believe he knew I was there. The first few days he opened his eyes and looked at me. He didn’t say anything but once, while looking at me, I swear he was trying to say I love you.

Each morning I would rise early and watch the sky as I drank my coffee. One morning, the sunrise was breathtaking. I thought of all the days my farmer father greeted the day before the sun rose. How he watched the sky lighten as he worked the fields or fed the cattle. In that moment, I felt at peace.

While death is always overwhelming and hard and painful, I’m grateful I had this time with my dad. I’m grateful I could be with him all week and be with him at the end.

I tried writing but the words wouldn’t come. I’ve written a lot about my dad in the past and so maybe, for now, I’ve written myself out of this. Maybe right now I just need to sit with the emotions. So here’s a poem I wrote a few years ago. [Click through to read.]

Courtney LeBlanc, Saying Goodbye

Today I hiked Wendell State Forest, where hundreds of hours and miles of our laughter is imprinted in bark, water, sky, and springy pine-roots underfoot.

Finally, I don’t miss him: he just is, in me, again, differently now and it’s not as good but he’s there, imprinted in every cell, muscle, timbre, laugh.

I forgot my phone, my camera: just me and his ghost and the slant light of the end.

And herons. Bears. Minks. Otters. Beavers. Frogs. Turtles. Coyotes.

Images of him layered on my retinas, images of me in his tapetum, images of The Us reflected in every forest leaf-shimmer, in all that September gold.

JJS, last nights together: 7 years gone tomorrow

Meanwhile, our family house is eerily tidy. I have an urge to rush around the kitchen sprinkling every surface with breadcrumbs, smearing humus on light fixtures, kicking over piles of books to make everything seem more normal. The laundry bin is looking as deflated as a jumper that shrunk in the wash. I almost hate the silence as much as I hate the thumping beats of techno music. My daughter’s leaving feels much closer to loss than when she left to study at university – and I always knew she’d be back home every eight weeks.

But I hope I will get back to a regular writing routine next week. Much as I miss my eldest child, I’m glad to be reinstated in the room and desk I loaned to her for her studies and online tutoring. It is great to be able to shut myself away for some time each day and not be disturbed mid-sentence by my fantastic but distracting husband, Andrew, when he pops into the kitchen from his office (at the bottom of our garden) to make himself a cup of tea.

Josephine Corcoran, Proper Weeping

The whole West Coast is covered in smoke, with wildfires still raging in Washington State, Oregon, and California. Our air quality has been so bad I’ve been shut up in my bedroom with four air purifiers since Monday night, and the indoor air quality is still almost 100. Outdoor air quality yesterday was 400. It is impossible to breathe outside; even for healthy people, creosote particles (among others) can cause long-term lung damage. Cloth masks don’t work, either, only n95 or P100 masks, the news continues to tell us – though I have no idea where people are getting those, they haven’t been available to normal people since February. So, we’re basically screwed until it rains – which won’t be til Monday or Tuesday, and even then we’re not guaranteed clean air. […]

Hummingbirds continue to appear and drink from the feeder, and from the flowers. We run the sprinkler periodically for the birds and my garden; apparently the spray helps them stay cleaner from the smoke (or so I was told.) I have added houseplants to my room of solitude to help make up for the fact that I can’t go outside – an orchid, a snake plant, an aloe, a couple of ferns – all plants that coincidentally are supposed to help air quality. One thing about things you are able to control – I can’t stop over 600,000 acres burning, but I can plant a tree in my yard (when this is over and it’s safe outside, naturally.) I can’t leave the “clean room” in my house (without suffering more than the nosebleeds, headaches, and cough I’m currently having) but I can try to connect with others online, and think about how to improve the quality of the air in the house (air purifiers, plants, dusting, getting rid and loose papers, avoiding burning anything (food, candles, etc.) I’ve been writing poems, too, when I can, though I’m not sleeping well with all the smoke so they may be mildly incoherent.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, In an Apocalyptic Week, an Apocalypse Book Giveaway: Field Guide to the End of the World, and Margaret Atwood with Hummingbirds

the sky is brown full of smoke ash tar creosote and whatever else trees exhale as they burn as they die that picture is not current I just put it there because it is a portal I only stepped outside once yesterday to grab the CSA box from the porch and I held my breath while doing so no baking no frying no vacuuming (not that I was going to vacuum) and no running the dryer we are quiet inside both of us with raging headaches the house full of invisible smoke waiting for rain there are no birds flying or hopping around no birdsong the leaves on my rhododendrons are drooping my trees cast their eyes to the south toward Seattle and Portland which is now on alert to evacuate half a million people that amazing green place burning burning with an administration that has been steadily and quietly rolling back environmental protections an administration that does not believe in science an administration that disregards the entire west coast because our governors would not stoop to kiss the nasty man’s ring

Rebecca Loudon, Pig and farm report

The air itself seems heavy. Suffocating. The simple act of breathing is as hard as understanding your life. Outside, the fading lights of a passing car give way to starlight. Light and dark, breathing and suffocation. Your life is heavier than air. There’s the sound of footsteps, but you can’t tell if they are coming or going.

James Lee Jobe, smoke and ash everywhere

By Thursday afternoon my house was filled with smoke. My nostrils were parched, and my head felt not achy, but heavy. My eyes wanted to stay closed.

I am not in an evacuation zone, not even level one, but they aren’t far from me. […]

I had a conversation with an old friend, and we talked about evacuation plans, our children’s futures, whether or not we should buy guns and learn how to use them.

If you’d told me even ten years ago that I would think seriously about buying a gun I’d have told you to shoot me now. That I would never want to live in a world where I’d find myself thinking seriously about whether or not I should buy a gun.

But Thursday was the day rumors started to fly that the wildfires in Oregon were set by antifa and BLM supporters (spread by far-right talk radio and dubious web sites and hordes of ignorant, scared people), and I read from a valid news source that our country’s vice president was planning to address a meeting of QAnon supporters as a campaign event, and my house filled with smoke, and our already-closed schools closed more, and it felt like a reasonable conversation to be happening.

“It’s not like I feel like I need one now,” I said to L. “But I don’t think we should wait until we feel like we need to do some things. I think if we wait until then, it might be too late.”

The first thought that came into my head upon waking Thursday morning was that I should photograph everything in the house that I might want to submit in an insurance claim, if we had to leave and the house burned. I know my house isn’t going to burn now, but that seems like it might be a good thing to have.

Still, I felt calm. I still feel calm.

I think Thursday was the day I went over an edge I’d been getting closer and closer to. It might have happened after I dropped my daughter off at work and drove down a street and noticed that the line of tents camped along it had grown over the past few days. Two years ago we reported such camps to some agency, and a few days later we’d see them disappear. Now I can’t remember how long they’ve been permanently there. They are everywhere, modern-day Hoovervilles.

“I think,” I said to L., “that whoever gets to look back on this year will see it as a turning point, the time in which a fundamental shift happened. I don’t think we are ever going to go back to what we think of as normal.”

Rita Ott Ramstad, On fire in the eye of a hurricane

The physical technique stuff is learnable, even for me. But developing the true emotional readiness to defend yourself from an attack is a whole other layer. I can visualize myself doing the defensive moves. I can run the programs in my head and ready myself to act rather than freeze in the event that the worst happens. I am fully willing to protect myself, but I need to work on that small seed of doubt that I cannot. That small seed of doubt could literally kill me. Used correctly, these techniques will work reliably every time, so the only thing in the way right now is my thoughts, which are much harder to master than anything physical. 

My one regret is that I wasn’t able to break the black block. We did block-breaking as a mental exercise, and I broke every other one fairly easily after a few tries, but the black block was the hardest, and I couldn’t break through it, despite everyone cheering me on. One of my bruises from the class is on my wrist from whacking that thing over and over again, until the instructor took it away and gave me plaudits for trying. I am now haunted by that black block. That black block represents to me an unconscious lack of readiness, and a deep layer of shame about all of the times I have been attacked and bullied and was unable to protect myself. (And there it is. I didn’t expect to get so deep on myself that I would start crying as I wrote this.) I need to break that black block in my mind. I need to understand that I am not a frail, boundary-less, vulnerable person anymore. I am eons away from being that person. I have to know that and believe that, because my life truly could depend on it. So that is the real work ahead of me, grappling not physically but emotionally. Defeating not the enemy outside of me, but the one inside of me.

It’s been an intense few days, topped off by our air in Seattle being so thick with wildfire smoke as to be almost edible.

Kristen McHenry, The Black Block

The ongoing soundtrack of fire and smoke transform these western skies into a horror movie.

Reruns of choked air stumble zombified before our eyes, casting the sun in an eerie Halloween glow, making high noon a vast jack-o’-lantern on heaven’s porch step.

Our shadows don’t even tag along as we wander outdoors amidst a climate that’s changed into apocalyptic clothing.

And so we bide our time, counting the falling ashes, waiting for rains whose every wet syllable is aria.

Rains unafraid to bed down in dark forests.

Rains unshy in the ways of turning burned skies clean.

Rich Ferguson, How to Unmake This Movie of Our Making

Even as ice rained on the desert, even
    as the skies above California turned
the color of rusted chains, someone
    was still trying to dig out remnants
of that dream. Confused birds tucked
      their heads under their wings. 
In field after field, garlic and artichoke 
    hearts bent beneath the weight
of all they too could no longer hold.

Luisa A. Igloria, American Dream

Already these crystalline days.  Already the air moving in its own way, letting sun and warmth shout at mid-day, then fall silent.  Already sound of the sea in the crowns of trees.   Already baskets full with the harvest.  Already late fruits, second round of figs, God’s tomatoes.  Already coming into peak.  Already reap what you sow.  Already reap what you have sown.

Then, as if the bonfires of vine cuttings have been let loose on the country, already fires, fires, fires.  Fire balls and lies and a house divided.  Unloosed colors that are not our crystalline days.  Our, not our days.  Dazed by destruction, red-hot beauty that flashes in its rage.  Haze of underwater yellow dawn.  Smoke, air moving in its own way.

Leaders loosened from any ground.  Pronouncements. As with everything, the language exposes.  What our fears are.  What we’re not saying. 

Already turn, turn.  Turn of the twirling leaf.  Turn of teshuva of the Jewish New Year — return to a better self.  Breakdown, collapse, strip to origins.  Quiver, terror, suspense.  Turn after a long stare of paralysis.  Reap what you sow — maybe.  Reap in spite of what you sowed – maybe.  No guarantees.  Mystery.  Be nourished by all experience.  Sow, pause in the nothingness.  

The ripe tomato turns on the vine.

Jill Pearlman, Turn, Turn, September’s Turn

Every year I write an extra high holiday sermon. Not on purpose! It just happens. Every year, it seems, I write my three sermons… and then realize that one of them is predictable, or trite, or doesn’t say anything new, or doesn’t speak to the unique needs of this moment. I could publish a book of the sermons I never gave. (I won’t. But I’m amused that I could.)

In that sense, preparing for the Days of Awe this year has been just like every other year. I make an outline for every service, trying to balance Hebrew with English, song with spoken-word, familiar with new. I thrill to cherished ancient melodies. I practice singing, and I jot musical motifs on Post-it notes so I don’t lose track of which melodic mode we’re in. Just like always.

And who am I kidding: preparing for the holidays this year has been unlike any other, ever. I translated my machzor into a slide deck, adding images and artwork and embedded video, adding new readings and prayers for this pandemic moment. I made it much longer! and then I cut, ruthlessly, because services need to be a manageable length for Zoom, and they need to flow. 

I’m trying to help my kid get ready for school. He’s growing like mint, like a sunflower. There is a stack of new notebooks and pencils on his desk. There’s also a school-issued Chromebook. The year will begin with two weeks of remote learning before we enter a “hybrid model” phase. The juxtaposition of normal and unprecedented is itself becoming our new normal.

My kitchen counter is heaped with beautiful lush heirloom tomatoes from the CSA where I’ve been a member since 1995. I eat them sliced, on toast with cream cheese; cubed, with peaches, topped with burratini and a splash of balsamic vinegar; plain, like impossibly juicy apples. Any minute now their season will end, and I will miss this late-summer abundance fiercely.

There’s a gentle melancholy to this season for me, every year. The changing light; the first branches turning red and gold; the knowledge that the season will turn and there’s nothing I can do to stop it… I sit on my mirpesset, arms and legs bared to the warm breeze, listening to late-summer cricketsong. I know their song isn’t forever. That, at least, really is just like always.

Rachel Barenblat, Just like always

I’m still rambling through Thomas Moore’s Care of the Soul. The part where he reminds us that “the word “passion” means basically “to be affected”…” He’s talking about the beauty / soul connection, saying, “If we can be affected by beauty, then soul is alive and well in us, because the soul’s great talent is for being affected.” He reminds us that “beauty is not defined as pleasantness of form but rather as the quality in things that invites absorption and contemplation.” Beauty isn’t necessarily pretty. Beauty is “things displaying themselves in their individuality.”

The soul needs beauty. And Moore quotes Rilke’s ideas on the “passive power” of being affected, in the image of a flower’s structure: “a muscle of infinite reception.” Moore says, “We don’t often think of the capacity to be affected as strength and as the work of a powerful muscle, and yet for the soul, as for the flower, this is its toughest work and its main role in our lives.”

The world needs a lot of things right now, but it also needs places for us to exercise that muscle of infinite reception. Libraries, for example. Schools. Art galleries.

If you’ve been following me on Instagram, you’ll have noticed that since the pandemic began, I’ve been going out more often and photographing people and buildings in my city, Edmonton. And so there’s a chapter in C of the S that spoke to me. Moore says, “Care of the soul requires that we have an eye and an ear for the world’s sufferings.” He suggest that we see things (not just people) in their suffering condition. (People and things are connected, and it’s just another level of noticing). When we see trashed areas of our city, and now boarded up ones, graffitied walls (not the artistic ones), what’s going on there? “When our citizens spray-paint a trolley or subway or a bridge or a sidewalk, clearly they are not just angry at society. They are raging at things. If we are going to understand our relationship with the things of the world, we have to find some insight into this anger, because at a certain level those people who are desecrating our public places are doing a job for us. We are implicated in their acting out.”

The book was published in 1994, but yah, we are all still implicated. That’s certainly something this past year should have taught us all. What do the ruins of our city tell us? Maybe we’re too deep in it all to know, but we can still record. We can photograph, describe with words. What do the ruins and boarded up or otherwise neglected places related to Covid-19 tell us about what’s happening? How will they continue to tell a story?

Shawna Lemay, To Be Affected

Her house is ramshackle, she bought it for a song because that was all she could afford in her post-retirement wish to move out of the city for a quiet life. When I visited her, she warned of the scorpions under the tiles, mice that sneak in through the mitham, and centipedes that permanently reside in the washroom. There was a contraption that looked like the one used to hold down a snake. Seeing me eye the long rod, she said it was used to pull down drumsticks and lime from trees. I remained alert during my stay and watched my steps.

Her husband took me around the village. The banyan tree dwarfed the temple and arched across the narrow road to canopy the large and mossy temple pond. A dirt road led out of the village to acres of shimmering paddy fields – heads of the tall grass heavy with grains, the stalks a coppery gold. When the sun moved high in the sky, the earth became a column of light, and I could barely keep the eyes unblinking. He led me to a tree and we sat for long in silence as dark patches gathered at the corner of my vision. In the city I had not experienced naked light; tall buildings and dust-laden trees bounce off the glare.

He wiped his forehead with the carefully folded thundu. His veshti was crisp and his shirt neatly ironed – echoes from the days he displayed fine taste. Many of my friends desired him to be their father, or rather desired their father to be like him – stylish and suave; he wore shades for Madras summer, and went for a jog near the Marina in shorts – something that only film heroes did.

He worked as a technical director in a film studio – what job that entailed I do not know, but l knew it commanded an envious lifestyle of parties and travels to places that I had to look up in the atlas. He sailed in a cloud of perfume, you could smell musk for hours after he left a room.

I wasn’t perceptive then; in retrospect, I see the cracks: his aspirations tensed his relationship with his wife. Now in the absence of all that he possessed, I sense a turmoil, his dis-ease with himself, and alienation from the resplendent kingfisher just a metre away hovering above the wild fern fronds.

Uma Gowrishankar, Kumbakonam thereabouts

I have a recurring dream that I am downtown at night, completely alone, and the lights go out.  Completely and not even a moon to see by.  In the most recent version a few nights ago, I was trying to use the flashlight on my cell phone to navigate. Sometimes, there are car headlights, but more often, it’s pitch black.

Tonight was my first evening shift at the library and my first night downtown since March, and it’s a strange, eerily deserted world I come back into and very much not the bustling one I left.  Granted, it’s chilly and a little rainy, which no doubt kept a lot of people in, but I only saw a few people on the streets, a few riders on the bus.  […]

But really, many of the storefronts were already empty long before Covid–high rents, dwindling physical shoppers. I would guess at least one storefront per block empty for years or recently vacated. So maybe it was always getting darker along that strip, and even moreso south of the river.  Not just the theatres and bars and hotels, but also the businesses that thrived because of loop workers, many of whom are working from home and no longer populating the cafes and lunch spots. I am curious to see how the Chicago rebuilds itself in the wake of this, what changes the textures and routines of city life.  In my neighborhood on the north side, things are pretty much the same and most eateries have managed to stay open. People who work from home still get carryout and coffee, just closer to their houses, but downtown, who knows what that will look like when this is over–if this is ever over… 

Kristy Bowen, chicago by night

I never wrapped up my thoughts on the Sealey Challenge, which dares you to read a poetry book every day of August. One question was, is this mostly a chance to look cool and post photos of your reading stack or is it a sincere request that you engage with poetry on a daily basis for a month?

Well, it’s up to you. In my case I didn’t read a book a day. Some of the books I wanted to read were more than a hundred pages long and even if I didn’t have a job I might not have managed it. But I consider 20 books a positive thing. I also didn’t have the desire or wherewithal to post something on social media every day. I’m sure the world is not bothered.

I admit there were a couple books I didn’t like, one of which I eventually gave up on. That was kind of sad, but I am old and I have to be selective. I’ve read just shy of 600 books over the past ten years. Hopefully I’ll live another 20 years, which means I have time for 1,200 more.

Of the books by poets I’d never read before last month, my favorite was Natasha Trethewey’s Thrall. The book includes many ekphrastic poems alongside family poems, all dealing with race, interracial families and identity. I felt it was very well done, beautifully written and felt and conveyed. It had music and meaning. It was engaging and accessible. I like that.

Sarah J Sloat, Thrall

–On Monday, we began unpacking the boxes of books that have been packed away for 2 years–2 years.  There were moments when I wanted to weep when I took the books out of the boxes, to weep because I was so happy to see them again.

–I didn’t finish unpacking the boxes.  We discovered that the lowest shelf wasn’t as attached to the wall as my DIY spouse thought it was.  We decided to take a pause to see how the other shelves, now full of books, responded.  So now the front bedroom is a bit of a disaster, but at least we’re in progress to getting the books put away. […]

–During one of my quicker restocking trips, I picked up a bouquet of flowers, the cheap $4 kind.  It has a hydrangea bloom, lots of small sunflowers, a huge fuchsia carnation, and some daisy-esque blossoms.  I am amazed at its beauty.

–Here is the task, it seems:  to continue to be amazed at the beauty.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, A Look Back at Labor Day

home alone
I plaited my hair
but word got around

domestic science
I wish I’d done more
reweaving my life

we are stymied
silenced by the virus
hold fast to courage

a transgression
to sing to Rosie’s goats
whose bones are made of music

Ama Bolton, ABCD September 2020

I don’t want these poems I’m writing now to feel forced and I haven’t quite got an organic spark for this latest one. So I’m tip-toeing around it, writing notes about images and a few lines, but at the moment it feels very telling and unfocused. I have a deadline for the end of the month I’d like to meet, so need to get it finished. 

The sun is finally shining after a rough, rainy week, so I hope to go out to the allotment today. The girls have been selling my excess courgettes this week and want to see if any others are ready. I have had a serious glut of them this year. They grow to marrows so quickly. The kids are tired of courgette bread and the veg in pasta sauces. I have a freezer full of grated courgette as well. I was surprised anyone bought them as they aren’t a traditional Finnish veg and most people I’ve given them away to haven’t known what to do with them, but they shifted over a dozen of them at fifty cents each. I’ll try and get as much in as I can before the wet gets to them, but I think the plot is winding down.

Gerry Stewart, Autumn Scramble

I’m sure everyone with school-age kids is finding it the same, but now that Flo’s back at school, we’ve been spending a lot of this week getting used to a new routine in the house. She’s getting up earlier again and that means we are too. It’s amazing what a difference an hour makes. Please note this is not where I start singing the praises of rising 12 hours before you go to bed, etc. I won’t do that as it’s a shit state of affairs and I’d rather stay in bed.

However, in an attempt to make hay, etc I’m trying to make use of the time and do my exercises and then spend at least 30-45 mins writing before work. You take what you can, I guess. I managed it once this week and that was more by luck than judgement, but it happened and the poem that emerged from it wasn’t half bad, if I say so myself and so far.

It’s based on an idea that’s been hanging around for a long time—well, almost a year, in scribbled note form, but sometimes these things just need to just do their thing sub-consciously.

Who knows what will happen next week. I don’t think it’s the sort of thing you can do consistently… I admire folks that turn up and just do the “work”. Perhaps I should do that. Sod it, let’s see what happens if I make a point of doing that for the next week.

Mat Riches, A Raise of Sunshine

I was thinking about the hazards of writing current events poetry, and asked some poet friends if we talked about Covid in our poems are we not in danger of having them become dated?

One argued that we are writing poems out of a specific experience, out of an extraordinary time.

But don’t all times feel extraordinary when we’re in them? 9/11, World War I, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the death of a parent — all of them were times that felt catastrophic to the individuals inside them. How to write a good poem that transcends its extraordinary time to encompass all extraordinary times? Or should that even be a goal? Why not linger in the time and be frank about it?

Another person called attention to Yeats’s Easter 1916 as a poem grounded in a specific experience but a poem that has transcended the time of that experience. It is a wonderful poem, which certainly by the title grounds us firmly in time, though makes the assumption the reader will understand the reference to the Irish uprising. That phrase, though, “terrible beauty,” captures the imagination and takes me in any number of directions far from Irish soil. And the naming of the dead is an ancient rite that we still take part in. The movement of the poem to the unceasing natural world is both a common approach of putting us in our place and also effective, a useful reminder of the fleeting nature of our existence. But even though he wrote it shortly after the event, the poem already feels like a historic, long view. It has a vital distance, the “I” a distant onlooker from the start, already elegiac.

Is it this real or perceived distance that offers an avenue into the power of the poem? I don’t know.

Marilyn McCabe, Got the rockin’ pneumonia; or, On Writing About Current Events

A large buddleia bush obscured my view of the raptor, so I could not make out whether it was a young redtail (it was on the small side) or perhaps a Coopers or sharp-shinned. The squirrel’s response intrigued me. In a fraction of a second, it determined that running straight toward me was ever so much wiser than running the opposite direction (braving the open lawn to make for the treeline). I watched, amused, as the squirrel scurried along the porch to within a foot of my chair, where it suddenly scrabbled its legs, slewed sideways, and stared up at me in confused terror. Poor thing.

It climbed down the side of the porch and huddled in the bushes as the hawk shook itself and made for the oak tree and the small birds returned to their interrupted repast. The cats gazed out with renewed interest, having felt a bit flustered themselves, I could tell.

I don’t blame them. Everything lately seems so unprecedented and apocalyptic.

I feel simpatico with the squirrel.

Ann E. Michael, Hawk. Squirrel.

It’s a test for me, this poem [“Try to Praise the Mutilated World” by Adam Zagajewski], I say to them. June’s long days and drops of rosé wine, yes. But refugees going nowhere? Executioners singing joyfully? After the summer we have had, that is a bit much. Isn’t it? Is it all part of the same whole, I ask them? Are we to look at everything as an opportunity for praise, for grace, for beauty? And what if we can’t see the world in that way? What if our past history and life experiences have hard-wired us to be just a little suspicious of messages which sound like ‘It’s all going to work out fine’? For many of us, it hasn’t, and didn’t.

Well, you start with the gray feather a thrush lost. You start with the gentle light that strays and vanishes and returns. That concert where the music flared. Can you praise those and hold them in the light, just for one minute? You’ll be surprised with what your imagination shows you.

Anthony Wilson, Praise the Rain

poems
chiselling the tombstone 
of the world

Jim Young [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 33

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts.

It’s the season of molting and early migration in the northern hemisphere, so it seemed fitting this week that so many poets were blogging about change, healing, transformation and flux. And most people seem to be back from vacations, so this is a very full digest. Enjoy.


David Bowie famously invites us–or exhorts us–to turn and face the strange. Necessary, especially during times people are wishing things were as they used to be. Change seems a stranger. We don’t want it at our door.

Facing change presents challenges and requires confronting fears. No wonder people resist; yet change is all there is. Without it, not even death (which is all about change). Just stasis. Not-life instead of no-life; un-life.

For now, a break from blogging, from submitting poems to journals, from sending out my latest attempt at a manuscript, from attending readings and conferences and workshops. I might say “it’s all too much” under current circumstances, but the reasons are more complicated and center around transitions of the not-writing kind.

In time, knowing the way my writing process occurs, these transitions will lead to more writing. More poems. Lots of process.

Meanwhile. I’m in the woods. I’m in the garden. I’m even (I think) going to be in the classroom. But it will all look different.

Ann E. Michael, Break/change

For someone who loves the countryside and nature as much as I do, staying in the city this summer has been a real stretch. Usually we would go to the U.S. to visit my father and spend time at the lake, but the border is closed to non-essential travel, and even if we did it, such a trip would mean a month of strict quarantine – two weeks on either side. Staying in hotels or B&Bs seems risky, so overnights away haven’t really been considered. I’ve never been so grateful to live near a large city park, or to have a fairly private terrace that I could fill with plants.

For several weeks, we’ve been working very hard to clean our studio of everything we’re not going to need. This has meant sorting through possessions, tools, supplies, equipment, and the work of our whole professional and creative lifetimes. It’s a huge, heavy, and sometimes emotional task that felt almost overwhelming at the beginning, but after steadily putting in several hours a day, day after day, we’re getting there. We’ve sold or given away a lot, recycled or thrown out the rest, and are gradually getting down to the core of what we want and need to keep for the next period of our lives. As you can perhaps imagine, doing this in the middle of a pandemic, very hot weather, and the current worldwide political and social crises has contributed to a roller-coaster of moods, from frustration to encouragement, that we’ve managed with as much equanimity as we could. However, we’ve really needed some breaks, and those are coming now in the form of day trips out of the city.

Beth Adams, Hermit Diary 36: Out of the City

These unplanned detours – which often seem to occur to me in August – derail my writing, my meager (during the plague, especially) life plans. But today I talked to a poet friend, my little brother, and caught up with my parents – a nice way to re-enter the human world, not the suspended animation of the medical care world. The dream (or nightmare) world of IVs and fever, of blood work and doctor exams.

Like going to and fro from the underworld, we need companions to help us re-arrive in the land of the living in one piece, recovering our spirits and reviving our bodies. […]

Have you been watching the falling stars each night at midnight? I’ve been standing on my back porch, drawn to the red glow of Mars on the horizon, once in a while catching the quick winking of a falling star, wishing and wondering if I should even bother wishing. Is it naïve or child-like for me to even make wishes?

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Detours – a Week In and Out of the Hospital, Dahlias, and Feeling a Little Down While Wishing on Stars

Sometimes what we want to happen
doesn’t happen: fruit doesn’t ripen,
the ferns unexpectedly die,
what we see in front of us looks
nothing like we imagined it would.
We expect to heal. We don’t.
We go back over what was said,
what was done to us, what
we lost or gave away. We cry,
Where is the justice in the world?
Listen. In the small hours just as
dark gives way to dawn, a single
bird we have never heard before,
may never hear again, and in that
one rare moment we are saved.

Lynne Rees, Poem: Listen

I am now a person who burns incense. According to many, this makes me some kind of hippy. According to the product packaging, I’m opening up to warmth and sensuality (patchouli), wealth and riches (red ginger) and sanctuary (French lavender). My own sense of what’s happening is that I’ve been craving ritual, the idea of transforming ordinary moments into sacred spaces and the practice of envisioning — and honoring — what I want my life to look like.

I’ve considered trying it for years, but some old voices (parental? patriarchal?) held me back. Even though I burn candles most days, incense seemed a step too far. Whatever that means. Is it even a big deal? It’s not. It just had baggage for me — spiritual connotations I had no right to, stereotypes that didn’t apply, a self-consciousness that plagues me about so many things, other people’s ideas about who I am and what I do and don’t do.

But here’s to letting all that, and more, go.

