Poetry Blog Digest 2021, 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: the changing season, remembering and dismembering, bibliophilia, obsolete office equipment, mountains, labyrinths, pedagogy, and more.


Besides gardening, I gave myself a writing challenge. To write every morning, which I did faithfully at the start of summer, and was successful in completing poems, 100 word stories, lyric essays. As the summer progressed, I had to divide my attention. Big garden commitment. Of course, the gardens need the care of small children. I mean things can get out of control pretty fast. So I fussed over everything every day. You guessed it, in the morning, before the sun got too hot. A chunk of writing time spent in the garden. But not lost time, I think I was writing in the garden. Loose thoughts coming together in my head. Lines repeating as I weeded. It was good work. I am grateful for this life on the farm. How it restores me. […]

I wanted to create several manuscripts this summer, and I was successful. I have a micro-chapbook of prose (lyric essays and a prose poem) called In a Silent Way; a chapbook of  twenty-four 100 word stories called Rock. Paper. Scissors.; andmy fifth full-length poetry collection called The Weight of Air. I have submitted these manuscripts to chapbook competitions and presses. 

On 8/6/2021, I submitted The Weight of Air to Kelsay Books for possible publication.  It was accepted on 8/19/2021, with publication scheduled for May, 2022.  I am thrilled by this good news. 

Soon, the air will change, and shadows will grow longer, and autumn with be upon us. Another change of season.

M.J. Iuppa, Last Days of August: Looking Back on Summer

The rasp of my knife
against charcoal, smell of fire:
an autumn hunger.

Liz Lefroy, I Scrape My Toast

A few days in London was a real tonic. And it’s still pretty quiet and tourist-free. We visited some more of the fascinating City churches, also the much-revamped Museum of the Home, and just enjoyed exploring London on foot.

We also went to the David Hockney exhibition at the Royal Academy, The Arrival of Spring. It’s two (or three?) rooms of the paintings Hockney did in France during Spring 2020, recording the same trees, plants and landscapes as they transitioned from bare and cold to full greenery and colour. I was quite taken aback – the colours are just indescribably beautiful, and the whole idea of Spring and how it always comes back, no matter what… I don’t know why but I started welling up and before I knew it I was standing in the middle of the room completely in tears. I’ve never had that kind of reaction to any art, so it rather took me aback. I guess the last 18 months have been harder than I thought. […]

[M]y bedside reading is currently A Length of Road by Robert Hamberger. It’s an utterly absorbing and very personal account of Rob’s walk in the footsteps of John Clare. It’s a meditation on Clare’s poetry, and also nature writing but mostly a beautiful and honest memoir, and perfect reading for the quiet night time journey down into sleep.

Robin Houghton, Meet-ups, currently reading & other distractions

Fewer people come to the cemetery service each year. When I began serving this community, ten years ago, we would have at least a dozen. We’d set up a circle of folding chairs and pray the afternoon service. And then people would take pebbles and quietly walk through the cemetery, leaving stones to mark their visits to parents or grandparents or great-grandparents. Some members of my shul are fourth or fifth generation; they have ancestors to visit here.

These days only a few people come. Many of those who used to attend the cemetery service each year are now buried in that same cemetery. I like to think that I am still davening with them each year when we convene on a Sunday before Rosh Hashanah. There was one gentleman who always used to come to the cemetery service and then quip, “Rabbi, don’t forget, you’re doing my funeral!” And I’d always say, “No time soon, please.”

The custom of visiting our ancestors at the cemetery before the new year feels old-fashioned. It comes from a time when people didn’t migrate much. Today most of the members of my small shul are not fourth- or fifth-generation members. They’re transplants, like me. I’ve been here now for almost thirty years (and have served as the rabbi here for a decade.) This is my home, and my son’s home. But our beloved dead aren’t here.

Rachel Barenblat, Paying respects

Second: when we ask “where is everybody?” we assume that everyone will be interested in space travel. But here again, we are the odd man out among the intelligent species we know. We are colonists. Other intelligent animals, except possibly corvids, show no interest in moving into other ecological niches. They want to stay where they are. We have the odd notion of going outside our biome: to other creatures I’m guessing that this will be a very weird idea. Possible? Maybe. It might also be possible to take our brains and nervous systems, flay off everything else, put them into tanks, and take them to places our bodies couldn’t go… but why would you want to do such a thing? To more sophisticated creatures, I suspect that’s how leaving their ancestral biomes may strike them. We have no idea if we can create an off-world human biome, over the long term. Maybe we will be able to eventually. But maybe the idea is just plain nuts: biological nonsense. Maybe no one is visiting because no one wants to scrape the brains out of their bodies and fling them somewhere else. Maybe everyone else has a clear picture of how miserable a creature would be, outside its biome, and we haven’t quite figured it out yet.

Dale Favier, A Lonelier Thought

in those days he was expected to wear a suit and tie   over time the act of knotting his tie became a measure   for the thickness   the weave   the stiffness of the silk presented unique challenges   if it knotted easily then it would be plain sailing   if repeated attempts were required to achieve the desired effect then the day lay in ambush

but that was then

that job does not exist any more and he only needs one tie   black   like his suit for funerals

Paul Tobin, THE DAY LAY IN AMBUSH

A present memory and a much older re-memory are bleeding from a nightmare into my days. I suppose this is where the idea of repressed memories comes from? As though the present sends a hook down into the past and pulls up a fragment of a story along with the will to make sense of it.

This dark and stormy night. Fill in the blanks. But I know that – I believe that – there will never be a way to know the objective truth of a re-constructed memory. So I let it be. I admit I am tempted to try to name the atmosphere, a bit like recollecting a taste – the sweet, the umami, the mouthfeel – to shape it into something that can be put safely in a box. Identified and controlled. Like an ingredient in the recipe that makes us who we are. In this case: This darkness. This ambivalence. This vague childhood fascination of knowing there is an unknown something present in the energy that is as explosive, rich, and mesmerizing as death.

Is this a wisdom that only exists in the lifetime before rationalization becomes a habit? A trigger for sense that ushers us to a different kind of innocence/ignorance? A mature and willful distance. The illusion of control that we are so afraid to lose.

If this atmosphere of my memory is real, maybe it has no name because I had no name for it: for a sense memory connected to a psychological process but not to language. So it slips around the traps in my mind and flows into moments of my day, unexpectedly. Darkly.

And I am still fascinated. Like touching a wound. Like sticking a finger deep into the bloody gash to expose the mystery as… mystery.

Here is something as dark and textured as mushrooms. As sickness and birth and sex. Something true that cannot be contained.

Ren Powell, Trying Not to Dismember the Present

We got back from our camping trip last week and I’ve been busy ever since, not in a bad way, but busy all the same. My holiday read was The Essential Haiku – versions of Basho, Buson and Issa by Robert Hass (Bloodaxe Books 2013, f. pub. 1994). It’s a very readable book and Hass offers some clear and concise versions/ translations. Here’s one by Buson, picked at random:

Calligraphy of geese
against the sky –
the moon seals it.

Of course, one poem can’t represent the whole book, but I don’t want this post to be a review, so I’ll move on to my main point, which is that it’s been wonderful to be able to borrow this from the local library. As the ticket on the front cover says, ‘Borrowing from your library is the greener alternative to buying and you’ll be amazed by the selection.’ I’ve been trying to thin out the amount of books on my shelves over the last few months and the last thing I want to do is fill them up again, so for me, borrowing is a good way of saving space. It’s also a great way of trying a book without the commitment of purchasing it. […]

In terms of my own writing, I’ve found some inspiration in the Hass versions and if time allows, I’ll go back to his book and reread some of the poems. The books are on loan until the end of this week, so I’m relying on being able to renew them. I suppose this is the slight drawback to borrowing, although the plus side is that it does give you a gentle push to read them within a time frame, rather than putting them on a book pile (as I’m prone to do) and then taking months to get round to them.

Julie Mellor, Reader’s request

summer
through the two doors
one breeze

Jim Young [no title]

I’ve been listening to a lot of Ricki Lee Jones lately. God, I love her music. I’ve seen her in concert twice, both fantastic performances, if tinged occasionally with bad behavior. (To an accompanist who had apparently missed a cue: “Are you gonna play or not?”) I, who can’t remember the words to songs I memorized in order to sing myself in my own concerts, can remember every word of her songs, so often did I sing along in all those years of my fandom. I’m amazed at my recall. She’s got it all, as far as I’m concerned, jazz, soul, r&b, blues, all wrapped up in great stories. She’s always her own unique self. She’s so freaking cool. She’s got style, man.

And I thought about this when I read this quote somewhere or other from letters between Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West. Here’s something Woolf wrote: “Style is a very simple matter; it is all rhythm. Once you get that, you can’t use the wrong words. But on the other hand here I am sitting after half the morning, crammed with ideas, and visions, and so on, and can’t dislodge them, for lack of the right rhythm. Now this is very profound, what rhythm is, and goes deeper than words. A sight, an emotion, creates this wave in the mind, long before it makes words to fit it.”

Isn’t that interesting? And it seems true that I can have vague ideas about what to write, but it’s when words form with a certain order and beat, then I feel like I’ve got something started. It may not come to anything in the end, but I’ve got a start. With some words and a rhythm I’ve got a pathway, a cadence to get me moving along it. But then there’s the rest of the time, “crammed with ideas and visions” or just, as now, lax and languid, empty of words and music. Come on, Cecil. Gimme a dollar.

Marilyn McCabe, I’m in a halfway house on a one way street and I’m a quarter passed alive; or, On Style

Feeling guilty at the continued failure to Catch Up as planned. I went to see a doctor last week, and discussing after-effects of chemotherapy, and the business of withdrawal from steroids. We talked about the downsides of continuous low-level pain/discomfort. One of them is that to various degrees, you can’t concentrate; in my case it includes not being able to read for any length of time before it all becomes meaningless. Writing is a frustrating slow business…the words simply don’t line up and fall into place. But I’m heartened to find that it’s not just me, and that my doctor has a blanket term for it. She calls it ‘brain fog’. That’ll do for me. It explains why the collections waiting for me to write about (one in particular) are piling up, but it explains why I can do little about it for the time being.

What I CAN do is to keep the Cobweb ticking over.

I just stopped and stared at what I’d written. Can a cobweb tick? I think not. Mixed metaphors? Jeez. Possibly I meant to say that I’d keep on spinning. I’ll settle for that.

John Foggin, Stocking fillers [6 ]: Birds of the air

This fall, I return to school as a student.  I’ll be an MDiv student at Wesley Theological Seminary.  […]

I’m intrigued at my responses to the course requirements.  Once I got the textbooks for the classes, I wasn’t as worried about the readings.  And I have continued to write in a variety of ways in the years since I graduated from college, so I’m not worried about that.

I am relieved that the course papers don’t seem to require access to a research library, but I’m also relieved that the Wesley library will ship books to me, at least according to the new student orientation course materials.

In fact, what’s strange for me is that I’m looking at the page requirements and worrying about my ability to be concise.  When I was in grad school for my advanced degrees in English, I fretted the other direction:  how would I ever write 10-20 pages?  Now I think, hmm, only 4 pages required?  Can I really develop these ideas in just 4 pages?

I feel fortunate that I’ve been writing daily during all the years between undergraduate classes and now.  Not everyone will have that part come so naturally to them.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, A First Look at Seminary Classes

A grasshopper jumps through the window into the van, drawn by the lantern. He isn’t the only jumpy one. I’ve been having a mild but persistent panic attack since I picked up the Vandura on Sunday. My minivan slinked across the landscape like a cat in your peripheral vision. This big beast roars like a lion. You’d think more room would be better, but the minivan wrapped me like a cozy blanket, kept me safe, and gave me only as much space as I was comfortable controlling. There’s probably a question for a therapist in here somewhere. For now I’m going to trust my gut.

