Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 4

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 been a rough month for many, and a rough year for a world suffering through a pandemic. All is not gloom in the poetry blogs, though, and the winter darkness throws flashes of humor or insight into sharp relief. Like so many, I was cheered this week to hear that the inaugural poet, Amanda Gorman, will be reading at the Superbowl. It feels as if poetry is finally going somewhere, even if most poets are still stuck at home.


Lay down the aphorisms, brick by brick. Play word-
tricks: the awkward juggler has to catch all the

balls tossed in the air, here homonyms fall neatly,
at their pleasure. Isn’t war, unwarranted? Isn’t man,

manipulated? Was there a poet present when light
emerged to rhyme with night?

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Poetricks

Little B still wakes up 2-4 times a night so my sleep sucks.

As a writer, it is so hard for me to go to bed when B does and to not get up until everyone does. If I stay up an extra hour, I can write in the still darkness of the sleeping house! If I get up an hour early, I can write as the sun breaks open the day! I love writing when the family is asleep – no interruptions or competition for my time.

But this year I am committing to sleep first, write second. When B starts sleeping through the night, I can take up my writing in those odd hours again, but for now, I need to not treat my body like crap.

Renee Emerson, Zzzzzs

That night, I fell asleep in front of Netflix’s The Minimalists, but not before hearing and thinking about its primary message: We are so consumed with having physical things that we forfeit the intangible ones that make us truly happy–time, community, creativity, meaningful accomplishment, rest, health (personal and global). There are some things in my life that are hugely challenging–more challenging than they’ve ever been, maybe–but my friend was seeing something true: I am less stressed. I have fewer obligations and fewer life chores and more time than I’ve ever had for long conversations, leisurely meals, neighborhood walks, and serious contemplation. I’ve begun moving through my days at a slower pace, doing what I reasonably can rather than what some unreasonable voice is telling me I should. (No one seems to have noticed or, if they have noticed, to have cared.) That voice has gone mostly silent.

My life–not unlike the Roses’–is much smaller than it once was. There are people and places I deeply miss, but most of what has fallen away I do not. My connections to what and who remains are deeper. I don’t know that I am happier; the departure of Busyness made it easier for Hard Things to come in. But on the whole, I am calmer. I am finding that letting some of those hard things claim space has been easier than fighting to hold the door against them.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Of stories and self-care

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve had Covid dreams. Logically, I should be more concerned, considering the increase in local cases of the new mutation. I don’t know. Maybe my subconscious has played out the scenario so many times it has soothed itself. Or simply resigned.

It’s been below freezing for a couple of weeks. The house is a little cold, which means the bedroom is especially chilly – and that’s good for sleep.

I doubt the dreams are gone for good. But I’ll enjoy these deep-sleep nights for now.

I’ve only rarely gone outside this week. But enough to see the full moon begin to sag just a little. I’ve stood on the deck to watch – and hear – the sparks flying from the contact cables when the freight train passes. It frightens Leonard, who otherwise loves the cold weather. I wonder if the smell of the hares in the area sits in relief above the smell of the clean snow.

Ren Powell, Warm Bodies in Cold Rooms

But over the last two years, as I’ve been getting ready for this book to come out, I have woken up in the middle of the night anxious about my poems–not the craft of them, that I have worked on endlessly, but that some deal with some very personal topics. As I received my final edits this week, I found myself waking up at 3 am with a “what have I done?” feeling. Along with the gratitude and thankfulness of this book, I’ve been hit with the classic–Omg, people are actually going to read this! 

Talking with other women poets, I realize many have also had this fear or concern as their books and poems come out into the world. It comes down to risk, we need to write what scares us.

I took a class with Brenda Hillman and after we shared a poem, she would ask us, “What did you risk?” Some people would say, “I’m writing in a new form” or “I risked sentimentality” but some would say, “I’m writing about something that makes me feel shameful” or “I’m writing about a topic I have been afraid to share.” Every time we risk or write about the things we are afraid to or think we shouldn’t, we open doors for other poets to do the same thing. 

In a world of filters and photoshop, it can be hard to be real and vulnerable. Sometimes we want to put on a lot of concealer and cover what we consider are our flaws. I want to consider that word “flaw”–maybe what we consider our “flaws” are us just being human. Maybe when we are able to say “this happened to me” or “this was very hard to write about and equally hard to publish,” we are finding ways for others to feel less alone in the world. 

Kelli Russell Agodon, Feel the Fear and Write It Anyway

One comes away feeling that Dillard is struggling, hard, with the aftereffects of some kind of deeply traumatic experience, of which the frog being sucked dry by a giant water bug — the book’s most disturbing, recurring motif — is just a pale reflection. Sometimes I felt her angst was arising only because she had her framing wrong and was looking at the situation backward, leading her to anguished conclusions (the chapter on “Fecundity” for instance: “Evolution loves death more than it loves you or me.”). Other times I was grateful and amazed for her ability to describe transcendent/immanent experiences in which the self disappears and life shines forth in all its blinding presence (the chapters on “Presence” and “Stalking” for instance).

Overall, an undeniable classic of nature literature, of course, but also a reading experience I wouldn’t recommend to just anyone. Don’t come here unless you like having your hair set aflame.

Dylan Tweney, The tree with the lights in it

I didn’t get a “hit of sun” this morning, but those few extra minutes of light, even from behind thick clouds, made a difference. Checking the sunrise/sunset times for today, I see that the sun came up at 7:33 am and will go down at 5:17 pm. That’s forty-one more minutes of light since December 21, 2020. Not that I’m counting.

The thing about SAD, at least for me, is that I don’t really notice it until it starts to recede. Then I realize that the darkness did affect my mood, dulling it just enough for me to observe the change when the light starts to return. 

Light affects my hens too. During the Fall, they lay fewer and fewer eggs. Commercial egg producers address this by adding artificial light to their chicken coops, which explains why we can buy eggs year-round. 

I prefer to let my hens have a rest, knowing they’ll start laying again as soon as the light returns. During the dark months, I feed them extra-choice tidbits, add apple cider vinegar to their water, and make sure they have dry bedding. I watch for signs of stress, which include poor appetite, aggression, and pulling each other’s feathers. Every once in a while, I let them out of their pen to explore the larger backyard.

On December 31, 2020, I wrote this haiku:

                           every day
                           another morsel of light
                           in spite of everything

I hope the returning light inspires your writing.

Erica Goss, I’m a SAP: A Seasonally Affected Poet

It’s currently snowing and they are daring to call it a blizzard, but it at least worked out to be happening over the weekend, when I am tucked inside safely until Monday afternoon.  I’ve been cleaning a little, drafting the latest Paper Boat, drinking tea, and making chicken soup. All very relaxing after a long week, that began with the cats trying to kill us by turning on the stove last Sunday morning (just a lot of smoke and a very badly damaged stir-fry pan that happened to be on the burner), and ended with a Friday that felt like I was chasing my tail at work and not getting all that much accomplished besides answering and sending faculty e-mails and lib answer queries in the hours I was there.  It was also just cold and snowed a lot.  I slept really late this morning covered in cats (who cannot kill me now that I have child protectors on the stove knobs) and buried beneath the covers to escape the chill. Lately, with everything else going on, it being winter feels like a personal affront that is not really personal at all. 

Thursday, I spent some time choosing work for reading in a week or so for the Poetry Foundation, and decided to go with a batch of the tabloid poems, mostly because they are humorous and a lot less dark than most of what I’ve been writing lately and since last year.

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 1/30/2021

Groceries unpacked, my feet are frozen in leaking drifts of winter. Someone posts Pema Chodron droning on about seeking meaning in the presence of death as though this is a novel idea, as though some of our bodies don’t have to live there all the time: what did I do with my hours, they ask. Did I value what I value? What is a day for when we are all soon to die?

To love, and be loved, I snap at the screen, obviously, and scroll on looking for something not obvious, for something to surprise me: spend years in death’s talons and you know there is nothing else but this body and the way it loves and is loved, by every measure of that foolish word.

Sure, talk to me about checking accounts and free gifts so I can notice your laughlines and try to remember what a landscape unfrozen looks like, what love is when it is not scrapped. All else is waste. The chasing of money in freezing drifts. So much of this just obvious noise. People post about astrology. Aliens. Ferfuckssake, I think, and click away, exhausted by the endless reaching for fantasy when the real, the wondrous, is right here, you just have to see it, then nurture it. Maybe I should have just given him my phone number.

Mom still isn’t really waking, or eating, or sleeping. Except sometimes she does: it’s not low oxygen causing it, just covid, just death’s talons, just her decision in her animal body whether to beat it or be beaten. I don’t know whether it’s beating me or I’m beating it, she says, and I tell her I’m so sorry I can’t be there with her. Her floor quarantined, her memory an Escher hallway, her existential end a solitary conflict between animal body and remaining cognition that knows she does not want to live like this. I negotiate with her lack of appetite: what about grapes? Mashed potatoes? A brownie? Her dehydration: not even ginger ale. What about a Coke?

JJS, Wolf Moon

Whisper it quietly, but I think that January might just be over. I’m not 100% convinced, but early indications are that February will commence as of tomorrow.

This is good as it means I can a) stop running every day and b) drink again. I could, of course, have started/stopped (delete as applicable) either of these things at any time, but I chose to persevere with them and I wanted to stick to them. Just to prove that I can make my own choices I am now going to open a beer. I think I’ve earned it for the running part.

In media-type Twitter circles whenever you see a brand or person/both go viral (whatever that means), either for good work or a faux pas, you will often hear someone say I bet that makes it into a deck* by a planner. Essentially, it will be quickly subsumed into being used as an example of what works (usually without any proof it works or any definition of what works actually means).

However, I was reminded of this briefly during the week when I walked past Flo’s room and heard her English teacher talking to the class via Teams about Amanda Gorman’s poem from the Biden/Harris inauguration. I was amazed to hear that Gorman’s poem had made it to the curriculum so quickly. It hasn’t, but it was wonderful to hear the poem being used to hopefully make poetry seem relevant to Flo’s class.

I’m not 100% sure where I stand on the poem myself, but I can totally see how it can help to get poetry out to people and pique interest. I hope that her being the first poet to read at the Superbowl and her subsequent modeling contract bring her all the right attention, and also that if even one person picks up a pen as a result then it’s all good.

Mat Riches, Gardiner At Night

Poetry is in the news these days. Not just the luminous performance of Amanda Gorman at the Biden Inauguration, but tweets that are snapshots of poems and articles that extol the benefits of pandemic poetry processing. Poems like whales in the bay, rise to the surface with a gust of sound and then sinking gracefully only to rise again twenty feet away. 

After Gorman’s recitation, I received more than a handful of emails and private messages on various social media platforms asking, “Was that a good poem?” I saw the bitter sniping by some of the academic establishment. I saw enjoyment, even amazement, by folks that probably thought that poetry was “too hard” or not for them, and here they were loving a poem and its graceful and gracious presentation.

My response to their questions about Gorman’s poem on Facebook: 

Did it touch you? Did it resonate with you?  These are the questions you must answer to understand if it was a good poem FOR YOU. The days of the gatekeepers are over, especially for the older, white, cis-het university crowd.  I find myself going back to something W.S. Merwin wrote: If you find you no longer believe, enlarge the temple. Let’s let the temple of poetry be as large as the whole world. Read poetry. Write it. Talk about it. Love it. Share it. Enlarge the temple.

The past few evenings, I’ve been reading the poetry of Rebecca Elson, who was primarily an astronomer but who wrote breathtakingly beautiful poems in her scant 39 years of life. I’ve been sharing them on social media because I want other people to learn about her work, to be nourished by her poems. Poetry as part of the gift culture, not the capitalist culture. I’ll never make my living writing poetry (something my father was quick to point out to me when I was fifteen), but it will be the way that I make my life. 

Whatever your gift is, I hope that today you will have the pleasure of sharing it.

Erin Coughlin Hollowell, Gift culture

I have to admit I’m not keen on references to gatekeepers in poetry, as the term implies that poets might somehow find favour with people who could grant them access to a supposed citadel or inner sanctum, at which point they’ll have arrived and somehow made it to the top. This mistaken belief inevitably leads to continual and continuous frustration for the poets in question.

Of course, there’s always a social establishment in the poetry world (as in many others), which is successively replaced by new establishments, all with their own prejudices, favourites and friends. However, I personally find that the key as an individual is to focus efforts on living, reading, writing, finding readers who are already out there and generating new ones for the genre rather than wasting precious energy on the pursuit of a non-existent Holy Grail…

Matthew Stewart, Poetry’s inner sanctum

My goal to keep learning about women writers and their lives continues, this week with the second season of Dickinson, the Apple series on Emily Dickinson, reading Red Comet, the latest biography of Sylvia Plath, and also research on Stella Gibbons, a curiously undercelebrated early-twentieth century English novelist and poet, who wrote Cold Comfort Farm, the satiric novel she’s best known for, but also 22 other books, including a couple of books of poetry and many short stories and the book I’m reading now, My American. Stella was, like me, was a journalist before she was a poet and fiction writer. Many of her books are out of print and unavailable in America, but she won a bunch of awards in her day, and held literary salons into the 1970s. When I read about the lives of successful women writers, I’m always curious about their similarities – for instance, women writers like Atwood, Gluck, and Plath (and me) were all the daughters of scientists – Gibbons’ father was a doctor (“a good doctor,” his daughter would say, “but a terrible father” – he was often violent at home but charitable at work). Otto Plath was one of the leading experts on bumblebees in his time – he began his PhD at Harvard at age 40 before he met Plath’s mother, so he was a very old father – but not, by all accounts, much fun to be around. (Coincidentally, Plath’s son, Nicholas, kind of followed in his grandfather’s footsteps – became a leading expert in the Northwest on salmon and orca patterns, before taking his own life in his early forties.)  Sylvia had a kind of extreme ambition and broke 50s modes by being a woman who wanted to work and have children at the same time (gasp), while Stella Gibbons poked fun at the literary community and often refused to follow convention of what women writers were supposed to be like. Being different – standing out – and rebelling against current modes.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Learning from Women Writers, Under a Wolf Moon, Looking at Book Publishers During Submission Season, and Waiting (and Waiting) for the Vaccine

Mingus! Dolphy!
Elderly people doing yoga!
Park pavilions full of
downward dogs & the upper class.
The Buick owners realigning their chakras
before heading off to brunch.
Everyone has a dog or else no one does.
There’s ozone in the air but the sun is out.
Where’s the promised thunder?
The desert is a dirty liar.
The bass clarinet will have to do.

Jason Crane, POEM: Revenge!

If a clonk on the head with a coconut could dispel my problems I’d line up for a whap. And if the people I love asked, I’d cure their worst troubles with a coconut whap too. This contradicts what I’m beginning to understand about the powerful lessons embedded in mistakes and suffering. But as I get older I get more impatient. The coconut option just seems a hell of a lot easier.

I imagine ridiculous, Gilligan’s Island-worthy scenarios where a mass coconut drop on our country erases racism, sexism, inequality, greed, heck, all our major problems. I imagine us rubbing our heads with peaceful, bemused expressions as we gather up the coconuts and make each other inventive, delicious meals out of all that bounty.

Until I remember, on Gilligan’s Island, whatever problems were solved by a sudden coconut hit were always cancelled out by an inevitable follow-up coconut hit. The professor forgets his brilliant insight, Mary Ann again judges her looks by impossible standards, Gilligan transforms back into a clueless underling. Getting that second hit is pretty much what happens to most of us when epiphanies slide from memory, when awe fades, when the weight of consumer culture drags us back into ruts.  

Laura Grace Weldon, Clonk

We’ve looked for that fabled
plant of many colors, the bird

whose song grows a canopy of grace
over the blighted land. We’ve pushed

our stone-heavy hearts into the wood,
afraid to return without remedy,

without salve. We would lie
down with each other if we knew

we could send strong
new roots into the earth.

Luisa A. Igloria, Anti-Elegy

I got the first dose of the vaccine, last Wednesday. As a massage therapist, I count as a health care worker, so I’m in the first wave. It’s a relief to know that, even as I dawdle and second guess and hang about, my body is busily manufacturing antibodies. In one way, nothing changes: none of my behaviors will change, for a while yet. But it feels totally different. We will win this thing, eventually.

Also: I am very, very tired.

Dale Favier, Things Taking Shape

Last spring the shelves of grocery stores were often bare. No toilet paper, no flour, no Clorox wipes. Fruits and vegetables were hard to find, for a while. We haven’t returned to those levels of privation (yet) this winter, but there are ingredients I can’t find. I think of previous generations cooking during wartime, or in the shtetl, or in the Warsaw Ghetto. (I don’t want to think of subsisting on what food was available in the camps.) This isn’t like that, but that’s the narrative frame that comes to mind. 

When I read about people who refuse to wear masks or maintain social distancing, I think: would you have turned on your lights during the Blitz? It’s not a kind thought, but I struggle to feel kindness toward those whose actions put others at risk. Much about this pandemic year feels like a discipline: staying apart, staying masked, staying alone, cooking with what I can get. The hardest discipline is maintaining a healthy balance between facing reality, and not perseverating about the reality we face.

The hardest discipline is cultivating hope. This week on the Jewish calendar we mark the New Year of the Trees. Symbolically, spiritually, the sap of the coming spring and summer is beginning to rise. The potential for flower and fruit lies coiled in every seed. The days will lengthen. The vaccine will become available to everyone. The branches that are now bare will carry a profusion of fruit. Can I hold the experience of January’s bitter cold alongside the certainty that in its time spring will come? 

Rachel Barenblat, Discipline

Scrolling through Twitter one morning, as one does, I saw that someone posted a video with the caption, “turn up your sound” but I mis-read it as turn up your soul. We see what we need to see sometimes.

Maybe it’s nearly time to reconstitute the world:

My heart is moved by all I cannot save:
so much has been destroyed

I have to cast my lot with those
who age after age, perversely,

with no extraordinary power,
reconstitute the world.

—Adrienne Rich

Maybe it’s time for poems to fill with light again, for poets. Which is to say, all of us.

A poetry of the meaning of words
And a bond with the universe

I think there is no light in the world
but the world

And I think there is light

— George Oppen

In my study, as shown above, there are most likely a lot of conversations taking place. Between Marilyn Monroe, Cary Grant, Grace Kelly, Mrs. Dalloway, a cloud. Who knows what they’re talking about? On the bookshelves as well. As it turns out I file Anne Sexton beside Hermann Hesse.

Sexton: “I am not lazy. / I am on the amphetamine of the soul.”

She also said, “Put your ear down close to your soul and listen hard.”

I’m not one of these people who is going to tell you everything will be alright. For many it simply won’t be. Or hasn’t been.

Shawna Lemay, Turn Up Your Soul

Back to teaching full time this week. Been exciting and inspiring, while at the same time very real. What I mean is that the more I teach, the more I feel myself be more myself. And it’s not a thing I can summon or call forth. The space held in shared open questioning and conversation calls it forth.

Tangentially connected, at one point this week I watched this interview and supplemental writing “exercise” clips between Trevor Noah and Amanda Gorman that are illuminating. In the interview, Gorman speaks of poetry as water, a way to “re-sanctify, re-purify, and reclaim” the world around us. Her inaugural poem, “The Hill We Climb,” and its consequent impact on our American conscience at this moment in time are a solid gesture and step in the direction of this work.

In the second clip, Noah and Gorman engage in a predictive text writing exercise. It’s the kind of thing I see on Twitter sometimes and can’t help but join in on. Engaging directly and purposefully with predictive text can at times feel like having an echo of your latest obsessions as well as the way you articulate yourself in daily life cast back at you. Sometimes the screens in our hands look back, yo.

José Angel Araguz, writing prompt: predictive text

I’ve been trying to draw and paint more regularly. It’s therapy, and it’s a joy, and it’s a way to remember who I am — as well as, I suppose, record who I was. My sketchbooks are just as much a diary as a written one, but that reminds me of my recurrent dream where I’m seated at the piano and required to play, except that what’s on the music stand isn’t a musical score but a painting. Somehow, I start playing what I see, and in the dream, it seems to make sense…

For someone who works in both words and in images, as well as being a musician, that dream feels all too real, and it makes me ask the question of whether a diary of one’s days isn’t just as valid if it is drawn as when it is written. Of course, the two can be merged together, as I guess I sometimes do here on my blog. But because I often find words (and especially, my own words) tedious, I like the idea of “reading” a sketchbook in order to discern something about a person’s life.

When I look through my drawings of the past year, however, I don’t think anyone else could tell we’re in the middle of a pandemic. Taken in the context of all the other sketchbooks from other years, it’s clear that the artist often goes other places, and hasn’t in a long while. But otherwise, except for a couple of pages at the beginning where the chaotic state of my mind was evident, all I can detect is a turn toward more color, the same objects appearing repeatedly, and occasional forays into places I’ve visited, mainly Mexico City, Sicily, and Greece.

As we near the one-year mark of isolation, in another month, in the middle of yet another winter, I can tell you that I am intensely tired of these walls and these two rooms. I’ve been going up to my studio a couple of afternoons a week, and managed to do a painting of Sicily this week.

Beth Adams, Hermit Diary 55. Inside, Outside, and Elsewhere

My poem “After an Older Man from Church Drunk-Texts to Tell Me I Looked Good Topless in His Dream Last Night” has been published in Kahini Quarterly.

I’m especially glad that this deeply personal poem found a home in Kahini Quarterly, which is the most selective and highest paying literary journal I know. I was so shocked when I got this acceptance last week; I responded by going to sleep for 12 hours! I’m grateful to the editors for choosing my work and for placing such value on writing, and I’m overwhelmed by the messages of affirmation and solidarity I’ve received.

Kate Manning, “After an Older Man…” in Kahini Quarterly

In poetry news, I’m waiting to hear about a few submissions (just had a big rejection) and I’m toying with the idea of a pamphlet submission.  I’m not sure I’m ready for another collection yet.  I’m a bit stuck with poetry at the moment, and I’ve been reading prose and scripts because I’m finding poetry difficult to access.  Perhaps a break from poetry will cleanse my palate. I’m re-reading The Great Gatsby after listening to a superb episode of In Our Time in which the book was discussed.  I’ve always loved Fitzgerald’s prose and revisiting feels like calling in to see an old friend.

Josephine Corcoran, Two Chopsticks and a Pencil for the Hyacinths

Canadian poet Christopher Patton’s latest title is Dumuzi (Kentville NS: Gaspereau Press, 2020), a a poetry collection that follows his poetry debut, Ox(Montreal QC: Vehicule Press, 2007), as well as his Medieval translations Curious Masonry (Gaspereau Press, 2011) and Unlikeness Is Us: Fourteen from the Exeter Book (Gaspereau Press, 2018). Having established himself as having an interest in exploring and reworking older source texts, Patton’s Dumuzi appears a blend of those two earlier threads of his publishing history, composing a translation inasmuch as Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? can be seen as a translation of The Odyssey; both rework from the bones of their original sources, and through the creation of a new and original work, uncover previously unseen meaning and depth from such ancient texts. Dumuzi tears apart and reworks old Sumerian myths into an assemblage of lyric fragments and sketches, as he explains as part of his essay “THE GOD DUMUZI AND THE POLICE FORCE INSIDE”: “I see now that my pleasure in pattern for its own sake, there on the signal-noise threshold, was an approach to translation. I was working with the Sumerian myths of Inanna and Dumuzi. Their stories are liturgically redundant, enough so to alter your time-sense, when you’re inside them. And a persistent theme of the poems is the agon, if you like, of form and formlessless.” Dumuzi reworks an ancient tale through the building-blocks of language itself, opening with a short suite of establishing poems to set the foundation of his narrative before the narrative fractures and fractals out in multiple directions. It is as though Patton works translation, mistranslation and misheard translation, utilizing the loose structure of the ancient Sumerian stories and utilizing his play from those ancient bones.

rob mclennan, Christopher Patton, Dumuzi

Philip Hoare is another writer whom I admire. His Risingtidefallingstar (2017) is Sebaldian in many ways: its episodic mixture of what appears to be autobiography – though Hoare doesn’t, fictionalise it like Sebald did – and potted accounts of incidents from the lives of literary and other figures of historical importance. Risingtidefallingstar includes chapters on gay and bisexual writers – Wilde and Stephen Tennant (about both of whom he has previously written at length), Wilfred Owen (about whose life I hitherto knew little bar the Craiglockhart interlude and the agonising futility of his death so close to the Armistice) and Virginia Woolf. But Hoare also recounts biographical details from the lives of others intimately connected with water: Melville, Nelson, Thoreau, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Shelley and Byron.

I know its details well, but the story of Shelley’s end resounds with me whenever I read it. In June 2017, Lyn and I holidayed in Viareggio, where Edward Trelawney, Byron and co. ceremonially burnt Shelley’s corpse on the beach, fifteen days after the fatal boat trip and five after the body had washed up. A year later, we took the train north from Pisa to La Spezia, and then a taxi, whose driver initially dropped us at the wrong place in Lerici, before dropping us at Casa Magni itself, where Shelley and his family and friends were staying when he died. Hoare’s account, like others I’ve read (including that of Richard Holmes), states that the house is in Lerici, but it’s actually couple of miles along the coast, in San Terenzo, with a lovely beach and bay of its own. When we arrived, we found the house, now a hotel, locked up and there was no answer when we rang the bell. After a while, we were admitted and shown to what was Shelley’s bedroom. For several days we were the only guests, and the staff were absent to the point of invisibility, as if it were our own house. When two other (English) guests appeared at breakfast, it felt like a gross intrusion.

As one would expect from someone who grew up and still lives in the great port city of Southampton, whence the Titanic began its voyage, the book is dominated by the coastline – e.g. the pretext for Barrett Browning’s inclusion is her sojourn in Torquay – and oceans and the peril they bring. In that, it reminded me of Anne-Marie Fyfe’s equally restless mixture of memoir, biography and travelogue, No Far Shore, with which it shares some concerns. Followers of Hoare on Twitter will be well aware of his daily swim in the sea and how it’s an essential part of his life. As the cetacean-obsessed writer of Leviathan, he is, or would love to be, half-man–half-dolphin, meeting jellyfish and a singing whale. At New Networks for Nature a few years ago, Hoare enthralled me and the rest of the audience with his tales of close encounters with sperm whales off the coasts of the Azores. As I read his book, I heard and felt his enthusiasm and learning.

Matthew Paul, January Reading

winter swimming
my fingers are sausages
my toes are white

Jim Young [no title]

holding my breath
the dragonfly’s
stilled wings

I’ve not been particularly poetic, or productive, this week. Tired from work, tired from the cold weather, maybe tired of the gloom that surrounds us mid-pandemic. But January’s like that sometimes. I keep telling myself spring is just around the corner. The days are lengthening a little, and I hear the birds singing when I go out with the dog. I’ve done the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch this weekend – 2 male blackbirds, a pair of collared doves and a scattering of house sparrows. I was hoping for more variety as we often have goldfinches and blue tits, and now and again the trauma of a sparrow hawk. Anyway, I had to be content with what I saw.

The colouring/ collage above is from a mindfulness colouring book someone bought me for Christmas. I had more time over the Christmas holiday, and rather than just colour, I also used collage techniques to fill some of the pages (see below). Anyway, the dragonfly page lent itself to a haiku.

Julie Mellor, holding my breath

As poets, I don’t believe we ever ‘start from nothing’. Or rather – I think that there’s a huge potential in every nothing we encounter. Our lives and lived experiences – although rich and vital components of our work – are also only one approach to writing.

My little bureau under the stairs is dedicated to what Don Paterson calls the ‘wild red eye’ stage of writing: where you play, experiment, set out to see how you might surprise yourself. (I edit upstairs at my desk, where I welcome the ‘cold blue eye’ of my Inner Editor).

Some mornings, the Muse rings the doorbell and leaves a parcel – or pops in for a cup of tea (they’re non-corporeal, so we don’t need to socially distance). Other mornings, there are no deliveries: I am there, with a notebook and a desk. But that desk is covered in decks of cards – including Fashion and Art Oracles, some home-printed ‘Oblique Strategies’, some new ‘votive cards’ which encourage embodied writing, the ‘Don’t/Do This Game’ of ‘thought experiments for creative people’.

There are fridge poetry words, and shelves of books of prompts. I’ve also got the Parrot Random Word generator app and several sets of story dice – real and digital (my favourite are the actions Story Cubes, which are great for getting writers to consider their verbs…). Sometimes, I’ll explore news articles – especially around environment – and then muddle up some phrases with found words to invite my response. You get the idea.

An aside: my late Granny Joy was a toy collector and serious hoarder (she actually had a box labelled ‘Bits of string too short to be useful’) and my late Granddad Eric, a toy designer and maker: I’m in a lineage of tinkerers and gatherers. All this creative ‘stuff’ is my way of embracing that inheritance. You might be an aesthetic anti-clutter minimalist – but keeping in mind that we can always ‘invoke the Muse’ is, I think, helpful for everyone. Which toys, games, ways of reinstating your playfulness, might work for you?

Unlocking Creativity with Caleb Parkin (at Abegail Morley’s blog The Poetry Shed)

I type “helpful” notes on my phone in the middle of the night when “inspiration” hits. Two recent entries include “I say potato, you say roboto” and “donut shop awnings, orange & pink.” So clearly, writing in 2021 is going swimmingly.

Here’s my prayer to the weather gods: May this coming week-long deep freeze be the only one of the season.

I miss date nights shoulder-to-shoulder at the bar leaning even closer for deep conversation. It’s one of my favorite forms of intimacy. Pillow talk in public places.

Carolee Bennett, pillow talk in public places

there are people who say
that only humans have souls
others say that everything has a soul
or is a part of a great over-soul
and yet there are others
who don’t believe in souls at all
last night a hard storm came
and knocked out the electricity for hours
i didn’t light a candle
i sat in the total darkness
listening to the rain and wind
wrapped in an old blanket

James Lee Jobe, a part of a great over-soul

I gave myself some time this week to write and revise, and it reminded me how happy that makes me, to concentrate on one kind of work at a time. Instead of hurting like a warehouse (I love that simile), my brain shifts into a mode of focused exploration; I can fall asleep all right, and I wake up almost cheerful. It’s amazing to me how even sabbatical, a time supposedly dedicated to focused reading and writing, gets fractured into a million tasks. Or, I mean, I fracture it; there is a world of need out there, but there’s also my guilt and, often, restless energy. The problem with the writing-dream being my salve is that it eventually begets more busy-work: submissions, proofs, getting word out on social media even when I know social media makes me unhappy (oh, FB)… Again I think of Bowie, whose 1970s diet allegedly oscillated between cocaine and milk.

My endless little post-writing tasks bore sweet fruit this week. Last winter, I thought about who shine a light on The State She’s In: my small press sends out copies but doesn’t have a publicist, so I was telling myself I needed to make my own luck. I sent out a ton of applications for festivals, reading series, conferences, etc., but I also tried something I hadn’t before: I studied the reviews in The Rumpus, found someone who writes really great ones and seems to be interested in books like mine, and wrote to her out of the blue to ask if she’d like to see my digital ARCs or receive a copy of the published book. Yes, she said, although no promises; even if she got to it, it would be a while. And here it is, an extraordinarily long, thoughtful, generous dream of a review by Julie Marie Wade in The Rumpus.

Lesley Wheeler, My brain hurt like a warehouse

Cloud faces floating, a slow-mo swirling through earth’s sky rivers.

Those faces fade, reappear as others’ faces, then reappear as your own face looking down at you.

You reach up to touch your cloud-self, but heartworn concertos sing the sky asunder.

You are here, you are gone, then you’re here again as the ghostly hems of sky’s river clothes mend,

and you are dressed in the most beautiful blue.

Rich Ferguson, Cloud faces floating

Crisp air, fragile sun,
soft frozen white on the roofs.
January leaves

questions unanswered.
How much longer till, when, where,
can we meet again?

Magda Kapa, January 2021

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 2

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: moments of insight, lessons in forbearance, the good news found in new books, and much more.


Vials, frozen. Chest-freezers, full.
She’s not using her wheelchair today,
she’s walking. Slow, but walking. Good,
I answer, that will help. Too late, we give
consent. Ashambles, the whole ward now.

JJS, Protection

Mary is delighted to live in the moment of what she currently sees, despite knowing that the star is dying. A similar sentiment to the earlier poem “A Fire” where the narrator wants to stay in the process of losing a friend, not yet ready to acknowledge the loss. Mary’s voice seems childlike, but Mary is the also name of Jesus’ mother. God, naturally, is paternal. The reader is left not sure who Mary is or who she represents.

“You Do Not Have To Be Good” leaves an opaqueness at the heart of each poem, inviting readers to speculate and try to figure out the narrator’s relationship with others in the poems. That said, the poems do explore trauma effectively, particularly losses that come from being unable to fully reveal a self to a listener or someone who might be of help. They come from a place of affirmation and healing.

Emma Lee, “You Do Not Have to Be Good” Madeleine Barnes (Trio House Press) – book review

What a lucky chance, then, that Dr Zhivago is currently on iPlayer, and that after forty years of adventures I have 1) A TV, 2) A TV licence, 3) A range of techniques learnt in psychotherapy enabling me to side-step any feelings of guilt incurred by watching a film whilst it’s still light outside. We all need doctors more than ever these days, so maybe it was this that prompted me, finally, to satisfy my curiosity, watch the film. 

As it turns out, Dr Zhivago is more like early 2021 Shropshire than you’d think, filled as it is with snow, difficult decisions, furs, untimely deaths, beautiful vistas, confusion, heroes, quiet resolve, and drumbeats. And with trains (although ours are largely empty). We also lack a famous, but strangely irritating as the hours ticked by, theme tune.

Liz Lefroy, I Relax With Dr Zhivago

staying up most of the night working on poems 
oh lonely bones – can’t you rest 
why should i 
even now a strong wind carries 
some pine seeds to the earth 
even now the boats slide 
down the long sacramento river to the bay 
a new day begins and i am alive

James Lee Jobe, on the nose of the puppy

At about the same time, the house began hollowing out, it shed plaster – chunks of them. They were getting old – both her father and her house. Cracks bisected diagonally a wall in the storeroom; timber room, part of the study upstairs, wooden steps leading to the terrace were advised not to be used, and they became nesting places for scorpions. Saferoom remained safe with its iron vault which was for the most part empty but for my grandfather’s silver plate. The vault was weighed in rupees and sold as scrap when the house fell after my grandfather died. The money that came from selling the land and the strong wooden doors were shared between my mother and her siblings. My uncle’s share was put away in a bank and used for his medicines and stay as a life-long resident in a home. My mother used her share to re-lay the floor in our house, the cement floor was replaced with mosaic tiles. Houses are not meant to speak and care must be taken to keep them mute.

Uma Gowrishankar, laid to rest

For years my partner and I cared for elderly parents, one way and another, and I watched as their worlds shrank, physically, as did their curiosity. Slowly and inevitably they stopped taking any notice, stopped listening, stopped reading, being interested, talking. They were just busy dying. 

I’ve decided I want none of it. I can learn from Solzhenitsyn and his take on Epicureanism, especially in One day in the life of Ivan Denisovitch. The idea that happiness lies, at least in part, in taking inventory of the day and identifying how it could have been much worse if X or Y had not happened or didn’t exist. And then focussing on X or Y. Things that made life better. An extra bowl of kasha. A bit of hacksaw blade. Building a wall. 

What did I do in 2020? I have a house, I have a garden, a field beyond the garden, a view beyond the field. I have a garage full of bits of timber and power tools. In February three days of incessant horizontal rain worked through the gable end and round the kitchen window and poured in. So when the rain stopped, I got out the gear and repointed all the damage, and replastered and painted inside. I enjoyed it. Most of it. 

The weather was nice this summer. I repainted a lot of the outside woodwork; when it rained I decorated indoors or resprayed picture frames.

On a whim, via the cobweb and Facebook I invited folk to send me poems inspired by Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin’s wonderful, artful poem Swineherd. Scores of people sent me poems, and then Bob Horne of Calder Valley Poetry suggested that we make a book of them, which involved asking Kim Moore to select the 26 best ones in an alphabet of occupations we’d leave When all this is over.  

It’s only just struck me that probably every single submission involved a future of being left alone. You’d have thought that lockdown might have inspired dreams of crowds, of festivals of concerts. What most folk seemed to dream of was travelling alone, and almost invariably, in wild places or on the sea. Yes. My dreams too, I realise. But there you are. A book out.

I missed physical poetry courses, but I’ve been, virtually, to Garsdale Head with Kim Moore, to Sneaton Castle with the Poetry Business; I’ve joined in Joe Bell’s project To heal the mutilated world …and that was terrific…as well as Winston Plowes’ and Gaia Holmes’ Muse-li courses. And every Monday night, via Zoom, there was the Albert Poets’ Workshop. What else…oh yes. Tom Weir and I will be zoom-workshopping together, hopefully right through 2021. A lot of extra bowls of Kasha.

John Foggin, Busy being born

Let people be divided over and over and over again
till they fit in tiny spreadsheet cells.
Let me be gathered as a data point by a factory of
algorithms that build a bubble around me.
Wasn’t it the scriptures that said that the world is just
perception. (And that was before Facebook.)
What do you want to resist most, today?
What outrage fills your coffee cup this morning?

Rajani Radhakrishnan, RIP

It’s cold and dark, friends. Not my favorite time of year. (I am not happy with the weather unless it’s July.) When we say in Upstate NY that it’s cold for six months a year, we aren’t exaggerating; it may even be seven. And I wonder each year how I’ll get through it. I’ve been trying (recently) to get outside for a walk every day, but I’m not really happy about it. I’ve been listening to books on Audible as a way to tempt myself and get out the door. So far, I’ve listened in full to Convenience Store Woman, a novel by Sayaka Murata, and started The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit, a true story written by Michael Finkel.

What intrigues me most in each is that the central figures make a conscious choice about who they’re going to be — and then they play it out turn after turn. They double down, repeatedly, and in doing so, forego much of what the rest of us call “normal” parts of life. And though the natural assumption may be that they’re renegades of some kind, both rely heavily on following strict — almost clichéd — rules of specific “character” types: store clerk (Keiko Furukura) and hermit (Christopher Knight).

Encountering these stories back-to-back has me thinking about who makes the rules and why we follow them and how expectations (our own and those from others) have so much power. If you can believe this story in The Onion (lol) — “‘I Can’t Do This Anymore,’ Think 320 Million Americans Quietly Going About Their Day” — we even abide by the self-imposed rules of inertia and accept, not just the need to work, but most painfully, its drudgery. The truth hurts.

It makes me wish to be the heroic figure in a story like Furukura’s or Knight’s. Admittedly, they’re tragic figures, as well, but allow me to indulge in oversimplifying a bit; let me romanticize breaking free of Undesirable Things without having to trade them for Different Things That Are Also Undesirable. Who would I become if I could take on any type/character? What kind of world would that create for myself?

Carolee Bennett, on showing up and setting poetry goals

Late on a pale afternoon in January,
sitting, unmoving, the puff-chested blackbird.
She has been there for a while now,
just under the reflection of my reading lamp;
just the odd stretch of a wing and the thought
of preening the day down.
You cannot see it from there; don’t move!
It will scare her. We are sharing this
moment? Call it what you will.
Soon, too soon, she will be gone. Around, yes,
but busy nesting. Just like the pecking dunnock,
the darty robin, the acrobat tits.
But now, twelve lines written, and she is still there.
The pallor of the day ivory poached; a north breeze
stirring; tea and scones have jammed the day.
She is still there, a sparrow riding shotgun.
Sonny Rollins on the radio.
Whoops!
She’s gone now.
She’s gone.