Because for as long as the fragrance hangs in the air, I find my breath, which is something my Very Good Therapist keeps trying to help me do.

That breath — intentional, slow, deep — allows me to sit with things that I’d otherwise rush past to avoid feeling. Other times, it helps me pause when I’m feeling things too much and may be at risk of spinning out. Either way, it restores a kind of balance that so often evades me and helps to erase (even briefly) the micro-traumas that arise on any given day. Instead of white knuckling anxieties, I try to imagine safety, peace, abundance, expansiveness. I try to mother myself: Here, right now, you’re OK. You are capable. You have the wisdom and strength you need.

Carolee Bennett, august, green & undeserved

I came across this poem one evening noodling on the internet when I had nothing better to do.

I was having one of my periodic bouts of Poetry Exhaustion. I was convinced I would never again come across a poem that would move me and that my entire library of poetry was worthless. I may even have persuaded myself that my twenty-five-year-plus dedication to poetry had been worthless and that a career change was in order, banking say.

Like so many of my Lifesaving Poems I heard the poem before I read it, on this occasion via a YouTube clip of August Kleinzahler reading it at a prize-giving ceremony.

As I say, I was in the doldrums at the time, with no hope or expectation of anything resembling a poem ever coming into my life again.

Then bam, the tired, weary, slightly let’s-get-to-the-bar-already voice of August Kleinzahler reading a poem about a Toronto Twilight by a woman I had never heard of, began to still my breathing. Then stop it altogether.

I am sure there was something about the combination of the tiredness I was feeling and the exhaustion in Kleinzahler’s delivery that made me take notice. That, and the deceptively simple opening line: ‘Three minutes ago it was almost dark.’ Something about those short, declarative sentences, the way they innocently purport to paint a picture whilst carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders: ‘But the sky itself has become mauve./ Yet it is raining./ The trees rustle and tap with rain.’

Anthony Wilson, Lifesaving Poems: Margaret Avison’s ‘Twilight’

The idea of poetry as healing is one that is easily romanticized. This romanticizing comes often with an air of distance: poetry as balm after the fact of hurt. However, there is another facet to healing, one rawer and more immediate, that poetry can tap into. Poetry as stitches being sewn; as open wound learning to close and scar. Through the dynamic lyricism found throughout Laura Cesarco Eglin’s latest collection, Life, One Not Attached to Conditionals (Thirty West Publishing House, 2020), we come across a poetic sensibility reaching for this latter intersection between the poetic act and healing.

When the speaker of “Melanoma Lines,” for example, shares with the reader “I know / how to listen to what’s not ready,” it is a statement that brings the reader closer to her experience. To know how to “listen” is to know what to listen for, to forge, in this case by necessity, an awareness. Later, in the same poem, the speaker gives an idea of the cost of this knowing:

I smelled myself being burned.
Cauterized, they said, as if I
didn’t know how to detect euphemisms

José Angel Araguz, microreview & interview: Life, One Not Attached to Conditionals by Laura Cesarco Eglin

I’m puzzling over a poem and indeed it feels like a puzzle. Jigsaw maybe, as I try pushing pieces against each other and they resist or yield. Or remember Tangrams? You got a set of shapes and were challenged to fit them together to make different forms.

In this poem, the last line was bothering me. It felt thumpy, like, “OKAY HERE IS WHAT THIS POEM IS ABOUT.”

And yet it seemed important in its own way, so it occurred to me to repurpose it as the title instead of the last line.

Okay, but that left the former second to last line just dangling there, insufficient. So I started shifting groups of lines around, swapping sections, turning sentences around, flip-flopping the images and ideas of the poem, starting in the middle, starting toward the end, restarting from the beginning I had started with.

I know the incredible satisfaction of occasionally getting all the pieces to fit together: suddenly, snap, you have the shape you’ve been trying to make. But I must ask of the poem: Is there a piece missing?

This is the challenge of the poem versus the Tangram, I guess. It’s possible I’ll never be able to make the desired shape because a crucial piece is missing, and it’s not as easy as getting on my hands and knees and checking under the couch. I need to identify the gap and write into it.

So at the moment, for all my shifting and switching, the poem looks — instead of like a good solid square or a kitty or bunny — like a gappy rhombus in a hat.

Marilyn McCabe, Broken bicycles; or, More on Revision

Sometimes,
naturally,
the rhymes

come lovely
as a snail’s
trail,

slick with
mucus.
Our eyes

see
the chime
of language

as a wet
marker
left for us

on a dry
land, the way
our ears

hear
the echo
echo.

Tom Montag, Sometimes

Brian Sonia-Wallace was a writer-in-residence for Amtrak and the Mall of America and has his own small business called RENT Poet, and, you guessed it, he writes poetry for strangers on a typewriter! His book, The Poetry of Strangers: What I Learned Traveling America With a Typewriter (Harper Perennial, 2020) was, I have to say it, a great ride. It’s got lots of poems in it, including translations, so I was going to count it toward the #SealeyChallenge, but I also read another Debra Kaufman book, Delicate Thefts (Jacar Press, 2015), and there are tiny stolen things in both books, both concrete and abstract.

Like me, Brian is an actor, too. Unlike me, he approaches his poetry writing, as well as his reading aloud, as performance. Like me, he connects poetry with attention and listening.* He actually composes poems after listening to his customers’ stories, writing the poems they need. Vending his poems across the country, he has worked with all kinds of interesting performers, including clowns and witches, and has appeared at big corporate events, malls, music festival, and, interestingly, a detention center to document (in poems) the undocumented.

*Debra Kaufman dedicates Delicate Thefts “to listeners everywhere.” I sense she’s done her share of the kind of listening that results in poems, too. In “The Receiver” she’s listening at a bar: “When I…look straight / into a stranger’s eyes, / always he will tell me his story.”

Brian Sonia-Wallace experiences that intimacy, too, in talking to strangers. They will tell the deepest things. Back to Kaufman’s poem: “Two drinks in I have taken / the gift of his loneliness.” Here, the loneliness was a gift, not a theft, but the stolen things in Kaufman’s book include a locket, a wallet, stolen innocence, pride, self-image. All, yes, with a delicate touch.

Stolen lives. In “At Duke Gardens, After Another School Shooting,” there is nothing to do but seek solace, remembrance, and “peonies you can wash your face in.” In “Trying to Find a Way,” sometimes the heart is too full, with “no room for another’s story.” 

Kathleen Kirk, The Poetry of Strangers + Delicate Thefts

[Ralph Vaughn Williams] was of that generation which saw perhaps the greatest amount of change and technological advancement of any lifetimes – aged 13 when Benz’s first motor car was driven, 31 when the Wright Brothers took to the air, 56 when the first television broadcast was made, 73 when the first atomic bomb was dropped. . . In his long career he produced a remarkable range and quantity of work: nine symphonies; four concertos, each for a different instrument; chamber pieces (none finer than Five Variants of Dives and Lazarus); choral works; operettas; ballet scores; and many wonderful songs, notably settings of Blake, Swinburne and, above all, Housman

All of which brings me to John Greening. Those who have read any of his collections will know that not only is he a very fine poet, but he also has a deep love of classical music, as demonstrated by his last, beautiful collection The Silence, about Sibelius. Greening’s recent Poetry Salzburg pamphlet Moments Musicaux collects 34 previously uncollected music poems which, Greening says, “hadn’t quite fitted into individual volumes”. Two of the 34 relate to Vaughan Williams, ‘RVW’ and ‘A Sea Symphony’, named after Vaughan Williams’ first symphony, though the latter is not about the composer but somebody else.

‘RVW’, four rhymed quatrains dedicated to the contemporary composer and occasional poet Philip Lancaster, depicts its subject as, ‘An old man/ standing up by the Folly’ – Leith Hill Tower – ‘His back towards London Town’, contemplating a ‘fallen poplar’:

They lie there, unmastered, the nine branches,
  And numberless carolling shoots.
He kicks at the crown’s now silent ocean.
  He probes a fantasia of roots.

It’s difficult to write biographical poems which don’t resort to cliché. In the poem’s ending, Greening gently refers to the deafness which afflicted Vaughan Williams in his last few years but which, like Beethoven before him, didn’t prevent him composing:

The old man sitting up by the Folly,
  Not hearing the aspen’s riposte:
There’s more to be sung than it ever dared whisper,
  And pastoral may not mean past.

It’s a haunting image, with a message which is as ungraspable as the wind is strong, up there at the highest point in south-east England.

Matthew Paul, On Vaughan Williams and John Greening

Every poet I’ve ever translated has taught me something. One of the perils of poetry is to be trapped in the skin of your own imagination and to remain there all your life. Translation lets you crack your own skin and enter the skin of another. You identify with somebody else’s imagination and rhythm, and that makes it possible for you to become other. It’s an opening towards transformation and renewal. I wish I could translate from all the languages. If I could live forever, I’d do that.

– Stanley Kunitz, from his Paris Review interview (Spring 1982). I originally found the quote in The Other 23 & a Half Hours by Catherine Owen, which is chock-full of poetry goodness.

Rob Taylor, trapped in the skin of your imagination

Today I read one of my favorite books by far for the Sealey Challenge, a volume of selected poems by Rainer Maria Rilke. It’s a slim and elderly hardback from the famous (in Germany) publishing house Insel. I inherited it from my husband, who winnows his library by offering unwanted books to me. This pretty much never results in books being thrown out. And never if they are from Insel.

Rilke in German is marvelous. Many beautiful and resonant poems. One of my favorite lines of poetry comes from Rilke’s poem “Im Saal,” or “In the Drawing Room.”

. . . . . They wished to bloom
and to bloom is to be beautiful; but we want to ripen
and that means growing dark and taking care.

. . . . . Sie wollten blühn,
und blühn ist schön sein; doch wir wollen reifen,
und das heißt dunkel sein und sich bemühn.

In German it rhymes, and it is a great rhyme. I’ve surprised myself. I love contemporary free verse (in English).

Another excellent poem –“Archaïscher Torso Apollos” (Archaic Torso of Apollo)– ends with the famous line “You much change your life.” But the line flows more naturally in German and seems less abrupt, if only slightly.  And of course it is its abruptness that makes you catch your breath. I hear the line echoed in many English poems, such as:

1) James Wright’s “Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota,” which ends “I have wasted my life.”

2) Mark Doty’s “Messiah (Christmas Portions),” which ends “Still time. / Still time to change.”

Rilke talks about how the sculpted stone seems to burst from itself “like a star,” and its power leaves the viewer totally exposed.

Sarah J Sloat, you must change your life

This Friday, I’m moderating the first panel at the Outer Dark Symposium 2020 (virtually): “Weird Metamorphosis or Life Change.” Moderating panels doesn’t especially scare me. It’s basically leading a class discussion, except with very smart people who love to talk. I’m always nervous about Zoom, though; I’m no technological wizard, plus catching all the undercurrents in a virtual conversation is hard. To make things eerier, I have to tune in from my extremely haunted office, because I’d be competing for bandwidth at home. I usually clear out of Payne Hall when darkness falls.

I’m also thinking about fear because it’s an inescapable part of transformation stories in Weird fiction and film. Some of the panelists are especially interested in body horror, which involves violence or violation to the body, as in “The Button Bin” by Mike Allen or “Anatomy Lessens” by Edward Austin Hall. Some, in our pre-panel discussion, expressed fascination with what puts people emotionally onto that uncomfortable-to-terrified continuum. They explore it in awesome ways, thinking about race, gender, sexuality, disability, and their intersections.

I’m involved in this panel because my new novel involves the deeply weird transition of menopause. As I wrote and revised Unbecoming, though, the feeling I focused on was not fear but desire. The uncanny power growing in the main character, Cyn, lies in wishing for change, both through small rescues and major redirections. Desire is key to making characters interesting and complicated, so it’s probably central to all fiction. I had a list taped to my wall as I composed, listing what each major character thought they wanted plus what they REALLY wanted (which is often the opposite of what they thought they wanted), and sometimes what they really, really, really wanted in their secret hearts. The push-and-pull among those impulses can make a character–really a bunch of words–come to life in your imagination. Like magic.

Lesley Wheeler, The other side of fear

Yesterday, for The Sealey Challenge I read Lesley Wheeler’s The State She’s In.  I ordered this book just after I returned from the AWP conference, and by the time it arrived, the world was in full pandemic panic mode.  I flipped through it, read a few poems mainly from the end of the book, and thought that I just didn’t have the concentration to read the whole thing.

If I had started from the beginning, I might have devoured the book back when it first arrived.  Or maybe my brain was just too frazzled. But as I read the book yesterday, I did realize that I liked the first part of the book best. 

As I was trying to think about a photograph, I realized that part of the volume revolves around the state of Virginia, one of the “states she’s in” (the other states are metaphorical states).  I thought about Florida, the state I’m in.  I thought about how both states will always feel both like home to me and like places where I feel I’m an alien dropped in for a visit.  I thought about a beloved Colonial Williamsburg mug that was living on borrowed time, as I noticed the crack in the handle–and this week, the borrowed time came to a crashing halt. […]

I love how Wheeler explores gender in intriguing ways, especially gender issues as they impact women who are no longer in their 20’s and 30’s, but she’s also fascinating when she dissects history–and of course, there are intersections where the two come together, and it also gives her the opportunity to braid together an analysis of class and race. It’s an amazing work.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Lessons from a Challenge Month

Covid-19 is reminding us in no uncertain terms that human lives are uncertain. In The Unmapped Woman (Nine Arches Press, 2020), which is Abegail Morley’s latest poetry collection, things have changed in ways the speakers can not have foreseen — they lose people, they don’t know how to go on, how to deal with memories. They are left with holes and absences.  I’ve been mulling over Abegail’s ability to “do” Big Issues (birth, love, change, uncertainty, loss, death )  using the small scale of intimate relationships. Emotions are created for us — they are born and flow through the words she chooses: the unexpected imageries, the narrative arcs, the music of word-sounds and rhythms. Her technical skills are exemplary. 

An example of how she combines the above to create feelings of wonder are the first lines of the first poem of the book. “Egg”

I breathe into the lonely snow-lines on the scan,
Tell you how to grow safely, how to throw
and catch a ball …


[…] Abegail describes many, many kinds of loss and relationships. There is pain and grief and the unanswerable. In “The Library of Broken People”, there is a startling variety of injuries described. These “lost souls”, feel like damaged books to me. One of them says that “life’s an unworkable toy”. The speaker “survives amongst them, wear[s] a long jumper, drag[s] sleeves down wrists.”

E.E. Nobbs, The Unmapped Woman – Abegail Morley

What a thrill to hold this book in my hands! I first met Paul Marshall at Everett Community College 25 years ago, and we’ve been writing together since we put together a teaching lab around writing in 2009. This past March, he decided to dedicate some time to assembling a book of poems, and he asked me to help. To quote from the back cover:

The poems in Stealing Foundation Stones share the journey of a blue collar, small town, hot-rod loving kid who grew up to go to Vietnam, returned home to the radical turmoil of the 70s, became a psychology professor and an award-winning community college educator, then, after a major loss, rebuilt his life, remarrying and morphing (yet again) into a ukulele-playing grandpa and woodworker and writer. It is a trip you don’t want to miss.

I hardly know what to excerpt here, as I love all these poems. They’re familiar to me as old friends and as welcoming.

Zen Handyman

Cursing saw torn flesh
dripping red blood mars heartwood
my grandfather’s laugh

In these poems, cars rev their engines and bears growl. Blackbirds hoard trinkets the way the poet hoards memories while he lets go of detritus, including old books that (like the bears) growl back: “Their cat haired, dust bunnied pages / fall open as they gasp out their reason to be saved. // I’m a first edition. / I’m an autographed copy.” (“Don’t Leave It for the Children”)

Bethany Reid, Paul Marshall at Chuckanut Sandstone Open Mic

It’s that time of year – the Edinburgh Fringe has been cancelled, but my mind is still drifting northwards and backwards. 2013. Threesome’s first appearance on 10th August – we’d hardly written the script by 9th August, the same day I met Ms Beeton for the first time. It’s LJay’s birthday today, so that has added to my nostalgia. […]

The show was in 3 parts – I was the opener (or ‘delicious entree’, as described in one of our two 4 star reviews) with a piece based on the Seven Ages of Man speech from As You Like ItThe Seven Rages of Woman is a poetic romp around … well, some of the rage I felt about a restrictive evangelical upbringing and some of the rage I felt about the lack of representation of women in film, and several other rages,: approximately seven of them in fact. Listening to a sermon about women and submission yesterday, some of this rage was momentarily reignited.

Since this photo was taken, there have been new happenings: a beautiful baby for Ms B, glasses to correct my eyesight, a new suit and tie for LJay, and suchlike. But when I look at it, I enjoy the feeling I felt then, right then, at the moment Peter took the shot. It comes flooding back, the camaraderie, adrenaline, freedom, the reckless pleasure of the name of our troupe. And, as Ms Beeton might have said of her microwavable chocolate sponge cake (whose making was the pinnacle, piece de resistance, of the show), the feeling is marvellous, darling!

Liz Lefroy, I Enjoy The Memories

When I last posted about the goings-on in Stardew Valley, I was patiently waiting for Harvey to ask me to have a baby, and sure enough, he finally did. After a brief gestational period of fourteen game days, a tiny pixelated baby appeared in the nursery crib. We named her Lily. She was very boring in the beginning. All she did was sleep. Now that she’s a toddler, she’s still not very interesting. She just crawls around randomly and occasionally plays with a toy ball that I did not give her, so God knows where she found it. I don’t mean to be sexist, but it’s obvious that the game was created by a young man who did not at any time think through practical issues such as house child-proofing, feeding, diapering, and day care. Harvey works long hours at the clinic and those crops don’t harvest themselves, so the kids knocks around the house completely unattended all day. Oftentimes I don’t even know what room she is in and I worry that she’s pulled a lamp over onto herself. Hopefully little Lily has an independent streak, because that child will be fending for herself. Good. It will make her a tough farmer some day.

Kristen McHenry, Gym Return, Trainer Two-Timing, Boring Baby

disease vector
a mom hugs her kid
after school

K. Brobeck [no title]

On the day I take my daughter to the airport, I have to get out of my house filled with absence. I drive up to the mountain, to the river where I raised my children for the first half of their lives. It is not that I want to go back in time; that mountain, that river, was a place I once needed to leave, too. But sometimes, we need to go back to figure out how to move forward. I want to get grounded, literally. I want to dig my toes in the river’s sand, to let its water cool my feet. I need to see water flowing past me.

I spread a blanket in some shade, doze to the sound of children playing in the water with their mother. I sit on land one of my children once named Dogarnia, and another called The Forest of Enchanted Wieners. Rule of this kingdom was hotly contested. When I close my eyes, I can see them climbing in the trees, our tiny Dachshunds kicking up sand as they run in circles around us.

I want to call across the water to that other mother. I want to tell her: Imprint this day in your memory. Don’t worry about what you’re going to make for dinner or how you’re not getting the house clean before starting another work week. Soak yourself in these moments, right now, so that later you can remember this sun-drenched summer day when all of you were golden. But I don’t. I don’t know her life, and I don’t want to impose my reality and regrets on hers. Also, no one in the thick of it wants to hear this kind of thing from some stranger whose time has passed.

On the afternoon of the day I take my daughter to the airport, I understand another thing: My attempts to keep my house of cards intact, to keep her unexpected stay from coming in and blowing down my hard-won peace was futile and stupid. I’ve let anticipatory grief rob me of embracing all that she–and this terrible, unexpected, wonderful chance to mend and grow and be together–brings. She, like all children, was born to make and remake me, to strip me to my foundations, to give me reasons to build (and build again). I see now that I cannot protect my heart by clinging to what I constructed the first time she left. It served me well enough, I suppose, but now I need something strong enough to stand, open, both when she comes and when she goes. Because I have to let her go; that is what I was born to do.

Rita Ott Ramstad, On the day I take my daughter to the airport

a house
falling into the sea

becomes sand

the egg timer turns over

a crying child is suckled

Jim Young [no title]

The heartwood browned with age holds
the secret of her progeny. Stewing the sap
into the folds of the skin, she births a calf
who sleeps in the ooze of milk.

Uma Gowrishankar, In her land, it rains every tenth day

I read a few poems every night before bed, the one time I can be sure I have time. I have turned back to Fiona Benson’s Vertigo and Ghost which I started last year. This is one of those collections I wish I had written, but not lived. Such beautiful writing that tears me apart emotionally. Even the more gentle ones about parenthood and the poet’s fears connected with raising girls in this difficult world when other mothers are leading their children through unimaginable dangers in the hope of finding safety and shelter dig into all my tender places. But Part One which considers the mythology of Zeus in modern terms, as a serial rapist is more of a punch to the throat. Benson plays with the words on the page, mixing modern language with ancient stories and uses a kind of interview format to give voices to the victims, Io, Callisto and others, as well as bragging, bravado-puffed Zeus. It goes much further than Yeats’ ‘Leda and the Swan’. Difficult to read as it doesn’t shy from blunt emotion and descriptions, it is an important voice in these times when ‘Me Too’ is not a thing you wish to say, but it needs to be heard. 

Gerry Stewart, Gearing up and Down Sizing

Waking up from a thick sleep, I see that I am a passenger on a ghost train. For long hours through the night we rattle along rails long unused, but we never stop at any stations. Along the aisle, little ghost children play; the same as living children, they are tired of being penned up. In the dining car, fashionable ghosts are sitting down for dinner, served by ghost waiters in white waistcoats. A ghost porter hurries by, carrying empty suitcases back to the sleeping car, which also is haunted. We enter a long tunnel, and I look at the window; the only reflection is me, and then I fade away, too. 

James Lee Jobe, Waking up from a thick sleep, I see that I am a passenger on a ghost train.

There are other *big* ideas here.  In “Panning,” there is the notion of debate and argument and its futility: “in the heat where you pile the arguments for / a to one side & b to another / . . . beliefs without bases solidly founded beliefs. . . .”  Finally, [Maurice] Scully questions the efficacy of logic itself as a means of knowing the world or arriving at truth/reality: “compare the flying pieces of the jigsaw / that each claims to be The One True Picture.”  But that is not actually the end of the poem.  Having dispensed with the tyranny of logic, of Enlightenment values, Scully counterpoints a radically different second section, a vision of the sap system of trees, their “conducting / vessels” — but almost bizarrely imagined through “x-ray eyes / a forest without its / supporting timber. . . / a colony of glinting ghosts / each tree a spectral sheath / of rising liquid in countless / millions of slim threads.”  And it goes on.  It’s an amazing image that combines lyricism and biology, both art and materialism, into a whole other kind of epistemology.

More than one piece is titled “Poetry” (NB: all titles begin with ‘P’), and it is the poetry itself that strikes me here and the more I read Scully.  Yes, his work is rich with philosophical questioning, and/or focused on the seemingly mundane details of life (which with Scully are never mundane) — but the more I read him the more and more I become amazed at his use of language, the ebb and flow of a long poem, its sudden turns and veers in thought, its delight.

Mike Begnal, Review of Maurice Scully, ‘Play Book’ (Coracle, 2019)

It was a release from the everyday order, a time for chance and an outside world I didn’t know to break in. I got to renew the language of fish and fishermen that I use in languages I barely speak – international fishmonger lingo.  All those crusty lobstermen, dipping their catch in salt to make bait for the lobster catch.  Tiny islands that look like the heads of seals as they appear and disappear.  The light was equally teasing – there, barely there, so thin and transparent it made everything within its reach slightly magical.  Light itself is invisible, though we tried to capture the zinc gleam on the mudflats at dusk, the streaky pink, glimmer of oyster shell in the sky at sunset.  

The Zoom I prefer: going so far out of yourself you become part of that thin, invisible light, then settling back into a slightly different self. 

Cervantes wrote, “Where one door closes, another opens.”  The LED signage on the white clapboard Baptist Church in Damariscotta, glowing under a dark starry night, read, “Change is inevitable, but growth is up to you.”  Voilà!

Jill Pearlman, Strange Rerun: the American Vacation

Let’s really give this metaphor a kicking shall we. If the prep work is the research and possibly the notes for a first draft, then the painting is the actual graft of writing the poem. The walls are the first and second drafts, the cutting in and ceiling (assuming it’s two colours) are the nth draft and then getting closer to a finished product. You’ve covered all the big ground, you’ve got your form and message working in unison.

If, and it’s a big if on an extension pole, we are prepared to accept any of that (and I can’t say I blame you if you choose not to), then this weekend was the final stages: the gloss work. I have spent the weekend taping up and then glossing a lot of woodwork.

I’m going to liken this phases to the putting the final touches to a poem (or story, etc). This is where small words and changes matter, where you change from the roller to the brush, then a smaller brush still (do write in if my technique sounds off) for eg the tops of skirting boards, corners etc. Words come in, words come out. A line is removed here, a stanza is tightened up, a comma comes in, an em dash replaces a semi-colon and then the semi-colon goes back. Until finally, you’ve covered everything.

You dip your brushes in White Spirit, you crack open a beer (other options are available) and tidy away the kit/press ctrl+P. You let things dry. How long you choose to let it dry is up to you. For the avoidance of doubt, I’m saying don’t send the writing out straight away. It always does it well to sit for a while.

And when the paint is dry, or the ink has settled, you remove the masking tape to see what you have and if all is still well.

If there are no drips, no missed bits then you re-hang the pictures, put the coat rail back up, put things back, etc.

This is where you send your poem, etc out into the world.

Christ, I’d love to find myself getting the rollers out soon. And I do mean work on a poem. I’m not picking up the actual rollers again for at least another month. That said, there’s still work to do on the gloss front..and sadly that does mean actual painting.

Mat Riches, Working in broad brushstrokes: let me tell you how, man

Dear Henry,

how does it feel how does it feel to get old like summer in Chewelah like sugar pie an unmanageable stain a kind of hoarding I abandoned my clothes Hugh Hefner wore a suit in public enough already with the stained smoking jacket and coiffed hair tug your sweater across your stomach dear or sit with a pillow on your lap watch the bone gaunted mules pull cart across Wyoming I gave you my hung my pedicure my airplane hangar everything in aspic how many evenings you wasted soaking your foot in a bowl of hot water and Epsom salts it’s time to stage a fake suicide scatter your final notes everywhere including the Aurora Bridge and the mighty Mississip swallow whatever Jesus puts in your mouth choose another child an empty prize bent toward the shack where they gut fish where we gutted ourselves the artist who created Superman had a gig on the side drawing for an S and M fetish mag knew it wasn’t ripe but he kept eating guttural momentum would it make a difference to the sperm splurging split that morning I bought steaks and a GI Joe doll roasted the hairpin that hid your surgical coin folded it into the secret girl book this morning I’m looking for you not one bit shy buster not one bit plague or earwig in your egg drop soup I am hammer toed I am a hammerhead shark waking up God

Rebecca Loudon [no title]

In the end, then, even
          devotion
ashes in the mouth, choking
          and inconsequential.

[image]

Throat-closing keen: so much
          now is air
sucked out

JJS, swallows

Nouns drop from their perches,
seeking a less
hate-driven sentence,
aiming for purpose or purchase
or mere acceptance.

Freedom gives way to cages.
Fewer of us hide
secret urges—many more
exalt them in churches.
What’s next? Pogroms and purges?
More shootings? More dirges?

Romana Iorga, Déjà vu

These days, I write
but don’t necessarily feel unburdened.
Too many dead, too many dying;
and this heart of moss wanting to be
a sail filling up with wind:
not a scroll with all the names
of everyone it has lost.

Luisa A. Igloria, Is it still permitted to talk about the heart?

I’ve gotten to the point I think where the news is so horrifying that new terrible things barely phase me. This weekend, mad amounts of looting in the Loop & Mag Mile that left windows smashed and closed up downtown.  A crazy storm that apparently spawned a tornado (or at least a funnel cloud/water spout) a few blocks north in Roger’s Park. I am waiting for plagues of frogs and locusts and would not be the least surprised to find them in my headlines tomorrow morning.

As for the looting. I’m less concerned about plundering of bougie high end merchandise than the general level of chaos and the way things like this are used to put down Chicago as this crazy crime-addled shithole (which it in no way is, even the rougher more dangerous, under-resourced parts of the city.) Gangs & drug trade are a problem,  but I feel safer in Chicago when it comes to random crimes, like someone mugging you in the Walmart parking lot or breaking into your house.  Also that people are looking out for each other, ie wearing masks and conducting themselves appropriately in public, which may be the result of being such a tightly constructed community.  When the quarantine hit, one of the first things that happened was someone organized a mailing list/discussion board in my apartment building to keep people informed, publicize rent assistance, help elderly people get what they needed.  There are neighbors I’ve lived amongst for two decades and never spoken to.  Also an endless train of Loyola-ans who stay for 1-2 years and bounce. Some families in the bigger units.  The key to living close enough to people to hear them through the wall is to not really know them (as apposed to the burbs where I would feel like people would be up in my business. )   The woman across the hall has lived here as long as I have.  We smile and nod and sat hello on our rare encounters. I feel like there is a general feeling we are in this together, but separately in our own little introvert bubbles and this is good. The couple neighbors I have talked to are the more extroverted ones I’ve encountered frequently on the bus, but they all live higher in the building. 

