A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week, the cast of the sea, the happy accident, living down the road from Wendell Berry, Lear’s shadow, the possessions of the dead, secreting a minuscule rainbow, spiders on skis, and more.
It’s a sunny day in a quaint Ohio town. I’ve taken up a position on the sidewalk under a blue tent. Most people going by avert their eyes.
I’m here because, nearly two years ago, I agreed to do a book signing at an independent bookshop so adorable it could easily serve as the setting for a novel. The pandemic postponed this signing so long that I’m sitting here with the title that came out before my most recent book.
Although I’ve had four books published, I’ve never done an individual bookstore event before. Readings, yes. Workshops, yes. Group signings like the annual fabulous Author Alley at Loganberry Books, yes. This is a fresh experience for me. Other writers have told me bookstore signings can be excruciating. Often the only people who stop by are those asking if there’s a public bathroom or where the horror section is located. Today I’ll discover what it’s like for myself. Except I’m not inside, I’m out on the sidewalk. The open-sided tent blocks the pavement, meaning passersby must walk under it. This forces them to decide whether to look or not look at the strange woman sitting a few hopeful feet away.
I brought a basket of wrapped chocolates, a pen, bookmarks, and a little poster noting that a portion of each book sale goes to support the work of Medina Raptor Center. I brought what I hope is enough curiosity about this experience to tamp down my ongoing urge to hide in the stacks of the bookstore behind me. I tell myself I will savor the face of every person going by. I will spend by two whole hours being fully present.Laura Grace Weldon, Experiment In Savoring
looking out of the glass doors of the foyer
he thought the afternoon light had taken on the cast of the sea
the car park a washed out watercolour
he was silent all the way homePaul Tobin, THE CAST OF THE SEA
I had made an effort. I had put on a jacket. I had prepared. The words of my first poetry mentor Stewart Henderson came back to me in the half-dark: ‘It doesn’t matter if you are only reading to your mother, a cat and two children, you still honour the text of your words and knock it out of the park.’ So I did.
I read and read and read about death, my-not-quite-my-own, and others’, what that does to you, your body, your mind, your capacity to live in the fullness of life having not-died even though sometimes you think you might have.
As it grew darker, another voice from the beginning-of-things came back to me, this time in the form of a poem: Brendan Kennelly’s magnicifent ‘The Gift’, specifically his line about ‘places that were badly-lit’.
About ten seconds before going on, the organiser had asked me if it was light enough to read by. I replied that it was. But by the time I was half-way through I felt as though I was lancing my words into the outer darkness, a strange sensation for a thing that was at once so grand and intimate. (This reminds me of certain books I have written, still available here and here.) I could not see a soul. I found the experience bizarrely comforting. The universe seemed to be saying: poetry has always been like this. You want to play at Wembley? Do something else.Anthony Wilson, Badly-lit
I’ve been thinking about the happy accident, the thing that sometimes happens in creative work where two or three things come together in an unexpectedly useful way. I’ve been working on some videopoems, and I find the happy accident is one of the delights of making work in that genre.
When I put together a videopoem, I’m usually working with text I’ve already created, and then either creating my own visuals or using visuals someone else created. I usually record myself speaking my text in Garageband, dump it into iMovie, develop a library of potential images, and then start flinging them into the layout to see what I can make of it all.
And in this way, there’s always some unplanned and surprising moment or two — the text is saying something compelling just as an image appears that resonates with it. I find those moments and work outward from there. Then if I add another layer of sound, for example, more correspondences can happen…along with other more chaotic effects that have to be reined in.Marilyn McCabe, Oye como va; or, On Creative Happenstance
I have often envied writers who have or have had a ‘shed’ at their disposal for writing, reading and contemplation, whether the structure has been a driftwood hut, a remote bothy or a garden gazebo. Dylan Thomas and the Reverend R.S. Hawker both had writing huts with coastal views. I would definitely opt for one of these.