Jason Crane, Grasshopper

It is work to write, and to write your best work, and it is a different kind of work to send that work out into the world, maybe to be rejected and forgotten. This all while trying not to worry about the world, dying of covid right outside your door, or how to pay your bills, or why you are writing in the first place and not doing something to fix all the problems of that world outside your door. And yet, a butterfly outside your door appears, and momentarily, help and hope. And you feel you can write, and send out your work, again. […]

My husband is recovering from a paralyzed vocal cord, a fairly serious and maybe permanent problem. We are planning to take some time off and spend nearby in nature, unplugged from the internet and work and news. It is part of a life, a marriage, to being a good writer or a good employee, to take time off, to rest. Especially if you’re in the middle of year two of the plague, if you have immune system problems that make the plague more dangerous that it would be to others, if you feel that you are trembling on the verge of quitting something, if you have become depressed, hopeless, unable to sleep because of anxiety, short-tempered, too angry. It might be good to spend some time with trees in a forest, with waves of a sea bigger than you, to spend time noticing the end of summer blooms, and animal life, around you. In a whirlwind of tragedies, each tragedy might become less real to you, and we lose a bit of our humanity, our empathy, especially when we are stressed and tired and have already felt enough tragedy has happened. (Unfortunately we do not get to control this.) Does the world need you to fix it right this second? Or do you need time to heal yourself before you can do any good in the world? Listen to your self – what do you truly need? And go spend some time listening to the hummingbirds, the dahlias, whatever they’re saying.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Don’t Do Their Job for Them – More Breadloaf Thoughts and Rejections, Recovery, Rest, and Dahlias

Old, obsolete office equipment is a fascinating subject to me, since I’ve spent almost all my working life in offices (including my own; well it’s more of a room with a PC in it, but hey ho). When I first started in local government in Kingston in 1992, there were cupboards still full of weird gadgets which looked like instruments of torture: Gestetner duplicators, comb binding machines, gigantic hole-punchers, etc. As I may have related before, there was one word processor between 11 of us and it broke down regularly; and for the processing of many millions of pounds of student grants and fees per year, we used an old and creaking mainframe computer which churned out reams of print-outs. […]

Obsolete office equipment is also an excellent subject for poetry. I’ve written previously about Emma Simon’s delightful poem, ‘In the Museum of Antiquated Offices: Exhibit C, Fax Machine’, and have just come upon another, ‘Elonex Word Processor Circa 1998’ by Kath McKay, from her fine collection, Collision Forces, Wrecking Ball Press, 2015. As I’ve experienced at first hand, from Saturday writing sessions with the Poetry Business in Sheffield, Kath is a very perceptive and articulate poet who tells it how it is. This particular poem opens pricelessly:

Boxy as a Soviet car, it took up two thirds of my desk,
while others slimmed down, became pencil like.
This bod had to warm up. Every day rebooted seven
or eight times.

I’m sure many readers can empathise with that. The opening simile is perfectly judged, comically conveying a sense of this piece of hardware being innately behind the times. I like too the dry humour in that exaggerated second line and of that ‘bod’.

The poem goes on to encompass a search for her partner’s personal details following his sudden death, an event which understandably dominates the middle of the book:

Later I scoured the hard drive for your bank statements, spread sheets,
calendars: something of you coiled deep.

The last seven lines of the poem consist of a litany of old machines. As I implied when I wrote about Emma Simon’s poem, this obsolescence has a poignancy to it, and, of course, an ecological cost too, both to the extraction of the raw materials required for new products and to the waste of the old: about 10 years ago or more, an article in the Richmond and Twickenham Times, back when it still contained some proper-ish local journalism, revealed that hundreds of knackered computers from the local FE college had shamefully ended up dumped on a beach in Ghana.

Matthew Paul, On office machinery and Kath McKay

Over the years, and across more than a dozen poetry collections—including a volume of collected poems and a selected poems—since Air Occupies Space (Sesame Press, 1973), Canadian poet Don McKay’s poems seem to have become quieter. They were never exactly “loud,” I suppose, but there’s a level of quietude, almost zen-like, that his work has achieved over the past few years. To paraphrase McKay himself, he’s been composing poems enough that any bird would trust to light upon. His latest collection is Lurch (Toronto ON: McClelland and Stewart, 2021), a collection of lyrics that write of what we are in severe danger of losing entirely: of rhizomes, fungi and birds, examining a landscape that begins just there, at the edge of the bush, at the edge of the water. “Let’s pause and listen for what’s happening / underground,” he writes, to open the poem “RHIZOSPHERE,” “with the roots, the rhizomes, and / their close associates, the fungi and the worms.” There is an attention he puts enormous energy into, seeking clarifications on geologic time and the mechanics of birds. His interest in birding is well-established, going back to Birding, or Desire (McClelland and Stewart, 1983), with the evolution of attending the earth’s geologic shifts and consciousness within a decade or two, such as Another Gravity(McClelland and Stewart, 2000) and Strike/Slip (McClelland and Stewart, 2006). I mention all of this because of how the poems in Lurch extend everything he’s done prior, furthering conversations and concerns around nature’s frailty, both human and environmental, concerns around ecological disaster and the length and breath of the earth’s own history, even well before the emergence of human civilization. As he offers to close the poem “PROBLEMS IN TRANSLATION #23: BACK DRAG,” writing: “the back drag at my feet will not translate / as either fate or misery but / chuckles to itself—mountain / to boulder to cobble to / sand, affable and unhuman, the ancient / geologic joke I almost always / not quite but very nearly get.” He writes for the extinct, including the Passenger Pigeon and the Eskimo Curlew. He writes out the losses and those still to come, as he explores his certainties and uncertainties, and the long, slow process towards a particular kind of enlightenment that might never emerge. As he writes to close the poem “WIND’S INSTRUMENTS”: “Until here’s a little skirmish / come to ruffle your hair and lift / the fireweed fluff, to loft a pair of ravens / into aerial duet and hang plastic bags / in trees like shredded / non-biodegradable ghosts.”

rob mclennan, Don McKay, Lurch

In some language
the word for mountain
also means library.

Tom Montag, IN SOME LANGUAGE (67)

And then, thanks to one of [Victoria] Chang’s Notes at the back of the book [Salvinia Molesta], I assigned myself a little compare-contrast homework. Chang says her poem “‘Ars Poetica as Birdfeeder and Humingbird’ is conversing with Louise Gluck’s poem ‘Witchgrass’ in Wild Iris, in particular, her lines: ‘I don’t need your praise / to survive’ and ‘I will constitute the field.'” So I pulled out The Wild Iris, possibly my favorite book of poems ever, and re-read it, starting with “Witchgrass” before going back to the beginning. It hits me every time, that last line. And here’s the last stanza before it, too:

     I don’t need your praise 
     to survive. I was here first,
     before you were here, before
     you ever planted a garden.
     And I’ll be here when only the sun and moon
     are left, and the sea, and the wide field.

     I will constitute the field.

And in Chang’s poem, “I am not

     a weed, I need your praise to survive.
     The field will consume me.

     The field has chosen sides. The field is
     not hungry for the middling.

     How I hate the field and what it sees, its
     teeth digging out the ochre

     of mediocre….

Ah, the poet’s worst fear! Being mediocre. And how wordplay partly disperses it! This and the other ars poetica poems in Salvinia Molesta are bracing, honest, inspiring. It feels good to be schooled so.

And it was frequently August in The Wild Iris.

Kathleen Kirk, Salvinia Molesta

Consider this ending of “Did You Fail Lithium or Did Lithium Fail You?”

. . . . . The inevitable ditch
into which everything falls is filled
with dank water, toads, milfoil.
Word is sent for some desiccant.
Word is sent for a sump pump.
Word returns empty handed.

And the reader is left thinking of all the ways words are unable to make things better.

The poet lives in a world where even such things as stones and tomatoes have personality.

Or even cancer cells.  “Girls Gone Wild” is about breast cancer cells who “want/to take a road trip, reach/the lymph highway ASAP,/spend spring break travelling or/ beached somewhere warm like her liver.”

After describing treatment, the poem ends with acceptance:

She came back with a scar her oncologist called
disfiguring but she figured
it was healthy scar tissue, more bonded
than the sorority sisters that hung out there before.

The poet has strong political opinions which she expresses briefly in the voice of an alter ego called The Deaf Woman, avoiding dogmatism, concealing anger. 

Ellen Roberts Young, Recommendation: Risking It by Sylvia Byrne Pollack

“What to Expect” [by Katie Manning] is one of my new favorite list poems (you can read it in full in the podcast transcript).

First, I love that it calls What to Expect When You’re Expecting on its shit. (If I remember correctly, there’s a section on poop.) And yet — I also identify so clearly with the poem’s (and the book’s) anxious hopscotching.

Second, I admire the texture and sounds Manning achieves with the repetition of the directive “Expect” and the alliterative quality of the listed items (arranged alphabetically like the book’s index). There’s also lots of assonance throughout, and I particularly love how the long “i” interrupts a pair of short “i” sounds here: “Expect ribs, ripening and risk.” The effect is a ripple I process like notes on a scale.

A “do, RE, do.”

A down, UP, down.

A wave I ride.

The sensation matches the content of the poem.

Its surprises bob up like rubber duckies released from a small fist at the bottom of the tub.

Carolee Bennett, “expect ribs, ripening and risk”

 I keep stalling and starting on the spell poems. There are days when I open the page and something appears miraculously from my fingers tapping across the keyboard and others when I immediately close the file and do something less interesting, but more productive–post to Twitter, read e-mails, check submittable.  Since it is August and I am prone to distraction and waiting to buckle down more seriously in the fall, I am less worried about my languor than I would be other times of year. That it could turn into months of writing nothing, which still could happen, though not recently.  After all, I will be getting my glorious long mornings back with the library being open later during the term, which gives me nothing but time to write in the mornings if I want it since i do most of my press work these days in evenings and midnights. In summer, if I linger too long in bed, I am mad dashing into shower and out the door, but during regular semesters, I have several hours to dally over poems if desired. To approach the day as if my time were, at least for a little while, my own. 

I may also be stalling since the spell poems I feel are the last segment of the collapsologies manuscript I started during lockdown.  Finally. It actually hasn’t been that long in book writing time, but still it feels like forever. Life in general feels like it has been forever, but also like I snapped my fingers and nearly two years passed. While I was not really present and while I was acutely, anxiously very present.

Kristy Bowen, writing things loose

Every labyrinth hides
in the ordinary.

A letter in faded script on brown
paper, folded three times, precisely.

The kitchen drawer that leads
to a case of unused cutlery.

A birdcage with rusted perches
that held pairs of blue-feathered birds.

Luisa A. Igloria, All the Days Behind This One

When I began teaching, there was a paradigmatic war raging in English departments between traditionalists and those who believed in the kind of teaching [William] Stafford espoused. I was wounded in more than one skirmish in my first years of teaching. From my (admittedly limited) vantage point, I’d say that the movement toward standards and accountability ushered in by 2001’s No Child Left Behind legislation gave the win to the traditionalists and killed Stafford’s kind of pedagogy.

When I read [in You Must Revise Your Life], “The student should not worry about standards. I won’t. And I will never try to make the student either complacent or panicked about external obligation. Never. That kind of measuring is not what art, what writing, is about,” I sighed (page 94). Equating writing with art ignores the writing that is done not to create art but to gain admittance through gates; that’s a kind of ignoring I once did but now can’t do. I’ve come to understand the privilege inherent in such a position, and the disservice I might do by not being explicit with students about what they need to be able to do to pass through barriers to schools, scholarships, and jobs. But I sighed also because in the schools I’ve known, writing has become a thing so broken down into its concrete, measurable parts that we’ve lost sight of the whole; we’ve turned process into something nearly void of space for discovery or wonder–something essential to all kinds of writing, even the gate-keeping kind. I might argue that the same has been true of how we view and work with students. There was a lot of talk of “the whole student” in my early years of teaching, but that’s not terminology I’ve heard for years. I suppose we are turning back to that now, with understanding borne of the pandemic and our recent emphasis on social and emotional learning, but our high school students have spent their entire eduction in a system driven by data, test scores, and the attainment of discrete skills and bites of knowledge. The reasons for this are myriad and complex and not really germane to my main point, which is that the students I will be meeting in a little more than a week are going to be different in important ways from those I once taught, as will the context in which I’ll be teaching.