Jim Young, The sitting

I’ve been trying to keep my mind off troubling FBI reports of white nationalist terrorist threats leading up the the inauguration, and focusing on the cheerful fact that the youngest poet ever chosen will be reading at the inauguration, and soon Trump won’t be able to hurt us anymore. One hopes. I’ve been noticing strangely unseasonable things, like the first bloom on my camellia, long before it should be blooming. We’ve been having wet, cold winter, so it’s very odd but I will take an out-of-season flower where I can.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, First Blooms, New Poems in Gargoyle, Hoping for Better Days Ahead

Somewhere
an old silence
waits for me

to enter
the emptiness.
It is like

swimming naked–
the knowledge
you are

who you are
when you walk in-
to cold water.

It is not like
light piercing
a dark room.

Tom Montag, SOMEWHERE

The morning her veterinarian woke in her bed he fed her spaghetti smashed the noodles into her mouth lit a candy cigarette after sauce on her white coverlet the vinegar-bleached sheets. There wasn’t a fight. She simply wished him empty of music. He was not allowed to tell her how his feet burned how bright steam rose from the dog’s bowl. He held her head under water and sang Mahler Saint John has let his little lamb go to the butcher Herod. They watched TV at night drowning. It felt like progress. Life was good under the ginger bell the animal hospital’s glowing blue cross.

Rebecca Loudon, And angels bake the bread

There it is, sketched in red-
ochre, head lifted and watching.
Broad strokes of its rounded back
and short legs, found on a karst
wall in Leang Tedongnge. Now
it’s the oldest-known animal
cave painting. But why,
as I read about it, does my brain
think party pig? Perhaps it reminds
me of Andy Warhol’s Fiesta Pig:
ballet-slipper-pink, nosing around
in the excess of some post-bacchanalian
frenzy. Migration in packs, in the wild,
through curtains of berries and matted
roots. They’re mostly feral, but sometimes
give in.

Luisa A. Igloria, Brief History of the Sulawesi Warty Pig

I’ve always been a little fascinated by conspiracy theories, by the stories that take shape to impose order on the world and make it feel like net of carefully placed happenings and facts and not a chaotic swirling mass of randomness and chance  Alien autopsies, for example. Explanations for strange phenomena.  Untimely deaths and crazy historical coincidences.  They are fun to look at, less because I am seeking a pattern of order or cause/effect, but more that they are a way of understanding things, or at least the obsessions behind them.  A couple semesters ago, our Strange Fevers  Mass Delusions, Illusions, and Obsessions programming delved into this a little bit. 

I often think about how they go wrong.  Obviously the events of this past Weds. are a perfect example.  In my own work, the necessary violence series and the girls who tried to stab their friend based on Slenderman lore.  I think about these girls a lot when I think about politics. The mental illness in one girl who influenced another, and it’s not hard to make the jump to political conspiracies and the inevitable bad outcomes.  These are everywhere and inscribed in our history long before the current ones–McCarthyism, the Satanic Panic of the 80’s. All usually fueled by someone’s agenda–the goverments, men who wanted working women to stay home and keep an eye on their kids. .  A lot of the mythmaking of these was believable..communist infiltrations of Hollywood and the media, missing housepets,  the rise of latch key kids getting up to god knows what in the off hours. Most not things one had to stretch their imagination too far into the absurd to get to, which made things all the more believable.

At some point, contemporary conspiracies got crazier.  Even alien abduction lore is easier to believe than a lot of what is floating out there.

Kristy Bowen, absurdities and atrocities

One does not realize, until one does it, how heavy the burden of all those opinions is, how anxiously they must be defended, how vulnerable they make you to every passing stranger. I practice not having opinions about other drivers, when I’m on the freeway. What do I know of what they are rushing toward, and what they are fending off? “No one made me a traffic cop,” I murmur. Thank God. I am so grateful that no one made me a traffic cop. And I am correspondingly grateful for the people who undertake that burden, leaving me to float, irresponsible and free, in the flow of traffic. If someone’s driving strikes me as aggressive or erratic, I simply drop back in the current till I’m well away from them. 

Dale Favier, Opinions: Throwing Rocks: Being a Traffic Cop

In November I took a Hugo House class on “writing angry poems,” taught by the poet Sharon Bryan. One of my discoveries was that it is freaking hard for me to express anger. Feel it, yes; turn it loose in poem: no. So I struggled. “This is like a poem about repressing anger,” was one of the comments I received. Another: “This poem doesn’t seem to be about anger, but maybe mild annoyance.”

One of Bryan’s recommendations was to read Deaf Republic: Poems, by Ilya Kamnisky. I dutifully ordered a copy and have been avoiding it ever since. This week, I read it. It could not have been more timely for me. In the 1960s people used to say, “the personal is political.” Over the last ten days, we have seen how true that still is.

Deaf Republic is profoundly personal. It struck me as being less a collection of poems than one poem, or a play-in-verse perhaps. Tracy K. Smith writes that what she finds here is “conscience, terror, silence, and rage made to coexist alongside moments of tenderness, piercing beauty, and emphatic lyricism.” Kaminsky’s story opens when a young, deaf boy is shot down by soldiers in an occupied town, and then it winds through the perspectives of other characters in the town, which is struck deaf by the violence, introducing a couple expecting a child, then Momma Galya, the puppeteer who rescues their infant. But the poems transcend their place of “otherness.” As Smith, who has served as the United States Poet Laureate, continues in her cover blurb: “It hurts to read these poems. It hurts to read them and find the world I belong to stricken by a contagion of silence.”

Bethany Reid, Writing the Political Poem

Uncertainty has a daughter whose body is smoke and mirrors. Her eyes, numb and numberless. Her mouth, covered by a mask.

In her more sober moments, she tells me, the heart is no place for a graveyard. Barbed wire, no place for a bed.

She smells like wilted flowers and the whiskey of cold contrition.

I whisper in her ear, let us hope this winter doesn’t last forever.

Rich Ferguson, The Graveyard Bed Where the Heart Says I Love You

Apathy is a kind of cruelness, and denial is a tricky thing. More and more, I look back at the pre-2016 me and feel shame and disgust at all I didn’t see and know that I now do. The information about who and what we are was there all along. I saw much of it a long time ago and turned away from it and then forgot it. I told myself that things were not really as bad as some said. I cautioned myself against over-reacting. I know that denial is a protective mechanism we employ without awareness to protect ourselves from truth we aren’t yet equipped to manage, and in my good moments I can feel empathy for my pre-2016 self. I suppose she was doing the best she could with what she had. In my bad moments, I want to shake her and yell at her to wake the fuck up. I want to hide her in a closet and pretend she was never me.

Rita Ott Ramstad, On vertigo, normalcy, and light: revisiting Sarah Kendzior

when we turn against the sea
how many deserts appear

when the poem sheds its final skin
why does one still have to wait for dawn

for how many lives after i am gone
will my heart come searching for me

Grant Hackett [no title]

Back in April 2020, in the first lockdown, my collection, The Unmapped Woman was launched by Nine Arches Press on Zoom with great support from the fab poets Katie Griffith and Robert Peake. I didn’t know at the time that Jane Commane was in conversation with Helen Dewberry about a variety of film poems including one for a poem of mine. Helen is an Associate member of the Royal Photographic Society and has worked with a variety of poets on film poems which have screened at festivals. You can find a number of them at Elephant’s Footprint Film Verse. I have my favourites, but dip in and see what appeals to you.

It was later in the year that Helen and I had a chat on Zoom to discuss which poem had all those visual qualities just crying out to be shown in another medium. It was interesting that both Helen and Jane had selected Neap Tide as one of their favourites and it is one, which when Helen ask me questions about, I realised, as I unpicked the poem line by line, I had a very clear image of place and people without having made that conscious decision when writing it. I am hoping to catch up with Helen later for an interview, so will keep details of the process for that post, but working with her on this collaboration renewed my interest in my work during what had felt like a very fallow furlough.

Abegail Morely, Creativity in Lockdown – A Film Poem by Helen Dewberry

They’re dwindling,
those who might turn up to mourn,
and some of those are just in tow.
Some went before –
the ones you mourned the most
the ones that would have
mourned you most –
to be expected.

Some you lose through death,
some fade away,
some are blocked,
some block you,
some you knew well,
some just slightly,
the rest you didn’t know at all –
to be expected.

Sue Ibrahim, Expectations

I must confess, though, this interests me intellectually, but it’s the other book I happened to grab in quick Covid-breathing-down-my-neck visit to the library that grabs my poetry heart. It too takes its cues from something concrete, in this case a video clip and some photographs. Ross Gay seems to be attaining incadescence in front of my very eyes with each new book. Be Holding is magnificent, as it achingly slowly tells of the fleet seconds details of an improbable dunk, a “baseline scoop,” by Dr. J during a 1980 NBA finals game, interspersed with curling and twining tendrils of sidebars and meditations on holding, on flying and falling, on love. This is poetry that truly engages me as a reader, a writer, and as a human bean.

This is news of the finest kind. Oh, boy.

Marilyn McCabe, I heard the news today; or, On Poetry Making Use of Non-poetic Texts

The latest from American poet and translator Joshua Beckman is Animal Days (Seattle WA/New York NY: Wave Books, 2021). As the back cover offers: “Written from inside of illness and gathered over several years, these fragments or moments invite readers to contemplate how the compromised body transforms our conceptions of selfhood and our sense of the world.” Animal Days is composed via six extended poem sequences, each threading together an accumulation of short fragments: “IT SEEMED TOO MUCH,” “LITTLE PRICKLY COMING OF STORM,” “THE GLACIAL TRIP,” “DRAWING X’S ON THE TABLE,” “AUGUST” and “ANIMAL DAYS.” Beckman writes from the inside of an awareness of the frailty of the human body, even from the first page of the opening poem: “the pursing / and bursting / of cells / blood / in the skin / in the face / blood exploding / inside us / like that [.]” There is such a slowness etched into the lines and fragments of these accumulations, extended stretches of thought that sit perfectly against each other. There is such a slowness etched into every word—a slowness that coheres and allows for simultaneous pause and quick thought—and one that is remarkably physical. Honestly, for anyone who is attracted to slow, thoughtful work with remarkable speed—one could think, also, of Cameron Anstee, Michael e. Casteels, Jack Davis and the late Nelson Ball—Beckman’s dual essay collections The Lives of the Poems and Three Talks (Wave Books, 2018) are perhaps the finest collections of critical prose I’ve read (so much so that I’ve been completely unable to articulate how good they are).

There are moments when his sketched-out fragments give an epistolary sense, as though he is writing from his kitchen table, perhaps, out to someone (whether generally or specifically) in the wider world: “reading it / even as I / got reading / it even as / I write you / this letter” (“DRAWING X’S ON THE TABLE”). Throughout the six threads of Animal Days, Beckman’s lines adhere to a particular minimalism, but one that furthers the line of thought as far as might be possible, stretching out across the lyric. “a sheet / of it / held,” he writes, as part of “LITTLE PRICKLY COMING OF STORM,” “constellation-like / in the back yard / responding / to wind // clothespins for / fingers // houses / blown down the road / through the town // like a toy [.]”

rob mclennan, Joshua Beckman, Animal Days

There was a real nip in the air on Wednesday afternoon which created frost ferns on the Velux windows in our kitchen. I stood underneath and took some photos, and although it wasn’t dark outside and there was plenty of light, the flash kept going off, so I assumed all I’d get was a blur. In fact, I got these finely beaded images, frost ferns pearled with light from the flash, almost like underwater photos of coral. It was the sub-aqua atmosphere that gave me the word ‘surfacing’, and originally I had ‘frost ferns’ in the poem, but that seemed too obvious, so I was left with what appears above.

Julie Mellor, night frost

winter night
— from out of our wreath
a wren

Bill Waters, Winter night

Yesterday’s later part of the onground intensive revolved around silence, and the leader of the last session offered us an extensive guided meditation.  I tried so hard to follow the directions.  I sat in my desk chair and closed my eyes.  I visualized energy moving through my body.  After what felt like an endless journey from head to toe, we got to a space where God was waiting for us.  We visualized the space.  We visualized God.  Then the leader said, “God has a special word or phrase for you. Let’s sit in silence and wait for that word or phrase to emerge.”

It didn’t take long for my word to emerge:  patient.  Not patience, but patient.  I thought about the difference between the two.  I sat resisting the urge to open my eyes and flip through other online sites.  I was not concentrating on God or my word.

I opened my eyes and reached for my sketchbook.  I decided to write the word across the page, and then I wrote it on other parts of the page in different ways (all capital letters, block print, cursive).  I turned the page around.  I wrote patience instead of patient, but I turned that word back to patient.  I revolved my sketchbook again.

Then I wrote Pain. I only realized what I wrote when I paused to think, how do I spell patient again? Then I looked down and realized that I wasn’t just a letter or two off. I looked at the word.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Unsettling Mystical Experiences and a Special Word from God

This year seems to be taking its toll on me more than all of last year did. I don’t know why, although I suspect I could hazard a few guesses. All of them would be different and all of them would likely be correct (I suspect insider trading).

I am certainly losing track of the days as I could have sworn today was the TS Eliot prizegiving. It isn’t – I think it’s next week. I guess as long as the poets, the judges, and Ian McMillan all know, then the rest is irrelevant. That said, I do enjoy following along on Twitter, although one year I’d like to actually go. Maybe next year.

I think I’d got my wires all crossed about dates as I finished J.O. Morgan’s ‘A Martian’s Regress‘ this week. It’s the only one of the books on the list for this year that I’ve read. I will eventually remedy this, and while I loved it I can’t say whether I want it to win or not because I have nothing to balance it against. I’ve read poems by most of the authors on the list and enjoyed them, so come join me on the fence; it’s comfy.

Mat Riches, Gravy Reservoir

Many thanks to They Call Us for publishing my poem “All Words for a Woman” in their most recent issue. I love the aesthetic and artwork in this feminist zine! Make sure to check out the entire zine while you listen to the corresponding curated playlist.

They Call Us is a new  online, feminist literary magazine publishing a themed issue every three months. Past themes include They Call Us Flawed and They Call Us Theirs. They seek “to showcase the talents of writers, designers, and artists. However, our goal first and foremost is to tell the stories of people who feel like they often don’t have a voice.”

You can read more about what they are up to in my interview with them from last year here.

Trish Hopkinson, My poem “All Words for a Woman” published by They Call Us “Bossy” zine + list of Feminist Lit Mags

First things first, I do understand and respect that prompts and exercises help certain poets unblock ideas at specific difficult points in their writing lives.

However, as a poet, I personally find that my own poetry is best served when I get on with my daily business, making sure I read, read, read in the gaps between the stuff I’m doing, thus allowing poems to ripen in my mind before putting pen to paper. As mentioned previously on Rogue Strands, sometimes it’s better to wait rather than forcing work to come out.

As a reader, meanwhile, I get the impression that certain collections seem to use prompts and exercises as a systematic method of writing. I’m afraid I have to admit these are books I don’t tend to enjoy because I find it extremely hard to connect with the poems in question…

Matthew Stewart, Prompts and exercises

Richard Nicholson (aka the singer-songwriter Billy Penn’s Brother) burst into my life towards the end of the 80’s when he invited the band I was in to play at Harry, a tiny festival of faith, arts and politics in Harrogate (get it?), North Yorkshire. Way ahead of its time, and therefore tiny and fleeting, Harry attracted a loving mixture of what Theodore Roethke called the ‘innocent, hapless, [and] forsaken’: misfits, visionaries, burnt-out charismatics, and house church and acid house refugees. Such was the size of the crowd, you felt by the time you went home that you had encountered everyone present: road crew, singers, and punters alike. It was heady and intoxicating and beautiful. In the sense that I met people there who seemed to think, question, doubt, pray and haphazardly pretend they were artists while doing other things (and that this was fine, normal, even), I do think it changed my life.

Around the same time, Richard became a mainstay of a writers’ and artists’ group I used to host in my kitchen. Without the resources of the internet we now take for granted, it was a word of mouth affair, friends of friends of dubious friends pitching up with their entry fee of Bulgarian red, to read, pontificate or argue about their latest masterwork. Naturally Richard came and held forth with the best of them, making lugubrious wisecracks in his deep Geordie voice while sipping Oolong tea through his pipe smoke. One week he would bring a painting, the next a new song, another a manifesto in reply to Marshall McLuhan.

Then, one week, he brought a little sequence of poems which stunned me with their brevity, mordant humour and precision. I think there were no more than half a dozen of them, but each seemed to carry the freight of a lifetime’s reading, study, reflection and rage. I told him at the time I thought they were as good as Ivor Cutler, one of our shared heroes. I still think this today. I saw him perform the poems once, in the basement of Holy Joe’s, the Harry crew’s London base, below Brixton’s Acre Lane. He declaimed them without introduction sitting upright in bed wearing striped pyjamas and a Scrooge nightcap. The effect was charming and unsettling in equal measure.

Anthony Wilson, Intense

The lake has frozen.
Ice fishermen scatter,
tiny dark figures

making their way
across its flat
white expanse.

My heart pounds
gunfire
in my chest.

If the ice breaks
there is no one
to call.

Rachel Barenblat, Watching armed insurrection from afar

I haven’t been sleeping well. Though I suspect few of us are these days. This weekend several of the local lakes were declared to be “safe”, then on Sunday two men fell through the ice of two different lakes. On the other side of the country, an environmental activist fell through and died.

I know that “liminal” has become one of those overused words, but the truth is these liminal spaces are dangerous. The in-betweens and the uncertainties and this continual sense of being on the edge.

Flight, freeze, fight, faint or f#%&. But before that, the suspense, the suspension of our own unconscious flow. Heightened awareness is exhausting.

Even with the yaktrax this morning, the asphalt is dangerous. There’s a light dusting of snow over the ice. The small plow pushes snow into the street and spreads sand on the sidewalk. I want to run this morning, but don’t dare. I’m too unstable, too tired. I won’t be able to catch myself and find my balance if I slip.

A time-out would be nice. Is nice, when I allow myself this. Last week my youngest son visited and told me there is another possibility to the “Flight, freeze…” scenario: submit. Startled and frighten dogs sometimes do it. It’s not the same as playing dead. There’s no deception involved. It’s a matter of softening.

We are so sure that surrender is a bad thing. I’ve been thinking that there is a reason so many religions demand it. We need a time-out from our own will. A reality-check in the midst of all the prophets. Surrender to, acknowledge this moment and its omnipotence. And the next.

Ren Powell, Playground with Dreamcatcher

Finally, I identified with the problems of writing itself: “You write a thing down because you’re hoping to get a hold on it. You write about experiences partly to understand what they mean…. But there’s always the danger of the opposite happening. Losing the memory of the experience to the memory of writing about it.” [Sigrid] Nunez makes that connection to people who realize some of their memories arise not so much from events themselves but from photographs of these events.

I know I sometimes lose track of what really happened if I make a poem of my own experience, or base a story on observed life and behaviors. I often write to better understand something or someone, to expand my compassion for someone who hurt me or behaved badly or inexplicably. What would make someone do that? I ask, and then try to answer that question in a story that loves the character who did it, in part by exploring the character’s motivation, as I would as an actor…  By the time the story is finished, my compassion is expanded, yes, but my imagination has already taken over, and my fiction-writing self has mixed and matched details as needed, and who knows what the “facts” were on the way to the new truth? That’s why it’s fiction.

Kathleen Kirk, Still the Right Book at the Right Time

This year, I intend to make more collages and poem collages to add to those I made in 2020, and previously, which I’ve shown you in several posts, such as Collage Poems (from 2017); Once Upon a Lockdown (sequence of nine prose poems/collages from 2020); Collages of Exasperation (also from 2020).  In my collage work, I’m inspired by poet, writer, artist, and teacher Sophie Herxheimer.

I’m mentioning my collage project now as a means of recording my intention to do the work, and in an attempt to avoid procrastination. I would love to set myself a target of at least two pieces a month but I am going to say at least one piece a month, to be less demanding on myself.  Having said that, I have in January 2021 made two pieces so far.  Hurray!

For my first 2021 piece, I’ve used a cut-up calendar from last year, headlines from The Guardian newspaper (which I tend to buy on a Saturday) and flowers and foliage from my garden.  I’ve made another piece in tandem, without any foliage, so that I can retain this month’s collage.  I plan on doing this with every piece I make from now on (as much as possible).  Last year, I used a lot of natural materials (flowers and foliage) in my collages which meant that I couldn’t physically save them – I only photographed them.  I set up a separate Instagram account for my visual pieces last year – @andothermakings.  I recycled and composted all unsaved materials, by the way!

Josephine Corcoran, Collages for 2021

Traveling to an alternate universe of thinking and writing has been helpful lately given an attempted coup, and racist police response, AND the apocalyptic daily death count and a catastrophically lame vaccine rollout. I don’t manage the leap into literary concentration every day, but that’s actually what my next book is about: what helps us slip into the reading trance, where poetry is concerned, and what that border-crossing does for a reader.

I’m polishing and updating my forthcoming essay collection, to be called Poetry’s Possible Worlds or Taking Poetry Personally depending on what my editor says. It requires reading and rereading widely and wildly to make sure my thinking and research are up-to-date: Carolyn Dinshaw’s exhilarating How Soon Is Now, Nicole Seymour’s Bad Environmentalism, and essays on narrative theory, deep attention, presentism, poetry of witness, and much more. New to me is Brian Attebery’s Stories About Stories, of interest partly because I’m thinking about story in poetry but also because of my investment in speculative fiction. Attebery argues that the cultural importance of literary fantasy as a genre lies in how it “redefine[s] the relationship between contemporary readers and mythic texts.” I’m not wholly satisfied with that as a definition, yet the book is useful and interesting. He describes genre, for instance, as “fuzzy sets”: “the question of what genre a particular text belongs to will never be resolved, nor need it be. The interesting question about any given story is not whether it is fantasy or science fiction or realistic novel, but rather what happens when we read it as one of those things.”

In the larger sense, I write in many genres–poetry, fiction, criticism, reviews, literary nonfiction–but I also think of myself as operating in the borderlands between smaller categories. My poetry has appeared and been reviewed in both “mainstream” and sf venues; it’s been called lyric, political, formalist, fabulist, and more, to which I say, cool. My forthcoming hybrid essay collection (blending criticism, theory, and personal narrative) argues that most poetry is not just fiction but fantasy. It’s fiction because framing it on a page as literary art sets it apart from truth and lies; it’s fantasy because, notwithstanding, it’s obsessed with what’s true. I define fantasy in a way that’s tangential to Attebery’s idea; I think of it as fiction exploring questions of what’s real, what matters.

Lesley Wheeler, Multiple worlds in poetry, fiction, and politics

I’m not gonna sugar coat it. We are in the rubble.

This blog has more or less been built around the idea that we are all required to make something beautiful. But it’s been a long time since I’ve quoted the passage from which the line is taken. Here it is:

“The barrenness of the poetic task: as if every day we look out at a courtyard of rubble and from this are required to make something beautiful. ”

— Theodore Roethke from Straw for the Fire

Well, we have no shortage of rubble at present. No shortage of barrenness, if that’s even a possibility.

I’ve read a lot of advice about how to continue to get through this time and probably I’ve thrown out some of my own. But honestly whenever I read anything in the realm of “thou shalt” my brain just turns off. The best tips seem to come from previous times, for me, anyway. Fernando Pessoa, for example, said this in 1931: “Don’t squander yourself, giving what you don’t have.” And, “Enjoy being the little you are. The hovel you’re given is a better shelter than the palace you’re owed.”

Shawna Lemay, Don’t Squander

How does the writer’s brain work? It is a bewilderment to me, why it must be this particular word, or that particular image. How is it that now, in this time of several national and global crises, I emerge from sleep holding to this juxtaposition: 

    i wake 

    my face is wet 

        the blue heron stands 

        one foot 

        on a slate roof 

Sharon Brogan, questions

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 1

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, you can probably guess what many poets were blogging about. But there were also still books to review, publishing news to share, and other delightful things.


In Roberto Bolaño’s Savage Detectives, his sprawling novel of poets, revolutionaries and Pinochet, I remember most vividly the scene of a poet trapped in a stall of the bathroom as riot police entered her university.   Where else would she be?  She is Auxilio Lacouture, poet and auxiliary individual, manic monologuist.  She is bound by the ordinary, which becomes extra-ordinary, in spite of and because she’s a minor actor in the stream of history.  She missed megaphone calls to evacuate because she was reading poetry in the can. Thus she becomes part of the surreality of reality overlaid on the streets and in her own vivid consciousness, as public and private eruptions, of multiple narratives over several days of her own obsessive confinement.

Lacouture recalls: “I lifted my feet like a Renoir ballerina, my underwear dangling down around my skinny ankles and snagging on a pair of shoes…I saw the soldier who was staring entranced into the mirror, the two of us still as statues in the women’s bathroom…I heard the door close…

“I saw the wind sweeping the university as if it was delighting in the last light of day.  And I knew what I had to do.  I knew.  I had to resist.  So I sat on the tiled floor of the women’s bathroom and in the last rays of light I read three more poems by Pedro Garfias and then I closed the book and closed my eyes and said to myself: Auxilio Lacouture, citizen of Uruguay, Latin American, poet and traveler, stand your ground.” 

My daughter and I were burning onions for a French onion soup the day the insurrection took place.  We witnessed the coup by play-by-play accounts, by a torrent of words as we were darkening onions.  We were pouring broth over heaps of caramelized onions stuck to the bottom of the dutch over, scraping up the brown bits when the coup was going down.  We are part of a river and it’s going somewhere and we don’t know whether we’ll be judged for some other bit of goodness that we did, or didn’t do.

Where were you? 

Jill Pearlman, Stuck in the Stalls of History

It’s been a long year, and it’s only January 9th. It’s taken a couple days to process what actually happened on Wednesday enough to write about it coherently–mostly I was taking in memes (thank god for humor, or we’d all be crying 24/7) and articles and collecting information the remainder of this week. On Wednesday, I was mid-way into a post-break catch-up week and humming along with work, my eye on the troubling covid deaths. That morning, I’d had my first test myself as a campus requirement, and despite it being a bit uncomfortable, nothing too traumatizing. It was a good, sunny day in Chicago, and that afternoon, watching the live coverage from DC it seemed alarming, but also sort of silly. I’d suspected there might be violent protests happening, but not that they’d actually get inside and vandalize the Capitol. And if they did, it seemed kind of ridiculous, since they’d surely eventually be forced out and the count would continue (which is pretty much what happened on the surface.) In the past couple days, far more insidious things have been revealed..zip tie toting para-military, violent threats on social media, hanging gallows and the police that moved a barrier aside to allow the rioters to pass right through. The deaths and injuries to other police.

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 1/09/2021

I’m thinking tonight of particular photographs of yesterday’s storming of the U.S. Capitol: the image of the burly white guy carrying a confederate flag through the Capitol rotunda. The image of a blonde white woman and her friend, seated on the dais of the Speaker of the House, taking selfies. A line of Capital Police on the steps, two of them jostling each other and laughing as the mob ravaged the building and milled around below them. A video of the President of the United States and his family in a tent, keeping time to loud pop music, while watching the rally on large screens, like it was a party. And then inciting that mob to unprecedented actions inb the history of the country, before retreating into the White House, behind the barricades.

A friend posted the phrase that this would go down as “one of the whitest moments in American history.” Many of us are well aware what would have happened if the people storming the Capitol had been black.

The Italian newspaper, La Stampa, published its front-page story today with the headline, “Once Upon a Time, there was America.”

I’m afraid that sums up how I’m feeling.

Beth Adams, Hermit Diary 53. Few Words for this Horror.

After this week, it’s hard to discuss anything but politics on some level: chiefly, that failed coup incited by the supposed Leader of the Free World and put down with considerably less lethal force and speed than last year’s Black Lives Matter protests were; but there’s barely any moral high ground here in England where our disgraceful government has presided over more than 80,000 deaths from Covid (and those are just the official figures) and pushed the NHS to the brink of collapse, and headteachers and so many others to despair. Meanwhile, Stanley ‘Acquiring French citizenship and vaccinated’ Johnson is all right Jack, as is Murdoch. Still plenty of idiots say or imply, ‘They’re doing their best’ – yes, to line their and their donor-friends’ pockets. Of course it’s impossible to take to the streets to protest during the Covid lockdowns. As Robert Lowell observed in 1964, ‘a savage servility / slides by on grease’. The only people who are out protesting here are the scarily gormless anti-vaxxers and Covid-deniers, with many of whom I had a seemingly endless Twitter spat back in August.

So it’s been appropriate for me that one of my poems published this week in #36 of Poetry Salzburg Review is (mildly) political: ‘The Ballad of Mike Yarwood’. Yarwood was the first variety act I ever saw in person, when I was five, at the Winter Gardens Theatre in Bournemouth, with Peters and Lee as the music act. At home and at junior school, we all loved Yarwood, and he ‘spawned the nation’s mimicry’ in playgrounds and workplaces alike. But having made a fortune from impersonating politicians and celebrities of different kinds, he became a Tory donor and cheerleader and drank himself off our screens. My poem’s ending sees him stuck in one of those hideous Apartheid communities for the absurdly rich which litter parts of the Home Counties and elsewhere, and which JG Ballard described so chillingly in Cocaine Nights and Super-Cannes.

Matthew Paul, Bloody politics

What I can
count on, when

democracy might be dying
at the hands of white men

and women waving
Confederate flags, wearing

Camp Auschwitz shirts,
brandishing zip ties:

the havdalah candle’s
sizzle, plunged

into wine; the scent
of shankbones, simmering;

the song of Torah
where every sentence

culminates, with no
uncertainties;

the winter sun
lingering

just a little longer,
promising better days.

Rachel Barenblat, Count on

“Hah, Ramstad!” a student crowed one day, waving a paper in front of me. It was an assignment written for a different teacher. “Total McWriting and I got an A!”

“Well,” I said, “at least you know what it is. I guess I’m glad you know when and how to use it.”

He grinned.

“And when not to,” I added, a statement more of hope than fact. He shook his head at me and went to his seat.

I knew that he didn’t see himself as the kind of writer I hoped he might become, but I never lost belief that he could. I never lost belief that he should. While in the classroom, I never gave up on my students as writers the way I gave up on myself as a cook. I never lost my belief that they needed to be able to tell their stories from scratch. When I told my students that everyone has the capacity to be a good writer, I believed it. When I told my students that stories–the reading and writing of them–have the power to save lives, I meant that, too. The stories we listen to and tell ourselves have everything to do with why and how the world is what it is. These are things I still believe, to my core, which leaves me, at the end of a week in which those who lack the ability to tell true stories from false have wreaked formerly unimaginable havoc, in a place of wondering.

How did I get to a place where I could stand in my kitchen and tell myself a story in which it didn’t matter if my students couldn’t tell their own or understand enough about others’ to see into and through them? Was I wrong to search for some middle ground; did my acceptance of McWriting for some situations undermine every other message I gave about the value of telling stories true? What skills do we all need to sustain life in situations for which there are no formulas guaranteed to save us? What kind of stories do we need to live and tell to get to a better place?

Rita Ott Ramstad, What feeds us

After flinging an arm across the seat next to him to save a tomato plant from toppling over, [Ross] Gay writes [in The Book of Delights] that the motion is “one of my very favorite gestures in the encyclopedia of human gestures” (214). I agree that it belongs on a “best of” human behavior list. And yes, so delightful. In response to potential impact, our instinct is to buffer the one next to us, the other.

… which brings me back to the googly eye on my lawn and another fascinating human gesture: making stories to explain the world. That’s another kind of buffer, isn’t it? Again, I don’t mean anything close to a silver lining. And I don’t mean for our fabrication to imply any kind of lie; instead, by fabrication I mean the act of creating.

The stories we tell ourselves can be raw and true and hard. But the telling is itself a buffer, something — in Gay’s case a daily delight — that fills some of the space between us and the crash. It braces us for impact.

Carolee Bennett, “something deeply good in us”

As a child, I learned that kindness could cure the snakebite of others’ poisonous actions.

That was so many moons and wars ago.

Wars started by humans and wars that got humans thinking maybe our shared gardens would bloom better with wisteria than wounds.

And so goes this battle for decency and democracy, beginning again amidst its many unendings.

Some endure these conflicts by standing firm in their hate while I exchange shadows with strangers to feel how others move through their lives.

Our shared humanity hasn’t disappeared;

it’s simply huddled in a bomb shelter at the intersection of insurrection and serenity.

Rich Ferguson, At the Intersection of Insurrection and Serenity

I’ve been reading much analysis of the events on Wednesday. I haven’t read much that startled me out of complacency, that made me want to think further and more deeply, but this article on the NPR site did.  Sociologist Alex Vitale says we shouldn’t be focused on the police angle but on the larger issue of justice in society.

But he’s not talking about justice the way most of us have been talking about justice.  Most of us want people punished, want people put in jail, want officers fired.  Vitale says, “Well, look, Americans are deeply committed to their retributive impulses. The United States has become a gigantic revenge factory. So obviously, people are falling back on these impulses — imagining justice as a question of punishment. Imagining that accountability is going to be measured in years of incarceration.”

But then he pivots–he doesn’t leave us drowning in our retributive impulses.  He sees that we have a 2 year window to deepen the conversation.  He says that in the past, we’ve been content to turn a variety of problems over to the police:  homelessness, drug abuse, mental illness.  The police aren’t equipped to handle those issues, and as a result, we see the fractured and broken society that we have today.

He also notes that the people in charge along with the people who benefit–white people, to be specific–prize order over justice.  If we commit to justice, we have to tolerate some disorder, some messiness.

I see two issues here, the one of what to do about this specific group of people who rampaged through the U.S. Capitol building and the issue of how to craft workable public policy that works for more of us.  In terms of punishing Wednesday’s rampagers, I have a vision of education, not prison.  Let them read the books that were on the smashed bookshelves.  Give them a choice of whether or not they’d like to serve their sentence in prison or in the U.S. Congress, being useful to Senators and Congress people and the Capitol police.  Make them write research essays about the artifacts that they trashed.

The question of public policy is even thornier.

We’ve had decades of public policy crafted by wealthy white men, mostly for the comfort and benefit of wealthy white men.  What would happen if we started to listen to other groups?  Not just black, brown, and indigenous groups, which would certainly be a good start.  But what if we listened to mothers and fathers?  What if we listened to immigrant groups and those seeking shelter from ruinous policies in other countries?  What if we listened to artists?  What if we listened to members of religious groups that aren’t mainstream Christian groups?  What if we listened to mainstream Christian groups?  What if we listened to poor people?

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Committing to Justice, Not Vengeance

Who put their lips
to the hose and siphoned the gas,
so all we heard when we fired
the engine was a mindless buzzing
like bees? They run up the steps
of any sacred temple, dressed
in stolen furs. They smash
the windows in with their horns.
Whatever they touch turns
into bricks or bats or stones.
They straddle every chair as if
it were a sow or a mare.

Luisa A. Igloria, Defiler, Despoiler, Pillager

When 9/11 happened, I didn’t feel guilty about being here. I was still a citizen, but I felt displaced. My friends still in the States, from California to Kentucky to Michigan all wrote to tell me about how “we” were feeling — assuming I was outside of the “we” affected. When Norwegians consoled me, it was difficult to shake the feeling of being some kind of fraud. I didn’t know how to feel. Which feelings were “legitimate” for me to have, and which I was appropriating. I kept hearing my grandmother calling me a drama queen.

When the children were murdered here on July 22nd, 2011 a lot of my students told me how “we” felt about it — sometimes describing the cultural framework of Utøya, not considering that I’ve lived longer in this country than they’ve been alive. Or that my own children were in that age group that was most intimately affected.

Recent years have been even more difficult. No longer holding legal citizenship, and no longer recognizing the culture I knew, it’s almost like having an out-of-body experience sometimes. Hovering over an old life. Like a character in Sartre’s No Exit. Or like watching loved ones heading for a car wreck, helpless to intercede.

Distance helps you find different perspectives. While different doesn’t mean more correct, but I do think it means more complex. It’s why there are grants for emerging American writers to live abroad a while before returning to write about their home country. I thought that having grown up in a white-trash dysfunctional family, I was savvy to the “real” America. But being here, I’ve learned things about the hidden realities of the culture I thought I knew.

But lately, I think I am having the same kind of epiphanies that so many Americans are: every myth I was taught in school — from the Cherry Tree to Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation — has been turned on end, toppled like theater scenography. Part of it is just a matter of maturing, I guess — a matter of crossing demographics and cultural boundaries. The fact that social media has made diversity more visible to many of us.

A huge part of it is the BLM movement.

I don’t think I am finished crying about Wednesday’s seizure of the Capitol Building. I don’t think the chapter has closed. The hand-wringing and helplessness seem both familiar and not. This out-of-body experience seems like something many of us are sharing right now.

There’s the scene in the Wizard of Oz: Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.

I feel like the curtain has been drawn back and I still am waiting for whatever is there to step out of the darkness.

Ren Powell, Things I Do Alone in the Car

what became of the childhood innocence
when we all played together
tag hide-and-seek stickball kickball
and then later but still really children fell in love
and those first nervous kisses and fondlings
and going out with your friends
your crew
feeling like the whole world was wide open to you
and how on earth does that degenerate
into some of those same children growing up
into a frothing rage
storming the capitol building
screaming the language of hate
surely we could still be like children
laughing together

James Lee Jobe, screaming the language of hate

It’s a few days later, Sunday. I have talked to my little brother, who actually lived through a coup attempt when he live in Thailand. I tried to tell myself I was safe, I drank liquids and slept at irregular hours. I’ve tried to write some poems about America, but they weren’t any good. I sent out a sample from my pandemic manuscript (yes, I’m probably not the only person who wrote a book of poems during the last year – we certainly had the time on our hands) and sent one of my other manuscripts to a publisher. I tried to take pictures of my birds. January is a cold, wet month typically, but we’ve had colder, rainier weather than usual, resulting in landslides and giant trees coming down around my neighborhood. Talk about pathetic fallacies.

So I’ve been reading poems – old poems, that I loved as a kid. Fragment 68 by H.D., sonnets by Edna St Vincent Millay. Does poetry fix anything? No. Does my furious doomscrolling or tweeting at Mike Pence or the GOP congresspeople to impeach or invoke the 25th amendment do anything? Maybe not, either. Being a poet sometimes means being an observer. Being an observer sometimes makes you feel powerless. I’m in bed right now, looking at the rain, feeling tired and anxious.  I know there will be better days ahead. Sending love and hope out to you, my friends.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A Week to Make Us Think, Is 2021 Going to Be Worse? Attack on America from Domestic Terrorists, and Poetry as Solace

It’s not going to let up, is it? Does it feel like there’s more news because I’m at home more? Probably not, but it does seem to be getting more momentous as the days go by.

Arguably, it’s always politics, all of the time, but as Matthew Paul rightly points out here, it’s almost impossible to ignore the sheer amount of politics going on. However, I’m aware he mentions me in his post and I don’t want this to be a circlejerk, so I’m going to move on. I don’t think there’s anything that I can add to the weight of discourse around current events beyond relief that there appears to be grown-ups on the way in in the US (for all the faults of Biden and Harris, they are at least stringing sentences together and not calling for mass insurrection) and positive news about the vaccines (for all the uselessness of our own government in organising the rollout).

In an attempt to distract myself, I’m going to focus, for now, on the small coincidences of oranges and a poem.

Mat Riches, A Coincidence of Oranges

You wouldn’t think that a book of essays on disasters would make you feel better, but somehow it did make me feel better. Because it’s less about disasters and more about, as she says, the way we think about them. She says on the end of the world, “I’m not sure the doom will occur like a moment, like an event, like a disaster. Like the impact of a bomb or an asteroid. I wonder if the way the world gets worse will barely outpace the rate at which we get used to it.” 

She also notes that her research into disasters was comforting. “We’re still here, after all.” But goes on to say: “But I can only take so much comfort in the past. This point in history does feel different, like we’re nearing an event horizon. How many times can history repeat itself?” She wrote this before Covid, before these recent events, obviously. But you have to hope that this is some kind of a turning point.