Of course, it isn’t only writers who have huts. The photograph below shows a hut on Romney Marsh in Kent, provided for the ‘lookers’, folk who were asked to care for huge flocks of sheep on behalf of the land owners, who considered the marsh an unhealthy place in which to live.
Unlike the shepherds, who only minded a single flock, lookers were responsible for sheep belonging to more than one owner. The workers were based at their huts by day, and at lambing times found themselves camping out in them overnight.
It seems ironic to me that the hut in the photo below, designed for these lookers, seems so devoid of windows.Caroline Gill, National Poetry Day 2021, Theme of ‘Choice’
There’s nothing like asking for blurbs that reminds me that I am probably the least glamorous of poets.
Wendell Berry can isolate on his farm, and everything thinks it’s cool. No big readings or university gig or living in the big city or editing the big magazine? Just out in the fields? It’s cool. It’s romantic.
But what about the stay-at-home homeschooling mom of six? Why is changing diapers just less romantic than shoveling manure?
Take the author photo for example–Wendell Berry could do a nice right-in-front-of-a-barn photo.
If we are being completely honest here, I should probably be pictured in front of a sinkload of dirty dishes, or maybe sitting on the floor next to a pile of laundry.Renee Emerson, why can’t I be cute like Wendell Berry?
Growing up, I wasn’t ever interested in poetry. I only learned about “dead poets” in middle school and early high school, so I gathered that poets were extinct, much like dinosaurs. Then I changed schools and I just so happened to end up in classes with one of Wendell Berry’s grandchildren. Turns out Wendell Berry even taught at the school! (One English class, every other week, if I remember correctly.) While I never had him in class, my brother did—for which I will always be envious.
Being in the same building as Wendell Berry, seeing him in the lobby waiting to take his grandkids home for the day…it really put poetry on the map for me, but I thought Wendell was an anomaly at the time. His farm, as it turned out, was just down the road from my family’s farm, so I viewed him more as a neighbor rather than a monumental figure. But in college, when I attended an English class with the prose poet David Shumate, that all changed. In his course, I was introduced to contemporary poetry. I noticed a poem by Wendell in the assigned anthology, which (I think, ashamedly) was the first time I ever read his poetry. Among Wendell were poets like Rita Dove, W.S. Merwin, Sharon Olds, Ted Kooser, Elizabeth Bishop, etc. There was poetry written, at that time, within the last few years! Not centuries ago. It was poetry that didn’t rhyme. Poetry that referenced cars, computers, cell phones…the technology of my modern experience. These poems spoke to me as no other poem had up until that point. As a result, I was finally able to look back at the poets I’d learned in high school, those poets of centuries ago, with appreciation. The rest, as they say, is history.Daniel Lassel, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Daniel Lassell (rob mclennan)
When my parents moved to a senior-living campus about 10 years ago, one of the hardest aspects of downsizing was what to do with the books. My dad’s bookshelves were full of texts that he found meaningful, valuable, inspirational, informational, necessary; he loved to read. Choosing which books to give away and which to keep was agonizing for him. And then he faced the task again when he and my mother moved to a smaller, assisted-living apartment. That time, he donated many of his books to the facility’s library, so he could “visit” them if he needed them. There remained one large bookcase. Because you can’t live a happy life without books!
Then he died; and my mother, who also loved to read, developed such aphasia that she could no longer decipher sentences. Now, every time I visit, she gestures at the books and urges me to take some of them. It’s hard to explain the response I have to taking home my dad’s books–a mixture of tenderness and discomfort, nostalgia and pain. Sometimes I end up giving the books away, but usually I read them first. Because they are books and deserve to be read, somehow, just by virtue of existing. No–by virtue of their having been significant to my dad. That is why I feel compelled to read them.Ann E. Michael, Being receptive
What happens to someone’s life –not the body or the soul but the million pieces one leaves in the world. Where does it go? Who does it belong to? The saddest and most interesting things at thrift stores are the caches of random photos and ephemera, no doubt rescued from someone’s house. These cabinet cards felt like that. My aunt told me there were mine and to do with them what I would, but I could not bring myself to wreck them, so carefully scanned each one and tucked the originals away. A few weeks ago I came across them straightening my studio area at home and was tempted to toss them again. I did not. But then I wondered why not? Some day, when I am dead, because I have no children, someone will find them and throw them away.