And that’s OK. I am different, too. I need to revise my practice as I have been revising my life.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Some thoughts on revision

I know that these are not easy times and that the disasters are piling up. There is the feeling of a culmination of grief, which then rolls into another seeming culmination. I’ve been listening obsessively again to Leonard Cohen’s You Want it Darker. It plays in my head and I wake up and it’s there. So it seems strange to not just put it on. “Steer your heart,” my man sings, “past the truth that you believed in yesterday / such as fundamental goodness and the wisdom of the way.”

Some days I think I no longer believe in fundamental goodness. We’ve seen so much otherwise. So. Freaking. Much.

But. On numerous occasions lately I’ve also found myself extending my hand involuntarily. Maybe the trick is not to go looking for goodness elsewhere until we’ve re-located it in ourselves. Let us get back to flying; let’s steer our way at least in small patches and pockets and patches of time away from heaviness. It’s okay to take a flying break.

Shawna Lemay, Look at the Flowers

when the world is asleep
I eat mountains and drink rivers
the mountain bones are sweet with meat
and the rivers are cool and delicious wine
when the world awakens again
I feign innocence
as though nothing has happened
o I am a clever boy
I am a brazen man

James Lee Jobe, cool and delicious wine

a sun comes up where no sun existed :: that morning is not to be solved

Grant Hackett [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 33

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week, the world is still broken; poets on a large island in the north Atlantic are obsessed with water; musings on compassion, light, Cassandra, and Calypso; some unusual accounting systems, and more. We end on an uncharacteristically upbeat note.


broken world –
monsoon clouds like Band-aid strips
on an ebbing sky

Alternating between banal work and the feverish dystopia of my newsfeed, it does feel, sometimes, like the world is coming apart in an insane hurry, everywhere. In the middle of war and hate and climate change and the pandemic, if there is a safe place, it seems like it is getting smaller and smaller or fading away in the fog. Meanwhile, there’s poetry, rare but still able to say that, once, there was a time, somewhere, safe enough so a poet could, for a while, put pen to paper. 

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Broken World

A whole evening,
just stars and crickets.

Tom Montag, A Whole Evening

If I were asked to name one signature theme or image for U.K. poetry over the past twenty years, it would be water. British English has so many words for different types of rain and for the movement of liquid, and numerous poets seem to reflect those riches in their work.

Am I right…? If so, why? Is such close attention to water a consequence of the U.K.’s climate? And does climate have a deeper connection not just to our everyday experiences but to our poetic lives…?

Matthew Stewart, Water, water everywhere…!

Mist crosses
the pale wetlands.

Beneath the mill
eels are trapped.

A plane overhead.
Too low, so loud.

In the distance,
gunfire, rapid.

Bob Mee, IRRELEVANCE

You, my regular reader, may remember that several of my blog posts have been inspired by those of Matthew Stewart. In this case, it’s slightly different: a welcome instance of synchronicity.

It must be difficult to be a poet in Yorkshire and not feel a need to write, at least once, about reservoirs. Near where I grew up, in south-west London, the reservoirs were more often not forbidding places with no or limited access, surrounded by high walls, which kept the water out of sight, and grassy banks grazed by strangely suburban sheep. When they were visible, the water was enclosed by undisguised concrete. Some are havens for urban birders – Stephen Moss undertook much of his formative birding at Staines Reservoir.

Those in Yorkshire tend to be tucked away, in moorland hills, and properly absorbed into their environments. Therein lies their beauty, perhaps: the knowledge that even though we, and the creatures who live in and around them, appreciate them as natural lakes (and who doesn’t love a nice lake?), they are artificial , existing only to be functional; to provide clean water to the great conurbations of the Ridings. Peter Sansom’s marvellous ‘Driving at Night’, the opening poem of his 2000 collection Point of Sale, begins:

The res through trees
is a lake or calm sea on whose far shore
a holiday is waiting, a fire laid in the grate,
the larder stocked with tins, milk in the fridge,
and on the hearth a vase of new tulips.

I know instinctively what he means. The contentment invoked in those lines is topped off by that ‘new’: these are pristine tulips, with no sign yet of their heads drooping.

I’ve mentioned previously Ted Hughes’s poem ‘Widdop’, about the reservoir of the same name, a few miles north-west of his house at Lumb Bank, which he subsequently gave to the Arvon Foundation. Its opening lines are as vividly memorable as Peter’s:

Where there was nothing
Somebody put a frightened lake.

Matthew Paul, The poetry of reservoirs

“A Thirst for Rain” is after Rosemary Tonks, and starts,

“I have lived them, and lived them.
Swollen afternoons of seared skin
when nothing mattered more
than the crow’s love of bone
or the damselflies’ tangled rise
above idle water.”

Rosemary Tonks (1928 – 2014) authored two poetry collections, six novels and was chiefly active on the literary scene in the 1960s. She renounced literature in the 1970s and seemed pretty much forgotten until a collected poems, “Bedouin of the London Evening” was published in 2014. Her poems focused on urban, cafe scenes or undermining pretentious potential lovers. Their tone is conversational and dryly humoured. Anderson’s poem matches that atmosphere, where a narrator looks on a full life where all that mattered was the next meal, the next love.

Emma Lee, “Sin is Due to Open in a Room Above Kitty’s” Morag Anderson (Fly on the Wall Press) – book review

I’m definitely not able to keep up with a book a day for The Sealey Challenge, but I’ve read more poetry this month already than I’ve read in the last year. So a successful attempt for me. I maybe need to do something similar with some of the poetry magazines I get as I can never keep up with all the reading for them either. 

It’s been storming here after such a dry summer, we’ve been flooded with so much rain. So it’s nice to curl up with poetry in the evenings after work as a way to wind down. […]

Day 21: Nobody by Alice Oswald. A heady mix of mythical and modern-day imagery, aeroplanes and styrofoam floats on purple seas, dawn waking rosy-fingered behind net curtains. I loved Greek myths when I was young and really enjoyed the the current retelling of Circe and Achilles by Madeline Miller, so this 2019 collection by the Oxford Professor of Poetry caught my eye. This book-length poem plays with the stories of the poet from ‘The Illiad’ who was to spy on Agamemnon’s wife, but then was abandoned on a stony island which allowed the wife to be seduced with the tale of Odysseus and his faithful wife from ‘The Odyssey’. The poem is punctuation free, line breaks shifting across the pages leaving large white spaces and images that seem scoured by tides.

The sea is the strongest character in the book, its moods set the tone, but the poem says ‘the sea itself has no character just this horrible thirst’ and that feeling is strong throughout the book. The speakers feel like a true nobody of wives and poets, gods and sailors, it’s never clear who you’re listening to. The poem feels at once ancient and new, jumbled, found in pieces on some beach. I’ve just discovered that the book was meant to go with a collection of watercolours by William Tillyer, but I don’t have that version. Shame really, as a quick internet search shows that they would really expand the poem. A captivating read.

Gerry Stewart, The Sealey Challenge: Days 15, 16, 18 and 21

trees falling
into the arms of the sea
that still makes rain

Jim Young [no title]

I have visited Eyam in Derbyshire where plague victims cut themselves off from surrounding villages in order to contain the disease. I have explored the remains of Scottish villages that were abandoned during the Clearances (my poem, ‘The Ceilidh House’ on p.16 alludes to this). Stones, graves and broken walls can tell a powerful tale, and sometimes these features are all we have to go on. 

But Pompeii and Herculaneum are different. We are, for example, confronted with the reality of normal aspects of life, including shopping (the Market of Macellum, a fast-food counter …), art in the form of wall paintings and mosaics, garden features and so much more. It is as if the inhabitants have just gone out for a short while, leaving their stone guard dogs at the ready. 

And yet it is not at all like that. I find I only have only to stare at the plaster casts made from the remains of the people (see here; and also top right on this blog page for a photo of a figure, head in hands) and their animals (dog, boar or pig, and horse) to begin to sense something of the horror. […]

Let’s turn more specifically to ‘Wildfire’. This poem was written during the pandemic; it was not intended to be a ‘happy’ poem. Poets use the currency of metaphor and sustained metaphor. How much of my poem was actually about the eruption of Vesuvius in AD79? This is a question I continue to ask myself. 

What I knew from the outset was that I wanted the reinforcement that repetition would afford. ‘Wildfire’ is a villanelle (think: ‘Do not go gentle into that good night’ by Dylan Thomas). The form, allowing for only two rhyme sounds throughout, and the ‘pared-back’ nature of my theme seemed complementary. 

Maria, you highlight my line, ‘I wonder who will live and who has died‘. Images of those 103 heart-wrenching plaster casts (the child, the man crawling along the ground …) were rarely far away, but I was also trying to understand what was behind the words written to Tacitus by Pliny the Younger, whose account of the eruption was discovered, or recovered, in the 16th century. Hence the epigraph at the top of my poem. 

I tried to absorb the text of the letter in translation and attempted to imagine what it might have been like not only for the Younger Pliny, but also for other survivors such as Cornelius Fuscus. Some of those who escaped asphyxiation from the pyroclastic flow at Herculaneum probably left by ship almost as soon as they became aware of the danger. 

At the time of writing (my records state I began to draft ‘Wildfire’ on 20 April 2020), I had been in lockdown for some weeks. My outlook was changing, and perhaps that was partly why the subject for this villanelle came to me at that particular moment of flux. People we knew were beginning to catch Covid. There was fear in the air and the virus seemed close at hand. 

Caroline Gill, DRIFTWOOD BY STARLIGHT: Questions from Maria Lloyd (2)

When the Buddhists ask what it costs to extend compassion to everyone without judgement, maybe the answer is that it costs me the awareness of my own vulnerabilities? Not only to the damage earthquakes and violence can do to my body, but to the damage fear can do to my (for lack of a better word) soul.

A decade ago I worked with people who were escaping situations like those in the news now. And it was so easy to look for – and find – excuses to withhold compassion. Because the alternative was too painful to bear gracefully, “sensibly”.

It is a stereotype that I have heard women often bandy about: that men can’t listen without trying to fix everything. But isn’t that all of us? What we can’t fix we sometimes justify as not deserving fixing? Because it is all so difficult.

Many times I’ve watched newspapers fall apart in a tub of water. Watched the previous day’s news dissolve like the darkness at 4:30 when the sun nears the horizon in the east.

A deep breath. A dog on a leash. A human body struggling with the cost and the value of compassion.

Ren Powell, Accepting Helplessness

I died in the village. It was morning.

I died in the village, everyone came. There was a buffet.

Scorpions crawled over my eyes, into my nostrils, into my ears. Scorpions. 

The wind had a sound like music from the other side of the world. People painted their faces and danced. Monkeys screamed from the distant trees. 

Women covered my corpse with a white cloth. It might have been a table cloth.

James Lee Jobe, I rose above my body and looked down.

To love the high sun before the hurricane when people with the best muscles are allowed to use them on the boulevard. To study the canvas of sweat on my burnt orange tent dress, a diagram of where the body folds.

To love the light and shadow chasing each other across the grass, the atmosphere the Impressionists would have painted with a tint of violet.  To feel shadows looking like a pair of hunting dogs tired from their day, lolled out under a pair of chaises longues.  

To wait up with the too-humid night sky, its swirling winds with nowhere to go,  like small-town hoods, lazy and looking for a fight.  To wake up to a hurricane, expressing itself.

