Poetry Blog Digest 2022, 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. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This (late) edition continues the sombre tone from last week, albeit with some joyful news as well. The season of death is upon us. But late autumn and winter is also a time for deeper thinking, and we have some of that as well.

Note that I will continue to share links to these posts on Twitter for as long as a significant portion of us still maintain accounts there, but in general, like many folks, I’m using the opportunity to move most of my microblogging over to the Fediverse, which as an open-source project was always a much better fit with my values. I hope you’ll join me there. (I’m on a medium-sized Mastodon server, here.)


Oh bathroom window, what are those ash-gray clouds,
needle in the morning’s eye —

dawn too early in its strange light-threading.
To 6am, I bring another party: 

my thoughts, light and frisky in dark crevices […]

Jill Pearlman, The Early Bird and other Myths

An interesting week. The tory clowns have come up with a forecast of a £60 billion black hole in the national finances. It’s their latest wheeze to make the poor pay more than the rich. JK Galbraith once said that “economic forecasting is there to make astrology look good.” But this has not stopped them from delivering one punitive budget after another. […]

there is a second
when the mop bucket’s contents
after being slung into the air
seems to just hang ignorant of gravity

in that moment you could mould the water
into any fantastic shape you pleased
if only you were quick enough

Paul Tobin, THE MOLECULES SIGH

As the wind howled, I thought about all the ways I have tried to make my way as a writer in the world:  build a website, develop a presence on various social media sites, try to publish everywhere, try to have a series of readings/presentations, slog, slog, slog.  Because it was the middle of the night, I wondered if I could have done anything differently, even though I know the stats about sales and who is making a living from their writing (not very many people).

And if we’re being honest, in many ways, I’m glad I’m not relying on any of my creative endeavors to pay the bills.  I am astonished at the ways that people hustle to try to sell their work, and I know all the ways that the various hustles would be hard for me.  And statistically, it’s hard these days to sell enough work to pay the bills.  Lots of people out there competing for fewer readers.  I’m glad that I can write what I want to write without worrying about marketability.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Winds of Metaphor, Winds of Change

What do you remember about the earth?

I am six and the terrible grandmother has come to live
with us. She smells of tobacco and the green eucalyptus-
mint Valda pastilles she is always popping into her mouth
from a tin hidden in her robe pocket. A game I like to play
with some of the neighborhood kids involves taking turns
putting Necco wafers in each other’s mouths while intoning
“The body of Christ.” We are careful not to bite down
so as not to cause the body of Christ to bleed. Then
we walk around the grassy perimeter of the truck yard
pretending we are floating, until the candy has melted
and our tongues turn lime green, orange, or pink.

Luisa A. Igloria, Six Questions

A commissioned poem is always a leap of faith in the dark. You get a phonecall with a request to write about a particular topic or idea, and you must decide whether you can do it, whether you want to do it, but most importantly, whether you can do it in the time available.

For this commission, and for many commissions for radio, there was a very tight turnaround. I think I got a phonecall on Friday evening from the producer of Woman’s Hour, Clare Walker. She wanted a poem that celebrated the different sounds that women have heard over 100 years. the poem would be two minutes long, but the whole thing would be about eight minutes becuase they were going to weave through the poem lots of archive recordings. “Brilliant!’ I replied – thinking this was a really interesting commission, and an enjoyable one.  I briefly envisaged some peaceful weeks trawling through archive recordings of suffragettes and the sond of the first washing machine.

“There’s just one snag” Clare said. “We’re on a bit of a tight deadline, so it has to be finished and recorded by Wednesday”.  “Ah” I said.  I thought about my looming deadline for a book of hybrid essays (more news to follow on that!) which was due just a few days later.  I thought about the five days I had available to write the poem, and how for at least two of those, I wouldn’t be writing, or in fact even thinking because I have no childcare at the weekend.

“That will be fine!” I replied recklessly. “Let’s do it!”.  What kind of person would turn down a commission from Woman’s Hour, I asked myself, even with a book deadline, and just five days to write it (well really three).

Kim Moore, The Commissioned Poem: A Leap of Faith

Tough, in its various meanings, and tender are the poems in Kathy Fagan’s Bad Hobby. Painful, in parts, as it recalls my own mother’s failings of memory, but funny too, as such things can be, in the right moment, with a good spirit, and with nothing left to lose.

From “Snow Moon & the Dementia Unit”:

Dad called again to see how his daughter Kathy’s doing,
and when I tell him I’m doing fine, he asks,

So you’ve talked to her recently? What did she say?
and really, what could I say then…

Through these poems we glimpse the inner and outer life of the speaker, especially the presence of her parents, real or ghostly. From “Animal Prudence”:

…Even when he was
a young drunk going deaf from target practice,
my father preferred picking his teeth
to brushing them. My mother preferred
crying. They bought or rented places
on streets named Castle, Ring, Greystone—
as if we were heroes in a Celtic epic.

The author is unsparing and unsentimental in her observations. Here she regards her own self through a sight of a hawk and its squirrel prey in “Cooper’s Hawk”:

… My tolerance for ‘Nature, red in tooth
and claw’ rose as my estrogen fell. The wish
to die died with my hormones, and with all that
powering down, I could finally hear myself
not think.

The wry wit, the dry eye, and the imagination that instills these poems made this hard book a pleasure to read.

Marilyn McCabe, Hello goodbye hello; or, On Kathy Fagan’s Bad Hobby

“Naming the Ghost” is a gentle, sensitive journey through bereavement and acceptance. It is not just the loss of the narrator’s father, but also that the newborn daughter will never know her grandfather, which exacerbates the sense of loss. However, the narrator acknowledges that she cannot let her daughter’s sole experience be a grief for someone she did not know. On her journey, she learns to adjust to looking to the future, informed by the past. These are poems that linger and haunt rather than grab the reader.

Emma Lee, “Naming the Ghost” Emily Hockaday (Cornerstone Press) – book review

What I was going to say is that I have reached an age where my peers all seem to be facing cancer. Illnesses like Parkinson’s. Bones that break all too easily. Unexpectedly. Everything hurts. Everyone hurts. And we are still comparing ourselves to one another.

Some of us move through the days thinking: but that won’t happen to me. I’ll be one of the shining septuagenarians on Instagram snatching more than their own bodyweight. Some of us hold on to the moments.

Some of us. Maybe only me. Have given up on narratives and justifications.

Here is my beginner’s mind. I pause in stillness. Then inhale and rise along the gentle slope of a polished pearl. Then exhale into stillness. One rich movement at a time, like gusts of wind slamming the body.

I read once that the ghazal was a series of discrete couplets, connected like pearls on a string.

Ren Powell, Life as a Ghazal

Here is what we do in our church: 
we never gather and we never sing
we blame but never praise
we cultivate indulgence; we wallow in dread;
we pick the scabs of anxiety.
The stupidest Congregation of the Bigot
in Podunkville does better than that.

Dale Favier, Inventing the Wheel

Readers accustomed to Fokkina [McDonnell]’s poems will know that she has a great gift for sudden shifts of thought and emphasis which wrong-foot and surprise the reader. Many years’ practice as a psychotherapist must have informed Fokkina’s acute sensitivity to how the brain and heart interact. Her poems implicitly ask questions but usually stop short of providing answers – as with effective haiku, the reader is invited to do some work, in effect to complete the poems. There’s a lightness or playfulness among the trauma which sporadically surfaces; a sense which I can only really explain fully by using the Japanese haiku concept of karumi, which Michael Dylan Welch explores so well in an essay available here. And where Fokkina does apparently provide answers, the reader has to wonder if they are the answers of an unreliable narrator of sorts.

Matthew Paul, On Fokkina McDonnell’s ‘Safe House’

What are you working on?

After a two-year hiatus in writing (due to parenting a 3yo and 1yo without childcare during the pandemic), I have just begun to write again while my baby naps and my 3yo attends preschool. My question the past few weeks has been what I can effectively work on given time constraints. Before my children were born I was working on a volume of Norse verse translations. The unpredictability of baby naps has made it nearly impossible to return to this. What surprised me was having inspiration for a fantasy novel and actually being able to write chapter drafts. Holding scenes and characters in my mind until I can work on them again has proven easier than holding the intricately-woven webs that are skaldic poems, with all their linguistic and historical threads. 

Thomas Whyte, Emily Osborne : part three

More poets and songbirds. Shopaholics at the mall of mercy.

A Congress that engages in friendly congress.

For the homeless to become homeful. Wildfires to take a chill pill.

Gun muzzles to nuzzle love.

Rich Ferguson, What the world needs now

I’ve noticed in recent years, on social media since that is where I see discussions of poetry, is a criticism of poetry reviews. First the criticisms were about the reviews not being published in mainstream newspapers any more or, if they were, the tiny wordcount afforded to them. Then the criticism shifted to the reviews themselves, their “lack of critical engagement,” that they are “puff pieces”, concerning themselves with the poet and the “poet’s identity” rather than the actual poems, the craft and technique. All of these criticisms are valid, and perhaps the reviews under discussion seem ubiquitous because of the proliferation of online platforms like Goodreads, online journals and blogs, as well as in some poetry magazines. Also, there has been a trend to simply photograph a book or poem and share on social media without also offering any kind of considered review. Perhaps this has also offended people seeking detailed critiques. Unfortunately, in my view, the criticisms risk silencing a group of people who might want to review, or even to express that they like a book or poem, but who now won’t, for fear of being on the end of such criticism. I think it’s far to say that some of the criticisms I’ve observed are from poets who are also academics, used to the rigor of academic principles, and critical of work that strays from from, or seems to disregard, this rigor. I think that’s a shame. The poetry world has room for a rigorous, intellectually challenging approach to appraising and analysing poetry as well as a different kind of response, perhaps personal to the reviewer, regardless of their academic training and experience.

Unfortunately, perhaps because of the nature of social media, particularly Twitter with its limited wordage, these kinds of criticisms can appear aggressive, especially when a lot of people seem to join in. Perhaps one of the good things to come out of the current implosion happening at Twitter will be that this kind of ‘pile on’ will become less prominent in poetry (and other) circles.

Josephine Corcoran, On Reviewing

I read somewhere recently that writing poetry reviews (the traditional kind, for poetry mags) is a good discipline as it makes you really read closely and engage with poetry collections. I have to say that interviewing a poet on a podcast takes all that and then some – thinking up relevant questions to ask, talking with the poet about your reading/understanding of their work, suggesting which poems they read and commenting in a way that listeners may find interesting… it’s not easy, and I often curse myself for sounding like an idiot, a sycophant or a ‘womansplainer’, sometimes all three in the same episode. It’s all  good fun though!

Robin Houghton, Self-sabotage, womansplaining and other poetry joys

Winter is more insidious than summer.
The low-angled sun is a dull blade,
sheathed in bitter grey.

In winter I play old music.
The music my grandparents listened to
as they took me to Friendly’s or to

a clarinet lesson in the next town over.
It’s the music of nostalgia and longing
and emptiness. Winter music.

Jason Crane, POEM: A Winter Poem

I once borrowed her jean jacket so I could look cool, as a group of us made for Montreal for a Peace Concert at the Montreal Forum in 1987. The illustration she made of our pre-concert group in the park, drinking beer and playing guitar with a few dozen others, made its way onto the cover of the zine we invented as part of our high school “writer’s craft” class: assembling poems, stories, drawings. All of it published anonymously, of course. She could fall helpless into fits of giggles, including when dancing at the Carleton Tavern somewhere in the 00s, realizing her friend Joy’s dancing had caused Joy’s pants to fall off, without them noticing. There was an element to our pairing that rendered chaos, a joyous silliness that not everyone else had patience for, akin to six-year-old twins: each encouraging the other.

I published some of her poems in the first issue of my long poem magazine, STANZAS, in 1993, and in a chapbook, not that much later. She’d been working on a poetry manuscript she’d titled “Naked,” some of which sits in a file on my computer. The poems from STANZAS, her “Garden” series, that later fell into her novel, The Desmond Road Book of the Dead (Chaudiere Books, 2006). As the first of the series, “Garden,” reads:

I can make the garden grow, the sun fall up and down in the sky, a man full grown from passion in my tissue, in secret places I hide my fat and wait for rain for rain for rain

In August 2019, the last time I saw them, not long before Covid: an afternoon visiting Clare and Bryan on their farm in North Glengarry, a few miles east of the McLennan homestead, as my young ladies admired their two horses, and later accidentally stomped on a hive of bees at the end of the yard. At least we discovered neither young lady allergic, once they both stung. Clare offered them colouring, toys. They played a football game on the porch, and she delighted in them both.

How am I supposed to experience a world that Clare Latremouille no longer occupies? I shall have to be attentive enough for the both of us, I suppose. I shall have to be silly enough. An image in my head of the remaining members of Monty Python at Graham Chapman’s graveside, the first of the troupe to die: every one of them standing with pants at their ankles.

rob mclennan, Clare Latremouille (July 4, 1964 – November 16, 2022)

My recent video and furthermore (indexed), is getting its first public screening on 23rd November 2022 in the Living With Buildings – IV program in Coventry, UK, as part of their fabulous Disappear Here project, curated by Adam Steiner. This is a quarterly screening that explores human experiences of the urban environment through people, poetry and place.

In Ancient Greece, public notices were engraved in stone on building walls. Now, we find ourselves surrounded by texts: advertising, warnings, directions, graffiti… Meanwhile, the Rolling Stones are in town, violence, scandal and political intrigue vie for attention, someone won the football, and we worry about the future for our youth…

The video samples every occasion that the word “and” was used in the “NEWS” pages on one day in the local Adelaide newspaper. The words following each instance of “and” are listed alphabetically and read by Karen, the MacOS Australian female text-to-voice interpreter. In doing so, it creates a snapshot (indexed) of a day in the news of a contemporary city.

Ian Gibbins, and furthermore (indexed)…

In the old days writers would iambize their prose and dangle rhymes on their line-endings to make their words seem more significant, adding poetic words as glitter. As Samuel Johnson said, some people think that anything that doesn’t look like prose must be poetry. Nowadays writers use strange punctuation, deletions, discontinuities and line-breaks instead.

There’s still something about the label “poetry” that writers find tempting. And why not? Poetic license still exists. If you label a piece “poetry”, readers will look for hidden meanings. The meanings will expand to match the readers’ expectations. It saves the writer needing to do so much. A short text (about doing the housework, say) can go far given a big title like “Death”.

But readers might not be so compliant nowadays. They might distrust the label. They might think the shortness is a cop-out.

They’re more alert to tricks of ads, the lure of mistique, aura, etc. They know how the addition of false eyelashes and tan can trick the eye.

Tim Love, Ornamentation and aura

A first thing the poetry business and the wine trade have in common: the best way to end up with a small fortune in both poetry publishing and winemaking is to start off with a large one. In part, this is because winemaking is often a highly personal project, just like poetry publishing, and people thus often do stuff that makes little business sense.

And then there’s the question of personal taste: I don’t like big, oaky wines from Ribera del Duero. I do admire them in technical terms when they’re well crafted, but I can never bring myself to enjoy them. Same goes for certain types of poetry.

Matthew Stewart, A comparison between poetry and wine

I grew up in a valley bordered on the east by the Rocky Mountains and on the west by the Nevada desert.  Both landscapes were awesome and terrifying–people died in both.  When we drove across the desert on the way to California, the emptiness was so overwhelming I hid on the car floor.   But the sight of the mountains was central and powerful, and I missed them when I moved east.  When I took the train home I spent the last few hours staring out the window, desperate for my first glimpse of them.  Westerners are landscape snobs–I needed that scale.  In the east I sneered at the hills people referred to as mountains.  When people said, “Isn’t this landscape beautiful?,” I literally couldn’t see what they were talking about.  If it wasn’t awesome it didn’t even matter.  It took me years of living in it to realize one day, setting out for a hike (walk) with friends: Oh, this landscape is human scale, you can just walk out into it without risking your life.  And for the first time I saw the value in that.

I think the sublime has to do with extremity and intensity, with things larger and deeper than the human scale of things, with situations where one person encounters whatever it is–the void, the abyss, the unfathomable, immeasurable.  I think the sublime is something we can visit but not live in–the intensity would crush us, as Rilke says.  And the solitude.  Most of our lives include relationships with other people.  When it comes to poetry, the awesome/ sublime may be the most powerful, but I think more poems, including many great ones, are written out of our human relationships–that scale, the one with emotions that range from happiness to rage to love to sadness, subtle and nuanced, looked at closely.  I don’t think I’d describe any of Shakespeare’s sonnets as sublime, for example, however beautiful and moving they are.

Sharon Bryan, Poems of Daily Life

The poem is not simply a clever convolution of words but does ‘make sense’ when read carefully. Apart from its description of a time that is gone, it examines and exemplifies the tortured ambivalence between memory and fact. The slippery methodology of examining a personal memory when looking at a visual depiction of that place in that time. Indeed, can memories be altered by the holder of that memory, other than by recognising its inherent subjectivity.

Jim Young, poem with explanatory notes

Number of books read while here: 14 – 8 collections of poetry and 6 novels. (You can see all the books I’ve read this year on Goodreads – follow me if you don’t already!)

Number of manuscripts read for Riot in Your Throat: 22 and counting – the independent poetry press I run, Riot in Your Throat, is currently open for full length poetry manuscripts. I’m looking for 2-4 collections to publish in 2023 – submissions are open all month so if you haven’t yet submitted there’s still time!

Number of dreams about ex-lovers: 3 – seriously, what is going on in my brain?!

Courtney LeBlanc, VCCA: By the Numbers

A deer drives into a parking lot. It desires nothing. It’s my voice. I’ve been looking for you. Yeah, out on a joyride, now here to buy pants. Later, parking spots turn into breath. My voice full of venison and wheels. Fog and knives. What I desire, the deer says: An on and off switch. My thighs in lake water. But I’m wearing pants. I’m always wearing pants.

Gary Barwin, Pants

Tuesday is my dad’s memorial service, when we will placing both his ashes and my mother’s, which have been on the mantle for the past 5 years, in the ground of the plots they owned since around the time they got married. It is all moving very fast and I have yet to catch my breath or spend much time with my thoughts.  I’ve mostly been working furiously and napping frequently in equal measure. I have to keep reminding myself that its the holiday season, that Thanksgiving is this week.  I am not really feeling it, but am hoping to fake it til I make it, procuring new garlands and stockings from Amazon for my bookshelf, some new evergreen sprigs for some vases. I was going to just wait til I get back to the city next Sunday, but I may just put it up tomorrow. 

I write this post now as I would normally be embroiled in my twice-weekly call with my dad, an hour I have cautiously watched approach on the clock on all day as I did the usual Sunday things like sweep the floors and clean up the kitchen. The past few years, he had taken over where my mother had left off on Sundays and Wednesday nights.  I have always been grateful for that time, mostly since the previous 20-ish odd years of living away from them had involved very little phone convo with him, since my mom liked to do the talking for both of them with him occasionally chiming in from the other side of the room. Only when she was really sick and the delirium had set in did he take over. It was sort of like getting to know someone new, but also very familiar.  I am not quite sure what I will do with myself, especially on Sundays when the 6pm call was so engrained in my schedule my entire adult life. 

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 11/20/2022

clay and paper string
persuaded him not to prosecute
the silent sneeze

even in the cafeteria
her own aeroplane
is made to be burnt

Ama Bolton, ABCD November 2022

Word went out Thursday that he was moving to palliative. By now you’ve probably heard of the quick decline of Robert Hogg and our loss of him on Sunday.

I never did the math that he was 80. He was busy in the 60s with that zeitgeist of poetic excitement. He had a young energy. Even cancer’s “trauma age” didn’t impinge as much as on some people.

Death has offended and hurt many again. Its timing is never good. In the last few years, Bob was redoubling his efforts to get more of his work out before people while he could. Love while you can, write while you can and support while you can seemed to be his driver.

He was like electricity, always there at the ready when you reach for him. He had a calm gentle humour, plain spoken and as if amused by life.

It’s funny seeing the tributes coming out from so many and from so far and yet not surprising at the same time. He had the rare gift while talking to you of making you the only person in the room.

Pearl Pirie, Bob Hogg

What can poetry do?  

There have been many who advocate art for art’s sake, or l’art pour l’art, as the slogan was initially rendered in nineteenth century France. 

There have also been many, and indeed there are an ever-increasing number, of artists (in the broadest sense) who see their work as a focus for, or extension of, their activism. 

I feel fortunate to have had poems included in a variety of charity anthologies over the years, raising funds (and awareness) for Macmillan Cancer Support, Welney WWT and the Born Free Foundation, to name but three. 

I am delighted to add another to the list in the form of Voices for the Silent (Indigo Dreams Publishing, 2022), the new companion volume to For the Silent (Indigo Dreams Publishing, 2019), edited by Ronnie Goodyer, Poet-in-Residence at the League Against Cruel Sports. These companion (or stand-alone) volumes have been produced to aid the work of this charity, and not surprisingly some of the selected poems concern animal cruelty. Others focus on habitats and the wonders and complexities of the natural world. 

Caroline Gill, ‘Voices For The Silent’, New Anthology from Indigo Dreams Publishing

  1. My unfinished poems. Technically, what is the status of a half-done poem when life is finished?
  2. The first thirteen lines of a brand new poem. Quite unrelated to the situation at hand. Poetry comes when it comes. Even through a canula.
  3. One person I wanted to apologize to. From way back before way back. Time moves in mysterious trajectories inside a hospital, dodging right angles and ramps, needles and gurneys.
  4. How mesmerizing that infinitely slow drip from the IV pouch is – like an existential morse code. Drip. Dash. Dash. Damn. Drip.
  5. Two questions the universe hasn’t answered yet. The universe needs deadlines and then someone to enforce the deadlines. The united nations of forsaken questions.
Rajani Radhakrishnan, The night before surgery: thoughts and stuff…

You wait.
That’s what you do,
whether the poems
come, or not,
the old monk said.

Tom Montag, TEN OLD MONK POEMS (94)

First, while the press aims to be sustainable, it is not trying to be profitable. Breaking even is acceptable to me, and I would consider it a victory to be able to break even while 1) putting good poetry into the world and 2) continuing to donate half of all sales. If there are times when I go into deficit by a hundred dollars or so, this too is acceptable to me personally. However, I am rigorously working to avoid this. And again, even without the $500 donation, I’ve still basically broken even on a relatively large ($1000) investment, and I’ve also managed to give away almost $850 — all while getting my poems into the world. So I’m OK with how things are going.

Secondly, the great majority of the money spent so far was “start up” money, and this does not represent ongoing costs. These initial costs include both tools I will not need to replace anytime soon, if ever, as well as a lot of practice materials I won’t ever be buying again (different weights of card stock and paper, in particular). Thus, the longer the press continues to exist, the more it will produce from these initial materials, and the more it will earn from them.

R.M. Haines, DMP Summary and Receipts: 10/17 to 11/14

So, this weekend, I am working on final edits of Flare, Corona for BOA – including updating last-minute acknowledgements, deciding on spelling conventions that I apparently don’t write twice the name way, and keeping an eye out for wayward commas, and I’m also sending out e-galleys of Flare, Corona to people who might be interested in reviewing it. If you are interested in reviewing it, in a Zoom class visit, or book club inclusion, please e-mail me at jeannine dot gailey at gmail dot com and I will send you a copy!

I’m monitoring the somewhat sad situation at Twitter. If I had 44 billion dollars, I think I’d do a better job of managing the product instead of destroying it, but Elon Musk is a really bad manager with a lot of money willing to hurt others in the process of getting his own way (toxic misogyny writ large, I’m afraid) and I’m sad because I’ve built relationships with not just the poetry community but disability Twitter and even fellow cat and flower lovers and I hate that a spoiled billionaire can make everything crumble in a few days that I’ve built for years. On the other hand, it makes you rethink your whole relationship with social media. For writers it’s essential to connect with audiences—and for a long time, Twitter was the place to connect with Millennial friends, writers, and readers.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, November Sunshine in the Pacific Northwest

Finally, there is this blog, which has endured all sorts of personal, technological, and societal changes since it began in 2003. As a firm believer in owning and controlling one’s own online content, I’ve no intention of letting it go, and instead, have been thinking about how to infuse it with more energy now that I have some time.  Could it be more educational, more helpful? Could it help to launch new projects and bring people together, as it has in the past (quarrtsiluni, Phoenicia Publishing, online groups)? What else is there that I haven’t considered? There’s nothing wrong with social media functioning as a hub where interested people find content and go to it, but as our disillusionment with these social platforms and their capitalist agendas grow, could blogs regain some of their gravitas and a new sense of purpose? I wonder.

It depends somewhat on our expectations. I do know that I don’t care about the number of followers or readers, and we are long since past those heady days where aspiring writers thought they’d become well-known through their blogs — there’s no way that someone steadily writing good but long-form posts would become famous like a seductive Instagram influencer, not in today’s world! But careful and engaged readers and writers still do exist […] Blogs like Language Hat, Velveteen Rabbi, Hoarded Ordinaries, and Whiskey River have kept on quietly, steadily, thoughtfully posting for nearly two decades now, and there are many others. If these are not impressive and worthy bodies of creative work, I don’t know what qualifies.

Beth Adams, Coming Up for Air

The weather is cold cold cold, but the days are so brightly sunny I keep saying I need to get my sunglasses back out. I’m savoring every last bit of true fall that I can, before we pass Thanksgiving and it is officially winter holiday season. I love this time of year, when we go inside and get cozy but don’t yet have a bunch of other obligations. When we love light all the more for its scarcity.

For so many reasons, I really can’t with Thanksgiving much any more, but I will always love taking time to notice and name what I am grateful for. In this funky week full with appointments and phone calls and triggers and wind and wool sweaters, there was one morning where everything sparkled because the temperatures had dropped below freezing overnight, but the sun was rising. Branches were newly bare, but there were still leaves clinging to them–leaves blazing with their final colors.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Pain management

I think some of the things I’m doing right now that are part of my work for the NF book – visiting museums, walking, reading – are exactly what I should be doing and I am realising just how stressed I get if I do too much ‘people’ stuff in one week. I’m trying to train myself out of feeling and labelling myself as ‘pathetic’ or ‘ridiculous’ or ‘weak’ if I need more rest than perhaps other people seem to, or if I’m not juggling 100 projects at once and just want to plod slowly into a book. This is where I have always wanted to be – plodding into my work, absorbed in it like the utter library nerd that I am. I just want to read books and write books and have the time and energy to do that.

Perhaps my dad’s death has opened up a few old wounds, wounds I thought I’d packed and sewed up tightly. I don’t know. It’s been a hell of a year, again. I’m starting to think about goals for next year, starting to think about my rituals of the new year. I’m ticking off some big goals from 2022 and that makes me wonderfully happy, and I am surprising myself with the new goals in my planner, they are much less poetry centred. I feel strangely guilty for moving away from poetry, even if it is only while I work on the non fiction project. I’ve cut my work back to some mentoring, running Spelt and running the occasional course. which still sounds like a lot really, on top of writing a book. Having the opportunity to help other poets progress their own writing is really important to me, and it’s also a source of absolute joy for me, mentoring in particular. And I love the camaraderie of the email courses I still run. When I come to write prompts and notes for a course it feels like putting a comfortable cardigan on, and mentoring always feels like meeting friends. I find, more and more, that the work that I am choosing to do brings me joy, I find that when I look around myself, my life is good. Terrible fretting over what the next terrible loss will be aside, I am happy and enjoying the way my brain works, and I’m looking forward to reflecting that in my writing. But still a part of me clings to the idea that if I’m not cramming in more stuff, applying for more things, winning more things, making more connections…I’m not doing well. I need to change the definition of ‘doing well’ and emphasise ‘feeling happy’ more I think.

Wendy Pratt, Writing and Reading the Trauma Poems

I’ve been feeling a bit overwhelmed by the good poetry news I’ve received lately, and I’m behind on sharing it here…

At the end of September, my poem “One Way to Use a Deck of Cards” from How to Play was featured on Verse Daily!

Last month, two of my poems were published in Writing in a Woman’s Voice: “After an Older Man from Church Drunk-Texts to Tell Me I Looked Good Topless in His Dream Last Night” and “What’s Something You Love That Can’t Love You Back?

Also in October, two of my poems were published in Pirene’s Fountain: “This Poem Is about Dinosaurs” and “Choosing a Moon.” This whole issue is fantastic, and you can purchase a copy at this link.

This month, I’ve gotten some happy award news! “After an Older Man from Church…” received the Moon Prize from Writing in a Woman’s Voice on November 9, and “This Poem Is about Dinosaurs” was just nominated for a Pushcart Prize this week! I’m so grateful to these editors who’ve published and affirmed my work and to the folks who encourage me and read my poems.

Katie Manning, Verse Daily & Moon Prize & Pushcart (Oh my!)

Lately I’ve been remembering the dances I’ve already had – the romantic ones with boys/men a long time ago.  I now know that at least three of those boys/men have passed on. That’s something else I’ve considered:  the synonyms for “died”:   passed on,  passed away,  etc.  One of my sisters always says “Gone to God.”   The dogs and cats who have “crossed the Rainbow Bridge”  

I still have the image in my head from when my dad died. I visited him on a Wednesday, and on the following Friday I was at a meeting in Buffalo and got a call from the nursing home that he had died in his sleep in the middle of the afternoon.  I envisioned him on a small boat, moving away from the shore of the living on the sea of eternity, quietly moving on, his face toward the horizon.

Anne Higgins, The Dances you’ve already had

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, 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. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week: displacement, heresy, breaking through thin ice, demonic advice, and other unsettling things. In addition to the usual poetry hijinks. Enjoy!


Decades ago, dazzled by a bold travel escapade,
I vowed to keep displacement center stage.  
We met a friend outside our office building,

It was dusk on Sixth Avenue, New York.
He was cursing the broken Xerox machine.

Rimbaud says make yourself a stranger.
He was young, so was I.  Still we try.  Je est.  
I is.  Til I trip again.