Stuff makes me anxious..even more personal stuff. While the thought of someone one day packing up clothes and books for donation is less frightening, I think of my photo albums. My journals. Yearbooks from middle school and junior high. Several scrapbooks–writing related, theatre related. My folders full of poem drafts. Where does this go/ Who owns it when i am gone?? Who even wants it? Will those same victorian photos of people somehow distantly related to me wind up in the hand of another artist like me. A collector of odd random things.
Which of course, brings us back to the project. The letters (fictional) from one sister to another across time and distance. Somewhere I have a few odd letters from high school penpals. Some notes from friends in the years before e-mail. Letters sent from family when I was living in North Carolina and badly wanted mail. There were some love letters I once kept– From an ex who spent time incarcerated for the better part of a year and wrote often. (though I briefly and unwisely revived this entanglement a couple years later, the letters I tossed in 2013.) As e-mails and text became the prime ways to communicate, the paper trail has dwindled. Thankfully, no one will read my letters when they are gone. As a writer who wonders how much of famous authors writings they actually would shiver to see published now, this is a big relief.Kristy Bowen, the things we leave behind
i folded the sheet of newspaper into a hatJames Lee Jobe, i wear the foolish hat
the way my mother did when I was a child
if i made two more folds
it would have become a boat
but i stop at the hat and i place it on my head
once upon a time i did this to please my mother
so she would know that i learned from her
years later i wore the hat to make my children laugh
now my mother is gone and so are the children
in the silence of the house i wear the foolish hat
a hat made of folded newspaper.
no one sees
no one laughs
i hear the sound of a blue jay.
it is a lonely sound
Calling my front yard a “lawn” is a bit of a stretch, because it’s mostly weeds. My main strategy has been to plant different ground cover that will reduce the need to mow, but I’ll still have to find a way to remove the leaves from the beds in November/December. I loathe leaf blowers, but at least I have an electric one that isn’t too loud.
My mom also gave me some tiny purple and green leafy plants that I identified as common bugle. In the spring it grows tiny purple flowers. I have some cultivated bugle whose leaves are shiny and lush, and it has grown into enormous clusters.
But since I’ve transplanted my mom’s shoots, I’ve seen tiny bugles dotting the neighborhood, growing like little wildflowers weeds do, freely and with abandon.
I suppose you could say my writing life is like the common bugle or a humble wildflower weed. I plant my little fragments of poetry that live in tattered notebooks until I take notice of them and marvel at a flash of color that deserves some cultivation.Christine Swint, Gardening and Poetry
The month one of my daughters stoppedLuisa A. Igloria, Spores
speaking to me I’d step out of the door after rain
and see a proliferation of spores across the yard:
jack-o-lanterns, burnt matches, false morels
issuing from deep in the earth where a chain
of changes is always fluctuating like tectonic
plates. I didn’t know how the slightest nudge
could tear a stalk from loam, a colony
from a shingle of bark; and yet they always
came back. I didn’t know how long
I could hold a grief like that.
Lear. …who is that can tell me who I am?
Fool. Lear’s shadow.
Lear’s mistake is to try to lay down his burden. He thinks that he has earned a rest. Nobody earns a rest. We just go to our rest, when we are called. All that trying to lay your burden down ahead of time does, is deliver you to the mercy of hellkites, and take your true and loyal daughter away from you. You may not understand it, but you are holding something together. It is not your job to second-guess the future. It is your job to pay attention to your nearest and dearest, and use whatever meager discernment the years may have given you.Dale Favier, The Quiet and Dark of Winter
These are ways maps are drawn, routesUma Gowrishankar, Mitya
The city bus takes in the grooves of the brain
Filled with buckets of tar: everything real
Duplicates by dubious recurrence— déjà vu.