We’re seeing more, the fog is lifting, the mirage is revealed as a mirage, even though most people were calling the iceberg an iceberg all along. A disaster, as it recedes into the past, can be analyzed, dissected, essays can be written about them. Questions, new questions will be formed. How did we get used to this? How inevitable was it?

Maybe it’s naive to just ask, when we’re deep in the thing, how are we to get through to the end of disaster? To the other side? Are we to be musicians playing on a sinking ship? Maybe?

You’ve heard me talk about a strategy I’ve used to get through to this point, which is to do one fun thing every day.

I recently read the inspiring article on Neil Pearte, drummer from Rush, in Rolling Stone Magazine and here’s the quotation I keep coming back to:

“What’s the most excellent thing I can do today?” he used to ask himself.

So maybe that’s a better way to put it. Either way, I don’t think it’s frivolous.

The best ideas, creative ideas, and I think going forward we’re going to need a LOT of those, comes out of play, out of different ways of thinking. If you want to get rid of brain fog, see things in a new way, do something fun, do something excellent. Or, I don’t know, go down to the river and play with ice shards. Do something excellent and then write about it, or sing about it. Because that’s worth something. It’s worth a lot.

Shawna Lemay, Mirage on the Horizon

What an up and down week I’ve had, I’m talking rollercoaster levels.  Terrible news, terrible weather, low energy, low light.  Then, from somewhere, a blast of a good joke, eating something delicious, a dazzling shot of sunshine, something captivating on telly (iPlayer),  poems that speak to me, music that brought me to my feet to dance (after a fashion), making headway with a project, making plans about another project – and then, back to feeling a bit despondent (actually, very despondent).

You’re often like this in January, says Andrew.

Yesterday, we drove five minutes to the Avon and Kennet canal (or is it the Kennet and Avon canal?  I’m never sure) and walked for about an hour, thinking, chatting, stretching our legs, being outdoors, smiling at and being smiled at (mostly) by a few other walkers.  It cheered me up.  Don’t criminalise people for doing this please, anyone.

Josephine Corcoran, Reasons to be or not to be cheerful, or not. Or something.

Ok, so it was a terrible week.

But in other news, not such a bad one.

My friend Katherine sent me her Christmas poem and it left me feeling elated. That I had already read the poem of the year – in early January!

Anthony Wilson, Reasons to be cheerful

they show me the bees
tweeted from the antipodes 
in a blizzard

Jim Young [no title]

My fourth poetry collection, Strangers, will arrive in the world in April 2021. The book will be published by Biblioasis, with (loving and fastidious!) editing by Luke Hathaway and (beautiful and striking!) cover design by Christina Angeli. I can’t wait to get it into readers’ hands.

Strangers is a themed collection drawn from a decade of writing (the earliest in the book date their composition back to 2011), but written in earnest since the birth of my son and the publication of The News in 2016. The poems explore lineages – familial and literary – and all the ways those we hold closest are both a part of us and, in some ways, forever beyond our reach. 

Written during a time when my two half-brothers died, my son was born, and my mother was diagnosed with dementia, it’s also about early middle age: a time when the great loves of our lives begin arriving and departing simultaneously, with little time to fully attend to them all. Strangers is one small attempt at such attendance. 

Rob Taylor, “Strangers” is on its way in 2021!

The shape
the poem
takes,

the bones
of what
it means

but does
not say.

Tom Montag, THE SHAPE

My recent reading has also delighted me with word meanings. I was reminded in Chess Story that a dilettante, that dabbler so often despised for surface involvement, is simply someone who delights in, say, the arts, as an amateur is someone who does something for the love of it. Zweig speaks of “a true dilettante in the best sense of the word, one who plays for the pure delight–that is, the diletto–of playing.” I also looked up “antimacassar” (I think in The Queen’s Gambit?), a word I always get from context, and delighted in the discovery that this upholstery protector = anti + Macassar, a brand of hair oil. Perfect!

Kathleen Kirk, Chess Story

And by reading, I mean, reading like a practitioner. That is, when we meet a poem that affects us, we need to take it apart and figure out how it did its magic. And we need to do this over and over again with all kinds of poems. And we need to try the tactics, retry, try something else.

And I believe — I have to believe — by doing this over the course of who the hell knows how long, we’ll develop some instincts, some skills, and some confidence. And when the poem isn’t living up to itself, something in us will feel uncomfortable, our skin will not fit us quite right, our ears will flick forward and back at some sound that’s not quite right, some voice inside us will whisper, “Sorry, you just don’t have it yet.”

And we’ll sigh and unscrew the carefully packed poem, pull all the guts out, and start all over again, adding this, taking away that, turning the pieces around, and putting it together again, then sitting with it to let those hard-won instincts have their say, their little jabs and hmms.

Marilyn McCabe, Barrelin’ down the boulevard; or, One Last Thing About Revision (This Week, Anyway)

Darklings, I have missed you and now I am finding my way back to written language to writing to poetry after my return to reading in such great gulping swallows and healing myself of the hunger that that particular loss opened in me. Here is my hand seeking in a dark room if you wish to take it. I miss you all but have followed your voices now bringing mine back in. Hello. Hello from the island. Hello.

Rebecca Loudon, Sending out tendrils through the stars

The podcast is back for 2021! In yesterday’s episode Peter interviewed Mario Petrucci, and then we had a bit of banter about prose poems, New Year’s resolutions and whatnot. We have some very interesting interviews coming up over the next few weeks, including Mary Jean Chan, Inua Ellams, and a number of other lovely poets and pundits to be confirmed ….why not have a listen and sign up?

Robin Houghton, Readings this coming week, Planet Poetry & Uni stuff

I seldom review prose on Rogue Strands, but I’m making an exception today for Liz Lefroy’s book, I Buy a New Washer (and Other Moderate Acts of Independence) (Mark Time Books, 2020), simply because it contains far more poetry than the vast majority of collections that are brought out by major publishers.

I Buy a New Washer (and Other Moderate Acts of Independence) takes Lefroy’s long-running blog as a point of departure and shapes it into 52 pieces, most about a page long, one for every week of the year. It offers snippets of a life, a family, a job, sometimes portrayed head-on, sometimes aslant, but always accompanied by a feeling that (like the best radio presenters) Lefroy is engaged in a one-to-one chat with the person who’s reading her book.

This effect is achieved via the presence of a fluidity and a supple cadence in each sentence, Lefroy’s excellent poetic ear underpinning every entry to such an extent that I’m tempted to label them implicit prose poems. What’s more, the easy-growing language then lends additional impact to her invocation of arresting images at crucial points, which is another extremely effective poetic technique.

Matthew Stewart, Prose that’s packed with poetry, Liz Lefroy’s I Buy a New Washer (and Other Moderate Acts of Independence)

One thing I’m continually impressed by in Lisa Summe’s work is the range of lyric voice she’s able to tap into. From direct intensity to nuanced, meditative insight, there’s always an emotional pulse to her work. […]

In “Your Pinterest Board Called Wedding” (also below), nuanced, meditative insight is created through the speaker’s reflection as she goes through an inventory of the title’s Pinterest board of an ex. Through this inventory, we get a variety of images and details whose emotional poignancy works through juxtaposition. For example, early on the speaker notes “so / you want an oval engagement ring” and follows that up with “my grief / circling around: coming back as bird.” This braiding of metaphor and image creates a palpable pathos, one that stands in direct contrast with the title. Where the mention of social media and the equally “social” weddings imply connection and celebration, the speaker grieves a loss of connection. There remains, however, a faint tone of celebration, the speaker in awe of the beloved even at a physical and societal distance, but this tone is modulated by grief and realization. The formal use of colons throughout this poem help in this modulation of tone, setting the pace while also letting the reading experience be one of rumination, speaker and reader side by side in awe and regret.

José Angel Araguz, poetry feature: Lisa Summe

A poem that returns the reader to the individual is ‘Ode to a Pot Noodle’. Owing something to Neruda’s Odas elementales (1954), the narrator is taking a short break from “fast-paced” hospital duties – a Pot Noodle is all there is time for. In the daze of night and fatigue, images arise (of course) of her distant home, her grandfather, of Philippine food and conversations that, in the time it takes to boil a kettle, vanish as quickly. She addresses those distant people: “this should have been an ode to you. / Forgive me, forgive me”. But the Ode has already been written in the course of Antiemetic for Homesickness. The collection is a testament to the presence of the absent, the persistence of memory, the heroism and suffering of those who we hold at arms’ length, invisible but without whom our modern society – our NHS – would fail to function. In the time of Covid – and after it too – Romalyn Ante’s book is reminding us of debts and inequalities too long unacknowledged.

Martyn Crucefix, Tagay! on Romalyn Ante’s ‘Antiemetic for Homesickness’

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

I do think writers have a responsibility to observe and record culture. I have great admiration for poets who take up current events in their work. I don’t mean that poems need to be explicitly political (though we could argue what that word means), but that they are making space for ambiguity and complexity of human experience on the page. I have edited a nature journal (www.thefourthriver.com) for the last seven years, and we are always discussing how to refresh notions of what a “nature poem” can or should be. Our nature is not the nature of Wordsworth or Thoreau or even Marianne Moore and our art needs to reflect that.
[…]

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

“Learn the lessons of boredom.” –my husband, Paul, to our kids.
[…]

12 – What fragrance reminds you of home?

Uh, vaguely damp dog?
[…]

17 – What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?

Luck.

18 – What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film? 

I recently finished Carolyn Forche’s memoir What You Have Heard is True, which tells the full story of her time as a young poet in El Salvador. It was riveting. With my teenage son, I recently watched Hotel Rwanda for the first time. It was also riveting, for many of the same reasons the Forche book was. Human barbarism and human beauty & resilience inextricably twined.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Sheila Squillante

To this, I’d like to add a haiku by another Snapshot Press author, Ron C. Moss. A poet friend of mine, Sue Riley (winner of the 2019 Ginko Prize) leant me The Bone Carver by Moss and I’ve loved it from start to finish. The ‘reflections’ poem I’m going to quote is this one:

highland lake
burnt button grass
on both sides of the moon

Firstly, I’m impressed that this ‘reflections’ poem doesn’t actually mention the word ‘reflection’. We see the image of the ‘highland lake’ as a mirror in which the moon appears without the writer having to hammer it home. The idea that we can see ‘both sides of the moon’ somehow suggests, to me at least, that not only can we imagine the reverse, the dark side if you like, but we also see a half moon rising above the water, with the other half reflected below. If so, this might also indicate the time of day – twilight.

The very specific type of grass, ‘button grass’ locates the poem in the southern hemisphere (Moss is a Tasmanian writer and artist, plus Wikipedia will tell you that button grass forms part of a unique habitat in Tasmania). The alliterative use of ‘burnt’ is precise in its evocation of place too (Wikipedia says ‘buttongrass is relatively flammable and the ecological community is adapted to regular burning’). So, within three lines the poet has managed to convey both the visual image of the moon on/ or reflected in, the lake, draw a comparison with the button grass’s spherical flowerer heads and the rising moon, and also imply a contrast between the heat of the bushfire with the quenching waters of the lake. In the author information, it says that Moss serves as a volunteer firefighter, but it’s not necessary to know this – the poem subtly conveys his knowledge and experience without needing to state it.

So, I want to say thank you to all those mentioned in this post. You created a web of connections that led to me focus on this poem and write down my thoughts on this chilly Sunday afternoon. Outside, the paths are slippery with wet ice and the dog is content to lie on his back near the radiator rather than go trekking across the fields. Nevertheless, I shall be going out shortly, well wrapped up, to experience the thaw, such as it is, and hopefully to take inspiration from it for a ‘reflections’ poem of my own.

Julie Mellor, Reflections …

My video floodtide has been selected to be shown at the Gallery for Sustainable Art in Berlin as part of their 1.5 degrees international exhibition, running from 15 January – 12 March 2021. The exhibition is about whether or not we reach our climate goal and includes object, installation, photo, painting, video, and readings.

floodtide imagines a city in the near future when sea levels have risen significantly. What does it look like? How will we cope?

The composition process making the video was very complex. Nearly every scene has been composited from multiple sources requiring more than 500 individual sequences from original footage filmed around Adelaide, the Fleurieu Peninsula, Inner Suburban Melbourne, the Western Highway, and Far North Queensland. Each scene required matching of lighting intensity, colour and direction, as well as wind direction (in clouds, water, trees, etc), atmospheric haze, perspective, scale and more. In most scenes containing water, footage of the sea has been added to the landscape or cityscape. Similarly, nearly every sky and cloud bank has been composited from mixed sources. Almost none of the building skylines is from a single location.

These scenes might be imaginary, but the reality may not be far off…

Ian Gibbins, floodtide exhibited in Berlin

I gave a reading yesterday in the Poetrio series at Malaprops Bookstore, run generously and flawlessly by poet Mildred Barya and Malaprops Director of Author Events, Stephanie Jones-Byrne. I forgot to take a screenshot or watch the clock because my co-readers Kathy Goodkin and Eric Tran were so amazing, but the recording is here, and you have the option of supporting a great indie bookstore by ordering any of the books (or others) here. (Speaking about clocks, I should say we each kept to our time of 12 minutes-ish, which is basically a holy miracle of restraint where poets are concerned.) Mildred introduces writers not by listing their accomplishments but by reflecting on their poems, setting a mood that was both thoughtful and celebratory. In this case, she noted how many ghosts populate all of our new books. Kathy spoke to that in a wonderful way by reading a poem about the period costumes ghosts are described as wearing, speculating that in twenty years we might be haunted by ghosts in tee-shirts and skinny jeans. Eric began by talking about building an altar to ancestors, noting that everyone wants to escape the ghosts of 2020 but maybe, instead, we could consider how to honor them. It’s a moving idea.

I was also impressed by the emotional range of Kathy’s and Eric’s poems–grief, hilarity, anger, love–and how they talked about that in the Q&A. Eric’s advice for infusing a serious poem with humor is to take your first draft and make it gayer. Add glitter.

Lesley Wheeler, Winterred

Twelve of the thirteen members of Artists’ Book Club Dove met for two hours in the Land of Zoom on 2nd January. Thanks to Thalia for the use of her account.

It’s taken me a week to lick my notes into shape and collect everyone’s photos.

There was a new energy in the air. In our separation we are meeting one another at a deeper level. Trees have been planted at the Dove. Some of us are taking online courses in a variety of different art-forms. Spaces are being cleared. We have rediscovered old diaries and commonplace books. We have been connecting, via stories and photos, with our foremothers. We spoke of the family stories behind many of our Christmas decorations. We are wondering how to pass our knowledge on to the next generations as a gift, not a burden.

Ama Bolton, ABCD January 2021

But we are spirits of another sort, which is to say
That kindness walks among us, and grief,
And uncertainty about how to greet this guest.
Do we offer him a seat, hang his black
And faded hood up on the hat rack, stand his scythe
With the umbrellas?

Dale Favier, A Surgeon Extracting the Stone of Folly

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 51

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, poetry bloggers continued to reflect on the past year, as people do this time of year. Especially on a year which nearly everyone wants to be done with already! I’m thinking I ought to have some deep thoughts—or any thoughts, really—about this past year of poetry digests, but as usual, after six hours of reading blogs it’s all I can do to string words together in a coherent order. But thanks to all the bloggers who have written so many moving, entertaining, and surprising posts this year, and tolerated my generous excerpts. It’s been a joy and a privilege, etc.


Last week I spoke of being panicked. This week’s P-word: pummeled. It’s how I’m feeling at least, typing this out this Friday morning. The word describes the world as well, no? With government officials seriously delaying aid for people while corporations get tax breaks, billionaires billion on, and so many people suffer from the pandemic, whether from the virus itself or from the peril and strain the pandemic has placed us under in our respective lives. Here are some bright spots despite it all:

Early this week I participated in a Drink + Draw virtual session hosted by Flux Factory. Ani and I logged in and did some figure drawing. Models took 30 minutes each working through poses in their respective spaces. Flux Factory is a great art community space based in Queens. Here’s info on the next session which will take place in January.

The generous Gillian Parish has just published a new edition of her spacecraftproject. Check out poetry by Vince Guerra & David Maduli here — & do click around the site for some healthy, illuminating spacing out :)

Lastly, this week I participated in a final publication-focused virtual session with my ENG 375 Poetry Workshop students. Part of the final assignment for this course was revising two poems to be included in a digital class anthology. The anthology, entitled tending to the roots, also includes their art contributions. It was an honor to design this anthology as well as build with them and hold space for each other’s poetic selves this semester.

Check out tending to the roots: an ENG 375 class anthology below:

eng-375-class-anthologyDownload

José Angel Araguz, art, space, poetry

from then to now
is never the same distance as
from now to then

From my new chapbook: “The night is my mirror”.

Through the lockdown and the near-isolation, words were hard to find, but this came together in the last few weeks and I am delighted to close the year with relief, gratitude and hope.

I think the poems are real and personal and have been churned out by the silence, unease and reluctant acceptance that was 2020. If you’d like to read the chapbook, do give me a shout and your email information.  and I will send you a copy.  (leave it in the comments section or write to suspension.point@yahoo.com)

Happy holidays and a very happy new year.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, New chapbook: The night is my mirror

2020 was a wild, terrible, heartbreaking, exhausting, trying year. I finished a degree I wasn’t excited about, at a school I didn’t care for (it was a master’s for work and thankfully they paid for it). My first full length collection of poetry, Beautiful & Full of Monsters, was published by Vegetarian Alcoholic Press the week the pandemic rocked the world so any and all readings, appearances, and book tours were cancelled. I was able to do a lot of virtual readings but I missed the energy and vibe of reading in person. My dad died. Friends and family suffered and struggled and we all tried to just make it through the year, through the month, through every exhausting week. And through it all, I wrote.

I was lucky and eternally grateful to have found a few virtual writing workshops early in the pandemic. One workshop that has sustained me from the start is run by Community Building Art Works – most are free and all are fantastic. I highly recommend checking them out and joining if you can. The community and creativity I find there has held me throughout the pandemic. I’ve also taken two of Jon Sand’s Emotional Historian workshops and these too have been wonderful and amazing. These workshops kept me writing through a very trying year.

I’m always excited at the end of the year to see how many notebooks I’ve filled. This year did not disappoint, I’m on my 7th journal this year. You can see when I started gravitating toward the more basic Moleskin journal.

Courtney LeBlanc, Journals of 2020

I curl my fingers
into the thatch
inside the hollow.

Out come seeds
little teardrops
slippery and pale.

As they fall
the china bowl
rings like a bell.

*

These shortest days of the year are always a struggle for me. Like my mother before me, I count the days until the light will begin to increase. I practice finding sustenance in small things: in zesting an orange for cranberry bread, in cooking a new recipe, in turning squash seeds into a roasted snack instead of throwing them away as I would once have done. This pandemic winter, those coping mechanisms feel even more critical. There’s so much I can’t repair in this terrible and beautiful world. Sometimes it feels almost inappropriate to seek pleasure when there is so much suffering. In those moments I remind myself that I would honor no one by ignoring the little blessings I can find even in these times. May balm come to all who suffer, and may life’s tiny sweetnesses help us through.

Rachel Barenblat, Seeds

I am very pleased I am now off work until the new year; I feel like the cumulative effects of the stresses and strains of this tear and then my time in court have utterly wrung me out, and that a long break is what’s needed. The Xmas shopping has been done, 99.9% of it wrapped and ready. Just one thing to arrive and wrap and it’s all done. […]

An acceptance last week means I have now equalled my acceptances for 2019, which had been a record year, so I think that counts as a good. I’d like to think in some way this post is also tempting the gods and that the remaining subs (30 poems across 7 locations) will come in with acceptances now just to mess up my charts Prays.

What’s interesting (to me) is that it’s the same number of acceptances with a significantly lower number of poems sent out and to fewer places (36 vs 47, uncharted), but the success rate has increased from 9% to 12%…

I’d like to say this has something to do with me boxing clever about my subs and the quality of my poems increasing, and I hope that’s true, but I can’t say that as it’s not for me to say. I think I’ve certainly aimed at some places I didn’t think I’d get in, and on most occasions I was correct, but there were a few where it was a hit and hope and I “connected”. More of that in 2021 please, but I suspect it will only get harder.

Mat Riches, Off The Charts

When I get cold or melancholy, a kind of laziness overtakes me. At bedtime, I don’t want to take off the layers of t-shirts under my clothes to put on my jammies. (Fortunately, I am good at taking off a bra under my clothes and out through a sleeve like Jennifer Beals in Flashdance.) On sad days now, when I look at the Christmas tree and know my kids aren’t coming home, I don’t want to get up from the couch, where I am bundled in a soft, blue blankie, reading a book, even though I know I should get up and move every hour—to keep warm, to keep the body moving, not sitting, because it’s wiser, healthier, not as sad.

And then I do it, because I am in the habits of diligence. I hear the washing machine stop, so I go put the clothes in the dryer and start a new load. I hear the mail carrier come, so I get the mail, then put on a coat, and re-deliver a mis-delivered piece of mail to my neighbor next door. I diligently write down who sent a Christmas card, and when, on my little list, and commit to writing a card back, if I haven’t sent one already, during this especially good year to maintain connection with people…. 

I wondered if the more precise word was lassitude, but I don’t think so. Lassitude is a weariness, a lack of energy, and so is lethargy. Laziness is a disinclination to work. At these sad, cold, lazy moments, I am disinclined to get up and do the necessary bit of work, but, once I do get up, I have the necessary energy. I do a lot of small, steady tasks, all the time. I have patience and perseverance. I keep to-do lists. 

Yes, my laziness is temporary, cold-induced, connected to melancholy. I’m aware of this…and of the way sadness can clutch at me sometimes. I can feel the pull down. I have various ways of saying no to the pull, even as the tears fill my eyes and start their spill, even if it’s just getting up from the book I’d rather read than do anything else, to do anything else. 

And then, back to the book. And on to the next book. So far this year—and there are two weeks to go—I’ve read 155 books. These include plays, poetry books, chapbooks, and graphic novels, as well as novels, memoirs, books of essays, books of short stories. My coffee table is stacked with books ready for a second lockdown, books not yet begun, finished books not yet shelved elsewhere, books in progress with bookmarks sticking out, library books that will automatically renew. Clearly, these books, these stacks, represent my combined laziness vs. diligence, conflict resolved. And a Slattern Day in the blog.

Kathleen Kirk, Laziness vs. Diligence

It was a great pleasure to be interviewed by Alex Graffeo, Managing Editor for OyeDrum. OyeDrum is “an online magazine and intersectional feminist collective. We are a community dedicated to women’s creative and intellectual work.” You can read more about the name OyeDrum here. They feature a quarterly themed issue from a selection of curated work, and a weekly section open to all genres.  I love the aesthetic of their site, so I interviewed Head Witch/Founder Amarantha da Cruz to find out more. See my interview with da Cruz and a link to their submission guidelines here. They also run a podcast entitled “In Conversation.” Make sure to check out all three episodes!

Trish Hopkinson, “The (Not So) Selfish Poet: Talking Feminism and Community with Trish Hopkinson” via OyeDrum by Alex Graffeo

The virus year has left me questioning the relevance of my poetry practice to the world of literature, such as it is. I have not been sending work to journals. I have not spent much time on revisions nor on going through my work in order to assemble another manuscript (or two).

My father suffered awhile, then died–what can I say? It has been hard to write, especially given the mental challenges of learning a host of new technological platforms and completely redoing my syllabus to adapt to the changed methods of college classroom instruction and tutoring. How does the saying go? “I ain’t as young as I usta be.”

Given that the year has been even more of a media frenzy and social norms chaos than the years preceding it, the word unprecedented has been overtaxed into meaningless syllables; and the word relevance has taken on a sort of socially-annointed value that leaves me certain I have nothing to contribute except more noise. Why bother to write poems? It may be that there are more useful ways I can spend my “senior years.” Reinvent myself as an advocate or mentor in some other field: gardening/environmentalism, education, literacy, hospice care…

Maybe I could just go back to hobbies. Photography, embroidery, sketching and painting, flower arranging, hiking. Or take up some new craft or endeavor. Maybe birding. And am I then somehow engaging in more or less relevant processes?

Garth Greenwell has an essay in a recent Harper‘s, “Making Meaning,” in which he poses questions about the concept of relevance as it relates to art and concludes that he disagrees with “relevance” as a critique criterion, one “that feels entirely foreign…to the real motivations of art.” […]

The essay is worth reading in its entirety, as some of its assertions deserve discussion. Especially noteworthy is Greenwell’s anecdote about reading and loving Augustine’s Confessions, a text I re-read and still love for many reasons, not one of which is due to religious beliefs. Greenwell says Confessions is still relevant today because of Augustine’s creative and relentless questioning and the ways he expresses his own confusion, “making bewilderment itself a tool for inquiry.” Yes! Among, of course, many other things.

Ann E. Michael, Relevance

Introducing Seeds of Hope, the second anthology of poems, prayers, reflections and provocations from the human rights organisation Amos Trust.

It includes contributions from Zena Kazeme, Arundhati Roy, Ben Okri, Cornel West, Audre Lorde, Angela Davis, Robert Cohen, Maya Angelou, Lemn Sissay, Langston Hughes and Abdelfattah Abusrour. I am honoured to be included among them.

You will find nothing comfortable here, but you will find solace and hope in this dark time. Arranged around themes with titles like Home, Hope, Her, Planet, Solidarity and Protest, the book is premised on the view that

‘to be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic – it is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness.’

There are also some brilliant Spotify playlists scattered all the way through the collection, one of which I’ve posted below.

It would make a brilliant Christmas present for the activist loved-ones in your life.

Anthony Wilson, Seeds of hope

In later years, when I wonder why my blogging fell off a bit, let me remember that these have been days of getting to campus early so that Vet Tech faculty could get set up for final lab practicals.  Let me remember the grading in the wee, small hours of the morning, wee, small hours that seeped into the regular morning hours.

I wish I could say that I was blogging less because I was writing more poetry, but that was only true one day.  I had a goal of writing a poem a day during Advent, and I was faithful for about a week, but I’ve completely dropped off.

However, I have some ideas for poems, which I might have never had, if I hadn’t been looking for daily observations.  Now to get those poems written before I forget them.  One is menopausal Jesus who feels the rage that comes with wondering when it will finally be his turn.  And of course, I can’t remember the idea I had for the other poem, but it may come back to me at some later point–and then I’ll amend this post.

For me, this process is similar to knowing I had an interesting dream, but I can’t remember it.  And if I stop trying, some times, it comes back to me in a flash, and I wonder at the fact that I ever forgot it.  Poem ideas are similar.  I feel lucky to have them and lucky that they don’t abandon me when I can’t write them down quickly enough.

Update:  On Monday evening, I saw a woman with a shopping cart, but I wasn’t sure what was sticking out of it–a beach umbrella?  a sleeping mat?  a lounge chair?  Was she just hauling lots of stuff back from the beach or was she hauling all her stuff around?

On Tuesday morning, I saw the cart first during my pre-dawn walk, and then I saw the woman stretched out beside it.  It was at a house that was for sale, on a driveway covered with a canopy.  

All day I thought about the woman and the Nativity story about there being no room in the inn.  It’s too obvious a connection.  But I do wonder if there’s a different poem lingering in the background.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Days of Inspiration and Gingerbread

This mahonia has been in my garden three years now. This summer I was tempted to dig it up as it never seemed to flower. We used to have one outside the kitchen window, and it was always full of bright yellow flowers. It attracted lots of blue tits and it was lovely to watch them flitting about between the spikey leaves. When we had to uproot it to make way for our kitchen extension, I thought it would be a simple job to replace it. However, as I’ve said, the successor has kept us waiting! I realise that there’s a lesson to be learnt here. It’s about being patient, being prepared to wait; it’s about hanging on when things don’t seem to be moving in the right direction. I’m not trying to draw any direct comparisons to the pandemic, or, on a more personal level, the ups and downs of being creative. I’m simply trying to focus my attention on what’s important, the here and now, the wonder of these sprigs of yellow in an other wise dull garden in December. Nature has a way of rewarding us, if we allow it to. Under different circumstances, we would probably have been away on holiday this week. The current restrictions have put paid to that. But if we’d gone, we would have missed this first flowering. Let me say that for this, and so much else, I’m extremely grateful.

Julie Mellor, winter light

A suitably seasonal haiku of mine is featured over on the blog of Fokkina McDonnell’s Acacia Publications site. It seems like a lifetime ago that I wrote it and if ever there was a year in which time has played tricks on me, then it’s 2020. No wonder time-travel is such a key component of my poems.

It’s certainly hard to have a glass half-full at the moment, especially now that we inhabitants of London and the South-East of England are effectively homebound for the Christmas period – and probably for a good while into 2021 – for all but essential activities.

I’ve moaned myself out about our shambles of a government and their back-of-a fag-packet policy-making, and about QPR’s seemingly endless run without a win. I’ve been reading Buddenbrooks, which has sat on my shelf for many years without me starting it, but now I’m halfway through I’ve found I haven’t, currently at least, got the patience to finish it, which makes me sad.

Perhaps I should stick to poetry. Yesterday I read half the latest issue of one of my very favourite poetry magazines, Butcher’s Dog, the opening poem of which, ‘Japanese Wind Telephone’ by Sarah Stewart, is as beautiful as anything I’ve read all year. Unlike Buddenbrooks, I will definitely read the second half shortly.

Matthew Paul, Adventing

Too serious for photographs, though my god she was beautiful, and so close I wished I could pick her up in my arms and take her home on my own good legs. Coyote, sleek and strong, but three-legged traveling, her left front paw or wrist held carefully, painfully, out of contact with this world, wounded somehow. I hate to see this, but also know she has a decent shot at healing whatever it was that hurt her, and does not need to be shot. She will not be found by a wildlife person’s tranq darts hours from now. She will be gone in the way of wild beings. Deep snow makes travel so hard on three legs, so she’s using the road, pain tightening the skin around her eyes. I blocked the road with my car, hazards on, and gave her time: the farmer in his tractor stopped at the edge of his field and gave her time, too. She gazed at me for a long time, then at him. She considered the banks, the depths: when pain is very great and the requirement is stamina or death, there is actually no fear, I know from experience, and so she weighed her routes, us making no threat, and chose the road itself again, headed toward Norwottuck and, I hope, a safe den where she can heal. How I wish I could drive her home, give her some painkillers and a freezer full of chickens. Sure, she’s interpretable as a direct metaphor for my own life right now, but she’s not a metaphor and not about me, or you, even as she is so easy for many of us to empathize with to the depth of marrow: she’s a real being, really suffering, really using the three legs she does have to get to whole again somehow, and it is hardest when the only way through to safety and eventual healing is the most dangerous, and involves not only impossible stamina and great risk, but sustenance when hunting isn’t possible. May she find her resources. May she survive and thrive.

JJS, canis latrans

Outside, evening arrives
faster than it can fall. Trees
drop the last of their leaflets,
knowing this time of year is past

announcement. You couldn’t stop
walking into it even if you tried:
even if you held still, you’d feel
the landscape bristle with either

hurt or love, a kind of static
electricity. At last, you might say,
or Oh; as one by one, lights flood
the insides of their bowls.

Luisa A. Igloria, On the First Law of Thermodynamics

RT: Haiku in Canada has an unusual structure (as the subtitle suggests): part memoir, part history, part poetry anthology, part roll call of Canadian haiku writers. The practice of gathering the biographies of contributing poets into an essay is shared by other haiku anthologies, such as Haiku in English: The First Hundred Years(eds. Kacian, Rowland and Burns, Norton, 2013) and The Haiku Anthology (van den Heuvel, Norton, 1999), but in your case the poems themselves and personal reminiscences are also rolled into the mix. You never know what will come next: a personal anecdote, a poet’s or writing group’s bio, a clutch of poems, an excerpt from an essay on the nature of haiku, etc.

In your foreword, you note that Sei Shōnagon’s The Pillow Book, which itself roams mightily, helped inspire the book’s form. Could you talk a little about how you settled on the book’s final shape? Did you draw on other influences, beyond Shōnagon, in approaching the task?

TAC: This book began as a talk that I was invited to give at a Haiku North America conference in Seattle, Washington, in 2011. It was perhaps nine pages in length and it was received very well. A second delivery came when I was a keynote speaker at a Haiku Canada conference. For this talk I had prepared some extra notes around the Toronto scene since I was speaking at Glendon College at the University of Toronto. The paper kept growing. I was living in Ottawa at the time; I facilitated a haiku group called KaDo Ottawa and we met at the Japanese Embassy for our annual spring meetings. My friendship with Mr. Toshi Yonehara increased my interest in the history of haiku, and when I moved to the west coast in 2012, I realized that I was in a great place to do more research. I was new to Victoria and wanted to meet like-minded folks, so I taught Japanese literary forms at Royal Roads University, in their adult extension program. I met many poets who wanted to learn more about haiku; soon the classes turned into social gatherings and Haiku Arbutus was born (I still facilitate this group). 

It was through Haiku Arbutus that I met Dr. Susumu Tabata, a 93 year old survivor of the internment camps of the Slocan Valley in the interior of B.C. during World War II. It was such an honour and a privilege to meet him, and soon “Sus” was a regular at our meetings. Spritely, with a great sense of humour and a twinkle in his eye, he was beloved by all of us. My essay began to take on a new direction as I researched the haiku written in these camps during this dark chapter of Canadian history. Members of the Victoria Nikkei Cultural Society were also wonderful to help out. Many gave me resources that I would have probably never found on my own. I would take out the essay from time to time and add sections about groups (like mine) that were “starting up.” Now I had over a hundred pages and I began to think about a book.

The challenge now, was my writing “styles.” When I was referencing the historical facts, I needed historical accuracy, which created a certain tone. When I was writing about groups of poets, some who were close personal friends, the tone changed again. I was very uncertain about how to continue. I actually became quite despondent around the whole project and dropped it for about two years. I simply didn’t know how to mesh everything together. The title at this time was “A History of Haiku in Canada” and it sat deep within my computer.

And then one day, I was reading Sei Shōnagon’s The Pillow Book, which is her observations of Heian court life, including essays, anecdotes, poems, opinions, interesting events at court, and her famous lists, 164 of them. Her writing was called “zuihitsu” or “assorted writing,” and I knew I had found a model. I picked up the project and began working again, and by Christmas 2019 I had the manuscript completed and submitted to Richard Olafsen at Ekstasis Editions.

Rob Taylor, The Shadow Element: An Interview with Terry Ann Carter

Rochford Street Review is a fabulous on-line journal highlighting Australian and International Literature, Art and Culture – with an emphasis on small press and grassroots cultural activities, run by the indefatigable Mark Roberts. So I’m super pleased that he has featured one of my more complex video poems accidentals (recalculated) in Issue 30 of the Review. This will be the first of five videos that will appear here.

The video was a finalist in the Carbon Culture Review 2016 Poetry Film Contest (USA); was exhibited at 17 Days (Day 9, Vol. 10) at The Bret Llewellyn Art Gallery, Alfred State College, NY (USA; August 28 – September 19, 2017) and Atrium Gallery, Western Michigan University (USA; November 6, 2017 – April 29, 2018); and screened at the 7th International Video Poetry Festival in Athens, 2018.

Ian Gibbins, accidentals (recalculated) in Rochford Street Review

– More of the magazines that I’ve subscribed to have disappeared, and I’ve not renewed subscriptions to some others (e.g Rialto, Stand) because I understand far too few of their poems – I think they’ve changed more than I have.
– My successes have been limited in number though I’m glad I got in The High Window and Fenland Journal
– I’ve written 6 poems this year. I wish their scarcity meant they were good.
– I didn’t enter any poetry competitions except for the Magma pamphlet competition.
– I’ve given up thinking I can ever get in Poetry Review, PN Review, Poetry London, etc.
– I’ve read quite a few poetry books. As usual I didn’t choose just the books I thought I’d like. I understood very little of “Wade in the water” (Tracey K Smith) and “The Prince of Wails” (Stephen Knight). I thought “Fleche” (Mary Jean Chan) was far longer than it needed to be – it would have been better as a single-topic pamphlet. I liked Happenstance pamphlets by Edwards and Buckley.
– From my (very limited) viewpoint, I feel that the poetry community is expanding in terms of styles and ethnic origins, even if the statistics don’t yet show it. There’s more fusion and vitality.
– I didn’t replace my attempts at physical networking by virtual networking. I miss the small-press book fairs.

Tim Love, Poetry in 2020

My son, a college sophomore, is a fiend for math and loves teaching it, too. Since he’s finishing the term at our dining room table, I get to eavesdrop on the tutoring he does by Zoom as well as his study groups’ conversations. Sometimes he and I break for a midday walk in the middle of it, and yesterday he reflected that when he comes to an impasse in his work, he’s more willing than his friends to just sit with the problem and wait for inspiration. He told me something like, “When I hit a wall, I’ll just sit and look at it and say, “Wall, whatcha got for me?’”

This is mostly just temperament–he and I are both stupidly resistant to asking for help, and we both enjoy puzzles. But he also said that he prefers hard math problems to easy ones because the answers to easy problems are just “coincidence,” whereas you know you’ve solved a “proofier” question because the solution comes with a deep click, a sense of rightness. I’m not sure I fully understand that, but I’ve been thinking about it as I bash my head against poem revisions, unable to decide when each ornery little piece is finished.

This hasn’t been a good workweek. My simple goal for Monday was to gather some poems to submit to the annual Poetry Society of America contests. I rarely throw in, but I thought that hey, this year I have time, right? But mostly these awards are for unpublished poems so I thought I’d finish up recent ones, pieces I haven’t sent elsewhere yet, and it’s NOT going well. I know none of us should be beating ourselves up for poor concentration right now; the soaring virus rates are horrifying and the political circus depressing. I had the added suspense this week of a couple of family members waiting for test results (everyone is negative and feeling fine). I never handle suspense well! Still, my fuzzy-headedness feels frustrating.

My son is right, though, that facing hard problems can lead to more interesting math or art–and that the way forward involves just showing up, again and again. None of these poems is easy: my tabs are open right now to pieces about giant tube worms, domestic violence, viral replication, divination…So I try to solve for x, take breaks, and circle back, hoping for flashes of intuition. History suggests that tough writing patches eventually end. I didn’t like it when my phone autocorrected “I was told” to “I am old” recently (!), but aging does bring a kind of equilibrium in knowing that time, careers, etc. aren’t just linear. They’re cyclical, too.

Lesley Wheeler, Wall, whatcha got?

Here I am, said the old man
still young, trapped between
ship and shore. I understand
that we’re always on the gangplank,
having just arrived or just heading
for departure. There’s always
someone to talk to, someone pausing
to put that suitcase down and then
rub chafed hands.

Dick Jones, Ship to Shore

It occurred to me earlier this week that I have not,  outside of a slew of dgp manuscripts this fall, been able to read a book in about a year (give or take a month ) Submissions are easier, since chapbooks are short and poetry uses a different kind of brain for me, but even that experience was more like looking for the kind of work I like to publish normally and less about immersing myself fully in the book, as one does with fiction, which is what I’ve been lacking the past 10 months or so. What I’ve been missing is that immersion in fiction I usually crave, but it takes a certain kind of headspace that the pandemic seems to have stolen (the ultimate irony is that with extra home time and everything closed you’d think it’d be the perfect time for tucking in with a book, but most nights I am much more interested in doomscrolling on my phone until I fall asleep.)  Besides,  am far too anxious and alert on public trans, where most of my novel reading gets done to read at all.  it’s a strange absence for me, and one it might have taken a couple months to notice. I thought it would come back in late summer when I went back to commuting, but it apparently did not. 