To stay in the indelible truth of a face, even the eye of a hurricane. To stave off the heavy arms of the past and the cut-free kite of the future as the hurricane passes.

Jill Pearlman, The Volatile, Mutable Moods of Summer

I used to dream I was swimming in full dark, in ocean
unlit even by stars: no way to know if I was headed in, or out,
or parallel to shore until I sank from exhaustion. How awful
would that be, if it turned out I was swimming the shoreline
the whole time? I don’t dream that any more: now salt crusts
and burns my lips the same way, but I know there is no landing.

JJS, Oceans

Today was the last day of the two week journey of this year’s Virtual version of Breadloaf. There were at least twenty lectures from amazing writers of all genres, including non-fiction and screenwriting, several long workshop sessions, pitching sessions, hanging out in a virtual Barn, and even Breadloaf readings on Zoom. […]

I was nervous that Breadloaf was only for younger writers, but I met people of all ages and backgrounds, which was great. I thought my workshop was full of really talented writers, and I was impressed by the level of writing at the attendee readings as well. The atmosphere of one of the oldest and most prestigious writers conferences in the country was much less stuffy or pretentious than I imagined it would be – could the virtual aspect of it make it seem more accessible?

I got lots of advice on publishing and lots of encouragement as well. A lot of kindness from people. I think it will have been a worthwhile thing to have done looking back. Now I need to actually apply the advice from workshop and on publishing and get to revising and sending out my work. I hope I stay in touch with at least a few friends I made, and crossing fingers for the manuscript that was sent in from one of my pitch sessions. You never know!

In a year (and a half) characterized by so much lack of socialization, going to a virtual writers conference was a great way to feel like I wasn’t totally isolated and that I was part of a larger writing community. It was also fun getting advice from other people who had been to Breadloaf before me about how to get the most out of it.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Virtual Breadloaf, Some Writer Conference Takeaways, and End of Summer Musings

I’ve been working flat-out on honing the manuscript of an essay collection, Poetry’s Possible Worlds, due from Tinderbox Editions late this year or early next (I suspect the latter at this point). It’s a blend of memoir and criticism with a good dose of cognitive science and narrative theory, plus thirteen 21st century poems reprinted in full to anchor the short chapters. Recounting the close of my con-man father’s life, it’s also the story of reading poetry through personal crisis AND an analysis of how “literary transportation” works when you enter a poem’s pocket universe (that’s immersive reading or getting lost in a text, for the layperson). I’ve been drafting this book since 2012 so it’s really important to me. Closing in on a final version I’ll submit to an editor, though, always makes me nervous. You’re down in the weeds, seeing ways a sentence here and there could be made more elegant, checking the bibliography, and wondering whom you’ve inadvertently omitted from the acknowledgments. But it’s also the last time you can try for the 30,000 feet perspective, imagining how the book will be received by others and trying to catch those moments of obtuseness or under-explanation that inevitably linger. Hard work in multiple ways.

This book, though, works through challenging personal material. On the good side, there are stories of travel, particularly my 2011 Fulbright in New Zealand; reflections on growth and change; and positive representations of sustaining relationships. The dark stuff involves, of course, tales of my dishonest and narcissistic father but also workplace harassment; a long-ago sexual assault; Chris’ mother’s dementia; and my mother’s first round of lymphoma in 2015. It shook me to spend time with that material again. Worse, since my mother died of the lymphoma’s recurrence in April, I had to put my sentences about her into the past tense. No wonder I was resisting finalizing the ms.

I did the same thing to myself in July, at the Sewanee Writers Workshop. I had to finalize my workshop ms in May, and it was full of poems about my mother’s death and other tough material. Somehow, for the last couple of years, I’ve finally been writing about childhood abuse and mental health. My mother always read my poetry books, but I think at some level I knew she wasn’t likely to read this new stuff. I’m freer to be honest than before, and some of what hurt me long ago was my mother choosing not to protect us from my father. Again, no wonder Sewanee was emotionally intense.

Lesley Wheeler, When revisions are even harder

I’m growing back my mustache. It makes me look like one or both of my fathers. Not a look I’m going for, but you can’t help DNA or random chance. There are other things I can help, though, like that time I saw my father’s hands at the end of my own arms and decided right then and there to turn in a different direction. If I had the chance would I do it over again? Probably, yeah. Take a better shot at being the guy my kids might someday write poems about. The time machine only goes forward and we all move at the same speed.

Jason Crane, Mustache

I was thinking about unpaid work and the stresses even those things entail. Even creative work, especially something you put so much into that gives little material reward.  The hours devoted to perfecting a poem or manuscript.  Doing the work of submitting and editing and keeping track of things. Battling printers and assembling books. Designing covers and interiors. A couple months ago, I went around thinking I wanted anything but this. Grad school, new jobs, new directions.  Anything but poetry and libraries. Maybe film studies, or graphic design, or marketing. I eyed the tents pitched along lake shore drive and the food assistance lines on my commute and had sudden fears that I was one paycheck from the streets and always would be continuing to live the life I do. Not that there is shame in these things in any way. Shit happens. The world is fucked up and the rich get richer on the backs of everyone else.  But, without any safety nets,  my own fear is very real.   I pictured myself 20 years down the line…the retirement savings I only barely have–how it’s impossible to save when you live paycheck to paycheck. And does it even make you happy anymore?  Does anything? And even if it does most of the time,  should I be living some other sort of less rewarding or creative life to make sure I can sustain myself later? 

The winds shift back of course.  Much like my winter doldrums, the spring returns and I feel again, if not enthusiastic all the time, at least neutral. I spent a lot of time building this life, making sure I made the right choices, but why do I sometimes hate it?  If money was no object (had I married a rich man…lol… or been independently wealthy) I would choose this life. I did choose this life, all along, each decision a choice to get me to the present.  But sometimes I feel like my priorities were wrong somewhere along the way.  That in seizing some things, I gave up important ones–ones that would have made me more financially secure. Just more secure in general. The early days of the pandemic terrified me.  I though for sure I would lose that job that I sometimes complain about. That academia would tumble into rubble.  That society would crumble into rubble. (all of these things in addition to getting sick.)  On the flipside, my priorities are different somehow in terms of  my creative practice.  It also, however,  made me scared and therefore, apt to cling to it even tighter. I know I can’t work in a state of instability.  Of uncertainly.  Creatively or otherwise.

Which  is, of course, the worst of all puzzles.  To have the stability that allows writing and artmaking to happen, but also to not get swallowed so completely by that other work that there is nothing left for the poems or art. What do we give up in terms of stability and work we may even enjoy to do this work we somehow still need to do. And even the those things, how we keep them from feeling like cages of a different sort. 

Kristy Bowen, stability & uncertainty | the creative life

I grew up in a word-loving family and my own kids have taken that much farther than I might have imagined. When very young they developed an unnamed game of verbal jousting I call, in this post, Game of Slurs, although the post doesn’t go into just how amusingly over-the-top they could get with inventive word pairings. They also played, with only minor nudges from me, all sorts of dictionary-based games including my favorite, Blackbird. And all of us have unconsciously incorporated words into our everyday conversations that, apparently, seem strange to those around us. When they were younger, some of my kids consciously modified what words they used when, but these days they not only use whatever obscure words they like, they also, well, “experiment” on others to see if they can get them to start using such words too. […]

In many ways, the language(s) we speak shape the way we think. We will never know what ways of thinking about, seeing, and interacting with the world are lost to us when we speak only one language. This is even more troubling in relation to entire languages going extinct. The Linguistic Society of America reports there are more than 6,500 languages used worldwide. Eighty percent, by some estimates, may vanish within the next century.

My problem, as a writer, takes place in a much smaller arena — my head. Much as I love words, it often seems impossible to fit meaning more than partway into language. I might manage to get a pinch of the inexpressible in, but that’s it, and only if I’m lucky. It’s like trying to stuff a galaxy into a suitcase and still zip it closed.

I hope we all do what we can, in these troubling times, to use language clearly, kindly, and well. Even more, that we make every effort to listen.

Laura Grace Weldon, Definitions and Beyond

And on the prose front, oh, that annoying George Saunders is at it again, being all smart, and funny, and generous of spirit. I’m reading A Swim in the Pond in the Rain, which presents a handful of Russian short stories and then Saunders basically walks us through how each story is operating and challenges us to use some of that craft in our own work. In the process of all that he had this to say…  “a story responds alertly to itself.” Which is such a useful thought, I find, when considering the moving, or non-moving, parts of my poems, including the ticking of time itself.  

And later he takes a pause from talking about prose to include this little sidebar thought on what poetry is: “…poetry, i.e., truth forced out through a restricted opening. That’s all poetry is, really, something odd, coming out…The poet proves that language is inadequate by throwing herself at the fence of language and being bound by it. Poetry is the resultant bulging of the fence.” 

Damn that guy.

Marilyn McCabe, Human kindness overflowing; or, On What I’m Reading

“Lyric address is usually indirect.” (This, despite the frequent use of apostrophe in lyrical poetry, which Cullers argues is used indirectly most of the time.)

Lyrical apostrophe “posits a third realm, neither human nor natural, that can act and determine our world.”

~

“If one were to treat lyric as a domain to be mapped, one would need a multidimensional space.”
Jonathan Cullers

I especially like that last one. Lyric as Kosmos, as universe (and possibly universal). It jives with Whitman in some ways–resonates, at very least, with his idea of poetry as vast and of himself (as poet) containing multitudes.

Something to aspire to be, to write, to wrap my mind around.

Ann E. Michael, Lyrical

The third full-length collection by Somerville, Massachusetts poet Natalie Shapero, following No Object (Saturnalia, 2013) and the Griffin Poetry Prize (International) shortlistedHard Child (Copper Canyon Press, 2017) [see my review of such here], is Popular Longing (Port Townsend WA: Copper Canyon Press, 2021), a collection of narrative lyrics composed through wry observation, sharp commentary and consequence, and the occasional rush of breath. Her poems are pearls of logic, urgency and contemplation, composed of worn irritation and deadpan delivery. The poem “Have at It,” for example, opens: “When you work here for ten years, you get / a blanket. The blanket has their name on it, / not yours. I am conducting an anecdotal / survey of longtime employees, and I have yet / to find one person who uses the thing / to keep warm.” The mind moves quick, but the poems unpack slowly, as though not wishing to overlook a single thing.

As she writes to open the poem “Tea,” referencing, of course, contemporary reenactments of the 1773 American “Boston Tea Party” protest against the British: “I can’t get away from it. / Felted-up reenactors shoving a great fake crate of it / into the Harbor and jeering. / After the tour group leaves, they fish it / back out and towel it off, / unbutton their waistcoats to smoke.” I’m fascinated by the ways Shapero takes an idea or a subject and dismantles it, studying every small piece through her evolution of sentences. The poem “Tomatoes Ten Ways,” for example, extends thought across a great distance, yet turning every moment over to see what lay beneath, writing: “I just want to get // back now, back to my kitchen, back / to my peeler and ladle and electric / oven where decades of hands // have worn the temperature marks / clean off the dial—it’s always a guess. // Cooking is important. It prepares us // for how to sustain each other / in the emptiness ahead.” Through attempting to seek answers to impossible questions, Shapero manages to uncover separate but equally important truths, ones that might have otherwise lay fallow.

rob mclennan, Natalie Shapero, Popular Longing

Recently I dreamed I lived in a waterworld, and now this cover!–art by Jeremy Miranda, Searching–for Patient Zero by Tomás Q. Morín (Copper Canyon, 2017). And I kept intersecting with the book as I read along. The title poem, “Patient Zero,” which makes you think of AIDS, or Covid, or the movie Contagion, is really about love as “a worried, old heart / disease,” quoting Son House lyrics to lay out a theory about humans and animals stricken with “something…divine and endless.” Love. […]

There is a remarkable long poem called “Sing Sing” about a prisoner who keeps drafting a letter to her parole board. In it, I learn that “Sing Sing” must come from “the Sint Sinck / tribe who fished and camped // the shores…” Indeed, looking further, I find that Sint Sinck means “stone upon stone,” and are the white stones of the famous prison at Ossining, New York.