As for the storm, I figured I was safe enough herding the cats into the bedroom with the option to dive into my closet, the most interior space, if things got crazy.  I’m on a lower floor in he L-shaped crook of a solid brick building the back of which took all the wind, so on the rare occasions of storms like this, feel pretty safe. .Usually, I’ve been in the library or the studio when storms like this hit and the most terrifying years ago found me in the with giant 9th Floor windows that were shaking in their frames and no way to easily get downstairs. I would have to choose between the elevator or stairwells with giant skylights–yikes!  I wound up hiding in the bathroom across the hall, whose windows were at least sheltered by the courtyard..  It did get really dark and the wind was giving quite a lashing to the one tree I can see from that window, and it was raining sideways at one point, paper and trash flying through the air, but nothing alarmingly large or heavy.   I though maybe I felt my ears pop, and this may have been evidence of the suspected funnel a few blocks away.   Today, so many trees and limbs down in the cross streets and in the park along LSD. I think it might have messed up construction sites and knocked out some power, but the trees took the brunt of it. 

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 8/12/20

The other thing that keeps me interested right now is thinking about how our stories have shifted and changed and keep evolving. This is true for yourself and true for probably every single person you encounter. And isn’t that wildly interesting? It’s not always comfortable, it’s not always splendid. But it’s pretty much always interesting.

Think about this from Anne Bogart:

“We are telling stories all of the time. Our body tells a story. Our posture, our smile, our liveliness or fatigue, our stomach, our blank stare, our fitness, all speak, all tell a story. Howe we walk into a room tells a story. Our actions relate multiple stories. We invest our own energy into stories. Deprived of energy, stories die.

”It is natural to adopt other people’s stories to her create our identities and to fill in gaps in our experience or intelligence. This can be helpful up to a point but it is easy to get stuck in other people’s narrative structures. Stories become easily cemented and rendered inflexible, developing into assumptions upon which a life is lived. Without vigilance, stories become documented history and form, and their origins ar forgotten. Rather than mechanically allowing other people’s stories to guide our lives, it is possible to get involved and narrate from a state of passionate participation.”

I repeat, get involved from a state of passionate participation!

Wow, hey?

How do you want to tell your story? In what ways do you want to be alive? What energy do you wish to bring into a room or a space, even if that space is an online space. What is your story now? Bogart also says that “all of our thoughts and actions become, in due course, public.” She uses the example of how the impact of even a telephone call conversation reverberates. “The conversation travels.” Perhaps it is overheard, or conveyed to another person, and so on. We have no idea how far a simple exchange will ripple out.

Bogart wrote, What’s the Story well before the pandemic, but for me it feels even more relevant. She quotes Erich Heller who says, “Be careful how you interpret the world; it’s like that.”

There are a lot of strands to the story, some we don’t even quite know about, or some that are just out of our reach or realm. But I remind myself that it’s up to me how I enter a room, enter the day. I want to be a good interpreter of the world. Aspirationally, and with the full knowledge that this will not always be possible and that I will often fail miserably, I want to participate in this story we are all currently in the thick of, from a place of good energy, delight, and with a soul aligned with joy.

Shawna Lemay, Be Not Soul-Dampened

Birds burble new melodies. Traffic flows differently.

Past clouds shaped like a T-Rex and a car wreck, now a candelabra and a castle.

Kisses aren’t kissed the same way. Old ones tasted of relentless rains; today’s are love-covered honey in its first burning.

Bullets, now breezes. Yesterday’s serial killer, now a savior. Republics of rust rediscovered by amazement.

Rich Ferguson, Morning Sheds Its Yesterday Skin

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 30

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week: remarkable and terrible things, tectonic shifts, a longing for freedom, changes in direction, fresh inklings, bodies in the world, dreaming of the dead, ecstatic surrender, remembering the future, restoring mental equilibrium, taking chances, defending imagination, forgetfulness and supplication, poetry vs. prose, and the toe comma. Among other things.


I am in a dark cave I can hear the whole wolf world howling at me but it’s muffled I am in the cave scrambling out because the tide is rising I have seen remarkable and terrible things this week

when I was at the beach an eagle flew down and plucked an oyster from the sand not three feet away from where I was standing his tail feathers spread he took his time with it in no hurry to fly off

this morning I sobbed watching John Lewis’s body travel over the Edmund Lewis Bridge in Selma Alabama in a cart pulled by two black horses a cart with red iron wheels driven by a stately Black man in a top hat the bridge covered in red rose petals Mr. Lewis’s family walked behind and near the end of the procession each member of his family was given a single long stemmed rose which they placed in a line on the bridge upon which the black horses walked I could hear people singing We Shall Overcome

this is a historic moment in our country’s dark time on a Sunday in which fires blaze in our cities a Sunday in which the president is a craven beast encouraging us to bring civil war our infected cities our infected farms our infected schools and hospitals our infected democracy a terrible dark time in this country

I saw a dead owl on the road this week his huge wing fanned out I watched three young boys carry a forth by the arms and legs down the street all of them laughing I watched a lame rabbit drag his broken leg behind him as he disappeared into the underbrush at the state park I walked past an eight year old boy tap dancing like Gene Kelly in the back of a truck with the tailgate open a look of pure concentration on his face

Rebecca Loudon, In deepest July

[photo]
Sunday socially distanced picnic in the park. Sure, I have a back yard. I love the back yard. But there’s something about being alone together in the company of big trees that nourishes as much as salami and cheese and olives and wine. Something about the young woman, so small, sitting before those trees that will stand long after we have fallen. All the words we didn’t exchange that I can read in the curve of her back. Or perhaps that I’m writing upon it.

[photo]
This dog. He is demanding almost constant contact with his humans. It is wearing on us, to be honest, but there are gifts here, too: forced rest, space to contemplate, time to prepare. Grace for the taking. Much of this experience of walking him to his end feels like a dress rehearsal for a play not yet written. Love is a verb.

[photo]
My girl, with her dog and her love. He is on the phone, half-way around the world, ten time zones away, sleeping with the bear she sent him. Every single thing in this photo cracks a different part of my heart, fissures that spread and branch and intersect. It will likely be years before I can write anything substantial about this summer’s tectonic shifts. Maybe I never will. Time is no longer infinite.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Postcards, late mid-July

I’ve just come back from camping in Hebden Bridge. Four days of walking. A bit of reading. Three haiku written. Happy days and cold nights, especially Sunday when the sky was clear. Having camped on the top of the hill, just off the Pennine Way, it felt like we were that bit nearer the sky than anywhere else in the county. Fantastic.

Walking, even if you’re only out for the day, makes you very conscious of weight and what you can comfortably carry. Poetry pamphlets are ideal walking companions. Slim, lightweight, easy to dip in and out of. I was happy to take When All This Is Over (Calder Valley Press) with me, as it arrived last week. Put together by John Foggin and Bob Horne, with editorial input from Kim Moore, this pamphlet is the result of a project that started in lockdown, where John put out a call for poems responding to Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin’s poem ‘Swineherd’. Three months on, here we have a pamphlet that reflects that response, not just to the poem ‘Swineherd’, but to that peculiar time.

It was interesting to be reading these poems whilst out walking, as so many were about a longing for freedom, a desire to hit the open road and get away from it all. ‘I’ll become a nomad and travel/ where everyone goes wild about birdsong‘.

Julie Mellor, When All This Is Over

I’ve been reading even more poetry than usual over the last few months (and there is a lot of poetry out there to read). A lot of it has been by poets totally new to me. I’ve been surprised at times by what I’ve liked – and by how different from each other the poems are that I’ve liked. I’ve also been surprised that I haven’t liked some poetry that has had very enticing reviews, and yes, I know, different people like different things. I use ‘like’ here to cover a multitude of  positive responses – poetry can move you in so many different ways, and sometimes it just doesn’t work for you right now. It’s great, though, to see the diversity of poetry out there, and it’s also great to see how well the poetry presses have responded to the current crisis.

I’ve also realised that my own poetry has recently changed direction – and style. Well, hopefully it’s been developing before that, but now it feels different. I know that for quite some time I have wanted some particular poems I have written to be published as a pamphlet/collection. Some of them have been published/accepted in magazines, for which I am very grateful, and have also been online, but it seemed to mean a lot to me that they got published together. At the moment I don’t think that’s going to happen. I have made changes to some of them (though I’m not sure I should have), and mixed them in with newer ones that have been published/accepted separately, but maybe they are a thing of the past and should stay there. Maybe they were just not good enough overall or didn’t work together. There’s a lot of competition out there and other factors involved too, and yes, different people like different things. Whatever the case is, they had their purpose, and they’re still there for me, and for the people to whom they would mean the most, who have already seen them anyway.

Those poems were largely about remembering, trying to understand, to explain, maybe. They were very autobiographical, personal. I don’t think you can actually ever get away from that entirely, or indeed whether you should entirely – we write from who we are after all, but I notice my more recent work is more outward-looking. I’m not sure if that was a conscious decision, or has been influenced by what I’ve read, or whether that’s just where I am at the moment. Maybe it should have happened sooner. It wasn’t that I didn’t look outwards before, it’s just that I wasn’t sure how to respond. Certainly the current situation is one where change is a part of daily life and it would be hard not to respond to that somehow. My earlier poems drew very much on the natural world, particularly birds, and I don’t think that will disappear, but maybe now it will be from a different angle.

Sue Ibrahim, Poetry and me at the moment

It felt surreal to post writing like this at this moment. My summers are normally reserved for poetry, but now I’m finding that a lot of my July writing time is being allocated to other writing endeavors – mostly response to school opening plans and to various entities: admin, union, board. The writing of poetry is much more engaging than prose. Maybe I’ll start writing my responses to school openings in limerick form. Wouldn’t that be something?

Kersten Christianson, October Hill Magazine

The point is that this week has been the first week since the start of lockdown when I’ve been able to take a foot off the gas. Work has been quieter as a few projects are off and doing their thing for a bit before I need to tune back into them and thanks to a sore left knee I’ve not been running so much. This, and the fact I have massively reduced the to be reviewed list means that I’ve had the chance to do some of my own writing for the first time in about a month and a half. I know it’s not important in any scheme of things (whatever scale of grandness you choose to use), but it does feel good to be back at it.

And the drafts have happened. Some of this is more fully-fledged ideas gathering pace as they get closer to finished, but shockingly, there are two whole new poems being worked on this week. Both are ideas that have percolated for a while (a year or more), but given the paucity of work recently this is a flood. If I add that to the notes I’ve rescued from my email drafts and notes apps then I am a happy man. I like it. It’s almost productive.

Although, not as productive as my daughter. Two days ago she started mapping out her first novel in a series. It seems to have a vampire and witch theme—oddly, she’s been watching a lot of vampire and witch-based stuff on TV, but who cares about the theme; I’m just waiting to be able to retire off the back of the proceeds.

Mat Riches, Mangoes on a walk

Last night, first time I heard the tree crickets’ din blossoming in darkness; cicadas’ daytime clatter began last week, and the lantern fly nymphs are in their last stage before morphing into winged tree-pests. The heat’s oppressive, which seems to suit the general mood. I have not been writing poems, but this morning wakened early to surrounding birdsong and felt a moment of beauty amidst the tension.

As usual, my garden has offered respite. I harvest beans in evening’s humid warmth, pulling pods from the resilient stems. I marvel at the squash blossoms–bright bells amid enormous green leaves–and gather cucumbers and zucchini, and wait for tomatoes to ripen as I tie up the vines heavy with green globes. The scent of lemon basil pervades dusk as the last fireflies start to wink. Yes, there are disappointments and bugs and there will be yet more weeding and work. It is, however, labor of the body for the nurture of the body. A body in the world.

Ann E. Michael, Respite, refuge

Scratch the surface and there is much to be worried out.  The virus burning through the southern states who still won’t take it seriously, despite packed hospitals and mounting death tolls.  An uptick in Chicago cases. The scary things our government does and hides (sometimes in plain sight) or just tries to pretend isn’t happening.  I read an article earlier today on “doomscrolling” and indeed, I am perpetually guilty of it.   There were a couple days last week that just got really busy in terms of work and focusing on other things and i realized I was feeling mentally better. Now, I realize I wasn’t looking at the news so much over those couple days.  Over the weekend, I got really excited and engaged in playing with video again and realized almost a whole day had passed without me doing the doomscroll.  I’m feeling a tension between wanting (needing) to know what’s going on and knowing too much and at length.  Particularly when it comes to things, like the virus, I can’t really control on a national scale. I’m having a hard time figuring out how much is too much. 

Kristy Bowen, doomscrolling 2020

You awaken each day to a feeling of sadness, a dull emptiness. Morning does not come to the dead of COVID-19. Nights come and go, and you are, in time, full of these forgotten dreams, forgotten names, and everyday the number of COVID-19 deaths grows. And friend, night does not come to the dead of COVID-19.

James Lee Jobe, The dead of COVID19 visit you in dreams

What I don’t know is most everything outside my door.

Those secrets sound like crow song in their more mystical moments.

In their more nightmarish—like an ongoing car alarm, my sonic and savage umbilical cord connected to a ripped-off world.

The word quarantine comes from the Italian quaranta giorni, literally a space of forty days where plague-ridden ships were kept from shore to assure no latent cases were aboard.

In this isolated room, all I know for sure is that I have trouble sleeping at night.

That is why I’m apologizing for anything I may have said that doesn’t make sense.

Then again, I may have already said that without having said it.

Rich Ferguson, Waking the Dead

We need to do more than just live through this time. Could we not live while in it? Should we not learn something about ecstatic surrender?

These are not new thoughts or observations. Hey, I’ve been singing the Sheryl Crow song loudly in my car for a very long time now. “If it makes you happy then why the hell are you so sad?”

It’s always been a ride, this negotiating between happy and sad. Even the kids are onto it.

“And I’m the kind of person who starts getting kinda nervous
When I’m having the time of my life

Is there a word for the way that I’m feeling tonight?
Happy and sad at the same time”

– Kacey Musgraves

Is there a word for it? Shakespearean? Ridiculous? I don’t know, but I do know that if you seek out pockets of happiness, you’ll be better able to weather the other registers, the inevitable truths of the less pleasant and trickier spheres.

Shawna Lemay, We Live in the Multiple Registers

People keep describing these past months as “unprecedented”.

Seriously?

We measure reality in such small packages – our small collections of private experiences. Twenty years slip by, maybe another twenty… and from this tiny window we proclaim a a sum understanding of the human experience to determine the proper trajectory for (the organisation of) human behavior.

We don’t even glance sideways.
And if we do, we dismiss it: We are the future, after all.

Ren Powell, An Anti-Climatic Sense of History

Pygmy woodpecker, olive-backed
sunbird, dusty-headed bulbul; tree
sparrows that we call maya—I pack
mung beans into plastic pouches,
lentils into jars. I wonder about
places where other selves might fold
over and over, like happiness
afraid to show itself. The future
is most recently a dream of hammocks
floating into the sea.

Luisa A. Igloria, Dealing or Not Dealing Well with Sadness

One of the many things I hate about this new corona virus is how wide the symptom list is, and how they’re all items that could be something else: runny nose, headache, cough, muscle aches. It’s not like Ebola, when cell walls collapse and victims bleed out of orifices that aren’t usually bleeding–that’s a clear sign.

I’ve had a headache off and on all week. It could be stress, or it could be changing barometric pressure, with a tropical system nearby (another source of stress). I’ve had parts of the day where I go between sweaty hot and chilly–but no fever. Is that a tightness in my chest or just uncomfortable underclothing? Does the tingle in my throat signify a cough coming on or dehydration in the height of summer?

I even thought about going to get tested, just to put all my speculation to rest. But a test for COVID-19 would only tell me that I was negative or positive today–if I got the right test results. And how long would it take to get the results? By then, I could have been exposed many more times.

For those of us who have been out and about in public, or in offices, I’m not writing anything we haven’t all been experiencing and/or wondering about. But it seems important to capture these ideas.

Tomorrow I will stay closer to home and do some baking with my sourdough starter. Perhaps I can restore some mental equilibrium that way.

And if not, at least I’ll have delicious bread!

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Anxiety Dreams/Anxiety Reality

A little earlier in the year, despite my hatred of applying for grants, I applied for one I’d never seen before: the Allied Arts Foundation. Early this week I received an e-mail that I thought was a rejection, but was actually telling me I was an “Honorable Mention” and would receive a grant that will probably pay for at least ten manuscript submissions. I was very happy to see my friend Jenifer Lawrence (who was in a poetry workshop with me for a dozen years) right next to mine. So the lesson is: even if you feel you are very bad at grants, take a chance. You never know! Any money for poets during the coronavirus is a good thing.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A Little Good News, Fun Swag from Texas A&M’s Library, and Another Little Video Reading

One of the very first times I read a poem at a literary festival, the woman who was compering the event stood up at the lectern after I had read and asked what my mother thought about being cast in one of my poems as rather drunk and rather mad. The poem in question was ‘Spinning Plates’ with its opening line ‘My mother was mad as mercury…’. The idea of the event was that this person would quiz the poet about their poem and they would then get a chance to respond. So I stood up and said ‘My mother doesn’t read much poetry but I credit her with the intelligence of knowing that a character in a poem is not necessarily a real-life person’.

Perhaps my answer was a little too barbed and snitty, but it is one of those fundamental issues in poetry that gets my hackles up, rather like being asked the question ‘Are you still writing poetry?’

Richie McCaffery, The Invasion of the Poetry Body-snatchers

the old poet‬
‪reading his words asks‬
‪who wrote this‬

Jim Young [no title]

I lament my own forgetfulness which pains me at every opportunity. Arriving in the cellar only to cloud over on my purpose, in fact to fill with fog and begin to drizzle.

I lament awaking to the deluded messages of an disastrous leader whose ramblings should be isolated like a virus and prevented from spreading. Ruin. All ruin.

Also, the horse lodged in the pipes behind the bedroom wall has broken loose again, galloping through distant waterfalls of plumbing.

I am plagued by artists unable to wander beyond the beauty of 20-something women. This is not imagination, but a lack of it.

I curse the moths who have made a meal of one of my last remaining sweaters. On first inspection it appeared whole, but when I slipped my arms into the sleeves, there they were — the ragged injuries.

I lament the plastic toys the neighbors have piled high beside our common fence. I lament the fence! I lament the squalor.

I have planted a tree. I have upgraded my prayer to supplication.

Sarah J. Sloat, I appear briefly on the balcony to curse the meadow

1. That movement in the brush, the chance reflection in a pane of glass, that blue comb you found on a gravel path, the person your peripheral vision almost caught—these are the spermatozoa of poems. All they lack are the reactions of the egg in the womb of consciousness.

2. Like the smell that precedes rainfall, the “scent” of an imminent poem will make itself known to a poet. What the poet does with it will almost never live up to what was offered initially, but that is true in the realization of nearly all ideals.

3. The essential difference between poetry and prose has never been adequately defined, aside from offhand attempts. Perhaps it has to do with the differing intensity of desperation felt by each category of writers. The poet feels the need to gather the final issue of smoke from a doused candle wick before it dies out; while the writer of prose has the topic fixed in a virtual or real outline, and therefore has the leisure to write on until it is adequately explored.

10 Thoughts on Poetry – guest blog post by John Brugaletta [Trish Hopkinson’s blog]

The good
poem bends

the poet
to its

needs.
The good

poet bends.

Tom Montag, The Good

Sadly, the rub of any vacation is that it comes to an end. We return to “real life.” For an anxious person like me, even just a whiff of it causes panic. And that’s where I was Thursday. The going “back to normal” thoughts were bearing down on me, and so I vented to my partner and stomped around as I tidied up the room. In doing so, I caught the pinky toe of my left foot on the leg of a chair and definitely broke it. I launched a few f-bombs, began to cry and went straight to the shower to get it out of my system before dinner.

The toe turned purple and puffy almost immediately. We treated it with ice and ibuprofen and margaritas. I wasn’t sure how much damage I’d done (or how many toes were involved), though, until the next day when the toe was an even darker shade of purple. Somehow, it wasn’t as sore. And I could tell it was just the one toe. Nothing to do but wait for it to heal.

And I have to be honest: it felt good to cry. We push through so much, even pandemics apparently. Stiff upper lip. Broad shoulders. Big girl pants. We hold it all in ’til we can’t anymore. The toe was my “can’t anymore.” In fact, except that it’s shaped more like a comma, I’d call my broken toe the exclamation point at the end of “CAN’T ANYMORE!”

But maybe a comma is better anyway as I reason my way gently through how to take better care of my writing life. Instead of throwing my hands up in despair with the exclamation, the toe comma asks for something to come next. It not only invites something to come next: it requires it.

And so something comes next.

Carolee Bennett, i’ll give you something to cry about, the broken toe edition

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, 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. This week: posts about the role of art and artists in a broken world, menopause, disability, inequality and pandemic; the fleeting joys of summer, books, gardening, nature, and a new album from the UK poet laureate. Among other things.


It has been over a year since I posted on this blog, a yawning gap that horrifies me. WordPress is suggesting I might like to riff on the keywords ‘toddler, delicious, politics.’ True, my thoughts these days are often split between dinner and Lego. But after a spell consumed by maternity leave and then the ongoing global pandemic, I’m back on the blog to review a really timely, genre-defying album I’ve been listening to, a new project featuring Poet Laureate Simon Armitage, a musical collaboration which foregrounds the spoken word.

Simon Armitage was a big influence on me as a young writer. I remember picking up ‘Zoom’ in an independent bookshop in Chesterfield and hiding away in the corner by the coffee shop to read it from cover to cover, enchanted by the wise-cracking narrators and shrewd observations of life experiences that didn’t seem so alien from my own. His succinct portraits of characters in crisis and his gift for finding surreal but convincing images might seem to make his work well suited for song-writing. But this project isn’t songs exactly, more poetry-meets-melody. […]

‘Call In The Crash Team’ foregrounds Simon Armitage’s words and voice, but there’s a sense of genuine dialogue between music and lyrics, haunting refrains emphasising the narrative of each piece. I found it strangely addictive, tracks instantly sticking in my head, becoming peculiar earworms.

Helen Mort, Call In The Crash Team – album review

“A lot of the lyrics have come about from writing in a time of post-industrialisation, austerity, and the recession,” explains Armitage. “And yet, even through those years and those atmospheres, there’s still been an exuberance around, an exuberance of communication, information, language. I think a lot of the speakers in the pieces are expressing some kind of marginalisation and are doing so as if they’re almost hyperventilating.”

That marginalisation reaches a sort of zenith, if that’s the right word, at the end of Adam’s Apple after a sequence of three songs that end with Waters singing/repeating  “It’s all too much for you” in ‘ the exquisite You Were Never Good With Horses, “move on, move on” in Urban Myth #91 and then “let go, let go” at the end of Adam’s Apple

Each song is written form the point of view of different characters, Never Good With Horses, for example written from the point of view of some dissatisfied with their partner’s discomfort with the natural world. The partner “comfortable with a steering wheel”  and “watching the movie of life layout through the windscreen’s lens”— a nod to Iggy Pop’s The Passenger, perhaps, but they “were never good with horses…my dear, always took a step backwards when they came near. Couldn’t bear to look in the dark rock pools of their eyes”. That last line is when you know you’ve got a poet running the lyrical show.

Mat Riches, LYR – Call In The Crash Team

This week I’ve left my phone at home for a few days and enjoyed not being in its company. We spent a beautiful day at the seaside for my daughter’s 21st birthday on Tuesday which was the first day of the most recent heatwave. The roads weren’t busy at all and there was plenty of social distancing on the beach – unlike subsequent days at the same location which you might have seen alarming pictures of in the media – so we were able to relax as a family with our picnic and swim in the sea. I am sort of regretting not taking any photos that I could now scroll through – and share with you – but at the time it was refreshingly calming not to be snapping away, replying to messages and generally falling down the rabbit hole of social media and non-stop news. I swam a bit, walked along the beach a bit, read a lot, talked to the family.

Josephine Corcoran, Once Upon a Lockdown Rose Unfolding

She tosses fistful of bleach into the vegetables simmering in the pan     the foam shores up like the salt at the estuary in Marakannam          In the town without a beach where the land lazily         copulates with the sea        the breeze at the gopura vassal  breathes into the womb  of her memory It is then she hears the machine                    in the depth of the lungs like a hawk rasping

Uma Gowrishankar, Bleached in the beachless town

Stars in a cold sky
Mend the torn butterfly wings
Underground railroad

At first these 3 lines don’t seem to go together at all. But as I’ve been thinking about them, I’ve been sensing connections.

Clearly, my subconscious is working on various connections that I don’t readily see as I move from task to task.

This morning, I made this Facebook post: “I had my first dream that had me worrying about close proximity and COVID-19 transmission. In my dream, we were packed in a Lutheran church for a high festival day. I was admiring the fabrics in everyone’s stoles and the banners and light streamed through stunning stained glass. And then I realized we were packed into the pews and had been for hours and no one was wearing a mask. It doesn’t take a trained psychologist to analyze the anxiety aspect of the dream–but in a church on a high festival day with beautiful fabrics all around me? Really, dreaming brain, really?”

I’ve spent the morning thinking about this dream, thinking about the reasons why I’m having a COVID-19 anxiety dream set in a church, especially when my local church will not be gathering in person until after Labor Day, if then.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Subconscious at Work and at Dreaming

Aubade Without End

Open a window; whistle
in the key of birdsong.

Stick your prayer flags
in the tumble drier.

Hear the kettle bubble
with laughter.

Bid the clock
keep its hands to itself.

Jayne Stanton, Postcards from Malthusia DAY SIXTY-NINE

When I had cancer? People used to say it to me nearly every day. About being brave. How we all had so much courage. Well, no. I didn’t feel it, didn’t have it, still don’t think I did. All we did was follow what we were told. And show up. We kept showing up. But, no. It wasn’t there. Not in my veins with the chemotherapy, and not in the radiation-tiredness several months later. One conversation stands out: when I challenged the radiologist to chat with me a bit more while they positioned me on the slab: that was courage. And another: When Jörn looked me in the eye and told me it might not be working and maybe to start thinking about a different outcome. God: I am telling you this now: I miss him, even though I am better.

And now? As I confront my racism? No. Please. It’s overdue and necessary. But it isn’t courageous. (Please don’t pat me on the back with a nice comment about this.)

Admitting to depression?

Facing my grief? And allowing myself to experience it?

Perhaps.

Maybe.

Those are truths I am learning to stand in. And I have to stand in them, the same as I have to stand and face and confront my racism. So I’m not sure. I am not sure. Perhaps saying I am not sure I don’t know maybe and perhaps are more courageous than I am absolutely right on this one. Perhaps more of us need to live in maybe. I’m not sure.

What about when I started writing poetry, the least profitable writing on the planet? Or this blog? Absolutely not. Absolutely not. Still don’t have it. I hit publish. I ship. I never know what is happening. What the showing up will force me into saying. But I am glad I do it. Even though as Shawna says it feels like the void. Well, lucky old void. But I do it anyway.

Anthony Wilson, Courage

Peer into mirrors

and see villages decimated by fire,
valleys from which creatures fled

toward forests of glinting knives.
From smoke, collect precious blood.

We can’t stop until our cities gleam
with the shine of our stolen names.

Luisa A. Igloria, Choropleth

Who could have predicted red excess,
unspeakable clots of denouement?
My mouths are unjammed, endless mess
of me congealing at the bottom of the john.

Ready now to lose the losing: night sweats,
palpitations, insomnia, floods of gore, done.
Dried up, a long fluent speech in crimson.
Dissolved and flushed. Yet the song carries
on, uncorkable pour of me, shameless.

Lesley Wheeler, Why You Should Be Reading About Menopause

Today I’d intended blogging about the books I read during lockdown, but after reading  Lesley Wheeler’s post, ‘Why you should be reading about menopause‘, I decided to post the poem below – first published in Tears in the Fence, issue 70. It’s a poem that uses found text, and I remember editing it a few times, each time condensing it a bit until I arrived at what I wanted, or as near as.
I was over the moon to have this poem accepted, as I’d submitted to Tears in the Fence on a number of occasions and not been successful. Then, oddly, I forgot about it. However, reading Lesley’s post brought it to mind again, so thanks Lesley for sharing your story and your reading list.
I’ll share my lockdown reading next week. In the meantime, here’s the poem:

to the militant, identity is everything
(Susan Sontag)

the older female body is needful of respect/ modes of representation must be consciously transcended/ I formulate this observation as movingly and concisely as I can/ Collette knew the sovereignty of the woman of a certain age/ drawn-out voluptuousness framed by darkness/ so powerful and indelible/ we are expected to perform the commodity we were invented to be/ in novels the older woman imparts etiquette/ the younger falls in love with a sugar beet baron/ grand salons were nothing more than a conceptual image/ depression and gonorrhea were the reality/ these days fulfilment means being obsessed by the question of your own authenticity/ when exactly does a woman achieve the menopause/ when should she stop dying her hair?