Visual art is similar, though it’s less about immersion and maybe more about creative impulses.  I’ve been thinking about the ways in which my writing brain differs from my visual brain and the key may be a certain creative flow that crisis mind doesn’t allow to happen.  Outside of a few watercolors and some things for my Patreon, and maybe the video poems, I’ve been much less inclined to pull out the markers or collage goods or even work digitally, which applies to cover designs and graphics for the library in addition to my own pursuits. This weekend, I did some postcard sized landscape paintings for my subscribers and it felt good, but it was like pulling teeth to actually get me in the right headspace. I do have a couple ideas for projects that have sprung up in the past couple of weeks, so maybe this is changing.  Maybe I need to just put the pedal to the metal and make it happen.

Back in the spring, writing, too, felt this way, but 2020 actually wound up being reasonably productive in that arena. My writing process always feel more like creating pieces of a puzzle in small bursts that add up to a whole, and it’s easy, once I have the overall vision, to create those pieces. Launching a new series is always hard, which is why it helps to have several things going at one time.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’m set to mostly finish up the unusual creatures revisions by the New Year, so will be moving onto something entirely new (there are a couple options, but I’ll see which one is speaking to me more in January.)  Writing sometimes feels like running laps, so digging into the routine is what gets things done, and each new lap is easier. (I say this as a person who hates to run, so maybe that’s a bad analogy.)

Kristy Bowen, creativity and pandemic brain

“All you need to do is find and follow your whimsy.”

My uncle wrote these words to me in July–continuation of a conversation about work and retirement and possibility that we’d begun the previous Thanksgiving–and they have been rattling around in my head ever since.

The notion astonished me, really, coming from him. His field was computer science. He’s a retired Naval officer, who was a private contractor for the government for years. “Whimsical” is not a word I would ever ascribe to him, nor is whimsy something I would have thought he much valued.

What does that even mean, I have wondered, to follow your whimsy?

According to Webster, a whim is “a capricious or eccentric and often sudden idea or turn of the mind.” To be whimsical is to be “lightly fanciful,” and “whimsy” is “a fanciful or fantastic device, object, or creation especially in writing or art.”

Defining by example is a great way to build conceptual understanding, and in the months since he wrote, I’ve been on the lookout for others who, perhaps, have followed or are following their whimsy. It’s amazing what you notice when you start to look for something.

Rita Ott Ramstad, What’s your whimsy?

The latest from Ottawa poet Michael Dennis and Cobourg, Ontario poet, editor, publisher, writer and bon vivant Stuart Ross is the full-length collaboration 70 Kippers: The Dagmar Poems (Cobourg ON: Proper Tales Press, 2020). The back cover offers: “Two pals. / Two very different poets. / One kitchen table. / Several bottles of wine. / 6 writing marathons over 3 years. / 122 collaborative poems. / 70 kippers. / A book of poetry. / An act of love.” Both Dennis and Ross have been writing and publishing since the late 1970s—only a few years longer than they’ve known each other—as two poets existing entirely outside of the academic system, quietly going about their work, from their respective corners of Ontario. Throughout seventy numbered poems that make up 70 Kippers: The Dagmar Poems, their shared explorations of narrative overlap and blend, and one can see elements of Dennis’ darker working-class mixed with Ross’ surrealism. For anyone aware of their individual works, it is a curious mixture, such as in the thirty-eighth poem, that reads: “In another country no one would complain / about the conditions under which dogs / dreamed like cats, saved like squirrels, / barked like llamas, under the billowing / animal cracker cloud sky. / Things couldn’t be better / or worse, he complained.” What is immediately clear is how this project is very much a conversation between friends, and the pull and push between their aesthetics, composed as a snapshot of what has been an ongoing conversation going back years. As they write in their “Authors’ Note” at the back of the collection:

These poems were written at Michael Dennis’ kitchen table on Dagmar Avenue in Vanier over six marathon writing sessions, the first on August 3, 2014, and the last on October 2, 2017. At each marathon we wrote 20 poems (well, 22 at the last session) simultaneously and collaboratively. We each began with 10 sheets of lined paper and wrote a first line on each. We shuffled the sheets and passed them across the table, where the other of us wrote a second line, shuffled the sheets, and passed them back for a third line. This process continued, and as we unilaterally declared a poem completed, either by adding a final line or seeming our collaborator’s line the ending, we placed that poem on the floor under the table. We did not discuss the poems as we wrote, though we often laughed and cursed each other. Each writing session began around eight in the evening and lasted three hours and 15 minutes. Wine was consumed, always red. Once the last poem met the heap under the table, we retrieved the batch, straightened out the stack, and read them all aloud. In late 2018 and early 2019, we whittled the selection down to 70 kippers—I mean, keepers—and did some editing, which occasionally skewed the alternating-line sequence when a line or several lines were excised. Sixteen of those poems, in slightly different versions, appeared as the chapbook The Dagmar Poems, from Burnt Wine Press. we only had one fight in the process. It’s long behind us.

Dennis’ most recent full-length collection is Low Centre of Gravity (Vancouver BC: Anvil Press, 2020) [see my review of such here], a collection of first person lyric narratives following on the heels of his Bad Engine: New & Selected Poems (Anvil Press, 2017) [see my review of such here], both of which were edited by Ross. Ross’ latest full-length title is the poetry collection Motel of the Opposable Thumbs (Vancouver BC: Anvil Press, 2019) [see my review of such here], his eleventh full-length poetry title to date. One should note that the poems that make up 70 Kippers: The Dagmar Poems aren’t the first collaborations by either poet, as Ross has been working collaboratively for years, back to The Pig Sleeps (Contra Mundo Books, 1991), written with Vancouver poet Mark Laba, and his collaborative novel with Gary Barwin, The Mud Game (Toronto ON: The Mercury Press, 1995). Ross even published a collection of short poem collaborations he wrote with twenty-nine different collaborators in In Our Days in Vaudeville(Toronto ON: Mansfield Press, 2013) [see my review of such here]. The collection included five poems that Ross composed with Michael Dennis. Composed roughly a decade prior to the earliest poems in 70 Kippers: The Dagmar Poems, the poems in In Our Days in Vaudeville are different in tone, and more separate, as though each were still feeling out the other’s voice and cadence, feeling their ways into and through each poem.

rob mclennan, Michael Dennis and Stuart Ross, 70 Kippers: The Dagmar Poems

My poetry books of the year will lodge in my head. Every now and then, I’ll experience something that reminds me of one of their lines or poems, and I’ll reach for them, and then I’ll linger, and the book in question will lead a second life beyond the shelves in my study, being tasted every few days for a couple of months before returning to those shelves. And then the cycle will begin again.

What’s more, I won’t yet have read several of my poetry books of the year, as they’ll be slow-burners that a trusted friend will recommend or I’ll encounter on the shelves of a second hand bookshop, flick through a few pages and reach for my wallet.

And then there are my other poetry books of the year, the ones I thought weren’t much cop when I read them in 2020, but which will reach out and hit me/hug me/renew me if I’m lucky enough to be around in 2030.

These are my poetry books of the year. Sorry if yours isn’t on the list.

Matthew Stewart, My poetry books of the year

The poem is
more than the words

can mean. Is there
anyone who

can do this math?

Tom Montag, THE POEM IS

I know we are all saying “get out and good riddance” to 2020, I try to remember the good things that came from this year, too. I spent a lot of this year sick (not with covid, just other weird stuff) so I became acquainted with weighted blankets, the Queen’s Gambit and the Mandalorian, I started a novel (still not very far,) applied for jobs in poetry publishing, and applied for grants I normally would avoid. (I even got two small grants this year, which seems miraculous.) I did a lot of bird watching. I got published in a few “dream” journals, including Poetry and Ploughshares. I tried to find as many inspiring things close to home as possible, since we couldn’t travel or do our usual about-town entertainments.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Merry Solstice/Christmas Week to All, and to All…A Good Riddance to 2020, plus Setting Intentions for 2021

It’s official! I am On Vacation, my chickadees, and not a minute too soon after the hellacious work year I’ve had. Due to my prevaricating, it almost didn’t happen. I had vague plans to “take some time off around Christmas”, but with everything going on and being the sole person overseeing our screening checkpoints, planning for my departure felt completely overwhelming so I kept putting it off. My boss casually said to me last week, “You’re out here after Friday, right?” to which I responded with a panicked, deer-in-the-headlights stare and stammered that I hadn’t done any planning for taking time away and that I “couldn’t just leave.” She wasn’t having any of my baloney. She found some people to take over the checkpoint duties and I spent the afternoon in a whirlwind of Out of Office messages, door signage, e-mail wrapping-up and preemptive plant-watering. Then I locked my office door and left the building, triumphant and exhausted. I’m not going back until January. It’s been almost two years since I’ve taken any significant time off, and I had no idea how tired I’ve become. I would love to say that I learned and grew from my experiences and blah, blah, blah but I think mostly what I did was just survive and develop a stress-related disorder as a fun bonus. I need this time. I can feel my whole body needing it, not to mention my brain and my soul.

Kristen Mchenry, Vacation All I Ever Wanted, I’m Worried about Katie and Peter

Every year I hold this thought that I will really relish Christmas. I will make things with my hands, invest in the act of creating and giving as a token of interpersonal gratitude. Instead, I rush things between grading exams and making dinner, and I curse and resent the entire season. I resent the fact that last year’s handmade candies are still in a jar on the shelf in my colleague’s office, unopened – and likely brewing something far less helpful than penicillin.

I think about all the almond flour and lemon that wedged painfully under my fingernails while I rolled the candies into small coconut-flour-dusted shapes. (What a frightening thought now, in these Covid times).

Yeah.

This year I’m making candles. I expect hot soy wax will bring with it a share of painful moments. But I’m hoping the scent of cloves and orange will help me focus on a brighter mood.

Essence of orange tends to stick around. There’s nothing smooth about it. Like a burr or a bit of Velcro, it snags and insists on attention. Like a toddler tugging at a shirttail, demanding to be lifted up onto a hipbone and carried through the day, pointing and clapping at everything that sparks a little bit of joy. Clove? That’s the old woman doing the carrying, paying attention, smiling warmly: saying put down the red pen and the grading, and come here and just sit a while.

Ren Powell, Essence of Clementine

As this strange year draws to an end (although, the end still feels like a long way off to me), I’m pleased to tell you that I have a few pieces of new writing in circulation. I’ve been writing poems for about ten years now, after a period of not writing at all while my children were growing up, and, before that, writing prose and play scripts. When my full collection of poetry was published in 2018, there were poems flying free that I couldn’t quite tie down in time to include in my book, and others that were no more than a tiny speck of an idea. Gradually, in the past two years, some of these poems have landed firmly and taken shape across pages of my notebook.

One big change in my life in the past three years has been my two children leaving home to go to university, and, this year, one of them leaving home to start their working life. This has coincided with my increased awareness of the precariousness of our planet. A new poem, ‘Then, said I, Lord how long?’, merges my feelings of loss incurred by the climate emergency with my experience of the “empty nest”, and is published in the Winter 2020 issue of Poetry Wales. Another poem about children growing up, ‘Parenting Book’, will be online at Ink, Sweat and Tears on December 29 – part of their yearly Twelve Days of Christmas series.

Another new poem of mine, ‘Poem for a 1960s Welfare State Childhood’, is online at the Morning Star. This is a poem about my own childhood, rather than about my children, and was prompted by my thoughts about the dismantling of the benefits systems by successive Tory administrations since 2010, and how insecure housing, and insecure household income, impacts on children. I know my own childhood would have been very different if my family hadn’t been protected by the welfare state.

Josephine Corcoran, A few new pieces of writing

I have this notion that the sky sees us as its own sky.

Sometimes it views us as storm-sullen with our riots and hate-mongering.

Other times, we appear sunshiny with our lovehoney buzz and thousand-watt optimism.

Sometimes the sky sees us as different cloud patterns: artists, stratocumulus; nihilists, nimbostratus; children, cumulus; the elderly, cirrostratus.

The sky views our city traffic as shifting cloud patterns containing different images—castle, dragon, dandelion;

it all depends upon the hour of day and which way the wind blows.

I hear that on certain occasions, you can marvel at the bright blue above and witness it admiring you.

Imagine that, seeing each other as one another’s beautiful dreaming sky.

Rich Ferguson, Mirror Me, Mirror You

newness alone must not be called poetry;
if anyone at all calls!
it might be orphaned at birth and misplaced.
their minds might be event horizons,
might deny the parallel word of verse,
might insist that the mirror reflects what isn’t there.
that a poem’s virgin birth upon the detonation of the old
will be an alien civilisation with a sixth sense called nonsense.
the bricked windows will be doubly dumb.
the voice in the wilderness will be just that;
a wildness beyond understanding.

Jim Young, poor try

it took me a long time to understand 
my true purpose 
I’m here to grieve 
and goddamn I am so very good at it

James Lee Jobe, blessing the word with smallness

Solstice, winter, covid: we are close to the dark.   Those winter days that swing between flat gray and blindingly bright gray work a subtle palette. 

During insomniac nights — at 3am, at 4am — I am close to the darkness too.  As I lay awake, I go deep into it. I riff:
Darkness, my compatriot, my friend, my pain,
my swan dive, tail in the air, everything inverted.
My color palette, everything contained. 
Darkness, all swirling imagination, all nourishment, all foundation.
All restart, light, recognition of what is outside me, 
of darkness inside me that leads to the beyond.

Everyone is talking loosely, wildly, glibly of light, something we lack and thus want desperately to lure.   The electrified trees, the candles that never drip though they burn in every window every night, the bright rafters — all speak to a desire to light up in “unprecedented” fashion.  These are rituals of continuity, myths of faith that lay the way to see in darkness — considered “old-fashioned,” they are back with a bang.  As if we thought they could be replaced with bulbs!

Jill Pearlman, Solstice, burning bright

each day slips away 

fish in deep water

Sharon Brogan, Snapshot Poem 16 December 2020

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 50

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 found poets looking forward and back, celebrating and mourning, reading, reflecting, raging and reminiscing. Some exciting new publications make an appearance. The solstice approaches.


For over a decade now the Christmas season has been marked for me by a party a friend and her partner host this time of year. It isn’t your typical holiday gathering of interlocked friends: there is a brilliance to their tradition of inviting a core group of weak ties, and each year a few new faces. It’s positively “urban” in its inclusiveness. And as someone who borders on recluse, I find it relaxing.

The food follows in a similar vein: familiar (though hardly “traditional”) dishes and deliberately introduced new recipes. Near the end of the evening every year, M. plays the lacquered white piano and we sing carols.

These parties may be the only parties I have ever attended without feeling a pressure to secure my belonging, or wriggle into tightly-knit cliques by way of an interesting anecdote, or tactical compliment/question. I still don’t know how to do that, and am comfortably past trying, actually.

But this year there’ll be no seasonal gathering around dinner table and the piano. I feel the loss, and am trying to re-frame the fact. I am pulling back to identify the loss, and to appreciate exactly what was so very pleasant.

We aren’t supposed to cling to the pleasant, but I don’t think that precludes seeking to experience it. And maybe for the first time I am observing my passive social life, not in terms of an area for self-improvement, but as a potential for creativity.

I suppose in the self-help jargon the word is “agency”, but oh what connotations come with that: productiveness and goals. Not for me.

When the world pulls apart as it has, I am noticing the spaces between. The loose ties, the fluidity of interactions. My perspective has shifted.

Loosening the weave
potential in every thread
ever-new garments

Ren Powell, Perspective in the Time of Covid

How to make something true? How to slow down that endless flow that we find ourselves participating in, the big scroll….? I keep returning to the line by C.D. Wright on trees, when she says, “The trees true me.” What is it that trues me? What trues you? How to make things that ring true as trees?

Shawna Lemay, Dwelling on Images

It was the persimmons clinging to the leafless branches of a modest sized tree that first made me fall in love with this house. Now, 23 years later, I’m still no closer to getting used to their exuberant abundance.

early sunset
a flock of crows winging homeward

Dylan Tweney [untitled photo post]

People used to ask “what’s new?” or “how’s work?” or “what’s the family up to?” but this year’s standard inquiry seems to be “how are you holding up?”

I don’t know about you, but the holding and the up both are pretty tenuous. Every day seems to pose a more serious threat to democracy, the environment, to justice. This week we are breaking records for Covid-19 hospitalizations and deaths, with experts warning of a “dire winter.” I know people who are currently suffering with Covid-19. I know people who have died. I also know people who say concern over the virus is “overblown” and continue to go to the gym and to large gatherings although we’ve now hit daily death tolls exceeding those on 9/11.

Sometimes it feels like I’m polishing every splinter of hope I can find. But when I pay closer attention to what’s holding me up, I find a vast scaffolding. Here are a few rungs on this month’s ladder.

An ash tree in our yard continues to thrive despite invasive ash borers. I greet this tree every time I walk past. Like the sycamore, dogwood, hawthorn, and maple trees around our house I consider this tree a friend. It’s the first tree I see when I look out our back windows, its branches almost always full of twittering birds. I know ash trees are in serious decline. Millions of U.S. ash trees have already died due to the invasive ash borer, including hundreds of trees in the woodland part of our property. But some trees continue to thrive. They’re called “lingering ash.” Somehow these trees, untreated by insecticides, carry on. Their genes seem to resist predation. Science hopes resistant ash can perpetuate the species. This tree’s resistance to annihilation can’t help but inspire me. Let’s hope we can be the lingering best versions of our own species.

Laura Grace Weldon, Holding Up

who are you digging for          sweetheart?
              what scrap
                                      of your life
have you stashed
                            in the ground?           whose
              memories
                                      have replenished
the soil?             how I wish
              it were mine                this
                                      single-minded
joy
              for digging

Romana Iorga, exhumation

The cute Anne Taylor pink coat, waist-tailored with the velvet collar, and matching lipstick behind the mask, because this time, I am not sick, see? Hi, I’m still alive, hospital where I have been so many times in the last eight months, from first wave panic of not enough PPE to now second, or third: ain’t dead yet, say the rose quartz earrings, matching coat, and devotional mouth;

valiant front, isn’t it, all this, until the lady at check in says, at the end of the usual exchange, rote for all of us now, all of us who know it, anyway, who have had to, “…oh, and we call Michael, right, if anything happens?” and the blade of foot kicks me in the stomach, and even strong as this core has become I can see my own soul shoot out backwards from my body, hit the wall behind me, crumple to the floor,

still, I say calmly, politely, “No, absolutely not, please remove him from my file,” and I look away, because if she looks at me I will cry, and in peripheral vision I see her note the brittle ice shatter sound at the edges of my voice and she hits delete, and asks “Do you want to add someone else honey,” and I answer “No thank you not at this time,” and it’s sort of amazing that I haven’t been to the hospital in that long for once, and still I wonder how many more ambushes with this there will be,

and then the rest of my energy, the entirety of my physical being is occupied, waiting, dodging (the shakes) (the needy invasive chatty creeps) (the screaming snot-flinging children) (the waiting room chairs marked for distancing) (the pain) (god damn this pain) (you stupid, stupid bastard what you have wasted how dare you be so stupid at such cost how could you my god look at all you have destroyed for us both)

JJS, labs

you listen to the Blues
straight-up, all-American
lugging lowdown bad news
you moan and groan

knowing reality is your dance partner
not asking who leads 

you begin to play with woe
compete, restate, elaborate,
find the slinky horn, mockery, 
human pulse in the drum beat

tragedy to be stuck in a single mode

and joy is improvisational — all elegance,
meditation, intentional 

Jill Pearlman, Red, White and Blues

No one went anywhere very much
anymore. Parked cars sat
idle on each street. All summer,
windshields gathered fallen
crepe myrtles. In fall, a thick
sifting of dry pine needles.
In kitchen drawers we found
soup spoons that needed
polishing, a blue-green
teapot that was a gift
years ago; a pair of glass
candlesticks, handpainted,
never used. As if it were
Christmas, we took them out
and marveled; finally
we lay them on the table,
poured tea, lit tapers.
We wouldn’t run out of books
yet, though as the year
dwindled down, there wasn’t
much light to read by.

Luisa A. Igloria, The Aftertime

A dear friend still wants me to tell her the time I was born so that she can do my reading. I hate to avoid the question, but I avoid all things hocus-pocus. This is weird for a life-long relatively devout Catholic to say, I know. Hocus-pocus is essential to our storytelling. At the same time, the Christmas season is approaching and I’m feeling like a doubter more than ever before. My husband’s journey through diagnosis to first treatment took up our last 8 weeks and involved planning for the worst-case-scenario and many days and weeks of waiting for pictures of treatment and possible outcomes. It was heart-wrenching and the planning for the end made the end seem inevitable. I wrote some poems.

I shared our story with few at first, making the circle larger as we learned more and could answer difficult questions about the prognosis. We received an overwhelming outpouring of support in the form of thoughts and prayers and anything to be done. I wrote some poems.

I started to think about the prayers. In the first round of letting our closest family and friends know that it was something and something bad, they prayed. I wondered what the prayers would do to the blood already sampled and the tests already running and the analysis about to be completed. I don’t believe God works that way, in any form of the Trinity. This repeated in the second and third rounds of testing. Nothing was going to do magic on what already was set in motion. They prayed for our strength. I wrote some poems.

Okay, I said, I can use some strength. I was waffling among ledges of anger and fear and grief, each adjusting higher and lower from moment to moment like a scissor-lift. I was driving my lovely family crazy, while they remained steadfast. The prayers were working on them. I wrote some poems especially now that we had entered Advent and a friend challenged me to write one a day. I signed up for a prompt-a-day-Advent-calendar and wrote to that. (www.twosylviaspress.com)

Then, all-of-a-sudden, things started lining up. All the bad luck seemed to reverse: of course, we are lucky to have a hematologist/oncologist in the family treating my husband; he is fair enough to give us the honest frightful truth; and kind enough to look for the next-best-option to prolong my husband’s life; he found it just two days before my husband would start therapy; and the numbers look good and we couldn’t be more relieved; and the planning for future inevitabilities is done for whenever we will need it. I wrote some poems.

Tonight, celebrating our luck and practicing gratitude and praying those thanks, I wonder: are we lucky to be in this situation, fortunate to have found the problem at this time, happy to be young(ish) and healthy, blessed to be in this particular family, and/or unlucky to have this cancer at all? I have some poems to write.

Thanks for the thoughts and prayers. They help.

Cathy Wittmeyer, Poetry & Timing & Luck & Stars & Gratitude

spent much of this afternoon walking in the rain – trying to accept the weather, rather than rail against it! In fact, I’ve been trying to accept quite a few things that don’t sit well with me lately, attempting not to let the relentlessly bleak news get in the way of poetry, and life. Easier said than done.

The haiku above doesn’t please me as much as it should – the pun on ‘greens’ seems a bit slight, and I also have a vague feeling that I’ve read a similar poem elsewhere, although I can’t remember where. If so, many apologies to the writer. Haiku may be short, but they’re of infinite variety, so there’s no excuse for not being original. However, sometimes lines come to me and I’m really not sure if I’ve invented them, or whether they seeped into my brain after reading something. And what I’ve been reading over the last couple of weeks is Presence magazine, trying to whittle down a list of favourite poems so I can cast my vote in the ‘best of issue’ award. I really like the idea of a reader’s vote. It means I read the poems a whole lot closer and in doing so, new meanings and resonances surface. So, more reading this week, and hopefully a bit of editing so I can send a few haiku out over the Christmas break. In between, there’s cards to write, presents to wrap, the post office queue to join … Oh well, at least the rain seems to have eased!

Julie Mellor, rain-washed fields

early twilight
snow enters a barn
on the backs of cows


This haiku by the great American haiku poet, Christopher Herold, was the winning poem for ‘December’ in the Snapshot Press Haiku Calendar competition 2019. It was a very worthy winner.

The first line enables the reader to see that beautiful, colourful light at the start of the ‘magic hour’. The mention of the word ‘snow’ in conjunction with ‘twilight’ naturally makes the reader feel the coldness. But, above all, how brilliantly the poem captures a momentary movement in time by attributing the verb not directly to the cows but to the snow, and does so by putting the focus so specifically onto the backs of the cows. There isn’t a need for high-register language. It’s a timeless winterscape, perfectly rendered, like a painting by Brueghel the Elder.

The 2021 Haiku Calendar is available for order now and is unmissable.

Matthew Paul, On a haiku by Christopher Herold

From deepest Somerset, Krakow, Edinburgh, and Wem they logged in to wish the book well on its journey into the world, and what is more, they brought their own drinks. I told you they were a generous crowd. For Penny in Western Australia, it was 4.30 am the next day. My editor Ross Donlon (Mark Time Books) was even further ahead — 7.30 am in Castlemaine, Victoria. This skillful display of time and distance travel was all part of the ride.

Although moving from the digital (this blog) to the page (that book) may seem counter-cultural, for me it’s been necessary at a time when so much of my time is spent staring at a screen a couple of feet away from my varifocals. The book weighs in at 210g. I know this because I’ve weighed it (plus packaging) in order to post it out to readers. 

If you would like to buy a copy of your very own, they cost £10 each including second class UK postage. If you want to get a first class postal service, add 50 pence. Email me at liz.lefroy@btinternet.com to let me know your requirements. If it’s a gift, I can giftwrap and add a card for another £1 and post it straight to the recipient. If you live outside the UK, I can work out the postage rates. 

You can also find I Buy A New Washer (and Other Moderate Acts of Independence) in the Poetry Pharmacy in Bishops Castle, and Pengwern Books, Shrewsbury. And there is a lending copy at Shrewsbury Library, (although the librarian I’ve been dealing with has taken it home for the weekend, so you may have to wait your turn). I will sort out a wider means of distribution in the new year. 

I’m deeply grateful to those who suggested this project to me, in particular Ross Donlon and Anna Dreda. I am so grateful to you, my readers. Some of you — Peter, Kev, Anna, Graham, Helen, Morar, Mike (and it turns out, Zoe!) — have been reading diligently for years. 

When I started this blog in 2014, I thought it would be a playground in which I could practise my poetry writing skills. What I’ve discovered is that playfulness / mucking about / having fun / being spontaneous (and moderately independent) suits me. 

Liz Lefroy, I Commit To Paper

Sent From Elsewhere is a major collaboration with Swedish/French musician/ artist Frédéric Iriarte that we have been working on for most of 2020. When we started this, we decided to make tracks that sounded different from anything we’d do by ourselves. So here are complex improvisations, radical remixes, and strange texts, using vocal effects that I’d been thinking about for ages… We are both very happy with the result!!

The album consists of 9 tracks, featuring Frédéric on guitars, basses, saxophones, keyboard, piano, flute, Jew’s harp, harmonica, vibraphone, FX and percussion. I did the vocal performances, played a few bits, and put the lot together in sometimes major remixes. [Listen on Bandcamp]

Ian Gibbins, Sent From Elsewhere: poetry and music with Frédéric Iriarte now out on Bandcamp

[Rob Taylor:] Speaking of points of connection, a number of the poems in Mythical Man involve, or take place on, dating apps (two of the poems in Mythical Man contain quotes from Grindr). Did it feel at all strange or anachronistic to write about a digital space in a print book? Does writing in a more “traditional” way about a very modern form of communication allow you a different perspective on it? Do I sound one-hundred years old for even wondering over these questions?

[David Ly:] You only sound roughly 78 for even wondering over these questions. It definitely did not feel anachronistic to write about digital spaces in a print book because I write from my experiences and being who I am, the digital space(s) where I exist are just an integral part of my existence whether I like it or not, but I also am very much a print book reader. So putting the two together wasn’t strange at all. I do feel it strange that people find it a talking point that my poems are drawn from things like dating apps and other digital things. It’s just the world I/we exist in! So it feels right and comfortable to write about them in my poems. 

I don’t know if writing about modern forms of communication in a more “traditional” way gives me a different perspective on it. If anything, writing poetry about digital spaces and how we exist in them makes me slow my thinking down more and reflect more on how I (and others) exist in places like Twitter, Instagram, Grindr, etc. And I think that slow-thinking about this allows me to write sharper poems.

Rob Taylor, Old Stories Made New: An Interview with David Ly

Being on sabbatical puts a insulating layer between me and the academic seasons, but I can still sense the weather shifting via publication cycles. Even for magazines and presses without university affiliations, there are year-in-review lists and columns: Aqueduct Press just published one of mine, and I’ve just submitted another to Strange Horizons for early January publication. I’ve been reading proofs for December issues. Rejections are souring my inbox. I also received three delicious acceptances from magazines I’ve never cracked: I’ll have poems in Smartish Pace and Kenyon Review Online next year, plus an essay that’s central to my forthcoming book, Poetry’s Possible Worlds, will be in American Poetry Review. I’m freaked out, sad, tired, and feeling like a shut-in, yet that is some serious holiday cheer.

I’m rarely in a good mood, honestly, when I’m processing publication’s endless clerical business, even the wins. Being immersed in writing and reading feels better. Yet there are payoffs. A big one today is getting to celebrate the just-published issue of Shenandoah. I’ve been proofing the fiction, nonfiction, comics, and translations sections, which I otherwise have almost nothing to do with, although I love what the other editors have selected. The poetry section, though, is full of my babies. I recruited a few of the authors; most are people whose work I didn’t know before last year, when I sifted their beautiful poems out of the hundreds and hundreds submitted during our brief reading period. I can’t play favorites, loving them all equally, but here’s a tasting menu, each chosen because it will make you feel replete:

Samyak Shertok, “The Last Beekeeper”

Stephanie Rogers, “Fat Girl LaCharta”

Diane Seuss, “[To say that I’m a witch makes me feel better all-around]”

Ashley M. Jones, “I Find the Earring That Broke Lose From My Ear the Night a White Woman Told Me the World Would Always Save Her”

Emily Franklin, “Tell Me How You Got Here”

There’s a wide range of other feelings and experiences represented in this suite of poems, but for now: honey, rhubarb, persimmons.

Lesley Wheeler, What’s cooking and what’s already on the table

Later in the week the publishing gods kept on giving, as the Winter issue of The High Window was published, featuring two poems of mine: ‘Selling The Trampoline’, and ‘A Short Survey’. I’m still working my way through it at present, but there are some wonderful poets surrounding me. Simon Richey is one – I have his collection ‘Naming The Tree’ on my shelves, and there’s a poem of his that caused me to buy it. I wish I could remember what it was, but I loved it and it wasn’t in the book, so I hope he gets a new collection out so I can hopefully be reminded.

Both of the poems of mine are ones I really like, Trampoline feels like more of a summer poem to me, but A Short Survey is one I wanted to get right, somehow combining the day job with my writing. I think it’s a vein to explore further, but I’m not going to force it. Both these poems took several drafts and rethinkings to get to this stage.

As ever, come for my poems and stay for the others.

The final gift from the poetry gods this week has been what I think is the fastest ever move from a first draft to final draft to acceptance. I finished the second draft of a poem last week, and after running it by a voice I trust, I sent it off yesterday for consideration towards a chapbook/anthology. I woke up to the acceptance email this morning. While the idea for the poem came in the middle of this summer, I didn’t write anything until two weeks ago, so that’s positively sprinter-level stuff for me.

Mat Riches, It’s (almost) the End of the (working)Year (as I know it) and I feel finest

I’m fascinated by the third issue of the Hazelton, British Columbia journal Partial Zine (described as “an offline journal of poetry, notebooks, and emails”), the first issue I’ve seen, produced by Adam Katz (formerly of Toronto; formerly of Buffalo) and Vera Maurina Press. This issue includes an array of some fascinating visual and text work by a range of poets, with only half the names I’m familiar with: Andy Gricevich, Raymond de Borja, reck bell, Ellen Dillon, Chris Macalino, Pansy Wright-Simms, Jordan Abel, Robert Jackson, Sila Katz-Kuperman, Woogee Bae, Ava Hofmann, Kristian Enright, Dennis Teichman, Ted Byrne and Michael Simard. There is something really vibrant, nearly explosive, in the works collected here. The issue opens with nearly a dozen pages by American poet Andy Gricevich (does anyone remember the publications he used to produce as CANNOT EXIST?), an array of il/legibilities he describes in a brief afterword: “Later I started to think of them as ‘songs’ (at least sometimes), where greater legibility=’lyrics’ over the ‘background music’ or harmonies of the other marks. // Still later I started thinking a lot (and still haven’t really followed this out consciously) of illegibility as a sociopolitical issue—rendering ourselves unreadable to state, medical, corporate, social media and technocratic attempts to comprehend and anticipate our desires and needs.” Between dense visuals of collaged images set upon a background of crinkled grey, set as a field of tricks with light, Raymond de Borja includes the short piece “The Given is What Accident Refracts to a Gift,” that reads: “Set where various cities touch without tremor—the timbre of a tear—offered—in the fabric of—to a listening where—when straining for—there—when towards—disambiguation—an attentive ear—understands—that it cannot understand—the impulse towards—what we feel we mean—when saying here.” As part of Woogee Bae’s addendum to her own handwritten piece reads:

the idea circulating in my head kind of frustrated me as I put it to paper, so that’s not what this is.
a rough breakdown of the word “mung” (like mung beans).
my current obsession.
several definitions, different uses of the word throughout history
data manipulation
ruins
here

There is such a wealth of work here, from handwritten to straight text, from visual collage to designed and modified text, all in their own way utilizing the page as field and the text as building-block (the only structures missing might be the physical, modified text itself, a la Kate Siklosi, Gary Barwin, Amanda Earland Derek Beaulieu, etcetera). This is clearly a journal worth paying attention to. To order copies, check out the link here; to submit (“Special consideration will be given to submissions to Partial Zine 4 that are in some way based on pieces in Partial Zine 3”) email: adam.robert.katz (at) gmail.com

rob mclennan, Partial Zine 3 :

Is 2020 a lost year? I’ve seen this mournful term on several occasions recently in the media and even being invoked by poets. However, I’m convinced it’s a misnomer and can only lead us down a dead end.

Of course, my above comment isn’t intended to trivialise the fact that countless people have lost everything in 2020, while it’s also clear we’ve all missed out on experiences this year. Nevertheless, one of the things that poetry teaches us is that time is never lost or wasted. 

Fallow periods in our poetry lives are necessary. Through our writing, we soon learn that the genre doesn’t require or even benefit from our spending eight hours a day sitting at a desk. In fact, it encourages us to live and let ideas percolate through our subconscious in the meantime.

Beyond our writing, it’s worth adopting a similar approach to our days, using the patience that poetry given us. As a consequence of having pressed the pause button these past few months, certain projects will have lost significance. Others, on the other hand, will have unexpectedly become crucial. Our priorities will have shifted and we’ll be in a better position to face the rest of our lives. In other words, however we view it, 2020 is in no shape or form a lost year.

Matthew Stewart, A lost year…?

Last week as I was going over proofs, I was thinking about work and progression and how well some things come or hang together.  Much of feed was written in 2018 as a kind of therapy, though the title and my notes for the hunger palace, or parts of it, existed earlier, though it took Christmas break that year to come together.  2018 was a productive year in general, that writing out of grief, so of course, those projects would wind up speaking to each other.  I had just come off writing the love poems from sex & violence, and that book was coming together in November 2017 , so I was ready to dive in on something new anyway.   Since daily writing was happening much of the year, there was a lot of other projects mixed in as well, other manuscripts that were started.  Some are finished mostly (dark country & animal vegetable monster).  Others, not so much (automagic).  Either way, it’s just a lot of output, some of it still living in a weird formless stack of random poems.  While 2019 was slightly less so, amazingly 2020 has been a productive year, though it has felt like pulling teeth sometimes.  While I can’t say I’ve had the focus for actually reading or making much art, I’ve been writing, which may be the only thing saving my mental state. As such, I find I have almost the whole of an entirely new manuscript (collapsologies). I look at the poems in one slant of light and hate them, but in another, they feel like the most interesting, important thing s I’ve written.  It goes back and forth.  

I also feel like different projects speak to different poetry concerns.  feed is far more personal, while something like animal, vegetable, monster and collapsologies are more externally oriented. I sometimes feel like each new thing brings out a different poet in me, but at her core, she is still the same. Every once a while, I bring out old poems in the files I keep in the bureau next to my desk for a giggle at how awful they really were, but how i took them so seriously. If I say my real pursuit of writing (anything decent anyway) began in  1998, it’s been over 20 years at all this.  If I start at the very beginning, freshman year of high school, it’s been far longer. 

Kristy Bowen, book notes

Unusually for me, I find myself 8 handwritten pages into…well, what it is I can’t yet say, but I’ll loosely term it at this point an essay. I decided to start with a geographic point and then try to get myself to spin out from there, writing in whatever direction consciousness, or subconsciousness, or unconsciousness took me. I’m bemused at this, and am trying to still the anxiety I always feel to conclude a piece of writing, to tie it off, like a scarf from a knitting needle.

The urge to end is, well, urgent. What more could I have to say? How will I ever make all this work together? I’m trying just to keep knitting. What if it never ends? Well, won’t that be something?

Marilyn McCabe, I wish I had a river; or, On Letting Writing Flow

one foot after the other foot after the other on
the steel-frosted sleepers parsing dawn’s progress
to the vale works smoking sedately in the distance
on a sunday morning after a statuary night out with the boys
so cold and overhung in step after step into the warm
innards of the work’s entrails of hot pipes and
furnaces and catalytic converters
vanadium pentoxide tasting of stale beer to
my bleary mind’s eye rehydrated by canteen tea
and a corned beef sarni half now half later

Jim Young, on route to the swansea vale on a sunday morning

There’ve been times I drank so much I drowned in the hundred-proof truth of sorrows and joys.

If you’re quiet enough, you can hear the calendar disintegrate, build itself up from dust, then count backward from your last brightest moment.

In the dive bar of memories, toppling off the barstool can make falling feel like flying in the body of a beautiful bird circling a cemetery where blue is the color of love-cried eyes.

No need to fear the shadows lurking in the darker corners of these days.

They, too, carry miracles in their pockets.

That and enough quarters to play your favorite jukebox songs until the full moon comes home.

Rich Ferguson, In the Dive Bar of Memories

The fat candle fizzled out in the hot wax just as the fresh sunrise began to color the morning sky. Timing is an interesting thing, isn’t it? The length of a coincidence. How does one measure things that are random?  Look, jobe, you old white-beard, all night you sat in that chair and now it is time to get up and greet yet another day of living. What time is it? The same time as always; now.

James Lee Jobe, hot water in a tub never felt better

There is no wisdom
in the grey silence.

Fifty-one years
we’ve been married,

wondering Are we
good for another one?

The sun will break through.
The moon this evening.

We know what we have
We have what we want.

Tom Montag, ANNIVERSARY

I’m still in a writer’s block, hemmed in by depression.  I feel that I have nothing left to say, and yet I have very much left to say.

I am so worried about our country. Trump has done serious damage in so many ways, and I will not live long enough to see it repaired.  

I don’t expect to live past 85; that’s just 13 more years.  Both of my parents lived into their 90’s but with terrible diminishment which began in their early 80’s.  I don’t want to live that long.

As of today, we have a vaccine for COVID 19 which is beginning distribution.  So I hope that by the summer, I will be able to visit my friends and go to Cape May again.

In the meantime,  I look forward to teaching Modernity in Literature again, starting in late January.

In the meantime, I look at the growing dark, waiting for the Solstice.

Anne Higgins, In the last week before the Solstice, in the forty-first week of the Quarantine

I think about giving up on my dream of being a writer, sometimes, honestly. This year especially. I was good at my job as a tech writing manager, I liked advertising writing and working in publishing as an acquisitions editor for technical books. I liked getting a steady paycheck and the nice feeling of people praising you for a job well done – very absent in the poetry world, you may notice, except for a chosen few. I liked feeling useful instead of useless. When I was healthier and younger, I spent almost as much time volunteering as I did working – and I was sort of a workaholic. I miss being able to “do things” for people, physically, that I used to be able to do. I resent my disability, honestly, my immune system’s weakness and the symptoms of MS – vertigo, nausea, muscle weakness at odd times – and the feeling of a shrinking life those things can bring. I love my husband, who has always been very supportive of my writing career, and I’m happy he’s embarking on his own adventure, getting his first Master’s Degree, but I wonder: what’s next for me?