Kathleen Kirk, Patient Zero

I’ve been reading Ellen Bryant Voigt’s 1995 book Kyrie, a series of poems set in 1918—during the (yep) flu epidemic. One poem begins “How we survived…” that is a perfect prompt, but it has an image in it that so freaked me out I don’t want to share it. I cast around, reading poem after poem: “You wiped a fever-brow, you burned the cloth. / You scrubbed a sickroom floor, you burned the mop. / What wouldn’t burn you boiled like applesauce / out beside the shed in the copper pot.”

And there’s this poem, the first in the collection, which seems to predict the future of that survival:

Prologue

After the first year, weeds and scrub;
after five, juniper and birch,
alders filling in among the briars;
ten more years, maples rise and thicken;
forty years, the birches crowded out,
a new world swarms on the floor of the hardwood forest.
And who can tell us where there was an orchard,
where a swing, where the smokehouse stood?

—Ellen Bryant Voigt

Bethany Reid, Your Poetry Assignment for the Week

This morning, I reflected back on the month of August as a month where I came to realize–once again, and over and over again–how much of the world seems to be held together with tape and a patchwork of chewing gum and maybe a thin veneer of paint here and there.  But frankly, the whole summer has felt that way, and perhaps this whole pandemic time, and maybe it has always been this way, but many of us can go for months or years before we’re forced to reckon with this knowledge again.

Humans like to think that we’re in control, and many of us will go to great lengths to maintain that illusion.  For me, this summer has brought week after week of almost daily reminders that we’re not.  Those reminders have ranged from the small to the huge, from the personal to the global.

When I think of the early days of June, I remember a time when it seemed that we might be turning a corner with the COVID-19 crisis.  Vaccination rates continued to chug along, and we finished a K-12 school year with few student deaths and not as many outbreaks as I would have predicted.  The world at large seemed calm–or am I remembering it wrong?

Then the condo building in Surfside Beach, just south of here, collapsed, and suddenly, it seemed that more buildings than we’d have expected have serious structural issues.  And here we are, two months later, and it begins to feel like all of our foreign policy has collapsed and lies in ruins.  The domestic political situation has felt like rubble for over a decade now, so that’s not anything new.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Summer 2021: Things Fall Apart

For any of us who care about other parts of the world and the people who inhabit them, it’s been a difficult and emotional week. I’m not going to get into any of it here. Suffice it to say that this blog wouldn’t have been named what it was [the cassandra pages], back in 2003, if I hadn’t foreseen much of the tragedy that would unfold as a result of American foreign policies — though I fervently wish I’d been wrong.

Obviously we need to continue to do whatever we can to alleviate suffering and work for justice and for positive change, while caring for those closest to us as well. Our primary responsibility is to remember to take care of ourselves so that we have a chance of being able to help others. What does that mean for you? Have you ever thought about it in depth, and written it down?

Beth Adams, Drawing my way through a rough week

August: early rains in the south,
and fires in the west. River birds sketch
figures on water. Dearest ones,
whatever accounts were entered there
have yielded up their remaining
balances. I’m spending every
bright pebble I find. The shallows gleam
with all the currency fallen from the moon’s
poor-box—greens and blues, discs of scarred
copper. Meanwhile, every drawer of this house
hoards a collection of all we fed to our ghosts.
In the end, there will be nothing left to collect.

Luisa A. Igloria, Ledger

After sitting in paralysis from another form reject for too long, I decided to take things into my own hands. I wanted to give myself something back—a small token of appreciation for showing up for myself in the first place, something that would turn this salty moment into a celebration. I wrote rejection fund on a scrap of paper, slapped it on an old (extra large) mason jar, and have since filled it to the brim.

For each rejection I get, I put a dollar in the jar. And when I find something—a new treat I’ve been craving, an application fee I couldn’t quite swing, or a much-needed cocktail at the end of a particularly long week, my rejections—and, let’s be clear, my faith in myself and my own (mostly) tireless championing—refill my cup and tenderly guide me back into the work.

And you know what? What started as a kind of goofy self-help move has been astoundingly grounding through the submission process—especially as an emerging writer. I realized I now had something to do with all that stalled, stale, sometimes paralyzing energy left over from getting a “thanks, but no thanks” for the work I poured so many hours into. I even found myself looking forward to those emails so I could tip myself again. Something totally out of my control now felt a little more manageable, something I could now take the reins on and say, “no, thank you!”

Because what many of us (hopefully) come to realize, is that not only are the rejections not ours, but the acceptances aren’t ours, either. They have nothing to do with me, and while I can celebrate the successes and grow from the critiques, I don’t want to hang my own worth on someone else’s yes or no.

My rejection jar helps restore a little bit of that agency. These poems I write day in and day out are small new friends, landscapes to grow and warp and feel the world through, come to new selves and new understandings with. They are stamped and sealed only by my acceptance, my rejection. I get to say when they feel like “good” or “bad” poems to me, “ready” and “not ready,” scrap versus actual potential. And then we can see where they might fit—or not—in the external world. Beloved literary editors—sometimes brusque with over-work, but often kind, thoughtful, and generous, too—have their own tastes of what makes a poem a good fit or not, and nothing about these rejections is personal.

Today, I count $28, and I’ve already taken some of that cash for a spin (my first purchases: two new rejection lipsticks, Desert Rose and Voyager #50). That money doesn’t feel like a sadly accumulating pity-puddle. No—it’s just proof I’m still doing the damn thing.

The Rejection Jar – guest blog post by Zoë Fay-Stindt [Trish Hopkinson’s blog]

It has all felt a little magical. I tend to be skeptical of most things, and I have looked askance at the current fascination with manifesting, but… It feels like that is what has happened. Right before the pandemic hit us, Kari wrote something about wanting to stop blaming others for her unhappiness and it struck something deep within me. I was so tired of being unhappy and so tired of feeling powerless in my unhappiness. I hate toxic positivity and any solutions to personal problems that don’t consider systemic causes of them, but I sat myself down and made a mental list of all the things that weren’t working for me and asked myself what I could do to change them, by myself. I quickly realized I would have to do two things: Be open to what I started calling “radical lifestyle change” and tell myself and those close to me the truth of what I wanted (and didn’t), despite fear of my truths and of others’ responses to them. Sometimes it was scary and it was never easy, but when I remember my life two years ago and then look at what it is today, it feels like a damn miracle. (But to be clear: It’s not. I could not be where I am without systemic structures and advantages that have allowed me to make the choices I have, primarily the one that is allowing me to both draw retirement income and return to work.)

You guys: At the core of my life is a healthy, loving, committed relationship. We are creating a home that feels just right for how we live and want to live. I have time to nurture my health and relationships. I have time for creative work outside my for-pay work and to learn how to live in more congruence with my values. And now I get to go back to school, doing the kind of teaching I’ve missed for more than a decade, in the place I loved more than any other I’ve worked. I know it won’t be the place I left, and it’s going to be hard (Covid alone assures that), probably in many ways, but I am so excited to finally be tackling what feels like the right kinds of hard in this very hard time. To be starting a new chapter. To revise the ending of my story.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Maybe you can go home again?

To sound like an electric guitar of scars singing stories of old wounds that learned how to heal themselves.

To never possess a dead man’s curve in our highway smile.

To be the hangman’s rope that unravels itself until there’s never no more hanging to be done.

Rich Ferguson, Untitled #99

they do not understand
the beneficence of drink
how it grants distance

smooths out life’s wrinkles
they badger him
and he hides his habit

evenings spent
on park benches
slowly observing

the clouds change shape
a tin of the cheapest Pilsner
warm in his hand

Paul Tobin, HIS OWN CALYPSO

I had been thinking about Andy Warhol saying, “All the Coke is good,” which inadvertently prompted me to remember, all the light is good. I’d been limiting my photography excursions to evening or mornings, because that is when many interesting or surprising things happen in terms of light. But when you’re on vacation, for example, you haul your camera around all day, you wear it like a drastic necklace to the detriment of your spine and neck alignment, and you take photos in all sorts of light. Your time in a place is limited, and so you take photos in all the light. All this, really, to say, make your art when you can in whatever light is available. Write in early mornings, during your lunch break, don’t wait for a perfect time. The perfect time is now.

Shawna Lemay, All the Light is Good

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 30

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week: summer reading and writing find their apotheosis in the writer’s retreat and the writers’ conference, and we have reports on both, along with considerations of other sorts of renewal and reinvention. Other major themes include childhood memories, and translation of all kinds.


An August Sunday in the city —  empty, empty, empty.  The streets are clearer, blacker, more asphalty, an open stage, an asphalt canvas.  Things, so subservient to people, step up their presence and shine. The shopping bag is always heavier than the slim arm of the walker whose shorts seem longer than his legs.   Orange day lilies have their heady moment, erupting through scrabbly soil and gravelly roadsides; they earn their nicknames — outhouse day lily, roadside, railroad, ditch, washhouse, mailbox, tiger, tawny.  The posts of street lights commune with trees.  The bike dreams the leisurely biker. 

It reminds me of the older version of boredom that used to be baked into summer — good boredom, a chance for something else to erupt through the hard-wired, conquesting surface of  the year’s ambitions.   Reverie and its twin, ennui, will get edged out by extreme weather, health, plagues, breakdowns, etc.  An air current lazing through a screen door, undeterred, unhampered is good work if you can get it.

Jill Pearlman, The Thinginess of Summer

Swayback barn,
the darkness inside.

The wood thinks
of the earth.

The trees there
think of the wind.

Tom Montag, SWAYBACK

Blogger/poet/bookmaker Ren Powell recently suggested going fallow for awhile “to see what comes of it.” I tend to go through fallow periods quite accidentally. Used to call them writer’s block, but I don’t view them like that anymore. Fallow strikes me as a more accurate term for a number of reasons, some of them etymological. In current agriculture, a fallow field remains uncultivated purposely, to rest and improve the soil’s fertility. That seems more accurate to my current state of mind than “dry” or “blocked.”

Consider the field left fallow: plenty goes on there. Weed seeds germinate and sprout, annelids and arthropods, insects, and beetles, in their various life stages, multiply and move about. Voles, mice, toads go a-hunting. Bacteria do their thing. It’s not a lifeless place, the fallow plot.

Ann E. Michael, Fallow me

Yesterday I celebrated myself which is what you do when you embrace radical aloneness the day began at 2 AM when a tsunami alert went off on my phone telling me to prepare for evacuation it was the 8.2 earthquake off the coast of Alaska and didn’t affect us here but the water was exceptionally choppy with strange currents I went back to sleep once I knew my little boat wasn’t setting out 

I did get my ears pierced (again) not at the mall but at the shop where I got my tattoo re-inked right before the plague swallowed us the earrings I chose to keep in my ears are small green gems on surgical steel posts posts that have flat backs so they won’t poke my neck while I sleep which is why I always removed them in the past 

Rebecca Loudon, Pig and farm report

I have the enormous advantage, now, of being sixty-three, which is the precise age at which one discovers that one will never make oneself new. Whatever I make will be made with the materials at hand: I am a wary, slow-processing, obstinate man who requires a lot of transition time — who likes to wake up before the sun, and to have a couple hours to get used to the idea that a new day is underway, before having to cope with broad daylight. I’m not going to magically turn into anything else. Turning myself into an ideal human being — decisive, quick-witted, and flexible — now that, that would be a task to inspire despair. But I don’t have to do that. I only need to find more fun within my measure, and to take on problems of reasonable scope. Everything else, everything else I can let fall away. I can let it drift away in my slow, dark wake.