Julie Mellor, to the militant, identity is everything

I have not written here because I am wary of writing about my mental illness not only panic attacks in the store but the fact that people are shooting guns nightly loud and close for no reason other than the fact that they have guns and it’s their second amendment right to shoot them and now fireworks on top of that it really wakes up my PTSD that startle instinct is so strong I have not written here because I am tired of writing about my about my damn mental illness and I am still without a psychiatrist

I haven’t written here because my bipolar disorder hasn’t taken a breath even though the whole wolf world is on a break and last night my mentally divergent brain was cycling so rapidly I only slept for three hours

I’ve been working on a poem but my progress with it is glacial much like watching things grow yesterday I realized that my green house is simply a seashell in the world’s terrarium and benign alien beings watch over us with love and grace

Rebecca Loudon, Pig and farm report

‪‪you
tell me that we are not doomed‬
‪with words that are littered‬ out
of cars that fill extracted gardens
and the faecal hemispheres
of brains in denial of the
anthropocene such
a nice word that unfortunately
will not fit any tombstone
made from recycled denial
black plastic hate preserving
perfectly the scattering of
eulogies for rational thought
that the herds trample now
you
tell me no
it’s all
OK
isn’t it

Jim Young, you tell me no

The war we’ve been born into where our first crying breath is a bruise that never heals.

Some use their wounds to flower the blood, others carve their pain into stones and go on the attack.

Touch, turmoil, tango: a counter-clockwise dance leading us in and out of love.

Throats offering shelter for song-chakra while also making themselves just the right shape and size for strangling.

The war we’ve been born into where enemies are created by our simply being.

Others stand boldly on the frontlines, scar their lips with light, speak only peace.

Rich Ferguson, The War We’ve Been Born Into

I confess I found The Name of the Rose boring, even after giving it a second chance. I didn’t mind shredding it. But why was Thoreau on the discard pile? It’s true he shouldn’t be but I’ve read most Thoreau and assumed I didn’t need to read him again. He writes wonderfully but always seemed like a narcissist, and the story (myth?) about him living his solitary life on Walden Pond but having his mother do his laundry conjures all the snark in my heart.

Nevertheless I was combing the essays for ‘by’ and came up often in some interesting and beautiful phrases. I was distracted by the content of the text. Close an eye to century and circumstance and Thoreau has relevant things to say. He died in 1862 of TB, a few months before Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.

We dream of foreign countries, of other times and races of men, placing them at a distance in history or space; but let some significant event like the present occur in our midst, and we discover, often, this distance and this strangeness between us and our nearest neighbors. They are our Austrias, and Chinas, and South Sea Islands.

That’s rather how I’ve felt through the past weeks, watching everyone react in different ways to politics and inequality and ideas.

Anyway, I cut Thoreau up and tossed the scraps. But I also felt like I was ingesting the essays. I have since spit some of it back out in various collages.

Sarah J Sloat, By looking in the mirror

When I told a colleague that I’d set up the greenhouses, she said she imagined I had read up in detail on everything to do with gardening. And I see why she’d say that. The odd thing is – I haven’t. I am truly going at it with a beginner’s mind: I put some seeds in the dirt and watered them, and now I have cilantro for the next few months. The strawberry plants have white flowers and funny, green-freckled strawberry-promises. There are wild vines from the sweet potato plants that I have no idea what to do with, but I am excited to see what happens. I’m quite prepared that it may all go to hell.

I’m silently and happily ignoring everyone’s advice. I did however accept a kale plant from H. It seems she planted her bed too tightly.

Running the same old route today, I tried to see it for the first time. It wasn’t difficult. The canopies of the trees have become so lush that the trail is darker than it was just a few weeks ago. The lilypads are budding with little yellow fists everywhere. I was careful to keep an eye out for snakes.

To the artist there is never anything ugly in nature.

I wondered what you made of this quote from Rodin? I don’t know how he was defining “nature”. And I wonder how I define it. This virus is a part of nature. And we are seeing in the news are aspects of human behavior that are undeniably human nature, undeniably ugly.

And then I’m not sure if Rodin was setting out to define an artist by how they see the world, or to describe how an artist sees the world. The cynic in me wonders what he might have been excusing by virtue of “art”. Artists excusing ugly behavior on the basis of their identity as artists is something I still can’t accept. I want to strip all artists of a sense of entitlement and have them focus on obligation.

Ren Powell, Work for Pleasure

Beneath it all there’s a feeling, both with the pandemic and the heightened awareness of Black Lives Matter, which does matter to me a great deal, that making “beautiful” art in this moment is frivolous, superfluous, socially-irrelevant — and, at worst, white, privileged, and clueless. This is a dilemma into which many artists in all fields fall at some time, and I can talk my way through it to some extent: art and beauty are always relevant, but especially at difficult times, because the human spirit needs them, and because art affirms who we are at our best. But, oddly, it’s a lot easier for me to participate in making a virtual choir video than in filling sketchbook pages with color and line and form. It’s not just about me, it’s collective, and even though we’re singing European classical music, I know from comments received that the performances are a comfort that are appreciated by listeners well beyond our own congregation. It also doesn’t feel problematic to write a blog post like this or keep my journal or write letters, where I’m trying to figure things out and to communicate.

As for art, though… I appreciated a line that my friend Teju Cole wrote in a New York Times collection of essays about the pandemic: “In these bruising days, any delicately made thing quickens the heart.”

In a letter of response to him I wrote:

“I worry that all the delicate things are endangered, frivolous, or irrelevant, and that makes me sad, because I feel we need them more than ever when our hearts are so battered. Recently, inadvertently, I saw a set of collaged photographs of the youngest Black person to be executed in the United States — it was a 14-year-old boy who looked like a child, being strapped into the electric chair — I don’t remember the year. His eyes were open, frightened, but somehow uncomprehending; it was the most horrific series of images, and I can’t get them out of my mind. The cruelty of this country has been, and is, limitless.”

Perhaps that is the crux of it: we have all been seeing images and videos that are deeply disturbing, and somehow this affects our visual/mental/emotional processing in general, particularly for those like me who are somewhere on the empath spectrum. I’m able to write about how I feel, I’m able to put my emotions into music, but I’m not willing to make dark, disturbing, or violent art — and “pretty” art feels superficial — so instead, I don’t make much of any at all.

Beth Adams, Hermit Diary 31: Struggling with Art

Today’s poem is a rather poignant one, not in tone but in the circumstances surrounding it. James Aitchison is a poet who lives in Stirling. He was born in Stirlingshire in 1938 and has written a number of superb poetry collections over the years including a study of Edwin Muir’s poetry (The Golden Harvester) and the fascinating and ambitious New Guide to Poetry and Poetics (Rodopi, 2013) which explores the nature of poetic creativity. He’s a poet I discovered when I was starting to write poetry in earnest myself and he’s someone whose work I treasure very highly and return to regularly for guidance.

People who have encountered Aitchison’s poetry before probably know that one of his main themes is the mind itself, an epistemological focus on how it works (or not!), ranging from an awareness of our primeval pre-human consciousness to the very heights of artistic endeavour and how this is achieved. Today’s poem is a playful meditation on the mistakes we make as learners and looks at the eventual decline of the mind.

I began my intro here saying that this poem is a poignant one. This is because last year, shortly after this poem was written, Aitchison had a near-fatal stroke which resulted in some serious neurological and physical impairments. But he remains hopeful for recovery and is looking forward to writing poems and gardening once more. I wish him the very best and I am honoured that he has given me his consent to share this poem with you. His most recent collection is Learning How to Sing (Mica Press, 2018). [Click through to read the poem.]

Ritchie McCaffery, One poem by James Aitchison

This week, I will be back to library tasks from home after a much needed week off, including a hard press on things that won’t be as likely to happen once we’re back. Also new layouts and some author copy orders.  I did get a chance to focus on a lot of writing and revision related things, as well as send off some submissions of the work that was building up from late last year and early this one. I am still plotting ways to support and publicize the new book during the social distancing era and got a bit of a start on a book trailer. I’ve also been musing over what to do with the build up of other, newer, manuscripts –I am seriously considering publishing them through Amazon so they’ll also be available via e-book, which seems more important now than ever.  I love the presses I’ve worked with but also like the autonomy of self-publishing, though the groundwork is a little harder than if you have a press sponsoring a release. Since I am finishing a lot of projects (feed, dark country, soon animal, vegetable, monster)–most of which I am itching to make available in a more timely matter–it gives me a bit more control.   And I have the layout and design skills to make a really nice book  (and if not Amazon, who I have complicated feelings about, another POD publisher.) I’ve also been self-publishing smaller projects for years, and while I initially struggled with the legitimacy goblin and what is “acceptable” in the poetry biz world–especially in this new world where we all may die of covid next week–fuck that shit. Fuck all of it. While I was creatively paralyzed and could barely write at all for a couple months there. I am writing again and want to find the most efficient way to connect with readers and some of the old models are sometimes not the best.  

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 6/22/2020

Of the ideas pitched to help revolutionize how we do poetry publishing, one that appears now and again is a kind of “reverse Submittable” (RevSub from here on out): rather than having poets submit repeatedly to numerous journals, this would allow for a one time, one stop posting site for your work which editors could then browse and select. Make the publisher come to the writer, essentially. The idea is appealing for poets in particular because it cuts down on the redundant, tedious task of sending out the same poems and collections over and over (to very, very high rejection rates). This could also lead to better placement for the poet, if say multiple journals all want the same poem, they could choose which would be the best fit for them. If voting and commenting were enabled, this forum in itself could be gratifying and function as a kind of publication in itself, as opposed to the arid wasteland that is a Submittable queue. It could lead to greater transparency, and possibly a more real-time sense of where an dhow ones work stands. Further, it would cut down to some extent on the hidden hierarchy of editorships and the inscrutable processes by which poems are selected and chosen.

R.M. Haines, “Reverse Submittable” and the Dream of Co-Operative Publishing

Flint is built around a central question, one that is at the heart of grief and at the heart of life: “How do we give hope to the dead?” Because we are all, in the end, ‘the dead’, and because we are all strangers to each other (it is only a matter of degree), this extended prose poem is about finding the passages that lead us towards each other, so that we might “commune”, or (to use a noun phrase which carries more specifically religious connotations), so that we might partake of “communion”: a wonderful word, which Díaz Enciso uses in relation to the crowd at a rock concert which later becomes the crowd at a funeral. It is in this communion (which, more than a coming together, is a sharing of intimacies) that hope in the form of Spring is found. Not for nothing does the poet comment at Flint’s funeral “The world is, today, an orchard”. 

I suspect, because of its unusual form and perhaps because of its use of a real-life deceased  individual with relatives and presumably an estate, that this may be a pamphlet which continues to find full publication elusive, but I hope I am wrong because it is a profoundly moving piece of work which deserves a wide readership. Anyone who has a mind open to the creative and generative potential of placing one thing beside and in place of another, should take a look at what this e-pamphlet has on offer. 

Flint – An Elegy and a Book of Dreams is available from Adriana Díaz Enciso’s website, here. 

The poet will donate one third of any proceeds to the National Suicide Prevention Alliance and another third to the NHS. 

Chris Edgoose, The Man in the Tunnel: Flint by Adriana Díaz Enciso

So, besides trying to take bird pictures while I was briefly awake every day this week, I tried to distract myself from the pain (I can’t take most pain medications, sadly) with the Apple TV series Dickinson – Emily Dickinson’s imagined life as a rebellious young woman, with a trip-hop soundtrack and a music-video aesthetic, complete with giant bee hallucinations, and caught the film of Virginia Woolf’s speculative novel of time-travel and crossing gender boundaries, Orlando, starring Tilda Swinton, which was beautiful and playful and very well done. I enjoyed Dickinson (especially a guest appearance by John Mulaney as a notoriously unhelpful Thoreau – spoiler alert: I never liked Thoreau) and it drove me to go back to finally finish the slow-and-scholarly book After Emily, a discussion of how Emily’s work eventually got published, by whom, and how it became famous. I’ve been making my way through Woolf’s work in the last year, so watching Orlando fit right into to my reading agenda. Both shows make the point of how difficult it was in each time period to become a woman writer with respect and a following. The more things change…the more they stay the same?

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Reports from a Root Canal, Dickinson and Orlando, and an Uptick in Coronavirus Cases Across the US

Rob: You mentioned our sudden new era of Zoom brunches. I think a lot of people who have gone through a major event in their personal life, as you have with your concussion and recovery, are finding it surreal to watch everyone collectively deal with the upheaval of the COVID-19 outbreak, having experienced their own upheaval, alone, previously. How are you doing? In what ways do you see overlaps between what you experienced recovering from your concussion and what we are witnessing and experiencing now?

Kyla: Isolation is not new to me. Getting groceries only once a week or once every two weeks is not new to me. Being unable to leave the house or see people and being unable to access basic healthcare is not new to me. I already know how the light falls inside my apartment at all times of days and in all seasons. It’s been three years since my injury, and symptom management is still my primary occupation.

I can see how this might sound bleak, but isolation has been my reality, and I’ve found ways to live within the restrictions my disability imposed, rather than waiting for it to be over so I could go back to “normal.” Right now, I see people questioning normalcy and who the status quo serves more than ever. Crisis can force re-examinings, it can be generative, but the cost can be unbearably high.

If I may, a few pandemic pieces by disabled writers that I’d recommend: this Grazia essay by Mimi Butlin — filed under “Health & Fitness,” because the perspectives of chronically ill folks are now considered relevant instead of fringe; this Vice piece featuring Sharona Franklin, the artist behind one of my favourite disability-related instagram accounts, @hot.crip; and Liz Bowen’s newsletter from New York.

Rob: Yes, of course! Thank you so much for those links, and for bringing in new ways of looking at and thinking about the world. Your book does a lot of that, too. In “I’m Not Better I’m Just Less Dead” you write “I have nothing / to offer Literature / or Capitalism / not even a body / just an illness.” Similarly, you write in a subsequent poem “Has illness / made me more / or less human?” All of that struck me, the separating of the body, the self and the illness, each influencing the other but apart from it. It made me think about “me” in a different way. Which of those parts (the body, the self, the illness) do you consider “you” and which feel outside of “you”? From which do you think these poems emerged?

Kyla: I think I was working at the Prose Editor at PRISM international when I wrote that first poem, but I could barely read, and I was hiding the extent of my symptoms because I didn’t want to lose my job. I couldn’t review books, I couldn’t host or attend events, I couldn’t hang out with other writers or read their work. The amount of labour I could do, either intellectually or physically, was really limited. And so much of the messaging we receive, implicitly and explicitly, is that our value is rooted in our productivity, our ability to labour in particular ways and under particular conditions. That’s part of the reasoning used to justify and perpetuate ableism.

When I became disabled, I simultaneously became less useful to capitalism (except insofar as I was spending everything I had on rehabilitation) and some of the people around me, and more useful to myself and the people who understood me. I think the self is the core, but it can’t be cleaved from the body, or the ways illness imposes itself on that body. These poems came from a need to make that imposition visible, and unmistakable.

Rob Taylor, Visible and Unmistakable: An Interview with Kyla Jamieson

But honestly, the problem isn’t within us as individuals (and so we can’t fix our feelings about them entirely through our individual actions), and shouldn’t living feel like a slog right now? The world is way, way too much with us these days. You know that old bumper sticker, the one about how if you’re not pissed off you’re not paying attention, or something along those lines? That. All of which is why one of the things I’ve been grateful for this week is learning that there’s a word for exactly what I’ve been feeling: Weltschmerz.

Isn’t that a grand word? It’s almost onomatopoeic, the way those syllables sort of crash into each other on their way out of your mouth, with that hard stop right in the middle of it and that sort of drunken-sounding raspy sibilant ending. You’ve got all the elements for a party in those letters and sounds–and you can see that–but they don’t arrange themselves into a party. They aren’t in the right order.

If you, too, have been wading through weltschmerz (aka jello, aka existential depression), isn’t it at least a little comforting to know that other people have felt exactly the same way–enough people that we have a word that captures the subtle nuances of this feeling, and of this maybe-apocalypse that we’re living through? (Hey, on top of pandemic, economic meltdown, institutional instability, and massive unrest, don’t forget the climate. It’s still melting.) It’s not boredom or depression or listlessness or ennui or anxiety or angst. It’s weltschmerz, baby. And if ever there was a moment for it, surely it’s now.

You’re not alone and you’re not broken or ungrateful or spoiled. Things are fairly terrible. Don’t let the toxic positivity crowd gaslight you into thinking the problem is you and your attitude. Maybe, instead, your feelings are a sign of your wholeness and your optimism and your hope, and of your positive vision and your love for the world. Maybe it’s all the very things we’ll need to get us through to some better other side.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Weltschmerz to my world

Just a sliver of waxing moon, one night after the new moon, and no breeze at all. A hot summer night here on the hard edge of the world. I am a speck on this huge planet, which is itself but a speck in the vastness of the galaxy, and beyond that, the numberless galaxies of the endless universe. Oh my. Just then I felt a bare hint of a breeze. 

James Lee Jobe, Just a sliver of waxing moon, one night after the new moon, and no breeze at all.

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 24

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.

It was easy to feel a little gaslit this week by politicians and an increasing percentage of the public acting like the need for social distancing and other safety measures is over; in the US and the UK, at any rate, the covid infection rate shows little sign of slowing. Many in the poetry blogging community shared this unease, as well as cautious optimism on social justice issues. Writing continued to be elusive for some and a lifeline for others. Mostly, I was just pleased to find so many like-minded souls. La lucha continua!


I said to some friends: it is like playing Monopoly. You pick up a Chance card which tells you to go to Mayfair. (At which moment, you may win or lose the game.) ‘Do not pass Go. Do not collect £200.’

You have to go straight there. You cannot delay. You cannot take anything with you. There is no time to say goodbye.

You have to leave right that second.

There is no time for sitting with the trauma and the loss and the grief of the moment because what is needed right now is a solution for how we are going to [insert your own thing in here] and plan for [insert] and cope with [insert].

There is no time.

No time for grieving. No time for sitting with it, for preparing to bleed.

Anthony Wilson, Do not pass go, do not collect £200

Fool if you expected silence,
or thought that the trees would be empty.

But the contrails have gone and the big roads
are all but deserted. I don’t hear the kids
with their acrobat bikes and clattering skateboards.
And no Mr. Singh (“Call me Ajay”) with his deep,
deep voice over the parcels and stamps. All the buses
are empty when they stop at the curbs.
Are they discharging ghosts?

Dick Jones, LOCKDOWN

One of my daily chalkboard poems was about masks. So was another, one I chose not to put up, as it seemed too harsh and might upset the mail carrier. But you can probably handle it:

Unmasked

If you don’t wear a mask         
you reveal who you are

in more ways than one.

It is a little mean and glib. (And, oddly, it reminds me of a line from one of the Batman movies.) But, really, that’s what’s going on around here, out there, many people not wearing masks, thinking it’s all over, we’re all OK. Friends and co-workers are experiencing it out in the world and are worried. My parents decided not to go to an outdoor restaurant with friends when they saw how crowded it was, how few people were wearing masks, how some were sitting indoors… I’ve only seen my parents four times since March 13, in their back yard or their huge great room, six feet apart. A friend from Chicago came to town, and I visited with him outdoors and at the proper distance, no hugging. […]

Sigh… Yes, constant chalk revisions of our very lives. Chalk circles now on park greens to designate areas to sit in the sun. But don’t be fooled, the virus hasn’t been erased.

Kathleen Kirk, Chalk Revisions

I seem to be having lots of conversations about how the world is changing as we emerge from lockdown, about how our lives will never be the same and yet at the same time we are supposed to carry on as ‘normal’. Of course, many people are still isolated, cut off from friends and family, the wider community. My experience of lockdown has been much easier. In fact, now I’m back at work I’m missing all the free time I had.

Then there are those conversations I only have with other writers, about what poetry can and can’t do, about how we should respond to current events. In terms of creativity, I tend to try and carry on regardless. The world is a fascinating place, even in times of hardship, even in times of great trauma. It will always provoke a creative response in me, although the form of that response is ever-changing. I have a second draft of a novel that still needs more work, I have a short story that I know I must go back to, if only to satisfy myself that it can be finished, and a file of haiku of which a handful are probably good enough to send out. Oh, I also have a few sketches that are embarrassingly bad and are unlikely to ever see the light of day! What I’m getting round to is that being creative has helped me through lockdown. It’s given me a purpose. I like to be active, to be doing something. Writing is a great way of ‘doing’ because it doesn’t require much space or many resources. A pen and a piece of paper and you’re away. It’s affordable and portable. It does, however, make demands on your time. You have to commit. And there’s no guarantee of success. Time. Commitment. Failure and rejection. Small moments of success. These are constants.

We are living in a very unsettling period. There’s a general feeling of apprehension. And yet the impulse to write is still there. And for that, I’m grateful.

Julie Mellor, A changing world

–It’s very strange to have spent the months of March, April, and May reading about disease in general, COVID-19 in specifics, and some general apocalyptic works of fiction, and then to see states re-open and people gather with and without masks, with seemingly no care in the world. I’m still asking myself if any gathering is worth the risk. Grocery stores–yes. Spin class–still feels dangerous to me, since my spin class is held in a gym that’s in a hospital. Protest marches–much too dangerous, all the chanting and yelling in close proximity. Of course, that’s all from an epidemiology point of view–there are other points of view, like the need to demand social justice, the need to be with humans, the need to restock, the need to take care of oneself.

–I am also struck by how our students are responding. Everyone complies with the rule that masks must be worn, but many of them can’t seem to keep them on properly. And then there are a few students who have not only a mask but a face shield and gloves.

–NASCAR has banned Confederate flags and imagery. This moment seems like a real turning point somehow, even as I realize it won’t be a teaching moment for many NASCAR fans (either because they already understand the importance of it, or they will never understand).

–These types of shifts on race make my head spin. The polls that show a huge shift in attitudes towards racism and policing–it’s a shift that seems similar to the shift towards approval of gay marriage almost a decade ago. It feels like it happens overnight, but I know it’s because of years and decades and centuries of hard work, shifting those attitudes one by one.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Days of Cognitive Dissonance

Beyond where I live, two (invisible) pandemics become visible. Daily, I am distraught by what is happening. I wish for a cure, and know that a cure comes about when we care for each other.

I listen to the news, like three doses a day. In between, I am outside working in our three gardens, or preparing reports, or courses, or writing to keep me centered and calm, because I feel overwhelmed by the hardships people are facing daily, in cities and small towns, across our country. Reports are saying the death toll from Covid-19 will reach 170,000 by October, 2020. That number is staggering and frightening, knowing the cruel way this virus work. Equally, moving into 18th day of protest in some cities means “Enough is enough.” Things have to change. Things are changing.

I had no idea, (truly) no idea, that the Army bases in the United States were named after Confederate Generals. I was stunned by that revelation this week. Why would the Army honor the Confederate Generals? It’s a strange contradiction, seemingly supporting a Confederate mindset; and, it’s been an “under-telling” narrative for years.

M.J. Iuppa, Vistations and Dreams, June 12, 2020

No baseball has been played. I filled my gas tank once, I watch thousands of protesters on TV. I saw too many fires and broken windows. I watched too many incidents of police swinging clubs at people, pushing to the ground, spraying chemicals at protesters, I grieved for people hurt and those killed. I grieved for families that lost loved ones. I wrote most nights. Failed to get enough walking in, thought about yoga but did none. Grilled BBQ stake. Had a root bear float at work. Wore mask up in public, washed and rewashed my hands too many fucking times. All this and more since my last confession a week ago.

I confess that I do not know what day of the Covid-19 pandemic it is, I just know we are no where near the end. Last I saw there were 786 related deaths in Missouri. Nationwide deaths exceed 114,000. I saw today that there are flair ups in Texas and Mexico. People aren’t exercising social distancing very well and I totally expect that we will have to go through another shut down.

Baseball is my go-to to pull me out of the winder doldrums and into the spring then summer and it just makes life remind me of poetry and brings comfort. I confess I am struggling for this comfort.

I’m awaiting some poetry books and I’m really bad at waiting for books to arrive. Amazon has spoiled me, but. I do order elsewhere and I still want them yesterday. Is this impatience a sign of a character flaw?

Michael Allyn Wells, Confession Tuesday Spontaneous Combustion Edition

I was initially afraid that we were all just shouting booklists at each other, but it turns out books related to BLM are selling out. That’s reassuring.

I keep thinking of this Tweet by Charles Blow: “Anti-racism is so hip right now. Yay! But, don’t let it be a fad; make it forever.” It should be just the basic level of what being a human is but we know that IRL it’s otherwise.

Of course, if as a white person you’re finding all of this wildly stressful, then you are feeling only a tiny fraction of what BIPOC feel all the time. So I keep thinking, let us not tire, let us not let up, and let us pledge to be in this for the long haul.

I was pretty exhausted by the Covid-19 situation. And I’m not any less so now. But I’m trying to keep alert, too. I think if we just each quietly did something positive, whether that’s buying a book and learning more about anti-racism, to donating money, even a small amount to a good cause, this can be something. If you live in Edmonton and want to support an Indigenous organization, I’m very fond of the Edmonton Native Healing Center and here is their donation page.

Thanks for reading, and looking at the photos from my backyard (which have nothing whatsoever to do with this post!), but where I’m spending a fair bit of time thinking things through these days.

Shawna Lemay, Let Us Not Tire

In these lengthening days
it’s easy to feel that we
are past any danger. The idea
of crowded hospital beds
and makeshift isolation tents inside
stadiums sounds like a bad fairy tale,
until the angel of sickness walks
across your threshold and sets down
his luggage. When he hangs up a towel,
sets a worn toothbrush on the sink.
you know he’s there to stay
a little while longer.
Even so, he is not the enemy.
Without any special malice,
he is only doing what’s in his nature.
But the enemy took ships across the water
and returned with shackled bodies
loaded in the hold. The enemy
cracked a whip across the fields
where our people bent over beds
of garlic and strawberries.
The enemy is a bullet
that will take out your eye
or stop your heart even when you’ve
knelt on the ground as instructed.
The enemy is a god unto himself.
It shows no mercy but fears
every dusky body running
and playing in sunlight,
numbers of them walking now
with a single purpose across the land.

Luisa A. Igloria, Enemy

erect a statue 
to the statue topplers
and topple it

Jim Young [no title]

You may or may not, if you live somewhere far away from Seattle, have been getting reports – mostly false – of chaos and crime and uproar in Seattle. But for the most part, we are all fine here. Hearing that Fox News doctored photos from Capital Hill’s protest zone (See: WA Post’s story here) didn’t surprise me, but I had to reassure people who don’t live here that things were mostly operating as normal, that I had friends going to the protest zone where people were sharing food and doing poetry readings, you know, truly revolutionary behaviors. Artists drew a beautiful mural spelling out “Black Lives Matter” on the street. Ah! Chaos! So you don’t need to worry about us here, and you definitely shouldn’t support sending in the military. As Han Solo said, “Everything’s fine, we’re all fine here. How are you?” […]

I’ve been talking about the defunding the police all week, and this made me think about other corrupt systems, and how we correct them, and if necessary, dismantle them. Does this make me a revolutionary? I think few people would consider me a radical, but the corruption and bias of the police is a big problem, and I don’t think “reform” is enough. At least it hasn’t been enough over the last, oh, I don’t know, 100 years. Besides racism and sexism (talk to me about how the police handle rape and domestic violence cases, in case you want some horror stories), corruption of power, problematic protections by a corrupt police union, the militarization against citizenry, and questionable immunity status…how do you reform the system of policing? Judges, sheriffs, mayors…we vote for them all. Are we holding the people we vote for accountable enough?

And there were aftershocks even in the poetry community. The Poetry Foundation had two resignations. Outrage against editors and publishers bloomed all over social media for offenses minor and major. The discussion of how much writers get paid was also a hot topic – of course, for poets, all mostly a theoretical discussion, getting paid, but interesting to see the disparities nonetheless. Do we hold non-profits and groups who support the arts to the same standards we hold, say, corporations or government entities? Is the literary publishing world as messed up as, say, the educational system (which many would say also needs a little dismantling at this point for its inequities)? Who are we holding accountable, and why? How do we build a better world, the world we say we want? A world that treats people equally regardless of race or gender or (dis)ability? How does that begin? The status quo does not seem to be working for the vast majority.