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Discouragement During the Holidays, 2020 Edition

Once I compared daily prayer
to a chat window open with God
all the time. That was before.
Now the chat windows where I text,
the Zoom windows where we meet,
are as fervent as prayer:

the only way we can be together
anymore. The digital windows open
between my home (my heart) and yours —
they’re what link us, together apart
like lovers with hands pressed
to far sides of thick glass.

Rachel Barenblat, Windows

I wrote the first draft of this post in a way I rarely write anymore: On paper, with a pen. When I began writing, as a girl, that was the way of all first drafts; through my childhood and teen years I had a large, hard, permanently red bump on the first knuckle of the finger my pen pressed against; a remnant of it remains, a permanent disfigurement that is evidence of something I’ve always been compelled to do.

I picked up a pen because I was on a third day of avoiding screens, a third day of trying to muddle through work with a multiple-day migraine. In my migraine, there are various factors always at play: work, screens, stress, meds, sleep, rest, hydration, exercise, food. Trying to figure out exactly how to put these together is like trying to solve a Sudoku puzzle. Maybe I can get one line to work, but I can never get the whole box to add up correctly. If I take off work to avoid screens, I increase stress from falling further behind. If I exercise when fatigued, I can trigger an episode, but if I don’t exercise I don’t sleep well, which can also trigger an episode. If I spend Sunday in food prep for the week I know I will eat well on work days, but I might end Sunday fatigued rather than rested, and stressed about other things I didn’t get to do.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Begin again

Today I pause from giving you updates from grief’s front line and take a leaf from the blogs of Karen Walrond and Simon Parke.

From Karen I borrow her line of hope and choose to say into the darkness ‘This was a good week’ and from Simon I am reminded to practice gratitude, even if I can muster it only for my kettle.

For Peter, who sent me links to two beautiful poems, one by Clive Wilmer, the other by John Freeman.

For my friend Martin, who rings to say hi.

For Greg, who texts the same.

For my activist friend Roger quoting Ghandi and Dr Martin Luther King Jr on an Advent WhatsApp group.

For my theologian friend Luke reminding me that the world is dark, but that the light always wins.

For my friend Cock.

For the lifesaving blog of Shawna Lemay, whose posts always leave me feeling more human, less alone and a little more sane. Like this one on Anna Kamienska.

For the Amos Trust, whose Seeds of Hope anthology is out now.

For my dad, who is still modelling everything I need to know.

For my colleagues.

For my students.

For this, by Anna Kamienska (please read it slowly).

For nattering with Jan in the health food shop.

For Shim being home.

For Millie, who takes me out of the house and ‘clear of the wheel of myself’.

For Harold Budd.

Anthony Wilson, This was a good week

The heat has rumbled off and on through the night.  It’s the earliest we’ve ever had the heat on down here in the southeast tip of Florida.  Our low yesterday morning was 48 degrees, which I know will sound balmy to people in the northern part of the continent.

I’m thinking of the first days of the furnace of my childhood in Montgomery, Alabama.  We usually had warm Septembers, but there would be one night in October when it would get chilly, and my dad would turn on the furnace.  I have nostalgic feelings about that scent:  waking up to the whiff of natural gas that fueled the furnace, the smell of summer’s dust incinerating.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Comfort Smells, Comfort Food

warm December day;
a puff of white ash
as I seal the incense jar

Jason Crane, haiku: 11 December 2020

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 48

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.

If you thought that the long holiday weekend in the U.S. would mean less blogging, think again! Some poets never rest, and others write movingly about restfulness. Thanksgiving was examined from all angles, of course, plus I found two different reviews of essay collections by poets, overlapping with several posts about spareness in poetry. Two poetry bloggers are involved with new or newly revived online journals, and I quote those at length. To name just a few highlights. Happy reading!


Freshman year in a seminar college. The class was Astronomical Physics and Cosmology. For context, Hubble had discovered red shift galaxies in 1929; cosmic microwave background was detected in 1964; Wilson and Penzias won the Nobel Prize–three years after my freshman year–for their work, which led to confirmation of an expanding universe. The term “black holes” was relatively new, coined during the mid-60s; and a theoretical explanation of them had not yet been determined. Oh, and because desk calculators were large and prohibitively expensive, my fellow students and I were using slide rules for calculations.

Did I mention I had never taken a maths course beyond Algebra 2?

But our professor was enthusiastic and encouraging and loved using metaphors to help our teenaged brains decipher challenging concepts. I have forgotten most of his analogies, but the ballooniverse stayed with me. Everything in the universe is moving away from everything else. Our future is distance.

So it seems at present. Each of us moving away from one another. Defoe’s narrator says the best method of avoiding plague was to run from it.

But oh, my Beloveds, how I wish to be close to you.

Ann E. Michael, Expanding universe

In the center of February — or was it March? I cannot tell from this vantage point, but it was the middle point of a month, a segment of time that can seem rather long depending on what you are waiting for: an exam result, a diagnosis, or a child’s birth, yours or someone else’s, an answer from an editor or a love, the love you long for or the one you already have secured, like money in the bank you can draw from steadily for the rest of your life – a lottery of sorts. So, in the center of February, it was certainly cold — the kind of cold that makes you go to bed fully clothed on some nights because you won’t bare your nakedness to the lonely air so you slip off your boots, curl your socks and jeans and sweater and scarf, all of it, under the down duvet and breathe beneath the cover: in for 5, hold for 5, out for 10, to slow your heart rate because you are nervous for some reason — maybe because it’s in the center of February and you are alone —but that was then, in the center of a different February and in the center of the next you won’t be alone because you have a love secured who keeps you warm at night and you can count on that like money in the bank.

Cathy Wittmeyer, Starting with a Line from Patti Smith

After heartbreak, the thought of another love, a tender love, can become a dry territory to be skirted, or walled off. Not in Lucy Ingrams’ Light-fall. Here, ‘loved me    loved me not’ exist in the same breaths and curvatures, to love, have loved, ‘is to carry  …  is to be carried away.’

Reading these poems again and again has enabled for me a different vision of what it is to be alert and sentient in the world after a thinning love: they are open with courage, even when (especially when?) ‘weary of flowers’.

Bound in the familiarly confident Flarestack style, each page holds levers, phrases and twists of sound, which shift and interact to unlock sensations of light and thorn, and above all a strange hope.

It is rare to find a pamphlet in which every poem sings, and I enjoyed so much about this from the very start. Its lines flex, supple as the sea rendered in the exquisite opening poem, Swimmer, right up to the final exhalation of Blue hour. The rich imagery of intimacy and distance ranges across landscapes and seasons, with an originality that requires close attention.

Liz Lefroy, I Review Lucy Ingrams’ Light-fall

This full moon is called the Frost Moon or the Mourning Moon, which makes sense, as my family is still mourning the loss of my grandmother from coronavirus, and so many others are mourning loved ones lost this year. Wishing peace, love, and light to all of us who have lost love ones.

I haven’t been sleeping well since she died, and I haven’t been able to write or send out work at all, which I guess might be normal during a time of mourning. I was lucky, at my age, to still have grandparents left, I think. This year has been so, so hard for so many reasons. As a poet, I feel I should be coming up with better ways to say that. Will next year be any better? With the vaccine on the horizon, and a new President, maybe we have reason for hope.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Low-Key Thanksgiving, a Mourning Moon, Closing Out the Year, and the Necessity of Early Holiday Cheer

But aren’t you better than a moon that cannot account
for borrowed light? Some things are better upside

down. Some things are better displaced. What if the
morning shifts as it wakes up in pain in your bed? What

if the evening changes the locus of your dream?

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Things still broken

It’s raining, a dreary gray-drenched drizzly rain. But rain blurs, takes the detail from things. What is data in rain? What is insistent, goal-driven argument? What is rain plus holiday? A chance to lay down my arms. Rest in a different kind of time. Steep in blue-gray pointillism where we can see ourselves in a continuous, constantly reimagined line. There were parents who puzzled the mysteries of cranberries and giving thanks during a World War; we once ran around Paris searching for airelles, cranberries, in a self-appointed quest. And in small pods, today all figurations of “we” will be losing some of our grievances. Yes, puzzling the mysteries of celebrating during crisis. Yes, cognizant of all the suffering and challenges – God knows we’re in the soup. At the same time celebrating the soup.

Jill Pearlman, thanksgiving in blue, quince and gray

A lump in the potatoes
proves they’re real. The masher
blames distractions, so many
people in the kitchen. The gravy maker
stays focused while other pans
change places, the drawer
at his elbow opens, closes, opens.

Ellen Roberts Young, Thanksgiving Poem

It occurred to me earlier this week that this is the first time ever in my whole life I am not spending Thanksgiving in Rockford amid some sort of family gathering or somesuch.  It’s strange, but I’ve been happily planning my menu and plotting crockpot action and content to sit this one out and get a few days at home. […] I’m sure there will be a lot of texting with my bestie over our solo cooking exploits and cat antics, and a phone call with my dad later tonight. I’m mostly grateful for a few days in which I don’t have to pretend to be a fully functioning human amid a national health crisis and can just veg. 

As for gratitude posts, it always reeks of a certain “live.life.love” vibe, thrown around by rich white women in yoga pants, but even still amidst the bad things, there are good things to be thankful for.  Family, friends,  sound relationships.  Jobs and health, things that seem to be in jeopardy most this season around us, but are holding steady.  Poems and the chance to work with other writers to make lovely books.  Art and reading, though these have been harder to get back to when my mind is in pandemic mode. Chicago and Lake Michigan, still here and still varying shades of blue.  My cozy apartment and a whole bunch of crazy cats. 

I had a lot of goals at the beginning of the year that, of course, did not pan out, but other things happened–virtual art exhibits & new ways of looking at library programming, entire manuscripts of poems, learning to make video poems, stepping back and re-evaluating some things in how I conduct myself as a writer in the world.  All good things amid the creeping fear. Also, gratitude for good decisions on a national level, and though the world is about 49 percent fucked up, racist , self-interested, deeply stupid and backward, the election proved that good wins by a slim majority, so at least its something and bodes well for 2021. And it’s something we can all be thankful for. 

Kristy Bowen, happy thanksgiving

For my friends, family & mighty lioness daughter.

Thanks for those with green thumbs & purple hearts, those that tickle me pink & others that arrive from outta the blue.

Praise for bringers of incense, flowers & music. All the poets, writers & artists that have inspired me, coaxed me off ledges of temporary insanity & uncertainty.

Graces to the teachers & healers, zen masters & car mechanics.

Mother Nature & the Mothers of Invention, animal vets & pets that say the most profound things with their eyes.

Grateful for the ground under my feet & roof over my head.

Indebted to the lights that still burn bright—in my apartment, my heart & mind.

Rich Ferguson, Longitudes & Latitudes of Gratitude

            thanksgiving 

                    so many 

                    empty chairs

Sharon Brogan, Thanksgiving 2020

I’ve been to two physical launches of issues of Magma poetry magazine. Both involved exhausting, expensive and time-consuming journeys from Somerset to London and back. Last Thursday I had the pleasure of attending a virtual Magma launch without travelling or expense. It was warm and intimate, with magnificent readings and the usual Zoomy glitches. Not by any means to be confused with gloomy Zitches. (Which, since you asked, is Urdu for “stalemates”.)

Magma 78 is mostly about collaborations. It is a rewarding and exciting read.

It got me thinking about other collaborations. I’ve been involved in a few, one of which was “Waterwoven”, a half-hour performance of poems about water. A sound-collage for six voices and rain-stick. Forty-two poems by six poets were cut up and rearranged to form a sequence for performance, beginning with the first drops of rain and ending with the vastness of the Atlantic. Solid blocks of blank verse were whittled down to slender elliptical stanzas. Sonnets and villanelles were ruthlessly dismembered. Many opening lines and first stanzas were discarded. Choruses emerged. We had the first draft of a script. Through four weeks of rehearsal it was refined bit by bit by all of us. Another week of rehearsal might have yielded further changes. We performed it in Bath Poetry Cafe and at Bristol Poetry Festival … and in the Literature tent at Priddy Folk Festival. The neighbouring tent was the venue for a programme of rousing sea shanties. I do love a rousing sea shanty, but …

Ama Bolton, On collaborations

November 2020 is the centenary of Paul Celan’s birth, and in 2020 it is also 50 years since he died. I have often written about him in this blog, but it has been lovely to see him widely commemorated this year and especially in this past month, even if many events had to be moved online due to the pandemic. And this has its advantages – in the past couple of weeks I attended a couple of excellent Celan events from Deutsches Haus in New York, despite living in the UK. 

While Celan’s poetry is often considered difficult, he has managed to gain legions of readers who haven’t been put off by this discouraging label and who often (like myself) can’t read him in German, the language in which he wrote most of his poetry. Sometimes if I’m looking at Twitter late at night (a bad habit) I find myself searching to see who’s tweeting about Celan all over the world (a good habit, or at least a better habit). English is by no means the dominant language, and I’m not sure German is either – he seems particularly popular in Spanish and Turkish. 

Celan’s identity is very difficult to pin down in any way. He was Jewish, but that isn’t necessary the dominant influence on his work (although it is massive). He was German-speaking but not German. He was Romanian, but his hometown of Chernivtsi is now in Ukraine. His greatest poetic work came from years in Paris, and he worked as a translator with many languages. All of this has probably succeeded in making him more universal. His poems are like radio transmissions directly from his mind and heart, in an new language, untranslated, somehow and mysteriously unmediated in a way that is different from most other poetry. The silences, gaps and elisions in his poems are also like the moments when the radio waves break up – but they are entirely deliberate, an essential part of the work of art, at times the most essential.

Clarissa Aykroyd, Remembering Paul Celan, 1920-1970

Like a new-
born heaving

for breath, the
poem has

preference for
air. Do not

hold back from
white space and

stanza break.
Let light shine

through the lines.

Tom Montag, INSTRUCTION

Okay, now I have gotten past the intro [to Synthesizing Gravity], and yes, yes to many of these erudite little essays in which Kay Ryan thinks her Kay Ryan-ish delighted thoughts on poems that interest her interesting mind. I have had some friends in my life like Kay Ryan in whom I totally delight and with whom I’m always a little anxious. These are people SO much smarter than I am, totally idiosyncratic in their brilliance, and they just dazzle without being anything grand or fancy but just being their often small-seeming, darkly quietly brilliant selves. And I’m anxious that they find me likable and never discover the dolt I am. This is what Kay Ryan would be like if I could be her friend. And I would love to be her friend. Or at least her roommate at an AWP conference, about which she devotes one hilarious essay, her reluctant attendance at an AWP as a visiting alien, wide-eyed and exhausted by the planet-change. 

Here is something she says, in the context of considering a Robert Frost poem, but so relevant to the poetry writing process in general, I think, and relevant to a discussion I had recently with a poet friend. About her spare, crystalline poems, which I often find engimatic, I’m constantly asking basically, “Can you tell us just a little bit more?” Ryan says: “The amount you need to say is so hard to gauge. How much can you not say, and something will still have the charge of the unsaid? There is a point at which what is said is too pale, or frail, one fears, to tip the mind into the unsaid. And the reason for the pallor might not be punctilio but a genuine failure of force.”

I had to look up “punctilio” (“a fine or petty point of conduct or procedure”) and in so doing sort of lost track of things, but she’s addressing, I believe, choice-making — how to choose the words/syntax/form that will carry the greatest resonance, undone by either too much or too little actual information. 

Here, from another essay, this one considering William Carlos Williams, she comes at the same question from the other end: “How much can you take away? It’s always a question. Or maybe it’s exactly the wrong question, posed like that. If you think you are taking away, then you probably are — diminishing something. You have to be looking for something, feeling for the contours of the thing inside the distractions, trying to add just a little bit moreto what you know.”

All this is to say that Kay Ryan is a delightful essayorial companion, and I’m enjoying this collection without the anxiety of worrying about whether she is enjoying me.

Marilyn McCabe, I want you to show me the way; or, On Reading Kay Ryan

From Driftpile Cree Nation writer Billy-Ray Belcourt, Canada’s first First Nations Rhodes Scholar, comes his non-fiction debut, the rich and remarkable A History of My Brief Body (Columbus OH: Two Dollar Radio, 2020). The author of the poetry collections This Wound Is a World (Calgary AB: Frontenac House, 2017), winner of the Griffin Poetry Prize, and NDN Coping Mechanisms:Notes from the Field (Toronto ON: Anansi, 2019) [see my review of such here], A History of My Brief Body is a collection of short essays that blend lyric memoir, critical theory, life writing and confessional on his cultural and contemporary self, blended together into a commentary on grief, sexuality, gender, colonialism and the body across fourteen sharply brilliant and beautifully written essays. As he writes early on in “AN NDN BOYHOOD”: “Perhaps this pressurized orientation to memory—a body in the present—is always the case with life-writing. The writ  is called on by others to do the politically significant and ethically charged work of construction and then documentation. This is my job to report from the scene of an undead past colliding with a still-to-be-determined future.” Belcourt’s view is unflinching, writing on the cultural and sexual self and the contexts around which he emerged and exists, writing the dark underpinnings of racism and homophobia, the falterings of any coming-of-age and sexual awakenings, and the ongoing personal and family legacies of the residential school system, as well as multiple other concerns, experiences and explorations. As he writes to open the title essay: “Let’s start with the body, for so much is worn and lost, and lost and lost there.” The essays centre around the body, as the body is where everything is felt, everything ends, and everything begins. And from the foundation of the body, so too does he write on the requirements and statements around desire, and the possibilities, joys and complications of desire. And from there, his essays open into a meditative suite of incredible depth, range and complexity. As he asks early on, how does one exists in such a space of constant erasure and denial, citing experiences around his culture, his family and his sexuality?

rob mclennan, Billy-Ray Belcourt, A History of My Brief Body

It’s ok to not be ok

That’s what the Samaritans say and you often find this mantra in places of extremity like bridges or rail-tracks. I recall having a blazing row with a university friend of mine from Madeira about how it was more seemly to hide your feelings – ala the stiff upper lip of the butler in Remains of the Day – but he maintained that we should pour out our emotions with wild abandon. Now, nearly fifteen years on, I agree with him.

To be honest, I don’t know what the done thing is. I tend to waver between apathy and lachrimae. But when it comes to writing poetry it seems that it’s not ok to say what you feel. In my most recent publications I’ve been criticised for laying myself bare and making myself too vulnerable via self-deprecation. There’s a thin line between not being ok and being self-pitying, it seems.

I think the problem is inherent in the marketing of poetry. There are so many people clamouring for attention in such a small arena. You have to play the big-shot at all times – you have to give out the impression that you’re a grand fromage when you aren’t. Modern poetry – that is to say the stuff that is successful now and wins all the (yawn) prizes – doesn’t dare for a second doubt itself. I find that a great shame. Poetry for me is the dramatisation of aporia or deep doubts within ourselves. But in order to sell poetry (and thus yourself) you have to be bumptious – these two drives are inherently incompatible. When did the sales-people take over poetry?

It’s ok to not be ok – but don’t for a moment get ideas above your station and think you can write poetry that matters from it – that will never sell!

Richie McCaffery, It’s ok to not be ok

My booklet on getting published in UK poetry mags is selling even better than the first edition – wowsers! And THANK YOU for buying it, telling your friends/students/social media contacts all about it.

Planet Poetry, the podcast I co-host with Peter Kenny, is generating some lovely comments. Thank you for that too! Working with Peter on the podcast has been one of the things keeping me positive.

There’s so much I’m enjoying about the course I’m doing, not least of all how it’s opening my eyes to so much great poetry and ideas about poetry that I’d never have encountered otherwise. My bookshelf is bulging. There’s enough reading there to keep me going for the rest of my life, I think.

We’re still planning on having a scaled-down Lewes Singers Christmas concert: venues and singers booked, music distributed. It’ll be intimate. But OH HOW MUCH Nick and I want it to happen, even if we’re only singing to ourselves and a handful of friends and family.

Robin Houghton, – and + and so it goes

For the last couple of months, I’ve been carving out a minimum of half every weekday morning to work on my poems. I’ve enjoyed the time to focus (albeit initially with a slight annoyance that it took me 6 months of lockdown to get into this rhythm, but I’m over that now) and to a degree, I’m reaping some of the benefits in the sense of having written at least 5 poems I’d say are among my best (so far) and have revisited some older ones to improve them. One of the newer ones, while declined by a big mag (and editor/poet I have long been a fan of), came very close to publication.

Adding to that a lovely day yesterday and today celebrating my wife’s birthday, and coupling all of that with getting two of the five reviews I have to write out of the door this week has meant that a stressful and mentally demanding week has, on balance, been a good week.

However, it was when Rachael came upstairs to my little office midweek that the best bit of the week happened. She saw me writing a draft of a poem I’ve had floating about for years. I thought it was done but I went back to it to see if I could get it ready in time to submit to a web journal that had a limited submissions window. I didn’t manage to finish it in time, and the poems I did send were declined this week too, but that’s by the by.

Rach came up, placed a cup of tea by my notepad and saw the handwritten draft with my near illegible to anyone other than me handwriting on. When I draft I use stress (/) and unstressed () symbols to make sure I’m on the right track. It helps keep track of syllable counts (other methods are available and perfectly valid, of course). She looked at the scratches and scribbles, the crossings out and the symbols and declared in her most-matter-of-fact-way, “You just make marks on the page”.

Mat Riches, Interested Parties

Ozric, my lurcher, has become integral to my writing process because most of the poems I write these days are composed when I’m out walking.

Billy Collins, in his introduction to Haiku in English: The First Hundred Years, talks about the habit of walking and writing haiku: ‘I got into the habit of walking with her [his dog] every morning along the shore of the reservoir, and almost every morning I would try to compose a haiku before I got back home’.

I don’t know about Collins, but I don’t carry a notebook on my walks, at least not in the mornings. For one thing, there isn’t time. Also, I think that carrying a notebook would be an obvious signal to my brain that I was going out to write a poem and that’s the very antithesis of what I’m doing. It’s a dog walk, with all the attendant issues of route and timing, head torch and poo bags. Weekday mornings I’m out by 6.20 am when the world is still largely silent. I’m always tired but once I’m out, I experience a sort of alertness that I see in the dog, all his senses engaged. It’s a sort of openness, a state in which the smallest details become noticeable and important.

Daily composition has resulted in a lot of haiku, although if I’m brutally honest with myself, most aren’t any good. However, there’s been a shift in my focus. Morning or evening, I’m more inclined to be listening to the wind or watching my breath mist in the light of the headtorch beam, than fretting about work or whether to put the washer on when I get home. Sometimes, I stop at the brow of the hill and take a minute to just stand and gaze at the moon. It might be cold and windy, but the moon is so changeable it is proving to be infinitely interesting. That’s the brilliant thing about haiku, by the way, there’s still room for poems about the moon!

Julie Mellor, Presence

We had eaten and were watered. Now we retired to the snug, for a conversation on mental health, our experiences of losing, finding and sustaining it, for others as well as ourselves. The space was safe and brave. Raw recollection was admitted. There were silences, there was laughter.

We did not arrive at an answer, a one-size fits all bag of tricks or tips that each of us would be able to call into play the following Monday morning. To paraphrase T. S. Eliot, we were aware of a fixed point, but in the end there was only the dance.

Into the final space of sharing one of us read the poem above, transporting us all to that time of not understanding, feeling left out, bullied, or ignored that we call school. There was another silence. Not a poetry-reading silence, filled with hmmms, but the silence of a room of souls confronting their own vulnerability. Several of our heads were bowed, as though in prayer.

Into the silence one of our voices spoke up. It said: ‘I bloody hate poetry.’ At which point the room erupted into laughter, helplessly, for fully five minutes.

I look back at that moment with great fondness. For its honesty. For the mismatch between the intended outcome of the sharing and the actuality of what happened. For its sheer comic timing. For that person, what had started out with one English teacher’s passion (‘You will love this…’) had led, poem by weary poem, week by mismatched week, to poetry not hitting the mark, to irritation, to loathing, to giving up.

It happens.

When we expect poetry to manufacture a solution which will somehow magic the actuality of the awfulness of this moment away. Into the gap between this huge expectation (and I am one of those who expects to have their mind blown with every poem) and the poem is where the actual poem takes its place. It is ‘what we missed’, whether we hate poetry or not.

Anthony Wilson, What you missed

When 2020 began, it wasn’t my intention to return to my poetry site And Other Poems – to be honest, I’ve been enjoying not reading through submitted poems, replying to enquiries, accepting or rejecting poems (never easy to say “no thank you” to someone, especially people who I count as friends or who I’ve got to know well), formatting poems in WordPress, chasing poets up for bio’s and sharing poems on social media.  But then… Covid-19 happened.  As spring has turned to summer to autumn and nearly winter, and the UK is still immersed in various levels of lockdown, the thought crossed my mind that people might like somewhere to place poems they’ve been writing.

But I wasn’t keen to give myself ‘work’ because this year I’ve been trying to progress various writing projects, poetry and prose, and I didn’t want to ‘gift’ myself with any extra form of procrastination.  But the niggly thought remained that I wasn’t doing anything for the Poetry Effort!  These are tough times and it’s all hands to the pump! Or all hands to Zoom for poetry readings, in any case. With IRL poetry festivals and events cancelled, the online readings are booming and I’m not pulling my weight by taking part in any, as a host or audience member.

If not Zooming (because I’m not a fan) what could I offer the poetry community, I asked myself, because I do like to contribute something to the poetry world.  Everyone knows that poetry is mostly read by people who write poetry (although I’m sure this will change one day!) so if I wasn’t giving out to the poetry ‘economy’ why should I expect anything back? The tipping point for opening up submissions to AOP was the US election, when we were waiting for results.  I badly needed some kind of distraction, the tension was becoming unbearable!  And I’m not even American.  But, as a citizen of the world, I was feeling anxious about the outcome.  And that is why I opened a smallish window for And Other Poems, from 6 – 15 November (quietly mentioned in a previous post).

The poems began to arrive at once and I started to accept them immediately, reading at speed and posting them up on the site.  Because why wait? Who cares about conventions, especially in the time of a pandemic.  Inevitably, my fast reading has probably meant that some magnum opus has slipped away without me noticing – it wouldn’t be the first time. I made myself promise that I would only post poems that made a strong connection with me and that I thought would connect with readers.  I’m trying to choose a variety of different poems rather than all of the same kind.  I like it when I sense poets aren’t playing safe.

In all, 173 poets sent in a total of 726 poems during this submissions window.  I will reply to everyone and certainly within the next few weeks. I mention this just in case you’re reading this and expecting to hear from me.

My reward, as always always is the case, has been the poetry.  What beautiful, knockout, fresh, funny, heart-melting, vibrant poems people are writing.  What a privilege to be able to read them.

I’m posting poems four times a week, on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays, from now until the end of January, 2021.  And then, And Other Poems will be taking a rest again.  For the time being.  I do have some plans to possibly find a way of opening submissions again.  I will keep you informed.  National Blog Writing Month has gone to pot.

Josephine Corcoran, Reading many poems

I was delighted to learn today that my poem from This Embodied Condition – “The Descent,” a weird hybrid prose-poem/cadralor series (with liberties taken) – has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize.

There is so little acknowledgement, never mind real celebration, of our work so much of the time that when it comes, it’s a lovely boost in our largely solitary pursuit.

That difficult poem also led to a connection with Gleam, the Journal of the Cadralor, for which I’m now a contributing editor.

I’d been sitting out public roles in the PoBiz, purposely, for the last 3 years, and had also taken a real break from publishing, having experienced what they call a ‘post-traumatic transformation’ of values after having my spine renovated. It left me with deep commitment to very literally embodied pursuits, and zero interest anymore in playing the games involved in being Important in the Literary World (or ever working 110 hours a week again – when only paid for 40, if that).

But the newness of this form and the journal celebrating and advancing it attracted me. There is a just-born energy in the cadralor itself, and a humble, radiant, intense flooding that it seems to inspire, that has real magic. The people associated are great – and just in love with poets, as it should be.

Sliding back into an editor’s chair in this particular context has been a total joy. It also allowed me to invite some people I intuited might connect with it to try their hand at the form, and it’s been a radical pleasure to see them just SLAY in response – particularly since for some of them, poetry itself is a new art form, or like me, they’d been sitting out the more commodified areas of the art, burned or disgusted by the high stakes and expenditures for, let’s be honest: low return. It is much more in the unofficial channels that actually exciting dialogue happens, much of the time, and I’m thrilled to be able to make bridges between these worlds when and as I can.

The idea, with the cadralor (which you can’t tell from mine because of aforementioned liberties) is:

The cadralor is a poem of 5, unrelated, numbered stanzaic images, each of which can stand alone as a poem, is fewer than 10 lines, and ideally constrains all stanzas to the same number of lines. Imagery is crucial to cadralore: each stanza should be a whole, imagist poem, almost like a scene from a film, or a photograph. The fifth stanza acts as the crucible, alchemically pulling the unrelated stanzas together into a love poem. By “love poem,” we mean that your fifth stanza illuminates a gleaming thread that runs obliquely through the unrelated stanzas and answers the compelling question: “For what do you yearn?” 

It is left to the poet’s discretion to decide how much, if any, contextual connection or linguistic connection will exist between the stanzas. The more unrelated in context, the sharper–riskier–the poem. Ultimately, the more unrelated the stanzas, the more successful the poem will be as a cadralor: they contain oblique connections that are illuminated by the fifth stanza. End punctuation between stanzas is also at the discretion of the poet.”

There is something ghazal-ish about them in feel, for me, but they also can go in so many directions that it’s been endless surprise to discover what other writers are doing with them.

I can promise you a wide range of approaches and some just gobsmacking work in the launch issue, coming soon now, to be celebrated at Gleam Journal in the week after Thanksgiving, and in a Zoom launch party and reading (come join us!) December 6th at 7pm EST.

I’m so glad for this bright spot in what is increasingly an apocalyptic landscape.

JJS, The good, the bad, the ugly: on Gleam Journal, covid apocalyptica, and the lovely bones of poets

It seems to be a widely acknowledged fact that time has been speeding up over the last few years in current affairs and newsfeeds, especially in terms of how quickly one major story is replaced by another (often on puropose, so as to bury bad news quickly!).This effect has also been noticeable in the poetry world, meaning that every magazine issue, new collection or review has a shorter time in the sun.

However, the pandemic seems to have accelerated that process even more. Zoom launches pile up, one on top of another, while social media races ever more quickly onwards, spitting out promotional posts, mini-reviews and quotes as it goes. Attention spans appear to shrink on a daily basis; books sink without trace. 

In normal circumstances, a collection would still be very much alive six months after coming out. Right now, I’ve spotted several friends bemoaning the fact that their 2020 publications have already vanished from view.

In this context, it’s important to pause, take a deep breath and keep subscribing to print-based journals with a greater time lag and thus a longer life, while also forcing ourselves to read more substantial texts online such as essays and blog reviews instead of scrolling through Twitter. Poets will thank us for doing so, while in purely selfish terms we won’t miss out on stuff that would otherwise pass us by. Most of all, we might slow down and actually take the time to snaffle a poem properly, read it, re-read it and read it again…

Matthew Stewart, Time is speeding up

This morning the crows’ chatter was grating. It shouldn’t have been. But in the dark, in the drizzle, with my shoulders aching and my mind echoing conversations (that have and haven’t actually taken place), I wanted to shout back.

I’ve always found it easiest to shift my perspective when I shift it in the material world. Stand-up. Run. Leave town for a day. Leave the country for a week. For good. How big is the thing I need perspective on?

I wanted to rush through their gathering
the way the freight train does on most mornings,
so close to the grove you can feel the wind
rerouted by its intrusion.
The trees shake. The crows wait.

I can hear it now, actually – right on cue – passing behind the neighbor’s house, metal against metal in a high-pitched howl. I can feel a cry somewhere
behind my sternum. It presses
upward and is easy to mistake for heartburn,
though not acidic: rounder, fuller
like an over-ripe fruit.

Nothing like metal shavings of the railroad track, actually.
Nothing that can compete with the world’s ills and hurts and
imperatives.

No. This withheld cry will soften into rot
and something new will eventually
emerge. A new fruit – not better – but
a potential. Because
on it goes.

And catharsis? Well, that’s the stuff
of fiction.

Ren Powell, When It’s Just Too Much

Sacramento Valley. Dusk.
Another sunset.
Up and out from under the causeway,
The bats take flight. By the thousands.
Higher, above, a red-tail hawk circles the floodplain.
And in the town?
The sounds of knives and forks against plates.
Television sets light the windows.
Define loneliness;
That empty feeling, multiplied by silence.
Your face in the mirror.
Sacramento Valley. Dusk.
Another sunset.

James Lee Jobe, That empty feeling, multiplied by silence.

Dear Mom: I wear you draped around my shoulders almost every day now. The first thing I claimed from your closet was a cashmere shawl. It is a light color, somewhere between brown and grey, like a northern squirrel in wintertime. It is soft as baby hair. Your clothes were so spectacular, and your shoes, but none of them would fit me. But this wrap is one-size-fits-all. 

It’s been a strange autumn, but November’s cold and damp have finally settled in. Your shawl lives folded on the back of my chair, and every morning I wrap it around myself like a tallit. Its wings warm me and protect me. Sometimes when I put it on I say “hi, Mom.” Sometimes when I walk past the photograph of us in my bedroom, I greet you there too. 

Soon I will hold Crossing the Sea in my hands. What would you make of it? I hope it would make you glad. To know that I am still thinking of you (will always be thinking of you). I imagine sending you a copy, there on the other side. Maybe the reference to mango mousse would make you smile, or the cheery tulips on Park Avenue, or the pale green purse (once yours) that I carry now every spring.

I carry you now. You’ve become so light on my shoulders I scarcely feel you there. Maybe that’s because your soul has ascended. Maybe that’s because my grief has ascended, transmuted, turned mostly into memory. But I feel the warmth of the shawl I took from your closet. I wear it every day. And if I listen closely enough, I can still hear the piano notes reverberating from the last time I heard you play.

Rachel Barenblat, A letter to the other side

In this time of continued suffering and uncertainty, it feels wrong, somehow, to feel as good as I have this long weekend. But what I’ve seen these past few days, more clearly than I did even in the spring, is that some aspects of pandemic life are good for me, and when we are past this enough to safely gather again, there are things from these months that I want to hold onto.

I know that it might not be easy; if I excuse myself from fast-paced living and unnecessary obligation I won’t have the ready excuse of a pandemic, which no one in my circle has questioned or pushed back on. I have been able to say both “yes” and “no” to things I normally might not, without hurting anyone’s feelings or disappointing anyone’s expectations (including my own). We have been giving each other all kinds of grace in acknowledgement of the hard time we are living through.

As I’m feeling myself come back to physical and mental wellness from just these few days of deep rest, I’m wondering: Couldn’t we maybe keep doing that for each other? It’s not like anyone I know was living particularly easy before last March. Couldn’t we keep accepting these kinds of choices as being necessary for our health (in the widest, most global sense)?

The things I want in my life are not controversial (or shouldn’t be). I want fewer superficial connections and more deep ones. I want more time at home, living slowly. I want time to rest my body and time to move it. I want to do and have fewer things, and I want the things I do have to be the right things. I want to take more long walks, spend less money, eat more good food, make more things, and live in such a way that I support people and causes that make this world the kind I’d like to live in.

I don’t know exactly how I’m going to do it, once the world starts back up again, but that’s OK for now. Figuring out what we want is sometimes the hardest part of getting it.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Choose your own adventure

The reason that I remain so stubbornly dedicated to my job, my community, my little neighborhood hospital, is that I’ve always known in the back of my mind that I have no control over anything else. My life was not meant to be big. I, like many before me who have served that hospital, was meant to be a small but meaningful light in a small but meaningful space, a space that for all its flaws and daunting issues is a place of healing and rescue, of renewal and restoration. And we are about to be very, very full of people needing all of those things. And I will do my part. I cannot control the virus or the fate of the economy or the political machinations going on with of either of those things. I can’t help the enslaved, the tortured, the starving, the victims of bombings and unjust wars across the world. I can’t rescue anyone but myself. I have to protect myself, take care of myself, and stand strong. It will not do for me to fall apart, to, as the song puts it, “be idle with despair.”I can only take solace in the fact that I am needed and that I have a community to serve.

To not end this on a total bummer: In spite of the fact that games are not adequately distracting me anymore, Steam had a huge sale this weekend and I downloaded the Witcher 3. None of the other Witcher games ever worked right on my computer, but I have a good video card now and this one works great. I am taking great solace in the fact that Geralt, the titular character, is a freak. Being a witcher is very stigmatized and he is essentially a lonely wanderer. Everyone wants his “special skills” and help, but no one really wants to associate with him other than transactionally. I’m enjoying playing a character in perpetual pain. It’s weirdly comforting right now.

Kristen McHenry, Gloom Train

plant the seed where seeds don’t grow
in the dark places
walk away
does it matter if it grows
the lonely word drops letters
everywhere it goes with you
loneliness drops hints
that every letter parchment bound
never adds or removes from the world
never blooms or runs to seed
but sits there with you friend

Jim Young, take the word loneliness

And is there a word  for the new  

scar inflicted by your silence? for how it’s fallen
on a threshold where we’ll walk, knowing

every other door is barred from within? In this world,
the cold, hard bread of the moon leaves

a trail for the broken to follow: they come to the water
looking for a thistle, a lily; silver shoots along its hairline.

Who knows how long it will take. Who knows if by then
we’ll remember the sound of each other’s voice. 

Luisa A. Igloria, Given a wing, what would you fashion

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 46

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: Winter is coming without the solace of big family gatherings to look forward to, and hatches real and figurative are being battened down. But amid the grimness of pandemic and political news, new poetry collections are still being released, and the natural world continues to inspire.

While I have your attention, allow me the indulgence of a rare plug for something I’ve just posted myself: How to publish poetry videos in a literary magazine: 20 tips and best practices. Not perhaps the most exciting stuff, but hopefully some will find it helpful.


Tuesday we woke
to high lines
of snow along
the birch limbs
out our bedroom
window.

Two days later
snow has congealed
to slush balls
that fall
to the ground
with thuds.

Frost shadows
rest across grass
and asphalt. Sky
changes mood
from fog
to blue.

They are counting
votes again
in Arizona.
They will
count again
elsewhere.

The country’s
mood changes
from slush
to thud
to fog
to blue.

Sharon Brogan, Snapshot Poem 12 November 2020

The sky is a negative shadow. We walk hurriedly in avoidance of oncoming rain. Our walk snaps our pant legs in an escalating rhythm breaking into a run the last 300 feet as the rain falls straight downward, hard and fast like it’s on steroids. 

Michael Allyn Wells, A Late Afternoon Shower

It’s a gloomy rainy dark day, and our State, Maryland, is going into lockdown again, due to the uptick in COVID cases.

The big convent where I live is almost completely locked down as of today, because one sister and one employee have tested positive.  We’re so afraid of transmitting it to our very frail elderly sisters in their 90’s.   But on this dark afternoon, the place seems like a tomb.

Anne Higgins, Rain all Day

It’s been a gloomy week.  I thought that once we had an answer about the presidential election, I’d feel buoyed.  But instead I just feel worn out.

It’s been gloomy in terms of our weather too.  We’ve had a tropical storm in the metaphorical neighborhood all week, and it’s been a mix of rain and clouds.  Ordinarily I’d like this kind of weather, but when one has flooding worries, it’s a different experience.