Which is not to say that I am not in need of redemption. Oh no, I am not saying that. Not to say that I don’t need a visionary journey, which involves a substantial risk of never returning. I do need, as Paul Simon would say, a shot of redemption. But don’t confuse that with learning to live. They’re two different tasks: they accomplish two different things. Don’t get muddled.

Dale Favier, Learning to Live

We are summer people, all seasons people. Howling, prowling, hallelujah people.

People with pets and houseplants, debts, and dances with wolves.

Punk rock people, easy-listening people.

People of solitude, people rocking Budokan.

Heart flutter and double step, roughneck and smooth-talking people.

Tribal people, marginalized people.

People of the machine, people who’ve built their dreams by hand.

Extraordinary people, earth-loving people. People that create new sounds from alphabet soup.

Rich Ferguson, People

it says nothing, it says everything
hold it up to the light again,
some days, you’ll see a poem

An abating second wave (really?), an enraged monsoon (climate change?), a monday-friday grind that mocks attempts at writing, a shrinking world of poetry suddenly made beautiful by an unexpected poem that drops into my timeline – how’re things in your world? What have you been writing? 

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Hold it up to the light

It’s almost August, and I’m still behind in all things poetry-related but so enjoying each day, each moment of life in summer. Today, I did post a review of What Happens is Neither, by Angela Narciso Torres, at Escape Into Life, and another review is coming soon, August 4, of Dialogues with Rising Tides, by Kelli Russell Agodon. Indeed, my fond (meaning both affectionate and foolish) hope is again to attempt the Sealey Challenge, reading a poetry book a day in August, and posting about it here. My friend Kim enjoyed that last year, as did several of the poets who found themselves here, and I love the whole idea of the challenge. But can I do it this year? 

Today, pursuant to the challenge, I did read a chapbook in advance, as I will be otherwise occupied on August 1 (volleyball, friends). Still, I may post in the middle of the night.

I’m swimming again, which is meditative, a wonderful body-mind blend. I continue to be busy with many details. I think I have a weensy bit of what they are calling “re-entry anxiety,” though I feel calm most of the time, and not at all troubled by wearing a mask into all businesses, even if others aren’t, but my particular county is a current hotspot and masks are being required again, not just recommended, so maybe we’ll see more…masks…or rude resistance, alas. The schools will be requiring masks, a relief!

Kathleen Kirk, Almost August

The firehose of radiant joy in the return to swimming and the successful beginning of rehabbing covid-damage-wrought has passed; now it has become the steady irrigation of my normal relationship with the water.

Somewhere in there, it just quietly became the day to day experience of swimming again.

In other words, equal parts home and hard work. Perfectionist-struggle-frustration mixed with relief-joy-relaxation. […]

And, life, in spades: as I become healthy and strong again, my responsibilities and worries broaden back out from “survive” to “live in this mortal broken world and create as much beauty as possible.”

The cleanup has had me doing less this month than since vaccine, as I’ve been variously on liquid diet and doped up or running around to appointments while also trying my best to be present and accountable for family, book release (3 this year, oof), trying to figure out how I want to and can rebuild my professional and financial life in a sustainable shape post-covid, and refilling my own still-depleted well.

JJS, the quiet joy

No one teaches animals
to resent their bodies.
Show me how to love mine.

As Zohar reminds me,
there is no place
where God is not:

even my asthmatic lungs,
my animal being,
my imperfect heart.

Rachel Barenblat, We are animals too

One of the things this week reminded me of was the importance of the support of friends and family during hard times. Nearly everyone I know has had some hardship with mental health this last year and a half, and we are all in need of more kindness, more tolerance, more support. This week I talked with family, friends all over the country, and even caught up in person with one this weekend, all of which helped me and Glenn regain some sense of normalcy with all the craziness.

The whole thing with Simone Biles, who had a very challenging childhood even before she was sexually abused by her US team gymnastics doctor and went on to become the face of the 2020 Olympics, made me think about how even the very best, most talented people are challenged by the past year’s super stress, that a lot more of us are at our breaking point than we might think. I am wishing that Simone gets all the friend support she needs after this very public “failure” or more accurately, “refusal to perform while she wasn’t feeling up to it.”  It’s a reminder that we are more than our performances, and we all deserved to be valued as human beings, not just gymnastics medal winners, or for the things in our past that we’ve accomplished.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Minor Disasters and Lost Voices, The Importance of Friend Support During a Plague Year

This week has redeemed itself after nine hours of driving across country to the edge of Wales. We have landed in the most peaceful and silent place in the world. Just what we all needed.

I’ve brought some work to do this week and what I’m now starting to worry isn’t enough books. I have a review I must write this week, I’m hoping I may actually manage a poem of my own (not worried if I don’t though.)

I note today is the first day of The Sealey Challenge. I’ve never heard of it before, but it sounds like a good idea. I won’t be actively taking part, but I think I manage at least some reading of poems almost every day of the year, so I won’t beat myself up for not joining in. Most of my reading this week is magazines anyway to help alleviate some of the TBR backlog.

Mat Riches, No States, man

Two years ago I applied for Storyknife and I’m a little emotional tonight that I’ll be driving out early in the morning.  I have so much gratitude for this experience, and also for new friends. Maura Brenin, Storyknife’s Chef, is a poet with food.  Lunch, dinner – each day was something brand new to me and all of it healthy, nourishing, sustaining, and lovely! I’m seriously going to have to up my game from grocery store bag salad and frozen chicken. 

And Erin Coughlin Hollowell who is a poet and Executive Director which means she is not only a woman of words, but oversees all the paperwork and budgetary issues, sets the wasp traps, weeds the flowerbeds, and consults Fish & Game when dork boy moose has wild eyes, flattened ears, and runs wild circles through the yard.  She has an electric drill in one hand, pen in the other, and I’m happy to call her friend, as well.

I was lucky to stay in the Peggy cabin, named for writer Peggy Shumaker.  Peggy’s space is one of creativity and good sleep.  It seemed only fitting to read a few poems tonight from her book, Cairn

And thank you to Writer Dana Stabenow – at work up the hill writing her 55th novel. I enjoyed the evening she joined us for supper. 

The walls are naked again and I’ve just bundled up 66 poems, friends!  They are poems dabbling in stars, lust, shelter, and birds.  They are of wild places and states of being. Some new, many edited and revised. I’ll take them home and hang them in an empty room for the winter.  Sucker holes will light them up with sun, and through an open window, an invite – Come hither, wind.  Do your work. Eventually, I’ll find a path through this writing.

Kersten Christianson, Storyknife Writers Retreat, July 2021

If you’ve read either of my haiku collections, you’ll know I have a fondness for rivers; but then, who doesn’t? Living in the middle of England, fifty-five miles from the nearest coastline, landlock naturally means that I gravitate to rivers and canals. Rotherham is where the Rother ends, at its confluence with the Don.

The upstream Don has long ago been split so that part of it forms and is shadowed by the Sheffield and South Yorkshire Navigation, i.e. canal. It bends round the back of Rotherham United’s New York Stadium, in the New York part of the town, because the steel produced locally was used to make the fire hydrants in NYC. There, today, Lyn and I saw the first of probably five or six lots of sand martins. I don’t think there is a collective noun for sand martins and I’m struggling to think of a word which would be appropriate other than something like ‘joyfulness’. They are one of my favourite birds and always an absolute pleasure to encounter. I’ve written a few sand martin haiku over the years, and this, written on the Skirfare and published in both Wing Beats and The Lammas Lands, is probably the best of them:

river loop—
a sand martin squirms
into its nest hole

Matthew Paul, Quiet flows the Don

The weather has been a bit rubbish here so I’ve been catching up on some reading and writing. Magazines tend to drop through the letterbox all at the same time, so I’m still working my way through current issues of PN Review, The Dark Horse, Poetry, The Poetry Review and Lighthouse. So far I’ve particularly enjoyed poems by Donna Aza Weir-Soley in Poetry, Isabel Galleymore in The Poetry Review (‘Then, one spring in which every dawn came/ pigletty and the blossom trees were really putting in / the work’), Diane Thiel in The Dark Horse and Josh Ekroy in Lighthouse.

Poet friend Claire Booker kindly gave me a copy of The Language of Salt, an anthology of poems ‘on love and loss’ which so far looks to be an excellent range of poems from poets both known and new to me.

Meanwhile I have a number of full collections by my bed – Sometimes I Never Suffered by Shane McCrae (Corsair) has gripped me, particularly I think because I’m deep in Dante at the moment. I found McCrae’s ‘Hastily Assembled Angel’ sequence strange and moving. Then there’s Mortal Trash by Kim Addonizio (Norton). I always reach for Addonizio when I’m feeling jaded or all out of fresh words and it’s like a shot of adrenaline. YEEESS!

Robin Houghton, Currently reading & other summery (?) things

Conference veterans told me that Sewanee has been democratized in a big way: lunch tables with agents used to be arranged via sign-up, cocktails at the French House used to be limited to faculty and fellows, etc. All of that is gone. Did I still feel the hierarchy? Absolutely. Some of it is what we’re here for, frankly. I want to hear from writers whose achievements I admire and get a window into what high-profile publishers are thinking. Sometimes, though, I felt invisible, and my ego took bumps. A graduate student advised me on how to submit to a magazine I’ve published in multiple times, sigh. One editor told me, during our twenty-minute meeting, that I should sit down with him at a meal sometime, and when I did, he didn’t even acknowledge I was there. (That one was hilarious, actually. Over it.) The jockeying for status could be intense. But other people at every level of career success were remarkably open and kind and funny and encouraging. I suspect these dynamics are bound to occur when humans get together for any common purpose: dentistry conventions, quilting bees, spiritual retreats. Imagine the delicate snark of monks.

My occasional feelings of invisibility are partly on me. I started off anxious, which made me quiet, and then powerful readings and workshops stripped off my doing-okay veneer. I (briefly) fell into a pit of grief about my mother then climbed out again. Feeling fragile, I don’t think I made the most of my opportunities, although I relaxed some in the final few days and gave a good reading. I also remembered, oh, I don’t want to compete with the literary players, although it’s good to join the lunch table once in a while and see how it feels. I REALLY get that people have to protect their time and energy. But watching the eminences here and elsewhere, I aspire to be one of the friendly, non-power-hoarding types, if I ever hit the big league, which isn’t friggin’ likely for me or anybody.

The career introspection triggered here has been useful. I clarified for myself about what I want for future book-publishing experiences, for instance. I met a ton of writers whose work I like and will follow. Shenandoah will get subs from new people this year containing the sentence, “It was such a pleasure to meet you at Sewanee!” I’ll send a few of those subs to other people. It’s all good.

The most important thing, though, is the work itself. I have a lot of feedback to sort through, but I’ve already identified some habits I’ve fallen into as a poet that need interrogation. I have ideas about how to transform some messy poems into their best selves. I also see how to improve work I’ve been doing in other genres–the fiction and nonfiction talks and readings have been great. Even advice that I wouldn’t implement gives me information about how my work is coming through to different kinds of readers.

A few more readings, a booksigning party, and then I pack up and drive to NC tomorrow to meet my family at a rented beach house, where the long decompression begins! Well, not too long. Damn you, August, I am not ready.

Lesley Wheeler, Conference report containing not nearly enough gossip

12:30 a.m. I’m in the van listening to The Fugs First Album because I’m getting an advanced degree in Catching Up On Shit I Missed The First Time Around. My rage is diminishing so I need to avoid yours. The youngest shows me Queen Anne’s Lace growing from a mud patch. I think she quickly crossed herself like the flower was a miracle. Maybe I imagined it. It’s hard to write seriously while The Fugs are playing “Boobs a Lot.” We make jokes and watch Fast & Furious movies and I miss my own kids but I can’t go back there. I had a girlfriend once whose dad played with the Holy Modal Rounders so I’m two degrees removed from The Fugs. She also went to school with Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins’s kids but I don’t feel like I’m two degrees from them even though I loved Bull Durham. Now “Nothing” is playing and it’s bringing up some hazy memory of hearing this song live but I’ve never seen Ed Sanders so maybe I imagined that too.