Jill Pearlman, Bastille to Puritan Village: Strange Magic

The poet Gerald Stern, who died last Friday at the age of 97, spent his life thundering against the mendacity and abuse of power; rebelling against all forms of authority, big and small; defying social conventions; and wielding his finely honed writing on behalf of the demonized, forgotten and oppressed. He was one of our great political poets. Poetry, he believed, had to speak to the great and small issues that define our lives. He was outrageous and profane, often in choice Yiddish, French and German. He was incredibly funny, but most of all brave. Rules were there, in his mind, to be broken. Power, no matter who held it, was an evil to be fought. Artists should be eternal heretics and rebels. He strung together obscenities to describe poets and artists who diluted their talent and sold out for status, grants, prizes, the blandness demanded by poetry journals and magazines like The New Yorker, and the death trap of tenured professorships.

I met Jerry when I was a pariah. I had repeatedly and publicly denounced the invasion of Iraq and, for my outspokenness, had been pushed out of The New York Times. I was receiving frequent death threats. My neighbors treated me as though I had leprosy. I had imploded my journalism career. Seeing how isolated I was, Jerry suggested we have lunch each week. His friendship and affirmation, at a precarious moment in my life, meant I had someone I admired assure me that it would be all right. He had the impetuosity and passion of youth, reaching into his pocket to pull out his latest poem or essay and reading long sections of it, ignoring his food. But, most of all, he knew where he stood, and where I should stand. 

“There is no love without justice,” he would say. “They are identical.”

Chris Hedges, Death of an Oracle

Well, Liz Truss has become a pub quiz question and the tories have avoided letting their members have a vote on the next Crime Minister. The rest of us, the majority, have no say. The death cult staggers on putting its own needs before those of the country…

I was in Portugal while all this was happening. I had a short break in Lisbon, a city I know and love. This first poem is about the weather holding up the plane.

a moderate coastal event over Spain
leaves us static on Bristol runway
the plane doors open

in the interlude three cabin staff
begin the emergency exit dance
to a pre-recorded soundtrack

we all continue to look at our screens

Paul Tobin, A MODERATE COASTAL EVENT

I went to the first event of a book festival recently, and the session and festival was opened by a local Native American, who with flute and prayer invoked his ancestors who hunted among these rivers and forests and considered this sacred land. Before it all started, amid the murmurs of the waiting audience, I heard the guy behind me explaining that the city hall auditorium we were in had once held a meeting of US bankers to start a national association back in the 1800s (good thing or bad thing?). Turns out the guy is from a long generational line of bankers. Then the guest speaker read poems that invoked his grandparents and their ghosts in him and their experiences fleeing the Armenian genocide. And I’ve been thinking a lot about two stories from Laurie Anderson I encountered recently, one about her breaking her back missing the pool from a diving board flip, and the other story about breaking through thin ice with her little brothers on a local pond and having to dive under the ice to save them. I’m as imprinted at the moment with those Laurie Anderson stories as if I’d fallen asleep on their 3D words and now they’re pressed into my cheek. I feel like I have stories coating my skin, layers of them, mine and others’. If you scrub my skin, whose stories will you find, what novels and family photos, what works of art? And will they scrub off or are they layers deep, tattooed with long needles and dark ink? More and more we learn that the mind is the body, not some separate thing, “consciousness” another function of it all, and cells are the whole system at work in miniature. If you slice a piece of me and examine it under a microscope, I’m all story.

Marilyn McCabe, You think you’re alone until you realize you’re in it; or, On Stories

As a journalist and nonfiction book author, I’ve written primarily about tea for many years. As the Chinese saying goes, “One never lives long enough to learn everything there is to know about tea.” I feel the same way about poetry.

Diana Rosen : coda (Thomas Whyte’s blog)

You know the path across the bottom field,
the one you can’t see from the house,
the one that bends around the old pond.
And further on, you know the iron seat where
when our mother was having one of her spells
in the sanatorium, our father would sit
and write long letters beginning Dear Cherub.
You know it’s best to go when the mist is low,
the grass wet. It’s hard to hold history against
the earth and harder to grasp that, in seeking
stillness, we’re always moving and looking out
for those we loved, just as they were.

Bob Mee, TWO POEMS: THE PATH and THE SHOPKEEPER AND HIS WIFE

I was walking yesterday, marveling at this particular tree [photo], and I saw a student walking with his head bent down, staring not as his phone but at the sidewalk. For one minute, I thought about becoming the crazy leaf lady, evangelist for fall colors.

But then I thought, maybe I am the foolish one, staring gape-mouthed at the trees. Maybe he’s avoiding sights like this one, trees close to being done for the season.

Maybe he’s avoiding the sadness that comes from knowing how the story ends. […]

I also picked up leaves from the wet, black streets. I held them to the blank canvas of the cinderblock walls for a different contrast.

My plan is to do some sketching, to see if I can capture some colors, the way I did at the beginning of October.

But I’m also enjoying just having them scattered around my seminary apartment, watching as they dry and curl.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Deeper Looks at Leaves

I know the best doctor, you say
or ask if I have tried this cure
or that, I wish you were joking
I wish I could wish you away
but you have more in reserve:
you will be fine, you tell me,
and then the magic words,
don’t worry, you will be yourself
in a few days. I wonder when

you leave here or hang up
the phone, if you will change
into your demonic form
again, your tongue bloated
with lies, your eyes foaming
with blood. I wrap the silence
closer now and make up
stories about apothecaries
and vials of poison. Just like
the other one in which, in
the end, everyone just died.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, The right to rant against good intentions

As Department Head, I’ve been reading colleagues’ Five Year Plans, which oddly enough are due around Halloween or Samhain (or however you think about this spooky midpoint between the fall equinox and winter solstice). I have an official Five Year Plan myself–I’m halfway through that cycle–but maybe it’s time for a weirder one. I’m a planner by temperament, but for various reasons, I’ve been looking ahead even more than usual. Here goes.

– Yes, I could say: in the next few years, I wish to place my next poetry book (I have a good draft now) and my novel (drafted and revised but not yet ready). I have a nonfiction/ criticism book in mind, too, that’s lying around in fragments. Yet I’m skeptical about my familiar feeling of urgency about producing new books. It’s been a pleasure seeing Poetry’s Possible Worlds in readers’ hands, but I’ve put too much pressure on myself, I think, plus my current life doesn’t have much writing time in it.
– Instead, inspired by teaching modernist poetry recently, because I AM doing lots of teaching: I aspire to become pretentious enough to write a literary manifesto. I know that sounds like a joke, and it partly is, but I do love high-handed aesthetic programs and I’ve always wished I could find the chutzpah to devise one. Maybe I could just lie on a velvet divan and cultivate chutzpah.
– Or I could abandon all ambitions and just find more time to write whatever I feel like. Or not.
– Figure out my purpose on this earth. (I’m having an existential autumn.)
– Cease worrying about my purpose on this earth. Also reduce anxiety, period. I think the overwork of heading a department this fall has revved me up too much, because my base-level self-doubt and worry are almost unmanageably high. I’m trying to figure it out, but I am struggling.
– Maybe spells would help, or soup. Make more spells and soup. Be witchier.
– Keep teaching my heart out, because that feels like good work to do in the world. But teach my heart out within reasonable time parameters.
– As far as “service,” because that’s a section on our faculty five-year plans: do less service. I’m currently reading for Shenandoah again (the annual contest for Virginia poets), and I’m committed to helping my students and closest colleagues thrive, as many of them are struggling, too. That’s enough.

Lesley Wheeler, Five year writing plan for the witches’ new year

Rob Taylor: The title poems of both of your poetry collections, Leaving Howe Island (Oolichan Books, 2013) and The Outer Wards (Vehicule Press, 2020), are about leaving one world behind, and the passage to a new one. Both books feature plane trips and end on images from journeys.

Your experiences as an immigrant from the Netherlands seems to run through everything you write. And yet these are two very different books, born out of distinct times in your life. Can you talk a little about the two title poems, and what each says about the larger collection?

Sadiqa de Meijer: Yes, the title poems both have to do with a ferry crossing that is made difficult somehow—in the first, there’s a storm, and in the second, there’s the question of how to take essential things along. “Leaving Howe Island” is a poem of immigration—the continued arrivals that occur after the initial, physical one; it’s based in a real landscape that the speaker and her family are getting to know. In “The Outer Wards,” the landscape resides in memory, the companions are imaginary, and the crossing is between life and death. The speaker herself has become the ferry operator. Your question leads me to name it: Leaving Howe Island as a book is concerned with geographic migration within familial circles, while The Outer Wards encounters the crossing into death from an inevitable solitude.

RT: Yes – goodness, that hits at the core of the books so well (though it does make The Outer Wards sound darker than it is). In considering “crossings,” your two poetry books are joined by your new essay collection, alfabet/alphabet (Palimpsest Press, 2020), though the crossing it explores is never fully completed: “Language is our fatherland, from which we can never emigrate,” reads the Irina Grivnina epigraph to the book.

Rob Taylor, The Border Terrain: An Interview with Sadiqa de Meijer

What would you do if you believed
in this kind of spirit language?
Where did the bird in your dream go,
and who has spilled flour and sugar
on your kitchen counter, burned
the filament of the new light-
bulb? The sunflower in the vase
drops two petals. Inside the house,
it has grown lonely again;
when the clock chimes the hours
backwards, you wonder how
you got here.

Luisa A. Igloria, Poem with Blue Light

I wish to thank Lidia very much for inviting me to supply a written contribution for the international Luci per la Città website. You can read my poem,  ‘Stars in Suburbia’, here

I was born in London and spent the first couple of years of my life in the capital, before moving out with my family to Kent’s ‘commuter-land’. Our road began at the foot of a slope near the railway station. The public library was situated near the top, where our road joined the High Street at right angles. We lived at the halfway point, neither up nor down. 

My bedroom window looked out onto the road where a lamp post (like the one in my picture here) sent its beams into the night sky. Looking back, it seems hard to believe that we still had a gas lamp, requiring the occasional services of a lamplighter; but I have looked into this, and am assured by those who know these things that my memory is indeed correct. 

Caroline Gill, TURIN: LUCI PER LA CITTÀ / LIGHTS FOR THE CITY

I’m too beat even to write about it
leaves fall onto the road in front of me
squirrels prepare and gather
high in the trees, I’ve heard they forget
74% of the nuts they bury
and this is important to new growth
a writerly thing here
would be to note things I forget
that make things better

Gary Barwin, Trees

All this excitement is great. But I have also started to recognise the signs of overkill. It happened last week, again with a sudden bump, when I mistyped the name of the poet I was blogging about and did not notice until it was pointed out to me. (Helena, I am sorry.) For the million-and-third time I realised with great force that scrolling the Guardian Live politics feed when I was trying to concentrate on something else (and I don’t mean ‘productive’ work here, I mean activity that feeds me: reading, writing, daydreaming, listening to Max Richter, checking out what Shawna Lemay has been up to, etc) was probably not going to make an improvement on my long-term happiness and mental health, not to mention the aformentioned productivity.

So I decided to stop. I’m going to do my best to access the world of news and commentary via the medium of paper, rather than the beautiful but disembodied screen version I have become addicted to scrolling. Or at the very least restrict it. To replace its sugar hit, I’m also busily rediscovering the places that feed me, like the aforementioned Shawna Lemay (more in a moment). Like the amazing My Small Press Writing Day that Rupert Loydell told me about a few years ago and which I had forgotten I had bookmarked. (It was set up as a corrective to the kind of thing you used to find in weekend supplements, which, you know, kind of assumed most writers live like, say, Martin Amis.) Like rereading some favourite posts from How a Poem Happens (ditto forgetfulness). And, last but not least, signing up to supporting Shawna’s new adventure on Patreon, Beauty School.

Anthony Wilson, Not much

With thanks to Chris Boultwood and Judy Kendall, my essay on the haiku of Caroline Gourlay, published in Presence #73 in July, is now on the journal’s website, here.

I owe a personal debt to Caroline, for a good deal of encouragement and friendly advice when I was starting out as a haiku poet 30 years ago or so.

Matthew Paul, On the haiku of Caroline Gourlay

Sarah Maguire was the founder of the Poetry Translation Centre, an organisation which was very important to me personally in my poetry development during the past decade or so. Sarah died in 2017, leaving the PTC and her own remarkably impressive body of work. In a time when cross-cultural understanding seems more important than ever, I’m glad that the Sarah Maguire Prize has become another part of her legacy.

Clarissa Aykroyd, 2022 Sarah Maguire Prize for Poetry in Translation

One of the first places to take a poem from me was Obsessed With Pipework back in 2017. Charles took a poem of mine that I will like called The Breaks for issue #79, and a further 3 (YES, THREE!!!) for #88, so when I saw the shout out to former contributors for poems for #100 I really wanted to send something in. I was very grateful for the boost that that first acceptance gave me. It may not be the loudest of magazines, but it’s always had a certain cache to it, and I am happy to have been in among some wonderful poets over the issues, so to be in the 100th issue is an honour.

Bravo to any magazine that makes it to such a landmark. I’m particularly pleased they took a poem called ‘Spud’. It’s one about Flo when she was still in utero, and is one she’s always wanted to see in print. I don’t think it will be in the pamphlet, but at least it has a home.

Mat Riches, Obsessed With (what’s in the) Pipework

I have some poems coming out online soon to share and a spooky poetry podcast tomorrow, and I’ve had a bit of a health scare (at least it’s scary at the appropriate time of year!)

I’ll be reading some poems from the new book for the first time and some poems from Flare, Corona. I’m so appreciate of Rattle for giving me the opportunity! I’m also getting ready for our Read Between the Wines book club meeting on November 9 at J. Bookwalter winery, where we’ll be discussing poetry! This time, Melissa Studdard’s Dear Selection Committee, which I think is a great book for introducing people who might not usually read poetry to some fun, sexy, satirical poems.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Happy Halloween, Spooky Poetry RattleCast This Sunday, More Health Scares, and A New Blurb for Flare, Corona

Years ago, I had a book that didn’t quite make it out before the press shuttered, fitting since it was about the end of the world and all (though we’ve had several apocalypses since.) I may at some point issue a bonus print version, but you can read it here, though: https://issuu.com/aestheticsofresearch/docs/littleapocfinal

Kristy Bowen, #31daysofhalloween | little apocalypse

The (perhaps) insane commitment of artists came up in a conversation with a writer friend this week, who is reading Patti Smith’s National Book Award winning Just Kids (2010), about her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe in the late 1960s, when they were young and poor in New York, before either was known or had known artistic success.

“She gave up just about everything for her art,” my friend said. I asked what she meant by that, and she talked about Smith going to New York with nothing, by herself, and living with insecure housing and food.

“I’ve never done that,” I said. “And I never will.” My friend agreed that the same is true for her, which might have something to do with why neither of us has been or will be (as it’s really too late for both of us) a Twyla Tharp or Patti Smith.

I’ve come to realize that I am perfectly fine with not being that kind of creative. [Twyla] Tharp seems to believe we all have one, true creative calling (our “creative DNA”) and cautions against being distracted from it by other creative interests. If there is such a thing as creative DNA, mine is to be the opposite of a specialist. Tharp has a creative autobiography exercise, and the answers to mine are all over the creative map. Hers (because she shares it with readers) is not. I assume my creative DNA is why, although I have a kind of time for creative work now that I haven’t had since early adolescence, I’ve felt a bit creatively paralyzed. There are so many things I want to do–write (poems, essays, blog posts, hybrid forms)! sew! embroider! knit! collage! blog! cook!–that I have been doing (almost) none of them. I’ve been feeling time scarcity, even though I have a kind of time I could only dream of even six months ago.

Rita Ott Ramstad, chit-chat: on creativity

The grappling with craft to turn it into art?

Your self-worth? Your self-expression? Your sense of identity?

Likes and shares on social media? 

Your Mum? Your muse? Your mentor? Funding? Prizes? Publication? 

Is your poetry simply for yourself? If so, why do you bother to seek publication? For a sense of validation?

Your readers? But who are they? Where are they? Why might they want to read your poems? How might you reach them? Do you care about them? 

Matthew Stewart, What drives you to write and then attempt to publish your poetry?

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

I do think writers have a role in trying to keep the bullshit out of language; or, in trying to purge the language of the bullshit, once the bullshit has gotten in.

Beyond that … writers are listeners, or should be; instruments through which the motion of meaning in the universe can register itself in the particular medium which is language. It has to all keep moving, though; if meaning stays written down, it gets dead. We have to read it, re-speak it, if it’s going to keep on living in the world.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Luke Hathaway

We don’t read submissions blind and that’s not going to change. I’m unconvinced that’s a particularly helpful strategy for ensuring balance” – Kathryn Gray (Bad Lilies). Anonymity is often suggested as a means to ensure fairness, but I can see that it hinders balance. I think that overall I’m in favour of some positive discrimination. If (say) only 10% of a poem in a magazine are by women, women might be unlikely to send to that magazine and the ratio won’t improve. The self-perpetuating loop has to be broken somehow. All the same, I’d like to think that blind submissions are something to strive towards.

we will publish poems that shock and unsettle. These poems will speak of trauma and injustice, because that is the world we live in. We will prioritize work that deals with issues of migration, economic injustice and freedom of speech” – André Naffis-Sahely (Poetry London editorial, Summer 2021). I don’t know about the shock/unsettle aspect, but the magazine content matched the manifesto as far as I could tell. The prioritisation extended to the reviews, it seemed to me. I made a note of what received any adverse criticism. Issues are good, and are discussed at the expense of the poetry. Issue-less poetry by males was the most vulnerable.

Tim Love, Periodical priorities

Elizabeth Lewis Williams’ father was a assistant scientific officer on the 1958 expedition to the Antarctic, finishing in 1965 at Scott Base. He passed away in 1996, leaving an unpublished book “Years on Ice”. “Erebus” grew from the poet’s desire to collate her half-remembered childhood stories drawing from memory, the unpublished book and letters left behind. “Portal Point” starts,

“Let me recall the four walls of a refuge hut
from the museum at Stanley, and set them here
on concrete blocks, fix them against the wind
with rope-metal tie-downs
and from the slatted, halve-jointed walls, cut and planed
in the sawmills of Norwich, I will conjure
the tang of pinewood, the smell of sawdust,
and the sound of hammer and nails.”

Part-memory, part-fact and a dosing of imagination to create what her father’s life might have been like on Antarctica. The poem ends,

“I summon all your measuring machines,
and, as the earth spins and signals
bounce, reflect, return, combine,
I say the coming world is seen from here.”

That creative streak can be drawn back to her father. He didn’t just measure and record, but built pictures from what the data told him. He understood the landscape and its risks.

Emma Lee, “Erebus” Elizabeth Lewis Williams (Story Machine) – book review

I sit in the chair in my doctor’s office and work backward. This is how I feel: this is why. Before that: this. Sometimes I throw her off in time by conflating decades in a trail of thought: experiences lying on parallel, not linear, paths. Because that’s the truth, isn’t it? Not paths, really, just a pile of dried leaves.

Other times she’s not thrown. She’s not listening to the words. I know she tunes the sense of them out. She’s listening to tempo, to registers, to repetitions.

I might as well be dancing.

When the theater director Vsevolod Meyerhold moved away from realism, he put trampolines and slides on stage. He suspended narrow beams for actors to balance on.

Ren Powell, Now That That’s Off My Chest

Swamp Witch Advice says this on Twitter: “You have no calling — no singular purpose. Do as many things as you can that make you and your loved ones happy as often as you can.” Right? Let’s just do those things we enjoy. This is a phrase I often repeat in my head from Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse: “Let us enjoy what we do enjoy.” This is in the context of the previous sentence, “Who could tell what was going to last — in literature or indeed in anything else?”

Who knows what you’ll be remembered for. Whatever it is, it’s probably other than you think. We have no crystal balls. So enjoy what you enjoy.

Shawna Lemay, 20 Things That Might Be Helpful

Why does this light
still shine

when the rest
have let go?

The leaves aren’t hope.
The trees don’t mind.

Sometimes it lifts,
the sense of endless loss

and sometimes it settles in
like early winter.

Rachel Barenblat, Untitled poem

torrential rain
i stop swimming and look up
opening my arms

Jim Young [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, 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. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week, a journey from oneness to war zones, Parkinson’s, purity laws, reasons to live, living in the moment, being around other poets, UK National Poetry Day, The Frogmore Papers, Elizabeth Bishop, adventures with keyboards, temporary skin, counter-propaganda, a salty love letter, German Unity Day, patterns of breakage, haunted houses, a poet dispossessed by the Manhattan Project, wastelands, nighthawks, mentors, eggs and awakenings.


After the festival, the laundry.
After the festival, exhaustion
and punch-drunk laughter.

Collapsing into the armchair
and absently petting the cat.
After the festival, silence rings.

There’s so much to do — building
and repair, a new name for God,
making all our promises real.

But not today. Today, gratitude
for the washing machine, swirling
my Yom Kippur whites clean.

Rachel Barenblat, After the festival

there is a thing about the universe i love   and that is   that i am an integral part of it   i have come in contact with many great holy thinkers   they all have one thing in common   and that is the oneness of everything   even the electric impulses of our thoughts are part of it    and so there is no one who cannot be my friend   no application to fill out    boxes to check    or gifts to leave at my feet    some of the best gifts i have received    were from artists philosophers religious teachers of all faiths and musicians playing just the right notes in just the right moment    on September 24, 2022 the great sax player and composer Pharoah Sanders left his body   and still   he is with me right now…   when i die i will go nowhere and remain with him    and with you    enjoy this poem

clouds
shape into faces
do you see mine…

Michael Rehling, Haibun 214: journey into one

Under the falling leaves
I touch your footprints,
when hearing the news,
I hear your sighs
and when others speak,
I know what you’re saying.

Magda Kapa, Say

I suppose, this morning, as I see a photo of children lighting candles in a shelter in Dnipro and another of people lying dead in a road somewhere in the middle of this latest war zone, what follows is, in its tiny way, a personal manifesto.

For me at least, writing is not an escape route, it’s a method of confronting the chaos.

I’m not about to tell anyone else what to do or criticise them for seeing things differently. This is about my own sense of responsibility and nothing more.

I have always seen writing as primarily a political act. Yes, of course, there must be light amongst the shade, of course there must be a time to do something just plain daft or laugh with the general absurdities of how we cope with living alongside each other, but even this is in the context of a response to the general madness of the world. If I seek peace in some poems, it is a quest, an act of running towards not an act of running away.

Bob Mee, THE PRIMARY JOB OF A POET IS TO CONFRONT THE CHAOS

When a friend tells me
about her father, his Parkinson’s,
his dementia, his shuffling feet,
we are no longer

two separate women
two separate men
but a small congregation
of daughters and fathers.

Daughters whose hearts ache
for the dads who were rocks
and heroes. Fathers who worry
over losses they cannot name.

What can we do but listen
to each other and say, thank you.
Remember when our little hands
felt safe inside our dads’? The warmth.

Lynne Rees, Poem ~ Daughters, Fathers

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

Prevailing concerns I have are: What do we hear in the silence? And how do the words live off the page?

Some of the questions I worked to answer in Qorbanot were: What does it mean to “offer”? How do I translate the ancient practice of sacrificial offering into my life in the 21st century? How can a poem be an offering, or a book an altar upon which I place what I have to give? What does it mean to write one’s own sacred texts? What is it about giving up something that makes it a meaningful act of worship? Why the obsession with purity laws in Judaism, and how has this affected the way we relate to animal bodies and our own bodies? How do we reconcile these ancient, fleshly, violent rituals with Judaism and, more broadly, Western religion today? Do humans have an inherent tendency toward violence? Can we find parallels to sacrifice in recent history, such as war, politics or environmental issues?

The main question currently occupying my writer’s mind is: How can we find more language around suicide to better express its nuances, complexities, and diverse motivations? I’ve also been contemplating the relationship between depression and anger. And I’ve been grappling with how to share my story in a way that serves as a resource for others and, at the same time, protects my own vulnerability.

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

I don’t think the writer has one role. There are so many different kinds of writers with different roles they can take on. A writer can serve as a lighthouse illuminating the moment in which we are living. The writer can be a dreamer, a prophet. The writer can be a court jester. The writer can offer medicine. And some writers have a role for themselves alone, to which the rest of the world is not privy.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Alisha Kaplan

I’m at a Claire Benn surface design workshop at the Crow Timber Barn in Ohio. This first week we are in ‘free fall,’ which means we are to have no intentions but simply follow the guidelines Claire gives us. The idea is to explore our tools and media and work in a kind of “call and response” way. We respond to whatever mark we make on the canvas. We are working with acrylic, a medium I have rarely used, so that we can work quickly and not worry about batching.

We were asked to pick three images or a piece of writing that resonated with us. We then spent time journaling words and phrases that the image or writing evoked in us. We were provided with a 10 foot by about 3 foot scroll of muslin that had been pre-primed with a 1-1 solution of liquid gel medium and water. We were asked to pick a six-color palette plus black and white.

I started with an image of a banana flower, an angel’s trumpet, and a poem, “Reasons to Live: the Color Red.”

Sheryl St. Germain, Acrylic, Acrylic and more Acrylic

         Of turmeric and ginger and the deep-tinted 

hearts of beet, the tight-curled fists of iris— I want 
         to know how they can trust so completely in that 

idea of return, even as animals turn fields into stubble 
         and bees begin their clustered pulsing to give their heat 

to the hive. Here, where we feed each other to keep alive, 
        I am wary and always watching for any sign you might slip  

away without me into that room soundproofed with loam, un-
         windowed: for how would I break its walls without breaking?  

Luisa A. Igloria, Perennate

When you’re helpless in a hospital bed, scanned, hooked up to monitors, not allowed to get up without assistance, you might be locked into a scary emotional place. I was. To escape my fear, I decided to move outward, and use my curiosity and writer brain. I began to observe people and activities instead of worrying about myself. What would a writer do? I interviewed people, asking each nurse and technician to tell me their story. How did they come to be in this field, to work in this hospital, and where did they come from? People are endlessly full of stories. Many of my nurses were from other parts of the world. Some were seasoned nurses, some brand-new. One night nurse was worried she wasn’t appreciated. She asked if I could nominate her for a nursing award. I did. We talked about books and reading, other hospitals and healthcare. […]

My writerly adventure included asking everyone who came to my room if they read fiction. That started a whole new conversation. Almost every one of them was a reader. My day nurse turned out to be a big reader! We compared notes about helping aging parents through illnesses. She gave me ideas for a sequel to The Invisibles when she told me how she and her siblings rotate taking in and caring for their mom.

Rachel Dacus, A Writerly Adventure in the Hospital

Another Monday after an uneventful weekend. The days slide by in a gray wash lately. I can’t seem to get enough sleep. When I walk Leonard, sometimes my head is full of words that disappear before I reach home. I suppose it makes no difference really. I thought the thoughts, which in some ways is no different than writing them. It is just a question of time really until anything will disappear. Or become so warped by translations of language and culture that it isn’t what it was anyway. It makes the entire idea of authorship immediate, and maybe irrelevant except for that tiny shove of influence that a bit of dust has on the air current in a closed room.

Again it comes back to living in the moment – the moment containing the past and future, morphing continuously. There is a phrase at the edge of my memory about… and I’ve lost it.

It’s odd how sometimes these things will circle back and enter my consciousness more defined. In a sunbeam.

Saturday the sky held a rainbow the entire time we drove into town. My sense of direction is so poor that I couldn’t be sure if it were moving, or if we were winding over the landscape. I should look at maps more often.

Ren Powell, Not Regret

The Skagit Poetry Festival was this weekend and it was really fun to sort of dip my toe back into social literary events again. I got to see a lot of old friends, picked up some books, stopped by some of my favorite places – Roozengaarde Flower Farm and Museum of Northwest Art in La Conner, WA. And we had terrible air in Woodinville, so fleeing to La Conner for better air was a good bet. I’m looking forward to tonight’s reading and will have more pictures next week, I swear.

It was wonderful and therapeutic to be outside without worrying about asthma or burning eyes, especially with all the flowers. It was also wonderful and therapeutic to be around writers and book again, in a somewhat-almost normal setting. Some friends I hadn’t seen in over a year at least. And just being around poets gives you a feeling of…not being so alone in being a poet.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Skagit Poetry Festival and a Trip to La Conner, A Visit with my Brother and Bathing Hummingbirds, and Socializing Again While Trying to Dodge the Smoke

David and I have just returned from a wonderfully sunny day on the beach at Aldeburgh, where we joined other members of Suffolk Poetry Society (SPS) for the traditional National Poetry Day reading at the South Lookout, thanks to our Patron and host, Caroline Wiseman, and to members of the SPS committee who had organised the event.

We took the #NationalPoetryDay theme of the environment, which gave rise to a variety of largely serious poems on subjects as diverse as the ocean (and the devastation caused by plastic, oil slicks and pollution), a field where there had once been hedges with birds, and a beach with fossils. While acknowledging the gravitas of the Climate Crisis, we appreciated the occasional moments of wry humour which added to the sense of light and shade.

I read ‘Puffin’s Assembly’* from my poetry collection, Driftwood by Starlight, published last year by The Seventh Quarry Press (and available here for £6.99/$10).

The chip shop was still open at the end of the readings, and proved more than some of us could resist! 

Caroline Gill, National Poetry Day 2022 on Aldeburgh Beach

Last week I was in Lewes for the launch of The Frogmore Papers‘ 100th issue, an amazing feat, and under the editorship of Jeremy Page the whole time. We heard readings from some of the contributors and from co-founder Andre Evans on how it all began in a cafe in Folkestone. It’s a lovely story, and having heard it a few times it’s now taken on almost mythic status, up there with Aeneas crossing the Mediterranean to found the city of Rome, or Phil Knight making rubber outsoles on his mum’s waffle machine for the first Nike trainers. Anyway, having read the edition from cover to cover I can confirm it’s a fine book – and let’s face it, some of our ‘little magazines’ coming in at 90 pages or more deserve to be called books.  On that subject, I can also recommend Prole 33 which recently arrived, weighing in at 140 pages (although about half of it is short stories.)

The Lewes event was also the launch of Clare Best‘s new collection, End of Season (Fine di Stagione), published by the Frogmore Press, in which the poems are presented in both English and Italian. It was lovely to hear both Clare and Jeremy reading the poems in both languages – very evocative. I’m enjoying the book especially as it is about a beautiful place on Lake Maggiore called Cannero where Nick and I stayed for a week back in 2019 (on Clare’s recommendation).