On the trail, I wrote another tiny poem, having brought clipboard, paper, and pencil along. On the road back, I noted the irony of the road sign: pictorial leaping deer + “next 2 miles.” My heart split, sending out the warning, Stay where you are! to the deer in the preserve, and wishing for Bill his last venison sausage. Alas, we did see a small deer dead by the side of the road.Kathleen Kirk, Deer Blind
extra slices of bread after dinner
and soft butter in the dish
the infant asleep
in five minutes
asleep again in two
I have an unpublished chapbook called m(other), and this is a poem in it that I think about a lot–I did this morning, when there was soft butter on the counter. Postpartum depression can make the smallest acts monumental, overwhelming–even something little like setting out butter, washing a dish, picking up a sock. I struggled mightily with any sense of self during my first postpartum experience–and this poem is a ledger of remembering some of the graces in life, despite a deep soul-body weariness.Han VanderHart, a counting list : postpartum depression
I had hopes of working on a new poem during Shabbat, but my body had other plans. I spent most of Shabbat lying on a heating pad, remembering that when the sciatica flares up, poetry is hard to come by.
The world becomes very immediate. Past and future both recede. I’m firmly in the now of pressing into the heating pad in hopes that spasming muscles and pinched nerve will yield into release.Rachel Barenblat, Stillness
Last weekend I ran along the shore and the air was still. But the sea was still churning from the storm that had passed through. Tall waves, dark and edged with a white so opaque I could imagine I was running through an oil painting.
Sometimes writing is like wading into a stream where others have left all the stories to flow together, to flow through your hands, around your waist and into new ribbons of currents of hot and cold shining with the tiny creatures that give the world life, that take the world’s life. There’s nothing to claim here. Not really. It all runs to the ocean.
I miss writing.Ren Powell, The Opposite of Disassociation
School summer holidays are a dream come true. 6 weeks paid leave; the pay for a teaching assistant is miserably low, but all the same, time verses money – there’s no contest. Anyway, this summer I went back to the music shop where I bought my first instrument, booked a private appointment for an hour and ended up staying three, and came home with the most gorgeous, deep-toned instrument that should keep me going for a few years to come. I realise that I’m becoming a guitar geek but I can live with that. I’ll never be a great player but I can live with that too because like most things I get involved with, it’s the ‘doing’ that I enjoy most. And I still enjoy ‘doing’ poetry, but when you give your time to one thing, something else has to give. So recently, the new guitar has been taking up most of my time. I’ve not abandoned haiku, but having prioritised my interests, the blog has suffered a bit. So, this post is just to say that I’m still here, and I’m still writing, but I’m also enjoying the sound of my new guitar (and in case you were wondering what has happened to the old one, it’s now in a different tuning so I have some new tunes and techniques to learn).
And I’m still enjoying reading whatever Snapshot Press publishes (John Barlow is not only an accomplished haiku poet but an influential figure in UK publishing). I can highly recommend his book (below) and I’ll leave you with the title poem:
evening surf …Julie Mellor, Playing the acoustic
for the seventh wave
[Rob Taylor]: I’ve always felt like there are two types of poets: those who want to write and write and write until the moment the universe stops them, and those whose writing is a means toward reaching an eventual silence (even if they never fully arrive). Funnily, considering you’ve published eighteen books of poetry (in addition to plays, essays, translations…), I’ve long thought of you as the second type. Your poems are filled with words, but your longing for “the clearing” (in the breath you take from the lord), for the impossible “pure concept” of home (in A Ragged Pen), for religious peace (“The Church of Critical Mass”), and for Buson’s butterfly, all speak to a reaching beyond words, towards a silent place.
Would you say the path you’re walking is one toward (voluntary) silence? If so, has it been a smooth one? (I note that you write elsewhere “rising to speechlessness, that ladder of desire… how many times you’ve fallen.”) What role does poetry play, for you, in walking that path?