There’s been gloomy news about the pandemic as cases increase, and we reach grim milestone after grim milestone. […]

I’ve also spent the week feeling a fierce nostalgia for past times–some of them not very long ago, like our trip to Hilton Head in September or my quilting retreat in October.  I’m fighting off depression each day because I had expected to be looking forward to a family Thanksgiving, but this year, we’re taking the wiser course of action and not gathering in person.

In short, it’s been a week where I’ve felt that progress that I’ve made has been slipping.  I’ve been trying to treat myself gently, trying to convince myself that doing the tasks that need to be done each day is enough.  These are the days when I feel like I should be congratulated for wearing shoes that match my outfit–or for wearing shoes that match.

It seems that the whole world may be feeling the same way.  So I say, congratulations–you’ve got shoes that match, and that’s good enough for days like these.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Credit for Shoes that Match

How long, how long before we remember
these times of distance again, fondly, like a

memory, like an ache, like a fervent prayer?
Winter will come, with its lantern light and

unfeeling skies, winter will come like a train
on a moonless night, as if nothing ever happened.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Like an ache, like a fervent prayer

I seem to have finally settled in and have figured out how to spend my time and not lose my mind. It helps that I’m working on a new poetry project — I’ll announce it soon but it has to stay under wraps for just a little while longer. This new project has been a great way to channel my energy. I also saw a therapist for a while, specifically to deal with the despair and anxiety I was feeling – partly due to the pandemic, partly due to the election, partly due to my father’s health. Talking to a professional helped me work through some of that and get to a place where I was better mentally.

And now, it appears a lockdown is coming. Several cities have already imposed restrictions on movement and I predict more are coming. While this is hard, especially on those of us who are extraverts, I do think it’s necessary. Because we all want this pandemic to end. I want to be able to see my best friend and hug her. I want to host a dinner party. I want to attend a poetry reading in person, as opposed to on Zoom. I want to eat in a restaurant. In short, I want life to return to normal. But we’re not there yet. So until then, and until another lockdown occurs, I’m sticking to my now very familiar routine. There’s simply nothing else I can do.

Courtney LeBlanc, Rinse & Repeat

Today’s release reading for my new chapbook was such a gift. I got to read alongside students, peers, and mentors in a Zoom room full of friends, family, and former strangers. Most of the reading is available for viewing on YouTube now.

I never expected that such a joyful event would come from my little chapbook of deep grief, but getting to weave my words together with work by each of these wonderful poets was amazing.

Thank you to all who read with me and worked behind the scenes to make this possible. Thank you to the 100+ people who attended too. This poet feels very celebrated and grateful today.

Visit this page to find out more about 28,065 Nights.

Katie Manning, 28,065 Nights Release Reading

My mother and I had a complicated relationship. Over the first 43 years of my life we adored each other; we argued with each other; we delighted each other; we disappointed each other. Just now I had to look at a calendar to remind myself how old I was when Mom died: sometimes it feels like she’s been gone for a long time, and sometimes it feels like she’s still here. 

If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time at all, you know that I’m an external processor. I “write my way through the hurricane.” (Thanks, Lin-Manuel.) In rabbinical school I wrote Torah poems week after week. When I miscarried, I wrote poems as I sought healing. During my son’s first year of life I wrote weekly poems chronicling his changes… and mine.

How else could I possibly respond to my mother’s death? I keened and grieved and wept — and wrote. When I was in my MFA program in my early 20s, she didn’t like some of my poems; they felt too revelatory. Would she find these poems too intimate to be shared? I shared early drafts here anyway, because I needed to send the words out: into the world, if not to her.

Many of you wrote to me saying that the poems spoke to you and mirrored your experiences of loss. Over the course of the eleven months between her death and her unveiling, I wrote my way through how grief was changing me, and changing in me, until I reached the far shore of that particular sea. I will never cross it in that same way again, because one’s mother only dies once.

And then, after the year was over, I sat down with a trusted friend and editor and asked: are these poems worth publishing in a less ephemeral form? Beth helped me see how the poems could be improved, and what was missing from the collection, and how to make the book more than the sum of its parts. This book is far better for her editorial hand, and I am grateful.

I am fiercely proud of this book of poems. It is a tribute to Mom, and a testament to how much she shaped me (and continues to shape me). It’s a reminder that relationships can continue after death, and that time’s alchemy brings subtle shifts. It’s personal, because our relationship was only ours… and I think it’s universal, too, because we all have mothers, and we all know loss.

If you knew Liana Barenblat, I hope you’ll find her here. And if you didn’t know my mom, I hope you’ll find in these poems echoes of your own relationships, and maybe a roadmap for the mourner’s path, that complex journey of grief and love, loss and healing. I’m so thankful to Beth Adams at Phoenicia for bringing this book to press, and for her cover art, which I love.

Rachel Barenblat, Crossing the Sea

In Vanishings, from Palewell Press (2020) skilled writer Rebecca Gethin uses poetry to show us at-risk-of-extinction creatures in the U.K. — large and small and in-between — species that we may never see ourselves or even have known of their existence. […]

Elly: Although each of the poems can be enjoyed on its own, there is obviously an overall theme to the collection. Would you go even further and say you have a purpose, intended message?

Rebecca: I have long felt that nature is slipping away from us. I have kept a nature/weather notebook for at least 25 years, recording weathers and sightings and I know that cuckoos and swallows return to this place earlier than before, that some plants flower at different times from 20 years ago.

In this book I wanted to explore transience and break down the reasons for it happening in the UK for myself. To look at in the face. I don’t plan things in advance so when I started out I didn’t know it would be a book. As with my two novels, I start writing and hope it will cohere. I was lucky that after I had written about ten poems Camilla Reeve at Palewell Press said she would publish them as a pamphlet. But after a while the idea grew like grass and became bigger than that. This early acceptance gave me permission to approach naturalists and ask questions of them which I wouldn’t have found that easy if I was just writing a poem.

The idea behind each poem was initially to find out what made each creature so vulnerable…there is a range of reasons why extinctions are happening. It isn’t just one. I found that sometimes it’s their very specific habitat that is threatened like the water vole in Backwater or the willow-tit in Calibration of Loss; sometimes it’s the requirements of their complex life-cycle like the Marsh Fritillary in Instar: sometimes their diet is now in short supply like the greater horse-shoe bats in Glints in the Echoes or the cuckoos in Natural Selection; sometimes its dependency on another rare creature as in the Large Blue poem, Charm. My aim was to explore the creatures’ lives and try to capture it a little in words. I didn’t want to shy away from scientific words and didn’t worry if all readers wouldn’t be familiar with them if it felt like the most suitable word. I also wanted facts to sing and so I deliberately walked a very delicate line.

One rule I imposed upon myself was that I should see and experience the creature in real life and I shouldn’t just write from watching videos. So I saw (almost) everything in this book. I didn’t see the corncrake but I would have done if Lockdown 1 had not prevented me from travelling to Orkney. I think seeing the creature gives writing more of a spark. It certainly meant that I fell deeply in love with every creature I wrote about for this book.

No, there was no “message” planned, other than Look at This! I love taking photos and take my camera everywhere. I think the urge to write the poems was the same …to catch the fleetingness. I also wanted to investigate and see as much as possible what lies below the surface. The facts are often far stranger than any fiction.

E.E. Nobbs, Notes on Rebecca Gethin’s Vanishings

As the release of this book baby edges closer and closer, I’ve been thinking about the process of writing it and the strange journey it encompasses. Most of it was written in early to mid 2018. The first section was the hunger palace:  a beast of a series that sometimes is rough to read. Starting tenuously while my mother was hospitalized, the bulk of it came out like blood flow over my holiday break from the library.  I remember writing and freezing–a cold snap that made my apartment chillier than usual, so much so that even the space heater was failing me.  Free of daily obligations of work and commuting, I would move back and forth from my bed, where it was warmest, to my desk in the living room and then back to bed. The entire series was super rough and needed much more work than other parts of the book.  plump for example, written for our library Grimm project came rather quickly and easily and were urged on by the accompanying visual images. the science of impossible objects  had been an idea for a long time before I put pen to paper–the imaginary daughter–but when I did, progress through them happened swiftly at a time when I was writing daily. swallow was a little more drawn out, but again, it seems to be the case the more personal and raw the impulse behind the poems.  the summer house, which took it’s inspiration from the visual pieces, and is more an allegory about childbearing and changelings was, comparatively, a breeze. 

I’ve often said certain obsessions tend to begin constellating work around them.  Suddenly, the puzzle comes together. Suddenly, it was conceived (no pun intended) a book about mothers and daughters, about their bodies and the legacies we inherit from women in our bloodline. About body issues and growing up female. About the choice to be childless as a woman and what that means from a mythical and literal standpoint.  As someone who does not identify as a mother to anything but books , it’s a bit tilted a perspective–the idea of the artist giving birth to changelings and imaginary children is an apt metaphor for creation perhaps. And also, a book about grief, about working through the grief of losing a mother and all those motherless girls of myth and fairytale. (the line in hp “I’ve killed more mothers than I’ve revived.”) 

I’ll be finishing up the design aspects in the coming week and aiming for a December release (it will be available on Amazon as a print and an e-book eventually) and also going out to books & objects series subscribers via Patreon. 

Kristy Bowen, feed

There was a very interesting article this week, “On Poets and Prizes,” by Juliana Spahr and Stephanie Young, at the ASAP journal. It talked about the fact that, though some of us might prefer to think of the poetry world as a meritocracy, it is mostly a function of a small “in-crowd” of Ivy League types giving prizes to their friends, and only their friends. The charts and graphs alone are worth a look. Data-driven poetry information. Since poetry receives so little attention in America – and so few sales – the poetry prize decides whether a writer is read – or ignored. And most of this is nepotistic – highly nepotistic. More than you thought, if you already thought it was.

It is hard, as I have posted the last two weeks on the blog, to make a living as a poet. If you did not come from a family with money, didn’t go to the “right” schools, never ran with the “right” poetry in-crowds, it’s going to be even tougher. I mourn having to say this, especially to younger poets with more enthusiasm and optimism than I had (I was always a little cynical.) If you don’t go to Iowa for your MFA, you don’t go to New York City and the right parties, you are probably never going to get the big prizes or the big fellowships. Which means, you probably won’t be read. The data presented in the article is fairly convincing.

But…it does happen – and I know people who it has happened for, who were lucky, who just on the merit of their work and their hustle, did make it. I am so happy to know that such poets exist.  Publishers, from time to time, present terrific work by people from “nowhere,” who don’t have money or go to prestigious schools, and their work finds not only an audience, but good reviews and accolades and yes, prizes. Am I likely to be one of the lucky ones? Are you? The odds, as the article makes clear, may not be in our favor. But there is something honorable about writing, publishing, continuing to offer the work to the world, isn’t there?

If we are Katniss Everdeen and the Poetry World is the Hunger Games, how do we start to break the game, the in-crowd, nepotistic, odd-are-never-in-our-favour  system? Do we want to? How do you choose which poetry books to read, or decide which book is good and worthy of your time? How do you choose which book to review?

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A Poem Up at Verse Daily, Rough Week, And On Poets And Prizes

My poetry students are also expanding their sense of freedom on the page. One even articulated something at the core of my teaching in her own words: “The duality of the lines relates back to our class discussions of how behind every mark on the page, there has to be strong intent by the writer.” I say the core of my teaching–perhaps I mean the core of what I aspire to in my work on and off the page. Finding intent, of life and of each poem, that’s the mission.

Speaking of my poetry students, I am excited to be doing the work of expanding what a creative writing workshop can be. One resource that’s helped a lot was this essay by Beth Nguyen who breaks down the value of allowing a writer to speak during workshop. I tried and, well, wouldn’t you know, a writer smiled in workshop and all writers learned as well. It was something special to be a part of.

Lastly, check out this poem by Jessica Salfia made from the first lines of emails received during quarantine. That she was able to compose this by April of this year shows how quick we are to language, and how quick language is away from us.

José Angel Araguz, unsilencing in these times, ha

I read two fantastic poetry books this month. The first was Catrachos by Roy G. Guzmán, whose work always makes me feel awash in rich, vibrant language. Described as being “part immigration narrative, part elegy, and part queer coming-of-age story,” this stunning book blends pop culture and humor with cultural experience to provide a powerful and riveting collection of poems. I recently interviewed Guzmán about their new book, which will appear on the New Books in Poetry podcast soon.

Sarah J. Sloat’s Hotel Almighty is a gorgeous collection of erasure poetry, using the pages of Stephen King’s Misery.  Each of the pages combines evocative poetry with the visual treat of vibrant collage art. Some examples of her can be found at Tupelo Quarterly.

Andrea Blythe, Culture Consumption: October 2020

Vancouver poet jaye simpson’s book-length poetry debut is it was never going to be okay (Gibsons BC: Nightwood Editions, 2020), a collection of first-person lyric performance and prose poems on trauma, queer and Indigenous identity, love and sex, family, belonging and being. These poems are emotionally raw, unflinching, revealing and erotic, working up to an appreciation of the queer and Indigenous body and self, even as simpson’s narrator works through the trauma of foster care and intergenerational trauma. “i have swallowed / wildfire flame,” they write, as part of “her. (ii.),” “arnica cardifolia, / pleaded for her to leave these hollowing bones— / bit off more than i could chew [.]” Through their poems, simpson does far more than attempt to write themselves into being: to attempt to write themselves through and beyond the worst elements of trauma and into acknowledgement, as they write in “haunting (a poem in six parts”: “i was taught by wooden spoon / that children were seen & not heard / my pale flesh must’ve been reminder / that i was burden & beast / all in one.” This book works through some difficult material, clawing its way into being. “his sweat is / pabst blue wribbon / & dispensary dust,” they write, in “r e d,” “i feel the ridged scar on his right clavicle / trace the tattoo on the lower abdomen of this narrow-hipped boy / this closeness is as near / to being wanted / as i know [.]”

rob mclennan, jaye simpson, it was never going to be okay

I was saddened to hear the news earlier this week of the passing last Friday of David Cobb.

It’s fair to say that the overwhelming majority of haibun, haiku, tanka and renga poets in the UK may well not have become addicted to haikai forms without the enthusiasm and organisational ability of David Cobb. […]

Although many other people knew David better than I did, he and I were irregular correspondents for years and I was always delighted to see him. Aside from his writing, what I will remember most about David are his kindness, humility, good humour and that rare gift of being able to bring diverse people together in an inclusive and generous manner.

Here is one of David’s best-known haiku, remarkable still for its fresh, immediate synaesthesia:

a moment between
lighthouse flashes
cold smell of fish

A lesser poet than David might’ve chosen to omit ‘a moment’, which, on the face of it, appears superfluous, but that would’ve considerably weakened the power of this masterpiece. Whilst less is generally more in haiku, here a little bit more is definitely more: those two words enable a visual and sonic pause at the end of line one which enhances the surprise of the second line; and it also enables a subtle repetition in ‘cold’ of the ‘o’ sound in ‘moment’, which helps to knit the poem together. That lesser poet might also have been tempted to shove a definite article before ‘cold’, but, again, that would’ve been ruinous because that absence draws the maximum impact out of ‘cold’, and out of the monosyllabic incantation of the last line.

Matthew Paul, David Cobb, 1926-2020

As a project to occupy me, I decided to use each section in a multi-sectioned poem I wrote as inspiration to make a monoprint, then I figured I’d write the poem section on each print.

But my writing is terrible, some of the sections were really long which meant I’d get impatient with writing them out and inevitably make a mistake (would that be interesting, the cross-outs?), the ink obscured too many words (did I want them obscured? Would that be interesting?) so I decided to just write a fragment of the poem on each print. 

I’m happy with the prints but the words disappoint me. Wasn’t it enough that the poem inspiration was in the DNA of the visual piece? Or is it my poem? Is it the fragments I chose? Is it that words and text have, to my mind, a problematic relationship — reminiscent as they can be of sentimental cards or cartoons? What am I looking for in this pairing? Should I have left visual enough alone? 

I took a dive into what other people were up to with visual poetics. For example, I found an issue of Indianapolis Review that was devoted to visual poetics, plus some other journals like crtl+v often have visual poems of some sort, and Tupelo Quarterly which often has interesting work of various sorts. I was looking for examples that really gave me a zing, the sense of “yes, THIS is what it can be.” 

I found lots of fun stuff, but I’m not sure I have yet found what I’m looking for. There’s a lot of collage with ransom-note style pasted-on lines of text. Often the text is brief, aphoristic, or enigmatic, which is okay, I guess, but not greatly of interest to me. Some people are using full poems, which I appreciated. But then I have to ask what the visuals do for the poem — is there something expressed in the comparison/contrast? Or is it just fun? And after I while I got tired of the ransom-note look and crazy juxtaposition of images ripped out of magazines or old textbooks. There’s a lot of it going on. Often the text and what it conveys is less compelling than the mish-mosh of visual, and I guess, being a reader and writer, I want the text to have more heft, to be more “privileged,” if you will. 

There’s some work with embroidery that’s kind of interesting. Sometimes sheer excess is interesting, but it’s not something I can or want to emulate. A LOT of stuff is going on with erasure. Again, some of it is interesting. But it’s not erasure I’m looking for.

Marilyn McCabe, Shadoobee shattered shattered; or On Text and Image

My closest friend is always rebuking me for forgetting or misremembering stuff. I’m talking to him later on and I fully expect to be reminded of some detail from our shared past I’ve not remembered.

I don’t know about Eugene (He’s not called Eugene, by the way), but I pretty certain I’m missing a gene that allows me to remember things. I struggle to recall e.g. the scores of football matches from ten years ago (eg Ah, yeah that game where Eddie McGoldrick scored a glancing header in the 94th minute to clinch the game, etc*), or, for that matter, what i was going to say when is started this post. Did I come in here for my slippers? I don’t have slippers, so why would I do that?

I also struggle to remember poems or lines of poetry. I’d be dreadful if ever asked what’s your favourite poem, etc. I’m not saying the work of people that I’ve read is not memorable, I absolutely love it when I’m reading it and the sense of what I’m reading stays with me, but the actual lines are trickier. Even my own work is often a blur (and that’s possibly for the best). Is this the internet and the like making my short term memory rubbish? Who knows, but I’m pretty sure it was shocking before the internet became mainstream.

(Yes, I am old enough to remember this time…Flo is incredulous about this when I tell her. It wasn’t around when I was school or University for that matter, but I can remember using it for book orders after that when I worked at Bertram’s. Better stop with the brackets now)

Anyhoo, imagine my surprise this week when a poem came straight to mind, albeit not the actual lines immediately, but let’s not quibble.

Mat Riches, Theme From Magnetto

I have no actual memory
of its taste— rough bit of roast
meat from the beast’s mouth,
severed by my father with glee
and put into my own to suck
as I flailed in the white sack
of baptism clothes. What
possessed our kin to think
the gift of words, of brave
speech, might come out
of some magic rite of transfer
from this animal that once
rooted in the mud, grunting in-
decipherable syllables
all night?

Luisa A, Igloria, Tongue

With a potential Biden presidency, there has been much excited talk about dogs returning to the White House. The absolute last thing I care about is a presidential dog. A presidential dog does not interest me in the least. While I don’t understand them, I respect non-dog people for realizing that they are not dog people and not obtaining dogs. It’s also not lost on me that no one is ever excited about the prospect of a presidential cat. For some reason, cats are always under suspicion as being vaguely un-American. They do not care about your agenda and they don’t put up with your crap. With cats, the onus is on you to be curious, to reach out, to offer respect, to be patient. Cats don’t need humans in the same way as dogs do, and humans take deep offense to this. But earning the respect of cats yields great rewards. And cats are the purview of writers (who are also under constant suspicion of being vaguely un-American) perhaps because they are calm, they respect silence, naps, and boundaries, and they always have other options besides you. Presidents are mandated to have dogs. Everyone understands loyalty and happy tail-wagging. Cats make you work for it, and that does not provide the instant emotional crack that a dog does.

Kristen McHenry, Pajama Day, Judgey Bird, Dogs in the White House

moody lighting
who’s missing?
wake up!

it’s in my head
but it’s harder
to remember who I was

blindly sleepwalking
into the next episode
on the thousandth of March

Ama Bolton, ABCD November 2020

They say we’ve consumed the Kool-Aid of our tainted history.

That we’re caught in a matrix of endlessly repeating fake tricks.

That we’re abracadabraless when it comes to sprouting wings to soar towards new freedoms.

The list goes on and on.

Guess you can say blackbirds have at least shown us a little mercy by stopping at 12 + 1—a baker’s dozen of observations. Hot contemplation, fresh outta the oven.

Blackbirds don’t care how many ways we look at them. They’re soul shapers, song makers, dream shakers.

Blackbirds don’t need to color themselves anything other than what they are to be considered pure poetry.

Rich Ferguson, Blackbirds got 13 ways of looking at us

You probably know this quote from a Williams Carlos Williams poem: “It is difficult to get the news from poems yet men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there.” The word “news” suggests politics as well as missives from the mind and spirit. That’s great, but I also want it to include the wall-busting personal stuff sometimes derided as blabbing, tattling, chinwagging, and nosyparkering, all of which sometimes constitutes whistleblowing and the glue of sustaining friendships. My love of whispers comes from the poet in me, and also from my history in a messed-up family, where secrets festered. Secrets can poison your life. Luckily, they can also metamorphose into fierce literature.

Writing prompt: write a gossipy poem. Optionally, include a whisper, a fence, and a whistle.

This distinction is probably on my mind because I’m trying to dial down my obsessive consumption of political news. Election week sucked, as I’m guessing you noticed. Clicking vote counts every five minutes, I didn’t sleep, picked up a cold, endured a nosyparker nasopharyngeal swabbing, waited anxiously for a different kind of information, and ended Monday singing the “I don’t have Covid” song. At the same time, I started exchanging daily poems with a group founded by a long-distance friend. We don’t comment except for occasional appreciation and encouragement; we just write and share. It feels good to be drafting poems again–most of them pondering secrets–as well as to eavesdrop on others through the frank privacy of their poem drafts.

Lesley Wheeler, Gossip, news, & poems

Today is sort of a sad/glad day, dark and cold outside, with a wind advisory. When I checked the weather app on my phone, the expected precip was…ice. 

I congratulate all those people who put up their holiday decorations during our warm spell! I am pulling out interior decorations gradually, and I am glad I planted that tiny tree in a pot to decorate with blackberry lily seeds and leftover earrings. Every little bit helps. My chalkboard poem for today is “Sad/Glad,” about my children. When I walk into my daughter’s room now, I flip the light switch to turn on her string of tree lights left behind…

Sad/Glad

I walk into the rooms
of my children

who won’t be coming home
for the holidays.

I am glad
they are alive.

Kathleen Kirk, Sad/Glad

Normally, gift-giving feels like nothing but a chore, and I find myself resenting it—which is about the opposite of what gift-giving is supposed to be. This year, I’m enjoying thinking about what I can give each person I’m not going to see. I want them to have something that tells them I love them and am thinking about them and want to care for them. I want them to feel my presence, even though I’ll be far away.

In previous years, seeing anything smacking of Christmas before Thanksgiving set my teeth grinding, but this year, two weeks out from Thanksgiving, I’m ready to clear out the pumpkins and bring in greenery and lights and peppermint hot chocolate. You want to put your tree up right now? More power to you. Do whatever makes you feel good.

Rita Ott Ramstad, ‘Tis the season

Most birds possess the power of flight, something humans have longed for and envied forever, inventing angels and airplanes to mimic birds. Macdonald’s essay on swifts’ vesper flights describes how the birds rise in flocks up to the top of the convective boundary layer, where the wind flow’s determined not by the landscape but by “the movements of large-scale weather systems.” The Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology (one of my favorite informational sites!) suggests the swifts–not intellectually, but somehow as a group–orient themselves using the many-wrongs principle:

That is, they’re averaging all their individual assessments in order to reach the best navigational decision. If you‘re in a flock, decisions about what to do next are improved if you exchange information with those around you…Swifts have no voices, but…they can pay attention to what other swifts are doing.”

Helen Macdonald, Vesper Flights

We have voices; and yet we are not, in general, so good as the swifts at paying attention. Perhaps because there are too many voices shouting so loudly that the information gets confused. The sheep-following fashion of thinking goes with whoever’s most noisy, we follow; that way lies error. Paying attention and using a many-wrongs principle means we have to be willing to change course when new information arrives. It requires a certain humility that, let’s face it, most of us lack.

Ann E. Michael, Complicated distress

How do you wish to proceed? I know I don’t want to argue with the world. I want to learn to speak differently. I want to make a humble effort.

I want joy rather than complaint. There’s a poem by Dorothea Lasky that begins, “Some people don’t want to die / Because you can’t complain when you’re dead.” Which always makes me laugh. I’m not above complaining, loooord knows. But I’m going to redouble my efforts to just work harder, instead. Which is Joan Didion’s advice:

“Do not complain. Work harder. Spend more time alone.”

Which shouldn’t be so tricky this winter of our pandemic.

Shawna Lemay, This Winter of Our Pandemic

I think the thing that has surprised me most about my grief is how exhausting it is. There have been days when I felt I was coming to terms with it, when I understood its patterns, began to see shape in them, even coherence. I fooled myself into thinking we may even have come to some sort of understanding.

Those days are over now. The grief has no interest in coming to an understanding with me, no interest in letting me in on its plans, coupled to zero awareness of the damage it is doing to my sleep, my eating, my reading, not to mention my ability to concentrate and remember even the most rudimentary parts of my job.

I am officially exhausted. I wave the white flag. OK, grief, you win. What now? I cuddle the dog, get lost on a walk, phone the rat man, try to look at some James Schuyler, book the rat man, attempt a prayer, then collapse onto the sofa. I am trying to find holiness in all this mess, but it is hard, hard, hard. And it isn’t going away. It is hard.

Anthony Wilson, A holiness to exhaustion

There are days I feel broken. Worn so thin that I crumbled like an old rubber band someone dug out of the bottom of a junk drawer.

I always assumed the Beckett quote, “You must go on, I can’t go on, I’ll go on.” was from Waiting for Godot. I figured it was the clown with the bladder issues. Maybe the existential truth in this utterance requires no context at all. It is every story ever written.

This morning we were out of the house an hour later than usual. We caught the first blush of sunrise and passed four men out on their own morning run. We passed them twice actually, and the second time there was enough light to catch one of them smiling. He said, “God morgen!” a second time, and with such enthusiasm that my first thought was that he can’t possibly be Norwegian.

My second? That the other men in his company were psychiatric nurses from the nearby assisted living center.

I’m quite serious. This kind of extroverted greeting of a stranger is anti-social behavior in this region. And I began to brood on this, and then on my still-peculating fears for what is happening in my homeland. The hostility. The splintering of culture, the splintering of sub-cultures.

I keep thinking of colony collapse disorder. Adults losing the ability to navigate in the world.

This morning, counting on the exhalations: 1, 2, 3, 4. Relax the shoulders… I stopped to tie my laced that had worked loose, and I thought of Beckett and of recognizing the universal condition of human beings without cultural context.

Yes.

But there is also this:

“God morning!”
An unrestrained smile.

Context is always an understanding –
and always a speculation.

First thought is already
a rationalization
of the past.

Ren Powell, What it Means to Be in the Moment This Morning

Farewell, Western Black Rhino.
Horned and rather nearsighted,
I have relatives like that. Indeed,
If one looks at just the skull,
There is a human quality there.
The Western Black Rhino, extinct.
Birds warned them when danger approached,
But in the end the dangers outnumbered the birds.
What can you do?
I wonder now if got it lonely toward the end,
With the last of the great animals wandering about,
Seeking out their kinfolk,
Just wanting to see a friendly face.
And then the final one,
The last Western Black Rhino,
Perhaps knowing the poachers were out there,
A bird screeching at the sound of human footsteps,
And the last beautiful creature just waiting,
Not even caring anymore,
Preferring death to the endless loneliness.

James Lee Jobe, affirm life and honor interdependence

I wanted a cheap fix, a release, an anything
but the present thing, a veering from catastrophe

and know as the wind blows
there is no quick fix

but jeez, how little is granted, how stingy reality, 
how it seeps its goodness, 

what a frustrating partner is reason, seeming
other to my others, I tear my hair out

so I too began to dance, to shake off the tick
to make it make sense, I turned 

the snow globe on its head, I spun the disk, 
shook the paradigm, I know in my bones 

it is good nonetheless.

Jill Pearlman, Release

i write and it calls itself
nothing.
it’s not even an anagram
of a teapot pouring the steeped
and the stirred,
the dark or the golden.
i drink it with a cake stand;
outside the hail sheets down
and the leaves swirl autumn.
the blanket draws closer,
the blotting is done.

Jim Young, poetry they say it is

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 45

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 seemed somehow fitting that US election week began on the Day of the Dead, and that the UK’s second lockdown began on Gay Fawkes Day. But somber or macabre reflections slowly blossomed into cautious rejoicing. Political speech is perhaps inherently calculated and inauthentic, but it does feel novel to have a US president-elect capable of genuine displays of empathy. It’s odd to consider now that one of Trump’s original selling points was that he supposedly “says it like it is.” That make-believe truth-telling was perhaps his biggest con of all. No inaugural poet for him! Actual truth tellers were anathema.

Joe Biden, by contrast, quotes Heaney. And when he was young, he worked on his stutter by reciting Heaney and Yeats in front of a mirror. This is a man who, whatever else one might say about him, understands the power of language.

Anyway, that’s my take. Enjoy the digest.


When I look up at the seamed sky,
the black teeth of girders, the cracks of fresh air,
I think this is not an accident, but a moment
of refusal, a point I can look on and describe
in bricks of words, then knock down again
before it becomes too fixed

Julie Mellor, The Moment

I haven’t had a terrarium for years, but as the leaves came down and the weather turned colder, I kept thinking about making one. We have a perfect glass bowl that originally held miniature succulents, a gift from our friend Jenny. Last weekend I brought it home from the studio, lined the bottom with stones and charcoal, added a layer of woody soil, and started gathering moss from northern sides of buildings on the city streets. Yesterday I went for a walk up on Mount Royal, the large hill we Montrealers call “the mountain”, where I hoped to find a greater variety of potential inhabitants. It was a warm day, and I was happy being in the woods; I left the regular paths and wandered through the blanket of fallen leaves, checking out fallen tree limbs and moss-covered boulders, climbing higher and higher to where I thought I’d be able to find some lichens. After an hour or two, I came back down to my bicycle and the city with my small backpack holding treasures: mosses, a liverwort, grey-green and chartreuse lichens, a tiny shelf fungus, bits of shale and birch bark, a small fern.

This small and symbolic act has a lot to do with the election. As I’ve worried and waited, my thoughts keep returning to two issues in particular: the struggles of blacks, people of color, and migrants, and the peril facing our climate. The damage already done to both by the current administration is incalculable, but four more years could be irreparable.

I’ve lived a long time, and recognize that, like the lichens, my life continues to exist in a delicate balance with the other lives on our planet — human, animal, plant, single-celled organisms, bacteria, and those, like viruses, that inhabit a shadowy zone between the animate and inanimate.

The terrarium is not a sealed, balanced, self-sufficient and self-perpetuating biodome, but a micro-environment for which I’m responsible: it can succumb easily to mold, drought, or neglect. As such, it’s a microcosm of the responsibility we bear for everything and everyone more vulnerable than we are, and thus subject to our destructiveness, indifference, and self-interest.

In the end, I find I care less about the survival of the human race than about the survival of biodiversity: the extinction of species at our hands has always cut me to the heart. I shudder to imagine a future for human beings that involves artificial environments or other planets where “trees” and “animals” only exist in giant, controlled biodomes isolated from a toxic exterior. The climate crisis will dwarf anything we’ve experienced so far, increasing human migration and threatening every remaining species as well as the air we breathe and the water we drink. The election of an American president who respects science and understands what we’re facing is perhaps one step back from the precipice, but we haven’t a moment to lose. This little world will remind me of that fact every day; unlike the larger one, I can hold it in my hands, admire its fragile beauty, and try to give it what it needs.

Beth Adams, Hermit Diary 45. Microcosm

Last night I chopped onions and garlic and chilis to make salsa. The tears ran down my cheeks and I just let them. That is as close as I’ve come to crying in a very long time.

I know this sounds bizarre, but it seemed like my cheeks were grateful for the tears. I felt my whole body relax a little while I squeezed the limes, and cut the slightly-wilted cilantro.

I was relaxed when I turned off the lights at ten. But then as sleep crept in, so too the nocturnal imp who demands I work it all out before dawn. He sits on my chest, and I find it difficult to breathe.

For a while, I wonder if it is a symptom of Covid 19. If it’s a heart attack. If it’s Rumpelstiltskin. But I’m dreaming and it’s just after one.

*

It’s another flat day. The sky without depth. I hear the cars driving through puddles in the street outside. I’m going to fold the clothes that are piled-up downstairs, and put them away in the drawers and closets. I’m going to finish my tea. Then I’ll go to the forest and sit for a while.

I’ve seen wood ducks there – only rarely. But it’s certainly worth a shot.

And if nothing else, I can listen to the wind in the trees, and I can breathe.

Ren Powell, Where the Wood Drake Rests

There are the losers refusing to leave the game gracefully; the dying flowers and aimless watchdogs.

There are untruths and toothaches; funerals and floods; distant sirens sounding like the tears of someone close to us.

All the moments and miseries wrenching humanity off its wobbly axis, far too many to count in a lifetime.

Still, I’ve witnessed cannonballs and butterflies lay aside their differences and discover commonalities.

I’ve observed people move through this world as if song had been invented in their blood.

I’ve seen our hopes walk on water and water walk on a democracy that is hopefully on a path to healing.

Rich Ferguson, Miserymorphosis

I spoke on a panel called “The Weird Side of the Fantastic,” organized and moderated by Anya Martin and also including Brian Everson, Michael Kelly, Craig Laurance Gidney, and Zin E. Rocklyn (teri.zin). I was by FAR the newest to this conversation, so I felt abashed to talk at all, but they were nice to me. The Weird, or so the consensus in this group went, isn’t really a genre or clique of writers so much as a slippery, unpredictable incursion of irresolveable, disturbing, and sometimes empowering strangeness into any kind of tale. I’ve garbled that, but I feel at home in the Weird’s way of challenging what passes for realism, as I think many poets do (poetry is so often trying to close in on some weirdness that can’t be expressed). The panel was also a good corrective to an old association between the Weird and Lovecraft’s powerful but toxic version of horror. As teri.zin said (again, I’m approximating, being too absorbed to take perfect notes), Black life in the U.S. has always involved existential threat that is invisible to many white Americans. Weird fiction can be a good fit for those experiences.

Lesley Wheeler, Fantasy, The Weird, & the Big Picture

This is a day I did not want.
This is a day that does not keep its promise.
Today is a day of disappointment

and fear. There is blue in the sky,
but it’s pale and diffuse. I watch

my neighbors from the corners of my eyes.
This is not a valley prone to earthquakes,
but I feel unsteady anyway.

Why do I live here? Do I know you? Snow
is coming. I fear we will be buried.

Sharon Brogan, Snapshot Poem 04 November 2020

Could it be all the handwashing and surface wiping? Frequently now my phone says, “Fingerprint not recognized” when I touch my finger to it to see what’s up. Am I gradually disappearing? Well, yes, figuratively, but now, I guess, maybe literally! Fingeratively. 

What joy, joy, joy and relief I’ve been experiencing since yesterday! I’d gone into my front yard at 11:30, maybe to put out the mail? My across-the-street neighbor said, “We’ve got some good news!” This was the first year her daughter could vote! Yay all around! So many pictures of champagne later in the day, the spread-out family toasting! And all of us had beautiful weather wherever we were, the weather joining in the figuratively/literally thing.

And some terrible sadness, a family member lost to Covid-19. I only hope that family can grieve now inside a feeling of protection and relief surrounding them.

It’s Sunday and I’ve got that “Love thy neighbor as thyself” feeling. Neighbors have been out in the fine weather, so we’ve been able to chat from an appropriate distance in the fresh air. I still love my back yard neighbors who probably voted differently than I did, the down-the-way not-so-responsible (poop) dog owners, and the neighbor who left conservative/religious books in my Little Free Library as an obvious message (since the yard signs recently in my yard were also an obvious message). Yes, let’s heal, work together, and love one another as best we can.

Kathleen Kirk, Fingerprint Not Recognized

In an early week of the psalms class I’m teaching for clergy (via Bayit: Building Jewish), we read an excerpt from Psalm in the Spirit of Dragnet by Julie Marie Wade. Our conversation afterwards took us to all kinds of places, and one of the ideas it sparked in me was: what about a psalm in the spirit of Minecraft? I’ve been playing the game with my son since the pandemic began, and have been surprised at how satisfying I find it. For me there’s something fundamentally hopeful about the game. And, of course, building is our root metaphor at Bayit. As an experiment, I read this poem aloud to my son without telling him the title, and he immediately recognized what I was doing, which makes me happy. Here’s to more building. 

Rachel Barenblat, Psalm in the spirit of Minecraft

Praise the stepping stones!  Simple, each notched and shaped with its own smooth surface. Laid for one purpose — to help us get to the other side.  To balance delicately over the raging chaos.  Monsters bark; still, praise the plank, several planks, foraged from the rough forest.   They feel good to the feet.   Everything old feels new,  brought back from the brink.  We’d been wandering, lost.  We wouldn’t have lasted much longer.  

The old not a destination, not an end game, not a savior.  See it as an in-between.  Horns honk, celebrations, rituals mark a passage.  The in-between is always our place.  Savor our own deep resources.  Never should they be surrendered.  We’ve taken the bridge from the abyss toward a resting place with a vision to the future. 

Jill Pearlman, TO THE OTHER SIDE!

Yesterday, I was unpacking a bag of interlibrary loans and came across a book on unexplained phenomena and the American fascination with it.  I wondered who might be requesting such a thing and realized that it was indeed, myself.  I had placed the order on Monday, then completely forgotten the beginning of a week that might as well have been a month or more. Mostly, you would have found me this week staring at news sites and refreshing the page, watching, waiting for that Biden electoral vote to nudge.  Today, I woke up around news to the amazing news that it had.  Last night, found me watching a statement from him and I realized I was crying–not really just because of him, but the woman who stood with him on stage–the miraculousness of a woman on a winning ticket, even as VP, and a woman of color at that.  

Tuesday had found me a little high and curled up on my bed, fearing the worst. Watching as, like four years ago, red spread across that map.  I woke that next morning to the news that all was not so dire at all.  The states filed in.  Michigan. Wisconsin.  It was alarming for sure, that the GOP managed to get as many votes as he did, but at least I feel vindicated that there may be any number of the worst sort of people, but the good ones outnumber them, and the good ones have spoken. All the hate flushed–the bigotry, racism, homophobia, xenophobia.  The anti-science, anti-intellectualism, and anti-compassion.  Those people, emboldened by the past 4 years,  still exist, but maybe they will shrink away or at least shut the hell up. 

Covid is still scary. The world is still a little scary. But for the first time, I feel like we might be alright. 

Kristy Bowen, Everything is going to be okay.

I did not want to start sounding like a blowhard. It was dangerous to get so close to conspiracy theories and twisted historical facts. It was dangerous to alienate my liberal family base of nature-loving aunts and uncles by defending Ken Starr or the Gulf War. I became a person who argued for the sake of exposing the other side no matter what it was or what I believed to be the truth. In fact, the truth became nebulous. I didn’t recognize my convictions anymore and I started doubting myself. […]

Eventually, I stumbled on my own interior contradictions too many times. I even started a Federalist Society chapter while in law school, only to drop-out frustrated with bigotry and misogyny. Once I started my family, consistency became critical. It is one thing to be caught in a contradictory position with another adult, but kids will insist on unswerving conviction.