Robin Houghton, National Poetry Day (week of)

The Frogmore Papers is one of my favourite poetry magazines. In fact, it’s accompanied me pretty much throughout my poetic life. Looking back through my records before writing this blog post, I noticed I first had a poem in its pages in Issue 57 back in 2001. That was followed by another in Issue 68 (2006), a third in Issue 76 (2010) and two more in Issue 81 (2013).

Jeremy Page, as well as being the journal’s founder and long-time editor, is also an excellent poet, so it’s a privilege whenever he chooses my work for publication. As a consequence, I’m especially pleased to have a further two poems in the brand-new commemorative 100th issue alongside the likes of Simon Armitage.

Matthew Stewart, The Frogmore Papers’ 100th Issue

Having savoured Colm Tóibín’s book On Elizabeth Bishop, I then re-read words on Bishop by another great Irish writer, Eavan Boland: the chapter ‘Elizabeth Bishop: an unromantic American’ in her wonderful book A Journey with Two Maps (Carcanet, 2011), available here.

The focus of that book is on Boland’s own poetic journey and how women poets helped her shape her ideas about how she could relate in poems her own experience as a woman, wife, and mother; therefore, her thoughts on Bishop are somewhat subsumed to that purpose. Nonetheless, Boland’s discussion of Bishop’s ‘tone’, as distinct from her ‘voice’, is illuminating. As is her dissection of ‘At the Fishhouses’, from Cold Spring (1955), available to read here: rightly, she notes that, in amongst Bishop’s usual litany of precise visual perceptions, there lurks a “superb meditation on water as an emblem of tragic knowledge”, interrupted by the lighthearted, cameo appearance of a seal: ‘He was curious about me. He was interested in music; / like me a believer in total immersion, / so I used to sing him Baptist hymns’.

While Tóibín highlights Bishop’s paradoxical observation, ‘as if the water were a transmutation of fire’, Boland’s commentary stops short of addressing the last 19 lines of the poem, in which Bishop’s description of the sea reaches a tidal crescendo, culminating in the poem’s brilliant, six-line final sentence:

It is like what we imagine knowledge to be:
dark, salt, clear, moving, utterly free,
drawn from the cold hard mouth
of the world, derived from the rocky breasts
forever, flowing and drawn, and since
our knowledge is historical, flowing, and flown.

If a poet took lines like these to a workshop nowadays, the response would no doubt be that the poet should axe at least half the adjectives.

Matthew Paul, On (Eavan Boland and Colm Tóibín, again, on) Elizabeth Bishop

Yesterday I went to a harvest festival event on campus–it was primarily for those of us living here, and I did have a chance to meet and talk to some students I had only seen from a distance, plus there was lunch.  Over a never-ending bowl of kale harvest salad, I answered questions, like why I chose a Methodist seminary over a Lutheran one.

I answered that this seminary is one of few that has a track in Theology and the Arts, and one student asked what kind of art I do.  I said, “I’m a poet, and I do visual arts and fiber arts.”

She asked, “What kind of poems do you write?”

I tried to keep my answer simple, but I fumbled a bit at first.  “Well, I don’t write formal poems.  I’m not concerned about iambs.”  Then I shifted:  “I want to write a poem about an autumn leaf that will make you look at autumn leaves in a new way, that you’ll think about this new way of looking at a leaf any time in the future that you see one.”

And then I asked questions about them, the way I have been trained to do.  But I continued to think about my answer.  The mean voice in my brain broke in periodically to remind me of how long it’s been since I’ve written a poem and how dare I even think of myself as a poet.  

This morning, I resolved to finish a draft I started in the last week.  I have been continuing to work with abandoned lines, and last week, I wrote a few lines to go with one that I took from my master list.  And this morning, that draft is gone.  I had a computer issue earlier this week where the computer stopped saving my written work–at least, I think that’s what happened.  I had done a Save As for several documents, and those got saved as the earlier document.  This morning, I discovered the empty page instead of the rough draft of my poem.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Self-Definitions: the Poet Edition

The shift to a screen, a keyboard remains a critical transition. On screen, or on a phone, typed lines acquire an inertial resistance to being changed. On screen, I find my eye starts to narrow down to look at the poem’s physical shape and appearance on a would-be page. Such aspects are important in the long run, but they can prematurely cool the fluidity of the molten drafting process if they dominate too early. Beware the linearity of the screen!

But once it’s there, now I’m thinking ‘economy’. A linguistic cosmetic surgeon, I cut off verbal flab, repetition, redundancy. Crossing out is my most familiar activity. The American poet, Louise Gluck, says that a writer’s only real exercise of will “is negative: we have toward what we write the power of veto”. One of the keys to this is reading aloud. I go the whole hog: standing as if to deliver to an audience. Loud. And. Clear. This helps me listen to rhythm and line breaks. Actually, for any writer of poetry, prose, essays for your course, reading aloud highlights stumbling blocks of all kinds. My sense of the ebb and flow of a poem is always clarified because I distract myself in the physical act of standing and speaking. I experience my words more objectively, more as my potential reader would. Try it. It’s a revelation!

Martyn Crucefix, ‘How I Write’ – a second brief Royal Literary Fund talk

How much waste
do you want to

generate
to get a good one

the old monk asked
the poet.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (328)

I have wonderful news! My new poetry collection “Temporary Skin” (my first one in English!) was accepted for publication by Glass Lyre Press. I couldn’t be happier and more excited about working with the Glass Lyre team. I love the authors they publish, the high quality of their books, their amazing covers! I know my manuscript is in good hands. I wish my mom were here to see this miracle in progress. She would have given me tips on how to deal with this overwhelming joy swirling inside me, making my fingertips tingle. I’m going to have a book, y’all!

Romana Iorga, Her Dark Materials

Karlo Sevilla of Quezon City, Philippines is the author of the full-length poetry book Metro Manila Mammal (Soma Publishing, 2018) and the smaller collections You (Origami Poems Project, 2017) and Outsourced! . . . (Revolt Magazine, 2021). In 2018, his work was recognized among that year’s Best of Kitaab, won runner-up in the Submittable-Centric Poetry Contest, and placed third in Tanggol Wika’s DALITEXT poetry contest. In 2021, his poem made it to the shortlist of the annual Oxford Brookes International Poetry Competition. His poems appear in Philippines Graphic, Philippines Free Press, DIAGRAM, Protean, Better Than Starbucks, and elsewhere. He is currently a student in the Associate in Arts program of the University of the Philippines Open University.

What are you working on?

I have just submitted almost 70 of my previously published poems (in several literary magazines and other platforms) for a website that will be put up exclusively for them. The website is a side project of a group of undergraduate university students who major in Multimedia Arts. It will serve as accompaniment to their final thesis: a short animated film inspired by my other poems. In short, both their final thesis and its side project are all about my poetry. These students are risking their college graduation by choosing my poetry as main source material for their thesis, haha! Seriously, I’m grateful to these young people for reaching out to me from out of the blue with their emailed proposal, and now they’re halfway done with their short film.

At first, I was ambivalent because I have long considered gathering my poems in a manuscript again for consideration for print publication as my second full-length poetry collection.  But I ultimately favored this student project and have a third of my previously published poems freely accessible in one website. I opted for the latter because I feel the urgency to make available online more texts that heighten awareness of human rights violations and social injustices in the Philippines that remain unresolved from the infamous Marcos dictatorship to the likewise murderous Duterte administration. Under our current president who happens to be the son and namesake of the late dictator, the administration has been lying and denying that such atrocities happened during his father’s reign. Worse, the son claims that the years under his father’s iron rule that was also marked by economic crisis was the Golden Age of our country. 

The poems I selected are invariably political propaganda pieces – on “different levels.” Collectively, they are a small voice/counter-propaganda, among others that give the lie to the government’s false narratives. (I’m also glad for this project because it gives me the chance to share my poems again, with needed revisions in some of them.)

Thomas Whyte, Karlo Sevilla : part one

Rakhshan Rizwan was originally from Pakistan and has lived in Germany and the Netherlands before moving to the USA. The poems explore what it’s like not to belong, to be politely received but not fully welcomed and the imprint Europe has had on the writer. […]

Rizwan deploys humour rather than ranting or complaining. She doesn’t name racism, but it’s clear that’s the source of the disconnections. “Europe Love Me Back” is a salty love letter, not entirely unrequited, but from a lover who didn’t feel seen. From a lover who felt they made all the right connections, sent the right signals, searched for commonalities, links, threads but attempted to hook-up with someone who only saw differences, reasons not to continue the affair.

Emma Lee, “Europe, Love Me Back” Rakhshan Rizwan (The Emma Press) – book review

Monday was German Unity Day, and it was also the day the Berlin Lit launched their first issue with poems for a range of poets, some who are new to me, and some I recognise like Alice Miller, and John Glenday. And me with my poem, The Long Game. My thanks to Matthew McDonald for accepting it. Having recently read and loved John Glenday’s Selected Poems, it feels quite surreal to be in the same place as him, but I’ll absolutely take it.

It’s always nice to be in on the ground floor of these things (as it was with TFP…NB just realised today that I have to choose between shortening The Friday Poem or The Frogmore Papers to TFP), especially with a poem that has had a very long gestation period.

I started it when the article that inspired it was published in 2013, so to be here 9 years later with a published poem feels like dedication has been needed (much like the game that inspired it). I should have tried to work in the line about “burning magnesium in a pumpkin”.

I shared the poem with the three mates that I dedicated it to and one replied, “That’s nice, mate. I don’t get it, but that’s poetry”. Or words to that effect, the language he chose was different. It certainly helps keep your feet on the ground.

Mat Riches, Impossible Germany

Things break in predictable ways. The shard, the
jagged edge and the dust cloud follow a rule, a
pattern, a story. The way day breaks over and
over again without complaint, the way a promise

is broken without a sigh, without ceremony,
the way silence breaks without a word, without
a sob. The way we broke without ever being
whole.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Part 16

As I was putting the final touches on AUTOMAGIC last night, it is so fraught with ghosts…the fortune tellers in the strange victorian futurist landscape of the ordinary planet poems. The haunted sisters in unusual creatures. The Eleanor series and the more violent, sinister underpinnings of the bird artist and the HH Holmes stuff. More than any other recent book, this is a predominantly fictional, narrative world without much involvement from me. And at that, like GIRL SHOW, one set entirely in the past.  I, as a speaker, as a character, am absent from this book. But then again, not absent at all. It seemed fitting last night to be rounding things out as the wind howled and heavy, cold drops of rain hit the windows. I am running the space heater daily until they turn on the radiators, which management has dutifully promised this weekend. In this weather, I am sleeping well–too well–a dead-to-the-world slumber that makes my arms ache from remaining too much in the same position wound amidst my pillows (I am a side and stomach sleeper–never my back) I also have the same chronological impairment every change in seasons brings, never quite understanding internally what time it is–the light being so different from summer.

Kristy Bowen, poetry as haunted house

before the house sale was agreed
buyers demanded the ghosts be removed
so contractors were appointed

the workers arrived to divest the property
loading reluctant spectres into sealed skips
driving them away to wherever unwanted memories languish

that ambushing taste on the tongue
a face half glimpsed in the crowd
the 4am telephone that rings and rings and rings

Paul Tobin, A FACE HALF GLIMPSED

My article on the early poetry of Peggy Pond Church is coming out soon.  She was a central figure in the Santa Fe and Taos arts scene from the 1920s on, appearing in Alice Corbin Henderson’s influential modernist anthology The Turquoise Trail (1928), and the experience of reading her poetry is, as they say, something else.  My essay concentrates on Church’s first two collections, Foretaste (1933) and Familiar Journey (1936).  Though I touch on her third collection, Ultimatum for Man (1946), toward the end of the essay, it comes in as kind of a coda to the wild stuff that is happening in her first two.

But there’s plenty more that could be said about Ultimatum, much of which veers into the sociopolitical and, given its subject matter, remains relevant today (I’m thinking here of the prospect of nuclear war that a power-mad despot is currently threatening Ukraine with, but there’s wider application of course, e.g. to issues of climate change and environmental degradation, beyond the fact of the stunning experience of reading Church’s poetry as an aesthetic undertaking).  Without duplicating what I’ve written in my forthcoming article, I will say that there I analyze poems in her first two collections through the lens of what Timothy Morton has termed “dark ecology” (with a nod to the scholar Sarah Daw, who has analyzed Church’s letters and diaries in this manner before me).  Far from whatever stereotypes we may have about “nature poetry,” I argue that Church’s poetry of the 1930s is much closer to what we would think of today as ecocritical and material-feminist.

During the Second World War, until early 1943, Church lived at the Los Alamos school (in New Mexico) where her husband was the principal; they were dispossessed of their home to make way for the Manhattan Project, which commandeered the site in order to build the atomic bomb.  Church reacted with scathing poems in Ultimatum for Man, such as the collection’s title poem, along with “The Nuclear Physicists,” “Epitaph for Man,” “Newsreel: Dead Enemy,” “For a Son in High School A.D. 1940,” “Lines Written after a Political Argument,” “Comment on a Troubled Era,” and “Jeremiad” (from the latter: “This fury called man, / this fungus / gnawing the polished and hemispheric surface / of our bright earth…”).  In the introduction to Church’s New and Selected Poems (1976), T. M. Pearce characterizes Ultimatum as a “turn for Mrs. Church, a turn not away from the landscape line, but an adjustment to a new point of view in which the poet sees individuals as units in a social group” (iii), while Shelley Armitage writes in the introduction to Bones Incandescent: The Pajarito Journals of Peggy Pond Church (2001), “Whereas the lyrical Foretaste and Familiar Journey address a woman’s attempt to balance relationships, her own creative and independent personality, and her desire to develop spiritual bonds with nature, Ultimatum for Man sharply links the personal and creative quests to the meaning of the atomic age, war, and human responsibility” (6).  The furor and anger with which Church imbues many of these poems is striking, and she does so in ways that are not merely jeremiadic, but as powerful poems that now more than ever should be revisited.

Michael S. Begnal, On Peggy Pond Church’s Ultimatum for Man (1946)

I take the Waste Land as a day-to-day thing.  When a dismal, cold slate gray rain falls from a slate gray sky, when it looks like wartime London, need we say more — T.S. Eliot’s 1922 poem, celebrating its centennial, rules.  A wasteland is a wasteland is a wasteland.  The prophetic voice of the poem sets the stage, as it is dramatic, for the habitation of our current dark times.

Then the tail of the hurricane clears the way for a gleam of sun to make shoot through treetops of an elm treetops — oh fickle reader, I put catastrophe further back on the horizon, leave the charred landscape for another day.

As things change, there is one thing I know — the poem of the Wasteland, a gorgeous collage of urban, literary and mythical remixings — has many voices, many ways to see the flux.  Etymologically, the word Catastrophe, in ancient Greek, fuses “down, against” and “I turn” to signify “I overturn.”  

The current conversation about environment, the Anthropocene & impending disaster is different ways to turn our vision.  For me, it is the project of expanding and broadening the ways of beauty.  Poetry with its poking and prodding stick probably says it better, making forays into territories that were once forbidding but where with imagination and stillness we now can go.  Into wastelands as rich wild places, places of possible regeneration.  Or fascination, empty spaces that make poets from divergent times contemporaneous.

Jill Pearlman, The Waste Land is a Wasteland is a wasteland

Within this darkness—the white space between all the barely uttered emotions.

Here, you’ll discover a plague of grace, the duende of blackbirds transforming midnight’s ash into song.

Nighthawks murmuring a million and one names for a moon that offers itself as a loving mirror.

So beautiful every soul that wanders these desperate evening streets.

Rich Ferguson, Night’s White Space

Three mentors–none of them “famous,” all of them crucial to my development as a poet: they took my work, and my person, seriously. They listened critically and spoke to me encouragingly and listened. I think that’s what makes a person mentor material.

In later years, there have certainly been others who have been guides, coaches, teachers, mentors, friends-in-poetry…some of them better-known than Ariel, David, or Chris. But these three, all of whom are no longer walking about on the earthly plane, gave me so much more than I ever thanked them for. Which is why I’m doing so now.

Ann E. Michael, Poetry mentor: Chris Peditto

it’s a poem
about eggs

what’s inside?
eggs

outside?
eggs

it’s a poem
about eggs

Gary Barwin, POEM ABOUT EGGS

Truly, there is nothing quite like the sharp, earthy scent of the tomato plants when I go out in the morning to pick some for our breakfast. […]

I’m not saying anything new here, even to myself. But I’m knowing something in a different way–the way we know things from living them rather than from reading about them.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Traffic Jam

when do the dead break into light

when did our poems cease writing the sea

how many abandoned awakenings
sleep inside a seed

Grant Hackett [no title]

speeding
up a one way street
a sparrow hawk

Jim Young [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 39

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week: mushrooms, ellipses, precarious trees, the inestimable unknowable, tiny people on a tiny screen, and more—so much more. Enjoy.


I am trying to focus on the good in the days. What hope survives the hurricane and what small joys it misses entirely: the bones that are surprisingly strong, and the seemingly fragile, tiny wings of things that hide and hold on. Maybe in a world that is so arbitrary, the real good is to walk behind a storm and gather the good. Willfully accepting.

The students are playing in the park this weekend. While they pin themselves, and spirit gum themselves into their costumes to rehearse, I photograph the white mushrooms growing on a tree stump. White, marshmallow ears.

Ren Powell, The Dead are Listening

Each memory—
                 a shattered 
puzzle. 
      It could be raining 

on the inside
      of this skin.

Romana Iorga, Forecast

Experience collects, filling my cracked cup. I hold it tight
between my finger bones. It is all that I know.

Charlotte Hamrick, All the Days Come ‘Round

But back to basics. An A. A W. An ampersand. The Hebrew letter Shin (ש). Ellipses, those no-see-um markers which represent what isn’t there. […] If one wants to edit out the ellipses, one needs to put them back in in order to signal that they are gone.  

A door is a door but it is also the Hebrew letter Dalet (ד). Why am I telling you this? I don’t even speak or write Hebrew. But that’s why. As a child, I sat in synagogue and marvelled at the books filled with knurls that were letters. Scrolls filled with them, lung-sized rectangles of close-inked text on sewn-together pages of parchment; letters, crowned exoskeletons both etymological and entomological. Scrolls crowned in literal silver crowns, wrapped in velvet, kept in a gold-lit ark. […] The sounds of chanting, the cantor with a silver pointer in the shape of a pointing finger. And the marvel that these letterforms, these mouthshapes, were unintelligible to me except as script or music. The calligraphic maze. An amazement. The shapes of letters as tactile, aesthetic, their meaning not in their meaning but in their form, the inky music of looking, the region of the brain, evolving with these letters, the calligraphic region, the frontal majuscule, cerebral longhand, the amygdalet (ד), the homunculus not holding a pen but made of language, of letters. […]

Gary Barwin, Language2 or the square root of minus language. [ellipses in original]

It always strikes me, when I finish a sketchbook, how much like a diary it actually is. During this journey through a little more than a year — a year that’s seen a lot of upheaval and emotion and change — the images and the choices recall exactly where I was and what I was thinking, while to the viewer, they probably look like innocuous still lives, landscapes and skyscapes. In some ways, this visual diary is more personal and secret and coded than written words could ever be.

Beth Adams, A Visual Diary

When I first read The Artist’s Way, I didn’t grasp its connection to the modern recovery movement. Each chapter starts with the words “Recovering a Sense of.” Laid out in a twelve-week plan (I later learned that Cameron is a recovering alcoholic) the chapter titles end in positive, affirming words: “safety,” “identity,” “power,” “integrity,” “possibility,” “abundance,” “connection,” “strength,” “compassion,” “self-protection,” “autonomy,” and, finally, “faith.” My favorite parts of the book, however, were the sidebar quotes. From M. C. Richard: “Poetry often enters through the window of irrelevance;” from Jean Houston: “at the height of laughter, the universe is flung into a kaleidoscope of new possibilities.” Read in order, these flashes of insight created their own text.

So how well does The Artist’s Way, and other books in this genre, hold up after thirty years? They are still worth reading, as long as readers understand that there is much more to an artist’s life than what they present. One of the glaring omissions in these books, which strikes me as odd since they’re mostly written by women, is a frank discussion of the obstacles that women face when they attempt to carve out some time for themselves in order to practice their art. Cameron touches on it in Chapter 5, but she muddies the water by toggling between hypotheticals: a man with an interest in photography vs. a woman who wants to take a pottery class. These are not equal entities, but Cameron treats them as such.

As we all know, wives, mothers, sisters, female servants, etc., traditionally did the domestic work, including raising children. This mostly unpaid labor provided male artists with the time and solitude they needed to be creative. As Toni Morrison states, as quoted in Chapter 5 of The Artist’s Way: “We are traditionally rather proud of ourselves for having slipped creative work in there between the domestic chores and obligations. I’m not sure we deserve such a big A-plus for that.”

Gradually, I outgrew The Artist’s Way, and its exhortation to unblock my creative potential. I’ve come to realize that Cameron’s book, as well as Goldberg’s and many others in the creativity genre, are as much autobiography as they are instructional manual. They tell a compelling story of recovery from a variety of things, whether substance abuse, low self-esteem, or a lack of faith; for that alone, they have value. 

Erica Goss, The Artist’s Way, Thirty Years Later

I don’t even know where they are
the precarious trees
colour-coded

she’s taken up rowing
tinkering on the piano
in the darkroom

Ama Bolton, A day at the Dove

I remember being overwhelmed with tears in Venice, thinking, wow, it looks just like its pictures, but it’s REAL and I’m HERE. The same with the Alps. Standing practically nose to glacier, or what’s left of them anyway, or to feel, through that strange clarity and distortion of light and perspective, that I could bend across the balcony railing and the deep valley that separated me from the mountain, that I could like it like an ice cream cone. Or even just visiting the next town over when I haven’t been there for a while. Wow, when did this building go up? Hey, I never noticed that garden before. That big tree is gone but look there’s a woodpecker poking around in the stump.

I rarely write in the moment. You won’t often find me scribbling at some foreign cafe, although I like the idea of it. Travel is the time of intake, of slurp.

Only later will time distill all that I took in and leave the vivid traces of travel. That’s what I may write about. Or use as imagery as I write about something else entirely. Those moments or experiences that have stuck to my skin, have wrinkled into my brain are what I can put to use in the building of a poem, visceral, lively. Or at the very least, travel nudges me to recall in my daily life that sense of being alert and perpetually interested.

Marilyn McCabe, Baby baby baby, baby baby baby; or, On Travel and Writing Poetry

Each day oscillates between what shrinks
and what expands, what I once could do

and what I can, sweet jazz and pounding,
a clock that crumbles into dry ash
or measuring cups overflowing

with uncooked rice and broken nut bars.

PF Anderson, NINES

Is imagism really the goal?  It doesn’t have to be, though there is something to be said for the principles that H.D., Aldington, and Pound formulated in 1912, in regard to direct, sensory, concrete description that avoids metaphor, simile, personification, or apostrophe.  And it’s a lot harder to do than it initially seems.  But there’s also something static about the image, even if ideally it embeds within itself a whole “complex” —  and H.D.’s “Evening” demonstrates how to graph movement imagistically (rather than staying stuck in the “instant”).  We can also think of the directions in which William Carlos Williams took the thing, the ways in which Lorine Niedecker makes imagism kinetic, or how imagism shows up in the work of a contemporary poet like Harryette Mullen (e.g., in her tankas).

Once learned (true imagism), who wants to stay static, but it is still a poetic skill worth learning.  It connects us to the world, to the environment, to non-human animals, to plant life, or even to the concrete concrete of a city.  Connecting us to the world, it breaks us out of ego, out of our own heads and feelings, which is sometimes a good thing to do.  It is a mode we can return to and maybe interlayer with other poetic modes as our deepening compositional experience enables.  Okay, poetics class over — now go do whatever you want.

Michael S. Begnal, A Few Thoughts on Imagism per se

Where do I start? With a winter solstice poetry reading in Brooklyn, in a dark room on a dark night; his poem evoking a Di Chirico painting made my head explode, the work was so much more interesting than anyone else’s. But we didn’t speak that night. I met David before the equinox the following year, at a critique workshop run by the people who had set up the solstice reading: Merle Molofsky and Les von Losberg.

David didn’t have a presence; he was a presence. He read in a growl, with a slight lisp and a Brooklyn accent, and he could quiet a room. The poems were not lyrical or narrative, nor formal, nor confessional–they were jazz-like, full of strange images that sounded like surrealism and yet were not. He wrote prose poems and free verse and tiny little aphoristic pieces that sometimes made me laugh and sometimes broke my heart. He was not famous. He had not studied with well-known poets. But he had much to teach me, I thought, from the first time we sat around a table and read our work to one another.

Ann E. Michael, Poetry mentors: david dunn

“Worrying about the lorikeets” appears to be about another unsuitable marriage between two people who are polar opposites, “He opts for Def Leppard to her Bach,” when they come across a dead bird,

“She saw in his upturned eyes the weight
Of its dumb pain—then it was that she
Remembered what she’d always known.”

His sorrow for the bird reminds his wife why she married him.

“Anamnesis” is a subtle, thought-provoking collection that explores memory both in terms of what’s remembered but also inherited memories and how memories accumulate. The poems are gentle but multi-layered, inviting readers to return and re-read.

Emma Lee, “Anamnesis” Denise O’Hagan (Recent Work Press) – book review

A woman is moved on for holding up a sign.
A man is warned he will be arrested
if he writes on a blank piece of paper.

In the pavilion of continuing hypnosis,
the gentlemen in striped blazers applaud.

An army crosses a river. A bridge not blown up.
The dry season. Hurry, before the rains come.

The morality police murder a woman
because her hair was visible
as she walked in the street.

The wind whips stones into shapes
that say what we need to hear.
When we place stones in a circle
do we shut ourselves in or out?

Bob Mee, THEY WILL FIND A THOUSAND GRAVES

My personal poetry highlight of the summer was listening to Roger Robinson read and be in conversation with Pádraig Ó Tuama at the Greenbelt arts festival.

It was a performance of great generosity, humour, anger, humility and power. You get to a stage in your poetry-going/reading life when you can tell when people are phoning it in. There is no more dispiriting a spectacle. This was the opposite of that. The more I’ve thought about it, the more it reminded me of a remark by the conductor Benjamin Zander, when he said that a maestro achieves their power not by making a sound, but by releasing those around them to be the musicians they are meant to be as they interact with the score.

Prompted by the twinkling Pádraig (‘It’s on page 51’), Robinson treated us to a several poems from A Portable Paradise as well as many more from his earlier volumes, some of which are now out of print. Introducing ‘The Job of Paradise’, he spoke of how it was inspired by the sight of a hearse slowly turning the corner of his road in London. He removed his hat, he said, and stood in respect as the hearse passed by. But it made him think. Here was the driver of that hearse, doing his job, suit and shirt pressed, his gaze steady, his pace stately. And here was the hearse doing its job, just by being a hearse, a long, shiny black car unlike all the others in the flow of traffic. And from there he made the point that it is the job of each poet and poem to ‘remind us how to live our days’ by showing readers the ‘paradise’ that is all around them.

Anthony Wilson, Lifesaving Lines: The Job of Paradise, by Roger Robinson

In the last breath of September, it was my pleasure to attend and celebrate Gary Glauber’s new collection of poems, Inside Outrage (Sheila-Na-Gig Editions, 2022).  He read beautifully via Zoom.  His selected poems touched upon an array of topics:  Love, Mr. Rogers, teaching, poetry, civil justice at Starbucks.  It was the perfect antidote to the drumming of the atmospheric river and wind pummeling the windows outside, allowing me to disappear inside, into words for an hour that passed too quickly this afternoon.

With a shelved and bespectacled Homer Simpson over one shoulder and a guitar over the other, Glauber began his reading with his poem, “Blocked,” one he explains celebrates a lifetime of poetry.  The poet reminds readers, “Let us celebrate the infinity / of our limited mortality…” It is also one that considers time and the travel of the “…inestimable unknowable” that is “much like a poem.”

Kersten Christianson, Gary Glauber’s Collection of Poems, Inside Outrage

In ancient times, spiderwebs were used as bandages.

Rats laugh when you tickle them.

A dentist invented the electric chair.

It rains diamonds on other planets.

Bumblebees can fly higher than Mount Everest.

Men are more likely to be colorblind than women.

There are a million rivers all around me, but only one of you flowing through my life.

Rich Ferguson, A Matter of Fact

You want to believe it
and you can’t —
that’s the miracle,
the old monk said.

Tom Montag, TEN OLD MONK POEMS (87)

What would we like others to know about our experiences these last years? If you could tell folks in the future in a sentence or two, for example. When I was in a very. dark. space. at one point, I couldn’t articulate it, more because I knew that if I did things would get darker for me personally. But I learned some things in that dark place I’ll never forget. The line by Nicole Brossard is one that has popped into my head a lot the last couple of years: “You have to be insane to confide the essential to anyone anywhere except in a poem.”

Shawna Lemay, Taking the Light into the Dark

After lunch and cake with friends, I spent several hours of my 53rd birthday sequencing Wonder & Wreckage. My goal is to have the manuscript complete by Christmas. 

Collin Kelley, Self-portrait at 53

Selected by Aimee Nezhukumatathil as the winner of the A. Poulin, Jr. Poetry Prize is the full-length poetry debut Two Brown Dots: Poems (Rochester NY: BOA Editions, 2022) by “Kentuckian, a mom, a knitter, and an Affrilachian Poet” Danni Quintos. Her first-person explorations and recollections write around and through a self-determination and self-creation, seeking answers to a space she requires to singularly establish; illuminating lyrics around memory and being, offering answers as best as she is able, in due course, due time. Set in three sections—“Girlhood,” “Motherhood” and “Folklore”—Quintos writes across the length and breadth of lived experience, from watching her father from a distance, summers and childhood crushes and living as an awkward youth, to the experiences of pregnancy and eventual motherhood. She offers stories of her connections to the Philippines, writing of a familial background she simultaneously holds and can’t help but carry, offering, as part of the poem “Possible Reasons My Dad Won’t Return to the Philippines,” “What if he remembers everything [.]” A few lines further, as the poem ends: “[…] the little boy in him left / here with all the cousins, no one / to call nanay or tatay, alone, / the shape of him on a mattress / the version of him that stayed.” She writes of differences, from the ways in which most (if not all) teenagers feel as outsiders, to the consequences of racism, reacting to boundary-making micro-aggressions offered for no reason other than the colour of her skin. “I didn’t yet / understand. And every summer after,” the poem “Brown Girls” ends, “a whirring // reminder that I didn’t belong here, a little song / sung at me by the bodies that slept for years // underground. How we couldn’t see what he saw: / two brown girls under a white couple’s roof.” In certain ways, Two Brown Dots is a collection of poems entirely centred around the body, and how those bodies are experienced, both from outside and within, offering physical responses through the lyric, from adolescence to the fact of living in a predominantly Caucasian space. Her poems are sly and smart, curious and rife with detailed narrative.

rob mclennan, Danni Quintos, Two Brown Dots

I’ve been proofing chaps and reading manuscripts and thinking about October happenings. I have also been proofing the final version of automagic and getting it ready for my first galley in a week or so. I feel when I get back from being gone, there are a couple days of finding my rhythm again. 