[Patrick Friesen]: I don’t have a clear answer for you here. I’m just walking the path, no goal in sight. Not aiming for silence or for more noise. Just moving along. There are points where I become “speechless,” whether because of events in my life or because I’ve reached some kind of impasse, or point of boredom, in my writing. This just happens quite naturally. Then, after a pause, it continues. Perhaps one of these days that pause will become permanent, but it’s not something I’m aiming for. I have a friend who wrote every day, published a lot, much more than I have, but he reached a point where he said he suddenly couldn’t write anymore. That was it. He thought he might write again, but it’s been a couple of years. How to explain that? In my life I arrive at times where I am silent, need to be silent, and sometimes I think this is the way it should be from then on. I have great admiration for those mystics who achieved silence. But how does that happen? Would I run out of words? Get tired of putting them on the page? Would the words feel so empty finally that silence already existed, only I had to recognize it? I’ll be vague here and say it’s a process of spirit.Rob Taylor, One Foot In, One Foot Out: An Interview with Patrick Friesen
I’m a dedicated freewriter. I especially like that freewriting has roots in poet Jack Kerouac’s stream of consciousness, “spontaneous prose,” the Surrealist Movement’s “automatic writing,” and in Yeat’s “trance-writing.” (Check out this videopoem by Helena Postigo, “I Think of Dean Moriarity.”)
My first introduction to freewriting was in a college English class in 1980. At first, I simply hated it. I stopped often, stumbled, stared at the clock, felt awkward, and concluded that freewriting was a huge waste of time. However, I had to turn in my daily freewrites as part of my grade, so, in spite of my resentment, I kept at it.
It got easier, and eventually I saw the value of this exercise: getting unfiltered, unedited and unpredictable ideas onto a piece of paper as fast as possible, before your left brain can take over and squelch your spontaneity.
Many, if not most, of my completed poems, essays, reviews and articles started as freewrites. Sometimes I’m not even aware that’s I’m doing; I might open my journal up to a blank page and start making lists of words, which become sentences and phrases.Erica Goss, Generating New Poems from Freewrites
Pamela Hobart Carter’s new poetry book, Held Together with Tape and Glue is a collection of gentle meditations, mostly on ordinary topics. Some of the poems are erasure poems, but I couldn’t tell which if I hadn’t read the acknowledgements in the front of the book. There’s no flaunting of technique here, but the poems are very assured.
Consider the opening of “Relined”:
Look at the world
as if for the first time
A sense of passage
to carry your self
into its next version.
Or “On the Word”:
Here we are. On the page. On the word.
On the dot or the hook or the serif.
Here we are. In the big city. In this house.
In this room or the kitchen. Here lies truth.
Truth lies, here on the sofa, with us,
with our feet are up, stocking-footed,
shoes tidily stowed in the closet
when we came in from clearing dead leaves. . . .
One of the longer poems, this one ends: “How did we get so good at calendars and clocks, /still ignorant of true passage.”
One of my favorites is “Bed” which goes through the making of a bed in detail: tug the corners, match the sides, use your hand like an iron to flatten the sheet. It ends “smooth/as. smooth/ the mind. /done said/done, and day/is readymade.”Ellen Roberts Young, Recommendation: Held Together with Tape and Glue by Pamela Hobart Carter
This Wednesday, 13th October, at 7.30pm British Summer Time, I’ll be one of the two guest readers (the other is Maggie Sawkins) at the launch of Greg Freeman’s collection, Marples Must Go!, published by Dempsey and Windle.
I admire Greg’s poetry very much, and admire him as someone who does a great deal of good for the poetry community. His poetic and geographical milieu is similar to mine – he grew up in a road where my dad and grandparents also lived for a few years, near Surbiton Lagoon, and he went to the secondary school opposite the one I went to, a few years apart!
I wrote an endorsement for Greg’s book, as follows:
“The sharp, entertaining poems in Marples Must Go! encompass a cornucopia of themes – first love, music, the newspaper trade, cycling, am-dram and holidays – but also the corruption, pigheadedness and racism of politicians, past and present, intent on ‘making mugs of us all’. In this richly enjoyable collection, Greg Freeman celebrates the best – and skewers the worst – of England.”