Jason Crane, Nothing

that old song
I am sunk in the flowing
of the way it was

Jim Young [no title]

I remember the principal I hated calling me to his office to accuse me of things I didn’t do, to tell me I was nobody, to shame me. I remember feeling shame even though I was innocent.

I remember being guilty. I remember leading a pack of girls in making Donita cry in the bathroom. I remember hating Donita and not knowing why, and hating myself for making her cry, and hating the other girls for following me, and hating Donita even more for crying behind the locked door of a bathroom stall while we taunted her from the sinks.

I remember going to the library every Saturday and consuming books like they were candies. I remembering reading all weekend long to go numb, to pass time, to dream, to escape.

I remember my friend Toni developing full breasts when the rest of us wore training bras, and I remember the day Mr. Buer had us vote on whether or not he should throw Toni’s beautiful map in the garbage because she’d turned it in without her name on it, and my despair at things I couldn’t name as I watched it slide into the wastebasket while tears rolled down her cheeks.

I remember my dad, years later, telling me that it was so hard to watch me lose my confidence as I became a teen-ager and what happened, anyway?

Rita Ott Ramstad, I remember: Elementary school edition

Back in the late sixties, NASA was looking for a way to select for the most creative scientists and engineers. George Land and Beth Jarman created a creativity test to identify those who were best able to come up with new and innovative ways to solve problems. It worked remarkably well. Land and Jarman, as they explain in Breakpoint and Beyond: Mastering the Future Today, used the same basic test on 1,600 three-to-five year old children enrolled in Head Start. They were shocked to discover a full 98 percent of children age five and under tested at genius level. They managed to get funding to test these children over time. Dishearteningly, only 30 percent of 10-year-olds scored at the creative genius level. That number dropped to 12 percent at 15 years of age. They expanded the scope of their research, giving the test to 280,000 adults with an average age of 31. Only two percent were, according to the results, creative geniuses.

George Land attributes the slide in creativity to schooling. When it comes to creativity, we use two forms of mental processes. Convergent thinking is necessary for judging and critiquing ideas, in order to refine and improve them. This is a fully conscious process. Divergent thinking is more freeform and imaginative, resulting in innovative ideas that may need refining. This process is more like daydreaming. Land suggests many school assignments require children to use both processes at once, which is nearly impossible, resulting in predominantly convergent thinking. We are taught, unintentionally, to turn off our creativity. Now that is painful. In my view, creativity is the essence of who we are. If anything, it isn’t connected to pain, but to healing.

Laura Grace Weldon, Writing, Creativity, Suffering

In the ticking drone
and hum ablaze in the trees—

In the wet and darkblue provinces
crossed by long-legged birds—

In the tender aglow
of disappearing afternoons—

sometimes I catch hold of those
parts of a life we didn’t lose

after all

Luisa A. Igloria, Here

I’m in a place I’ve never been to before, staying here for two weeks, and I’m more unsettled than I usually am in such a situation. I love my rut and routines. Change makes me anxious. Usually, though, new places make me curious and happy to explore, happy to find corners where I’m comfortable, happy to find new things to look at. But somehow here, I don’t know. It’s odd. So I’m trying to write out of this strange unsettledness. 

I think that’s a good thing. I hope the work comes out as strange as I feel, as uneasy, a bit jagged. (Or maybe that’s my insomnia talking. My old stand-by, an over the counter sleep med, seems to have deserted me in effectiveness. There is nought between me and the void of sleeplessness.)

Maybe this is the strangeness of the entire past year catching up with me, or the losses, the uncertainties. 

Maybe it’s just that I’m very place-oriented, alive to how I interact with my environment, and this place is not, for some reason, sitting easily on my skin.

Marilyn McCabe, Step right up; or, Writing Out of Uncertainty

Another thing that has given me a bit of whiplash has been the sorting that I’ve been doing:  boxes of memorabilia, boxes of rough drafts, shelves of books, closets of clothes.  This sorting has been giving me a case of the twisties, where I go whirling into space and worry about a crash landing.On the one hand, I’m amazed: look at all the stuff I’ve written through the years, and here’s every card my parents ever sent me and letters from all sorts of friends through the years. On the other hand, it makes me sad. I look at a huge pile of short stories I wrote and old poems, and that mean voice inside says, “Why aren’t you a more successful writer?” I look at cards I’ve kept from people I can no longer tell you who they are, and I feel sad for letting go of people. Then I wonder if they let go of me because I’m such a bad friend, even though I think I’m a good friend. That’s a bad spiral.

It’s so easy to remember all the times I let people down, but not think about all the times that I’ve been supportive. At times, as I’ve sorted through things, I’ve wondered if my spouse would have been happier with someone else, someone with more similar interests, someone who wasn’t as self-contained as I can be. Maybe he would have been happier now, with healthier habits.

Or maybe he’d have felt smothered and left that person and now be living under a bridge. I do realize there are worse outcomes than what he has now and the ideal life that I imagine he could have had with someone else.

I also look at old pictures, and I feel like this woman that once had interests and read books, but now gets home from work and just watches mindless TV. I tell myself that once we get the move done and the house ready for market, I’m likely to have interests again. And getting all the seminary and candidacy stuff done has been a huge project. I do have interests, but they’re not the usual ones that people talk about. But then there’s that mean voice in my head again.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Of Whiplash and Twisties

Many thanks to the editors at Hoxie Gorge Review for publishing my new poem “Union Square” in the latest issue. You can read it at this link, plus be sure to check out all the lovely poetic company I’m in. 

Honestly, I haven’t written anything since January and after the cancer diagnosis and treatment, I’d totally forgotten I had submitted work to a few journals. The acceptance by Hoxie Gorge was a nice boost. I’ve got a bunch of lines in search of poems on the Notes app of my phone, so “Union Square” (which I wrote five years ago!) finally finding a home is good motivation. 

I’m in the middle of the third week of radiation treatment and, so far, the only side-effects have been a little dry mouth and some soreness in my jaw. I’d be thrilled if that was the extent of it. 

Collin Kelley, New poem “Union Square” in Hoxie Gorge Review

I have two new poems, ‘To Love One Another’ and ‘True Crime’ in The North magazine, Issue 66, (the ‘Apart Together’ issue) available to pre-order here. In the same publication, I’ve reviewed new poetry collections by Katherine Stansfield (Seren Books), Maria Taylor (Nine Arches Press) and Jackie Wills (Arc Poetry).

I’m continuing to post new visual pieces, at least once a month, at @andothermaterial, an Instagram account for my visual poetry, collage poems, mixed media, experiment, playfulness and seriousness. I’m delighted that a recent piece of my visual work has been selected by the Centre for Fine Print Research at the University of the West of England to be made into a badge for a symposium on Printed Poetry at the Arnolfini arts centre in Bristol in October. First time I’ve been published on a badge!

Josephine Corcoran, New poems, reviews and visual pieces

Well, I should be on holiday – campsite booked, tent in the boot – and then my lovely lurcher got a grass seed in his paw! So, between hot poultices and visits to the vet, I’m writing a quick post: a review of Scattered Leaves by Kanchan Chatterjee (published in Presence earlier this month). […]

Scattered Leaves is full of the sights and sounds of India: tea sellers and border guards, monsoon rain and muggy nights. There is often a feeling of time passing, tinged with a sense of loss, as in the following:

long night …
the heap of incense
grows

fresh firewood
ashes at the burning ghat …
year’s end

Themes of aging and death often centre on the poet’s father:

dad’s monitor glows
through the ICU window
a sudden cuckoo

after the chemo
a cuckoo calls in between
dad’s whispers

Sometimes Chatterjee’s use of repetition can lack impact; there are a few haiku which are almost identical. Nevertheless, this book is full of finely observed detail, depicting a country where tradition and progress exist side by side, where ‘the faded chrysanthemums/ on mom’s shawl‘ and ‘a plastic rose/ nodding on the dashboard‘ inhabit the same cultural space.

Julie Mellor, Scattered Leaves

Toronto poet, translator, editor and publisher Mark Goldstein’s latest, Part Thief, Part Carpenter (Toronto ON: Beautiful Outlaw, 2021), subtitled “SELECTED POETRY, ESSAYS, AND INTERVIEWS ON APPROPRIATION AND TRANSLATION,” exists as an incredibly thorough book-length study that opens into a field of thinking; a book about literature, poetic structure and approach. Comprised of essay-scraps, quoted material, interviews, poems and translations and other materials collaged into a hefty study around writing, Goldstein tracks the varieties of ways in which literary work is built. In many ways, this collection expands upon everything he has done through his own writing up to this point, including the suggestion that literary translation and appropriation exist as but two points along a spectrum of literary response and recombination.

The scope and accomplishment of this work is remarkable, opening into a collage of multiple directions, all while furthering a single, coherent argument that connects translation to appropriation—an approach that runs from erasure to recombinant works to more conceptual works. Goldstein argues how all of the above can be seen as a variation on translation: the act of reworking and changing forms (and, for more conceptual works, context). There aren’t too many critics outside academic circles in Canada working on ‘personal studies’ on poetry and poetics in this way, and Goldstein has previously offered that one of his examples and mentors has been the infamous bookseller and critic Nicky Drumbolis, a literary thinker that produced his own life’s work, God’s Wand: The Origins of the Alphabet(Toronto ON: Letters Bookshop, 2002).

Structured into nine chapters, the first four of which are grouped under “ON APPROPRIATION,” and the final five under “ON TRANSTRANSLATION,” Goldstein writes of translation and Paul Celan, one of his deepest and most enduring influences, and how Celan’s work has helped shape his own aesthetic and thinking. He writes on specific works by Caroline Bergvall, Lyn Hejinian, Ronald Johnson, Pierre Joris, John Cage and Charles Bernstein. He writes on flarf, Oulipo and translation. He offers poems, both in his own translation and of his own making. He quotes long passages from multiple writers and thinkers, shaped and collaged together, and in many cases, simply allowing the material to speak for itself. There is an enormous amount of play displayed in the shaping of this collection, and Goldstein is clearly having a great deal of fun working through his research. In one section, he translates a single poem ten different ways, offering translation as a shaping and reshaping of form, playing off structures and rhythms utilized by poets including Susan Howe, Robert Creeley, Amiri Baraka, Ted Berrigan and Gertrude Stein. Through Goldstein, translation isn’t a simple matter of allowing readers of one language the opportunity to experience writing originally produced in another language, but a way in which words are shaped, categorized and shifted, and the possibility of a far more open sequence of choices.

rob mclennan, Mark Goldstein, Part Thief, Part Carpenter

On many occasions, the whole set of connotations of a word in one language simply cannot be conveyed in another. One such example would be the statement Espero in Spanish. In English, this could be translated in several ways, but the three main options would be as follows:

1) I wait

2) I expect

3) I hope

The translator firstly finds themselves forced to interpret which version the original writer might have intended to communicate, as all three cannot be succinctly retained in English. Secondly, meanwhile, they’re consequently obliged to remove any ambiguity that the original might (or might not) have sought to play on among those three potential meanings. And thirdly, the verb esperar is loaded with the same three etymological, social and emotional connotations that cannot be conveyed in English by a single word. 

In other words, for instance, when a Spaniard expects something, they’re linguistically aware that they’re also hoping and waiting for it. An English speaker is not. No matter how we dress up a translator’s syntactic and semantic dance, how can such tensions ever be resolved to any degree of satisfaction, how can the same ambiguities and multiplicities of meaning be preserved? 