But yes, here we are on the cusp of October.  I not only made chicken soup I’d intended for the weekend, but have had the space heater on since yesterday, but mostly gazing longingly at the shut windows and wishing I could open them again.

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 9/30/2022

Last night at the Library of Congress, Ada Limon gave her inaugural reading as the nation’s poet laureate. A few weeks ago, when I realized that my canceled Thursday night class was the same night, I applied for a free ticket.  I got one, but in the end, I decided not to go.

I got an e-mail on Wednesday that advised that we would be required to wear masks, and I would have been wearing one anyway, but I did start to think about the wisdom of this kind of indoor event when a pandemic is ongoing.  I did get a booster shot on Friday, but I’m not in a hurry to test that protection.

I don’t know why I didn’t think about the potential of crowds when I requested a free ticket.  I’m not used to sell out crowds at poetry events, and the Wed. e-mail advised that we would be at full capacity.  The line to get in for the 7:00 p.m. reading would start to assemble at 5:00 p.m., and we’d be let in to get seats, if we were far enough in the front of the line, at 6:30.  There would be overflow seating in a hall where we could watch on a screen.  […]

So, what did I do instead?  I went to the American University library to get my Wesley ID activated to be able to use the AU library.  I came home and made myself a dinner of roasted brussels sprouts and a baked sweet potato, which was much tastier than it sounds.

I was feeling oddly exhausted, so I was even more glad that I didn’t go downtown.  I was asleep by 8.  But before that, I tucked myself into bed.  My bed faces west, so I had a great view of a glorious sunset, as I read Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall.  It wasn’t the cultural/literary even that I had planned, but it was the one that I needed.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Laureate Thursday, Literary Thursday

               I learned my first prayers there,

waiting for the butcher’s hand to emerge
               from out of the pocket slit in the throat

of a thrashing animal. You said if I closed 
               my eyes, sound would be more 

terrible than sight. My reward: small 
               specks of a sweet inside red-taped 

pitogo shells, unburied with a bamboo sliver. 
              I wake sometimes with the sense of a footprint 

small as a snail’s, pilgrim feeling for a path
              to everything we’ve always wanted to say.

Luisa A. Igloria, In dreams you walk through wetmarket aisles with me again

Has your consideration of poetry changed since you began?

Yes. Many times. I thought for a long time that the “I” in a poem should be taken out, obscured, muddied, that the worst kind of poem was a deeply personal poem. My first book (Little Prayers, Blue Light Press, 2018) is filled with fantastical leaps and it takes a kind of sideways look at my personal experience. In 2017, when I started work on the manuscript I’m sending out now, I surprised myself by writing intensely raw and revealing poems about my experience with motherhood and my struggles with infertility, including the life-threatening miscarriage I suffered in 2013. I had to shut off a voice telling me that this kind of writing was bad. It’s been very freeing to write about this stuff, though the challenge, always, is to find some way of moving beyond the myopically personal into more universal territory, and I’m always looking for models. Franz Wright did this beautifully in his writing about addiction, God, and mental illness.

Thomas Whyte, Susie Meserve : part two

tiny people on a tiny screen
even through headphones
I can hear the rain

Jason Crane, haiku: 1 October 2022

I’ve just finished reading Cal Flyn’s Islands of Abandonment. It is an extraordinary book, beautifully written. It’s one of those books that you can sink into, and carry around with you, exploring the themes and questions and points of view in your mind. It came at just the right time, as I feel I have been exploring my own, metaphorical islands, some of them abandoned, some of them not so much. Cal Flyn’s islands are real places in which human intervention has stripped and scorched them, the interest is in the psychological attachment to them, and the physical response from nature. My metaphorical islands are grief, writing, friendships. Last week I sent the new poetry collection to the publisher. I know they’re waiting on ACE funding, like so many indie publishers, so I’m really just waiting to see what happens before I can release any details. One nice thing about it was the way that my editor shortened the title of the collection in her response email. Something about that made it feel familiar, wanted, warmed to, and that made me happy. The collection has passed through that strange place, has gone from being a Schrödinger’s collection that exists only when I perceive it to be a collection, and is now a manuscript on a desk in a publisher’s office with a title that is solid and firm, a title that can hold the weight of being shortened for ease of communication. Put simply: It exists as a complete thing, it is created.

And so I bed into the non fiction book. I’ve started getting out and immersing myself in the physical places on which the non fiction book is based. It’s been wonderful. These places are islands of time in which I can almost touch the people who came before me, who lived on this land.

Wendy Pratt, Exploring the Islands

Every part of the country has things everyone knows if you live there, but comes as a surprise to outsiders. Like White Sands in southern New Mexico. I had been to Seattle several times but had no idea that Spokane was known as the Lilac City. If I hadn’t read Talley’s chapbook, I still wouldn’t know that. But you don’t need to know that to read this book; all is soon explained. And the poems here do many good things besides giving information.

Postcards from the Lilac City begins with stories of growing up in a certain place, Spokane, Washington, with change over time: a carousel taken down and later restored, bike riding before helmets were worn, the time when bikes are replaced by a brother’s old car.  Already there is good language and some experiment in form; in the later sections the experiments are bolder.  In the middle section, “Spokane Postcards,” a stanza of description is followed by a letter from the author to someone from back home – never mind that many of these missives have too many words to fit on a typical postcard.  The last section, “After Vietnam” does not return to a historical approach, as one might expect, but presents various moments in a variety of forms from an adult perspective.  The whole makes a satisfying read, sharing specifics of experience in poems carefully crafted.

Ellen Roberts Young, Recommendation: Postcards from the Lilac City by Mary Ellen Talley

There’s a good case to be made for October being the loveliest month, in England at any rate; though only really when the sun shines and the plentiful golden yellows are at their best, like Samuel Palmer landscapes before your eyes.

It’s also a month of melancholy, too, which suits me just fine. The ideal time to get stuck into some serious reading, which, in turn, will feed into writing. Over the years, early autumn has traditionally been a time when I will make a concentrated study of a favourite poet’s oeuvre, to see how the quality of their output, and the clarity of their thinking, deepened over time. Poets who, either by choice or premature death (yes, I realise that most deaths are premature in some respect), published in a disciplined and selective manner are ideal for this, Elizabeth Bishop for one.

Like everyone and anyone who loves poetry, I’ve long liked Bishop’s poems. Curiously, though, real, devoted love for them has been awakened in me through an apparently unlikely source, Colm Tóibín. His book On Elizabeth Bishop, published by Princeton University Press, is as fine a critical reader’s study of another writer as any I’ve ever read. I find it interesting that it should be a writer known until recently solely for his novels, albeit wonderful ones at that, who has really opened my eyes.

Matthew Paul, On (Colm Tóibín on) Elizabeth Bishop

This weekend feels a bit like the last hurrah. University starts soon and I know any free time I have will be focussed on that. The weather is beautifully autumnal, leaves glowing with sunlight as if it’s putting all their energy into one last show. It’s infusing the poems I’m trying to write. And I’m writing which hasn’t happened much lately. 

This weekend is Zineton, a 48-hour challenge to create a zine. Helsinki Writers are having their second go at it. I’ve discovered a fun AI art site Wombo which is making it even more interesting as I really don’t have any talent for visual art. So I’m writing a couple of poems for that and waiting for the other writers to send me their work. Then the rush to put everything together begins. 

Gerry Stewart, Zineton and Scotstober 2022

The cover for Flare, Corona was chosen this week (reveal soon!), and I started thinking about mailing lists, updated business cards, and scheduling readings. Oh yes, and Seattle AWP next March. My PR for Poets book recommends starting six months ahead of time laying the groundwork for the book launch, and that suddenly hit me.

Also, this month is full of literary activity: the book club I host is meeting on Oct 19th, the Skagit Poetry Festival is happening next weekend, and I’m working on an interview and a spooky poetry podcast. Plus, I’ve got poet dates—getting back into social life is gradual for me—because, let’s face it, in Seattle most of us start hibernating in November and don’t come out until March.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Welcome to October: Upcoming Book Launch Planning, Upcoming Book Club, Poetry Festivals, and Podcasts

Pumpkins are all right (in pies, not in lattes, thanks)–but what the suddenly cool, rainy weather makes me want to do is read. It’s also nourishing to be read. Hurrah for the thoughtful attention Sarah Stockton gives Poetry’s Possible Worlds in the Staff Favorites section of River Mouth Review. I love the Octoberish timing AND that it coincides with the second printing appearing at the distributor. This means you can order it again directly through SPD or your favorite indie bookstore. It’ll soon show up on other places you order books, too. A small press book tends to spider along–think of silk threads thrown out, wafting in a breeze, and finally sticking somewhere. It’s both a stroke of luck when it does, and a result of arachnid effort and patience. The first push on this Poetry’s Possible Worlds is done, I think, but I’ll keep spinning.

The small press book I’m reading right now is Allison Adelle Hedge Coke’s Look at This Blue. I hadn’t realized before I picked it up that it’s a long poem–she calls it an “assemblage”–although the thinking she does about epidemic violence, ecological damage, and inequity is a through-line in all her work. I need and want to read it slowly and not when I’m tired in the evening, which has been my time for page-turning fiction.

Lesley Wheeler, Book season (hours of ellipsis)

who breeds the flowers that hurt so much

whose wound mourns the gun

shall we grow weary of searching when we’ve buried the sun

Grant Hackett [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 36

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week found poets reflecting on summer travels and gearing up for a new academic year, judging contests, polishing manuscripts, dealing with extreme weather events, mourning the dead, wallowing in sadness and marking moments of joy.


Somehow, it’s already September. Today is Labor Day, a rainy one here in Upstate NY, and I’m using it to get started harvesting “the good stuff” from a writing journal I finished in the last half of August. I’m hoping to find some poems — or at least decent starts of poems — for my current “Gertie” manuscript. Regardless of what I gather up from those notes, the hard work begins.

I’ve been putting off writing the final poems. I’ve been putting off finishing the manuscript. Partly, I just needed more distance, time, space… all the dimensions of opening to how it wants to go vs. what I try to impose on it.

Another big factor in putting it off has been my own fear of failure. I’m working through it. Outings like this August kayaking trip are not unrelated to conquering my fears. I’m tougher than I know and surrounded by people who keep trying to show me… and plenty of opportunities to prove it to myself.

I’m not interested in doing that portage again, but I’m glad I did it the one time. I may not be be built for carrying heavy boats long distances, but I can push through and accept help. I can find worn metaphors and float them into waters they were never intended to navigate.

Yes, just like that.

Carolee Bennett, poets were not meant to portage

The other day I bumped into Tomaž Šalamun. I was enjoying the last few hours of walking around Ljubljana, took a wrong turn down a side street, and there he was, sitting cross-legged in black and white at the entrance to a poetry centre named after him. I felt a mixture of emotions on meeting him. Surprise, awe, and a kind of annoyance that I had completely forgotten his connection to the city. Had I remembered, I would have taken my copy of Homage to Hat and Uncle Guido and Eliot: Selected Poems (Arc Publications, 2005) with me, in my own act of homage.

I asked if I could take his photo and he said I could, but not much more. I stood there for a moment, looking at him, then said goodbye, then stepped out again into the bustling street outside. It was very hot.

Later in the airport while we waited for our delayed plane home I thought of him again. Eking out my last bit of phone battery, I read his poem History (translated by Tomaž Šalamun and Bob Perleman). I recalled how for a brief moment, sometime in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Šalamun had had the appearance of being all the rage in British poetry magazines, books and commentary. I used his poems in some of my workshops. Nearby some children were playing noisily in a designated soft-play area, one of whom was too big for the equipment, much to the delight of her friends. It was still very hot.

Anthony Wilson, Lifesaving Lines: History, by Tomaž Šalamun

Is this my job – to stop a moment in time for you?
The trouble with memories is the glow they have.

She unravelled until she became everything to me.
What does it mean when we say things last.

What we said to each other, our language,
our sound, is half-forgotten.

Words travel from page to page.
Doubt clambers aboard each one.

At the edge of the track children wave.
I look out of the window as if I can see.

Bob Mee, THE DOUBT TRAIN AND THE GIRL BY THE LAKE

Alas, every day could not be as perfect as that one – the next day after our visit a strange orange haze settled over us, the full moon shining spookily overhead. Some of my poet friends in WA and OR were evacuated today as wildfires sort of ringed the Seattle and Portland areas. It was also almost 90 today, on top of dangerous particulate levels (above 150) so—I was consigned to the indoors, with Glenn going to get the mail and do errands in a KN95 mask—sure, for covid, but also, for evil smoke.

On the positive side of being cooped up for two days, I got to watch the new Ring of Power series (beautiful production), the new Thor movie (silly at the beginning with a lot of laughs and screaming goats, sentimental and sad at the end?) and get a bunch of submissions in as the literary magazine submission season starts up again for the school year. So many places are closed for the summer, and I’ve been less motivated lately than I should have been, so it was good for a bunch of us to give ourselves the goal of doing a submission a day during September.

One of the other benefits of getting together with writer friends (besides the overall happiness thing re: above) is that you can discuss your worries (in my case, author photos, promotion, cover art) and it really helps your anxiety. So not only do friends help with the happiness levels, but they can help you feel more normal and less stressed about things like your upcoming book. And you can discuss grants, which literary magazines are open for subs, and congratulate each other for your wins and console each other over your losses.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, What Makes You Happy (September Edition) and Submission Season Returns (with Wildfire Smoke)

The more I mull it over, the more I like the idea. I like the experimental aspect of it, and the speculation and the surprise. It means that instead of preparing the soil in spring, all I’ll do is spread the compost out as usual–but not dig it in. I’ll water if the spring is dry, but mostly pay attention to the things that sprout and determine as early as possible whether those are edible or ornamental, or just weedy. The downside is that I’ll get all those marvelous seed catalogs and…will I be able to resist? Also, my spouse will complain. He likes a well-laid-out, well-delineated garden so he knows where he can step and where he shouldn’t, what to water, and what to pull out. He may also object initially to the aesthetics of an unplanned truck patch. But around mid-June, I will be admiring my volunteers. It will be beautiful.

~

Always I find metaphors and analogies between the gardening process and the writing process. The way I put my recent chapbook (Strange Ladies) together was similar to the theory of an all-volunteer garden. I drafted those poems at different times over many years and let them sprout even though they did not seem to fit in with my other writing projects or plans. After awhile, I realized they made their own kind of peculiar and surprising design.

I recognize that experimentation is a big part of my writing process. I love just playing around with words and ideas; when I first started writing more purposefully, my poems were often a bit surreal and strange. Over the decades, I’ve experimented with craft, prompts, natural world imagery, poetic form, philosophical and speculative concepts, and memory. It’s hard for me to say where my style or genre of poetry fits. I experiment, but most of my poems are not “experimental.” Much of my work uses observations of the natural world as major image and motivation, but I am not quite a “nature poet.” It doesn’t really matter how or whether my poetry fits an identifiable description. I weed as I go along, and I let anything that looks interesting (or familiar) show me its stuff.

Ann E. Michael, Volunteers

Whenever I feel like I have lost my way, I go to my garden. There I will find everything: beauty, growth, life-and-death fighting, and rot. I should say that I go to my garden every day whether or not I have lost my way. I am always astonished by the beauty and intelligence of what I find there, and inspired to consider what poem or art might come to being that opens up a conversation with what I’m seeing. Here, for example, is a clematis flower from my garden. I’m taken by the vibrant shades of lavender/violet streaked through its petals and wondering if I might be able to dye some fabric that honors those colors. I love the star-like shape of the flower and enjoy the irony of its placement on the very floor of the garden. I hadn’t meant to take a photo of an assassin bug, but here it is, watching out, I imagine, for aphids and other destructive insects. I wonder if its tumeric-colored body has a meaning in the world of insects, and if I might create a piece that mingles his color with that of the flower. Beauty and terror together.

Sheryl St. Germain, Inspired by Nature

Anything can be the starting point for a poem. Recently I was driving along listening to a Hank Mobley  cd, it was hot so I had the windows open and because of the turbulence of the moving air I could not hear the bass solo. This led to the thought that the wind had stolen the bass solo, which in turn led to this poem.

Paul Tobin, LOVE AT FIRST NOTE

Last year I discovered the existence of a branch of lit crit called “Monster Theory.” Not that the ideas encompassed by that term would startle anyone who thinks much about cryptids, were-creatures, berserk A.I., etc., but it’s been useful for me as a teacher to see the categories and definitions laid out methodically (although, as you know, monsters like to violate categories). I used monster theory recently in an hourlong seminar for my college’s First Year Read program, which I agreed to participate in because I’m a soft touch and because it focused on Grendel, a novel that had long been on my reading list. It was fun in many ways–my group was lively–but I disliked Gardner’s book. I didn’t take to the style, and the idea of writing from the perspective of a monster feels a little ho-hum after so many pro-serial-killer shows and movies. Most of all, though, the kind of monstrosity got to me.

In Beowulf, Grendel is straight-up terrible; Gardner’s revision flips the bias, illuminating an outsider who’s monsterized, almost compelled to evil by a culture defining itself as righteous. Poetry itself plays a role in monsterization: Gardner’s Grendel is obsessed with a bard he calls “the Shaper” because the latter reshapes bloodthirsty, pointless massacre into inspiring ballads of heroism. (Cue the WWI poets I’ll be teaching soon in a regular class: Owen, Sassoon, and company rage not only against war itself but against idealizations of war in poems like this by Rupert Brooke.) So, okay, I get the kind of story Grendel offers. I’m supposed to sympathize with the misunderstood shaggy beast. That ceased when Grendel, who had been treating his nonverbal mother with a mixture of longing and revulsion, brought the same misogynistic stew to his obsession with Hrothgar’s young queen and sexually assaulted her. A philosophizing suicidal murdering rapist? Not a great case study for inspiring community among new undergrads, if you ask me.

Yet I love so many monster stories! My other class this term, a first-year writing seminar, features a bunch of them. Geryon in Carson’s Autobiography of Red, for instance, self-identifies as monstrous, a claim that makes for great class discussions and student essays. “Monstrous” in Geryon’s case might translate as queer, shy, and artistic as well as red and winged. It also means “cross-genre.” Carson’s poem-novel-autobiography is a monster in itself.

Lesley Wheeler, Professor monster will see you now

I’ve grown up in a world that views beauty as an option, an ornament, something you can dabble in at the end of the day if your serious work is done: a matter of private taste, with no objective importance or reality. This view is so obviously and immediately wrong, to me, that all the philosophies undergirding it — which includes all the ones I encountered in my youth — struck me as obviously and immediately wrong. Or at least irrelevant. I don’t know much, but I do know that beauty is the center of life, not its periphery. It’s not an inert thing you titillate yourself with from time to time: it starts things, it precipitates thought and action. It is the fundamental experience of orientation. How can you tell if you’re faced in the right direction? If you’re perceiving beauty. Life is, in some ways, as simple as that.

Dale Favier, Intimation

Notice the V in love
and wonder what

it’s pointing to,
the old monk said.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (303)

Perhaps if Lot’s wife had waited until she got to the cave before letting nostalgia overwhelm her, the plot of cosmology would have gone in an entirely different direction. In fact, it might have ended in that cave, and left us in peace. Why couldn’t the Lord understand that all she wanted was to write a poem about ruins? Is it because men have a sole claim to ruin?

She looks tiny on the plinth; her head like a newborn with no talent for wailing. The artist has stripped Lot’s wife of her limbs. Perhaps he feared she would escape the gallery, and travel back to the underworld.

Mona Kareem, Three Poems

Thanks to Chuck Brickley, I’ve recently had the great honour of co-judging, with Kat Lehmann, the Haiku Society of America’s annual haiku competition, named in memory of Harold G. Henderson, who played a pivotal role in helping to popularise haiku in English.

I’ve been reflecting on why it’s such a great honour. The answer is complex. First off, that the HSA should ask me, some schmuck from England, when the easiest thing would be to ask two (North) American haiku poets – I find that immensely open-minded, especially at this time when globalism seems to be in retreat. Secondly, that so many of the English-language haiku poets whom I admire are American. Thirdly, that much of the rich culture which has influenced me as a person, and as a writer, is American – not just the obvious poets like Bishop, Brock-Broido, Kerouac, Lowell, Snyder and Williams, but art film, music and all, right up to yesterday, when I had Jake Xerxes Fussell’s interpretations of old folk tunes from the South on repeat.

Matthew Paul, Haiku Society of America Haiku Award

1 – How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
My first book (Bread Of) was released into the world around the same time I gave birth to my son. My first child, my first book. My life changed so much at that moment, it felt like suddenly all of my insides were external. Severed. Alive. Public.

The first book felt a bit like an exorcism of some old trauma that needed to be transmuted. This next one, [a go], feels more like a representation of my poetics. I am so excited to put this one into the world. To have these poems be seen and heard and read; to watch them take on a life of their own, as poems do, regardless of publication.

2 – How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
This is a difficult one to answer.

Poetry came to me, really, is what it feels like. I remember being frustrated, wanting to write prose, actually, but poetry seemed to say: me first. It is a language you start to understand and then the other more normalized ways of thinking and feeling just kind of bore you. […]

12 – When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
Get out in nature, get into my body via yoga or a hike or a nice little joint. Pull cards, take baths, read words of favorite writers, or just agree to write badly & show up again tomorrow.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Gabrielle Joy Lessans

Does it feel as though metaphor could be the last refuge?

Come in, have a drink of water.

It might taste like rust or the mossy lining of an old well.

All I wanted was some kind of life of the mind.

Luisa A. Igloria, On Being Told I Have so Many Unread Books

It was back to school week here, but not for me. When my last year’s boss sent me a picture of Cane in his classroom on the first day of school, I felt some hard FOMO. Or something that was sad. Or mad.

I remember standing in front of a room of new students, being lit up the way his face is in the photo, and I missed it. It made me sadmad about my body and its limitations, and the public education system and its limitations, and time and its limitations, and change–inevitable, relentless, unceasing change.

Then the queen of England died, which also made me feel sadmad–about history and colonialism and the disappearing of things that I know are problematic (at best) but still are the things I’ve known for my whole life and even though I know (I know) what’s wrong with them I want to cling to them because at least I know them, and because they are mine, and because so many of the emerging unknown things right now are so unsettling/terrifying/overflowing with potential doom.

I miss having feelings about collective events that are simpler than mine seem able to be any more.

Rita Ott Ramstad, What a long, strange week it’s been

saturday morning, ashen, as if this monsoon has stapled itself
to the sky and will never leave, the deluge will wash away

everything, even sins, even sinners, the levitating fear that
woke me up before dawn is still rising, though I’m afraid the moon

will be much too cold to touch

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Half past dawn

Nedjo Roger’s often politically engaged poetry and songwriting pursue glimpses of transcendence in the everyday. His poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Canadian LiteratureSubTerrainContemporary Verse 2, and Class Collective, among others journals and online publications, and in various chapbooks including In Air/Air Out in 2011.

PP: It’s been a minute since we last connected. What are some artistic projects you’ve worked on in the past few years?

NR: In 2014 I wrote and performed a Chaucer-inspired solo mock epic in verse, “The Trois-Rivieres Tales,” for the Victoria Fringe Theatre Festival and reprised it in 2016 in Vancouver and on Salt Spring Island. So much fun to be part of the Fringe.

I co-host the monthly Salt Spring Public Library Open Mic and in 2017 I put together a project that published the chapbookBlackberries: Poems from the Salt Spring Library Open Mic.

In 2018 I was lucky enough to connect with a travelling musician JA Cockburn who arranged and recorded a bunch of my songs, which led to the 9-song album My Utopia Is DIY.

In 2019 with sponsorship from Salt Spring Arts I put together a two-day performance festival, Saltfest. I lined up a performance space and ten shows, supported the artists with their performance needs, hosted.

Pearl Pirie, Checking In: With Nedjo Rogers

This week’s post began with something that happened at the end of last week’s Fridays at Four discussion.  Someone read a beautiful short poem by Jean Valentine, “Mare and Newborn Foal.”   Someone else asked a question about what it was saying, I offered some quick impressions about possible things behind it, and the person who had read the poem stepped in and pointed out–correctly–that that wasn’t necessary:  the poem was whole and complete as it stood.  This is a crucial point.  All of my first teachers repeated something it took me a few years to understand: that a poem isn’t about the world, it is a world.  We understand it by considering how its various pieces relate to each other, not to things outside the poem.  That’s the aesthetic I’ve followed ever since.  There are others, of course, but that’s the one that’s deepest in me.

And that line of thought took me back to an inspired book title: How Does A Poem Mean?, by the poet, translator, and scholar John Ciardi, first published in 1959. Poems “mean” in very different ways, just as paintings do–from realism to impressionism to surrealism to abstraction, and an array of others (see the images above).  What we need to do as readers is discover how any given poem “means”–if we try to read it through a different lens, we won’t be able to make any sense of it.  If you try to read a Wallace Stevens poem, for example, in the same way you’d read a Robert Frost poem, it won’t work.  And vice-versa.

We find poems that seem to reflect the daily world we live in the easiest to enter on first readings, just as we might paintings that show recognizable scenes and objects the simplest to talk about.  But keep in mind that those “realistic” paintings are based on illusion–the techniques of creating three-dimensional perspective in two dimensions took centuries to develop.

Sharon Bryan, How Does A Poem Mean?

Someone on twitter said that this period of time between the death and the funeral was a ‘sacred’ time and that’s how it has felt, a place in which the family’s grief was closed off, private, a place where we kindled his memory back. On the day of the funeral we opened it up to everyone else. From a personal point of view, this grief is very different to losing my daughter. When we lost Matilda I became an animal called grief and that animal was insatiable in its need to be near her. A lot of it was the terrible instincts, the beautiful instincts, that exist in parenthood. I could not find my way through it, not for a long time. The loss of my dad is so sad, a great well of sad that runs right down inside me. But it is a slow pain. I do not feel eviscerated by this grief. There is an inevitability to losing a parent, a terrible knowledge that at some point, and you never know when, you will be without them, a knowledge hat a door will close and you will never be able to reopen it, that you will lose a person that you love, and there really is no getting away from it. The older I get, the more grief there is. What a terrible, wonderful thing is the human animal, that we are so aware of ourselves and so aware of the loss of a person we love. That we must live that.

In this slow, deep grief for my dad I have found myself reaching for poems, or rather the poems feel like they have been reaching for me. Seamus Heaney’s ‘Digging‘ is one that I have come back and back to. The image of the father in the garden beneath the window:

Under my window, a clean rasping sound When the spade sinks into gravelly ground: My father, digging. I look down

Reminds me so much of when we first moved to my dad’s dream house: the small holding he’d always wanted. I can see him now, from the bedroom window, in the veg patch, in his old coat and his little blue hat, throwing the spade into the ground.

By God, the old man could handle a spade. Just like his old man.

Poetry is more than just words on a page, it is a vibration that you pick up. The poem becomes the place where the emotional experience is created and carried, a place where the emotional shared experience is relevant, where that great ache of grief is met, and I feel that in this poem. I relate to it, but of course cannot relate to it. I relate to the emotions. I feel that insecurity around purpose, the vulnerability of doing something different to what was expected, to move away from a path that a parent expected of you and that perceived disappointment, that way of trying to make them proud. I don’t really know what my dad wanted for me, but while we always had books in the house, I do know that my parents never saw being a writer as a way of making a living (to be fair, I am barely scratching a living from it so perhaps they were right).

Wendy Pratt, The Poem as Shared Emotional Experience

All the high holidays
I haven’t lived yet
stretch ahead of me

without parents,
just still photos
behind the lit candle.

It’s a scant six months
since we buried him
on his side of the bed. 

Having no parents
is so much more (or less)
than having only one.

Rachel Barenblat, Abandon

During the past week, as I’ve worked on poetry submissions, I thought about how long it’s been since I typed in new poems.  I write poems by hand on a purple legal pad.  In an ideal world, I would return to the work after a few weeks, make revisions, type the poem into the computer, and start sending it out into the world.

Over the last ten years, my best practice has dwindled.  In a good year, I’ve entered 5-30 poems into the computer.  I think it’s been about 2 years since I entered anything new.  My submitting has also dwindled, and if I’m not submitting, why type drafts into the computer?

This morning, I reflected on a good reason to do it–because then I have it.  For a brief minute, I thought I might have lost my box of purple legal pads full of rough drafts, about 10 years of rough drafts.  I had more legal pads, but I had entered all the finished poems out of them.  For decades I kept all the rough drafts, just in case.  But it’s become clear that I’m unlikely to go way far back to work with drafts.  I can barely keep up with the recent rough drafts.

The thought that I might have lost all of my recent rough drafts (a decade’s worth of rough drafts) made me feel wretched.  It didn’t make me feel any better to realize that I didn’t remember exactly what might have been lost.

Happily, I thought I remembered that they might be in the box with my sketchbooks–and happily, they are.  

I will likely be in this apartment for the next year or two.  Let me not waste this time.  Perhaps, if I focus, I can get all the more recent poems entered into the computer before it’s time to move again.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, The Prodigal Poetry Legal Pads Return!