In the end, spending so much time understanding the other sides of things may not have been efficient use of my time. My arguments may not have become more precise and my tendency to understand made me less of a fighter and more of a seeker of compromise. If I were to take on my ‘90s project in this decade, I think I might give up sooner. The arguments in today’s public sphere are so vacuous of any attempt to back them up with science, history, or other facts or evidence that any engagement would be fruitless and possibly violent. It might be possible, if more people dive into opposing philosophies that considered debate will become a thing again. It might be true that considered debate leads to compromise, which is change, which is better than deadlock. I went undercover among conservatives and emerged more committed to what I considered then to be common values: social justice, equality, peaceful dispute resolution, free & fair trade, honesty and transparency. 

Cathy Wittmeyer, Faking It: Undercover with Conservatives

The full moon is hidden by clouds
And I am mistaken for someone,
But I am not anyone at all.
I am crawling under the porch
To count on my fingers the number of times
That I was actually needed.
I am wearing a veil like a grieving woman
And cutting my arm with broken glass.
I am hidden by Tule fog and scarred
From old wounds and from the diseases
That failed to end me.
I do not fear the consequences.
I am burying my regrets under the porch.

James lee Jobe, I am not anyone at all.

Did you talk
to yourself, wandering in a new city

where your name meant only the infinite
anonymous? The story of how you arrived

grows a few more pages. The signs
point to the last place a bleating

animal was flayed and quartered, its guts
festooned in trees to celebrate arrival

or departure. Metallic blood-smell,
a heap of discarded skin in the fire.

Luisa A. Igloria, Out-of-Body Experience

We stopped on the cycleway. Dusk was approaching fast and the fly-past had all the exhilaration of a murmuration – thousands of geese in a exact formations, heading north-west along the river.

I took out my phone, my fingers numb with cold. I snapped a wonky photo, then checked the BBC news website, saw that the Democrats had taken Pennsylvania in the US Election.

We pushed the rules, fist bumped, joined in with the geese shrieked for wonderful happiness. 

The geese passed over, leaving us with a multiplicity of V-signs:

V : for get lost and good riddance.

V : for victory. 

V : for very, very, very, very, very relieved. 

Liz Lefroy, I Spy With My Little Eye Something Beginning with …

Since the morning after the EU Referendum in 2016, when I found my then 17 year old daughter sobbing in her room as she was getting ready for school, followed by Trump’s election in the same year, I’ve felt the world has been off-kilter. Truly we have been living through unprecedented times, the like of which I never imagined, or even believed possible. I am not naïve enough to think that, if they are elected, which I am praying they will be, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will suddenly make everything alright. Clearly, our world, our planet, needs extreme help and that isn’t going to miraculously arrive the moment (please, God) Biden receives enough electoral college votes. At this point, the most I am hoping for is a gentle realignment of values and the possibility that my expectations for such an influential seat of power will no longer fill me with a feeling of dread.

But what I really want to share with you was this gorgeous piece of writing from The Guardian‘s recent editorial (I do read other news outlets, by the way, although it might not seem like it!) – It will be a difficult winter, but the natural world brings small, precious consolations. I love their description of autumn planting – “To plant daffodil bulbs and sweet pea seeds is to engage in small acts of optimism and expectation – it is to insist that there is something to look forward to.” Yes. I’ve planted up some pots of winter-flowering pansies, underplanting with spring bulbs, and the cheerful pots of colour on my patio step always manage to raise my spirits, even on a generally gloomy day.

In the UK, we’ve just started a second national lockdown, and there is a long, uncertain winter ahead. All acts of optimism and hope are welcomed by me.

Finally, my friend, Tania Hershman, shared this great quote from Rebecca Solnit on Twitter this morning: “Joy doesn’t betray but sustains activism. And when you face a politics that aspires to make you fearful, alienated, and isolated, joy is a fine initial act of insurrection.” Amen to that.

And finally, finally… I should give a quiet mention here to And Other Poems, my poetry site, which is currently open for submissions after a long break. Please read the guidelines if you’re thinking of submitting! And…grrr… WordPress blocks are still giving me the runaround.

Josephine Corcoran, On small acts of optimism

My beloveds have been in throes of anxiety since long before the election here on Tuesday. There has been a sense of general irritability, worry, and stress among US citizens–the presidential race, the increase in coronavirus cases and deaths, uncertainty around workplaces (do we teach in class or online? Do we take the subway to work? Is it safe to travel by plane?), terrible damage from wildfires and a long and busy tropical storm season.

The winter holidays, traditionally a time to gather together and to rally people into spending money on gifts, travel, and food? Hmm. Maybe not this year. Collective sorrow weaves around that situation.

I have felt the stress less keenly than my dear ones, it seems. I did not spend five days obsessing about election results, or anything else. No anxiety, because I’m grieving. My current grief arises as an in-facing state with a specific focus: my father’s death, and my mother’s diminishment. Whatever has been heaving and pulling in the State of the World can continue its way without me; I’m not needed there at present and can be patient with events as they unfold.

It is easier to take a “Zen” approach to society’s stresses when I am carrying inside myself a constant mindful love and an ongoing meditation on loss.

Ecclesiastes 3, especially verses 4-6, speaks to me deeply at present.

As does the Buddha:

Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.

You only lose what you cling to.

Ann E. Michael, Zen grief

I don’t think I can count certain presidential candidates among my readers. Or prime ministers. And even though I know poetry makes nothing happen, I can still dream.

Let’s say one of them popped by for a break in their campaigning (no difference between our countries there, neither of us enjoy much of an actual government at present), I would want them to hear this and to try to learn it, both when they are in front of the cameras and when they speak in private away from them: be kind.

To yourselves, to your loved ones, to each other, and to those of us who don’t count, but who nevertheless queue round the block to make their voices heard.

Wherever you are today, and whatever happens when those numbers are finally added up, let’s decide to be kind.

Anthony Wilson, Be kind

Writing last year’s [novel] brought the joy of writing back. The Monsters I Keep is apocalyptic YA horror novel about a teenage girl trying to survive in a world full of monsters. The way the novel was shaped allowed me to tell the story in shorter snippets (more aligned with how I write as a poet). The story presented it’s own challenges, but it was also a pleasure to write, providing a world I was eager to dive into.

It was also a story that I didn’t finish. Last year during NaNo, I managed to write some 40,000 words. Over the course of the following year, I added several thousand more. The first two parts are fairly well drafted, but the third part, the conclusion needs to come together.

Last year, when I started The Monsters I Keep, the world was a different place. I wrote the first two parts of this novel before COVID and all the chaos that 2020 has wrought.

Now, looking back on the themes of isolation and facing off against a world full of monsters hits a bit different. Turns out, I have new levels of personal emotional experience to draw from.

As I start in on part three of my character is coming back to people. It seems strange somehow — after experiencing everything this year has had to deliver —  to be writing the section of the novel that’s about coming back to hope.

Then again, maybe it’s the perfect time to be writing about hope.

Andrea Blythe, Hitting Different: NaNoWriMo 2020

Since I was 15 or so, I have associated the Day of the Dead with Malcolm Lowry’s extraordinary novel Under the Volcano, which is up there – with the likes of Orlando, Mrs Dalloway, The Card, The Towers of Trebizond, The History of Mr Polly, A Meeting by the River, Coming Up for Air, The Rainbow, G., The Man Who Was Thursday, On the Black Hill, The Sword of Honour trilogy, etc. – among my very favourite 20th Century novels by British writers. Like Mrs Dalloway and Ulysses, it’s set within the space of one day, in this case ‘El Día de Los Muertos’.

Shortly after I arrived in Portrush in the autumn of 1985, I borrowed from the university library in Coleraine all the books by Lowry which I’d not read before. The north coast of Antrim seemed like the sort of place Lowry would’ve written about brilliantly; and being then as fond of writing prose as well as poetry, I set about writing Lowry-influenced stories. Alas, I didn’t keep them, though I strongly suspect they weren’t much cop anyway.

Lowry was by all accounts a rather unpleasant fellow, but his vast consumption of Mexican booze can’t have helped with that. In the first Lockdown, I read all the books I could find on the great painter Edward Burra, whom Jonathan Meades, in a Radio 4 Great Lives broadcast, rightly called ‘the greatest watercolourist imaginable’. I will write more about Burra, and how I have responded to his works and influence, in due course, but when, in 1937, he, with Conrad Aiken and Mary Hoover, travelled from Boston to Cuernavaca (where Under the Volcano is set), for Aiken and Hoover to get married and to visit Aiken’s friend and mentee Lowry, the experience nearly killed him. For all Lowry’s travels throughout the Americas, it’s an oddity that he died in the Sussex village of Ripe, only 33 miles from Burra’s home in Rye, the ‘Tinkerbell Towne’ as he called it.

On this particular All Souls’ Day, it’s hard not to think of the lives which have been lost in this pandemic, and how, if governments had prioritised health before profit, many of those deaths could surely have been prevented.

Matthew Paul, The Day of the Dead

I woke up at 5 AM and was very still in my bed listening to a huge wind storm which has already lost me power twice this morning and rattled my house’s bones thinking nothing hurts nothing hurts for what seemed like a long stretch of time then I heard Hal or Jupiter acking up a hairball. Ahh nature’s beauty. Did Emily Dickinson have cats? I don’t think so maybe her famous hounds but I very much doubt they slept in her bed. They were wealthy Amherst hounds that lounged under the table gulping down entire platters full of duck a l’orange and slurping port and farting. But cats are not accustomed to all that twee. I doubt Emily ever woke to a windstorm got up to wobble to the loo and stepped in a giant slimy hairball cursing under her breath in her hyphenated way There’s a certain Slant of light, Winter mornings — that OH FUCK WHAT WAS THAT!?!?! You damned cat come back here now we need to have words where was I? Oh yes That oppresses, like the Heft Of Cathedral WHAT? ANOTHER ONE? JESUS STOP EATING MY HAIR RIBBONS YOU LITTLE SHIT. 

I am flat flat flat as a 12th century map. There be dragons. I feel loopy and slightly hungover though I did not partake yesterday or last night though I danced alone in my flickering outer outer room. Here comes the wind again in swells and waves it is just incredible I do love rude weather and I always have. I need to be quiet for a while and listen.

Rebecca Loudon, Pig and farm report

surf plating white as the clouds
a wind that brings black
and shivers the tongues of spittle
airborne and landward
we refuse to look away
for does not the sea dominate
every thought
paint it never could
even these words fail
the only way to know the sea
is to swim in it
to trust it just so far
as a turn of phrase

Jim Young, storm

On Tuesday, I made this Facebook post:  “Even with an election distracting me, there are still college administrator tasks that must be done. I fixed the toilet chain with a binder clip when I discovered that the metal part that attaches the chain to the handle was corroded so much that there was no longer a hole that would hold the chain in place. Another one for the ‘things I never learned in grad school to prepare me for my academic job’ file.”

I am happy to report that the binder clip fix is still working.  I am weary with the realization that we will likely have the binder clip holding the chain until the building crumbles into dust.  My campus rents space from an owner who fixes the landscaping but leaves the gaping cracks in the edifice for all to see.

As we’ve been waiting for election results, and as I’ve been using that toilet throughout the week, I’ve been thinking about that binder clip as a metaphor for our election process.  Or maybe it’s the whole flushing apparatus that’s the metaphor.  It’s old and rusted through in parts, but we still make it work.

Or maybe I’m comforted by a different metaphor.  We could wait for someone to come along and fix the rusted mechanisms of the nation–or we could do it ourselves.  We may not have the right tools.  We may not be able to get to the store to buy a new mechanism and do a replacement.  But we can look around, see what we have, and repurpose it to make a fix that lasts.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Days of Binder Clip Repairs

I started making annotations and sticking Post-its in Steve Ely’s pamphlet about nine months ago. It was a week before the first lock-down, and I was sitting in a dentist’s waiting room in Ossett. I used to take novels to read in surgeries and hospitals. More recently it’s been poetry that’s replaced Solzhenitsyn’s “Cancer Ward”. More often than not, it’ll be U A Fanthorpe’s ‘Tyndale in Darkness’. Whatever, it will probably feature the themes of suffering, endurance and redemption through faith of one kind or another. It’s a kind of epicureanism, I suppose. I beheld Satan as an angel… was and is different, because throughout, it challenges the whole notion of the possibility of redemption. I’ve kept trying to write about why it seems to matter so much to me, and failing to nail it, falling short of what I think I mean. There are critical reviews that make an effort to appear objective; I never believed that such a thing is possible. When I read a poem I read it through a glass darkly, through the refracting lens of my preoccupations and memories, and subsequently, the poem ‘reads me’ if it’s any good at all. Afterwards, I see differently, and the poem becomes different. This is a sequence about falling from grace and about the death of a son, about the guilt for the death of a son. One of my sons took his own life by jumping from a tall building. It speaks to me in ways that it can’t speak to everyone. 

John Foggin, My kind of poetry: Steve Ely’s: I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heauen

Our Hydrophones are recording the sound
of break-up songs, pulses and beats
repeated over a bassline of bloops

to form this soundtrack to the end of days
that plays while we run freshly-licked fingers
round the wine-glass rim of the earth.

Mat Riches, Blowing Up Whales

From Philadelphia poet Gina Myers comes her third full-length collection, Some of the Times (Baltimore MD: Barrelhouse Books, 2020), following A Model Year (Coconut Books, 2009) and Hold It Down (Coconut Books, 2013), two books I now regret having missed. Some of the Times is a collection of first-person lyrics that explore her lived experience and geography, that being the city of Philadelphia, a city that to her was fairly new at the moment of composition. Most of the poems are shorter, almost clipped, but provide the sense of being very much part of a larger structure, suggesting the collection less an assemblage than a suite of contained lyrics. Myers writes on paying rent, police brutality, tenuous employment, chronic illness, labour camps in Cuba, baseball games and thunderstorms. Her poems occupy the ground level of a city in ruin amid dangerous heat. There is a particular flavour of working class ethos that permeates the culture, and the poetry, of Philadelphia that is reminiscent (positively, of course) of work I’ve seen over the years out of Hamilton, Ontario, or even the border city of Windsor. […]

There are elements of influence in her first-person explorations of self and the crumbling infrastructures of city and culture, from Eileen Myles to fellow Philadelphia poet ryan eckes; structural echoes to her poems that run similarly down the page and through the excess of sirens, unkempt streets and the ravaged potential of human accomplishment. This is her restlessness, her “wanderlust,” as she calls it, alongside a hardscrabble lyric, one pulled together from lyric scraps, struggle and observation. “I don’t need your theories,” she writes, to close out the poem “4.18.14,” “to understand my lived / experience. There is / an anger I carry / inside I will never / let go of. Something basic / to hold onto while everything / else disappears.”

rob mclennan, Gina Myers, Some of the Times

And then, yesterday, like magic, I woke up to cold rain, and went back to sleep. When I woke up, like Dorothy, I was in a beautiful technicolor world where Kamala Harris is the first woman Vice-President and Biden had beaten Trump by a lot in multiple states, not just a little bit in one state. Watching their acceptance speeches, I was moved to tears by seeing all the little girls holding flags and Kamala Harris addressing them directly. In Biden’s speech, he didn’t say he hated anyone, or encouraged people to chant “lock him up,” or make comments about women’s bodies – he talked about healing, and making a plan with scientists for coronavirus. It was wonderfully unhorrible. That’s my baseline now – anything not actively stupid and hateful from a Presidential figure is a huge relief. I also saw footage of people in Philly, LA, DC dancing in the street, My friend in London said they set off fireworks where she lived all night. Paris rang church bells. The whole world seemed to be celebrating. Not the Civil War that people imagined, but real happiness, thankfulness, relief.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Waking Up to a New President and Vice President, A Cold Week with Zoo Visit, More About How to Earn a Living as a Poet

It didn’t really sink in until I was out, around other people. I’ve been needing a pair of slippers, something warm to wear around the house with a sole that can go outside. Frustrated by the too many choices that my feed started feeding me once the algorithms realized what I was in the market for, I decided to go to a local shop in a southeast Portland neighborhood and get whatever version of it they have available there.

It was raining when I left the house, but the sun was breaking through by the time I got there. I bought the slippers quickly and easily (fewer choices is so often a gift, isn’t it?), and then Cane and I went for a walk in the neighborhood.

Walking neighborhoods is a thing we’ve been doing for years. Some people get out in nature, but we like to get out in communities. We study what people do with their yards and homes, we muse about what homes can tell us about their inhabitants and our collective history, and we talk about what’s going on in the world. It’s a thing that’s remained constant in spite of all that we’ve lived through in the past four years: separation, kids leaving home, moving, pandemic, and the Trump presidency.

It was that constancy–and the contrast we could both feel between the walks of the past year and yesterday’s walk–that made the meaning of yesterday finally sink in. The very air felt different: lighter, brighter (in spite of the clouds). It came from the people we passed by; everyone seemed to be carrying themselves differently, and I could sense the smiles behind the masks.

At one point, a rainbow emerged, and we stopped to take a picture of it. Everyone we could see stopped, too, pointing with their hands or their phones. A woman driving by noticed us and stopped her car in the middle of the street and just looked at it, smiling.

It felt like magic, like a gift, like a poem.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Oh happy day

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 43

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 begins with insomnia and the breath and ends with the weather, with a lot of pandemic thoughts and soul-searching in between. Also: Reports from the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival, an online retreat, emoji rebuses, and much more.


The pandemic has settled like protracted fog on the asphalt,
a needy god wanders the empty streets, faith like a cold stone

in his pocket. Here, at the traffic light, where the push carts
sold biryani and men jostled outside the tiny paan stall,

there are only insomniac shadows of dreamless sleepers.
You think the moon knows, or the birds? That something is

amiss?

Rajani Radhakrishnan, You think the moon knows

I wake in the night, every night, sometimes sucking air, sometimes with limbs clenched, always the remnants of struggle dreams floating away from me. Always needing to pee, and then calculating if I can tend that basic bodily need without waking the dogs. If it’s early enough that I know they won’t stir and start barking, I stumble across the hall, not as stiff and unsteady on my feet as old Rocky–but I see how things are starting to go. When I return to bed, I wait for the flash of heat to roll through my body, and then I breathe the way the personal trainer taught me: inhale through my back (1, 2, 3, 4) and exhale through my diaphragm, ribs shifting down and back (4, 3, 2, 1). Sometimes it works, and sometimes I pull up a Times crossword on my iPad and hope it will lull my brain, not unlike the way desperate parents will drive a crying baby around dark streets, hoping the car’s quiet rhythms will soothe it back to sleep.

In a moment of optimism last week I bought two skeins of chunky yarn and cast stitches onto fat needles. I’m not making anything in particular. Maybe a pillow cover. It’s not about the product. It’s about breathing, and movements like breath: in, up, around, down, over, in, up, around, down, over. It’s a thing to occupy my hands and mind at the end of the day while giving the dogs some time on my lap and watching TV that doesn’t require much focus.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Mid-fall

Breath is music. Human steps are music. Songs sewn from our every thread of existence.

DNA blows blissful sax riffs. Eardrums hum, lively thoughts drum.

Lips bebop, feet hip-hop.

Human touch plays double dutch, makes hearts skip beats.

Breath is music. Human steps are music.

Rich Ferguson, Human Breath in B-Natural

then there’s the sea
it’s about the sighs of it

i gasp for words

Jim Young [no title]

I inhale like the tide pulling away
from the small pebbles on the shore,
and I exhale
like the flow of the tide
teaming with new constellations
of all that has been
and all that will be.

The stars appear
to be fixed in the darkness –
an illusion of distance
and tempo.

The world is a master
of the sleight of hand:

every moment a misdirection
every moment a seduction, and
the deliciousness of our oh-so-willing
dance – the suspension of doubt.

Ren Powell, A Serious Practice

Doc says my lungs are still “constricted” in o2 transfer and function, no worse but also no better than they were in mid-July: I will continue to bike 20, 30, 50 miles at a time and hike hills and eat well and sleep well and use the spirometer to build another miracle of erasing ground glass opacities and fueling epithelial cell regrowth and—what?—visualizing functional alveoli? I’ll do what I have to do to set up conditions for another miracle.

My heart is still tachycardic and arrhythmic—the tachycardia is surely being worsened by the low grade infection happening as a result of the bone and gum damage of covid, the arrhythmia is all covid fuckery. A resting rate that should be 50 for an athletic sort like me sits at 80 on a good day, 105 or 115 the rest of the time: this is a great improvement from active covid’s 155 resting rate, but can it be repaired? No one knows yet. Ok, I bike. Hike. Restore fitness of muscle, bone, diet, everything, bring myself back and visualize—what?—myocarditis erased? Damaged muscle restored?

The rest of my body—except for recurring inflammatory storms that keep burning through like unpredictable wildfires and currently have me back on steroids to extinguish them again—has reset: food stays in, instead of losing it within hours for four months continually, so I can be nourished and my bone density has been restored to athlete hell-yes, because that, at least, is a resilient thing. My temperature holds at my nice usual ice-queen 97 instead of the four months of 100-104 every god damned day. My will to not just live but thrive is back.

I am raveling striations of red and glistening power-ligament-muscle-bone-oxygen molecule-joy back together again at the level of individual cells, forestalling the arrival of death, so I can be myself in this world: animal, in fearless power and joy.

Because I can’t live any other way, and don’t want to.

JJS, Costs

Nearly two weeks of bed-ridden illness (not COVID) seems to have led to a reset. Of course, I’ve had many resets in my long life – but not so long a time without writing as this year. Even during times when I was not writing poems, I was keeping up with my not-diary journal, recording my dreams and whatever loose thoughts occurred to me. And even during times when I was not journaling, or blogging, the occasional poem would appear, out of air, or in response to random prompts or classes. And for several years, digital art journaling and collage kept the creative joints fluid. 

This year, and the year before, not so much. 

Now I return to recording my dreams, a practice which is, for unknown reason, essential to my writing. If I do not record my dreams, I do not write. Last night my dreams told me I need to return home, to the place which gives me words, and images, and poems. That is where I breathe most deeply, where I live most richly. 

So. Begin again. 

Sharon Brogan, Begin Again (how many times must I . . . )

When I made my video “ISOLATION PROCEDURES”, we were in the early stages of COVID-19 close-down here in South Australia and I wondered what would happen if the laws necessary for restricting the spread of the virus became entrenched in a more authoritarian government regime. With things getting worse around the world on many levels, it seems opportune that my video has been selected for screening at the 2020 Fotogenia International Festival of Film Poetry and Divergent Narratives in Mexico City in November. Rather than subtitling the video in Spanish, I’ve integrated a Spanish version of the text into the video, as part of my long slow project on exploring how text and image can interact. [Click through to watch the video.]

Ian Gibbins, ISOLATION PROCEDURES Official Selection in Festival Fotogenia 2020 in Mexico.

This is the first day of Level 5 lockdown in Ireland, the highest level, which we will be for the next six weeks until the end of November, in this crazy year of 2020.

We got to Wexford back in March this year, just in time for everything to shut. Luckily we were able to change our plans and stay in the holiday home, originally booked for 5 nights, for what ended up being nearly six months.

During the last lockdown I went out walking, as I usually do, every day, except that I was suddenly walking up and down a lane in Bunclody every day, instead of being in the suburbs of Greater London. I walked and photographed and wrote, as I usually do, and one of the poems from that time, St John’s Eve, Bunclody, is up on the Pendemic site.

Another poem, Conker, was written to go with Dean Reddick’s beautiful bronze conker, as part of CollectConnect’s online Sentinel Trees show. It was also partly inspired by the horse chestnut tree I walked past nearly every day, on the lane down towards Clonegal.

Many other artists and writers responded to the lockdown too, much more consistently and cohesively, with whole projects. Particularly gorgeous is Kel Portman’s lockdown garden walks – photos and verses – some of which are available to buy as packs of cards here.

I’ve been writing and painting a bit, making collages, taking photos and walking. I took up running again in mid-June as a way of staying sane and getting fitter but I haven’t settled down to an actual writing / walking art project until now.

Lucy Furlong, Walking Furlongs

While the pandemic continues to rage with no sign of any light at the end of the tunnel (in supposedly libertarian societies at least, where a political obsession with the theory of individual freedom is ironically leading to its practical curtailment), as people and poets we mistakenly feel left with a stark, binary choice: to sink or swim.

In the early stages of this phenomenon, social media was buzzing with examples of surges in creativity, of creativity being put on hold, of extreme reactions to an extreme situation. However, everything seemed temporary and sudden, something we would soon be able to place in temporal brackets. As the weeks and months go by, so we’re forced to come to terms with a long-term scenario, and our mindsets consequently change.

There’s one analogy that I find useful on a personal level. When I first came to Spain as a student and language assistant, I loved it. There was always a clearly defined time period for my stays and I relished the counterpoint to my life in Britain. Nevertheless, once I made the decision to move out permanently, that buffer was removed and time yawned ahead of me, vast and disorientating. I took me several months to get to grips with the waves of homesickness that hit me.

And that’s what we’re dealing with now: a form of homesickness and longing for our previous lives, of not knowing when they might return. This process requires us to be patient, to reset our day-to-day routines and then by extension our reading and writing. It’s not a question of sinking or swimming. It’s a reconciliation with ourselves.

Matthew Stewart, To sink or swim…?

I, perhaps foolishly, took a big pile of notes and unfinished poems to work on, thinking that being out in the middle of a forest would get the old creative juices flowing on some half-started ideas, or even start off some new ones, but it wasn’t to be. And that’s all fine; it’s only poetry after all. I did, however, get to read a few things of an evening, although nowhere near the amount of books I’d taken with me.

One highlight of this week, aside from the time with my beloved family, obvs, was reading ‘Homing: On Pigeons, Dwellings & Why We Return‘ by Jon Day. I’d set this aside to read on a break and I’d been looking forward to it.

The book, er, flew across my radar a few months ago when it was recommended to me by someone at the BBC during a call for a project we were working on. She mentioned it because it was written by the husband of someone else on the call, my colleague at ITV, Nat. I like Nat a lot and the subject matter is basically catnip to me. I am a sucker for anything that sounds like it will be slightly mundane, so a book about homing pigeons was never not going to interest me.

While the book is about homing pigeons, it turned out to be so much more than that. […]

I enjoyed the fact that there were plenty of references to poets throughout the book, including Marianne Moore, Mina Loy, Henry Thoreau, Douglas Dunn and John Clare, What I wasn’t expecting to find was the details about Nat and Jon’s family life, their miscarriages, the relationships Day forms with his fellow fanciers and how much the philosophical explorations of what it is to make a home would, er, hit home with me.

It could have been because we were so far away from home, it could be because of the restrictions placed on visiting homes at present or the fact that I’ve not been back to Norfolk for a while that made it all feel very real when talking about what home means.

Mat Riches, Homing Beacon (Blue)

I don’t know anything about the artist who created this print. I found it in the San José Artisans’ Market in Havana, in the last moments before our bus left the city and took us into the provinces. The art market is enormous, a warehouse filled with stalls where artists sell everything from oil paintings to handmade hammocks. I browsed its aisles, wandering, and this print caught my eye. The price was low, maybe twenty CUC$. What leapt out at me was the bright crescent moon over the close city rooftops.

The previous night we’d walked the streets of Old Havana under a new moon. Because of the embargo, tourists were few and far between. We stopped in at La Bodeguita del Medio, sipped rum, savored incredible music. We wandered the streets, our group breaking into smaller clusters as we found places for dinner. After dinner my foursome wound up on the rooftop of the Hotel Raquel, where a porter showed us mezuzahs and a cupola adorned with Biblical frescoes and spoke wistfully about cruise ships. 

The crescent moon above us was the marker of a new month. Cheshvan: the month with no holidays except for Shabbat. The month when we return to the rhythms of “regular life” after the long stretch of spiritual work from Tisha b’Av to Simchat Torah. Today is Rosh Chodesh Cheshvan again. The pandemic isolates us now. I’m traveling in my mind: remembering walking with friends on the old cobblestone streets, marveling at the new moon over the city rooftops as music drifted through the air.

Rachel Barenblat, Cheshvan moon

I had not intended to impose a quarantine on my blog, but many, many days have gone by since I have written here. I’ve been reading and writing and getting out the vote in my precinct, working, gardening, and doing a little outdoor visiting, safely, while I can. The weather has changed several times–rain, chill, return to summer–so I’ve done some of my reading outdoors, and I’ve transplanted five bright yellow mums into the ground, hoping they return, as, for me, yellow is the color of joy.

I feel suspended, at loose ends, busy, scattered. I know it is election anxiety on top of Covid uncertainty, flux, change, stasis…  I’ve written some small monster poems, a couple inspired by the book I am now reading: Broadcast Hysteria: Orson Welles’s War of the Worlds and the Art of Fake News, by A. Brad Schwartz. I’m reading it to get ready for a broadcast of Howard Koch’s radio adaptation of War of the Worlds, the science fiction novel by H.G. Wells*, coming up October 30, at 8:00 p.m. on WGLT, our local NPL affiliate station, and produced by Heartland Theatre Company. This is the famous radio play broadcast on October 30, 1938 as part of Orson Welles’s Mercury Theatre of the Air, and some people who tuned in late, after the announcement that clarified it was fiction, an entertainment, did get scared and confused, thinking the “fake news” aspect of its presentation was real news, about a possible meteor landing, poisonous gas attacks, or Martians taking over the earth. Apparently, most who heard the Martians part realized it was science fiction…but some ran out of their houses to escape, just not as many, as this book makes clear, as newspaper reports the next day seemed to suggest. 

Kathleen Kirk, Broadcast Hysteria

Chew this, crow says,
offering me
my own tongue.

Tom Montag, CHEW THIS

Edible flowers as well as chard, basil, chives, and other tender plants grow on my front and back porches. I water them each day, aware a killing frost will arrive soon. I’ve been succession planting lettuces and globe carrots, but missed replanting one pot. That explains its proud crop of weeds. When I water, I water those weeds too. They might as well enjoy what time they have left.

This is my favorite season. Gorgeous autumn leaves, vivid blue skies, and a certain slant of light in late afternoon illuminating everything with a stained glass glow. Each one a reminder that what flourishes must also die. As I can, freeze, and dry our produce each fall I can’t help but think of my ancestors, yours too, whose preparations for winter were about survival.   

We are living in difficult times. Unprecedented times. Rampant disease, devastating injustice, and a climate teetering toward ever-worsening disaster. Somehow it helps me to remember our ancestors endured famine, floods, war, ill health, and oppression. Our existence is the direct consequence of ancestors who persevered despite the odds. We carry their resilience and courage in our genes.     

Thinking of my ancestors’ stories magnifies my sense of gratitude. Unlike nearly everyone who came before me I have a safe home, enough food, and access to medical care. I can connect with people anywhere in the world. I have rights, including the right to make my own choices, something that would astonish my foremothers. The very desk where I’m sitting is filled with writing and art projects as well as stacks of library books. This is true wealth.

Laura Grace Weldon, Gratitude via Mental Subtraction

The other day we got up early and drove to western Augusta County because the hikes there are much quieter than along the Blue Ridge Parkway, where foliage is peaking and so are the visitors. On autumn mornings here, especially if the day is going to be sunny, mist hugs the ground, gathering most densely over water and other warm places, wreathing the mountains. As the car wound along the empty highway, past farms and Trump signs and gun shops and churches, we alternately dipped into foggy hollows and rose up into sunshine where dew spangled the trees and the last wisps of steam curled up from roofs and embankments. The drive was an obvious metaphor for this October. I have moments of shiny hope but I keep crashing into feeling bad in the most sweeping ways, fearing the election and many more months of isolation, losing faith in everything I’ve written, unable to concentrate on the work I should be doing now. I’m pretty sure everyone feels the same–unless you’re stuck entirely in the lowlands. Here’s hoping the view gets clearer soon.

I can’t write poems but I need to work on prose anyway, particularly honing Poetry’s Possible Worlds, a book of hybrid essays due sometime in 2021. It blends criticism and memoir in a discussion of literary transportation–meaning immersive reading or getting lost in a book–in relation to short twenty-first century poems. I was going like gangbusters last week, but I’m dragging myself through the work very slowly this week. That’s okay, I keep telling myself. The two weeks before the US presidential election were always going to suck. Even when the world isn’t in dangerous meltdown, writing is full of hills and valleys.

Lesley Wheeler, Blue/ jazzed

I’ve raked 8 bags of leaves. I spent hours yesterday trying to sort out my poems that are scattered over several files, so they’re all together and all the latest version. Life ticks on. 

I’ve worked on a single poem for ages over the past week. This morning I put it in a word mixer and totally dismantled it to start again. I’ve never thought to do that before, but I might go back to some other half-written pieces and try it. There was something freeing with removing myself from the previous idea and just focusing on what the words say when they were scrambled together. Wish I could do that with other half-sorted problems littering my life. 

Gerry Stewart, Scrambling

I picked up my poetry legal pad today and I haven’t been as idle as I think.  Plus, I went to the quilt retreat and finished one big quilt and created a baby quilt.  I’ve been sketching each morning.  I’m still blogging most mornings.  Why do I feel like I accomplish nothing?

In past years, I have done more:  more writing, more quilting, more sending out of manuscripts.  Of course, in past years we haven’t had a plague raging across the country; in past years, I haven’t been working for pay in quite the same way.

As I think about the online resources I’ve been reading and savoring, I’m seeing a theme.  There’s this essay from Molly Spencer, about how she carved out writing space in tiny bits of time and even smaller spaces, time which finally led to a book, but it’s not the process many of us want or expect, that experience of writing time as sacred (and regularly sacred and set apart).  There’s this essay from Luisa A. Igloria that talks about motherhood and the PhD process.

This morning, I was hunting for a pen and fuming about not being able to find my favorites.  I thought about my quilting/sewing friends who protect their fabric scissors with a similar fury.  And then, a poem came, one based on this blog post on my theology blog.  The poem begins with these lines:  “The quilt does not strive / to change itself into a different color.”

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Creation in a Time of Pandemic

Coronavirus safety protocols continue to affect my teaching at the college and life in general–also, the life of the shared and diverse arts community, near and far. But arts folk are creative folks, by nature problem solvers and think-outside-the-boxers. This weekend, I have been attending the biennial Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival via technological interface (my laptop); it has so far been as mixed and as enlightening an experience as teaching has been for me this semester.

It has been years since I have been at the Dodge in person. Teaching and tutoring are busy for me in October, and I have been free to travel to the festival only once since its move to Newark in 2010. Times have changed, and I have changed. I’m taking notice of what I like and do not particularly like about the virtual platform of the 2020 festival. Bear in mind that I am only marginally tech-savvy and not a person who’s wedded to the screen (television or computer or phone).

First impression, from the “opening ceremony” and an initial panel, is that I like the closeups of the poets–something I seldom had the chance to see when in the crowded auditoriums or tents of past Dodge festivals. As an older attendee, I have to admit I appreciate hearing the readers more clearly. It’s also nice not to have to wait for stumbling about on stage as presenters navigate the stairs, step over wires, chat with emcees, or shuffle through papers and books marked with post-it notes.

There’s a downside, too, of course. I cannot see the holistic figures of the poets, their attire and body language, their posture on the stage. I do not feel the attentive excitement of fellow audience members, hear appreciative murmurs, applause, or the rare but spicy snide remarks. The readings seem somewhat static and prepared (which they have been). The festival thus loses some of its remarkable spontaneity. I suppose I’m referring here to a lost physical community–but all of us should be accustomed to that feeling by now.

On the second night of the event, Pádraig Ó Tuama moderated a panel discussion on the theme “Imagine a New Way” with Martín Espada, Vievee Francis, and Carolyn Forché. The poems were intensely engaging, the readings remarkable; and the discussion among the poets and moderator managed to feel lively and immediate. Oh, notes to take, things I must read, ideas that go ‘pop’ in my head…

The takeaway after day two is that my sense of skepticism about online performance and conference events has begun to wane a bit. True, there is less chance of bumping into colleagues and making connections with fellow poets while grabbing a snack, and the bookstore browsing is not nearly as lovely an experience when the bookstore is online. True, there is much I miss about the hubbub and the buzz of past festival experiences.

Yet it turns out I rather like watching and listening to poets while sitting home in my pajamas and drinking decent, not-overpriced wine in the company of no one but my cat. In fact, at present, the scenario rather suits my mood. And I will be ‘tuning in’ tomorrow.

Ann E. Michael, Festival, virtual

The Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival begins this evening, Oct. 22! I’m still gobsmacked to be part of this year’s event. 

My reading is this Sunday, Oct. 25, at 5 p.m. EST. I’ll be reading in the same block as George Abraham, Rich Villar, Grisel Y. Acosta, Robert Carnevale, and Paul-Victor Winters. At 6 p.m., we’ll be doing a live Q&A. 

On Nov. 1 at 2 p.m, EST I’ll be moderating a panel called “Masks & Masculinity” featuring Richard Blanco, Tyehimba Jess, Edgar Kunz, and John Murillo. I’ll be moderating a live Q&A with the poets immediately afterwards at 2:45 p.m. 

Visit www.dodgepoetry.com to see the full lineup or readings and conversations and get your festival pass! Be sure to follow #dpf2020 on social media for more.

Collin Kelley, The 2020 Dodge Poetry Festival Begins!

Spent some time discussing Edna St. Vincent Millay’s sonnet “What lips my lips have kissed…” with my students this week. I shared my would-be-in-conflict-if-it-wasn’t-me ideas of needing to look into the tradition of the sonnet while also subverting it for their own contemporary ends–like seriously let’s shut down the tradition of sonnets centered around the male gaze and the needing to sound clever and Shakespeare-like and have sonnets about chanclas!!! One student contributed to the spirit of this by making us aware of a volta before the volta–volta meaning the turn in argument that a traditional sonnet has. While the standard volta happens at the line “Thus in the winter” where the poem’s image parallel of the lone speaker and lone tree comes into play, there is what I would term a minor turn earlier at the line “And in my heart…” where the speaker goes from looking outside to looking at what she feels inside. Check it out and see what you think.

José Angel Araguz, turn, volta, turn

The reason I succumbed to another Pound collection was that I had the yen to read him while reading Timothy Steele’s interesting nonfiction book, Missing Measures. Having a memory like a sieve, I did not recall–or else Steele has been an indefatigable hunter–so many expressions of uncertainty about vers libre from Pound, Eliot, and Williams. I’m afraid I laughed at Eliot’s dismay when his niece sends him some of her school-assigned homework: free verse poems. What you and the public schools have unleashed on us, Thomas Stearns! A Niagara of poems… Steele talks at length about the disappointment of all three with what was accomplished, and how no hoped-for new metric emerges from Modernism and why that might be. It’s a fascinating book that zooms back to the classical world to show the roots of free verse, and how various ideas pertaining to prose writing and poetry writing become braided, swapped, or muddled along the way. It’s a useful book for any young poet, I would think, and might just convince one of the need to return to roots, or at least examine them.

Marly Youmans, New reading, new poems–

How do you make a living as a poet? I have gotten three degrees (one on scholarship, the second while working full-time and with grant support, the third I’m still paying off), worked in jobs as a makeup artist and retail manager to working a dozen years as a tech writing manager to teaching at an MFA program online to serving as Redmond, Washington’s Poet Laureate – and the answer still eludes me.

It’s tough – especially when talking to people who, like me, didn’t come from money, don’t necessarily have support in terms of family and friends, and have to keep the bottom line in their priority list as well as their dreams. I realize I was very lucky in that my mom encouraged me from an early age to recite poetry and that my husband never thought my dreams of becoming a full-time writer were stupid. I really emphasized in my talk how important it is to surround yourself as much as possible with people that support your dreams and goals – it makes it much more likely that you will succeed.