I often feel like an outsider here in America. After all, I’m disabled and chronically ill (which numerous Americans lately have been indicating makes my life worthless, in the face of the coronavirus) and a woman. I’m white, but I’ve witnessed enough racism to believe that yeah, it’s still a problem that did not magically get erased somehow in the last fifty years. Then there’s the issue of social and economic disparities that appear to be getting worse, not better. So how do we make America better, fairer, a place where everyone can actually have a chance at the American dream even without being born a healthy white heterosexual male?

Jeannine Hall Gailey, The 13th of Juneuary, Seattle is Probably More Peaceful Than You Think, Being Sick and Considering the Dismantling of Corrupt Systems

It’s useful to remember that when people like me call for the abolition of the police, our proposal is not “leave the world exactly as it is except without the police.” The idea of police abolition goes hand in hand with the idea of communities taking care of the basic needs of their people. No baby is born to a life of crime. Instead, babies are born into a world without adequate shelter, food, education, leisure time, arts, communal structures, play, and all the other things that make life worth living or even possible in terms other than mere existence. As long as we continue to allow our society to work at the whim of corporations and the wealthy and the powerful, there will always be a need for an armed force to enforce those whims. When I say “get rid of cops,” I also mean “take the money we use on cops – whether here inside our borders or via our armed forces – and use it to build a better world.”

Jason Crane, What I Mean When I Say “Get Rid Of Cops”

When I decided to go quiet,
was the time I should have been speaking out.
When the screens started going dark,
black voices said to offer lifelines.
When I wanted to write,
I knew my voice wasn’t one that needed to be heard.
I couldn’t watch the violence any more,
but can’t turn away any longer.

Gerry Stewart, Apologies for My Lack of Response to Current Events

It’s easy to understand why people would want to avoid the topics of privilege and of systemic racism. We are taught to be polite; one of the social contracts I was urged to respect was to keep conversation friendly, to avoid religion, politics, and other hot topics in order to get along with my neighbors and coworkers–to maintain friendships with people whose perspectives are different from my own. This approach does work, to a degree. Politeness, though, is not the same as compassionate interest and doesn’t always encourage listening and reflecting.

So it stops the conversation just when the conversation might be getting interesting. Or difficult. I have seen this play out in the course I teach time and again. Some students try to mediate as soon as a disagreement starts. Some tune out; some get embarrassed; some shut it down. Some talk to me after class, individually. Only a few times are my freshmen confident and mature enough to speak up assertively but in a way that admits of, and permits, other points of view.

That behavior is what I try to teach and to encourage. We need to admit of other perspectives rather than keep comparing this with that or bring up side arguments or shut people down with ad hominem attacks. That means ideologically “liberal” people also have to listen and to allow opposition, by the way. I teach in a fairly conservative university; and as a rather unconventional thinker in that environment, it can be a challenge for me to let students express views with which I disagree. But that’s the point: to listen and try to understand, and then to show where the argument goes awry–if it does–and acknowledge the validity of the stance, as there often is some.

Ann E. Michael, Just speak

I’ve been extraordinary fortunate with [dancing girl press] in that, with such a large number of submissions, I have a healthy number of manuscripts coming across the desk–a variety of ethnicities, backgrounds, gender/sexual orientations, subject matter, experiences. Others come to me through recommendations of other writers or happenstance. I can usually find a decent percentage of writers of color whose work I want to publish, but of course, there is always more work to be done if you truly want to reflect the breadth of work and decenter the glaring whiteness of the publishing world. And these are what I’ve been thinking about in the past couple weeks as this is on everyone’s mind and publishers are examining how to do things better in the future–how to welcome more writers of color, particularly BIPOC into publications and presses. How to find those authors, because they are out there, and how to bring them to the forefront of publishing efforts as an industry (which includes the biggest of the large publishers down to the tiniest of the indies). And specifically, how I can make those things manifest through dgp, where while we do get to publish a somewhat diverse list, it seems like there is still more work to be done to have a chapbook series that truly reflects population percentages in general. I’d like to do a bit more soliciting and maybe pushing POC authors to the front of queue and making them a priority this summer. In the meantime, also championing and promoting the work of writers we have published is a useful thing as well. More soon on this as I mull it around…

Kristy Bowen, decentering and publishing in the era of #blacklivesmatter

protest hate / love peace—

this battle waged on bloodied american soil / countless bodies converging in cities all across the country / human spirit refusing to become collateral damage amidst systemic brutality and oppression / see the courageous display what happens to equality long-deferred / it doesn’t go quietly to the back of the bus / it explodes out onto the streets / enduring bullets, brawls & pepper-spray halos to get its message heard

do not / protest love / hate peace

Rich Ferguson, It’s All in the Way the Words are Arranged

I’ve never had much talent for hope, and what hope I’ve managed to summon tends to get squashed. It’s a feeling I’ve learned to distrust. Yet widespread public outrage at police assaults to Black lives and dignity: it springs from that four-letter-word. Protests and anger, imply at least some tiny spark of faith that the world can change.

I’ve been trying to write more poetry from and about hope during the past couple of years, and one of those pieces, “We Could Be,” appeared recently in About Place: Practices of Hope. I’ll be reading it–and listening to some of the other fabulous contributors–in a group reading today, Friday 6/12, at 7pm EST on YouTube Live (details above). I find poems of joy, hope, gratitude, and love hard to generate. For me, poems grow more readily from complex, often negative, emotions and situations: conflict often powers the turn or volta that makes a poem surprising; ambivalence and ambiguity somehow sharpen the language (I’m not sure how that last process works, but I certainly feel it). “Unsonnet,” a poem of mine recently published by Ecotone and reprinted by Verse Daily, operates in the latter mode of darkness and uncertainty. It comes from grief about my son growing up and getting ready to leave for college, and it ends not with optimism but denial and a wish to turn back the clock. I like the vivid language of “Unsonnet,” a poem that came relatively easily last spring; I started “We Could Be” four years ago and revising it was monstrously difficult. I don’t know if one is aesthetically better than the other. But the way the latter poem puts hope out there does seem ethically better. (Those are fighting words, I know, that poetry can have an ethics, but I think it can. It’s just slippery, as language itself is.)

Lesley Wheeler, Practicing Hope

For the last two days I’ve been reading Koon Woon‘s Water Chasing Water (Kaya Press, 2013) and feeling my own heart swell upwards as if on a rising tide. Other reviewers have described him as a “writer of solitudes,” but I love the community Koon Woon invokes in almost every poem. I love his poems for his father, poems about sleeping under bridges, about the Chinese waiter reading Nietzsche and dreaming a writing life into being. In this time of madness and isolation, he gives me hope.

Bethany Reid, A Poem and a Writing Prompt

You might hear them before
you see them, the sign says
but we still look up

a little like the way we hear
the voice of our own conscience
or our fears, and look around

for a sign that might convince us
to take that first step forward.

Lynne Rees, Skylarks ~ a poem

I had a lovely phone conversation yesterday with my long-time writing mentor. We mostly communicate via e-mail, so it was great to connect over the phone. We chatted about a lot of things, but a great deal of it was about literature, which was a treat for me. This person is extremely knowledgeable and passionate, and the conversation transported me back to feeling like I was in college again and listening to a professor wax poetic about the beauty of language. I realized that I just don’t have those kinds of conversations anymore. I haven’t in years, and it’s really a shame. I didn’t realize how hungry I was for it. I don’t have anyone in my day-to-day life to talk to literature about on that level. And my reading habits have gotten very lazy. Reading for me has become just a way to unwind before bed, rather than an experience of delving deep into a rich work of art. I’ve read a few heavy novels here and there, but it’s mostly been literary junk food. I made a semi-resolution on this very blog several years ago to read one classic a month, and I never followed through. I think it’s time to dust that resolution off and give it an honest try this time.

Kristen McHenry, Poor Soup Outcome, Literary Hunger, Plug-and-Play Genius

I’ve made a poem collage for  the Begin Afresh Campaign for Poets for the Planet  following their open call for poems which reads as follows:

Poets for the Planet warmly invite you to join us in writing poems on the theme of ‘beginning afresh’.

We are calling for poems that respond to the need for change. How must the world change as we come out of lockdown? Is there anything we’ve gained from lockdown that we should hang onto? What do we need to let go of? We’d love you to share your poems of no going back, starting again, turning over a new leaf, letting go.

My contribution includes daisies, buttercups, common knapweed and yellow hawkweed – wildflowers which have grown in our back garden since we stopped mowing it.  The #NoMowMay and #NoMowJune campaigns encourage people to leave their lawns alone, so encouraging weeds to flower and provide a greater source of pollen for bees and other pollinators, and habitats for more insects and other garden wildlife. This is one small change I’ve made with my family  – not just in the lockdown because we also did this last year, influenced by this article by Alys Fowler in The Guardian – but the lockdown has made me even more aware of my desire to do more to care for our planet.  Not mowing the lawn is my very small gesture of starting afresh.

Josephine Corcoran, We found the O My! in No Mow May

I played her the song on the way home and then promptly forgot about it..until earlier today when I heard it coming from her room. I was pleased, checked my dad privilege and then got on with enjoying it as a moment. As is often the wont, that’s a poem, I thought. There’s an idea there, however shite, it’s an idea, but how to get anywhere near writing down the history of how we got to that moment (especially without referring to Beckenham Tescos) and without making it sound like I’d made her listen to it. It felt like a tall order (even once I’d navigated the internal monologue about whether it was a shit idea). And to be honest with you, I’ve got this far into this post without really knowing what my point is other than thinking that I see lots of posts about the poems we have written, the poems we didn’t write, how to write the poem we didn’t know we wanted to write (via prompts), how to edit the poem we have written (for example this great one from today by Natalie), but I can’t recall seeing one that talks about something from the moment of conception, how it got that far and whether it should then carry on.

To be fair this isn’t that post either, but it’s potentially a marker in the sand (another Pearl Jam song, as it happens) for the future. If I get beyond my internal wrangling about how to even start it and if I should start it I’ll let you know. In the mean time, I’ve linked to a few great songs on the way.

Mat Riches, Is Whilst

The farm-cabin is not for everyone–the closest any kind of restaurant is 20 minutes of driving through fields, there’s only phone /internet signal if you sit on the porch at the right time of day, and the view is fields and more fields. But for us this is perfect–we’ll only be a couple of hours away from our girls (and my generous mother who will be caring for them) so we could get home in a hurry if need-be, we’re not too far away from the hospital if I went into surprise early labor, and we actually enjoy quiet isolation and have our own writing projects that we’ve been slogging away on inch by inch. […]

I wonder too how with the state of the world if it is the right time for either of my areas of interest in my manuscripts–what do poetry readers need and want to read right now? The oppression of nuns and the mourning of a baby? I don’t know. I suppose I can’t help but write what feels important and alive to me. Perhaps these are questions to ask myself during the weekend at the cabin.

Renee Emerson, Preparing for a DIY Writing Retreat

I grieve for my finished unfinished manuscript. Ten years worth of research and scrawl that feels stillborn now even though it is still alive still kicking dust from the molding with its tiny shoes in the office of a publisher. I feel guilty for my grief for giving into it in such a powerful historic moment decade.

I stack my unread copies of the Paris Review in numerical order on the child sized roll top desk from which I used to teach pretend school as a small girl believing that one day I would actually be a true student. I’m afraid of opening them. The smell of fresh ink makes me high. Mimeograph ink was my first drug. I would shake when I held the damp slick test paper gentian letters swimming into my malleable brain.

Since the plague I’ve been afraid to turn on my pc where my manuscript lives. I tell myself the boxy computer is going to be dead or the monitor ultra bright wavy constant updates whirling away the white mesmerizing circle on the blue field Word won’t allow me access my pages will come up as Read Only and I won’t know how to fix it my story will be broken even though I have four copies maybe more in my email. It feels like sickness.

Rebecca Loudon,  Sarah Manguso wrote in the Paris Review “ How far along are you? people will ask of your book

Here I am, showing up, doing the thing I’ve assigned myself to do.

I feel a little hollow, scraped out. Writer’s block is when you have the words but can’t release them. They’re trapped behind a wall. I think I’ve got writer’s drought. Lots of arid sky in my head, dendrites dry as August dirt.

Tears came easily this week. Thursday, I had a panting, sweaty meltdown: droplets spattered everywhere. I thought some physical work would make me feel better, but instead of dissipating a persistent ennui it activated a wet rage. (At least my garage and yard look better.)

I have nothing worth saying today. Feel as if I have been swimming and swimming in everyone’s torrent of words for weeks now, and all I want to do is lie still on some shore and dry out a bit.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Showing up

In the end, COVID-19 covered the earth like a blanket covering a small and trembling child. This virus filled the sky as if it were smoke from a tremendous fire, a fire that burned for a thousand years. It flowed with swift rivers and filled the oceans. Entire oceans of COVID-19. We are simple people. We touch the virus, we breathe the virus, we wear the virus like a suit of the finest silk, perfectly cut to fit. And so now we embrace COVID-19. We embrace death. We are Little Red Ridinghood embracing the wolf at last. Come. Let me hold you. Die with me tonight.

James Lee Jobe, In the end, COVID-19 covered the earth like a blanket covering a small and trembling child.

We get to wholeness and peace both by pursuing justice with all that we are, and by surrendering to everything we can’t know about how we’re going to get there from here. It’s not an either/or: it’s a both/and. If we wait until we feel fully ready we might never act at all, and, if we imagine we know all the answers we’re guaranteed to be wrong. We need humility and chutzpah.

“Not by might and not by power, but by spirit.” The Hebrew word for “spirit” here, ruach, can also be translated as breath. I find a message in that for our current moment too. We reach wholeness not through pursuing power, but through ensuring that everyone can breathe freely. When all of God’s children can breathe, that’s wholeness and peace. 

Eric Garner’s last words were “I can’t breathe.” George Floyd’s last words were “I can’t breathe.” Racism, like coronavirus, steals the breath. Just this morning we sang nishmat kol chai — “Breath of Life, the breath of all that lives praises Your name.” We name God as the Breath of Life. When a human breath is diminished, it’s as though God were diminished. 

We don’t know when the cloud will lift — when justice will roll like thunder and righteousness like a mighty stream. (Amos 5:24) We don’t know when the cloud will lift — when the pandemic will end and it will be safe to return to the world again. We only know that right now, we’re in the cloud. It’s hard to see how we get there from here. But that doesn’t exempt us from trying.

Our task is to protect ourselves and each other during these pandemic times. To end racism in all its forms. To cultivate the chutzpah of believing we can make the world a better place alongside the humility of knowing that we don’t have all the answers. When the cloud lifts, we move forward. When the cloud doesn’t lift, we do what we can to build justice right here where we are.

Rachel Barenblat, In the cloud

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 14

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week, another onslaught of blog posts in my feed reader as a few more long-dormant bloggers emerged, now to post GloPoWriMo poems. Others, meanwhile, report feeling blocked or frustrated. Some are in domestic productivity mode. Some are fighting the virus. A few are too busy to feel much of anything but exhaustion or rage. By and large, it sounds as if poets are rising to the occasion.


The milk is spoiling, or has finished the job. The apple-a-day calendar is stuck at March 13, when I flew off despite misgivings about flying. Luckily I’d emptied the garbage, as I always do before leaving. The refrigerator and its white noise set to perpetual.

The collage clippings are scattered on the table, the needles are sunk in the pincushion at a courteous distance. Books, clothes… if I’d only thought a little further. My bag was lightly packed.

Sarah J Sloat, The empty apartment

Of course we introverts have feelings.  We know that real grief is sometimes too deep for words.  The Covid-19 plague blew in with a whiplash of emotional states, laced with adrenaline and black humor.  I made jokes, rolled my eyes in the vertigo of each shifting reality, rode the waves of social media — until the torrent of words, emotions, anger, f-words, words, words, f-words, knocked me down.

What exhausted me was the snap mastery, the fear-driven rush to judgment.  Then the need, akin to the Biblical Job’s friends, to mouth all-knowing vindications of tragedy.  It didn’t leave much room for the kind of tongue-tied response of silence and awe that made me sit, shaken and numb and full of longing. I pulled in and pulled from my shelf the books of my companion poets.  In the language game, whose words would stand up to reality? Great artists who had taken harrowing journeys and sent word back.  Those guides brought me across the void, helped me mourn and feel sorrow for the immensity of what is being lost.

The weeks since then have been spinning by.  Spring is celebrating itself.  Pink buds wave towards the future while we are stuck on reruns.  The new reality is taking shape.  It is technological.  It is busy while being stilled.  It used to be a metaphor that if you’re not online, you’re invisible.  Now it is a reality.  

Jill Pearlman, The Introvert’s Guide to the New Reality

Being an extrovert means I get energy from being around other people. This is one reason I love, and very much miss, my gym. It’s not just that the OrangeTheory Fitness workouts are hard and great, it’s that I’m working out with a group of people. And because my preferred time to workout was 5am, I was working out with the same group of early risers every morning. We were a community who knew each other by name and chatted happily, if sometimes sleepily, before starting our workout. Now my days start with a solo run, followed by solo yoga and solo TRX and then a solo hike with my dog. I’m still fit and healthy but I miss people. I miss high-fiving friends after a hard set, or cheering on someone as they push hard on the rower or treadmill or pick up heavier weights than usual. I miss the comradery.

Poetry is what I usually turn to in times of emotional turmoil but lately, the words haven’t been flowing as much as I’d like. April is National Poetry Month and in years past I’ve participated in 30/30 – 30 poems in 30 days, writing one poem per day. This year I’m not setting this goal as I don’t honestly think I’d be able to do it and I don’t want to feel bad or guilty or like I’m underachieving if I don’t write a poem each day. Instead I’m reading a lot of poetry and when the words come, I capture them, grateful to have them and have this outlet.

So I’m celebrating National Poetry Month by being gentle with myself, by being kind to myself, and not setting expectations so high that I’m certain to be disappointed. I’m surrounding myself with beautiful words and hopefully, this will inspire me to write some of my own. But this year, it’s okay if it doesn’t. This year is different from any I’ve experienced and so I’m taking it a day at a time, letting my heart lead me where it needs to go.

Courtney LeBlanc, Celebrating

As a comfort during this strange and difficult time, I am re-reading Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott, first read in childhood. I recalled the March family hunkered at home during the war between the states, their father off serving as a chaplain for the army, but little did I know quite how much their situation would resonate now!

When I picked up my book this morning, opening to where my bookmark had fallen in place the night before, the little women and their mother had received news of the illness of Mr. March. Illness in war is common, and our big flu pandemic of 1918 happened in war, and here we are again. So Marmee, as her daughters call her, packs a trunk and heads off to tend him, leaving the little women on their own, in the care of Hannah the cook, and with the protection of the neighbor, Mr. Laurence, and his grandson, Laurie.

The next morning, they wake to the completely changed circumstances. “’I feel as if there had been an earthquake,’ said Jo…” Indeed!

Kathleen Kirk, The Pertinence of Little Women

yes i do kiss you
right now in plain sight
right here on this park bench

in front of the ducks
in front of the trees
still bare from winter

in front of the broken
clouds in front
of the person

biking past
face covered
with a bandana

bandit-style
in front of the person
with the Ronald-

McDonald hair
turning away
from two old people

kissing, standing,
walking this little dog
crowding our feet, one

of your hands filled
with litter collected from
the river bank the other filled

with mine yes do hold
my hand, hold my hand,
hold tighter

Sharon Brogan, Day One of the Pandemic

Strange to move so poorly in these woods, shortened steps so slow: the last time I moved with such caution in here it was my back that was halved. Freshly screwed and stapled, bones on fire and nerve signals still scrambled: the risk of falling was severance, then.

Now, it’s lungs on fire, covid’s chest-spreader cracking sternum on each breath.

But better, today, eighteen days in: enough that I can slow-walk crackle and snap past the vixen’s den and down, all the way to the stream, past vulpine latrine (territory’ edge) and deer, past bear scat and scratches.

Quartz extrusions, some lifted into walls, some still in situ, are bleached to bone.

Near the water, a snapped pine is a hundred years of falling in a moss-encroached grave. It means something different to me than to others here.

In this difference, the severance. The fall.

JJS, Crack

The tradition says each of us is to see ourselves as though we ourselves had been brought out of Mitzrayim. I don’t know about you, but the idea that we are living in Mitzrayim — the Narrow Place; tight constriction; dire straits — feels very real to me this year. If we are feeling constricted, anxious, afraid, uncertain, maybe newly-aware of some of our society’s fundamental inequalities and the harm they cause to the most vulnerable… then we are exactly where the Pesach story calls us to be.

When we left that Narrow Place, we didn’t know where we were going. We didn’t have time to fully prepare for our journey of transformation. We didn’t know where we were going or how we would get there. We left the Narrow Place anyway, because it had become clear that staying where we were — staying with the status quo — meant death. If we are feeling unready, unprepared, maybe thrust into a journey we don’t know how to take… then we are exactly where the Pesach story calls us to be.

Rachel Barenblat, We are exactly where the Pesach story calls us to be

I signed up to receive daily writing prompts from Two Sylvias Press, and I’m planning to go back to them at some point, but I can’t find the release valve on my writing brain to let the words just come.

Instead, I catch myself staring out the window for long stretches, watching the new hickory leaves unfurl. I’ve been walking my dog and letting him get filthy in the pond where pollen pools on the surface like a film of a crushed hard boiled egg yolk. I’m washing my hands probably more than I need to, considering the raw, chapped patches on the left hand.

I’ve re-started my personal yoga practice finally, although I have taken a few Zoom classes. It’s hard for me to pin myself down to a specific time to practice now that the classes are streamed live. When I’m home, I don’t usually keep to a schedule.

But maybe a schedule is what I need, especially if I want to beckon my creative mind. Sitting myself at my desk or out on the back porch with a pen and a notebook every day, just like I roll out my mat. Yoga, meditation, and writing are interconnected for me. One leads to another.

As far as The Wasteland goes, last year I was emerging from a painful depression during April, and I agreed with Eliot’s first line that “April is the cruelest month,” though maybe it was for different reasons than his own intentions for writing.

This year April is also a cruel month. Just when the earth is greening in the Northern hemisphere, thousands of people are dying. It’s a sorrow that’s hard to reconcile with the season.

Christine Swint, Poetry Month

My English A-level was combined Language and Literature. I had a different teacher for each, and each had their own collection of classrooms. There is no denying that studying Thomas Hardy’s poetry from a language perspective was a huge influence in starting me writing my own poems, but a heavily-annotated copy of T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land and Other Poems — not much larger than a pamphlet — was, and remains, a definite influence on my writing. I suspect that if it’d not been heavily annotated then it wouldn’t have fired my imagination. Learning how a poet could hide so many meanings beneath the words was fascinating. We weren’t studying Eliot at all, I found the book at the back of a cupboard, but I took the book home and devoured it!

Giles L. Turnbull, The Top Ten Books that have Inspired me (as a Reader and a Writer), Part 1

We have gained some perspective in the pandemic. We now know that Italo Calvino would have been more useful as a grocer. Clarice should have been an emergency doctor. And, of course, Mark Rothko should have used his time more wisely and become a rich businessman. Mir Taqi Mir should have at least composed a couplet in praise of Dettol’s scent. And Ghalib should have been a manufacturer of hand sanitizers. We have certainly gained some perspective. Pianos should be repurposed into something that will be more useful to society. I demand that from now on no resource should be wasted on the production of canvases or brushes. Every piece of stone should be used to build a useful building. I know I sound a bit radical but – hear me out – I think even flowers should be replaced with vegetables. The pandemic has taught us some important lessons. Alas, history cannot be changed! If only physics had enough funding, we would’ve been able to travel back in time and knock some sense into Bach’s head. Oh what a waste of talent! But at least now we have learnt our lesson. The other day, I don’t know why a man looked at me like I were crazy when I asked him which page of Baudelaire should be used as toilet paper first?

Saudamini Deo, Lockdown diary / 5-6-7-8

My watch conked out yesterday. Suddenly it was half past five and actually it was five to six. So now I live watch-less.

Just as well. I have started reading How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy by Jenny Odell (thank you Shawna Lemay for the recommendation):

Platforms such as Facebook and Instagram act like dams that capitalize on our natural interest in others and an ageless need for community, hijacking and frustrating our most innate desires, and profiting from them. Solitude, observation, and simple conviviality should be recognized not only as ends in and of themselves, but inalienable rights belonging to anyone lucky enough to be alive.’ 

Well, I have been having quite a lot of conviviality and connection right by my front gate, thanks to being in the garden so much. I have had more conversation these last two weeks than I have had for months. Even with strangers.

What is that telling me?

Anthony Wilson, Practice

I have washed my hands for twenty seconds
with soap and music. I have gloves to wear.
I have dreamed up a house with invisible walls
That let me see the sun and the moon and the trees,
Oh let me be trapped there for forty days
And forty nights, like Jesus in the desert.

James Lee Jobe, I have washed my hands for twenty seconds

So how barbaric is it to write poetry during a pandemic? How wrong to suppress a pang of guilt at the thought that there are people dying out there, while I’m fiddling with words? And if I need to keep fiddling to stay sane, should I perhaps hide that discordant, painful music under a bushel?

I keep hearing from friends, family, and the ubiquitous newsfeed in my mailbox that things will get worse before they get better. Things already are unimaginably tragic for so many families around the world. I’m afraid that thinking of worse things yet to come might somehow bring them into being. I must shift my focus or succumb to anguish for my children’s future.

Outside, the birds, the insects, the trees, and the flowers are busy making spring happen. I feel joy and gratitude when I watch them. Their tiniest gestures acquire instant symbolism, becoming a sign of hope, of resilience, of triumph over despair. All around me, nature breathes and sends her messengers to knock on my doors, my windows, my forehead. They all know something I don’t–or have chosen not to acknowledge. Not yet. I must keep watch. Any day now, I’ll find out what nature has been hiding from me. What she’s been telling me all along.

So there it is, my reason for fiddling. I’m trying to bring about spring. It’s the only way I know how.

Romana Iorga, NaPoWriMo 2020: Poetry from the trenches, Day 0

If you had asked me 3 days ago how I was, I’d probably have broken down in tears. Home schooling is breaking me, but I’ve had a few days respite as the kids were away to their dad’s so I’ve been able to catch up with my studies, go to the allotment, hang some photos that have been sitting unloved for years, do some reading and crafting and, most importantly for the blog, join in with Angela Carr’s new 30 day writing challenge which coincides with GloPoWriMo (or NaPoWriMo if you insist on being US-centric) the poetry writing month which encourages people to write a poem a day. And so far because of the isolation I’ve been able to keep up. Four new rough drafts done and as soon as I hit Publish for this I’ll start on the next one. 

In honour of GloPoWriMo, I usually include a poem by a poet I like. This time I’m including The Hill Burns by the Scottish writer Nan Shepherd. I have to admit I’ve never read her poems before, but I’ve recently started her book The Living Mountain which is part of a online read-along started by nature writer Rob MacFarlane. I  haven’t been able to keep up with the read-along and discussion, but it’s worth following Rob on Twitter and reading his books, he has a lovely way with words and inspiring people to explore nature and to write about it. I’ve only managed The Wild Places and The Lost Words (written with Jackie Morris and with her beautiful illustrations, a magical book) so far as it’s hard to get his books here, but I’m in a queue of about a million waiting for his latest book Underland once the libraries reopen here in Helsinki. 

Gerry Stewart, Corona Virus Week Three – Chinks of Light

nanny state‬
‪the goats take over‬
‪roaming‬

Jim Young [no title]

I finished reading Margaret Atwood’s 2000 book, Cat’s Eye. After ten years of mostly reading and writing poetry, I’ve regained an appetite for fiction.  I enjoyed the book very much and it felt luxurious to spend long days with the same characters, visiting another section of their lives each time I picked up the book.  It’s hard to replicate that experience when reading poetry. However, at the book’s end, I wasn’t hit by a sensation of something profound, exact and transformative.  I didn’t deeply recognise a human emotion conveyed in the story – or, if I did, the poet in me couldn’t help asking  did we need 421 pages to say that?  Could it have been said in 14 lines?

I’ve had some extremely happy moments this week: discovering that both of my now adult children can cook; watching my 19 year old son teaching himself to do handstands and cartwheels in our back garden; being in awe of my 20 year old student daughter’s ability to focus on her academic work in a houseful of people, one of whom plays his music ridiculously loud.  We’re very lucky to be in lockdown together and not alone.  I’ve felt guilty for feeling happy in the middle of an international crisis.

I’ve been trying to write a poem but I’m scuppered by the old adage of a watched pot never boils.  I need to quickly look away and let the poem do some of its work without me.