A smear of rust
A shot of sweat
Shadows rip the sky
Language lathered soars
waxed and raw

Why whisper
When you can scream

Charlotte Hamrick, Push

What I’ve found uplifting is that libraries persist. Even at the beginning of the pandemic, we were doing library take-out. The phrase I’ve heard so often these last years is, “you’re a lifesaver.” Or, “I don’t know what I would have done without the library.” Or, “it’s such a comfort that the library is here.” When this all started, I had so many conversations with people on the phone when we were doing library take-out, or later in person, with folks who said they were so isolated and lonely and that we were the only ones with whom they’d had a conversation.

The library is a lot of things but I’ve been thinking about it lately as a gymnasium for the soul…..because it’s a place in which you can ask good, nourishing, complicated, simple, heartfelt, deep, innocent, weird, lovely questions, and if you’ve read my novel, Everything Affects Everyone, you know how I feel about questions. The questions I’m asking, anyway, from within that space are:

What does optimism look like now? What radical good can we do with the power of our imaginations? What can we do to foster that important feeling of belonging? How can we hold / create spaces for complexity and also delight? How will we, going forward, be collectively human? How can we help others not squander their gifts? How can we uplift and challenge and encourage and support each other? How do we want to contribute and live and be and be ALIVE now?

Libraries encourage those who use them to dream, to wonder, to imagine. They are places of comfort and solace and good company. People have brought their griefs and bewilderments to the library because, I have heard, it’s a place that makes them feel okay. And that is something that we all deserve — to feel okay. (Shouldn’t that just be the basic minimum?)

Shawna Lemay, The Library as a Gymnasium for the Soul

Rob Taylor:Time Out of Time is many things, but perhaps at its heart it’s a love story about reading: how a reader can fall in love with the words of a writer and, in a sense, even with the writer themself. In this case the writer is Lebanese poet Etel Adnan, and the book is her 2020 Griffin Prize winning collection, Time.

“I would follow you anywhere… I don’t even know / what you look like,” you write, and later, “I have fallen in love with an arrant ideal.” Could you tell us more about this one-sided love affair? And would you describe it as “one-sided”?

Arleen Paré: Oh yes, this was a one-sided love affair. Etel Adnan knew me not at all from the vantage point of her very full international life and that was fine with me. People used to ask if I had sent her the manuscript and would I not want her to know that I was writing about her. But no, I was happy that she hadn’t heard of me and my infatuated manuscript. How could she ever have heard a whisper of me? And then she died in November 2021, just as the manuscript was going to print and the possibility was gone. It was a fortuitous crush that enriched my life enormously.

RT: Time Out of Time is a sequence of 49 short, numbered poems, supplemented by a handful of titled poems (including “Pop Culture 1”). This mirrors Adnan’s approach in Time, which contains six numbered sequences. Did you know you were going to mirror Adnan’s style from the beginning, stringing out a book-length project from these smaller responses? Or was the book something you stumbled into, a bit love-drunk?

AP: I knew I wanted to mirror almost everything about Adnan’s poetics in Time; I was entirely smitten with her elegant, spare style. But the project-as-book developed as the month of April 2021, poetry month, the month of writing a poem-a-day, stretched out day by day, poem by poem and suddenly I had over fifteen pages of poetry. By the end of April, I knew I was aiming for a full-length collection. It was an energized period, and I was a little love-drunk. Yes, it was both, stumble and drive. I find I can only really write about someone or something if I begin to fall in love with them.

Rob Taylor, Admiration, Applause, Adoration: An Interview with Arleen Paré

I was having a discussion lately about sadness…how sometimes we crave it.  How you can listen to the same sad song or sad movie scene and somehow the sadness is cathartic. And maybe that idea of catharsis is what art is all about.  All I know is that there are times when I set out deliberately to cry, and I know it going in.  It’s not really the passing things–a sad video about cats or animals example that I glimpse when I’m scrolling.  Or the sort of angry crying I used to do over work-related things.  Or even the sad crying I sometimes do when I think about past relationships I wish had ended differently (the Taylor Swift sads I like to call them.) 

When I was a kid, I have two Christmas memories that stand out.  One, I’ve talked about before, a certain sad Christmas tree song I used to make my mother play again and again.  I would stand in the middle of the living room and cry. The other was “Frosty the Snowman” on tv, something I would look forward to airing every year, but the part I was focused on was him melting and the scene in the greenhouse and I would cry and cry. I would wait for that part specifically because it was so sad.  

I joked that this meant I was going to be a poet, even then. But I usually don’t see writing, or the writing process in general as sad. Or even unpleasant. I was thinking about this as I was reading this article this morning, about the tortures of writing. When I wrote feed, it definitely felt like a catharsis, and maybe some of it was sad to write, “the hunger palace” in particular, mostly because things still felt very new and raw after my mother’s death.  The rest of the book was not so much sad, nor were other things I wrote around the same time. 

In general, the difficulty comes from knowing where to start. I feel like once I am rolling on a project, the writing becomes easier, and the better it flows the easier the next part, the editing, is.  However, besides the tortuousness of proofing and slogging through line edits, the poems themselves are not unpleasant to write, nor are they particularly tortuous in emotional toll or construction. Sometimes, there’s a sort of exhaustion I feel afterward but its more like I just finished swimming across a river. It’s tiring, but good. 

The idea of the suffering of poets is a strange one, but then again, many turn to poetry to address other kinds of traumas and mental illnesses and this may be why. Some of the most brilliant poets I have known have also been the most in need of help, maybe not all the time, but sometimes.  I hate the idea that madness is genius, but I think certain ways the brain misfires can be terrible for living in the world, but really good for art. Ask these people and I think they would willingly give up poetry for stability in almost all cases.

Kristy Bowen, poetry and misery

there are no poems
left to write
clouds across the moon

Jason Crane, haiku: 8 September 2022

“Notes from a Shipwreck” navigates choppy waters, as if knowing that still waters are merely the lull before a storm. They explore themes of identity, immigration, the watery foundation of trying to make a home in a country where you’re not entirely accepted and how we might find our communities and people with whom we can share common values and interests. Mookherjee keeps the shipping and sea theme sustained throughout but it never becomes predictable and none of the poems feel like fillers, as if they were just included for the sake of padding out a collection. Each poem has earnt its place.

Emma Lee, “Notes from a Shipwreck” Jessica Mookherjee (Nine Arches Press) – book review

I did double duty in the Labor Day Parade again this year, walking first with the McLean County Democrats (blue shirt) and then with Moms Demand Action (red shirt, underneath my blue shirt, on a day cool enough to wear two and take one off!)! What a great turnout of both participants and parade viewers! So many laborers! All the unions were out, as we have a workers’ rights referendum on the ballot on November 8. (Vote Yes!) So many candidates! So much candy.

August exhausted me, and not just with all the Sealey Challenge poetry reading, which also enlightened and energized me. Lots of brain energy of other sorts these days. Plus…termites. Yup. Sigh.

Kathleen Kirk, Parade/Shy

Let’s imagine our lips are punctuation marks on permanent vacation so life becomes one long run-on sentence of kisses.

Let’s paint complex maps of New York City streets across our foreheads then dare one another to find their way sweetly across our faces.

Let’s begin the journey of a thousand miles with a smile.

Let’s plant trees in all the places we never met.

Rich Ferguson, Let’s

While the time away wasn’t as productive as our last holiday, I did manage six new drafts…two that arrived just under wire and happened on the flight back. I think the last time I got through 10 or more, but given how slim the pickings have been this year I will take six. Who knows what will happen to them. The ≥10 from last time mostly turned into good and useable poems, some of which should make it into the book, so I have hope. I’m just glad to be writing things again. I also managed to work on a draft I’d started before we went, and have even revived an old poem that had been binned that is now a contender for the book, so I will take that as a win.

I can’t afford a trip to, but probably earn too much to warrant a reduced fee for a writing retreat, so these periods of productivity are useful as a way of setting me up to work own stuff for the rest of the year, or until the next burst. Obviously, if new poems want to come in between then I will not that gift horse (the poem) in the mouth (the spontaneousness).

Mat Riches, Cromer, Fango, Have I Read Enough?

love in the sand
amongst all the footprints 
my wife’s bunions

Jim Young [no title]

How does a poem begin?

The beginnings of poems often occur external to the author; a branch falls, a lover does something ordinary in a particular way that signals the end of a relationship, a parent dies… these are the beginnings of poems and they are occurring all the time and everywhere. We are surrounded by the beginnings of poems, the poet notices these things in a way that allows them to be expressed as words. There is language based poetry that has less to do with these external events and more to do with words in the abstract sense and I would suppose that these poems begin with the word itself, or a letter even. In the beginning was the word. Does everything begin and end in poetry? Perhaps.

Thomas Whyte, Michael Blouin : part five

where in my flesh does absence nest

where did the earth first breathe

why does my shadow walk on his knees

Grant Hackett [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 34

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week, bloggers sounded more hopeful notes as another school year got underway in many places and a hint of autumn crept into the air.


I remember some key things from psychotherapy. It was a revelation to me when my therapist said: 

It’s okay to change your mind

He didn’t, in that moment, mean about what I was having for dinner, but that’s included in the permission to understand that our words are not always our bond, but our process – a way of getting to grips with thought, emotion, woundedness, intent, desire, the bewilderment of being unsure of what we want because of, well, because of (for one thing) our unique interaction with the world not being taken seriously enough as children. Being squashed down. 

The poems: they don’t come out fully formed, you know. It’s usually a bit messy. 

So here I am, back in my blog which, I have learned since I announced its demise in June, is a friend I don’t want to live without. Not right now, anyway, when I’m in grief and times are so troubled. 

Liz Lefroy, I Step Through The Gate

And a father sells his nine-year-old daughter in marriage to a sixty-year-old man and tells his screaming wife Get back inside, you donkey!

Ah, but this is not poetry, you say.

And a child’s arm is blown off when a guided missile smashes into an apartment block.

Ah, but this is not poetry, you say.

The humiliated stand silently in small groups, waiting for re-education to begin.
Repeat after me: I am guilty on all counts.

Ah, but this is not poetry, you say.

Any minute now, nothing will happen.

It’s always about the unsaid.

Bob Mee, AH, BUT THIS IS NOT POETRY, YOU SAY

watching the storm
from the darkness
of the driver’s seat

Jason Crane, haiku: 21 August 2022

I feel an amorphous weight inside. I think it is because of the new series of poems I am writing. Or attempting to write. Honesty does not come easy. Words that should want to break free of restraint and guilt, sit and stare at you with soft, reproachful eyes. I have backspaced more than I have written. I have written more than I thought I could. There is still a mountain to climb. One step up, two steps down. One poem in. Two poems out. The mornings are weary of my wounds. The night refuses to listen.

I read instead of writing. Jane Austen’s ‘Persuasion’. I read a little. I backspace some more. I meet friends, people who may be friends. I talk a little. I backspace even more.

Austen’s Anne says in the book, “that she thought it was the misfortune of poetry, to be seldom safely enjoyed by those who enjoyed it completely; and that the strong feelings which alone could estimate it truly, were the very feelings which ought to taste it but sparingly.”

I wonder if poetry should be enjoyed safely. I wonder if it should sear and chill and raise and drown. Both poet and reader. Austen in her dulcet voice sounds a note of caution. For both poet and reader. So, I ask myself as Rilke commands. Must I write?

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Survival Guide for Poets

In a previous life, I was a waitress…before that, a farm girl. I spent a lot of my farm-girl childhood pretending to be a horse named Stormy. I think somewhere in time I was a tree.

Bethany Reid, In Your Previous Life

I’m rereading [Rebecca] Solnit’s A Field Guide to Getting Lost, which is completely dog-eared from my first time through, so many pages I tagged that had ideas I needed to revisit and think about or phrases I loved or things I needed to go back and write about. Now too I have to pause after every page or two because so much thought is incited in me by her own. This is reading at its finest! “Reading with a purpose,” as it were, as I was in need of food for thought, and this is a feast indeed.

And yet the what the book also is teaching me is that as a writer and as a traveler, I need to learn how to be lost. If I can unclutch the map, not worry so much about where I’m going but focus more on where I am, I could discover more. And don’t we travel, and don’t we write, to discover?

I can feel sometimes my rising anxiety to get where I’m going — I’m speaking here both about travel and about writing, of course. Feel the urge toward the relief of “oh, there it is.” But what is my hurry, and what is the problem with lingering withOUT purpose, with turning and ambling, poking down an alley just to double-back. What is the problem with being a stranger here myself?

What Solnit does so well is just that, diverge, pause, seem to take an odd turn, but somehow she finds her way back, and I, the reader, am perfectly content with the zig and the zag. To wander and to wonder. The word wander is from words related to wend and weave. The origin of wonder is unknown.

Marilyn McCabe, Why am I soft in the middle; or, On Writing and the Unknown

The most important question behind the question is: is reality something we can have a relationship with? Is it something that we can love? Is it something that can love us? And my answer to that, again emphatically — passionately — is yes. It’s not only possible, it’s necessary. We already do love it: it already loves us. To understand and unfold that is a work much larger than a lifetime, larger than all the lifetimes. But we did not step into reality from somewhere outside it. We are not strangers here, looking to strike up an acquaintance. To see the universe as alien and unintelligible — that is a really extravagant philosophical position, a totally untenable one. That we, each of us, popped into existence ex nihilo, and must grope about looking for ways to make contact with an alien universe — that is the default philosophical position of the modern world, and it makes even less sense than God as a patriarch of ancient Palestinian herdsmen. We are not foreigners here. We love, and are loved, from the very beginning to the very end. For better and for worse.

Such a sweeping statement prompts the question, “am I really saying anything? What is this love worth, if everyone has it all the time?” This love isn’t (necessarily) passion, or fondness, or esteem: it’s only a philosophical assertion of connectedness. It’s not what one hankers for on a lonely Saturday night by a silent phone.

In a way, no, it’s not saying anything. But it flips figure and ground. It changes the question of loneliness from, “how do I connect in this alien, unintelligible universe?” to “what must I do to shake off this delusion of separation?” My loneliness is not something I have found: it is something that I make, moment by moment. The task is to not to start something, or build something; it’s to stop something, dismantle something.

Dale Favier, Dismantling

Every so often, I still taste soap from all those years ago when my mom would wash my mouth out for talking dirty.

The taste reminds me there’s a fine line between what is acceptable and unacceptable, and how that fine line can sometimes come in the form of Irish Spring or Dove.

In her own way, my mom did me a favor. At least I didn’t grow up sounding like a drunken sailor with Tourette’s.

To honor my mom, I keep a sweet-talking spot beneath my tongue.

Rich Ferguson, Soap or No Soap

My father died today: the end of a very long, mostly happy, vigorous life. We were with him. I’m grateful for so much, relieved that his suffering was short, and yet still feel like a tree has fallen in the forest: it’s hard to imagine life without him being in it too. But of course, as long as I am alive, he will live in me.

Beth Adams, My Father. December 15, 1924 – August 22, 2022

I finally saw the hedgehog that has taken up residence under the holly bush. Leonard is curious, but fortunately, he hides behind my legs while he sniffs at the air from a safe distance. The creature’s not a hare, he knows that much. It makes me happy to know there’s a hedgehog here again. I can’t even begin to explain why. We will only catch glimpses of him in the half-dark for a few more months before he sleeps for the winter. But somehow knowing he is there… like a weird kind of vague promise of something good.

Unexamined hope.

I keep reminding myself that life is good right now. I am even learning not to brace myself for bad news when a message notification pops up on my phone. T. sends snaps of their new puppy swimming in a pond way up North. I can hear the splashing, and him and his wife laughing softly.

Ren Powell, Unexamined Hope

As a traveler, I understand;
you, a traveler, too, 
must travel, we must
say good-bye,
but a drop 
of radiance,
a grape
of imaginary sun,
has touched the blind blood 
of everyday…

—  Pablo Neruda, excerpt from “Ode to the Third Day”

Neruda, were you writing about a day of the week?  Or were you lamenting the end of summer, as I hear through the howl of my re-entry struggles?  You who understood all things, of course felt the keen sorrow of leaving behind life’s elements — gracious friends, groundedness, sea, sardines, openness.  To your odes, we sing along with sweet regret, knowing how lucky we are to touch those values.  Loss is the nature of the game!

Back at home, I am resolved to bring expansive “summer” — i.e. human values —  into what seems like our never-ending strife, conflict, struggle.  I’m modeling my plans after more balanced friends to 1) create the better world of our little garden rather than rail against the one that seems to loom, and 2) to bring lightness to the truth that we’re all flawed, to laugh rather than judge.  

Seems rather North American.  I prefer Neruda’s continuing language: “we will cherish/ this insurgent day,/ blazing,/ unforgettable,/ a bright flame/in the midst of dust and time.”

Jill Pearlman, A Drop of Radiance has Touched the Everyday

As I was getting ready to leave New York City last week, it occurred to me that much of the art I saw on my trip, from the Statue of Liberty to the majority of the art at the MOMA, was a response to oppression. I started thinking about what it means to live in an age when so much of the work of artists is a form of resistance. Of course, artists and poets have always functioned as truth-tellers, often to their peril, but the intensity and scale of the art I saw emphasized this fact to me in new and thought-provoking ways.

For example, on the Statue of Liberty tour, I learned that the statue was more than just “a gift from France to the people of the United States,” as I’d been told as a child. Its main purpose was to commemorate the end of slavery. Hidden at the statue’s base are broken chains, meant to symbolize the freeing of America’s enslaved people; the statue’s designer, Frederic Bartholdi, “originally designed Lady Liberty holding broken chains, but later deemed the explicit reference to slavery too controversial. Instead, a broken chain and shackles lie at the statue’s feet, delivering the abolitionist message more subtlety.” 

It’s beyond ironic that a statue celebrating the end of slavery had to be toned down. Our tour guide told us that Bartholdi took this action, at least in part, to appease wealthy donors whose money was crucial in paying for the statue.

The statue is also the site of one of the world’s most conspicuous displays of ekphrasis: Emma Lazarus’s poem, “The New Colossus,” printed at the statue’s base. Many phrases hit me as I read the poem, : “brazen giant,” “imprisoned lightning,” “world-wide welcome,” and of course, the famous lines about the tired, poor, the wretched refuse, homeless and “tempest-tost.” The poem asks the world for these “huddled masses,” indeed demands them. Not the wealthy, the educated, the strong and beautiful, but their polar opposites.

“The New Colossus” transformed the statue from its original purpose to “the role of unofficial greeter of incoming immigrants,” as New York journalist John T. Cunningham put it. On that windy dot of an island in the New York Harbor, I was profoundly moved, imagining boatload after boatload of immigrants being greeted by this gigantic Mother of Exiles, as Lazarus calls her, before they landed at Ellis Island. 

Erica Goss, Pictures & Words: My Visit to New York City

Paralyzed by her past, she can do nothing.
She sits on a rock and stares at the junction
of three rivers, this spot that Thomas Jefferson
declared the most beautiful in the New World.

The parents return to a field of calm.
Their boys have recruited other disaffected
children. They’ve created a game with inscrutable
rules. The parents discover that the boys have devoured
the best parts of the picnic. As the sun skips
west, they munch carrot sticks and apples as they watch
the children play, making up rules as they go along.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Harper’s Ferry and the Looming History

Summer’s heat is lingering here in Finland, but autumn is coming up fast. Cooler mornings, the birch turning gold overnight, geese starting to move on in long, noisy threads. My favourite season, but it’s always tinged here with the knowledge that winter won’t be far behind and will last too long. I should probably get out and do something in the nice weather while it lasts, but there are never enough hours in the weekend. […]

This week, I’ve also dealt with the recording the Helsinki Writers Group is doing for Helsinki Open Waves, liaising with the technician and the 3 other poets. I can’t wait to hear the final product, it sounded so cool even without embellishments, but the technician was going to try and add a soundscape behind our poems. 

We had a rough theme, Below the Surface, but we each went our own way with it. When we brought them together there were overlaps and echoes of each other’s work that we hadn’t planned or expected. It can be a repeated phrase or image or sound though all the poems’ subjects are very different. We shared our work briefly in the writing and editing stage and I find those chats often bring a poem to fruition. What you can’t quite reach alone is nurtured through sharing it with others. The group has a few poets now, after a long time of me being the only one and these collaborations are so much fun. 

Gerry Stewart, The Switch from Summer to Autumn

My son left this week for his senior year at college, which removed a handy barrier between me and working all the time. My writer self, my teaching self, and my role as Department Head are competing hardest for my hours. Teaching and chairing are more deadline-driven so my writer self is hanging on by her fingernails. She has grit, though.

What I’ve been writing during the past few weeks–it actually does have a deadline, Tuesday–is a column for the web platform of a scholarly journal. This longish piece concerns creative scholarship and has made vivid to me how fiercely creative writing and scholarly training are fighting in the colosseum of my brain. Seriously, I’ve published a book of creative criticism and other essays besides. You’d think I’d know how to argue for it by now, but I’m finding this piece very hard for reasons that may be emotional as well as logistical. I think the essay is clicking now, but it’s one of those subjects I had to write too much about before I could cut the thing back to a better version of itself. The throughline kept shifting and I kept finding other sources I wanted to consult. Both creative writers and scholars discover what they think by writing about it–despite animosity between the fields, they have more in common than not–but scholarship places a much higher value on reading all major statements on the subject so far. I think that’s what serious, curious writers should do, learning everything they can if they’re going to make some kind of beyond-the-personal pronouncement, but it’s also true that this assignment is an online column, not a full-fledged article. Sometimes you just have to stop.

Lesley Wheeler, Splitting / creative scholarship

Poet Sonia Greenfield shared on her Facebook page an essay written by Haley Mlotek, “Against August” (The Paris Review) and I think it’s pretty damn wonderful. Yes, August is well-planted within summer months, but it doesn’t carry the late-spring anticipation of May, the giddy affection of June, or the full-blown buzz and hum of July. In fact, my reply to Sonia’s thread consisted of this: August is to muck around in the mire of all least favorite things: summer’s end, teacher in-service, and rain, rain, and rain, at least here. I am especially keen on her borrow of a few lines by poet Marge Piercy to make her point about August. In her poem “Blue Tuesday in August,” Piercy writes,

The world smelled like a mattress you find
on the street and leave there,
or like a humid house reciting yesterday’s
dinner menu and the day before’s.

Perfect!

Kersten Christianson, Not Much Love for August

A thrill to be read so enthusiastically and perceptively by Shirley Geok-Lin Lim, one of the three judges of the Singapore Literature Prize English fiction category. She made her thoughts public on her FB page after the award ceremony was over. She has really good things to say too about my fellow nominees, Cyril Wong and Mallika Naguran.

“The Singapore Book Council celebration of the 2022 Prize winners for various genres in different languages was yesterday (Thursday), so I no longer feel bound to discreet silence as one of the three judges for the English Fiction Award. I wrote up my enthusiasm for three of the 33 novels and short story collections mailed to me, and include them here, to share with their readers!

“Jee Leong Koh’s Snow at 5 P.M.: Translations of an Insignificant Japanese Poet

Jee Leong Koh’s Snow at 5 P.M. may be Singapore first global novel. It is multi-genre, with 107 haiku introducing many of the prose passages. Set chiefly in contemporary Manhattan, with Central Park as the jewel in the setting, the fiction flashes off and on, like red warning signals, to a futuristic climate-changed Singapore Island and planet. The novel is multi-civilizational, the protagonist-narrator being a diasporic Singaporean living in New York City, in quest of his speculative protagonist, a Japanese poet immigrant to the same American territory. The novel is a mash-up of sub-genres. It is a mystery story, puzzling a missing poet known only through the half-burnt sheaves of haiku left in the apartment the narrator has moved into. The fiction is thickened, like Herman Melville’s Moby Dick’s whaling information, with empirical botanical knowledge that offers a different discursive dimension to the haiku images of flora and fauna. Asian American scholarship and displays of literary erudition are scored with erotic gay intimacies. Multitudinous digressive language plays, sub-characters’ lineages and histories, suggest unities in the tradition of Joycean epic works. Snow at 5 p.m.’s hybrid literary traditions, genres and sub-genres, generating complex threads, each digressing and spinning other threads, achieve a tour de force, a globalized Singapore imaginary that dazzles.”

Jee Leong Koh, SNOW AT 5 PM Won the Singapore Literature Prize

Susan Glickman is an artist of words and brush. She paints, edits, teaches and writes many genres: fiction, essays of literary history, non-fiction, children’s books and poetry. She has won a whack of awards for her writing. (I can’t believe her fabulous collection from Vehicule The Smooth Yarrow is already a decade ago. Time to reread.)

PP: Susan, what have you read lately that lit you up? 

SG: In addition to my typical diet of poetry (recently a lot of Jane Hirshfield as well as Dionne Brand, Dorianne Lux, and John Steffler), and historical fiction such as Lauren Groff’s magnificent novel Matrix, I have been reading a fair bit of sci-fi and sci-fact. The former includes a deep dive into Ursula Le Guin as well as more contemporary stuff like Emily St. John Mandel’s Sea of Tranquility, the fabulous time-travel novels of Connie Willis, and Anthony Doerr’s Cloud Cuckoo Land, the latter inspiring books such as Sy Montgomery’s The Soul of an Octopus, Charles Foster’s Being a Beast, and Carl Safina’s Becoming Wild.

PP: Well, my reading list just got a longer. Those last two in particular. I’ve heard very good things about Sea of Tranquility and The Soul of an Octopus was great. Can you add a why or how for the shoutout?

SG: I’m overcome with grief at how humanity has abused this planet. I am seeking a better understanding of other creatures as well as paradigms of alternate ways to live.

Pearl Pirie, Checking In: With Susan Glickman

I’m tired, physically and mentally–a lot on my mind these days–and I feared I was tired of poetry, but, no. Early this morning, I picked up Break the Glass, by Jean Valentine (Copper Canyon Press, 2010), and could not put it down. The poems felt both fragmentary and liquidy, like pieces floating or somehow flowing…with little punctuation to stop the flow. That body of water [on the cover] with bodies in it, which looks like people standing, is an installation in Germany by Antony Gormley, called Another Place (1997, cast iron/100 elements), photographed by Helmut Kunde. The poems dropped me in another time and place, some celebrating Lucy, that early hominid, and who knew I’d find the coincidence of the word Australopithecus in three books this August, two books of poetry and one about teeth.

Kathleen Kirk, Break the Glass

The narrative [CJ] Evans writes across the seventy stanzas, each five lines in length, of “TRYING TO HEAR A HYMN TO LIFE” loop and swirl around a variety of images of wetlands and Lake Merritt, resting in the centre of Oakland, California, the Simon and Garfunkle song “America,” the memory of Sandy Hook, his daughter’s imaginary sabertooth, “Toothy,” and other family moments, connections, memories, dislocations and trauma, all wrapped up and around not only a belief in life itself, but the very act of that particular brand of faith. “I can’t see the lake from here,” he writes, early on in the poem, “but I believe / it still is. Just as I believe in the shellmounds / I’ll never see, the sabertooth, that the flat moon / is actually a sphere. I believe as I do / in this tabletop you can’t touch: wood pulp crushed // in a hydraulic press with glue.” Or later on in the same poem, offering: “I believe in this as much as god / or biology, which is to say, a bit less // than to make a bet with it against a bullet, / but enough. I call it belief, but it’s purposefully, / wondrously unexamined.” There is such a stunning beauty to this collection, one that shows itself as open-hearted while playing rather close to what might suggest a deeply-wounded chest. This is what one might call a darkly optimistic book; one filled with as much beauty as one can muster, and everything one can see after having been in the dark.

rob mclennan, CJ Evans, LIVES

The fig’s branches lean closer to the ground
exhausted from all their summer bearing

My tongue fingers the space where
a cracked tooth used to be

I thought the potted Buddha’s hand citrus
given by a friend had perished in winter

But here it is pushing out its signature
green laddered with fresh new thorns

Luisa A. Igloria, On the Cusp

On Saturday, fellow poets Ian Parks, Simon Beech, Tracy Day Dawson and I walked the route of Ted Hughes’s paper round up from Mexborough to Old Denaby, as described here. Ian, born and brought up in Mexborough, led us on the route which took in the former newsagent’s where Hughes and his family lived from 1938.

At the right-hand-side of the shop is Hughes’s bedroom window overlooking what was a slaughter-yard back then. It inspired his gruesome poem ‘View of a Pig’, published in his second collection, Lupercal (1960). Like most, if not all, English children of my generation, I studied the poems of Hughes more than anyone else’s, except perhaps Owen and Sassoon, and it was the earthier, meatier poems like this one, and ‘Pike’, also from Lupercal, which we read the most. The poem’s last two lines – with the perfectly-judged anaphora, alliteration and simile – ring across the years from an England long-gone:

I stared at it a long time. They were going to scald it,
Scald it and scour it like a doorstep.
 

The route took in the possible setting of ‘Pike’:

A pond I fished, fifty yards across,
Whose lilies and muscular tench
Had outlasted every visible stone
Of the monastery that planted them—

Stilled legendary depths:
It was as deep as England. It held
Pike too immense to stir, so immense and old


The route took in Manor Farm, where Hughes went trapping and shooting with his brother. It’s the setting of his poem, ‘Sunstroke’, again in Lupercal:

Reek of paraffin oil and creosote
Swabbing my lungs doctored me back

Laid on a sack in the great-beamed engine-shed.
I drank at stone, at iron of plough and harrow
[. . .]

I should add that Ian has a wonderful poem published today over at Black Nore Review, here, and I’m looking forward to hearing Ian read at Mexborough Library this Wednesday.

Matthew Paul, On Ted Hughes

This morning, as I was lying in bed, half awake and trying to decide if I should just start the day or sleep another couple of hours,  I found myself thinking about words and media, about literature and books and all the ways we take in information now.  Also the nature of that information, particularly when it seems all is possible and there is an outlet for everyone. How it can be misused and handled badly.  How the good has a sturdy platform, but also the bad. 

When I was a teenager and young adult, the world touted the danger of televisions..of the downfall of reading and literate culture. It seemed inevitable.  Even among people my age, not all were readers, which was strange to me, having had books in my hand since before I even understood what was in them.  The same child who scribbled in notebooks and said I was writing when I barely knew the alphabet. The Mother Goose volume I carried around until it fell apart despite not being able to do much beyond read the pictures to discern the story unless I convinced my mother to read it to me.