If you would like the Zoom link for the treading, please message Greg via Twitter – @gregfreempoet.Matthew Paul, Reading this Wednesday
There was an article in the New York Times that had everyone buzzing, a mean-spirited article about writers being bad to each other. (If you want to read it, just google “bad art friend.” You’ll probably also get some hot takes on the article.)
But what I want to say is that in twenty years as a reviewer, volunteer, writer, editor, MFA student, and MFA instructor, I have experienced and witnessed so much kindness and generosity among writers. Maybe good art friends make for less scintillating reading, but I feel if you’re going to shine a light on a community in the art world, it should be on the wonderful, supportive, encouraging things they do for each other. I include artists and musicians in this because we all make so little money and work so hard but still what I’ve seen is artists helping each other, letting each other know about opportunities, writing blurbs, recommendations, giving each other advice…this, in my experience, has been more the norm than the opposite.
Are there mean, terrible, miserably-hearted people in the art world? Of course, like everywhere else. But I am so happy to say that most of the community supports each other. When a writer or artist gets sick, they send a care package or note; when they’re looking for work, people try to steer them towards open positions; when they’re feeling depressed about a rejection, they get encouragement; when they get good news, friends celebrate. Maybe I’m not cynical enough, or I’ve been surrounded by a lot of super-nice people by accident, but I think that good art friends are more the rule than bad art friends.Jeannine Hall Gailey, Book Announcement, Bad and Good Art Friends, a New Poem in Image, and a Rough Week (with Fall Colors!)
Something shimmers, the length of a necklace,Jill Pearlman, In the Beginning, the Slug
flecks of silver, of pink, of blue almost tinsel
on the lawn like living breathing Mylar
delicately held by every blade of grass.
What could be more humble than the slug?
A snail without home on its back.
Secreting a minuscule rainbow
to grease its wayward path.
The spider spent most of the time just telling us to stop mucking about and just get on with it. And she— I think it’s a she—was absolutely correct. We’ve been putting these jobs off for a while, waiting for the right moment, etc and lo and behold that moment never came, or something else got in the way, but now the jobs are done and we can move on.
The same thing happened this week with a poem. I have actually written one and finished it for the first time since August. It’s not actually that long, but it’s felt like forever. However, amazingly, if you sit down and stop prevaricating, it’s weird, but the work gets done. I can’t say for definite the poem is my best yet, but it does feel like it’s a progression of some kind. If nothing else, I think the first draft started from a stronger place than some of the final drafts of older work. I will take that. And so, now the work begins on the next one.
National Poetry Day came and went again this week. As ever, I applaud the intentions of it. I’m never sure if it leads to much, but anything that makes some noise about poetry can’t be a bad thing. I note, for instance, there was nothing about it at my daughter’s school this week.
My concessions to it were the aforementioned poem being worked on. I don’t think the celebration was for that though. I also made vague allusions to the classics in an email for work where I referenced “Project Persephone”. This was a potential project name, but it was discarded as we a) felt there was a better option and b) felt that the referencing the borders between life and death was a bit much for a brand tracking project.Mat Riches, Spiders on Skis….
Drum skins storm the air with thrumder.
Rhythm hymns of pulse and pattern, syncopation and sway.
When you caress a drum, soul does the speaking through fingers.
Leave your fears and defeats in alleyways, hop the train steaming towards liberation.
Sing your animals and angels, your mantras and malevolence as hands conjure spirits of new beat happenings.Rich Ferguson, Drumspeak
falling downJason Crane, haiku: 6 October 2021
the stone steps
there is in my baptism a stone that i batheGrant Hackett [no title]
a poem writtenJim Young [no title]
splashed on a pebble
thrown in the sea
It is here always where I recall the imperative.Kristen McHenry, A Poem!
Where I re-learn the lesson of my divine
irrelevance. Where I receive full clemency, where there is
only fervor for my blemished soul, where there is room for nothing
but the grand helpless lungs of the sea, the sandpipers
free on the brine of its draft, all things found and all forgotten.