Josephine Corcoran, Corona Diary: Lockdown Continues

We should have known it well
it thrives. indeed, on being human
our touching each other; hands on face
speak out loud, droplets & breath
hold on to the handrail
move down the carriage,
use all available space
it’s proximity & closeness
shaking hands, kissing once or twice,
(don’t stand so/don’t stand so close to me)
the embrace, the popping in,
the cup of tea, the walk together,
y’alright mate,
saying cheers, give me five,
would you like a top-up,
anytime, here for you.
And they thought we could raise fences

Ernesto Priego, The Plague

Last April, I challenged myself to write a poem a day and posted the drafts on this blog. That turned out to be a useful experience, but I feel no need to repeat it. This year, I want to post about some new(ish) books of poetry. Not critiques or book reviews, just what the poems evoke for this particular reader.

~

First up– Lynn Levin‘s The Minor Virtues, 2020, Ragged Sky Press. The cover’s appropriate to the month: a lovely image of dogwood blossoms. And I have to admit that what drew me into the book is the charming mundanity of the first few poem titles, in which the speaker is tying shoelaces or buying marked-down produce. Most of the poems in the first section begin with a gerund phrase and place the reader in a present-progressive act of doing something. The poems here feel so grounded in reality (quite a few are sonnets), often humorous–grabbing the wrong wineglass at a banquet, trying to think about nothing–that I immediately settled in to the pages.

The topics, or the reflective closures, move toward seriousness at times; her poem “Dilaudid” shook me awake and left me in admiration for a number of reasons (some of them personal resonance–but). Levin’s humor tends to be intellectual–wordplay, allusions, wry asides–and I revel in that sort of thing. Her approach to craft also works for me, because she’s usually subtle going about form or rhyme schemes, so I enjoy the poem for what it says and means and then enjoy it again for how it’s structured and inventive.

I mean, that’s one way I read poems. There are other ways. Some books carry me pell mell through word-urgency or the writer’s rage or passion and some build lyrical intertwining networks of imagery and some make their own rules and some stagger me with their innovation. And I may have to be in the right mood to read a collection.

I was in the right mood to read Levin’s book. It was a good way to begin National Poetry Month in the midst of stay-at-home mandates, taking me gently through a “normal life” and reminding me of all that is surprising there, the riddles and the unexpected, the minor virtues and the actions we take as we practice them. Whether or not we think of them as virtues.

Ann E. Michael, Reading poems

How many hands move to tell the story when
the voice is lost, the voice is a violin throbbing
with loss, the voice has become a ghost, mute
and moving. The hands beat the body like a drum
and hum, the hands beat the drum as if it tells
the stories, the hands beat and are beaten. That
is the tale that must be told, the surprise ending.

PF Anderson, Shekhinah as Sheherazade

And now, the wisdom/advice/guidance comes for all of us to wear masks when we’re out in public. Of course, the nation faces a shortage of medical grade masks that might actually block the virus, but there’s some thought that a cloth mask might help.

I do have a lot of cloth that I could use to create masks. If only I had time to sew.

I see various types of posts from people who are holed up in quarantine who have made thousands of masks or written the definitive biography of Julian of Norwich or made their thirty-sixth loaf of homemade bread with sourdough starter that they created with native yeasts that they captured in their back yard. I have spent this past work week in the office.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, The Longest Week

Anyway, long story short, I am masking at work now, and it’s weird both physically and psychologically. It feels alien to have a piece of material covering over half my face. It’s hot, it’s vaguely itchy, it smells disconcertingly medical, and I am brushing my teeth and rinsing with mouthwash multiple times per day because I can’t tolerate even the slightest whiff of odor on my breath. With the amount of coffee I’m sucking down these days, this is a challenge. I’ve always been very paranoid about my breath as it is, and I’m one of those people who compulsively pop Altoids and breath gums. Now there is no escaping the smell of my own breath. I’m going to have a get a handle on this neurosis because skipping lunch and living on Dentyne is not a sustainable option.

With the advent of the mask, I’ve ditched the lipstick (the masks go to be reprocessed and they can’t reprocess a mask that has lipstick stains on it), and I have decided to go minimalist on the makeup. I just brush on a little mascara and call it good, which saves me a remarkable amount of time in the mornings.I’ve also taken to wearing tennis shoes because I’m constantly running to our Entry Control Points to deal with issues and my normal work shoes aren’t great for clocking miles on a hard surface.No one’s said anything about the tennis shoes. The way things are going, I could probably get away with jeans and hoodies at this point.This same sort of sartorial breakdown also happened during the strike, with senior management all but wandering around in their pajamas towards the end. The near-total breakdown of professional appearance is an interesting signifier of a crisis.

Kristen McHenry, Reaction Time, Sartorial Signifier, Future Cave Woman

cornmeal into the blue bowl
flour into the blue bowl
my son stands in the kitchen
to tell me the news
no no not now I say the last
of the baking powder
sifts into the blue bowl people
are dying he says no no
I say salt and sugar
into the blue bowl he tells
me about a ship in New York
I stir with my fingers he
keeps talking I add buttermilk
into the blue bowl he says
there is no room for the bodies
I crack two brown eggs
on the blue bowl’s rim
then I pour in honey
my son describes body bags
lining the harbor worse
than war honey rises to the bowl’s
blue lip I keep pouring honey
oozes out of the blue bowl
onto the counter then the floor
I keep at the honey pouring
pouring the floor thick
with it I can barely move
my feet soon my calves
are covered I pour honey
until it shimmers golden heavy
around my waist fills the kitchen
above my shoulders pressed
to my sides the most intense
perfume I pour in enough honey
to flood the yard now I see the sun
right out that window the sun
stupid and round as any
discarded toy

Rebecca Loudon, corona 10.

Still: dead labor asserts its claim. The workers and exploited ones. Slaves and caretakers. The nameless, lost, derided. The invisible. All the others. The child in the cobalt mine living inside your battery. They live in each head as well as in the complex of social fact. An entire civilization is dedicated to consuming and concealing them. How long does something like this last? How long can it? Never to confront the discarded traces. To build an infinity from denial. Acceleration as the energy required to sustain the denial forestalling absolute cataclysm. Who speaks to and for those inside of us, which we ourselves are inside of in turn? Who admits those who refuse to be part of the “I”?

Rimbaud learned early: “I is an other.” The fundamental insight. As revolutionary and poetic truth.

R.M. Haines, Identity and Its Discontents: Notes on Rimbaud

[…]They bring him wrapped, calf muscles buckled
from what the human body is not meant to do –
walk three hundred miles, drop like a yellowed leaf
to be rested under the cassia tree in full bloom
just a mile from home.

The context:
After the 21 day lockdown in India to contain the spread of Coronavirus, the states have closed their borders, bus and train services have been suspended. The lockdown has left tens of millions of migrant workers unemployed. They are from rural India, small towns and villages, but live most of the year in India’s megacities. Believed to number at least 120 million, possibly more, they are walking to their homes, hundreds or thousands of miles away from where they had migrated for work.

A 23 year old man walking from Nagpur in Maharashtra to Namakkal in Tamil Nadu, after completing 500 kilometers in the summer heat of the southern Indian plains, died of cardiac arrest in Secunderabad, many miles away from home.

Uma Gowrishankar, The Walk

I was surprised to see this week that my writing has finally turned. After months and months of writing despairing poems, I can see more light and hope in my work now. I saw a few glimmers of this before the quarantine, but what I can really pin it down to is my daily practice of writing a single description of what is around me–focusing on the here and now has brought about more hopeful poems. I was hoping to get there, to not write the darkest of poems forever (and it felt like forever). The grief is still there, and the loss, and I don’t suspect that it will go away any time soon or ever, but I am so relieved to see the Light there as well.

Renee Emerson, the turn

(lack begins as a tiny rumble), a brand new collection by my pressmate Caroline Cabrera, belies its title: these hybrid poems, almost lyric essays, brim with language that nourishes me. Pain and grief are starting points, but line by line, with amazing persistence, Cabrera digs herself out of those very dark places. Sisterhood helps, but so does a renegotiation of her relationship with her own body. “The womb is a world,” she writes in one poem, clarifying that image with the eye-opening closure, “Our first act is one of emigration.” In many poems, too, Cabrera unfolds what it means to be a blonde-haired Cuban American: “My skin keeps me safe. My blood, it boils in me.” My own concentration is poor these days, but this book riveted me. Bonus: the collection includes great poems about toxic bosses. I really appreciate poems about toxic bosses.

This book, by the way, feels very much in sisterhood with Girls Like Us by Elizabeth Hazen, star of my last salon, but really I’m just contacting people with new books and posting these interviews in the order I receive them. I’m really enjoying this project, as well as the new books it’s leading me through. Virginia’s governor just gave a stay-at-home order. I totally agree with it, but it makes connecting through writing more important than ever.

Lesley Wheeler, Virtual Poetry Salon #5 with Caroline Cabrera

This is a tough, tough time for all of us. In that context, it’s important to empathise with others such as publishers who’ve seen their distributors close down, festivals/readings cancel (where poetry is most often sold) and new books lose the impetus of launches. Of course, it also goes without saying that the poets in question are suffering too. They might well have been working away on a manuscript for years, only to find that publication turns into a damp squib.

One of those cases is David J. Costello and his first full collection, Heft, which has just been published by Red Squirrel Press. David had a whole host of launches and readings lined up, but he’s seen all of them gradually disappear for the foreseeable future. I was fortunate enough to read a proof of his book prior to going to press, and here’s the endorsement that I provided:

David Costello’s poetry is especially adept at evoking the passing of time. Throughout this collection, he portrays the ambiguities and ambivalences of relationships between the individual and the collective, the human and the natural, the historical and the present, moving his readers in every poem.’

Moreover, you can read three poems from Heft over at Elizabeth Rimmer’s blog, BurnedThumb, where she generously held a virtual launch for the collection. If that then encourages you to get hold of a copy for yourself, you can do so via the Red Squirrel Press website here.

Matthew Stewart, David J. Costello’s Heft

Scientists say the teeny virus isn’t alive,
exactly, just a bit of protein that possesses
our same uncanny drive to reproduce,
replace, and colonize everything
not itself with acres of its progeny.

O, the irony of being done in
by a beast with our selfsame gluttony.

But love, for this moment now,
let us set aside these fears and feast
on eggs and apples, allow me
to nourish you with all the love I can,
every sacred mouthful.

Lana Hechtman Ayers, Feast and Fear in the Time of Coronavirus

There are worse places to shelter. Not a day goes by that I don’t feel an enormous sense of gratitude. And yes, it’s time to think about moving back home. We’re ready–almost.

****

Blogging keeps me limber. Gives me something to do in between binge-watching episodes of Chicago P.D., and 30 Rock with my daughter. It’s also a good way to open up my brainspace to poems.

****

I’m participating in two writing groups for National Poetry Month. Pandemic poetry seems to be a theme in both. Truth is, I have been writing fairly consistently for months. It has certainly ramped up the last three weeks after I broke up with my boyfriend.

January Gill O’Neil, Kibbles and Bits

From the crossweave of the song, I stepped into the cry
of gulls. Sickle wings looped and turned in the dark.
I sat on the wall and thought of home. I lifted my face

into the rain and thought of you and the children. All of you
asleep – your hair auburn-red over the counterpane,
their faces spellbound. And I called along the alleys

of the rain and out across the tenements of clouds
to where you lay sleeping, thinking not to wake you but
just to stand for a heartbeat at the corner of your dreams.

Dick Jones, UNDER BLUE ANCHOR

Despite my frequently dire tone here, I am an idealist and an eternal optimist. (It’s why I’m so often angry and railing.) “This is an opportunity,” I have said to anyone who might listen. “Here is our chance to do things differently, to see our mission differently, to really think about what matters in education.”

Yeah, I don’t think that’s gonna happen. I mean, maybe. But not this week, and surely not next.

Instead of releasing much of the utter crap that permeates public education, it feels as if our state has doubled down on it (as have many states). We love to talk about “trauma-informed practice” and “culturally-responsive teaching” until we’re blue in the face, but we are about to embark on delivering “education” in a time of tremendous trauma in ways that are likely to exacerbate it, especially for our most vulnerable students.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Coronavirus diary #4: the wrong kind of hard

Nearly every day I share stories with a stranger thanks to Quarantine Chat. Recently I talked to an older gentleman in Canada who is staying at his fishing cabin. When we talked he’d just come in from what he said would be the last ice fishing of the season. He reported that, once again, he didn’t catch anything. I asked how often his ice fishing was successful. “It’s always successful, in that I get outside for a few hours of peace. But it’s 100 percent unsuccessful if you mean catching anything after decades of trying,” he said. His good cheer couldn’t help but cheer me. I’ve talked to people in Spain,  Russia, Israel, and many U.S. states — a graduate student, business owner, graphic artist, stay-at-home dad, insurance broker, teenaged musician, police officer. We talk about what we can see out our windows, how our plans have changed, what worries us most, what we’re having for supper. It’s like any conversation, except it’s easier to get past the superficial.

Yesterday’s call was with a retired veteran who said he was really struggling with anxiety. I asked if he had a family story, maybe even from generations ago, that made him feel he and his kids would get through this. He told me about his grandmother, who was the first Black woman in their city to become a bus driver. He called her a “little powerhouse of a lady.” He said she was a woman of faith who also took  “no guff” from anybody. Once, he said, she was robbed as she was walking to the side entrance of her apartment building. She never carried a purse, but pulled a worn Bible out of her coat pocket and told the desperate young man holding a knife, “Take this, it has all my treasure inside.” He grabbed it and ran off, assuming she had money stuffed in its pages. She turned and hurried after him. When he threw it down after rifling it through, she picked it up moments later. The police declined her offer to dust it for finger prints. The veteran said he had lots of stories about his grandmother, and realized he hadn’t told them to his daughters. “I see her in my girls,” he said. “They’ve got her fight and her big heart.”

Laura Grace Weldon, Stories: Now More Than Ever

Don’t socially distance yourself from your inner wisdom.

Don’t wear a noose for a necklace.

Don’t confuse a museum with a mausoleum, or a Cajun with a contagion.

Don’t think Gucci is better than Fauci.

Don’t think life is all one-sided when 6 can be 9.

Don’t confuse your coffee with a coffin, or you may drink yourself to death.

Don’t linger with a bee’s stinger. Don’t hide your wounds when they make you a warrior.

Don’t ask for a half-moon when you want the whole night to shine.

Don’t stop believin’ when self-quarantinin’.

Rich Ferguson, Gucci vs. Fauci

What a difference a week makes… I’ve been attempting to stay positive this week, but it was getting tricky towards the end of the week as work got busier. I heard Susanna Reid (Saint Susanna) mention something called F.O.N.D.A or Fear of Not Doing Anything. A distant cousin of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out – where have you been?), FONDA is a new one of these horrible bloody feelings we’re all meant to have according to the culture sections of broadsheets. Apparently, we’re meant to be using this time to learn Sumerian or how to perform brain surgery and recreate Citizen Kane in stop motion using only Lego minifigs or repurposed Barbie Dolls.

Well fuck that. It’s a lovely idea, and I hope you get the chance to learn a new skill and to make the most of this time. I’ve not seen any evidence of it happening for me yet. I’m too busy, either working or drinking to forget. I can’t concentrate on anything else for long enough.

Add in to this the fact that NaNoWriMo has arrived and that means signs of people being busy/writing loads…It’s almost too much. I’m not anti-NaNoWriMo (despite tweets to the contrary), I just can’t do it.

Mat Riches, Accentuate the positive

Rats in the pantry chew through boxes
of shredded wheat and start in
on the rice. We can’t keep the outside

out, anymore than we can keep
the inside in. In the freezer, a dozen
corpse cows, 40 chickens missing

their heads. How long does it take
to move through that much flesh?
Gnawing our way to hunger with sharp,

angry teeth?

Kristy Bowen, napwrimo  | day 5

Cleaning is what I do when everything else feels out of control. My parents used to ride on me unmercifully for my reluctance to clean my desk, my room, my dresser drawers — I always had something more compelling to do, and it just didn’t feel important; besides, I knew where everything was. Oddly, once I had my own spaces and shared them with a partner, I got neater — though there have always been neglected areas. But when unhappiness or chaos or uncertainty seep into my world, I’ve noticed that I instinctively look for things to do that feel ordered, methodical, and incremental: making a patchwork quilt, knitting stitch after stitch, practicing music or a language, following a complicated recipe, taking the food out of the fridge and scrubbing the shelves. There’s a quiet satisfaction today in opening the door to the spice cabinet and seeing the neatly-labeled jars and tins; maybe today I’ll do another drawer of my desk. It’s all easier than staring at a blank screen, wondering what I can possibly write to make sense of this thing that’s happening to all of us — but, ironically, that time spent doing mundane tasks is when the ideas come, and I’ve learned to trust that, too.

Beth Adams, Hermit Diary, Montreal. 12. The Spice Cabinet

We are not
what we think
we are

until we
dream: then
we are

what we are,
everywhere
at once.

Tom Montag, We Are Not

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 13

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts.

This week… holy hell. Poets I know are coming down with unmistakable cases of coronavirus. Many people’s worlds are turning upside-down. And more poetry bloggers continue to come out of the woodwork, so with priority given to them, again this week I’ve had to be a bit selective, though I think this may still be one of the longest editions of the digest to date.

Be careful out there. And don’t stop blogging!


So thirsty, suddenly. Lungs desiccant. Obsession: a glass of cold Coke.

Corona: disability activists fight being triaged out.

Drum: am I drowning, or just panicking

Corona: I can grade papers this afternoon, I can. I’m good, I’m ok.

Drum: sleep. Sleep. Sleep.

Corona: the light, it’s so yellow, it’s late summer yellow, is it August? Why can’t I hear the crickets—

Drum: slow expanse of breath, wide and deep.

Corona: high shallows pant and froth. Harsh circle of hospital illumination—

Drum: No. No. No. No. No hospitals. No.

Corona: viscera of yes a myrrh-drip from my fingers upon the drum.

Drum: expand. Expel. Expand. Expel.

JJS, Corona

Well, here we are in Seattle, many of us locked in our domiciles for the foreseeable future. As someone in health care, I am considered an “essential worker” (it even says so on my badge!) so I don’t have the option of not going in to work. It’s such a wasted opportunity. As a life-long introvert, I could rock a good house-bounding. My whole life has been leading up to me being a proper-shut in, and now I can’t even take advantage of the legal mandate. I know that extroverts are genuinely struggling right now and I don’t mean to diminish their pain, but a small, mean, wounded part of myself is thinking, “Hmmph. Now you know how it feels to be the outlier, extroverts.” I’ve complained more than once on this blog about the constant pressure I’ve experienced to be more outgoing, to express myself, to speakup, to put myself “out there,” and other introvert horrors. Introverts have been dismissed and overlooked numerous times both in the workplace and socially, and I feel like this is our time to shine. We shall rise (quietly), our noses in books, silent heroes of the apocalypse, and the world will gasp in awe at our twin superpowers of Holing Up and Staying Put.

Kristen McHenry, Introverts Arise, Virus-Induced Science Hair, I Was Push-up Shamed

The only in-person conversation I’ve had with anyone other than my husband was when one of the workers from Officina ran over with a bag of groceries. With their dine-in options shuttered, they’re trying hard to stay afloat. He recognized me from my regular pop-ins to their market, where I usually buy fresh bread and pork sausages. Now they’re selling me produce straight from the prep kitchen that might otherwise go to waste: bags of parsley and broccolini, Idaho potatoes, huge onions, and a whole brined hen we’ll roast this weekend. 

Beyond that indulgence, we’re sticking to what’s in hand–pasta, rice, canned tomatoes, tinned sardines, bacon, and every imaginable kind of bean and pea. I got really excited because Cento is still shipping their basics. I have a huge jug of olive oil and a stash of white wine. When I was editing Vinegar and Char, I spent a lot of time thinking about the good, sturdy foods we deem essential in times of crisis. Yesterday, as I worked through preparing Made to Explode for W. W. Norton (the manuscript goes to the copyediting desk next week), I paused on this poem, an earlier version of which appeared in the Southern Foodways Alliance’s Gravy~

IN PRAISE OF PINTOS

Phaseolus vulgaris.
Forgive these mottled punks,
children burst 
from the piñata of the New World,
and their ridiculous names
of Lariat, Kodiak, Othello,
Burke, Sierra, Maverick. 
Forgive these rapscallions that 
would fill the hot tub with ham
while their parents 
go away for the weekend,
just to soak in that salt.  
Forgive their climbing instinct.
Forgive their ignorance
of their grandparents who
ennobled Rome’s greatest: 
Fabius, Lentulus, Pisa, Cicero
the chickpea. Legume 
is the enclosure, fruit in pod,
but pulse is the seed.
From the Latin, puls
is to beat, to mash, to throb.
Forgive that thirst. Forgive 
that gallop. Beans are the promise
of outlasting the coldest season.
They are a wink in the palm of God.

Sandra Beasley, Hill of Beans

Thank you for this food, gathered and grown
at unknown price by unknown hands;

brought from far places by those
who would rather be at home.

Thank you for these loved ones 
who step glad and unafraid

into darkness, take my hand,
and find the courage I could not.

Dale Favier, Daily Bread

This is a weird, weird time.

****

I have enough poems to put together a new manuscript, which has some of the best work of my life.  Mississippi has been nothing but inspiring for me. And I continue to be inspired by its wondrous and tragic sides. This morning I started four new drafts, which I think I’ll finish today. I mean, I have an abundance of time.

****

We are good. There are worse places to shelter in place. We miss Massachusetts but my hope is that by the time we’re ready to return in May, the state has hit their piece. Mississippi is a few weeks behind the curve (in many respects).

January Gill O’Neill, Never Say Never

Amongst all the isolation and angst of COVID-19, some good things are happening… I’m totally amazed that my video future perfect has been selected for five (5!) international video festivals already this year: REELPoetry (Texas); Newlyn Short Film Festival (UK); Carmarthen Bay Film Festival (Wales); FILE Electronic Language International Festival (Sao Paolo, Brazil)and Cadence Video Poetry Festival (Seattle).It was first screened at the 8th International Video Poetry Festival in Athens last year.

Although these all were planned to be live theatre screenings, most of them will end up being on-line, so stay tuned for info as it comes to hand.

Here’s my blurb for the vid – maybe a harbinger of where we are and where we are going…

“Words stripped of their ornamentation, pared back to monosyllabic cores… Are these the roots of language? Or are they the skeletal remains of a lost form of communication? Who is trying to speak here? What exactly are we being told? Perhaps a coded message. More likely, a cry for help…”

Ian Gibbins, future perfect screens around the world

In Alaska, schools are closed until May 1st [at least].  As with all teachers,  I’ve spent too many hours last week online, moving my English classes to an online platform that will hopefully allow my students to keep moving forward in the month ahead.  Tuesday will offer a better idea on how effective this plan is while both teachers and students adjust to this learning curve and either gather, assess and post work OR complete and submit assignments.  The online platforms in my house will be smoking come Tuesday.  My daughter will be taking her online courses while I monitor my online courses.  Interesting times!

So it was timely that the literary journal Whatever Keeps the Lights On published its special edition anthology, “Stolen Moments:  Poem Written at Desk Jobs” at this given time.  One, we’ve all been given this strange time to tend, reflect, and — at least in my home, read.  Two, I’m happy to share that I have a couple of poems in this issue, “How to Disappear” and “Tidal Zone.”  I’m grateful the editors gave these two a home in their pages.

Kersten Christianson, Whatever Keeps the Lights On

This is my tribute to Stuart Quine, the haiku poet, who died, aged 57, this week, from coronavirus. Others who knew Stuart better than me are far more qualified to write a full appreciation of Stuart’s qualities, so this is necessarily only a heartfelt, brief tribute, rather than a thorough obituary, of a lovely bloke who also happened to be a fine poet. […]

Stuart was largely known for his inventiveness with the one-line haiku form, though his haiku career is book-ended by his use of the more traditional three-line form. He was also a fine tanka and haibun poet, and a perceptive reviewer.

Here are some of Stuart’s lesser-known poems which I’ve liked over the years:

outside the nightclub
drum’n’bass
shudders a puddle

(Presence 7 and The New Haiku)

as real as any dream cherry blossom

(Presence 54)

Such is life . . .
a pachinko ball
careering wildly
between bells
and lights.

(Presence 55)

the implausibility of it all
yet here I am stumbling home
through the rain

(Presence 55)

Stuart’s poems rarely needed any explication and these four all speak eloquently for themselves. Of them, I like the pell-mell tanka most of all, not least because it resonates so strongly now. A large proportion of Stuart’s poems contained his essence, his humility and often black humour, rather than simply being objective observations. Therein lies their power and the reason why his writing will still be read with admiration and fondness for many years to come.

Matthew Paul, Stuart Quine

Helen was a loose farmer — what bloomed
bloomed wherever; greenhouse customers
left notes and payment
clothespin-clipped to a board
by the broken door; eggs were sold
from an old refrigerator propped outside,
cartons stacked next to the change box.

So when the blood blossomed
in her brain as she drove to pick up
pig scraps from a restaurant,
she just pulled to the shoulder, planted
her foot on the brake and waited.
Twenty seasons later, hardy and startlingly
new, here again, her crocuses.

Grace Mattern, Helen’s Crocuses

Shakespeare wrote Lear, so what is your excuse? Right?

Well. I suppose Shakespeare would have written Lear quarantined or not. Sometimes I find times of stress and uncertainty to be paralytics to my creativity–I can sit down at the page everyday, and still write nothing, because my brain is always background humming over the scariness of the world.

I have still been writing though because not even a worldwide pandemic can eclipse the grief I feel over Kit, and that is what I write about.

Renee Emerson, Writing in Quarantine

I’m not sure if this strange time had a proper beginning and I certainly can’t see its end.  This week I haven’t wanted to be online much even though there has been an explosion of people offering online workshops, readings and classes.  I’ve been slightly ill and still feel under the weather but I’m  sure (more or less but who knows??) it’s not Covid-19.  I’ve downloaded the Kings College, London, Symptom Checker App – now downloaded by over 1.5 million people – in the interests of research and treatment/ vaccine development.

It goes without saying that it is perfectly OK to not be online at the moment (I’m kind of talking to myself here, but perhaps I’m talking to you, too).  I’m still trying to find time every day for myself and my reading and writing.  I also try to walk by myself every day, or to be quiet even when I’m walking with someone else.  I really need silence and stillness which is harder to find now that the house is full.  I don’t mean to be ungrateful because I am glad that l have a house with a garden, and that my immediate family is here with me.

Something I did this week that felt useful was make sandwiches for the soup and sandwich run for people who are in need which is organised by the church I go to, and to continue to commit to support it.  It’s a Churches Together project in Trowbridge, a collaborative effort by all churches to make and distribute hot soup and a sandwich to those who need it from a pre-arranged place every day.  When I made and dropped of my sandwiches at the back of the church, I waved hello to our Parish Priest and a few Parishioners.  We had a shouty conversation, keeping our social distance. How weird not to be at weekly Mass.  There are services online but I really haven’t wanted to ‘attend’.  Perhaps I will in time.

Josephine Corcoran, Corona Diary: Possibly Week 3 – but are you counting?

Like everyone else on Planet Earth, the coronavirus landed in my life like a bomb. My months-long preparations for Women’s History Month went poof. Instead, I was now fretting about the availability of bread and toilet paper. In a matter of a few days, life as we knew it collapsed.

During the first week of isolation, I found that I lacked the focus for anything more challenging than scrolling through social media and pausing occasionally on stories that confirmed the feeling I had right then: no one knows what the hell is going on and we’re doomed. I thought of my goddaughter, who gave birth to a premature baby just as the world was waking up to the danger of coronavirus. I thought of my youngest brother, a high school teacher in New York City, who worries that he’s been exposed. I thought of my other brother, forced to cut his book tour short and return from California to his home in New Zealand. I thought of my friends and family members, many of whom are in the vulnerable category due to their age or physical and mental health, now furloughed, laid off, and isolated.

This morning my husband and I went to our local grocery store during its “seniors and vulnerable people-only” hours. The store’s employees were patient and kind. We tried our best to stay six feet away from the other shoppers. There was no toilet paper, but plenty of other things, including a bouquet of “Get Well” balloons floating above the check-out stand. This seems poignant in a way I can’t yet fathom. Everyone looked worried, and a few wore facemasks, some clearly homemade. There were no children or people under age 60. 

Erica Goss, Trying to Focus During a Pandemic

I haven’t got it in me to concentrate on learning a new language or watching YouTube videos on brain surgery for beginners. However, I did sign up for a Poetry Business Virtual Writing Workshop on Saturday.

I’ve always been a bit reticent about attending one of these courses, not least because it’s too bloody expensive to get to Sheffield and back and pay for the course, but also because I didn’t think it would be any good for me – not to cast aspersions on Ann and Peter than run the courses, it’s more that I didn’t think I’d create anything of any use/value or, more importantly, that I could actually write anything in the time you get given for these things.