My parents, especially my dad, who were only high school graduates, were still readers.  My mom liked stories and painting, but her reading was mostly magazines. Still, words were something always available in some form. Whether it was mags and novels passed off from my aunt (one of the most prolific readers in the family) or our weekly trips to the library, books were just always present.  My dad read the newspaper daily, and books about everything–not just novels. No one read poetry of course,  or maybe even knew people were writing it, but words in general were not foreign. I only learned about poems in junior high and high school, though it depends on what you consider poems. We all fought over Shel Silverstein books in the 5th grade, so maybe I guess I just didn’t think of them as poems but rhymes. Poets were like unicorns and outside of some teens who wrote poems and professor, I didn’t see a real poet until my second year of undergrad (in some weird confluence of stars,  I later got to publish her.)

Kristy Bowen, words and the world

“Violet Existence” explores issues of class, sexism and imposter syndrome, a sense of being the outsider and not being fully seen. Katy Wareham Morris captures the maternal voice: protective of her children but wary of a society that holds mothers up to an impossible ideal. The poems open to a vulnerability as they spill across the page, presenting contemporary situations with a promise not to raid the myth kitty or assume readers have a knowledge of Greek myths.

Emma Lee, “Violet Existence” Katy Wareham Morris (Broken Sleep) – book review

The typewriter is a recurring theme here and it seems that I’m overdue on sharing some poems about them, about the act of typing, and the music of typing. I love how Clarice Lispector and Annie Dillard and May Sarton wrote about typewriters and typing in their prose and I’ve shared some of their words in a post titled My Most Intimate Friend.

The first poem is by Charles Simic who I’m beautifully indebted to because he allowed me to use his poem “In the Library” in my novel, Everything Affects Everyone. His poem strikes upon the both-ness of delight and dark despair that it’s possible to feel these days.

Next is Australian poet, David Malouf’s poem about grasshoppers and the music they make — you can just hear the typewriter sounds as you read. The poem by Matthew Francis immediately caught my eye because he talks about a blue Smith Corona, which is what you see in my photograph. Adam Zagajewski’s poem is a self-portrait that begins with an image of his writing implements and goes on from there. But honestly, I’ll always share an AZ poem even if it only loosely fits the theme. The final poem is quite shamelessly, my own. It’s also the shortest piece I’ve ever written. I’ve shared it around a fair bit since my book came out and is probably one of those things that I like a lot more than anyone else, but that’s okay! It’s about typing rather than typewriters, but I think still works in this grouping. Which I hope you enjoy!

Shawna Lemay, 5 Poems about Typewriters

What do you feel poetry can accomplish that other forms can’t?

I should say first that I appreciate the use of the term form over the term genre. I find genre largely pointless—recently a brilliant friend of mine told me, If you want to write poems, write poems. If you want to sell poems, call them stories. I’m getting away from form.

Poetry as a form is fundamentally limber. It is a form that attempts to undermine categories of form. Poetry collects, but it does not horde. It is a form of accumulation which constantly is compelled to let go of itself. 

I have a deep respect for other forms, other disciplines—they are hard. I don’t wish to say that there is anything that they cannot do. Questions of formal capacity do not seem to me like questions related to Can it? but rather questions related to Is it willing? Poetry is willing. Poetry is always willing. 

Thomas Whyte, Evan Williams : part five

Today, Elee sent me a line she thought might be good in a poem.
“I no longer consider it necessary to find alternatives to harmony.”

Earlier, my friend Donato suggested I try writing a triolet.
So it was good that Elee sent the line—it’s true: it’d be good in a poem.

The line is a quote from the composer John Cage.
And it’s hard not think how it might apply to everything.

For instance, it’d be harmonious to end with Elee’s good-in-a-poem line:
“I no longer consider it necessary to find alternatives to harmony.”

Gary Barwin, Alternatives to Harmony: TRIOLET with CAGE refrain

As someone who has been entranced not only by the otherworldly song of the seals, but also by the author’s skilful dexterity as a poet, Where the Seals Sing fascinated me from the outset. I delighted in the Pembrokeshire seal-watching cameos and the small but memorable details of the natural world, such as the fragrance of the Elderflowers encountered along the coast. The sections on music and mythology were intriguing. Sadly, but not surprisingly, the reports of cruelty, pollution and plastic were often devastating. I was totally captivated by Susan’s engaging affection for, and whole-hearted dedication to, her Grey Seal subjects. I would love to think that some of her zeal and practical actions might inspire us all to play our part in these uncertain ecological times.

Caroline Gill, ‘Where the Seals Sing’ by Susan Richardson

I recalled a visit in 1984 to Goodrich Castle in Ross on Wye, Herefordshire, England, where we did just that–dropped a small stone into the well–and waited what seemed a long time for the sound to reach us. From what I understand, tourists can’t do that anymore; the National Historic Trust has upgraded the ruins to make them safer to visit. The tourist board doesn’t want anyone falling down wells.

But I digress. I meant the metaphor to apply to how writers listen eagerly for response to their work once it is published. Will anyone review it? Will anyone read the review? Will anyone post about it on social media? Will anyone contact the writer to say those words we want to hear: “I love your book!” –?

Sometimes, yes. And for those who have done so already, a million thanks.

Ann E. Michael, Pebble in the well

I was talking to my family about the careful balance of re-entering the world after two and a half years of basically living in a bubble. Tomorrow, I’m having over a poet friend and I’m looking forward to making friends at our new Woodinville book club at J. Bookwalters. But I have to be careful – I still haven’t gotten covid, though I have friends who are getting it for the first time and family who are getting it the second and third time. I’ve been talking about re-entering the working world a bit more, with my MS vocational therapist, talking about setting limits and boundaries, balancing my ambition and physical limits. I’m cautiously optimistic, I guess – and hoping to stay healthy enough for AWP in Seattle and my April book launch.

But how do we know what’s safe, with the confusing and often contradictory guidelines about covid, and is life ever really safe for those of us who are immune compromised? I nearly died from complications of pneumonia from the swine flu and people barely made a big deal of it of swine flu. I think about how the pandemic will affect art for the years to come – and artists who’ve suffered from complications of covid – the way the 1918 flu affected art and artists. Will people want to read, or see art, or hear music about the experiences of loss, isolation, and anxiety that came with this pandemic? Will people want to stamp out the last few years in denial?  Americans don’t like dealing with death, and they certainly don’t like dealing with mass death.

As the summer seems to be drawing to a close, and people are talking about a fall rise in covid cases, new variants, new vaccines and how well they might work, I am looking forward to the natural increase in writing energy I get when it gets a little cooler – the “back to school” feeling that never really goes away.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, More Sunflowers and Dahlias in Late August, Thinking About the Balance of Re-Entry and the Effects of the Pandemic on Art and Artists, and What’s on the Horizon

outside the dentist
gaps in the autumn trees

the numbing of time

Jim Young [no title]

Forever Young
For CB

on my birthday
I light a candle

and watch it burn
down to the dark

this is no time for wishes
time has no hold on you

Ama Bolton, Forever young

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 32

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week: bodies of water, odd jobs, activism vs. contemplation, the Larkin centennial, ADHD and creativity, and much more. Enjoy,


I can hear the sugar, the sweet coffee, as a ripple or a purl in my tinnitus: the sugar makes it sing in a slightly more textured tone. 

Dear love, I tried to explain, but it falls off into hesitancies and silences. That we might think what we are doing, as Hannah Arendt said. Might we?

Or more simply that we might learn to breathe.

Beside the freeway, they are building something huge, and the sound of the pile driver echoes for miles. Every once in a while metal strikes metal: and instead of thudding, it rings like a bell.

I think of the Lewis River, or closer to home, the Washougal: I haven’t seen either for years. I’ve developed a dread of returning to wild places I knew when I was younger. But sometimes you go to such places and they’re still there. And meanwhile, the memories run, on bare feet, ahead of you. They will visit even if you don’t. 

Dale Favier, The House with the White Roses

I dreamed I was a fish
amongst a tenement of reeds.
Green was my truth
and I glided past the fisherman’s fly.

Dick Jones, LIGHT IS A STORY

Water has also entered my life in another way recently: I’ve gone back to swimming because we have a pool in our new building. During the pandemic I haven’t swum at all, and even before, it was really hard for me to keep it up as a regular practice. The best routine for me at the moment seems to be settling into every other day, around 7:30 in the morning. There’s seldom anyone else in the pool then, and I can swim my laps in an atmosphere that feels extremely meditative even when I’m working hard. It feels great to enter the water, and after a few laps, everything sort of melts away as the rhythm of the strokes, the breaths, and the turns takes over.

Beth Adams, Watery

At the bend of the river
there’s a pond we don’t call
the womb of the world, though we could —
this patch of deep water reflecting
tall purple loosestrife.
The pond is a womb, the world
is a womb. Emerge glorious
and dripping …

Rachel Barenblat, Womb

I am at the point with this poem where I am not sure if it is finished. Does it have more to offer? Should I just leave it alone? It feels like I have more to say, but I’m not sure exactly what or how. Once I might have been sure I would sort it out. Now I am just as likely to wander away and never come back to this poem. Is that O.K.? Is some essential part of myself being lost?

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Strange and Yet Familiar

Between moon and cloud
I wander a quiet
deep and ancient
as mountain moss
You follow
sweet and light
An intuition
A murmur

Charlotte Hamrick, What’s Past is Never Past

It does not hurt that I feel so much more present in other areas in my life that aren’t the freelance work–in the press, in my own writing, in just my tiny household where I actually get to be at home with the cats and cook actual meals and keep the place from being as messy/chaotic as it once was. What I struggled with in the beginning, a structure and routine, I now pretty much have got nailed down, or at least a couple variations depending on how I spend my days. I do not miss venturing into the world, and outside of a smattering of people, do not miss my coworkers or the work itself. Nor do I miss the way my skills and abilities were taken advantage of without anything like reasonable pay (and the complicated thing is some of those people are the same people). The jump was scary–you have no idea–my stability loving Taurean heart was in knots all through late last year, but once I made the decision, the relief never stopped flowing, even now.

Kristy Bowen, the great resignation and no regrets

If you can throw a cow
over the castle wall
you can have the job,

the old monk told
the applicant.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (280)

How does a poem begin?

Since I was in elementary school, a poem has always begun as a bodily sensation. I tend to feel it in my calves and arms, this transcendental itch that carries my focus into the mind, and uses my hands to gather words, lines, and thoughts and write them down quickly. It is messy and difficult and can really make a poet cringe. If you’re lucky, you might have the poem completed in your first draft. I live for those poems, I will wait on them for the rest of my life.

Thomas Whyte, Bianca V. Gonzalez : part five

Roses bloom backward to reveal to you the secrets of the underground.

When you venture out on your own, certain memories will be pregnant with broken mirrors.

Days may sound strange because their lips are parched from kisslessness.

Rich Ferguson, The Road Before You

Last night Rachael and I went to see the majestic Kamasi Washington play at The Troxy, and I’m not sure if the mixing desk was being warped by the heat or the temperature was just bending the sound, but something wasn’t right. It could have been everyone in the building looking like they were on the cusp of evaporating, or the permanent beads of sweat decorating my top lip and forehead, but the sound was off. It was a shame as Kamasi and his band looked to be bang on form. I did get to hear him play his song Truth though, and that’s one my favourite things in existence, so we’ll call the night a score draw. […]

The big news of the week, and to my mind it’s absolutely epic (NB a Kamasi Washington album is called The Epic, but that’s by the by and is absolutely not me trying to hamfistedly force a connection out when there isn’t one to be had) news, is that the latest issue of Bad Lilies has been published. And not only that, but issue 9 is called Feral Summers and features Kathryn Simmonds (who I note is Norwich-based), Jessica Mookherjee, Rebecca Watts, Taz Rahman (his work was new to me, but I love it, and note we were also bedfellows in Honest Ulsterman back in Feb), Lisa McCabe, Geraldine Clarkson, Erin O’Luanaigh, Chris Emery, Nikita Azad, Alex Jenkins, Gareth Prior and they’ve only gone and included me too. My poem, The Summer Job is sat in the middle of the issue, and so far be it from me to suggest it’s the sun around which everything else orbits, but I’m also not not saying that.

Mat Riches, Coyote Time & Luminescent Prompts

[Pearl Pirie]: Apart from music, what is underway, or forthcoming? 

[Phil Hall]: This fall (2022), from Beautiful Outlaw Press: The Ash Bell—a book-length poem in thirty parts within parts.

PP: Oooh, writing that down on my buy list. And what intrigues you these days?

PH: Susan Sontag’s Introduction to A Barthes Reader is the best thing I’ve read (again) all summer. 

The thoroughness intrigues me. It teaches me how to read Barthes (again). I wish I could write as well as her! (And him.)

And why such writing gives me such pleasure in the reading act, despite or besides its usefulness, its cargo—that why intrigues me too. 

The kinetic tension of a sustained critical sentence followed slowly like poetry: Sontag, Hugh Kenner, Marjorie Perloff, Peter Quartermain… 

~

Also, asemic writing in all its wayward forms. Gesture alluding to Alphabet.

And also asemic in its original meaning, from Barthes: words that by error make a new word without any official meaning, but vaguely suggesting odd meanings…

Here are a few I’ve made the mistake of finding & being intrigued enough by lately to record:

becomerang

poorine

obmutescence

tomen

Such asemicisms seem like poems in nugget to me. Syntax can’t get to them! Even music can’t get at them — too dense to lilt.

They hope to leave Meaning flapping its gums.

PP: As meaning should be left. I wrote in my poem Montague, the machine changed it to Mina guess. Autoincorrect is the new machine asemic. 

Pearl Pirie, Checking In: Phil Hall

My spouse, Chris Gavaler, and I met while working on a Rutgers undergraduate literary magazine, The Anthologist. We were both chiefly poets then, shaping each other’s opinions in long Sunday night arguments over submissions (and sometimes over a twelve-pack). After graduation, we moved in together, after which followed many years of reading each other’s drafts; helping each other revise and sometimes hurting feelings in the process; sharing info on magazines and presses; and encouraging each other to persist when trying felt futile. I earned a PhD and dragged him to a small town in Virginia. He earned a Masters in Education, taught high school, went on to an MFA in fiction writing, then started in teaching in the English Department I’d joined years before. What we’re working on, as writers and teachers, usually varies wildly. But there have been synchronicities.

In May, I published Poetry’s Possible Worlds, a big milestone: in process and genre, it blends my scholarly training with a newer commitment to creative nonfiction, and it gestated for 10 years. His newest book, The Comics Form, is likewise the culmination of many years of teaching, writing about, and making comics. It begins with the question “What is a comic?” and encompasses comics’ history, style, conventions, and formal qualities. The book’s own style–clear and precise but intensely philosophical and theoretical–is very different from anything I’ve been up to lately. It amuses me very much that he, the MFA, has the deepest scholarly publishing record in our department, and I, the PhD, have the longest creative vita (although he gives me stiff competition). Somewhere along the way, we crossed paths and raced off in our own directions.

Lesley Wheeler, Not only close but intimate reading

Back then, reading books everyone was reading: Rand,
Gibran, Hesse — imagining perfection, imagining that
misunderstood idealism was some kind of quiet
rebellion, a secret counterculture. Until it came apart.

First innocence was fractured. Like a faraway rumble.
A misheard oracle. The truth is not always true. Then
the heroes turned themselves inside out. This too was
endured like a blood-letting ritual. An inevitable rite of

passage. Home is a variable construct. The cracks grew
wider. And deeper.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Part 05

The girl takes your card
and asks Soy sauce, duck sauce? It’s
the usual cornstarch-dredged pieces
of chicken with a smattering of sesame
seeds; rice or noodles on the side.
“Happy Family” is still on the menu:
that dish with three kinds of meat
smothered in some kind of brown sauce,
a chaos of vegetables seared in the pan.

Luisa A. Igloria, Happy Family

The full-length poetry debut by Edinburgh-born Ottawa poet Rhiannon Ng Cheng Hin is Fire Cider Rain (Toronto ON: Coach House Books, 2022), a collection set in four sections—“Evaporate,” “Condensate,” “Precipitate” and “Collect”—that examine the relationship between a mother and daughter amid an evolution of movement and displacement through the metaphor of water. Across the narrative thread of Fire Cider Rain, Ng Cheng Hin writes of migration and arrival, examining what is gained and what is lost, and what can’t help but be left behind. “as if by ritual, I enter a polemic / of loss,” she writes, to open the poem “HUMAN DISSECTION LAB,” “wherein the axis of grief / lies stitched to the vein of every / hemlock, every arthropod, every / woman’s coarse throat.” Stretching across multiple geographies—from North Africa to Mahébourg to “the edge of Lake Huron” and a Greyhound bus along the 401—there are elements of the tonal structure and familial content reminiscent of another poetry debut from earlier this year, Nanci Lee’s Hsin (Kingston ON: Brick Books, 2022) [see my review of such here], both of which offer a lyric examination on mothers and daughters, loss and exodus, paired but perpetually untethered and seeking to connect. “like mother like daughter like matter like water –” Ng Cheng Hin writes, to close the poem “THE LAWS OF THERNODYNAMICS I.” Writing again of the narrator’s “Māmā” to close the poem “SEAMELT II,” she offers: “I will begin where she left me / with the sound of // water on tile.”

Her opening poem, the sequence “COEFFICIENTS OF FRICTION,” immediately sets a scene of descriptive thickness and full-bodied phrases, offering a lyric density very much aware of its own music and rhythms. “what breakable, half remembered bodies,” she writes, “bent with small attritions / stratospheric relics gliding north / in radical heaps              away from purled trees / broken porchlights, the long ache / of the autumn island fire – […]” There is a staccato pulse of accumulated phrases and lines, writing moments of delicate, subtle music, one atop another until the larger shape begins to reveal itself.

rob mclennan, Rhiannon Ng Cheng Hin, Fire Cider Rain

I’m currently trying to decide on 3 ‘water’ themed haiku to send in for the British Haiku Society’s members’ anthology. I admit I’m finding it hard to come up with anything original (most of my water poems are about rain – something we could badly do with at the moment)! And that leads me to my second plug for Presence: Matthew Paul’s essay on Caroline Gourlay, which is informative, incisive and highly readable. Here’s Gourlay on rain (as quoted by Paul):

listen!
the skins of wild damsons
darkening in the rain

Paul’s right to describe this haiku as extraordinary: on the sound patterns imitating rain, the power of the adjective ‘wild’ (I’m paraphrasing his comments here). For me, there’s a sense of a secret being imparted in this haiku. Despite the exclamation mark, I imagine the speaker whispering, a slight hush in the voice, a sibilance replicated in ‘skins’ and ‘damsons’ that might also imitate the sound of rain that Paul mentions. I also sense a relationship being played out (between lovers perhaps, or just friends). I go back to the words ‘wild’ and ‘skin’. To see those damsons darkening is to be out there in the rain, getting soaked to the skin. The command ‘listen!’ implies the moment is shared, that there is someone else in the scene. And the reader? Well, the the reader is being allowed to overhear, to be included in the experience. Yes, it’s an extraordinary poem, and Paul’s essay makes me want to revisit Gourlay, which hopefully I’ll have time to do over the summer.
So thank you Matthew Paul, and thank you Presence!

Julie Mellor, The Coffin Path

Rob Taylor: So many of the poems in blue gait feel timeless: they deal with abstract, existential questions that we as a species have been asking of ourselves since time immemorial. But another stream of poems in the book is tightly bound to the political world of the here and now, centred around particular injustices (such as the confirmation of the 215 children buried at Kamloops Indian Residential School or the ongoing actions at the Unist’ot’en Camp). In these poems you speak very specifically and politically.

These two “modes” seem to mirror your larger life, in which you work as both writer and activist. Could you talk about these two “modes” in your writing: the abstract/eternal and the political/immediate? Do you think of them as distinct from one another, or as part of an indivisible whole?

shauna paull: Thank you for this question, Rob. I think I mostly resist separations between art and world. In the presence of my community work, which was political as well, my most fervent hope was to create access to abundance for the highest number of people. It’s natural then that the work emerges from ontological concerns and enlarges to encompass the concerns of those whose lives are marked by xenophobia of one sort or another. I am aware that some of the poems that address what is present in the “here and now” are doing so because the stories of alterity that open in them are longstanding.

I think song is the one thing that can cross just about every barrier — what moves a space of air cannot be contained by any regulatory or political body, or set of convictions. For me, these poems are a small attempt at creating song-space for witness — my own. This space is limited in various ways, but my hope is to honour what remains alive in the communities I am engaged with and hope to support.

The root values of well-being, autonomy, and dignity for all, will likely always be central to my thinking and making. It’s possible that a practice of paying attention with one’s heart is present in the work, too. Nobody is really safe until we are all safe. At this point in time, I carry an awareness that witness will always be needed, but also celebration and beauty and kindness, all of which are under-sung in the dominant myths of our country and in capitalism. Simplicity and relational attentiveness take time and care and it seems to me, from almost every direction, these benefit humanity.

Rob Taylor, A Gift of Mystery and Many Hands: An Interview with shauna paull

Of course this is written thinking about the recent attack on Salman Rushdie. In addition to the horror of this violence against a writer and against our right to speak our truth to power, to critique, investigate, reconsider, remix, explore, reinvent, inquire, I am also thinking about how the present world seems to be fracturing before our very eyes, even as we know that it has, with the except of climate change, always been like this in one way or another. I feel like this is a series of essay questions in a high school exam: Is the present really worse than the past? In what way? Is there any point comparing? How are we feeling at this moment? What now? What IS possible?

Gary Barwin, EVERYTHING ALWAYS IS POSSIBLE NOW

o think i missed that tomato splitting on the vine
when all the time that last coffee at the roadside cafe
grew as cold as the conversation’s turning
as narrow-eyed tutt-tutted teeth clenched
the moment held
would not let go
our sweat trickled
as slowly
we got up to go
nowhere

Jim Young, this one last long hot summer

This one had poem after poem of gripping intensity and experience unlike my own, so I read it as if looking into a new world. Hard Damage by Aria Aber, winner of the Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Poetry and the Whiting Award (University of Nebraska Press, 2019). But it is my world–America with its covert actions elsewhere in the world (once her parents’ homeland) and full of privilege (of which she and I both partake). And it isn’t my world: it is refugee camp, Afghanistan left behind, and languages I don’t know but deeply appreciate, as explored in these poems.

Here in Hard Damage I find grenades compared to turtles and also “grenade” connected to pomegranate in etymology:

                        Grenade, its shape
     so much like the fruit they named it after,
     pomegranate, from Latin pomum granatum
     (apple with many seeds), something
     I can harvest and pick from a tree–
     a comfortable taste in my mouth, and yes,
     fruit of the dead, or of fertility, depending
     on whose sustenance to listen to.

I find connections, of course, to the other books I’ve been reading here in August for the Sealey Challenge–for instance, a mention of the month of August itself, in the poem “Foreign Policies,” one that moves from and shifts back to the more personal poems in the book to the more political: “August, too, was a mastermind, distracting me / toward your lima bean eyes.”

Kathleen Kirk, Hard Damage

I can’t really not mention Larkin, since yesterday was the 100th anniversary of his birth. Last week, I spent a few days in deepest Holderness, the flatlands of East Yorkshire between Hull and the North Sea.

It’s the area celebrated in ‘Here’, the opening poem of The Whitsun Weddings, and which ends in one of trademark, secular-mystical epiphanies:

                             Here silence stands
Like heat. Here leaves unnoticed thicken,
Hidden weeds flower, neglected waters quicken,
Luminously-peopled air ascends;
And past the poppies bluish neutral distance
Ends the land suddenly beyond a beach
Of shapes and shingle. Here is unfenced existence:
Facing the sun, untalkative, out of reach.

Nowhere is that sense of ‘unfenced existence’ more apparent than along the spit of Spurn, which protrudes three miles into the last knockings of the Humber estuary, much in the same way that Southend Pier does at the end of the Thames.

From Spurn Point at the end, you can see Bull Sand Fort, a derelict First World War fort guarding the approaches to the Humber. I wonder if it’s what inspired the strange phrase in Larkin’s ‘Friday Night at the Royal Station Hotel’: ‘How / Isolated, like a fort, it is’.

What’s for sure is that Holderness is little changed from Larkin’s time. Since he was still alive when I first became interested in poetry, I somehow think of him as being more contemporary than he is. It seems hard to credit that he was born in the same year as another great writer who inspired me to pick up a pencil, Jack Kerouac, though he, of course, had died long before (in 1969) I came of age. They both inclined to melancholy, and both loved jazz, though Kerouac’s hero Charlie Parker was a figure of hate for Larkin. But I digress. Neither has remained a great, direct influence, but bear repeated, pleasurable re-readings.

Matthew Paul, On Mary Mulholland and Larkin

I increasingly think the urge to disassociate the man from the poems leads to some strange places. Every now and then I read one of Larkin’s advocates arguing for a clear division between the man and the work: the man was a rotter, but the work expresses (in the words of one TLS writer) ‘universal truths’. Or you have the late Clive James, Larkin’s loudest cheerleader, who spoke of the way he ‘went narrow to go deep’, avoiding social issues in order to plumb the depths of human nature.

This isn’t my Larkin. For me, the poetry has always contained a sustained, consistent criticism of post-war society – its obsession with youth and beauty, its endless consumerism, its failed promises of freedom – all of which is contrasted with the realities of aging and increasing social isolation. There is a kind of willful turning away from so much else that was going on in the published poems, and a grim reactionariness to certain letters (there’s the throat clearing again). This is where critics who see Larkin as a poet of post-imperial self-pity have a point. But to either describe Larkin’s poetry as soley a matter of fuzzy nostalgia, or to defend it on the grounds of its unique insight into human nature (or its form alone) is to miss the point: Larkin wrote about limits – and his approach to limits clearly had something to do with who he was and the times he lived in.

For me, that particular sensibility – the concern with limits – never felt like something from a bygone age, despite the period fittings.

Jeremy Wikeley, ‘Born Yesterday’ (Philip Larkin)

Not liking a book is not a reason to not write a review. A reviewer can’t be the target audience for every book published or even every book published in their favourite genre. But every reviewer can write about the book and give the review reader, who might be part of the target audience, enough information so they recognise the book is for them. Once when a music reviewer hated a new album, I would rush out and buy it. When the same reviewer praised a new album, it went on my ‘never, ever buy’ list. We had opposing tastes. But because he was consistent and give me enough information in the reviews for me to know I’d love what he hated and vice versa, the bands he hated were never going to lose sales because the reviewer didn’t like their music.

Emma Lee, A Bad Review is not when the reviewer didn’t like your book

No poetry collections so far for the Sealey Challenge. I’m beginning to doubt I’ll manage much. I read fiction before bed. It’s my wind-down activity before sleep. I can’t read poetry then or not a whole collection as I can’t focus well enough. Fiction keeps me engaged just enough to last a half hour until the melatonin kicks in. I think I’ll maybe read a poem a night from a new/old collection I’m excited about. 

Gerry Stewart, Scottish Book Tour Part 4

I’ve been trying to fix these aspects of myself for decades. I’ve had dozens of articles published about mindfulness and adopted (then dropped) all sorts of practices to help me slow down my busy mind. I do inhabit my moments, often get immersed in my moments, but it’s a comfort to know that my skittering mind isn’t something in need of repair. It is the way I’m made. Non-linear attention lets me see all sorts of interrelationships between disparate ideas. This can’t help but show me paradoxes and patterns that help me generate new approaches. The drawback is this doesn’t lead to clear path forward and it can really antagonize those firmly in the doing-things-the-way-they’ve-always-been-done camp. It probably explains my weird sense of humor. It’s also why I have started dozens of writing projects that, with some sustained focus, could be finished – yet instead my focus drifts to ever-newer projects.     

I can only speak for myself, but all the charts, apps, and other attention hacks don’t help me. Instead they handcuff me to the stress-inducing norms of a commodified culture, where productivity and not character are the measure of a life. My son’s ADHD, by the way, didn’t impair his learning in any way once we took him out of school. In fact, it likely enhanced it.

Laura Grace Weldon, What Does Your Attention Deficit Look Like?

FAVORITE LINE AT THE COUNTY FAIR

“The Beautiful Child Contest is now underway at the Cow and Sheep Barn.” 

Last night I went to the Schoharie County Fair with my husband and youngest–Demo Derby! Royal Hannaford Circus! Gaudy rides! Crazy carnival eats! And all the joys of beribboned rabbits and hares, cows and sheep and friendly goats.

Marly Youmans, Wordishly

Live Encounters kindly reposted a few fall poems of mine from a little while ago…maybe it will remind you that many writers’ favorite season is on the way! I hope you enjoy them. And enjoy this pileated woodpecker [photo]—we also had deer visitors who ate the last of my roses. I hope that August will be kind to us the rest of this month…

The poems, “Last Flowers,” “Charmed,” “Halloween 2018,” and “November Dark” are available at this link. 

Jeannine Hall Gailey, What a Week! Some Fall Poems, More Info about the Woodinville Wine and Book Club, Woodinville Wildlife and Flowers, and More

“There is another world but it is in this one,” said Paul Eluard. 

This one, here, celui-ci in the heavy glittering mid-August summer.  Sometimes the tree has one cicada that shatters the insistent sun.  Sometimes the chêne has one cicada that cries its passion, shrieks its desire over the noonday field, the shadowless yellow grass.  Sometimes a tree full of cicadas will work a trance like gentle dancers. 

We are not on our way to over there.  We share a house with others in our origin story.  We shift around, one thing displacing the next in the everchanging present.  The cat takes shallow breaths as it sleeps by the red bicycle in the shade.  

Jill Pearlman, Here, the Heavy Glitter of Now

airborne invisible
they circle the world

one of us may catch
a whisper in the ear

some write down
the words they hear

he simply gave thanks
for every poem that chose him

Paul Tobin, NO ONE STOPPED US

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 30

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week, it’s the anarchist cafe. Pull up a chair and settle in.


Anarchists should open cafes.
Spill the ill-assorted chairs
and tables onto the pavement.
Go heavy with the red paprika,
shower down the black pepper.
Have trans and Roma waiters
to glide between the tables,
taking orders couched as poems.

Dick Jones, THE ANARCHIST CAFÉ

The apple, small on the table, easily overlooked, will be affected by the wheel of time faster than the desk.