These guys don’t need abstract answers – they need specifics in terms of how to make a living in the real world of poetry. I gave them resources, recommended reading, talked about my own experiences – and wished I’d had someone to give me this kind of talk when I was their age. Real talk about the costs vs benefits of college – especially during covid-19 – and building networks when you maybe don’t come from the “right” schools and aren’t friends with the “right” type of person.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Getting Things Done in October, Mentoring and Making a Living as a Poet, Pursuing Goals and Dreams, and a New Instrument

He would mail me items occasionally, and randomly. Small notes, occasionally on print-outs of images not fit for all audience. All sent mischievously, and with a positive note and a great deal of love. The piece Alana Wilcox posted yesterday over at Coach House reminded me of such.

And of course I can’t find my copy of his second poetry collection, Invisible to Predators (ECW Press, 1999), to verify how much or how little of that material might have appeared there. I really don’t know. If not, that would presume that these pieces never made it into print beyond these small bits of ephemera. During this same period (most likely in 1997, possibly as a tour for his poetry debut), he read for my reading series, The Factory Reading Series at Gallery 101, when the series was still called “poetry 101,” and held in the gallery space above Wallacks, at Bank and Lisgar Streets. He was reading with British Columbia poet Joe Rosenblatt, who had returned to town to read from a volume of selected poems and visual art that had been refused by the original printer (a whole other story), thus missing the event that had already passed by, the opening of Rosenblatt’s gallery show at the Carleton University Gallery. I think the week that fit into their schedule was one that had held a number of other literary events, which meant our audience was but two people. Rosenblatt didn’t seem to expect much (the empty liquor bottle underneath his chair after he had left provided some answers to Joe’s casual indifference to the small crowd), thanks to the printer of the book, and Richard just seemed amused by it. Richard read first, and one of the audience, most likely not prepared for Richard’s openly gay content, walked out during his reading. Richard seemed delighted by this, and said after that he was going to tell people that “half of his audience walked out” at the Ottawa launch. And in hindsight, Richard’s response to this one lone audience member underscores the realities of his approach to life and to art, having come out as a gay man during a period of time that wasn’t necessarily safe or welcoming; and the fact that he was an openly, and seemingly comfortable, gay man exploring some of this content in his work, makes it that much more remarkable. He wasn’t the first, not even of his generation, to be writing out gay themes and issues, but from the time I first became aware of him, he was consistently producing work, writing and publishing and exploring, in a way that might have provided him enormous difficulty, or even harm. Simply by being himself; his own delightful, funny and scathingly-witty self.

rob mclennan, RM Vaughan (1965-2020)

I’ve been trying to hunker down to writing in my childless house. Some days are more successful than others. All year I’ve slowly been writing prose, not sure exactly what to categorise it as yet, maybe one big story, maybe some linked stories, maybe something other than a story. Poems are also slowly turning up on the page and, since lockdown, I’ve been experimenting with collage, word and image pieces, visual poems and hybrid writing. I’ve shared some of my pieces on a new Instagram I set up, andothermakings, which I mentioned before.

The Pop Art MOOC has also been feeding into my collages. I’m especially interested in artists who use text in their images. I was intrigued to learn about Robert Rauschenberg, for example, who spoke about the importance of titles in his work – “they are the starting points… the title is like another object in the work…”

Josephine Corcoran, Pop Art – online course with the Centre Pompidou and FutureLearn

I’ve thought of putting out a call for collaborators among the visual artists, videographers, and musicians with whom I’m acquainted. I’ve stopped myself basically because I can’t come up with a vision or a goal or a thematic framework or anything to basically create a nice bag around the empty space of possibility. Also, of course, there’s no money in it for any of them who actually make their livings through their art. (Well, really, who does that these days, and how on earth would they know ME? I mean, yeah, I happened to have dinner in the same empty restaurant where Laurie Anderson was eating, so consider myself having had dinner with her…but…well…there’s a limit to how far delusion can get one…) I know that I don’t necessarily need a framework, but it would be helpful for the pitch.

Or am I just afraid? Fear is good. As long as it doesn’t stop me from moving forward. My latest fantasies revolve around collaborations not with other artists but with scientists — a geologist studying the ancient terrain around here, an ornithologist tracking all these owls I’m hearing at night, or a limnologist peering at water samples in a microscope (do they do that? I just wanted to use the word limnologist in a sentence). But will they just think I’m eccentric? Who has time for a poet?

Just do something, I say to me.

Gaah, I say.

Just shut up and make work, I also say.

It’s exhausting just collaborating with my many selves. Who has room for someone else?

Marilyn McCabe, We belong together; or, The (Im)possibilities of Artistic Collaboration

Back in July, inspired by Leslie Hurtig’s tweet of three book titles in emojis, I started creating “Emoji Book Title” puzzles over on Donald Trump’s favourite toilet read, Twitter.com. If you’re old, you call these rebus puzzles. But I’m trying to pretend I’m young, so “Emoji Book Titles” it is.

Whatever you call them, I figured some of you sensible folk who don’t use Twitter might also like to play along. In the last three months, I’ve posted 139 rebus puzzles: Canadian poetry, fiction and non-fiction, US poetry and fiction, Nobel prize winners and even a bonus mystery round! You can give them all a read below, and you can click through to Twitter if you are curious about an answer – every one of them has been correctly guessed by someone in the replies.

It’s been tricky finding ways to connect with others in the writing community during the pandemic, and playing these games has done just that. Kinda? Anyway, it’s been a heck of a lot of fun. I hope you enjoy them!

Rob Taylor, In case you need a fun distraction (or 139 of them…)

After a few months of daily poeming (and so much to show for it in terms of the new completed collapsologies manuscript) I’ve been taking a momentary break before moving on to the next thing.  It would help immensely of course if I knew what the next thing was, but right now I’m treading water in the uncertainty of it–notes in my notebook about things I’d like to write or research, formats I would like to play with. Stories I would like to tell. I’ve been dipping a toe back into some visual exploits, including some design stuff and postcard collages for my Patreon. It’s slow, but it’s a start. Maybe some of those will lead to writing.  Or writing will lead to new artwork. 

It feels like a weird time to be making plans, once again with the contingency that the world may be on much tighter lockdown at some point during the next few months. This feels more apt at the Library, where everything–exhibits, programs–is being planned dually, both on the walls and on the web.  We are holding in there, and most of my days are filled now with ILL flow, which has ticked up a bit. Obviously, timewise, whether I am homebound or not shouldn’t affect more creative work that much (if anything I gain back a few hours in the hustling to and fro) but if March & April is any indication, a world in turmoil (or more tumultuous than the past couple of months) blows a huge hole in motivation and concentration. It took til the end of May to get back to any sort of routine.  I still, outside of the dgp manuscripts, have a hard time reading for enjoyment. 

I’m thinking of holding off on starting something new until at least the election has passed and we are into November.  I have no idea what the world will like or where, and if, my concentration will hold. 

Kristy Bowen, daily writing hiatus

Who hasn’t wanted
to inhabit a tiny room

in the soil cushioned by darkness,
soft and without hurt? For a long
while I had no name for the thing

that cleaved me from this pock-
marked plot in the same way
I pulled daughters

out of the wilderness
of my longing.

Luisa A. Igloria, Underworld

There has been no shortage of winter posts in the history of this blog. Which makes sense because Edmonton, at latitude 53 is pretty firmly a winter city. I’ve always loved the lessons that winter offers up and living in Edmonton means we have a fairly lengthy interval to ponder them. I’ve been wondering about how our usual winter lessons might change or be adapted during this pandemic. I typically enjoy the slower pace of winter, the cocooning, the hibernating, the holing up. I enjoy being a recluse. I enjoy the cozy bits. The hygge, the getting down to lagom. But what else can we take from this season? We could do worse than to listen to Wendell Berry:

Suppose we did our work
like the snow, quietly, quietly.
leaving nothing out.
—Wendell Berry

I have a lot of work that I want and need to attend to this winter, including reading a large stack of books I’ve collected and only had the mental energy and attention span to dip into in a cursory fashion. Of course the more I dip, the more my attention span grows, so that’s a lesson and a reminder to myself right there. One book I have been loving is Index Cards by Moyra Davey. I have half of it underlined and the other half dog-eared, but I still want to spend more time with it when I’m more alert. There is a piece where she quotes Dalie Giroux, saying “Give the whole planet a one-year sabbatical…” and “dares us to imagine what that would be like. An echo of Vallières can be heard here — his desire for a society where all people, during their time on earth, could be free to experience their “maximum joy and jouissance.”

Of course this pandemic is nothing like a sabbatical at all. For many, it’s a time of extreme stress and a complete restructuring of the workplace. And that’s just those of us who are lucky and privileged enough to still be working. Right now we’re all just focusing on US politics (even in Canada), (even though the politics in my home province are just about as bad, a complete rubbish heap), and that’s understandable. I keep telling myself, I need a winter plan, a plan to get through, no matter what. I need some new winter mantras.

Shawna Lemay, Winter Calm in the Middle of a Pandemic

Will McInerney, our poet and journalist friend at Cambridge said, “poetry creates a safe space to illuminate problems.” 

And, when it comes to problems like climate change, Oliver Miltenberger, our climatologist-poet friend in the US, told us that “we will never understand the magnitude of what we are losing.”  

Next, we spoke with Dr. Craig Santos Perez from the University of Hawaii, who gave us some perspective on writing to affect change, “poems help heal us individually, are shaped into art to share with the world to help readers cope too.” 

Our caring poet-friend from Washington State, Kelli Russell Agodon told us about how she, “take(s) what scares (her) & makes (her) feel powerless and put(s) it into poetry to put into the world.” 

Then, finally, yesterday in a very generous one-and-three-quarters of an hour zoom call, the presidential inaugural poet Richard Blanco compared our topic of writing with love when he said, “when it comes to climate change, it is like a nation of the mind, without borders.” 

Cathy Wittmeyer, This Is a Writing Retreat for Poets

The rain comes again as if we were a secret, you and I.
Snuggle down with me, my dear, on the beaten old sofa,
And we will sip tea and listen to the rain fall on the roof.

James Lee Jobe, The rain comes again as if we were a secret

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 40

Poetry Blogging Network

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

What a week, eh? Not surprisingly, poetry bloggers had a lot to say—though admittedly, most of it was about poetry. Britain’s National Poetry Day was on Thursday, so that brought all kinds of people out of the woodwork (mostly on social media, of course) to link to things they’ve authored and projects they’ve been involved in. Taking my cue from that, I’ve tried to include as many such posts from the blogs I read as possible, because this week, I think we need all the celebration we can muster. But don’t worry, there’s still lots of grief and gallows humor and existential pondering in this week’s digest, too. We are talking about poets, after all.


Flash
of autumn.

The year
has gotten
away again.

I can’t
go home

because I’m
already there.

Tom Montag, FLASH / OF AUTUMN

I am disoriented. Last year around this time, I had one of those Meaningful Birthdays. The one where you know definitively you are not young anymore. I was stunned to discover recently that it is now once again October, and I am due for another birthday, although not one nearly as meaningful and traumatic as the one I had last year. I don’t know what happened to the time. I don’t know how it became October suddenly and how I became older and how there are brown leaves on the ground now and it’s foggy in the mornings. Wasn’t it just summer? Is the pandemic over yet? Where is my dad? Where did my Mexican masked wrestler trainer go? Why is my job so weird now? What am I going to do about April and The Big Stressy Event that was canceled this year? Why does my body look so alien? And oh yes, I’m supposed to eat snacks now. The president has COVID. I feel dazed and lost and perpetually surprised. Life is strange.

Kristen McHenry. Gym Braggart, Dazed and Confused, An Appeal to Love

Receding in memory, but it was good to see ocean, admire architecture, wolf excessive amounts of seafood out-of-doors on piers and decks, sniff hard at the salt air through our masks, and march indefatigably all over town. 

Also, I just barely missed stepping on a dirty needle near the Portland Encampment in my sandals–and barely missing is excellent, infinitely better than not missing at all. Tents were definitely not of the fancy Burlington Encampment variety. 

Notable: the famous potato doughnuts with interesting Maine flavors (wild blueberry, maple, lemon-ginger lobster, hermit armpit, moose, etcetera.)

Marly Youmans, My summer escapes, etc.

I enjoyed being in Bristol, walking around the city.  I had a coffee and croissant at an outside table in a café because I’d turned up too early for my appointment.  The most striking part of the journey for me was that when I arrived at Bristol Temple Meads station and heard piped opera music – singing voices – something I haven’t encountered in a public place for what seems like the longest time.  I don’t know if this a new thing for the station, I don’t remember noticing music before.  But from nowhere came tears as I heard those singing voices.  I was caught unawares both times on  my return train journey.

I haven’t been thinking consciously about what we’re living through.  It will be something we will process later, perhaps.  The music and the tears stopped me in my tracks for a moment.  It isn’t that I’ve experienced a hard time during the Covid-19 pandemic.  My situation is far better than many.  I’m not living alone, I’m meeting friends and family – safely – on occasion.  I’m getting out and about – but – obviously, evidently – something, many things, are missing from my life and I think that’s what the tears were about.  I wanted to say thank you to whoever it was who arranged for the opera singing, in spite of the tears it was a joyful moment to be connected with that part of myself I hadn’t consciously appreciated I was missing.  Does any of this make sense?

Josephine Corcoran, Buying New Glasses in a Pandemic

Leaves fly like letters
unwilling to reach addressees
with depressing news.

The world is too loud,
sinking boats, burning mountains,
where sunsets were due.

But as the pen slides
on the paper, old habits
of promise appear.

Friend, hang on in there.

Magda Kapa, September 2020

So I haven’t been able to go outside the last couple of days without coughing, a sore throat, and nosebleeds. Sound like a repeat of just a little bit ago? We are lucky that we, unlike some of our friends in Napa and northern California, aren’t losing their homes to yet another gigantic evil wildfire. 2020 – the year that just keeps giving us terrible, terrible things!

This was my picture of the Harvest Moon the first night of the smoke. It was an even deeper red than this at moonrise, almost invisible except a, let’s face it, evil? spooky? foreboding? smudge in the sky. […]

This year has been tough on all of us. One thing I did with my nervous energy was read through books by Octavia Butler, Margaret Atwood, Joan Didion, Rebecca Solnit, poetry by Ilya Kaminsky, Jericho Brown, Lesley Wheeler, and Matthea Harvey, start a book club with my mom, read a terrific book recommended by my little brother…Check out the article to read all about it.

Salon: Reading List for the Pandemic for Mental Health

I hope this article might be helpful to you and you pick up at least one of the books for yourself!

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Welcome to October, Chaos Edition: Smoke in Seattle the Remake, A Week of Chaos and Uncertainty, A Salon Article on Reading for Mental Health, and A Book Giveaway

This week, a rash of random crime in the South Loop, general covid anxiey, and worry of protest violence (not really from the protesters, but from other nefarious interlopers who seem to instigate conflict) made it a particularly bad week mental health-wise.  Maybe the thing we assume about apocalypses is that they happen all at once, and disasters do not drag on for months.  For years. I love my city life, but I keep enviously watching people who live isolated in the woods and it seems like a terribly seductive dream.  That is until they have to remove a giant wolf spider from their outhouse.  I am also very jealous of the vloggers I watch who live in places like Canada or Germany and whose lives are still slowly coming back to normalcy out of covid, but are also not dealing with impending civil wars. 

On a smaller stage, things are holding steady.  There are poems and banana bread and I am getting closer and closer to finishing the collapsologies manuscript. I’ve crested the middle of the mountain of dgp possibilities for next year and library things are beginning to take shape nicely (now that it looks like we can plan a bit further into the semester with less threat of a shutdown–exhibits, zine tutorials, and more. ) I am also excited about my new Patreon adventures, and while my only patron so far is family, I have great plans afoot, including a bunch of new releases for the witching month, as well as a Thirty Days of Halloween bit of promo fun starting Thursday.  Since I’ve spent the summer and early fall catching up on orders, there will also be a few new dgp releases I’ve been finishing up afoot to watch out for.

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 9/27/ 2020

I did not watch the debates.  I rarely do.  By the time the debates come in the life of the political cycle, I already know how I will vote, so there’s not much motivation for me to stay up late watching dreary policy discussions done in short bits of time.

Of course, we didn’t get that experience last night–it sounds like last night’s debate was even worse than I thought it would be, and I thought it would be bad.  If I wanted to hear people shouting over each other and ignoring the ways we’re socialized to be civil to each other–well, I really can’t imagine wanting that.

And even if I did, it’s hard for me to stay up that late.  Instead of watching TV, I went for an evening swim because it’s South Florida, and it’s still summer down here, and I was hot.  I watched the moon rise, which was amazing.  As always, I thought, why don’t I watch the moon rise more often?  Why don’t I swim more often? […]

I am nostalgic for campaign seasons that made me feel hopeful. I am missing the songs of my youth which sang about issues I couldn’t comprehend. I am feeling the need to read some William Blake or maybe some Mary Shelley and to spend the day thinking about innocence and experience and the way forward.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, I Am Woman, but Baby, Don’t Get Hooked

This morning I made some attempts at writing again. Writing poetry, I mean–different from my other acts of writing. Writing against frustration, grief, and absence and pain…obstacles, for me, to composition.

If I were a fiercer poet, a fiercer person, I might manage to write in media res, the midst of the goings-on; I might accomplish poems through my anger or sorrow. Instead, I have to wait it out, mull, observe, speculate. It’s just my natural modus operandi.

Maybe I’m lazy, or afraid.

Ann E. Michael, Short lines, few words

Day dawns, another one, another opportunity to get your sh*t together, is what I tell myself. I’m classy like that. Another day to be alive and awake!

If I can’t chase the sunrise in the morning, it’s good to read a poem or two to begin. This one by the great A.Z. (Found in Without End). If the morning slips through your fingers like so much golden honey, there’s always the anxiousness of sunsets. There’s always the hope of transformation.

Shawna Lemay, The Great Work of Sunrise

Today I am looking at the London rain and crying over the loss of Derek Mahon, who has died at the age of 78. 

Mahon meant as much to me as Heaney, if not more. He was a wry and delicate poet, a great stylist who could make a photograph in your mind or share a personal event and radiate it outwards to larger meanings. I have been reading him for decades and I cannot believe he is gone. So many of his poems are close to my heart. 

I would have a hard time choosing a single favourite poem by Mahon – so many come to mind, including ‘Courtyards in Delft’, ‘A Disused Shed in Co. Wexford’, ‘The Chinese Restaurant in Portrush’, ‘Dog Days‘ – the list is long. 

One of my strongest contenders, however, is ‘Kinsale’ – a perfect short poem which captures a place, a mood, and optimism in the face of Ireland’s difficult histories. 

Here is a video recording of ‘Kinsale’ released just a few weeks ago, read by Tony O’Donoghue and produced by Made to Measure Films Kinsale. I love this poem dearly and think of it often. https://www.kinsale.ie/2020/08/13/famous-poets-words-inspire-new-film-about-kinsale-and-national-recovery/ 

Clarissa Aykroyd, In memory of Derek Mahon, 1941-2020

You may remember the cine-poem that award winning filmmaker,  Tova Beck-Friedman and I collaborated on at the beginning of 2020. I did the voiceover of my poem, “Pregnant with the Dead,” here in Seattle at the amazing Jack Straw Productions the first week of January. This was my first experience being in a film. Well, my voice was there! And what a lovely way to begin an unlovely year.

Since then, the poem and the film have taken on a life of their own. Less than a week before we were supposed to be featured in the Visible Voices Poetry Festival we were unceremoniously booted from the line-up with no explanation. If you want the history of that debacle, check out the article in the Seattle Review of Books which provides an excellent summary of its twists and turns.

Since April, our film has traveled to / will travel into many different film festivals including, most recently, the International Poetry Film Festival of Thuringia (Germany) and the New Media Film Festival in Los Angeles for June 2021. One of the things I love most about being a poet is never knowing where my words might land. For my poem, “Pregnant with the Dead,” the landings have alchemized into celluloid. 

I couldn’t be happier.  To read the poem with line breaks and stanzas (!) go to the notes section of the film which you can access here. [And click through to the blog post to watch the YouTube video of Susan and Tova’s discussion.]

Susan Rich, Tova Beck-Friedman and Susan Rich Interview: Pregnant with the Dead

“I am still watching ghosts, eyes rimed with salt, homesick… this was never our natural state, our true inheritance… we should not be here…”

My video Colony Collapse, originally published in Verity La, is an official selection for the ZEBRA Poetry Film Festival in Berlin, and has been short-listed for the 8th Ó Bhéal International Poetry-Film Competition in Cork, Ireland. Both screenings are in November, 2020. It was also screened at Lyra ’20: Bristol Poetry Festival – Poetry and Climate in March, 2020.

Ian Gibbins, Colony Collapse screens in European festivals

Here in the UK it’s National Poetry Day. It isn’t really my cup of tea, but if it gets more people buying and reading good poetry then what’s not to like? In that vein, since every other poet is doing so today, I thought I’d do a flagrant piece of self-promotion by saying that it’s three years to the day that my collection The Evening Entertainment was published. To mark the occasion, I’ll happily sell signed copies at a discounted rate of £6 each, inc. p&p, until Hallowe’en. If anyone would like one (or more!), please email me. Clare Pollard, Bloodaxe poet and editor of Modern Poetry in Translation, called its contents ‘delightful’ and ‘dazzling’. [That’s enough self-promotion – Ed.]

A couple of weeks before publication, I stayed in Ambleside for a few days with fellow haiku poets John Barlow and Simon Chard, and, in between our climbs up Loughrigg Fell and Haystacks and our sampling of local beers, I had the fun of trying to check the proofs of the book whilst having terrible wifi and phone reception. It was a little panic-inducing. At the time, I had a few Poetry Business Writing School programme tasks, one of which was to visit a museum or gallery and write a poem in response to a piece of art or an object. John, Simon and I visited the excellent Armitt Museum in Ambleside. I had imagined beforehand that I would write in response to art by Kurt Schwitters, who had lived locally in the ’40s, but much to my surprise I was fascinated by the museum’s collection of watercolours by Beatrix Potter, particularly her various studies of mushrooms and toadstools. I wrote a poem called ‘Old Man of The Woods’ and I’m very happy to say that today it’s been published by The Lake, which is neatly apt since it’s set in the Lake District. It’s a poem I’ve tinkered with more than any other I’ve written, which means an awful lot of tinkering. (I’ve even tinkered with it since it was accepted, but hey ho, old bad habits die hard.)

Matthew Paul, National Poetry Day

The Poetry Society, in association with the University of Exeter and Oneworld Publications, presents the Places of Poetry anthology, a volume of selected verse from around England and Wales from last year’s hugely popular Places of Poetry project, an interactive map that poets could pin their poetry to. It attracted 7,500 poems from over 3000 people. The map can still be found here. The project was launched by Paul Farley and Andrew McRae. PLACES OF POETRY: MAPPING THE NATION IN VERSE is an anthology of 200 of the best of these poems.

For eight months from October 2016 I was visiting a much-loved aunt in a care home. I made the sixteen-mile round trip by bus almost every day. My poem ‘Hartlake’ began life in the black notebook I carried in my pocket. It tells something of these journeys, always through the same familiar landscape, but different every time.

The poem was published first in “Obsessed with Pipework”, then it formed part of my pamphlet “These Last Months”, and now it is in this splendid anthology. I could not be more pleased.

Ama Bolton, It’s National Poetry Day

I’m sitting here watching my silver birch turn yellow and rain leaves onto my garden. My next month of weekends will be taken up by raking and raking some more. I can set my seasonal clock by those birch, when they wake from our long winter, the allergies they give me in May, the green coins shaking above our hammock and their bare trunks shining in the midwinter dark. They appear in my Finnish poems regularly, a totem of my time here.

Like many other poets, I’ve written countless poems about trees or including trees. Something about their shape, movement, permanence and long life attracts the writer. I’ve written one just on how the leaves fell from a small stand of trees, trying hard not to use words normally connected with leaves or trees, but to become caught up in their dance. I’ve written about old trees and fallen trees, trees as a metaphor for growing old or for loss. One of my tutors offered a course using trees as inspiration last year and I decided against it because I couldn’t imagine I had more to say about trees. 

This autumn, I was asked to review The IRON Book of Tree Poetry, edited by Eileen Jones and Peter Mortimer. I can now see that no matter how many ways a poet can look at a tree, there’s always more to say, more to see. The collection includes more than 40 poets, some I’m familiar with such as Ken Cockburn and Rebecca Gethin, others new names. All offer a vast feast of language and images related to the theme. It may feel like a familiar subject, but it is examined through so many different lenses: sometimes up close, looking at a group or individual specimen or from the vantage point of a physical or a cultural setting, that the poems still managed to surprise me. At times, they turn back on the reader or humanity in general and say things that were uncomfortable to hear. 

Gerry Stewart, The Presence and Presents of Trees – The IRON Book of Tree Poetry

Mother Mary Comes to Me: A Pop Culture Poetry Anthology is complete and at the printer with a publication date of Nov. 19, 2020. This international anthology features 63 poets hailing from America, New Zealand, United Kingdom, Spain, and Mexico. Karen Head and I are thrilled to have work from well-known poets like recent Pulitzer Prize winner Jericho Brown, Laure-Anne Bosselaar, Denise Duhamel, Maureen Seaton, Ivy Alvarez, Alice Friman, Jeannine Hall Gailey, and Rick Campbell. And we’re equally thrilled to introduce new voices and beautiful work by poets that you’ve likely never heard before. 

With more than 300 poems to choose from, narrowing it down was one of the most difficult decisions Karen and I have ever had to make as editors. The quality and beauty of the work was just overwhelming, and we are honored to have read all of it. 

As I state in my introduction, we actually came up with the idea for this anthology seven years ago. However, we couldn’t find a publisher willing to pick up the project. There seemed to be a nervousness or hesitation about publishing an anthology that doesn’t deify Mary in a traditional way. Many of the poems in this collection take the pop culture theme to its farthest reaches, so hats off and major kudos to Madville Publishing for taking this leap of faith with us.

Collin Kelley, Speaking words of wisdom this November

Octave and sestet: my ridiculously precarious Zoom setup for delivering a paper at the Sonnets from the American Symposium, and then my home symposium-delivery system. Presenting on short-lined sonnets in a piece called “Partial Visibility,” I edited my messy desk out of the virtual window, throwing the focus instead on the bookcases behind me–so much more professorial. I thought about our partial visibility to each other all weekend, especially when Diane Seuss, the second-lo-last reader in the final event, talked about using long lines to expand the parts of life that can be included in the sonnet’s “gilded frame.” (Her new book, frank: sonnets, promises to be amazing.)

I loved the symposium, which was thoughtfully and effectively curated, and I learned a lot. Among the highlights: we viewed a video tribute to Wanda Coleman and her American sonnets put together by Terrance Hayes. There were mesmerizing live readings by Rosebud Ben-Oni, Kazim Ali, Tacey Atsitty, Kiki Petrosino, Shane McRae, Patricia Smith, and many others. Carl Phillips gave a particularly good keynote about “disruption built into” the sonnet and its “tendency to sonic dispersion,” making the form especially hospitable to marginalized writers. Fruitful panel discussions swirled around work by Claude McKay, Gwendolyn Brooks, Jericho Brown, Brandi McDougall, Henri Cole, and many more. I heard from friends, put some names and faces together among scholars and poets I knew only by reputation, and even saw fellow bloggers whom I’d never before met (hello, Frank Hudson! I really appreciated your comments and want to hear more about singing sonnets sometime). What I liked best were the recurrent readings of the American sonnet as a dissident form, incorporating multiple voices through its characteristic turns and pivots, treated rebelliously and inventively by North American practitioners. When Phillips called the sonnet “wired for rebellion,” he echoed the symposium’s exhilarating theme–exhilarating for me, anyway, because my education emphasized the sonnet as an exercise in obedience.

Lesley Wheeler, Sonnet prompts from #SonnetsfromtheAmerican

The latest issue of San Pedro River Review includes a poem of mine.  More on that below.  It’s an all poetry journal which fits some sixty poets into an issue.  Some of the names are familiar to me from their submissions to Sin Fronteras/Writers Without Borders, which makes me feel that there is indeed a community of poets.

And I like the fact that they don’t print the poems in order by the poets’ last names (being a Young, this has often bothered me) but take the time to arrange the poems in an interesting sequence.  This is something I’ve recently learned to do as an editor of Sin Fronteras.

The poem they’ve printed is, for me, a longer one called “Crossing the Heartland,” It draws on over a decade, now past, of driving from New Mexico to Maine and back every year.  It attempts to combine the routine of such travel with the ruminations of the mind as one drives.

Ellen Roberts Young, Thanks and Praise for San Pedro River Review

There’s been a meme (is it a meme, not sure) doing the rounds on the Twitters in the last couple of weeks that asks participants to name 3 recurring themes in their work. You then tag in other folks and get them to do the same. […]

I don’t think I’m being pretentious and blah-di-dah about it, all I couldn’t possibly reduce my work to three words, etc, but I am struggling with it. I’ve never felt the need to sit down and work out what my poetics are, perhaps this is a sign I should…just as soon as I work out what it means.

However, as I write this I think I’ve managed to work out the answer. I’m going with the following.

1. Moments of frailty
2. Mockery
3. Inanimate Objects finding/Getting a voice

Mat Riches, A Trophying

you dig words to make a poem
then you put them back in the hole
and there are more words than will fit
you have buried your muse without knowing
how or what words were added or
maybe it’s the spaces
or maybe it’s the silences
or the punctuation of the pebbles
in the cataract of a flood

Jim Young, dig this

I’ve been lying awake nights fearing that every phantom pain is another blood clot, and I’ve been trying to find comfort meditating on the “spaces between”. I imagine I feel my blood, thin and flowing.

I imagine the spaces between each red cell, between each white cell, and platelet – the spaces between the cells that forms the plasma that flows through the stent in my pelvis. I imagine the flow with each heartbeat.

But there is a fear in every moment between. In every silence.

It’s a numbing dramaturgy.

I’ve written of the spaces between before. In my last book, actually. And tonight I remembered that, and I reread it as a stranger would- It was unfamiliar, but I found myself content with the work. It was a pleasant feeling. Pleasantness requires an absence of fear, and it was… pleasant.

It’s been a while since I have written poetry. I felt like I’d glimpsed something of myself I’ve forgotten. These spaces between spaces were full of secrets. And promise.

Minutes later I’m pulled out of recognition – or maybe a kind of pride – by a stranger’s completely coincidental criticism. I feel myself contract. Like a fist folding and clenching, leaving no space for movement. My breathing stops high in my chest – well above my heart. My shoulder blades pull forward, sliding like tortoise shell over my vulnerabilities. I take on an unskilled warrior pose.

Ren Powell, Some Thoughts On Spaciousness

There are people who’ll buy a pine
bookshelf of knock-down parts

that can be reassembled into
a coffin; or one of woven

cane that a body would fit
into, snug as a sourdough loaf

proofing in a long banneton with
a cover.

Luisa A. Igloria, Leavening

When my thoughts grow littered with open graves, the birds and bell-trees I’ve melodicised into being get harder to find.

The only thing these eyes know how to read is all the news that’s fit to bleed.

In times like these, I play rock, paper, scissors with broken mirrors. I swill the muscatel of human misery and shadowbox false prophets.

But I don’t wanna spend my life writing crow melodies other crows wouldn’t sing.

I don’t wanna be buried alive by tears.

I know the way of the sun; it rises just behind your eyes.

And so I climb up and out of any grave of me to reach you.

Rich Ferguson, Up and Out of the Six-Feet Under Kingdom of Root Shadows

Medicinal shows once toured Europe and America. So called doctors would drive wagons from town to town, offering miracle elixers and other entertainments. My knowledge of medicine shows come from pop culture, the image of a man more entertainer than doctor purporting to sell cures. The man stands on his box or makeshift stage and with a flourish presents a bottle with some strange liquid inside. Is it medicine, a placebo, or poison?

B.C. Edwards’ From the Standard Cyclopedia of Recipes has the same feel of such medicinal shows, with the author himself presenting an assemblage of recipes and concoctions. Each of the poems in this book is an adaptation of a recipe found in a collection of household instructions originally published in 1901 by Frederick J. Drake and Company — recipes to make pure spirits, to cure distemper in horses, to restore burnt steel, to destroy the stumps of trees.

“Ask them how much it hurts. Really.
Drive spikes inward. Ask then.
Go on.
Every part until you have a porcupine,
the monster from Hellraiser
and now ask them how much it hurts.”

— From No. 674. Cure for Earache.

What unfolds is poetry as chemistry, words reacting with words to form new strange mixtures. Each time I pull the cork off a new poem, I’m not sure what I’ll get. Maybe it will evoke the ache of love, the sweetness of longing, the pain of lingering hope. Or maybe I’ll enjoy a contemplation on the nature of coffee, the preservation of birds and other animals.

Andrea Blythe, Book Love – From the Standard Cyclopedia of Recipes: Adapted Poems by B.C. Edwards

Poet and editor Sachiko Murakami’s fourth full-length poetry collection is Render(Vancouver BC: Arsenal Pulp Press, 2020), a lyric of nerve and raw emotion, writing out “a searing exploration of addiction, recovery, and trauma.” Her title suggests the paired ideas of depicting and tearing apart, which this book very much is, a depiction of something immediately after being torn to shreds, and the slow process of picking up and thoughts of reassembly. The rawness here propels much of the collection, one that jokes and shrugs and rails while radiating trauma and anxiety. “Death can’t find her in the back of the closet.” she writes, as part of the sequence, “THANATOPHOBIA 1,” a title that translates to a “fear of death.” “Just kidding! Death can find her / anywhere.” This book flails and disseminates, moving through an articulation of rawness through lyric as a way to, perhaps, slog and slough through to the other side of recovery. “I loved him more than I loved poetry.” she writes, to open “TWO TRUTHS AND A LIE.” “I loved cocaine more than I loved poetry. / When I told him I loved him, I meant I love you more than cocaine.” Through Murakami, the question is posed: by depicting and articulating trauma, can this exist as worthwhile art? Can this exist as a way through which to process trauma into recovery and whatever lies beyond?

rob mclennan, Sachiko Murakami, Render

It’s just one line in one of the poems:  “oh I was the quare one”. I think this was the moment that I realised that one way to listen to these poems was to imagine an Irish voice; that dialect and accent were probably the key to imagining these 900 year old voices, written before the idea of French (and Standard English and R.P.) existed.

I think it turned out to be as simple as that. Just listen. Listen properly. Which is what I set out to do when it came to Ian Parks’ Body Remember , the third of the trio of his tributes to, and celebrations of, Cavafy. Because, at the end of all, I firmly believe that what matters is the authenticity of the voice.

John Foggin, A labour of love. Ian Parks and C P Cavafy

When describing Robert Selby’s first full collection, The Coming-Down Time (Shoestring Press, 2020), there’s a danger that critics might reach for terms such as “traditional” or “nostalgic”, particularly as the poet evokes and invokes an England that’s about to undergo a seismic shift.

However, those afore-mentioned terms would do Selby’s work a disservice, as they would misinterpret his implicit contextualising of the past and the delicacy of his touch. Selby’s work rewards patient rereading: poems that might seem a pastiche or anachronism are in fact inviting the reader to engage in a dialogue with the present. In The Coming-Down Time, what’s left unsaid is often even more important that’s what actually stated, and the impatient reviewer can easily miss these nuances.

Matthew Stewart, The looming shadow of the present, Robert Selby’s The Coming-Down Time

We said goodbye at the airport and a new grief would enter our lives. There would be tears, and more tears, and not letting go until not letting go had to be let go of and letting go finally happened. My grandparents disappeared through the gates. In the car home, sniffed tears and a stiff silence. She did not say a word.

My first poem was about an airport, the first one that counted at any rate, the first one somebody noticed. It was about picking her up, not letting her go, but now I think about it the grief was already ticking away in it, behind my loneliness and unemployment and anger.

I used to start every reading with it, because it gave me the chance to tell the story of how I fell into doing this, because a powerful but kind man at a magazine took pity on my 23 poems (my life’s work, he called it) and chose to publish a couple when he should have filed them in the bin.

But also because it reminded me of how a boy from the sticks (the suburbs are the absolute sticks, you should try it) came to put words down and down and down without knowing what he was doing except that he wanted to put words down. Of how you don’t need to know, you just need to start.

Anthony Wilson, When I am Asked

A dash of wisdom folded into
temporary bliss, to keep it
from curdling. Undiluted,
it tends to stick in your throat.
Throw in the bones
of yesterday’s rage to give it
texture. Nothing is less
appetizing than mush.

Romana Iorga, Conjugal Pottage, Serves Two

I write to myself.

I’m so sorry I hurt you. You beloved dumb fuck with your devotional mouth given in trust entire, gone all in for better and for worse: you deserved better and I failed to protect you. Please forgive me. I will do better. I will not wait for someone else’s amends. I will do better.

JJS, Teshuva

I cry nearly every day, my body like a sieve, but the tears come and go swiftly, like thin clouds that intermittently block the sun. I have not been punched in the face (yet), but I keep tripping and skinning my knees.

I can look back over the whole of my life and I see moments where I knew–I knew–things weren’t right, that the center wasn’t holding. For godsake, I became a high school English teacher because by the end of the Reagan era I was worried about the health of our democracy, and teaching children how to read, write, and think critically seemed the best contribution I could make with my particular set of talents and skills.

But there are all the other moments I can see, too. Sun streaming through windows, a child’s warm weight on my chest, words gathering around a kitchen table. That essay brought a kind of comfort. Yes, we are in collapse. We have long been in collapse. So: No, you are not crazy to be so alarmed. And: Aren’t all of our lives, always, in some kind of collapse, always moving from something they were to something else they will be? Isn’t everything always fleeting? Isn’t that the exquisitely painful truth? And shouldn’t we capture it, however we can, so we don’t forget?

Rita Ott Ramstad, Why I Write (and don’t)

We live between four walls, they are temporary, fragile, often cheap, sometimes made of scythed corn stalks.  They have been speared into the ground for the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, they won’t hold for long, their very nature is impermanence.  While they last, swaying in the crisp weedy air, let’s whoop it up inside!  Let’s eat and drink and talk about wandering and homelessness, how great paradigms rise and fall but never die.  Let’s go into the rattle of uncertainties, though while we’re sitting or standing in one place, we’re in A Place. 

How in-between and gappy everything is!  Between the four walls, between the moment and la durée, we are also sitting between our spry and grinding doubt and our aspirations.  Against the backdrop of black sky – for in this Sukkah there is no thatch, no leaf cover, no tile, no roof – I see the scintillating stars.  Is it true that “the world spins nightly towards its brightness and we are on it,” as C.D. Wright wrote? These weeks of radical chaos make it hard to believe anything except dismay and revulsion. “I heard him, he was washing the world, unseen, nightlong, real.”  Paul Celan, is it so?  Mood swings are counted not in days, but in hours; the decision to start over can happen several times a day.

We know how many things we claim are random and by chance, and how a flag flying over us becomes tatty and shorn.  Identities fall away.  The Place, one of the names of God, is maddeningly ambiguous and general, but I tend to like ambiguous and general.  I saw a fox standing in my garden one morning. What an indifferent, charged, gleaming animal that decided, after a stare-off, that I wasn’t worth the effort, and wandered off; it was a serene confrontation. This is the challenge, how to live in our grounded groundlessness, our wanderings, in our corn-stalk houses, here, hineini, finding one place to stand. 

Jill Pearlman, Ground Under our Feet?

Midnight again, moonlight and wind.
I cannot put down the poems of Miyazawa Kenji and Ilya Kaminsky.
I keep reading on into the night.
Then my own scribbles in an old notebook.
A gust of wind rattles the old loose window
and that which you might call my soul
shoots straight up into outer space.
Spacemen gather to me, and I read them a poem.

James Lee Jobe, it is imperfection that makes us human