However, I couldn’t have been more wrong. We were put at ease immediately, the whole event was well planned and kept pretty much within the timings. I assume because they’ve run so many of these events…I won’t say what happened on the course, but the exercises were interesting, the stimuli were all new to me and I met 15 other interesting people. I think there is some way to go in terms of the technology – Video calling still isn’t second nature to some.

I think I was ok, having spent plenty of time on the aforementioned Google Hangouts with work. However, I think there’s still a lot of the etiquette to be worked out with that. It’s hard to not cut over someone talking when you can’t see the non-verbal cues of face-to-face conversation. If you factor in various broadband/wifi signals, feedback and microphones it can be a bit disorientating.

At the end of it though, I have four poems that I would never have written, 2 of them I suspect will never make it anywhere, but 1 might. I can’t say about the other one yet. I have to let the excitement of a new poem wear off. I got some helpful feedback on the poem from earlier in the week. It’s currently called People Tell Me That Talking To Plants Is Good For Them.

Mat Riches, Biddy Baxter’s Bacchanalian Bidet…

Yesterday, it snowed, what seemed like quite a lot, but judging from what I can see from the 3rd floor vantage..not a lot on the ground. Such snowfall not unusual for this time of year, and the sort of thing that would want me to hunker down today rather than go out and walk around in it.. But even so,  I’m guessing the magnolias over near the catholic school where I catch the bus are starting to bloom about now and I miss watching them. I keep thinking about my mother, while perhaps one blessing is that she did not live to see this, to obsessively worry about me and my sister being out in the world (my sister more than I at this point as an essential worker.) . I’m sure my dad is concerned no doubt, but for my mom, her worry bordered on the pathological at times.  I dreamed about her for the first time in a bit..that I had written a book that upset her.  It was strange, as all dreams seem to be these days.  Most of them where I am somehow working to solve a problem of some sort. Or that there is something important I am forgetting to do–played out in various contexts and scenarios. If anything I am sleeping a lot, and I’m not sure if it’s good or bad. I go to bed at my normal time–around 2 am, but I keep waking up as soon as it’s daylight, scrolling frantically through my newsfeed for the latest horrors, then falling back to sleep until around 2pm.

Kristy Bowen, faking it

I saw 20 million infected bodies. I saw 2 million deaths. I saw my thirty year old body and I saw 2 million deaths and 20 million infected bodies. I saw the body of a baby goat float on the Sundarbans Delta. I saw a crow eating the body of a cow floating on the Ganges. I saw 20 million infected bodies. I saw a helpless horse standing beside a dead white horse on Esplanade. I saw 2 million deaths. I saw a dream I was six years old picking flowers. I saw a man feeding pigeons in front of a homeless man. I saw a tiger drinking water. I saw 20 million infected bodies. I saw a woman collapse on the streets of Paris. I saw my face in the mirror. I saw 2 million deaths. I saw my locked door. I saw government advisories. I saw the quarantine stamp on a woman’s wrist. I saw a bottle of Polish vodka. I saw 20 million infected bodies. I saw the Spanish Flu. I saw the man I love fall in love with another woman. I saw 2 million deaths. I saw myself fall. I saw my unborn child. I saw Hiroshima. I saw a dream that I was six years old again. I saw my hand write. I saw 20 million infected bodies. I saw Vermeer. I saw myself. I saw 2 million deaths. I saw a sheep chew thorns.

Saudamini Deo, Lockdown diary / 1

The world is turning,
we reluctantly spin with
it, dizzy and weak.

We hold on the next day,
the next curve on our way,
the blackbirds in spring.

Not what we know is
now. Now is not what we know.
Yet spring, yet flowers,

yet night, yet dreaming.

Magda Kapa, Isolation Time (Part 1)

Sunday: British Summer Time began. The first bird I heard was a raven.

It’s been a week of cold clear fine weather, perfect for walking.
We have little flour or yeast, and there was none in the two shops I went to this week. I made a rather heavy loaf from rye flour and pasta flour, half and half. The next loaf was made by the man of the house.

teach me he said
I want to know how to make bread
‘when you’re dead’ left unsaid
so I did
the boy done good

Then I turned out the cupboards in the hope of finding more flour.

We have no bread

in the depths of a cupboard
I found a bag of flour
shelf-life expired

there’s mould on the outside
and I think something’s living
inside the bag

but we have oatmeal and ginger
treacle and dates
let us eat cake

Ama Bolton, Week 2 of distancing

Wow, things are changing so quickly it’s hard to believe – for example, how people are getting themselves online – to teach, to meet, to try new things, but mostly I think to keep relationships going with family, friends, customers… when the going gets tough, the tough get tooled-up on tech. This coming week our esteemed Hastings Stanza rep Antony Mair has arranged for us to hold our monthly workshop via Zoom, which is clearly the conferencing app du jour. And last week my dear husband actually started a blog, to keep in touch with all his choirs, and had 92 followers within hours. Whaaaa?! He’ll be writing poetry next. […]

On the poetry front I am loving Sharon Olds’ Arias. It’s firing up my writing too. I’ve no idea what the effect is of the pandemic on poetry magazines, whether editors have too much on their plates dealing with the exigencies of life under lockdown to be thinking about the publishing schedule, or reading submissions or what have you. No doubt they’ll be inundated with poems now that we all have more time to write. And plenty on the subject of you-know-what. I wonder how much ‘pestilence poetry’ we can all take for the next few years as the theme filters through to publication?

Robin Houghton, As the world moves online

Spring continues its celebrations, despite our mostly silent roads and store fronts, despite humanity’s disappearance from their daily activities. The cherries bloom, the woodpeckers and towhees and stellar jays and hummingbirds are busy. It’s been a cold and gloomy week, but April is almost here.

The big excitement this week was the arrival of a new birdfeeder and the April contributor copies of Poetry Magazine. I’ve been writing and reading more, watching tv less. During the forty-degree, rainy March days of grim reports of deaths and pandemics, it becomes almost impossible to remember anything cheerful. I’ve been practicing my bird photography. I ordered watercolors. I still take pictures of trees.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Spring, Quarantine, Poetry, and All

All that is before us—

the engines of disease driving us mad, unfulfilled desires, loved ones dying,

politicians with demeanors like ingrown toenails with hangovers.

Still,

there are chorus lines of birds just outside the window, fresh flowers on graves, doctors and nurses, postal workers and supermarket cashiers.

Books to read and songs to sing.

Pets with wet and soulful eyes looking up at you like you’re the god of their world.

As I write these words, my city is so quiet, like the soft hum of a womb where we’re all waiting to be reborn.

Rich Ferguson, As the 5 am Heater Hums, So Does My Pen

I’ve been asking E. for a week now, what do I do with all these numbers?

Two years ago a colleague lost a baby in childbirth. It seemed to me like something that rarely happens now. It should be a scenario documented in a black-and-white photo.

But I learned than an average of 30 stillbirths a year is normal in this town. In any town this size, in this country. Statistically.

I thought if that had been a headline in the paper: 30 Stillborn in Stavanger this Year, it would have been terrifying news. Our realities are limited by what we put our attention on. And I suppose we pay attention day-to-day to what our hearts can hold comfortably.

So what do I do with all these numbers – these past two weeks when I have had too much time at the computer to jump between tabs and read the news too many times a day to count.

I know how many people are on a respirator at the local hospital today. I have no idea what that number means. I have no idea how many were on them in December. A year ago today. Or if that is even relevant.

I look at a map of Europe and we are dark orange where Italy is red. The chart below compares countries and numbers. People, percentages.

I have no idea what to do with these numbers – not intellectually – not emotionally. How do I hold these numbers?

It’s like grabbing at fish. With the same ambivalence about actually getting your hands around one.

What now?  What do I do with this?

Ren Powell, Two Weeks Not Knowing

The little boy David came as a blessing after the catastrophe of my father’s illness, and he is now Consultant Cardiologist at the Hammersmith Hospital, London. I’ve always been proud of this fact and have to try not to mention it too often, whilst he’s unassuming about his talents, and talks about his work as if it were ordinary to perform life-saving procedures week by week.  As brothers go, he is top of the admiration list at the moment, and I’m sure Jeremy and Matthew would agree.

He phoned me yesterday to explain his role in the front-line of patient care in London during the pandemic. He will be heading a team, working with acutely ill patients in a hospital which was cleared last week in readiness for a sharp rise in complex corona virus admissions. He told me that everyone in the NHS – doctors, cleaners, porters, nurses, midwives, physios, cooks, administrators – everyone who so much as sets foot in a hospital in the coming weeks is a hero, before s/he even does anything. The courage being required of them is hard to imagine. They are feeling fear, and carrying on, organising themselves for the tsunami, the battle, the overwhelm.

David and I said more than we usually do (and not nearly enough) about our appreciation of each other, just in case. I asked if he’d forgiven me for writing a poem about a previous telephone conversation (Running Advice, below). He replied, “There’s no such thing as bad publicity” – this absolution is a relief.

Liz Lefroy, I Admire My Brothers

I don’t really plan to write about the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and its worldwide consequences – or I won’t be doing so until I have something I really want to say.

However, UK readers of my blog will agree that the NHS needs support, especially right now. And to offer your support in a poetry-relevant way, you could buy the new anthology These Are the Hands: Poems from the Heart of the NHS (Fair Acre Press).

This anthology was published just a few days ago and was planned for the 60th anniversary of the NHS. Rather sadly, right now, it is all too relevant and important – even more so than usual. It was edited by Deborah Alma (who you may also know as the Emergency Poet and proprietor of the Poetry Pharmacy) and Dr Katie Amiel, and the foreword is by Michael Rosen. The poems themselves are by NHS employees, along with contributions from well-known poets.

Profits from the anthology go to the NHS Charities Together COVID-19 Emergency Fund. I hear it’s selling really well.

Again, you can buy it here: https://fairacrepress.co.uk/shop/these-are-the-hands-poems-from-the-heart-of-the-nhs/

Clarissa Aykroyd, These Are the Hands: Poems from the Heart of the NHS

Yesterday one of our program chairs shared that she doesn’t really have an adequate home computer.  If she doesn’t have adequate computer resources, how many of our students will?

Those were the thoughts that woke me up much too early this morning.  Each morning, a different set of panicky thoughts jolts me from sleep around midnight to 2 a.m.  For several weeks, I have rarely fallen back asleep.

This morning, I was rereading chapter 1 of Cynthia Bourgeault’s Mystical Hope as I prepared to sketch.  On p. 12, I underlined this text:  “The spiritual life can only be lived in the present moment, in the now.  All the great religious traditions insist upon this simple but difficult truth.  When we go rushing ahead into the future or shrinking back into the past, we miss the hand of God, which can only touch us in the now.”

I started making a list to describe “the now,” only to realize that much of what was in my head is worry about the near future.  Interesting.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Plague Fugue

Another restless night. At 01.20 I stood at the window watching the skyline. During previous bouts of insomnia, there was always something faintly comforting about the long, probing lights of planes flying into Luton Airport from the east and descending elegantly behind the trees. Others awake like me, but in transit from Sofia, Talinn, Lyon, Kutaisi, Reykjavik, Cork. The enigma of arrival.

But in the small hours this morning nothing disturbed the skyline. And my sense of solitude was strangely heightened by the sudden doppler whine of a motorbike speeding by one the road below. But, of course, the solitude is real. Yesterday we went for a walk. We crossed the fields and walked down the long slope of the lane. We were passed by just one car before turning onto the muddy track that took us past the farm and onto the bottom of the hill leading up to our house. As we walked alongside the meadow where the horses are grazed, half way up it a lone figure was slipping a bridle over the neck and head of a piebald shire horse. She turned as she gathered it into her arms and saw the three of us paused by the fence. With the solemnity of the stay-at-home edict still fresh in our minds, there was a curious hesitancy in the distant encounter. Then the woman raised her free arm in a strangely stiff and formal salute; we returned it in similar manner; she turned and walked towards the stable buildings and we continued on our way.

So suddenly we’re strangers in a strange land. And as the economic structure purées all standard procedure around us, the normal social protocols go into suspension. In one street an act of inexplicable cruelty and stupidity occurs; in a parallel street the self-sacrifical kindness of a stranger demonstrates the extraordinary generosity that ennobles humanity in crisis.

Dick Jones, LIFE IN A TIME OF CORONA 5.

last night I dreamed I was teaching Whitman’s last lesson I left a jellyfish red blood bloom in his bathroom then tried to clean myself his mother’s friends were there getting ready for a party and when I finally got my violin out and he got his violin out and I managed to right the wire music stand which kept slipping out of my hands I played a few notes then apologized because I knew I would never see him again

the dream woke me at 2:30 then again at 4:30 then I finally woke at 7:30 feeling anxious and sad are we all dreaming through it I feel such a strong connection to everyone I’ve ever known right now it feels other worldly it feels like religious science fiction but it is real

my csa box arrived today bringing sweet blackberries and carrots and celery and radishes and potatoes and a squash and oranges and kiwis and I was so grateful for it Page and I opened it like the first Christmas

Rebecca Loudon, Pig and farm report

All in all, the days I’ve been in have melded into a dreamy bubble. Days drifted by, or I drifted through them. Somehow, there was a large sense of drift. It feels wrong or dangerous to say that out loud, to share pretty pictures of my time in refuge. As I do, I feel superstitious fears rising up in me, based in irrational beliefs that if we draw attention to our good fortune, the gods or fate or spiteful humans will do something to ruin it. It feels callous or shallow to do so when others are suffering, and maybe it is.

Or maybe, instead, you might read my story and wonder, as I have been, why it can’t be everyone’s. It feels fundamentally wrong to me that I have had it as relatively easy as I have, when others are sacrificing so much–especially our healthcare workers, and those who stock our shelves and pump our gas and do the work we’ve all realized, in new ways, is essential.

I have been thankful over and over again that I have not had to work the past two weeks or worry about immediate income loss because it has allowed me time and space to process what is happening and keep my anxiety low-grade rather than acute. It has allowed me to do what our scientists and public health officials have been pleading with us to do: stay home.

I know life can never be entirely fair, but why, in a country with as much wealth as we have, has our public health system failed so dramatically and so many of us had to worry about how we’re going to pay rent and take care of ourselves if we get sick? It’s not that way in other countries, where lower-wage workers don’t live so close the bone, and where laid off workers and their employers are receiving more funds than ours will to keep their economies afloat. Why is it that way here?

And, if more people could have spent the past weeks the way I have–sequestered at home, not feeling the need to leave to pay bills–perhaps the virus could be managed and contained to reasonable levels in every state in our country (as we seem to be doing here in Oregon), reducing the tremendous and inequitable impact on not only our health care systems, but on our healthcare workers.

Coming up on the end of week two, it’s seeming to me that there is more than one type of impact curve that we could be flattening.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Coronavirusdiary #3: Soft monotony

Any optimistic or ‘positive’ approaches to the coronavirus pandemic should, in my opinion, be framed and motivated by an awareness of the interconnectedness of everyone and everything. In order for us to be well others need to be well too, and others will be well only if we are well too. It goes both ways- and this wellness is also dependent on the circulation of capital, and this depends on people’s ability to earn a living. The pandemic affects everyone- and this means it affects everything we humans do.

Finding the balance between critically engaging with what is happening and trying to maintain a semblance of normality is important, but not easy. Gramsci’s motto, “Pessimism of the Intellect, Optimism of the Will”  calls for this ongoing interrogation of what happens whilst having trust in our ability to stand up to challenges pragmatically and strategically. There cannot be solidarity and empathy unless there is awareness of difference, and this implies an awareness of privilege, and of the fragility of that privilege.

In a time in which nearly everyone has the ability to broadcast publicly aspects of their private lives, and when many -but definitely not all- will be at home, some of which will be working from home- it’s to me essential that we try to reflect on the interconnectedness of everything- home, until recently the quintessential ‘private’ space, does not exist outside society, even if we never physically leave it.

Ernesto Priego, “Pessimism of the Intellect, Optimism of the Will”: Empathy and Solidarity in the Times of COVID-19

The only way I manage even
a few hours of restless sleep
is to keep inventing a movie
inside my head I hope someday
some director will actually film—

unreeling across my closed eyelids
I watch strangers hugging
in restaurants, strangers hugging
in offices, in the middle of crowded
streets, hugging in grocery stores
and at gas stations—

this and only this allows me
to let go of the day’s dread,
this envisioning of humans
reaching out for one another,
with open arms and hearts,
these embraces after pandemic

Lana Hechtman Ayers, Embraces, a pandemic poem

As we are already not-quite-sick-of-saying: the garden has never looked lovelier. And we have played a lot of cards. And generally spent much more time around the table, convening for coffee and lunch as if pulled by invisible threads from different points in the house. We are so lucky to have a house. And a garden. I have spent a lot of time drinking from bowls, sometimes not even really drinking, just cradling the coffee as though it may never appear in my life again. The texting and emailing of friends, the re-connection with people over miles and years of separation, habitually and briefly fused at Christmas only for another year to go by with nothing having changed. Well, this is changing us. Slowly, but it is. A neighbour who has steadfastly refused to acknowledge me for years finally gave me a smile yesterday. We are doing a lot of laughing, and crying at orchestras who somehow manage to put on stunning music for free in their separate Toronto rooms just so we can cry and feel something deeply human while we do it (especially the triangle guy). The old battered thing, my diary (it isn’t a diary, really, I just call it that) makes a guest appearance and suddenly becomes a necessity. The poetry of James Schuyler, as if he ever went away. I have never taken such pleasure over hanging out the washing.

Anthony Wilson, Any Common Desolation

If, after your breathtaking reading and the subsequent standing ovation, a friend pulled you into a curtained window seat and asked, “How are you really?” or “Are you able to write these days?”, what might you answer?

So far, I would say, I am physically healthy. My mental state is stable. I have adopted a “one day at a time” approach to moving through these weeks and months. I am trying to actively practice gratitude each day, lest I fall into the trap of bemoaning all the canceled events and missed opportunities. I am getting used to my own face staring at me as I record videos for my students. I realize that I miss them, and this is bittersweet; I will be very happy to be back in my classroom again.

When I’m not busy with school-related work, I putter. I completed a 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle, and my crossword game is growing fiercer; I have been considering cross-stitching. Writing comes in sharp little bursts, then eludes me for days. I am trying to be patient, to find a voice that’s louder than the one telling me all the things I “should” be doing. I am finding a new rhythm, as we all are, and trying to remember that this, like everything, is temporary.

Lesley Wheeler, Virtual Salon #4 with Elizabeth Hazen

On a smaller personal scale, everything that’s on going right now seems so momentous, but I haven’t been able to write about it. I edit unfinished poems, but I can’t write more than a few notes about the self-isolation. I have one poem I started just as this began to take hold where the virus is beginning to work its way into. It was supposed to be just about the drama of beginnings and endings at a hospital, but I can’t help to see the impact of the virus in the stanza. In everything, I read, watch, think about the virus seems to overwrite itself. 

I started scribbling the previous paragraph last night, far too deep into the wee hours and followed up by rewriting another half-finished poem about home isolation. So I guess it will find a way to write itself. I can’t approach it head on. I’m uncertain of where to start, worrying whether my view is worth speaking. I feel so insignificant, locked away, protected by the privilege of being able to wash my hands, stay off work, protect my family. Our lives feel on the verge of a huge change and I’m just holding my breath, waiting to see what will happen, how we will be affected, what will remain.

Gerry Stewart, Corona Virus Week Two – Facing Isolation

As we shelter in place, I see that many of my friends and online acquaintances are having trouble sleeping. And some are dealing with surges of depression and anxiety. My heart goes out to everyone in this. I go through periods of change in my sleep patterns, and, yes, I am in one now. My usual solution when I find myself awake in bed, and sense I am unlikely to go back to sleep, is to accept this and get up and go downstairs to read on the couch, where I fall asleep reading.

The new twist is that I may doze while reading on the couch, well before bedtime, and 1) just stay there or 2) go up to bed, find myself awake, and come back. This morning my husband greeted me with a kiss (ack! too close! social distancing! but we know we’ve already been too close and can’t do anything about it now!) and the comment, “You are becoming one with that couch.”

I arrange myself in various ways to 1) avoid a crick in the neck in the morning 2) have the bookmark fall into the right spot when I fall asleep and the book closes. Today I finished Rebecca Solnit’s Recollections of My Nonexistence, which I wrote about yesterday. (Was it yesterday? I know I am not alone these days in losing track of what day it is.) I’m sure I’ll share more about it, but this seemed particularly pertinent this morning:

So much of the work of writing happens when you are seemingly not working, made by that part of yourself you may not know and do not control, and when the work shows up like that your job is to get out of the way.

Kathleen Kirk, Sleeping in Place

The most-read article in The Guardian today is a letter from Italian novelist Francesca Melandri to her fellow Europeans, and to the United Kingdom. In it she says “we were just like you,” and traces the pattern I’ve alluded to here: the progression from the arguments between those who say “it’s just like the flu” to those who know it’s not, to the early novelty of self-isolation, the focus on food, the fleeting attraction of apocalyptic books and films, the obsessive fascination with online connection and video meetups, the online fitness workouts and virtual cocktail hours, the fights with our elders to try to get them to stay home, the ways we buoy each other with songs from balconies and rooftops, the dark humor, the growing awareness of domestic abuse and the divisions of class — and the gradual falling away of the superfluous and superficial, the transparency of our friends’ and families’ behavior, the sleeplessness and anxiety, and the sense that nothing is going to be the same ever again.

So, yes, writers write, some better than others.

The advice I’m giving myself today, from decades of writing and editing, and after thinking about the words of Cave and Melandri and others, is: write what you know, and then ask yourself if it feels necessary to say out loud.

Sometimes the best thing a writer can do is listen.

Beth Adams, Hermit Diary, Montreal. 11. What to say?

The cave diver has lost his way,
there is no way back
from the caverns filled with tears.
Beauty gyrating in his lamp suspended,
as he floats forever in this cathedral.
Replaying the old songs.
Rebreathing the air.
Hold me tight and
listen.

Jim Young, Look

We keep trying to imagine the future, knowing that what we should hold on to is the present. Perhaps, as writers, we know how to handle the silence. Personally, I think I’m learning how to manage my time in a different way, to keep to some sort of productive routine, trying not to panic when I look out of the kitchen window and see constant queues outside the supermarket. And when I do feel that sense of anxiety, I go back to reading Thoreau and try to keep it all in perspective: ‘I had three chairs in my house; one for solitude, two for friendship, three for society.’

Julie Mellor, Life in the Woods

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 9

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts.

This past week found poetry bloggers breathing, grieving, reading, dreaming, revising manuscripts, speaking for others, meeting with others, planning for AWP, planning for a possible pandemic, paying attention, feeling sorry, feeling out of step, shaping lines, and remembering to breathe.


Inhale. Pause. Exhale, slowly and deeply, as if you were sighing. Notice that pause at the end of the out-breath: That emptied-out moment, when you let go of everything just a little bit more, and the body settles into itself just a little bit deeper. That moment: A glimpse of the last breath, of the peace that might be possible when you let go with both hands.

And then: The in-breath, as natural as can be, filling the lungs again.

Dylan Tweney, Grief and gratitude.

Much as at the point when suddenly rain stops,
    or wind abates,
        or cloud obscures the sun,

there is a moment just between
    breathe in and breathe out
        when shock stops the spin and hum of it all

and in the silence and the stillness
    we are changed entirely.

Dick Jones, Fragile

I have taken the last few months off from the world for some internal reflection. The death of four people in my family in 12 months caused me to turn inward, to withdraw socially and surround myself with only my greatest loves: husband, family, books, poetry, home, open spaces, neighborhood walks, and yes, I will admit, binge watching High Fidelity and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. Thank you Rob and Midge for making me laugh.

And now it is Spring and out my writing window I see yellow daffodils, orange pansies and purple hellebore. The 70 year-old camellia is laden in the softest of pink blooms and the neighbor’s cherry trees are ready to pop.

And for those of you who have followed my “car wash” photos, last week I took my car to get washed and began taking pictures for the 2020 series.

I submitted five new poems (the first submission in almost a year) and heard yesterday a journal in Galway, Ireland called Dodging the Rain will publish them in May and June.

By allowing myself permission to withdraw from the world for awhile, to grieve and acknowledge the losses, the color bursting before me is calling my name to rejoin the ranks.

Or it could have been the Prozac. Either way, I am doing just fine.

Carey Taylor, It’s Been Awhile

This book gripped me: Poets on Prozac, edited by Richard M. Berlin, a set of essays by various poets on Mental Illness, Treatment and the Creative Process. I checked it out of the library because it’s what came up when I searched for work by Denise Duhamel, who judged the 2019 Patricia Dobler Award. […]

I learned a lot about many things and was delighted to find in this book two of our Escape Into Life poets, Ren Powell and Martha Silano, as well as Chase Twichell, whose book The Practice of Poetry: Writing Exercises from Poets Who Teach, co-edited with Robin Behn, sits on a shelf above my computer, ready to grab when I need a creative push. I used it when I was teaching, and I use it now.

I always love to read about a poet’s process, and Poets on Prozac has the added interest of how mental illness, whether temporary or permanent, chronic or intermittent, and the treatment or medication for it affects the writing. Excerpts and whole poems are provided in this context, and the authors include mental health professionals who write poems.

Kathleen Kirk, Poets on Prozac

In The Hidden Life of Trees, the author talks about how a woodpecker makes a wound in the bark of a tree, and then leaves to let fungus soften things before returning. The fungus keeps at it, even after the cavity is too large to serve the woodpecker. So another creature moves into the expanding space. Then another. And all the while, is the tree feeling this as pain? Like my reality of a tender hamstring and an arthritic toe joint?

*

I had a nightmare last night. I have them only rarely now. And not nearly as vividly as once. Though sometimes it takes me longer to reorient to the real world as I wake —

like turning over scattered puzzle pieces and fitting them together into a somewhat less frightening order.

It seems that, as I age, there is a shifting of the kind of pain I experience.

The cold hurts my bones more than it used to. But heartbreak hurts far less. I can only hope the latter is a matter of  it having already been cracked open once, and having adjusted to the openness, each new love moving into a growing spaciousness.

Ren Powell, Aches and Pains

I dreamed I watered my cactus. I dreamed a long scrolled piece of paper upon which my sins and good deeds were being accounted for were being shaded in by a lead pencil. The sins were shaded over and over until they were a black ribbon and the good deeds were erasing the black.

It’s so quiet this morning I hear the train whistle all the way from Mount Vernon. Sometimes sound carries weirdly over the water. There is something comforting about a train whistle. Something old fashioned and ghostly and solid and forsaken. I once rode a train from Spokane to Montana. It took several days. I was a girl. I read and rocked and read and rocked. I lived for a little while on Flathead Lake. I lived for a little while on a reservation in Havre where I chewed resin from the trees until it turned to gum and ate rosehips and sang church songs.

Mahler sings Kindertotenlieder tends the forest keeps an eye on the magnolias which is how I keep going forward. I don’t even touch them (only once forgive me) I just watch and keep track and wonder at all of it. It’s a still day. I listened to birdsong and the train and I am forgiven my sins. My trees lift up their hands.

Rebecca Loudon, On the anniversary of my mother’s birth

I’m working on revising my 3rd manuscript. Since Kit passed away, and even when she was still in the ICU—perhaps even since her diagnosis—I’ve had little passion for the project, but have instead used writing as a way to process grief. There have been good and bad, far more bad I suppose, poems come from this experiment. But I’m at a point now where I feel like it is time to revisit Church Ladies and see if it is still possibly a book.

One theme very clear in the book is suffering and fear of the death of my children; its what leads my family to sometimes say my poems are creepily prophetic. But I don’t think so—I just think losing my children is my very real, utmost fear.

So I’ve thought about including my poems where the Worst Fear actually happens—my poems about Kit—but I can’t bridge them in my own mind. I can see the bridge on paper, how it could work—but Kit is very separate to me. Eventually those poems might need to be included; or maybe they are a different book entirely.

The true problem is that I am not the person or writer that I was when I wrote Church Ladies. I can edit with an indifferent eye, but to add to it feels wrong somehow, just as I’d never add to another writer’s project.

Renee Emerson, Revising the Manuscript

The Big Smoke, [Adrian] Matejka’s book-length persona poem collection, explores the life and relationships of boxing legend Jack Johnson. Matejka writes in the voices of Jack Johnson and the women in Johnson’s life, an ambitious project that took eight years of research and writing. It wound up as a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, a well-deserved honor.

In the workshop, he told us that the hardest poems for him to write were the ones in the voices of the women, and that he would never attempt to write in a woman’s voice again, not feeling able, artistically, to accurately portray a woman’s psyche in the first person.

Part of this discussion of whose voices to write in involved the subject of cultural appropriation. The week of the poetry festival, American Dirt launched, and with it, the controversy surrounding the white author’s choice to write in the first person about a migrant Latina woman and her struggles to cross into the US.