And are we not the apple? Is his sculpture too approaching this idea of temporality? His lean figures are more like their own shadows, elongated in a lowering sun, or thinning and thinning down so by the next step they may disappear, the walkers.

Marilyn McCabe, Leaping and hopping; or, On Ways of Seeing

We did not think of it
as not having a real body
or the body being a stick
the head was rubber, and it rode.
Mine was called Silver before I knew what it meant.

It takes time to understand what time does
to people and things. It takes time
to learn to look back and grasp what it all meant.
The lizards contemplated our journeys
and the tree house was the jail.

Ernesto Priego, 6. El caballito

I wish I could say that I spent my time improving myself but nope! Just trying desperately to keep myself and my poor garden alive. (Hydration is very important for flowers AND humans, it turns out, in this kind of heat, as I was reminded by the ER doc before he put an IV liter of fluids in me.)

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A Week of Heat Waves, Bad Air, Sunflowers, and ER Visits

sometimes
at night perhaps
a poem can slip through your fingers
vanish
back to wherever it came from
all you are left with
is a page of used ink

Paul Tobin, A PAGE OF USED INK

You will be trying to name that song the cicadas keep spinning — drone, chant — and might fall into an inspired trance. There are flies on your ankles and the slow swirling scent of the time or its demise, of memories you’ve had or never had, of something tantalizing—

Jill Pearlman, Noon Justice

each page talks to the next
the blueness
sinking back into the landscape

Ama Bolton, ABCD July 2022

For Strange Ladies, I realized that during the past 45 years I’ve written enough oddly interesting straggler poems about/in the voices of/relating to female “characters” of a mythopoetic variety that they might form a coven. Or at very least, a neighborhood. The strangeness of these women comes from their position as outsiders, exiles, shamans, rebels, goddesses, myths, heroines. A chapbook manuscript materialized, and what surprises me most about this collection is that the poems I ended up choosing date all the way back to some of the first poems I ever got into print. At that time (circa 1981), indie-lit mags were photocopied, stapled affairs often using collages of copyright-free art for graphics. My nostalgia about that era led me to go for a retro look on the cover. And yes, I wrote one of these poems in 1979 while living in New York City…but others are as recent as 2019. A span of 40 years, and yet they seem to belong together in their differences.

Ann E. Michael, Why so strange?

as if
the agony of our bodies betraying us
weren’t enough

now 
we might be blamed for feticide
we might be jailed

hemorrhaging
we might have to beg the pharmacist for drugs 
they still might say “I can’t help you” 

Rachel Barenblat, Choice

Never underestimate either the strength or fragility
of power—what ticks quietly all these years beneath

the walls, one day also buckles from the load
it’s made to carry. Between circuits, a current

falters. A bulb goes out, and quiet spreads through
a house in which all the machines have mysteriously

hummed themselves to sleep.

Luisa A. Igloria, The Myth of Permanent Faults

My advice to everyone this summer has been to enjoy summer, enjoy what you’ve got, soak up the sun. Especially if you live at latitude 53 which is where I am, because we all know how sparse the sun is at other times of the year. I know very few people who haven’t had a rough time this past year. A lot of stuff has just really sucked. I recently had a really big laugh when I backed my car into a pole after a particularly not great day where I guess I was having what we will call “a moment.” It’s fine. But who can afford to fix things these days? I need therapy from my therapy but who can afford that either? Other stuff currently is a priority. So like regular people, I just get my therapy from books and poetry and from playing Sheryl Crow and Bruce Springsteen extremely loud in my now banged up car. I’m good, you know?

Shawna Lemay, It’s Not Having What You Want

how senseless ‬
‪when bowing to each other ‬
‪we bump heads‬

Jim Young [no title]

Things sometimes need to be said plainly in poetry. But my pen tends toward curvature. It wants line breaks and metaphors, sometimes rhythm or even rhyme. I’m thinking about how you can say a thing with those curves while buffing its essentials to a clarity that can’t be mistaken. This poem burst into being recently, got some polishing, some additions, and probably will evolve. So I won’t send it out for publishing. I’ll post it here, in my blog, as an experiment. Here I can let my poetry keep morphing. I plan on posting  poems here, though I realize by doing so I remove the top layer of the onion of my copyrights (thankyou, literary lawyer, for that metaphor). Sometimes partnering with a zine or litmag is great. Today, I need to speak. Plain and curvy.

Rachel Dacus, What I Know

While there are many things (many) I’d like to take on, I think that realistically I can only keep up with 2 or 3 things Well at a time. For example, this fall my adjunct schedule is pretty full, and I’m homeschooling, and want to continue my poetry writing, so that pretty much fills up my time with what I can do well.

What this means for me is that I can’t also volunteer to start reading poetry submissions for a journal, or start up a book club for homeschoolers, or join a committee. It also means giving some things up to make those things a priority.

Renee Emerson, choosing 2 or 3 focus activities

Scarlet: the mac defining a news reporter’s back, hunched
at the front of a vast crowd flailed by rain, waiting hours
for Amelia Earhart’s arrival at Hanworth Air Park, May ’32;

conception month of my parents, who grew up to nurture
such tasty Moneymaker tomatoes, lining them up to redden
on the south-facing window-sill, behind the kitchen sink.

Matthew Paul, On Sickert

The poems in APOTHEGMS are short, and lean into koans, the short snap of expectation and quiet words placed after another, with an intimacy that allows the dates to become an essential element of small moments that are clearly crafted, while still allowing a sense of immediacy. He writes of time, and the immediacy of it; referencing haiku and the moment in which he is standing, no matter the distance of temporality between thought and composition. Think of the poem “URBANESQUE,” composed from his home-base of Mountain, Ontario “2021-10-04,” that reads: “The tiny / tea bag / plate // in my / cupboard / takes // up more / real / estate // than the / tall / glass // standing / next / to it [.]” In certain ways, the only differences between the accretions of Hogg’s longer poems and these short, near-bursts is a sense of scale: the shorter pieces included here still allowing for a kind of accretion, but one set with a particular kind of boundary. The larger accretion, one might suggest, might be the very assemblage of these poems into a chapbook-length manuscript. […]

Hogg connects time to the physical, and the physical to the body. There’s a way he’s attentive to both physicality and natural spaces, in part, one would think, through his time as a kid on a farm in the Cariboo, or his decades farming a space just south of Ottawa. With references to poets Lorine Niedecker, H.D. and Daphne Marlatt, Hogg doesn’t have to describe the landscape to allow for its presence; as Creeley attended the immediate, and his sense of the “domestic,” so too with Robert Hogg, attending his immediate, whether memory or at that precise moment, and a “domestic” that concerns the landscape, both internal and external.

rob mclennan, Robert Hogg, APOTHEGMS

they held a brush
& painted until
the sky went dark

Jason Crane, haiku: 25 July 2022

Earlier this month, our family went on a little road trip through BC and Alberta. One of my favourite parts (behind only the water slides, mini-golf and dinosaur bones) was visiting book stores.

If you find yourself making a similar trip, here are three you shouldn’t miss:

First up is Baker’s Books in Hope, a used bookstore where every book is $2! They have a small but mighty poetry section, and a strong selection of rare poetry books at the back (they cost a bit more). Always worth a stop at the beginning of a road trip.

Another bookstore I’m always sure to visit is The Book Shop in Penticton. With over 5,000 square feet of floor space, it’s one of Canada’s largest. This time I counted 28 shelves of poetry, ten of which were Canadian (including Laura Farina’s Some Talk of Being Human, photographed here). 

My tour of Alberta bookstores was truncated by our skirting around Calgary to avoid Stampede madness (and to spend more time hunting dinosaur bones), but I made sure we popped in to Glass Bookshop in Edmonton. Founded by poets Jason Purcell and Matthew Stepanic, it’s an absolute heaven for poetry fans.

Right at the front entrance you’re greeted by this fantastic array of (mostly poetry) chapbooks. [photo]

And inside – boom! – eight shelves of brand new poetry, largely from Canada and the US. It doesn’t get any better than this.

Rob Taylor, BC/AB Road Trip Report

This past July I spent two weeks in the Zhejiang mountain village of Chenjiapu translating a set of poems by the Nanjing-based poet Sun Dong. She was able to join me for a few days toward the end of the residency, and we worked together on drafts of the translations. I worked out drafts of two dozen poems and the preface to her most recent book, Broken Crow (破乌鸦 Pò wūyā), and published eight of the poems along with an essay — “Meditations in an Emergency: The Cosmopolitan, the Quotidian, and the Anthropocene Turn in Sun Dong’s 2020 Pandemic Poetry” — on the experience and on Sun Dong’s poems. The goal: a book-length collection of her work.

David Perry, Meditations in an Emergency: The Cosmopolitan, the Quotidian, and the Anthropocene Turn in Sun Dong’s 2020 Pandemic Poetry

SALA is Australia’s largest and most inclusive visual arts festival, which takes place in galleries and non-traditional arts spaces across South Australia annually, during the entire month of August. Each year, around 8,000 emerging, mid-career and established South Australian artists exhibit in more 500 venues across the state, from sheds, cafés, offices and retail spaces to wineries, schools, public spaces, galleries, major arts institutions and on-line events.

For SALA 2022, I have compiled a collection of my recent videos that explore the unreliable interactions between visual perception and language. In a world of artificial intelligence, what is real? In a multi-lingual society, whose voices do we hear? When language begins to fragment, where do we find meaningful narrative?

I also have an on-line artist talk in which I explain some of the techniques involved in making one of my most successful collaborations, The Life We Live Is Not Life Itself. You will also find links to recent articles I have written about my creative process, the role of translation in video poetry, and how narrative works in short form video.

Ian Gibbins, SALA 2022: The Life We Live…

I have done a lot of self-improvement work through the years, and progress has never–NEVER–felt as microscopic as my wrist healing has been.  But let me remind myself that 13 weeks ago, when I had to hold my arm at a certain angle away to have the splint put on, I thought I might throw up or pass out from the pain.  Now I can turn my arm that way with discomfort, not pain.  When I first had the cast off in late June, I couldn’t hold a metal set of tongs in my hand and pick up objects.  When I tried, I felt a searing pain down my arm.  A month later, when I did an exit exam for my hand therapist, I could do the exercise with some minimal pain.

Last night, we played Yahtzee, and I was able to roll the dice with my right hand.  I can still roll the dice better with my left hand, but it’s progress.  Likewise with using utensils:  I can get the food to my mouth, but it’s still a bit easier with my left hand.

This morning, I wrote a poem the way I once wrote poems:  by hand, on a purple legal pad.  I had started composing it as I walked yesterday morning.  I was thinking of all the ways our fathers had taught us to leave:  how to pack a suitcase, how to pack a box, how to load the moving van.  I thought about the way that grandmothers teach us to stay:  which plants we can eat and how to transform scraps into the comfort of quilts.  Then I wondered if this gendering was fair.  I wrote the poem that begins “They taught us how to pack” and the second stanza “They taught us how to grow.”  I like it better.

I have experimented with writing poems by using voice dictation into the computer, but I like writing on the legal pad better.  Still, it’s good to remember that I have options.  I don’t think that the content of my poems changed radically with the writing process.  For poems, I don’t think I even wrote any faster, as I do when I’m writing prose.  When I’m using the computer, I still prefer to type.  I make fewer errors.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Wrist Update: Fifteen Weeks After Break

As I round the bend on the GRANATA project, I find myself debating the book’s point-of-view.  I initially fully intended to use first person, and the first 10 or so poems are written with an “I” narrative.  Slowly, it began to slip, and my much favored “you” slipped in–the second person I favor so often over anything else these past years, not so much a conscious decision, but a go-to. I like the second person since the poems have a persona-like poem feel without actually taking on the limited persona of the “I” voice. Lately, the daily poems are “you” driven, and if they stay that way, I will probably just give over to the majority, partly because obviously I want them that way, partially became oy, the edits.  

Guidelines for the heroic/heroinic epic I intend would probably have me doing third person.  Odysseus, for example does not tell his own story, but relies on Homer to do it for him. Maybe second person is a good compromise here, and something I reach for in my poetic bag of tricks far more often than the third or first person.  If I do use first, it’s far more often a “we” rather an “I.”

Kristy Bowen, persephone speaks

Joanna Fuhrman is the author of six books of poetry, including To a New Era (Hanging Loose Press, 2021), The Year of Yellow Butterflies (Hanging Loose Press, 2015) and Pageant (Alice James Books, 2009). Her poetry videos have appeared in Triquarterly, Moving Poems Journal, Fence Digital, Posit and other online journals, as well as on her own Vimeo page. She lives in Brooklyn and teaches poetry and multimedia writing at Rutgers University in New Brunswick. For more see: Joannafuhrman.com

What are you working on?

I’m finishing a book of prose poetry called Data Mind about how it feels to live life online as a non-digital native. My generation entered the internet era with a lot of optimism about what online life might offer us, so it’s been painful to watch how social media has exacerbated the problems in our quasi-democracy/necrocapitalist economy. As someone who loves social media, I am trying to capture my own ambivalence. Some of the poems use the tropes of digital life to look back at pop culture from the past.  

I’m also working on a different book of poetry, mainly about my mom’s death, called The Last Phone Booth in the World. The prose poem manuscript is dense and surreal, while the newer manuscript feels more magical realist and dreamlike. I’m also hoping to get back into making poetry videos. 

Thomas Whyte, Joanna Fuhrman : part one

My review of Christopher James’ new pamphlet, The Storm in the Piano (Maytree Press, 2022), is up today at The Friday Poem. You can read it in full at this link, but here’s a short extract as a taster
Whether using the first or third person, the poet stands far further behind these poems than is common these days, thus avoiding any temptation to conflate the poet and the narrator. Dramatic set piece after dramatic set piece, Christopher James invites us into his vast array of worlds via an aesthetic approach that feels pretty much unique in the context of contemporary UK poetry.

In a juster world, Christopher James’ books books would sell in thousands…

Matthew Stewart, Christopher James’ The Storm in the Piano

“From this Soil” is a compassionate look at how family roots nourish and shape us. Casey Bailey’s poems are self-aware, conversational in tone and humorous, inviting readers to laugh with, not at, their subjects. The characters are recognisable and the pamphlet shares their lives, like striking up a conversation with someone you’ve sat next to in a pub or cafe and discovering how much in common you have.

Emma Lee, “From This Soil” Casey Bailey (The Broken Spine) – book review

This summer, as my day job eased its clutches for a while, I’ve been thinking about time in relation to book publicity and reception. For me, the main pleasure of a review is hearing from a reader: I worked for a decade, put the book out there, and wow, someone was moved to answer! Further, although I’ve been lucky in magazine reviews for all my books, I am receiving more backchanneled notes about Poetry’s Possible Worlds than I ever have about poetry collections. I wonder if it’s a genre thing. Poetry gets pretty personal, too, but most people are less confident responding to it. Or is Poetry’s Possible Worlds simply my best book? Part of the difference is almost certainly due to hiring a publicist for the first time. Yet, like most people, I can’t see the big picture when it comes to my own career.

Maybe this sounds paradoxical, but it was actually more emotional than lucrative for me to see Poetry’s Possible Worlds on the Small Press Distribution May-June top 10 bestseller list for nonfiction. It’s gone to a second printing!!–the first time that’s happened for me anywhere near this fast. We’re not talking huge numbers; this is small press stuff, remember. But it means that a boatload of work has made some difference: organizing events, pitching op-eds, querying podcasts, biweekly Zoom strategy meetings with Heather Brown, and more. Many authors fight hard for a couple of sales here and there, whether they publish with indies or the Big Four; every famous author I’ve ever talked to can describe traveling for miles to give a reading to two people. Even a little success makes me feel less discouraged about all that effort, though–less mystified, more philosophical.

Lesley Wheeler, Broadside giveaway, reviews, & long views

My delirious state has meant I’ve not read much this week. I’ve not really watched much TV either, although I did finish all 6 hours of Get Back, The Beatles’ doc on Disney+. I loved it, aside from it foreshadowing what we know is about to happen, it serves as a wonderful doc about creative process and working through things to get at the “final” version. I feel less bad about the million drafts for Trajectory (or anything else) as a result. It’s lovely to see the craft and the magic happening before our eyes, and it really is the craft and the magic in that order. Paul conjuring Get Back from the ether is a beautiful moment, but the hours of versions that follow to get it done are more instructive, but I digress.

Mat Riches, Get(ting) Back (To Fitness)

For four days, I couldn’t do much of anything without acute pain. I spent most of my hours in bed, flat on my back, longing for my ordinary, everyday life. All I wanted was to throw a load of clothes in the washing machine, run to the store to pick up food for dinner, water my flowers, wipe down the kitchen cabinets. I craved these things, the ways I have of keeping order, making beauty, caring for myself and others.

What a gift, to see how much there is to love about simply existing in our bruised, broken, shattering world.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Things I didn’t know I loved until I couldn’t do them

Paddy fields line both sides of the highway. I stop to watch the white egrets poke around in the water. The roar of the irrigation pump, the outlines of tractors and bullock-drawn ploughs, the bent backs of toiling farmers, kingfishers and drongos perched on overhead wires, large statues of village protector-deities — fierce warriors watching over people and livestock and crops, the romance of pastoral deliberation, the aroma of frothing cups of filter coffee, life as I know it fading into the distance…I can understand how this moment contains everything that came before it. And everything that is yet to come. What matters, what can wait, what we need to do, what is beyond us. That truth has never changed. In all this time. Time that knows it all.

swinging from the branch
of a tamarind tree
the chain from an old tyre-swing

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Within it, the stillness

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 28

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week: the earth on fire, learning from strangers, new uses for prose, poetry and politics, and much more. Enjoy.


dear reader
who will be the last poet
when the world’s on fire

Jim Young [no title]

he had expected more delays
but the trains ran through the heatwave
slowed only by a series of failed signals

the passengers were handed
plastic bottles of warm water
until the supply ran out

the heat in the final station
stole the sweat from the skin
this is how the world burns

Paul Tobin, THIS IS HOW THE WORLD BURNS

Say her name. Dites son nom. Say the names of Jewish children — more than 4,000— who were taken 80 years ago this weekend from Paris apartments in the 9th, 10th, 11th, 20th arrondissements. They were separated from their mothers, their fathers who were also corralled in the Velodrome d’Hiver near the Eiffel Tower, en route to concentration camps.  There are placards on the streets of neighborhoods — trendy rue de la Roquette, for example — with pictures of the kids in their bows and best dresses, their faces of trust.  In a recent documentary, one of the few women who survived said, we had faith; this was the land of Voltaire and Diderot. 

With foreboding in the air, breakdown of norms and language, with the rattle of war, it’s essential that the French et al pay attention to this anniversary of so-called “La Rafle du Vel d’Hiv.”  Podcasts, documentaries, museum exhibitions are revisiting the targeted and choreographed swooping of French gendarmes to arrest, in two days in 1942, 13,152 Jews.  The roundup started with immigrants from Eastern Europe, but grew to include French Jews. Collaborist Vichy government was making “good” on promises to Gestapo, which had occupied the zone since 1940.   

Jill Pearlman, La Rafle in Paris, 1942: Say their names

When dust has settled after a bomb has fallen
people will sweep up, a girl with a rose in her guitar
will play gently in the corner of the square.

Forgotten arguments, promises, kisses.

The order of words matters.

If you encourage strangers to speak
you could become someone else.

Bob Mee, ON THE INTERNATIONAL DAY OF THE FORGOTTEN, POEM TWO

Jacqueline Bourque was a Rubies Tuesday poet at the same time I was. She was in If and Where There’s Fire, our 2013 workshop group anthology chapbooks. She has since come out with her first trade collection, Repointing the Bricks (Mansfield Press, 2021).

PP: So, what have you been reading lately that lit you up? Why or how?

JB: I recently found Matilde Battistini’s Symbols and Allegories in Art at a moment when I was searching for inspiration. A friend I met for coffee was carrying a bag of books that he planned to donate to the public library, and while we chatted he spread them out on the table and asked if I wanted to take any of them home. I immediately reached for the Battistini book. The next morning, I flipped through it, stopped at the section on ladders, and wrote a poem on Icon of the Allegorical Ladder of Saint-John Climacus. My interest has progressed from there. I am currently writing a series of ekphrastic poems based on the paintings in the book.

There’s also Helen Weinzweig’s Basic Black with Pearls, which has led me to question connection and order in my poems. Her editor, James Polk, said that Weinzweig’s manuscript was “a stack of quality bond paper, perfectly typed, with a note advising him to throw the pages into the air and arrange them as they fell”. The novel reads as if this is what happened. The poetic implications of that randomness has me focused on finding the right hook for the first line when I write, and then with rearranging the order of lines as I go. 

Pearl Pirie, Checking In With: Jacqueline Bourque

numinous tumbles over cashy rims of roundy fingers
max daily, money catches fire, withdrawal flames
bells ring, well hung, remember my PIN, oh look
here’s a tongue, dear, fling some names

but mortal! cashish and me does (sic) one thing
and the same: crying, what I do is me and love, here
at the ArkTM beside slushies and news
self is meaning, gosh, it speaks, spells, grace

takes the moolah out, oh think about muses
UNLIMITED FINANCIAL POWER, ten thousand
paces, lovely subliminal, oh yeah, lovely hope smeared
faces, alchemy, black debt, white fire, invisible fuses

Gary Barwin, ATM after Gerard Manley Hopkins

I’ve shared a couple of poems from my poetry book on Twitter recently because the poems seemed relevant to different items in the news. Like many people, I was irritated by Dominic Raab’s criticism of Angela Rayner (in Parliament, during Prime Minister’s Questions) for attending an opera – Glyndbourne, in fact. For those who don’t know, at the time of his criticism, Raab was the deputy leader of the Conservative Party, and Rayner his counterpart for the Opposition (the Labour Party). Rightly, there’s been plenty of condemnation for Raab’s snobbery, and for his implication that Rayner, who’s from a working class background, is somehow not permitted to pursue what Raab evidently believes is strictly a middle and upper class pursuit. I’ve come across attitudes like this many times before although I’m amazed that people still hold these old-fashioned views about class in the 21st century. It was my exasperation with how working class people are sometimes publicly spoken about and represented in popular culture that lead me to write my poem ‘Working Class Poem’, first published in Under the Radar magazine and then in my book What Are You After? (Nine Arches Press, 2018). I’m from a working class background myself and I have an interest in many cultural pursuits, especially literature, theatre and film, but also music and opera. To be honest, I’m interested in all culture and would never turn down the chance to engage with something cultural, if I could afford the ticket price.

Anyway, here’s a link to the poem.

Josephine Corcoran, Two poems from my book

The paper prince 
remains, brooding on the fate of kingdoms
and weighing out which uncle first to kill;
but I am free to run, with a rat’s love,
my tail whipping back and forth for balance:
my spine a fishing rod, each jump a cast,
my claws as light and sharp as needles
finding purchase where the huge
and clumsy paper of my royal fingers
clutched in vain. Soon to be within the wall,
safe in my native dark, free
to seek my kind.

Dale Favier, Escape

[Krystal] Languell writes baseball, “the thinking person’s game,” very specifically, while simultaneously utilizing the subject as a way to write through and about far beyond the game. “The celebratory fireworks are suspended / when the stadium opens to dogs.” she writes, as part of “BOO CLEVELAND BOO,” “My friend’s child put down her hot dog / and a golden retriever licked it. // This freed her up to focus attention on / cotton candy, showing us her tongue.” Throughout, Languell’s syntax and rhythms are bulletproof, composing lines that any bird would trust to light upon; the ways in which she writes poems propelled and set by and through rhythm. She writes the nuance of baseball, and how language ripples, providing linkages to deeper things, something Spicer knew full well, but never explored, at least so thoroughly. As the poem ‘HOW BORING!” offers: “I know obscurity is boring as replays / Necessary fabric to tie the room together [.]”

Set in two sections of short lyrics, the second section of the collection moves away from baseball into observational postcards, furthering her sharp examination of language and perception, offering a narrative ease but an exactness that cuts down to bone. “Pull a loose hair out of my bra,” she writes, to open the poem “PARDON MY FRIEND, BUT YOU’RE AN ASSHOLE,” “What do I have to show for it / A better set of pens might be the perfect thing / she was grieving on a yacht on Instagram / That doesn’t concern anyone you’d know [.]” As Rae Armantrout offers as part of her brief foreword to the collection: “There is a provocative tension here and elsewhere in the book between the precise, science-laced language employed and the shifty phenomena it seeks to describe and understand.” This is a collection with a subtlety that rewards, especially upon rereading, thanks in part to Languell’s precision, and the ability to make impossible turns. Armantrout continues: “Every word of that strikes me as just right. Languell identifies not with the flag, but with the loneliness of its flap. It makes me think about being simultaneously at home and in exile.”

rob mclennan, Krystal Languell, Systems Thinking With Flowers

Within minutes, the dust encircled us, the sandstone rocks seemed to melt, the rat-a-tat of sand on the car-roof was loud, incessant and terrifying. My first sandstorm came without warning to Wadi Rum. We drank tea as we sheltered on a rock. The most morbid of fears are tempered by a cup of tea. This much is true. Storms rage for hours. But then they pass. That too is true. Most life lessons are learnt on that thin edge between how things are and how they should have been. That can be true, if you allow it.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Some words I feel

There’s Agincourts of arrows, flight on flight.
The sky’s cross-hatched, and somedays almost black.
The sun’s crossed out. Eclipsed. Our David’s arrows –
they fly miles, out of day and into night,

they shift the whole perspective. What is it
he celebrates? Pattern? Power?
The living or the dead. I’ll never know,
his last bow drawn, and loosed, an age ago.

I wrote this when he was still alive, puzzled and perhaps mildly worried about the obsessive quality of the drawings. But mainly delighted. When he died, I changed the ending, and it was read at his funeral. We had a Bob Marley track in the service. Stop that train. It was an extraordinary service. There were dozens and dozens of young people who I’d never seen before, who I didn’t know, but who had clearly loved our David. For some reason he either never knew, or if he knew, he didn’t believe it.

It was a long time between being told of his death and his funeral. My wife and I had separated seven years earlier. We weren’t asked [to] identify his body and I was too numb to wonder why I wasn’t notified of the inquest, and I was too numb to protest. The morning the police told my ex-wife of a death behind the Merrion Centre, the morning she drove from Leeds to tell me, the morning we went to the police station in Chapeltown was the morning I started to learn about the lovely boy I realised I didn’t really know. That he’d been smoking dope, that this may have triggered a suspected schizophrenia, that some time earlier he’d served a short prison sentence for a trivial non-violent offence, that he was being looked after by NACOS, that he was training as a painter and decorator (like his great-granddad). I know I could have known all this, and I should have, but I was too busy, too tied up with a new job, a new relationship, and deep down, because I was scared to ask. Most of those young folk at the funeral were young offenders on schemes like the one our David was apparently enjoying. Nothing made sense.

John Foggin, Young men and suicide. A loss you can’t imagine

I’m properly chuffed to have a new poem in The Spectator this week. ‘Heading for the Airport’ is taken from my second full collection, which is forthcoming from HappenStance Press in November 2023. It’s a significant poem for me and you can read it here.

Matthew Stewart, A new poem in The Spectator

First, I am excited to share that I have two poems featured in the latest issue of Talking Writing. This publication of poems is special to me as it has me in two different modes. The poem “Listening” is more in the usual lyric narrative vein, while “On Touch” is more the work I do in the aphoristic, gregueria vein. Both poems mean much to me and I’m excited to share them.

Secondly, I am honored to share this review of Roturaby Dana Delibovi in the latest issue of Witty Partition. Delibovi does a great job of noting the nuances of the project, engaging with both the conceptual themes and the formal aspects. Rare is the reviewer able to honor the use of Sapphics while also unpacking some of the more politically charged moments. Indeed, Delibovi’s description of the book as both “polemical…[and] beautiful” is reaffirming on a number of levels.

José Angel Araguz, new poems & review

I’m really excited that All the Men I Never Married has made it onto the Forward Prizes for Poetry Best Collection shortlist.  Shortlisted alongside me are Kaveh Akhbar, Anthony Joseph, Shane McCrae and Helen Mort. 

I’m massively grateful, and especially happy to be shortlisted alongside Helen Mort, who is a good friend of mine, and someone I’ve always looked up to.

[…]

Moments of Change by Kim Moore | Poetry Foundation

The Poetry Foundation have commissioned me to write a series of blogs on the theme ‘Poetry and Politics’ over the summer. The first one is called ‘Moments of Change’. It features discussion of strange conversations in pubs after readings, and the political nature (or not!) of poetry.

Kim Moore, Recent News

As longtime readers and friends know, I’ve been a Kate Bush fan since 1981 when I happened to catch two of her videos – “Wuthering Heights” and “The Man With the Child In His Eyes” – on the old Night Flight program. 

With “Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God)” still riding high in the global music charts after its use in Stranger Things, I was asked by friend and Kate Bush News curator Sean Twomey to appear on his podcast to discuss the meteoric rise of “RUTH” 37 years after its release and finally making Kate a household name. Listen here.

I was also thrilled to contribute a new essay for the 40th-anniversary issue of HomeGround: The Kate Bush Magazine. The essay, “A Little Night Music: Kate Bush as Constant Companion,” chronicles my early encounter with Kate, traveling to see her in concert two nights in a row back in 2014 (a 35-year dream realized), and how her music was a balm during my cancer treatment. 

You can download a free copy of HomeGround at this link

Collin Kelley, New essay on Kate Bush, plus a podcast appearance

There’s a theme running through this collection of words by others, and it must be: how to live now? How to be a good ancestor? How to make of your life art? How to live recklessly? How to find light, magic, enchantment? Let’s not forget patience, wild or otherwise.

I hope these questions are good for you and help you lean toward the answers, even as we might be continually modifying what those answers happen to be.

Shawna Lemay, Light, Patience, Your Life as Art, and Other Urgencies

I’ll be working on some writing and press stuff leisurely over the weekend, but no writing for a couple days unless it’s this blog. Last week I kept feeling this same feeling of surprise as a payout for the neighborhood guides and my first official check for the antique site hit my bank account–that really, I’m still surprised when I actually get paid for writing things at all. After what is decades of writing and never getting paid much anything outside of some tiny royalties and some reading/workshop stipends. It feels surreal, but also very right. There’s been a bit of hustle through the spring and much anxiety to land these gigs, but I have a full and satisfying plate now, so I fully intend to sit back and enjoy them.

Kristy Bowen, witchy kitchens and writing

[Rob Taylor]: One lens into the world, and yourself, in None Of This Belongs To Me is your work as a nanny. The third section of the book explores your time helping raise “B,” while you were still quite young yourself. You write “Grown-ups // made me, explained things like / sex and art and garbage. Lately I’ve been // explaining”. Later in that same poem you describe poetry as “the way the night / tries to make sense of its day”. Caring for a child and writing a poem both require a certain amount of “explaining” and “making sense” of the world. What was it like to be engaged in both processes simultaneously? Did you find that how you made sense of the world in a poem bled over in some way in how you made sense of the world for “B”? Or vice-versa?

[Ellie Sawatzky]: I think something that I’ve learned both from taking care of children and writing poetry is that some things just don’t make sense. Anyone who’s ever spent time around children knows what it is to ultimately answer a line of questioning with “I don’t know why, it just is.” It can be very humbling — and existentially terrifying — to admit that you don’t know something, or to acknowledge that there are multiple contradictory truths. In childhood so much is unknown and there are so many possibilities. As we get older things seem to narrow. But when you spend time with children, you connect with that sense of mystery and possibility and its inherent vulnerabilities, and this certainly inspired my poetic practice while I was working as a nanny. To me, poetry is a space that allows adults to ask questions the way children do. So it’s not so much about “making sense” as it is about wondering.

RT: In “Poetry Wants My Imaginary Boyfriends,” you write that poetry “wants me to malfunction perfectly forever.” You expand on that a few lines later: “poetry wants my ache and ache and a thumb / lost to frostbite.” We are certainly in a moment in poetry where, like the 6 o’clock news, “if it bleeds, it leads.” It feels like there’s an unspoken expectation that lyric poets will put the darkest moments of their life on display. You meet that expectation in many ways in this book, but you equally seem to resist the pressure: in their humour and surprising imagery and music, even the most difficult poems in None Of This Belongs To Me feel buoyed by lightness. Could you talk about that pressure to “malfunction perfectly,” and how you embraced (or rejected) it in this book?

ES: I think it’s important to be vulnerable when writing poetry, and I definitely feel that I followed that impulse in the poems in None of This Belongs to Me (how else to explain the massive vulnerability hangover I’ve been feeling since my book came out), and I also think that humour and levity are important when it comes to conveying meaning and connecting with a reader. Sometimes the process of writing poetry is a way to remind myself not to take myself too seriously. I agree that there are expectations around a poem’s content/tone/style, presuppositions about what poetry is and does, and in the process of writing this book I found myself embracing funny and joyful content — something I wish to see more of in poetry — alongside the more serious stuff. Part of that comes across as self-consciousness, I’m sure: in drawing attention to the process of writing a poem, pointing out its expectations and the ways in which those expectations are subverted. Poking fun at the process, even. For example, in “Ways to Write a Poem” (“Imagine how you might be murdered, but / make it beautiful”).

Rob Taylor, What Trickles Down the Line: An Interview with Ellie Sawatzky

Excellent thread about line-breaks by Caroline Bird, here. There have been a few related discussions elsewhere on Twitter, too, which can only be good. It never hurts to discuss why we like or don’t like something in poetry, or perhaps more importantly why we think something works, or doesn’t.

Matt Merritt, Caroline Bird on line-breaks

Flash has emerged over the last few years. It’s still finding a place for itself (though of course it’s been around since Kafka, the Bible etc). It’s interesting watching a new “genre” in the process of carving its niche – some people come to it from the poetry world, and some from short stories. People say that the quality has shot up over the last decade. There are quite a few Flash books out now. I’ve also seen books that are explicit poetry/Flash and short-story/Flash combinations.

A term that I heard in 3 sessions which I hadn’t heard before was “hermit crab” where content slips inside a (perhaps unrelated, perhaps ironic) form. A piece called “Recipe for War” can be set out as a recipe. There are many standardised templates that can be used as forms – instructions for games, adverts, letters, shopping list, school reports, horoscope, crosswords, etc. Pieces like this used to appear in poetry magazines, but that always seemed a miscategorisation to me.

Tim Love, Flash fiction festival, 2022

Who knew legs could hallucinate,
mistaking uphill for the flat?

          a windmill’s arms
          as still as the roadkill—
          ox-eye daisies

Matthew Paul, Toad Lane

I keep a journal–have done so for decades–and I tend to start poems one of two ways, either from image-based phrases I jot down or from prose entries. The latter approach, from prose, may indeed have a basis in lived experience. Here, I offer a concrete example.

The draft below started as prose but may evolve into a prose poem, may evolve into free verse, or may end up as metrical or formal, blank verse or pantoum. Or it may end up in the “Dead Poems” folder of forgotten drafts. Right now it consists mostly of lived experience, though I’ve already begun to fictionalize a few moments, blur a few lines about the ride in the car (there was another passenger), what he may really have said (heck, my memory’s not that accurate) and where my thought process went. I’ve also played around with line breaks and indents to help me visualize phrasing and rhythm. This is the way I often work.

I believe models and examples of creative working methods help to clarify what artists do. Yet some of it–especially among geniuses–is inspired, mysterious, and cannot be described. I wish I felt that inspiration more often. But I do not mind doing the work of rethinking, reimagining, revising.

Ann E. Michael, Prose starts

I too want to go down to the well,
but I don’t want to find a heart like a pin-
cushion in the green water, looking up
at the walls from which it fell.

Today we are all wounded.
We carry our sadness like cups
through the rooms, looking
for a basin not yet full.

Today we are waiting to receive
a sign that doors do open, that we
have not been abandoned to death,
that our hunger to be seen will be fed.

Luisa A. Igloria, Casida of Eternal Waiting

You know Bolero by Maurice Ravel? It’s an orchestral piece with lots of repetition and a glorious build, so when it gets stuck in your head, it gets really stuck! I have been listening to it while directing a one-act play for Heartland Theatre, Running Uphill to Smooth Criminal, by E.K. Doolin, which, as you might guess, also references “Smooth Criminal,” a Michael Jackson song! The play, about a woman’s nervous breakdown as her entrance into middle age, is delightful, and the playwright was delighted with our enhanced staged reading of it on Friday night! Today, the Sunday matinee, is the closing performance, but I think Bolero will stay in my head for a while! Pictured is Ida Rubenstein, who commissed the piece as a ballet for her to perform, and whose flowy attire inspired some of our costuming!

Whenever I am acting or directing, my poetry writing and submitting gets set aside for a bit, but 1) I imagine it will resume soon 2) I have been writing goofy little quatrains in response to Shakespearean sonnets in the meantime. Part of a pleasant email sharing thingey.

Kathleen Kirk, Bolero in My Head

So, this week it’s just a bit of poetry news.

1. My review of Tom Sastry’s, You have no normal country to return to is up at The Friday Poem. It was a tricky review to write, but one I enjoyed wrestling with, and thankfully Tom seems happy with it. Win. Go buy the book, and read the rest of the stuff at TFP. Wendy’s poem is excellent and I have no doubt other articles from this week are excellent too. They are the next things to read when I’ve done this. I was sad that my line about Tom’s style of performance and my coinage of the word ‘Sastrophising” was cut out, but it was for the best.

2. I attended Rob Selby’s launch of his latest collection, The Kentish Rebellion, on Tuesday night. It was the hottest night of the year so far, but a hot ticket of Rob, Rory Waterman and Camille Ralphs reading was enough to make the schlep to Islington worth it. Throw in chats with Andrew & Kath from themselves and Bad Lilies, Christopher Horton and saying hello to Jennifer Edgecombe (whose excellent pamphlet is worth a look) and it was triply worth the journey there and then the epic journey home. The trip to the pub afterwards was also most enjoyable.

Mat Riches, A blatant excuse to play Paul Buchanan’s Mid Air

It’s been a busy week! Glenn had a birthday, we visited with my little brother Mike, Glenn tore his rotator cuff, we’re getting ready to visit with friends from out of town tomorrow, and we were gifted with tickets to the symphony – something we haven’t gone to since way before the pandemic – this one was a Harry Potter themed Symphony! It was nerve-wracking (everyone was masked, but hadn’t been indoors with that many people in a long while) but the audience was enthusiastic and full of people dressed in costumes and children so it was pretty uplifting (and a female conductor, which was pretty cool!) We had expensive orchestra seats (once again, we were gifted these – unfortunately, because someone who had bought the tickets caught covid) and we got dressed up, which will mean that’s the second time this month I had to put on real clothes, makeup, and real shoes (not slippers!) I mean, that’s a lot of socializing for someone who’s pretty much been hermiting for two and a half years.

We also had our first dry week in a long time, and already my grass (less of it than there used to be, but still) is crunchy and I’m trying to keep the birds watered with three separate bird baths and fountains. The sun stays up late, the sunsets have been beautiful and we had a clear night to see the brightest supermoon of the year. The garden is still blooming – roses, sunflowers, lilacs (again?), lavender and lots of pollinator-friendly little plants.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, New Poems in Redactions, an Upcoming Reading at Hugo House, Symphonies, Supermoons and Sunsets

Question marks slump through the streets, empty pockets, empty minds, never getting a straight answer about anything.

There’s a heaviness in the chest that makes clouds go slow and traps colors in cages.

Beyond the ruins, a music echoes through the hills, gathering sorrows, ferrying them through the color wheel of pain into a place of pure compassion.

Rich Ferguson, In the city of ruins

on the lawn our attention
drawn to one woman coughing
as the pianist plays

***

four low voices slip
across the manicured grass
a warbler enters from the trees

***

air heavy with citronella
the pop of a cork
during the applause

***

a lone student’s violent end
transformed into melody
all breaths are held

///

Bastille Day
14 July 2022
Ozawa Hall lawn
Tanglewood
Lenox MA

Jason Crane, haiku: Tanglewood Evening

It’s dusk, the travellers walk and all seem to share a faith. There are also hints of superstition and folklore in the walk beginning at a crossroads that has become a shrine. Death has happened here. The land has been annexed and dissenters crushed. It doesn’t take much work on the part of a reader to recognise a land this could refer to. It also doesn’t matter if two readers picture different lands. […]

By deliberately making the setting indistinct and generic, Zoe Brooks has created a scenario that the reader can readily place within their own experience/knowledge. “Fool’s Paradise” asks significant questions about the roles of tourists in events that are still within living memory. While Traveller 3 tries to distance himself from the trinket-buyers, is his journey as different as he would like to think?

Emma Lee, “Fool’s Paradise” Zoe Brooks (Black Eyes Publishing) – book review

Unfortunately I did not manage
to solve gun violence today.
Instead I soaked a cup of beans
— big plump ayocote negros
and simmered them with a mirepoix
of shallot and celery, peppercorn
and bay. Tonight I’ll peel and fry
the blackest plantain, dusting
ginger and red pepper flakes
over its sweet insides.
Probably more people were shot
today, somewhere, many of them
with weapons that do damage
no surgeon can repair. Also
the Supreme Court keeps
stripping rights away, and
people say that’s only the start.
Did you know there’s a megadrought
in the southwest, the worst
it’s been in twelve hundred years?
Armageddon isn’t included
in my theology, though
that doesn’t preclude collapse
of climate, or government, or
everything I hold dear. Still
I offered a prayer for gratitude
when I got out of bed, cooked
black beans, prepared for Shabbes.
I may be rearranging deck chairs
or conducting the string quartet
on the Titanic, but the thing is
this life is the only boat we have.
There might as well be beauty
and a meal, a prayer and a song.

Rachel Barenblat, Titanic

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 27

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week: all flesh is grass, the muse is mycelial, words have shadows, and even the rain is a writer.


The last couple of days have been overly humid, occasionally stormy, and filled with pops that may be fireworks, may be gunshots for all we know. I am staying close to home, the world too caustic and bloody lately. On Monday, I worked, having taken a long weekend since Friday, but also because there does not seem to be much of anything to celebrate, and Monday’s events just a few miles north of the city solidified that. It feels like this most 4ths of July in the last  half decade or so. I am not so proud to be an American when my America looks like this—a huge flag waving over strewn lawn chairs and children’s lost shoes. If there is anything more American I don’t know what is. 

Other than that, I am working through author copies, orders, and writing pieces.  Yesterday Antigone, today, the Artemis Temple at Ephesus. The latter an undeniable proof that the Christians ruined all the fun when they swept through Greek/Roman territories and replaced the pagan traditions that preceded them. I am tired of pretending that the steady push toward religious totalitarianism isn’t still happening. As someone secular, on the outside of all of it, I cringe when I hear the endless thoughts and prayers all the while doing absolutely nothing to stop the sort of things that happen from happening. Meanwhile, even the good politicians stand around with their thumbs up their arses.

Summer already seems like it’s slipping away—and always does after the 4th. The days will be getting shorter, maybe not noticeably just yet, but it will creep steadily toward the fall until one day we look around at 6 pm and it’s getting dark.

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 7/5/2022

I would never have guessed the beauty 
captured in the movement of long grass
the sway and flow of it in the wind.

And now, after mowing, before 
the first of three turns, I am entranced by 
the felt weight of it already turning gold.

Lynne Rees, Poem ~ Grass, Hay

Perhaps it is more important now than ever to throw our stories to the wind (even if our wind is just a tiny breeze, nothing more than Krista Tippett’s “quiet conversations at a very human, granular level”). Out in the world–in the ears, hearts, and minds of others—don’t they have some chance of doing good? They do nothing if they remain in our heads or our drafts folders, where they can provide no comfort, connection, or hope to anyone else.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Hey there

This multitude, though young,
has buried the hill
and is its own horizon.
I shall come down the slope
of Bottom Field some day
in the coming months,
heading for home. And
I shall run my brown hand
through the barley stalks,
now a dusty gold, each
ear a dream of bread, each
stalk a dream of chaff and
we shall know each other.

Dick Jones, The Barley

The last few days my main earworm has been a song I used when I led nonviolence workshops. I usually played it for one of our last sessions, after we’d learned about the inner work of nonviolence, then moved onto the interpersonal, then the community level, and ending with the global — all inextricably intertwined. The song is so illuminating to me because it makes clear peaceful change can’t help but benefit more than the intended group.

“Bread & Roses” was first a poem written in 1911 by James Oppenheim, who was himself inspired by a speech by factory inspector and women’s suffrage campaigner Helen Todd. During a speech Todd called out “bread for all, and roses too!” Her 1910 speech said, in part,

“…woman is the mothering element in the world and her vote will go toward helping forward the time when life’s Bread, which is home, shelter and security, and the Roses of life, music, education, nature and books, shall be the heritage of every child that is born in the country, in the government of which she has a voice.”

The phrase became a rallying cry during the 1912 women’s millworker strike in Lawrence, Massachusetts.

Laura Grace Weldon, Bread & Roses

You can be a great writer and never have children; I’m not saying motherhood is a prerequisite to greatness.

All I’m saying is that I tire of the sentiment that the writer must mimic a male-driven image of “The Poet” — poetry as a bread-winning career, poetry as stuck in the ivory tower of academia.

Maybe poetry can come from the kitchen counter and the playground bench and the dimly-lit nursery.

Maybe the hand that rocks the cradle should also wield the pen.

Renee Emerson, How Raising 5 Children is Making Me a Better Writer

For the last couple of years, my muse has been mycelial. I mean both that fungus infests my current mss–I’m revising a poetry collection and a novel–and, in a related way, that a mycelial life seems like what I ought to be aiming for. Spreading tendrils underground, sprouting mushrooms after a storm, metabolizing trouble: these are ways of thriving in unfriendly conditions. As I read The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins by Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing, trying to get my head around possibilities for my books, I’m also thinking more generally about literary ecosystems.

Tsing focuses on international trade in matsutake mushrooms, which grow best among the pines that take over some landscapes after deforestation. She chronicles how diverse foragers in the Pacific Northwest, salvaging in damaged places, sell to bulk buyers who sell to field agents who work for companies who market matsutake at high prices to buyers in Japan, among whom the mushroom is often a gift. It’s an intricate system, and the way Tsing uncovers it provokes as many ideas as a fungus has hyphae.

Exact parallels are beyond me, but Tsing’s book puts me in mind of the small-press po-biz, from which the choicest treasures are supposed to be sifted up to presses where real money is made. Which makes me sometimes a forager (small-press poet sniffing around for inspiration) and sometimes a middleman, as a teacher who earns a good living selling poetry to students and, more stupidly, as an editor who delivers the work of others to a wider public, paying authors with university $ but spending her own time profligately in a way her employers choose to find illegible.

Lesley Wheeler, Mycelial poetry devouring the ruins

A few disappointments – the usual rejections, also my collection is somewhat in mothballs at the moment for various reasons, and may not see the light of day after all. But I’m oddly upbeat about it. I feel I’ve kind of moved on and am working on new strands. I’m bad at feeling pleased about poems for very long, they go stale on me and I just can’t bring myself to stick by them. This happens even if a poem is published somewhere – in fact especially so. I hope this is normal. Anyway, I’m sure at least some of the poems will find their way into a pamphlet or collection at some point.

Robin Houghton, Oh hello! Quick catch up

What is it that I want, that I might still get, in the twilight of my days? I asked myself that, and the answer came with unexpected readiness: I might understand. I gave up on that, somewhere in the welter of the “works and days of hands,” and I shouldn’t have. I look into the world, and it looks into me, and the periphery fills in with color and design, and the music is there, even if I can’t hear it. That much is clear. I accepted, at some point, that I would never understand anything. I think it began when I failed wretchedly to understand spherical geometry. Some light went out, and for a long time no one — well, no one I really paid attention to — no one told me it could be relit.

I am not as clever as I was then. But I am also far less hagridden by anxiety and neediness. I don’t give a damn what anyone thinks of me. I reach out my hand and my fingers close on something. There’s a moment of knowing and of purchase, prise, affordance. 

Dale Favier, A Moment of Knowing

We will forget everything.
Everything will forget us.

All the houses you ever lived in
evaporated long ago.

The stink of decay, the old roads
gone back to wilderness.

I don’t recognise signs,
street names, buildings.

I live where the flame doesn’t flicker.
I like to photograph water.

Bob Mee, POEM FOR THE INTERNATIONAL DAY OF THE FORGOTTEN

I’m reading Margaret Renkl’s book of brief essays, Late Migrations, which evokes in me a revival of memories not too dissimilar from hers. We are near in age, and though she writes from Tennessee and Alabama, her unsupervised childhood running barefooted through peanut fields and along creek banks at her grandparents’ house feels parallel to my unsupervised childhood running barefoot along creek banks surrounded by small towns and cornfields. I too slept on the screen porch at my great-grandmother’s house, fan running, insects humming, heat lightning brightening the humid summer nights.

Ann E. Michael, Parallels

If this is Western civilization in decline, I’ll take it. On the one hand, France is in free fall; on the other, the effort of every moment to hold it together, to prop it up with baguettes as support!

Thus the proliferation of the baguette better and better, crustier, denser, with more breath holes like clarinets. The French are leaning on their strength, doing what they have always done in spades, only better.

Boulangeries make me dream; as with with poetry, I’ve never been a fan of rewards and prizes. I see awards and diplomas for third best baguette in Paris and wonder. Poetry and bread are the soul of culture, point zero, infinite nourishment. Breath holes. The two pillars of life, they outshine and outlast any medal.

Jill Pearlman, Paris’ Staff of Life

The bright blue sky with all its bell-singing birds and Daliesque melting clouds, a memory museum in the making.

Come high noon, the sun teaches its ABCs and slick syllables of sweat and seduction.

Come sundown, the moon rises as a silvery metaphor, allowing you to make of it whatever you’d like.

The pulse, the pearlescence, the happiness, the howling—

come summer evening, it’s all there for the taking.

Rich Ferguson, These summer days

We’re in Plato’s cave and the words are on fire. See the shadows on the wall? They’re the shadows not of things but of words. We gather the shadows, press them together between our hands like a dark and shady snowball. We throw it at the world. 

The splat of what’s not there on the there. The shadowplay of meaning. Things get new shadows to replace the shadows they have and we must hypothesis a new sun, a new source of light.

Gary Barwin, TWELVE SLIPS OF THESEUS: BY WAY OF AN INTRO TO BILYK’S ROADRAGE

O but the rain breaks free of the clouds:
it’s coming down now over the orange

deck umbrella I forgot to close. It’s drawing
little slanted lines across the panes,

and it’s a weird comfort to watch
how it writes and writes and it seems

it will never ever finish— how could it
ever? Until just like that, it’s done.

Luisa A. Igloria, Half Full, Half Empty

Today is an exciting day for me because my essay on the poet (and writer per se) Ted Walker has been published on The Friday Poem, here. I’m very grateful to editor Hilary Menos for finding space for my rambling observations and, moreover, for Ted himself.

The essay took a good deal of reading and research, including a trip down to Lancing back in February (thus the photos); it was, and is, a labour of love. The more I’ve read by and about Ted, the more I’ve grown to like him and respect his considerable achievements. As you’ll see from the essay, he was critically acclaimed throughout his career, yet hardly anyone seems to remember him. My intention was to bring Ted back into the light, so that, with any luck, he might acquire some new readers. If that happens, then I will be very glad.

Matthew Paul, On Ted Walker

did he melt into the stones
brush the warmth from the wooden pews
leave the light kneeling
the sun streaming
through the leaded windows
did he sail away across the calling
of the sea’s hollow lament
down the long vaulted turning
wall to wall that emptiness
filled at his last behest

Jim Young, RS Thomas’s last church

I think, when I’d read the bucolic poems in Burning The Ivy, I’d intended to go back and read more Ted Walker, but forgot to do so. There are always more people to read, more books to buy, but reading Matthew’s essay has caused me to order two more Ted’s…The Night Bathers and Gloves To The Hangman. The latter of which will be worth it alone for this stanza as quoted by Matthew in his essay. It’s taken from a poem called ‘A Celebration of Autumn’.

Something has wearied the sun
To yellow the unmolested dust
On the bitter quince; something is lost
From its light, letting waxen bees drown
In their liquor of fatigue.

Mat Riches, We Bulls Wobble, But We Don’t Fall Down**

It’s a wonderful thing on a warm sunny day to drive into the somewhat cooler mountains, watching the skyline turn into massive rocky cliffs and forests. We stopped by a lavender farm – not open til next week to purchase lavender, but still beautiful – on the way up, and there was a farm stand selling a quart of cherries for $3. Which is a much better deal than you’ll get at, say Whole Foods, and they taste better. On the drive up, we noticed the wildflowers – foxgloves or lupines – that grew along the sides of the mountains.

The larger falls were mobbed with tourists but Ollalie’s smaller falls had only one other person, a teen throwing rocks into Snoqualmie river. I bought some local honey – I’m always tempted by the Twin Peaks stuff (Salish Lodge, where we stay, is in the credits of the opening of Twin Peaks, and a lot of the town staples.) I didn’t turn on the television once the whole day, and I’m only now sitting down at the computer.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Anniversaries, Snoqualmie Falls, Upcoming Poetry Events – and Continued Uncertainty

Then it was off to the physical therapist.  As we work on getting more mobility to my wrist, these visits are harder, both physically and emotionally.  We measure progress in very tiny increments, and I’m making progress, but there’s still a very long way to go.

I had a lot of pain through the night.  I probably should have given in and taken some ibuprofen, but I don’t always have that presence of mind in the middle of the night.

I am thinking of my trip to LTSS (Southern Seminary) and how strange it was to be surrounded by images of Christ with nail marks in his hands/wrists while I had my own hand and wrist in a cast.  And this morning, I’m thinking of all of those stories of Christ after resurrection, when showing the nail marks established his authenticity.

I’m thinking there should be a poem in all of this.    

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Of Wounded Wrists and Poetic Possibilities

Perhaps it’s not surprising that I’ve been returning to thinking about the soul. I’ve been immersing myself, trying to, in soul work.

If you’ve read my novel Rumi and the Red Handbag, then you know that the book is preoccupied with questions of the soul.

I’m most interested with what the poets have to say about the soul and thought I’d share some of the work I’ve been using to think things through. Words that have been accompanying me, keeping me company.

Shawna Lemay, Change Your Soul

One of the issues living in a non-English speaking country as an avid reader is getting the books I want to read. I can order books, especially from the big evil online bookseller which I desperately try to avoid, but sometimes getting specific books from smaller presses is difficult. And I miss the kid in a candy store moment of having a whole shop of English books to choose from. 

So when I started organising my trip to Scotland last month, one of the first things I did was check out the possibilities of finding English language bookshops near my route. As I was going to the far north, there were only two small shops, no big chains, so I thought I’d better order in what I wanted in advance. 

The Ullapool Bookshop was nice enough to find almost all the books on my list, though some weren’t available in time for my trip. I was going to pick them up on the way home but forgot to pack the book I was reading before I left, so I stopped in before I caught the ferry to Lewis. So I got the pleasure of dipping into the hoard during my trip. 

Gerry Stewart, Scottish Book Tour Part 1

One of the sources of reprieve has been listening to podcasts. Here are some quick recommendations of ones I’ve found inspiring:

The Personhood Project: This podcast “looks to connect incarcerated writers to a larger poetry community. Writings in the project culminate in this monthly podcast which explores poetry’s ability to provide the tools necessary to process trauma, lead toward personal growth, and help reduce recidivism in the carceral system.” I became familiar with them through the episode with Chicano poet and friend, Vincent Cooper. In it, the poet and host discuss Cooper’s book Zarzamora (which I did a microreview on) as well as recited poetry written by incarcerated writers inspired by Cooper’s poems. The host even shares the writing prompts during the episode.

Poets at Work: Poets at Work “explores topics relevant to contemporary poetry, both in the academy and the wider literary community” with an eye on “insight into how the work of poetry extends beyond what we encounter on the published page.” My introduction to this podcast was the episode featuring Vanessa Angélica Villarreal. Villareal shares her work and her vast insight into what informs her poetics.

Upstream: A bit of a detour from the above, this podcast’s tagline is “Radical ideas and inspiring stories for a just transition to a more beautiful and equitable world” and each episode lives up to that ambition. They split their episodes between “documentary” and “conversation.” I’ve listened to more conversations, I believe, each one a crash course into another aspect of radical economics. One of their most recent episodes, “Our Struggles are Your Struggles: Stories of Indigenous Resistance & Regeneration” is a good start with their documentary vibe.

José Angel Araguz, podcast recs

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

Poetry came to me, twice. The first, before I was old enough to read, was when my grandmother read to me “The Song of Hiawatha.” The magic of it transformed her voice and it seemed she herself was Nokomis, daughter of the moon, the grandmother of the poem. The second was when my great aunt gave me a copy of Leaves of Grass. By then I was eleven. I’d written a would-be novel about a boy and his horse, so my aunt probably thought I needed an example of authentic literature. The magic this time transformed the farm where I was growing up, made it an arm of the cosmos, a proxy for Whitman’s cosmic democracy. Fiction couldn’t compete with that kind of power. […]

What fragrance reminds you of home?

Silage, manure, freshly mown alfalfa; or all at once.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Douglas Crase

Banned from using her own language, the grandmother now is left with a muddle of Korean and the Japanese words she was forced to adopt and now cannot lose even as she chops up vegetables to add to stew. Others try to reclaim elements of their mixed language by finding Korean origins for Japanese elements, rather than face up to the actual reason for Japanese being present on a Korean speaker’s tongue. The trauma of occupation lives on in grandmother’s patchwork of language as she was taught to fear the Japanese in order to survive. […]

“Some Are Always Hungry” is a testament to Korean strength, particularly through matrilineal lines. It focuses on food as a source of nourishment both of body and soul, a means of creating a narrative to explore past trauma and how it is passed from grandmother to granddaughter. However, there’s a garnish of hope in that understanding the past helps us connect to the present and look to a future free of occupation where recipes can be adapted to survive. Yun writes with grace and elegant rhythm. Her poems reward re-reading.

Emma Lee, “Some Are Always Hungry” Jihyun Yun (University of Nebraska Press) – book review

I recently came across an example of a healthy attitude towards submitting work from Early Morning, Remembering My Father, William Stafford, by his son Kim Stafford:

“One thing I learned from by watching my father was his readiness to send his writing forth in all directions with the fluid motion of water leaving a hilltop. Publication for him was no anxious drama of submission and rejection. He simply sent batches of poems out constantly, with a verve more in keeping with shoveling gold than tweezing diamonds.”

I love the idea of my writing flowing forth, through the metaphorical streams of the worldwide web or the post office, even if so much of it comes back. The healthiest way to deal with this constant stream is, as Kim Stafford tells us, disengagement from the “anxious drama of submission and rejection.”

And to treat yourself with kindness.

Erica Goss, The Waiting

You open your mouth,
your words will come out,
so, just, don’t,

the old monk
advised himself.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (244)

Why am I so — the only word I can think of is addicted — to my own imagination and the stories and words it spins? It seems to put me into a more encompassing consciousness. One that is beyond pain or discomfort, fatigue or confusion. I’m hooked, bereft without having a book in process. That’s why the minute I finish writing one, I start another.

I love how an imagined world grows up around me. Brighter and more colorful, full of love and desperation, revolving around the conflicts that invite resolution, writing new stories and poems enraptures me. I’m reimagining my own past, growing a wider and wiser consciousness. Creating puts me in helicopter mode — hovering over landscapes and histories. Maybe I visit the coastline of Italy, or fields of poppies on a Sierra mountain slope. I’m  like John Muir skipping through the mountains and sliding down a twinkling avalanche. I am wide, I am home, I am eternal.

That’s why I’m hooked on creating. It’s pure exhilaration! Magical realism, fantasy, and time travel take me places I couldn’t otherwise go.

If I couldn’t create with words, I’d do it with pictures or melodies. I’d find a way. Invention is everything wonderful.

Rachel Dacus, Hooked on Living a Creative Life

Face to face with a young leopard in Samburu, I wish I can tell what he is thinking. But here, in the wild, I want everything to talk so through their words, through their primal poetry, I can go back to the silence of the beginning. Before I was. Before they were. Before anything was. When everything made sense.

the delicate balance of being —
not one extra movement
not one extra breath

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Swimming under the horizon