It was a timely example of the pitfalls of choosing to write in the voice of someone whose life is completely outside our own experiences.

Christine Swint, Persona Poems at Palm Beach Poetry Festival

Franny Choi’s book-length collection of poetry, Soft Science, explores queer, Asian American femininity through the lens of robots, cyborgs, and artificial intelligence. As she notes in this interview, “this book is a study of softness,” exploring feeling, vulnerability, and desire. How can you be tender and still survive in a hard and violent world? What does it mean to have desire when you yourself are made into an object of desire? What does it mean to have a body that bears the weight of history? Choi’s poetry contemplates such questions through the technology of poetic form.

Here is a little snippet from our discussion, in which Choi discusses the idea of speaking for the voiceless:

“Early in my writing career, I was really struck by the concept of being a voice for the voiceless. I think this has to do with being a young activist kid and realizing that having the ability to write and speak in a way that moved people was a privilege, and [I had] a desire to use that privledge for good. I think not that long after I encountered this concept it started to feel icky to want to speak for people that have mostly been called voiceless but aren’t — and [it became] much more important to highlight those voices rather than speaking for them.

“For someone who is politically minded and writer and is interested in the craft of persona work, I think it makes for a difficult space to know how to operate in, you know. So, I think that the ways I’ve tried to — at least in this book — manage that have been to kind of relocate the voiceless as a populace within myself, like what are the parts of me that feel unspoken for or unable to explain themselves through normal language. There’s a lot that is unspeakable within all of us. For me, I feel my job as a poet is to try to use poetry to navigate those spaces.”

You can listen to the interview here or on the podcast app of your choice.

Andrea Blythe, New Books in Poetry: Soft Science by Franny Choi

We had started online with MacNeice – this largely elicited a negative response – form over content, too difficult… My attempts to argue for MacNeice were unsuccessful. People said they wanted something ‘lighter’ (undefined), and one or two people suggested John Betjeman, so we thought we’d give that a try.

In our comfortable-ish new meeting place, we started our discussion of Betjeman’s poems. It did not go as I expected. Each person had chosen a poem to talk about. What happened was that people talked about really personal and often moving experiences, none of them happy ones. When we talked more, people recognised that their responses were not always really related to the poems themselves, and that their experiences had very much coloured their view of the poems. 

It highlighted incredibly strongly how much we bring ourselves to every poem we read – the things that have happened in our lives, our beliefs, everything. This is not a revelation, of course, but I did find it surprising that this kind of discussion was in response to the poems of Betjeman, as did the others when I mentioned it. Everyone said they were happy with the meeting though, and felt that poetry had got them thinking, so that feels right and we’ll see how it progresses.

Sue Ibrahim, A surprising reaction to the poems of John Betjeman

AWP #20 will occur in San Antonio, starting on Wednesday the 4th. I can confirm that I have already experienced a bit of the typical anxiety associated with the pilgrimage.  Each year there are generally 12,000 or more in attendance. If I recall correctly there were like 14,000 last year in Portland.

I have somewhat introvert tendencies, although at times I may break free of the chains. As long as I am able to retreat and recharge from time to time, I can deal with it. For me the stressors are being away from home, being in the midst of a crushing mob (slight exaggeration),  meeting people I am in awe of and being fearful I appear to be a complete goofball, and meeting complete strangers and feeling my first impression (and lasting one) totally sucked.

WHY EVEN GO?  Good question.  I think it has to be personal for each attendee.  For some it is seeing friends that you may see only once or twice a year.  Or it could be meeting  publishers.  Crisscrossing the book fair (always enormous) in search of bargains, newly published material, author signings, or readings. Both onsite and offsite. It could be learning more about the craft at panel presentations, or ideas, learning about marketing or working with publishers, agents, etc.

This year, I am focusing  on a couple aspects of craft. Seeing some friends, attending some readings and doing a reading myself. I want to springboard from the conference into a greater energy in my writing. I have a manuscript I am trying to finish and this could help push me over the finish line.

Michael Allyn Wells, It’s Coming – AWP #20 blogging

It seems in times of crisis I want to spend more time in nature. This last week we had early cherry and plum trees starting to flower, and I spent a lot of time taking pictures of them. Plum blossoms in particular have a strong, beautiful scent, especially in a grove of trees, which along with a little more sunlight, increases your feelings of well-being no matter what the headlines. […]

Yes, I’ll be missing AWP this year. I’m supposed to get an emergency root canal tomorrow instead of flying into Texas. Much less glamorous. But AWP kind of has a pall over it this year, especially as it is happening just as more confirmed cases of COVID-19 are appearing all over the US. Hey, let’s all get together in one big room right as a highly communicable virus is hitting! Yikes. I have a genetic immune deficiency AND MS, so this is probably a more frightening prospect for me than most people. That estimated 2 percent death rate is higher for people with other health conditions, and much higher for the elderly – up to 15 percent.

We had the first US death from Coronavirus here yesterday, at a hospital about a mile from my house, and a small breakout (fifty people, both caregivers and patients) has happened in a long-term care home in Kirkland (and Kirkland and Redmond firefighters are in quarantine after reto an emergency there.) There is a lot of uncertainty right now – the doctors and systems here don’t have enough test kits or the capacity to test everyone, we don’t have enough masks even for medical personnel due to poor government planning, and we’re showing more community-acquired illness (two high school kids at opposite ends of town just this week.) In my local neighborhood stores, there’s been some panic-buying – shelves of masks, hand sanitizer, cleaning products, even in some places bottled water and toilet paper have all been cleaned out. My husband has been running most of the errands to keep me out of crowds, so I’m getting my reports second-hand. Going back to spending time outside, which can really help you not feel too house-bound when you’re mostly confined in your home, is really important. Hence my red-winged blackbird picture (photographed down the street from my house.)

Jeannine Hall Gailey, New Poems in Cherry Tree and Split Rock Review, Early Spring Flowers, Missing AWP and the Coronovirus

It’s good to take notes on the details.

There is the spot in the sky
Where the first lip of night rubs the sunset raw.
Write that down.

Or the sound of the tire sliding across the asphalt
As the stink of the burning rubber fills the air.
Note that, too.

The looks a dog gives when it gets confused.
That’s a good one.

James Lee Jobe, It’s good to take notes on the details.

I’ll be honest here; I have little hope of being placed in this year’s competition. Ultimately, I felt my poems lacked the carefree openness that I value in a good poem; you know, that lack of awareness of it actually being a poem. This might sound like nonsense. After all, when you pick up the pen, you intend to write. Poetry or prose, you’ve no doubt decided, on some level, what it’s going to be, before you start writing. So how can a poem lack awareness that it is a poem? Well, I’ve recently returned to Ocean Vuong’s Night Sky With Exit Wounds. It’s full of beautifully rich language and imagery, but what I admire most of all is the sense of the writer allowing thoughts and images on the page without telling the reader what to think, allowing the reader to take part in the poem and run with it. So, in terms of a model of what poetry should be, for me, Vuong’s debut is it, because it’s full of poems that aren’t screaming, ‘Read me, I’m a poem. Look what tricks I can do.’

This is quite nebulous, and very subjective, I know. And being brutally honest and self-critical, my poems fall far short. So why the euphoria? Well, it’s that small but vital ‘hit’ of completing the work. The manuscript will sink or swim, but that’s out of my hands now. I’ve done my bit. I’ve turned up and done the work (see Julia Cameron’s The Artists Way – she’s big on this). There’s something satisfying about completing a task, so much so that I rewarded myself with a trip to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park today, to see Saad Qureshi’s Something About Paradise (photographs above and below). 

Maybe something about this exhibition will feed into my writing. Maybe it was just because it wasn’t raining this afternoon. Whatever the forces at work, underlying it all  was a feeling of satisfaction with life which was self-induced. I’d submitted 20 poems to a publisher whom I respect, and who has been totally supportive of my work so far. That submission depended on no one else. It was down to me. The judging is out of my hands. I can’t control or influence it. And what would be the job of a judge if no one submitted? You know the saying, ‘It’s not the winning, it’s the taking part.’ Well, there’s some truth in it.

Julie Mellor, Why it’s important to finish …

I started listening to this this week. It’s Helen Mort discussing her relationship with the word Sorry and apologies. I’ve only listened to the first ep so far, but I really enjoyed what I heard. I was at the end of a long week at work and on a bus ride home after a diverted train journey, so I apologise to Helen for needing to go back to it to fill in some gaps before finishing the series.

It did get me thinking back to a draft of a poem I wrote a couple of years ago called ‘Tiny Sorries’. I was looking at all the small apologies I find myself making. I often apologise, under my breath, if I make someone deviate from their course, even by an inch, when walking along the street, or for not holding a door open far enough, for not being fast enough at the water fountain at work, even when I can do nothing about it…

The idea was that it would start there, build up to taking responsibility for not doing enough to stop something we are all collectively responsible for and then…and then…Well, I didn’t know where to go with it, or if it was even worth trying to find out. I think the answer is that it isn’t worth pursuing. However, it was on my mind before seeing that the show was on air. I think it, the poem, pops back into my head daily because of something that happens when commuting or in the office, etc.

Thankfully, what I do know from listening to Helen’s show is that there are plenty of poems about saying sorry, apologising, contrition, etc, so perhaps I don’t need to worry about adding mine to the pile.

Sorry, you’ve been witness to me working stuff out as I go.

Mat Riches, Apologies for Noogies

Clare Pollard in an article pointed out how an interest in translation can lead to escaping the limitation of local trends. She admits to admiring Somali poems “which can seem clumsy … the politically charged rhetoric … the seeming bagginess, the extreme alliteration, the shifts in address, the digressions” thinking that “they just use techniques which are currently deemed ‘unfashionable’ on Creative Writing courses.

Literature has its fashions. The “From Apocalypse to The Movement” module at Warwick looks at one lurch in style. Of course there are many parallel tracks of development happening at different speeds, but if you’re the wrong type of writer for your era you’ll be fighting against the tide.

Because culture isn’t frozen in time, one option is to wait for it to change. I notice at local writing clubs that my conventions don’t always match those of other members. Sometimes mine are more literary – in particular I puncture the sense of immersion – but often I’m just out of step. My guess is that the literary styles that I employed years ago are now becoming mainstream, and the styles I currently use were popular 20 years ago, and may well be so again.

Tim Love, Ahead of my time? Or behind?

he’s the man who draws the white lines
on the pitches every Friday
ready for the games on Saturday
always straight
always the right length
with the leftover lime tipped
and running down the red brick wall
then he goes away
and comes back the next Friday
all through the winter

Jim Young, life’s a pitch

I’ve written the starts of two new poems this week. I haven’t finished any poems I’ve started this year and only finished 10 from last year. I feel like I’m writing in slow motion. After writing everyday for so much of last year and writing so many poems, it’s harder to get back into the flow. Once I actually clear my desk of work and admin, it’s difficult to turn my head towards writing. The less attention I give it, the more I have to work at making time for it, to remember to take out my notebook rather than my phone, to not give into the tiredness on Friday night after work and go to my writing group where I usually have a bit of time beforehand to write. 

I’m back to where I was a year and a half ago when writing was work. Not that I didn’t enjoy it, but it didn’t come naturally, each line had to be pulled from me and shaped, rather than just me falling into a rhythm of writing.

Difference is, I know what is possible now. I couldn’t believe then that I could write a draft of a poem daily, that it could be easy. Now, I need to make the effort to slot it in on days when I’m not teaching. I should try to adapt to writing in the evening when the kids are in bed, but it’s never been a natural time for me to work. But I’ve proven that this old horse can learn new tricks, so it won’t hurt to try. 

Gerry Stewart, Dipping Back into Poetry

When your heart’s piano tuner becomes tone-deaf;

when your soul’s window washer forgets to clean your eyes;

when the walls of your thoughts are painted beige and left taken for granted;

when a bird in the hand feels more like a nail in the foot;

when every sentence you speak feels more like a life sentence in Sing Sing;

when your lips feel like the zombie apocalypse;

when you wear your face like a pair of unpressed pants;

when your socks feel like Nagasaki;

when your heart’s drummer becomes a total bummer—

for goodness sake, don’t forget to breathe.

Rich Ferguson, When at the Borders of the Absurd

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 7

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week’s theme: time. Plus a bit of advice on how to better spend it.


For years I have held February
answerable to many sorrows
as though the month itself
were responsible for its appearance:
the dour days too short, long nights
steeped in frosty bitterness.
Resigned to hibernation,
February made me sleepy.
Dulled my skin, sucked dream
into a cold vacuum
like a vacant acre of outer space,
a stone of ice upon my chest.

Ann E. Michael, Apology

I am profoundly lucky to do work I enjoy. It’s been a long haul to get here and I’m grateful to write, edit, and teach for a living. I don’t have much time for my own projects but know if I possessed greater focus I’d be making some progress on them.

I meant to write a paragraph or two here about getting beyond self-criticism and telling myself a more positive story. But you know that skittering mind I mentioned? Yeah, it’s skittering off in another direction.

Because it seems time has gotten more slippery of late. Morning somehow slides into afternoon’s lap or what feels like Thursday is actually Tuesday. A week takes forever but suddenly a month is gone. Time falls into a jumbled stew of our own crises heated up by the shock of each day’s news. It’s not just me. Friends and colleagues complain about this same problem.

On top of work and home pressures, I suspect the era we’re living in is so unexpected that it’s just too hard to concentrate on our own daily minutiae. Things like getting the laundry folded or the next big project done make less sense when each day overflows with startling political changes and new environmental outrages. Perhaps this swings our sense of time toward an altered trajectory.

Laura Grace Weldon, Overwhelmed

I’ve been doing a small project with a novella called Sleepless Night over the past week or two. As with Misery, the recto pages have the title at the top and I’m sticking with those for now. It is a good recurring title for a poem, I must say. The author’s writing is not particularly interesting linguistically and it’s short on good nouns. But I’m making the poems small, like aquariums, or dark little rooms where your thoughts or your grave concerns or all the things you are looking forward to keep you awake.

I’ve also been doing the Februllage collage-a-day challenge on Instagram, as I did last year. I’m not striving to do every day, though. I go back and forth on so many things . . . poetry, collage, myself. Some days we’re all ok and other days I think there is no reason to continue to engage with those three.

Sarah J Sloat, Those Three

My reading includes twelve finalist mss I’m musing over for a poetry prize as well as assignments for a course on documentary poetry: first Rukeyser’s sequence “The Book of the Dead,” then Forché’s The Country Between Us, then a sampling of poetic responses to Hurricane Katrina including some by Cynthia Hogue (interview poems), Raymond McDaniel (ethically problematic collage), and Patricia Smith (often persona poems). Most recently we finished Nicole Cooley’s Breach, a rewarding book to teach not least because it’s so various in forms and approaches. It was a student favorite and when I asked why, they said “authenticity.” When I asked what the signs or markers of authenticity were, the answers seem to boil down to vulnerability. Self-interrogation; courage; generosity; getting to the heart of things, even when exposure makes you look bad. In Cooley’s return to post-hurricane New Orleans, her childhood home, with her daughters, this sometimes means longing to be mothered rather than to mother, a taboo emotion for a woman to admit.

Extracurricularly, I just read Molly Spencer‘s recent If the House too, and it’s an open-hearted missive from the interior of a body, a marriage, and multiple houses. I love the porosity of Spencer’s containers, the flow of information inward and outward. You could call it circulation.

I’m in a receptive mode; I’m not writing much, except for an occasional blog post or tweet (and a bazillion emails). I often write little poetry in winter and then things turn in spring, partly because of the academic calendar and partly the natural one. My sweetheart and I just took a walk in the woods–every Saturday, we try to get out of our neighborhood, walk elsewhere, this time on trails a bit of a drive away–and it was so bright, cold, and still. Wild onions had sent up curling leaves and the moss was green, but otherwise it was just gray boles, brown mud, fallen branches, leaf duff. Inner and outer weather match.

Lesley Wheeler, Poetry and heart

He tells me snow
is a product of the air’s
despair.  Perhaps

he’s right: seedheads
of the tall grass are weighed
down, shawled in white.

Ellen Roberts Young, February Snow Times 2

We will soon leave the time of epiphany. We will trade the star and the angel messengers for ashes on our foreheads.

We may not have realized that the time of epiphany stretched on beyond January 6. We might not have recognized the wise ones and the gifts they would give us.

We may have already been living in the land of ash. We may feel that our frozen surfaces will never thaw.

We cannot fathom how we will stitch the fabric of society back together again. Our arthritic fingers throb with pain even before we have started.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Returning to Resurrection

There are life’s grinding engines driving us to madness:

fracked lands and hacked computers, illness and unwillingness, death too soon and freedom too late, the homeless and hopeless, crosstown traffic and trafficked humans.

Still, there’s the green grass beneath our feet bright as child laughter. Dependable cars and well-tuned guitars. Feasts and flowers. Warm bellies filled with luck. Pets that know us better than we know ourselves. Fresh curiosities making out in the backseat of our brain. The puzzles of our lives put back together after a hard come-apart.

The rise and fall and the rise again.

Rich Ferguson, What Doesn’t Kill Us Cures Us

While making dinner — or reflecting excitedly on the importance of making dinner while sipping wine — I began to shape ideas that have been pressing on me during the week.  What had been expected and feared to happen in bad faith presidential action was happening.  Many of us could see the vindictiveness coming; now it almost felt posthumous.  

My anger had been simmering into something else: into a rich, bittersweet sorrow for the “we” of country. How distant we are from our “exceptional” goals (hardly the first time, hardly the last).  What poor flawed creatures!  In my wash of compassion, I felt that old-style pity. Recognizing my pivot, my poetic turn and dance move, I saw, again, that we can open to the other, be medicine to counteract the poison.

So here’s to pounding the garlic cloves with thyme with mortar and pestle!  To sizzling onions in a pan over the flame, to share.  Here’s to winding up to the big question: Can everyday life be a moral response to political failure? 

Jill Pearlman, Everyday Life: Antidote to Political Poisons

One morning last week, as I was gathering my things for the day, there was something about the clutter on my kitchen table that stopped me. It struck me as beautiful, the arrangement of things I did not arrange. The unposed mix of textures, colors, and shapes so pleased me I reached for the camera, trying to capture how it looked for me.

Of course, I didn’t really.

The 17th century Dutch assigned layers of meanings to the objects in their still life paintings, which functioned almost like a code (mostly of judgement, it seems), but there’s nothing like that going on here. Each object is simply what it is: a beleaguered basil in a dull clay pot; an empty Ikea vase; a $3.00 bunch of chamomile from Trader Joe’s; a bowl of common fruit; a chipped Franciscan ware lid sitting on its matching bowl, protecting the salt within it. Apparently, still life paintings rank low on the painting hierarchy–or at least they did in 17th century France. Ordinary, inanimate subjects were deemed less worthy than living ones, but I rather like these things on my table that talk to me without words or movement.

I couldn’t quite catch through the camera how it felt to me, the cluster of objects in late winter’s early morning light, but I can look at the image and hear something of what they are saying: Here is a life with flavor. Some simplicity. Healthy sweetness, and a touch of ordinary pretty.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Late winter still life

You and your friends celebrated everything you could find. Not just birthdays and anniversaries and Jewish holidays, but Valentines Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Fiesta, Susan B. Anthony’s birthday… Once, before I was born, you and Dad held a campaign party celebrating an imaginary candidate. You made up the most ridiculous name you could think of. You printed elaborately designed invitations, and hung red, white, and blue bunting everywhere. There was always an excuse for a party, and I used to roll my eyes at that. It seemed over-the-top, even frivolous. I’m sorry about that now, Mom. Now that you’re gone, I understand your parties in a new way. No matter what we do, life will hand us sorrow. It’s life-affirming to choose to seek joy and togetherness in the face of that truth.  I don’t own a red Chanel suit, and I’m not attending a ladies’ lunch on February 14. But I’m wearing a string of your garnet beads, and my dress today is burgundy — a cousin to red, if you squint. And on this day of red and pink paper doilies, and flower arrangements, and boxes of chocolate, I am remembering you.

Rachel Barenblat, A reason to celebrate

Light up a cigarette
and watch

the smoke write
your thoughts in the air,

this valentine,
inhale     exhale.

Claudia Serea, V-Day

The time has come to stop keeping up appearances.
Let others mourn; I did my crying as a child.
I felt the sting & dreamed of death
both given & received.
I hid a mountain of dirt beneath my clothes.
Those who knew them less well
can toss handfuls into their darkness.

Jason Crane, POEM: Abstention

— It took me a long time to let all that go. I am in my sixties now, and only just beginning to write about it all, to tell the stories. 
— I’ve been writing since I was eight years old. At first I wrote in secret notebooks, by my late teens I was going to open mic poetry readings, but I didn’t tell my family. It would just caused me new abuse; mockery.
— I went outside just before sunrise today. It was windy, and the moon was setting in the west just as the first light of the dawn was glowing in the east. Very lovely. I went inside and wrote a prose poem about it.

James Lee Jobe, 10 Things. Journal notes. 10 Feb. 2020

in the downing days of heavy time
cadillac was as strange a meme
as winsome as the movie toffees
and the longing for the other side
of any walled hillside
or the veneered panelled walls
behind which the cockroaches slept
until the fire died and we were abed
and then they came over the coal-grit
floor to eat the crumbs of the crumbs
that our meagre dinners had left ledgered
here in this corner of a neglected village
in wales
a people tipped under slag tips and
toil so numbing that the sinews of life
crystallised in grime and death that never died
in relief of times best forgotten now
for when you think of it
we cried enough dryness
to last a lifetime

Jim Young, hearth and tired

I have a cough which entered my body the way a bird or small animal would enter it flew or crawled into my mouth and inside my chest when I was standing at the beach during a windstorm my head is happy maybe the cough is a diorama in the medicine chest of my imagined illness

I’m going to go stand in the garden and yell at my tulip bulbs for a bit

Rebecca Loudon, Waking up in spite of it all which feels like spring

Besides my group this week, sketching out the beginning of a poem in one of my breaks and submitting to one journal I haven’t managed much poetry related. Besides Twitter. I have filled my Twitter feed with a mix of magazines, established and emergent writers. Some just comment on the world, many promote their books and readings, some post snippets of their writing, some post poems written by others that they love. I enjoy the latter most. I don’t buy as many poetry collections as I should and getting them in the local libraries here is almost impossible if they were written after Shakespeare. So reading online journals and poems selected by other writers is my way of keeping in touch with the poetry world and the writers I enjoy. I can fit it into small pockets of time or scroll by if I don’t want to head down a specific rabbit hole. 

Gerry Stewart, Stepping Up

When I wrote PR for Poets,  I was grappling with a terminal cancer diagnosis (my tumors have since been classified as “stable” but I still have to get them scanned every six months). I was about to get a diagnosis of MS. These things have changed how I view book promotion in my own life and also how I might write about it next time.

Since I started promoting poetry books in 2006 (I’ve had five books published since), things have changed – the technology, the realities of travel, and in my case, my health has become a constraining factor. Last year, for instance, I was invited to read at a college for money – but ended up not being able to go for health reasons. I was also invited to be a featured speaker at a lovely-looking conference in Colorado – but given how difficult travel has been with a wheelchair, and the impact on my immune system, I had to turn it down. In both cases, I offered to appear virtually, but that offer was declined. AWP is coming up, and one reason (well, besides the money AND persistent accessibility problems at the conference itself) is that the travel is so hard on my system and the rewards don’t seem like enough to balance that out. The book addresses ways to reach new audiences that don’t involve physical travel – blog book tours, for instance, or virtual appearances at book groups or colleges, as well as social media outreach – but it could have gone further.

If you, as a healthy able-bodied writer in the world – an editor or a professor or someone who runs a conference –  want to support disabled or chronically ill writers, teach their books. Encourage your students to buy books, or request their books from libraries. Give disabled or chronically ill writers chances to do phone interviews, Skype sessions, radio appearances.

The reality is, my health and disability can limit my ability to have a writer’s life – the way traditionally the writers make money from books is being invited out to speak at colleges or at readings at conferences, so if you limit your travel to, for instance, locations you can drive to because the last two times you flew you caught pneumonia or the airlines lost your wheelchair (yup, both happened to me) – you’re also limiting how much you get paid, how many audiences you reach, how many copies of the book you sell.

Or…is that still true? I started thinking harder about this. When I started promoting my first poetry book, the number one way to sell copies was to travel to readings and people would buy books there. For my second book, the best way to sell was to send out paper postcards with buying information on them. By the time my last book came out, yes, I sold books through readings and postcards, but I sold the most copies through my blog and Facebook/Twitter announcements. If the world is really getting more technology oriented – working from home, virtual meetings – then maybe the way you sell poetry books has changed, too. I think about Instagram poets, who have a million followers and sell a million books – all without even making a personal appearance.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Valentine’s Day (and Day After) and a Discussion of Book Promotion and Maintaining the Writer’s Life with a Disability or Chronic Illness

Let’s get something out of the way right from the beginning. The odds of your winning a poetry competition are dramatically increased if you enter. Simultaneously, so are the chances of losing, but not by the same amount. And I guess most of us don’t buy a Lottery ticket expecting to win. If you’re like me, you buy yourself a dream.

In earlier posts on the cobweb, I’ve riffed on my own reasons for entering competitions. First comes the dream. What next? I look out for competitions run by small publishers, because when you pay for your entry, you’re in a win-win situation. Your entry fee is going to keep these small concerns alive…I’m thinking of ones like Prole and The interpreter’s house And, of course, Yaffle, and The Red Shed . Or you may be helping to promote a small festival, like Havant. The point is, you’re not wasting your money.

Next thing is: who’ll be judging the competition. With the small presses, I don’t mind, but when it comes to medium and high-profile affairs then what’s important to me is whether I like that poet’s work. Why? Because part of the dream is not anything to do with money (and there’s often not a lot of that involved) but the thought that my work is going to be read by someone I admire and from whom I’ve learned. If the judge’s work is not the sort of thing that floats my boat, then I don’t enter, because I guess it’s more likely than not to be mutual. For example, if Pascale Petit were to judge a competition I’d enter like a shot, but not if it was someone who went in for avant-garde shapes on the page. It’s just how I am. I certainly think twice about competitions where the work is filtered by a selection committee before it reaches the star judge….The Bridport comes to mind….but they’re likely to be the ones with big prize money. Take your choice.

Is there anything else? I’m personally attracted to competitions which offer publication of your work as a prize. Some will guarantee that runners-up will appear in their magazine (as in The Rialto/ RSPB), but I’m thinking particularly of Indigo Dreams, where the prize is publication of a full collection.

Finally, some poets I know will tell me they would rather submit to magazines. My answer is always that it’s not an either/or choice. I do both. But I know I’m always less disappointed by not winning a competition than getting ‘sorry, but no thank-you’ emails from magazine editors. I get a lot of those. I suppose it’s because I don’t expect to win a competition, but I’m absolutely convinced that Magma, The Rialto and the rest would be mad not to jump at the chance of publishing my poems.

John Foggin, Poetry competitions and small presses: it’s a win-win situation

But it did get me thinking about the half life of these popular culture references. How much distance is too much distance? Is it too obscure? Does that matter if it works for the poem? Can you cover it all off with notes? Should you need to use notes?

Is a reference to a Jewson’s ad from the 80s any better or worse than say a reference to an obscure character from The Iliad? I don’t know the answer here, I’m more thinking out loud. My degree taught me that a text was a text was a text and that a text could be anything really – a Britney Spears song, The Wasteland, a painting, a chocolate bar wrapper, and so on…

I came back to these questions when I had my first initial scan of the latest issue of Rialto. I found a reference to Dr Martens in the first poem, Hannah Lowe’s ‘Pink Hummingbird’ and old school rave events like “Rain Dance, World Party, Fantasia” in ‘ ’89’, and “Marlborough (SIC??) Lights” in ‘Love’.

Each of these references work as a way of dating the time they are evoking, elsewhere in the mag Tom Paine’s excellent ‘Harmonium’ contains the line

‘Give everyone an orange popsicle, an iPhone, a garden,
and let’s go shoot some hoops? You won monopoly, okay?’

You couldn’t ask for a more contemporary set of references…well, you could, but hopefully you see what I mean. While I’m still trying to work out what’s going on in the poem, the iPhone dates it to within the last decade or so and therefore gives me some frame of reference.

What am I saying here? I don’t think I’m saying anything, I’m asking something.

I guess I’m asking what we, as writers, are thinking when we include these contemporary references in poems? Do we have half an eye on the now and half an eye on the future—both near and more distant? What will readers in eg 2120 make of a reference to iPhones or Jewsons? Should we even care?

Mat Riches, The Jewson Lot

I must spend
more time
standing in
wind learning

to fly like
sky, grasses,
leaves, learning
to let go,

to go.

Tom Montag, I MUST SPEND