Matthew Stewart, Espero, an example of the perils of translation

This week I’m excited to feature the work of friend and dynamic poet, Dimitri Reyes. His recent collection, Every First & Fifteenth (Digging Press), came out earlier this month and is connecting with people on a variety of levels. I have long admired the presence in his work, a presence of honesty and clarity.

This honesty and clarity can be seen in “3rd Generation,” featured below along with a statement from the poet. This poem incorporates presence in terms of naming and switching between languages, in both cases using the necessary words to say what’s needed. Along with that, there is the clarity of experience. When the speaker of this poem states “Our countries are our minds,” it is a clear if heavy truth.

Anybody whose family has a history of immigration and marginalization can attest to the trauma and weight of navigating on a number of planes: the physical, the mental, the emotional, all as much as the linguistic. This navigating means being always switching and performing, questioning one’s self and one’s validity, trying always to figure out who we need to be to fit into a given moment. Much like the title of his collection and its allusion to living check to check, the marginalized experience is one of negotiating what space one finds one’s self in and what one needs to survive. This constant motion wears on a person.

And yet, in the face of this exhaustion, and often because of it, one scratches together a sense of clarity. Our survival is earned not in some vague notion of “earning” associated with bootstraps, but in actual effort and perseverance. Because what is presence if not a kind of perseverance? When the poet states that “Our countries are our minds,” they are acknowledging the multiplicity of existence. Reyes’ ability to articulate and speak to that multiplicity is a gift, one that I am glad to be able to share with you here.

José Angel Araguz, writer feature: Dimitri Reyes

Melanie Hyo In Han was born in Korea, raised in East Africa and lives in America. Her poems are drawn from her experiences and explore culture, belonging and identity and knowledge gained through translation work between English, Korean and Spanish. […]

In “Sandpaper Tongue, Parchment Lips”, Melanie Hyo In Han explores what compromises are made to belong when your cultural and ethnic heritage differs from the people around you and asks how far those compromises should go. She acknowledges her attitudes towards heritage and language and how these impact those closest to her. There is trauma, sensitively approached and probed. Ultimately, these are compassionate poems, driven by a desire to share and communicate, carrying the reader as witness to reach a shared understanding.

Emma Lee, “Sandpaper Tongue, Parchment Lips” Melanie Hyo In Han (Finishing Line Press) – book review

Today, I’d like to think aloud about making a convincing photograph, on presenting photographs, on being intentional with our work. All with the caveat, I have no idea what I’m doing and am really just learning this all as I go. But what I’m learning about photography might also apply to the practice of writing, or painting, or making any art, and maybe even life, so here are some things that I’ve been reading:

 “Making a convincing photograph of a beautiful place is as hard as writing a convincing story about good people. We want to believe, but a lot of evidence stands in the way.”

—Robert Adams, in Art Can Help.

And then with Edmonton, there is beauty here, but a lot of evidence stands in the way of that too. Part of me thinks that before sharing a photo I should ask myself certain questions: is the photograph convincing? Is it beautiful? Does it astonish? What am I hoping that the photograph will convey? Is it worthy of taking up real estate on the internet, the feed, the flow? Is it part of a conversation? What does it say?

What happens anyway if we just assume a place has beauty? Take that as a given?

But then I remember that sometimes we learn the answer to these questions, only by throwing our work out there. When we allow our work to be seen, it changes how we see it. So, when we steadily share work that maybe isn’t always stellar, there are a lot of things we learn about how we wish to proceed. Complicated and contradictory at times, yes?

Shawna Lemay, A Convincing Photograph

Del Toro is always much loved for his monsters and creatures, but it’s those incredible sets and wide shots that kill me. Crimson Peak’s crumbling manse filled with black moths. The cabin in the woods of Mama where the children are found, midcenury, but also in ruin. Pan’s labyrinth and its steep staircase into the earth. So much of filmmaking is that visual–those wide, unwinding shots. An immersiveness that swallows you completely. With The Shape of Water, I kept pausing the movie to make it last longer, to marvel at what was on the screen. 

I try to think about how that sort of world-building translates to poems. Since most poems are pretty short–even most series or books of poems are short–you have less time, but I’d like to think this makes it more difficult but also easier, especially given that poems have permission to be more dreamlike than fiction. To create that world in a small book demands skill. Rather than setting it up carefully, you have to jump right in before even building the boat sometimes  Or you are building it as you go.  So often when I am assembling a full-length mss. I am looking for the series of work that not only share thematic similarities, but also exist in the same world.  Or could if it were real. It’s not necessarily limited by time or space.   

Kristy Bowen, film notes | underwater world-building

You see that I made a distinction between ‘real poems’ and ‘stocking-fillers’ which, when I come to think about it, is as foolish as putting a capital P on Poetry or a capital L on Literature, and thinking that is a tenable proposition. For that, mea culpa. Because sometimes I’ve set out to write a bit of ‘entertainment’ and found that the poem has ideas of its own. I guess this is particularly true of dramatic monologues. There’s a long tradition of the dramatic monologue in music hall performance, and it sort of slips into the folk scene, via Marriott Edgar’s brilliant creations like ‘Albert and the Lion’ which were immortalised in Stanley Holloway’s recorded performances of them . You can hear their influence in some of the work of Pam Ayres and Mike Harding. 

There’s the music hall at one end of the spectrum, and, I suppose, Shakespeare at the other, and in the notional middle, between the two kinds of performance art, there’s the printed poem. So many of them sink into your subconscious sense of how characters can be created, how they can be made to sound, from the appalling duke of Browning’s ‘My last duchess’ to Tony Harrison’s dead Iraqi soldier or David Constantine’s five monomaniacs in ‘Monologue’. If you were to ask about the appeal of the dramatic monologue for me, it’s the liberation of wearing a mask, and the genuine enjoyment of discovering the accent, the ideolect of the persona. 

John Foggin, Stocking-fillers [5]. Trades and voices

behind my eyes
I see Anne Sexton’s little owl
draw breath

between dungaree thighs
dark as Byron’s night
and drawl out

unnoticed rhyme
punching in the words
like rivets

Dr. Omed, On Reading Sexton’s To Bedlam And Part Way Back

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, 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. Travel turned out to be a major theme this week—appropriately enough, as I had to drive 40 minutes to a place with good WiFi in order to finish the digest. Other themes included the body and its ailments, and how hard work affects writing and thinking.


Shapeshifter, it’s time
For you to be a human again.

James Lee Jobe, Fur and bone and feather.

I decided at diagnosis that I wasn’t going to dwell on it. There’s too much writing, traveling, and fun still to be had. I’m giving myself permission to have a whopper of a mid-life crisis; I might even start a bucket list. 

The week before my surgery, I closed on my condo in Midtown. Moving in after the surgery was a fresh hell, but I’m here and happy in my new nest. Being able to walk a block or two to everything I need – supermarket, drug store, restaurants, MARTA – is even better than living on the Atlanta BeltLine. 

Although, I can walk pretty easily to the Eastside Trail if the mood hits. I’m also in walking distance to the Proton Center, not that I’m eager to make that trek, but at least it’s convenient. A couple of weeks ago, I walked over and had a mold made of my face for the radiation mask. That’s the closest I want to get to mummification. 

Collin Kelley, Living with the Big C

Due to mini-strokes and constriction of the blood flow in her brain, my mother has developed the same form of cognitive decline that my mother-in-law had: vascular dementia. In both cases, aphasia ravaged their speech as their conditions worsened. My partner’s stepmother also had aphasia due to stroke, so I have now witnessed the condition up close among three women who had very different backgrounds and personalities. As aphasia presents most noticeably as a loss of verbal expression (talk about being at a loss for words!), the condition fascinates me (a person who loves words).

And devastates me. My mother had never been “good at words” the way my father was, but she was a compassionate listener and often could find the right things to say when my glib and witty friends and family members could not. I recall many times when she would ask to talk to me alone and express something she’d been keeping to herself and reflecting upon, waiting until she could “say it the right way.” Now, she can say almost nothing “the right way.” Rain becomes snow; snow becomes green; hat becomes clark; tomato becomes red; table becomes place…and even these are unreliable substitutes, likely to change from one conversation to the next. The pronoun she has vanished from her lexicon. Her vocabulary is little better than a five-year-old’s, and she inadvertently invents words that are essentially meaningless while trying to convey meaning.

She can still read, a little, and slowly. A few months ago, I gave her a book by Eloise Klein Healy, Another Phase. Healy, a well-known poet, was stricken with Wernicke’s aphasia and–with a devoted speech therapist’s help–regained the ability to compose poetry again, though the work she now produces reflects her profoundly-changed expressive abilities. My mother was pleased that she could read the book and that Healy could make poems even with aphasia. And Mom understood the poems–had memorized a few image-lines that she liked. This stunned me–memory’s often wrecked by vascular dementia, or so we are led to believe. But my mother has a good memory. She merely has extremely limited verbal expressiveness–an inability to locate the right word, and a loss of numeracy and literacy. Alas, the result means she cannot make her ideas and thoughts known to others. Isolating.

Ann E. Michael, The right words

Who is she now/this body/after/all this wrack joy yes extraction no/shrinking fast/swimming the summery streets of lake current/his veins/the temporal slides/the bleeds/needle in her teeth/mending/mending/arched beneath/yearning toward in muscled reach/cut cleaved pressed lost/in utter clarity/when asked I wonder what has changed/she can only say it has changed/she does not know what that will mean/she is/she was/she will be/turning to bone as she sinks/whales and seals and salmon pour from arterial yes/and also/but why/something now is locked away that wasn’t

JJS, who now this body

Moon phase for July 4 is Waning Crescent,
says the moon app. The photo of the moon shows it
melting in the space darkness.
The surface is like the skin
of an old man who’s seen the world:
wounded, marked, dry.
When we don’t see it,
the moon forgets about us.
We don’t. We wait.

Magda Kapa, Waning Crescent on July 4

The government notes that self-isolation has proved an effective measure in reducing harm to others.

In light of this, the following measures also now apply to those who have not been isolated by current legislation.

Those with any physical illness which could be passed on to another person must now self-isolate.

Those with any mental illness who currently feel, or have felt in the past, that they may harm others, must now self-isolate.

These measures will be enforced immediately.

In addition, those with any physical illness which cannot be passed on to another person, but who are causing stress to another person who is having to look after them, should self-isolate.

Likewise, any person with a disability of any kind, or who is old, and requiring others to help them, and thus being a burden to those people.

People with any mental illness, who while not intending harm to others, are bringing the people around them down, should also now self-isolate.

Those who have self-isolated out of fear, whatever the cause, should continue to self-isolate.

No further action is required for those who are already isolated for other reasons, including, but not limited to, poverty, lack of transport, and/or lack of friends or family.

Likewise for those who have self-isolated because they simply prefer being on their own.

The government will keep this matter under review and further statements will be issued as required.

Sue Ibrahim, Government statement

In Stardew Valley, the game that I have nattered about extensively on this blog, the farm animals are simple creatures. They are either happy or unhappy. When they are happy, a heart pops up in the dialogue balloon above their heads. When they are unhappy, a gray scribble appears, denoting their displeasure with missing a meal or being cold or God knows what other lack they are suffering. This weekend has been a gray-scribble weekend for me. I have been walking around with a scribble above my head, unhappy and impervious to any of Mr. Typist’s usual cheering-up methods. It’s not grief, it’s not exactly depression, it’s just a deep sense of dissatisfaction and restlessness. It’s a sign that something needs to change. In the past, I would find these periods of malaise daunting and would be intimidated at the prospect of change, but I’m not this time around. I’m ready. I have full clarity and intent and I know my worth. Interestingly, I did a Tarot card reading this weekend and came up with multiple sword cards, concluding with the Queen of Swords, a woman who stands in her truth and is ready to receive.

Kristen McHenry, Scribble Head, Bro Move, Pool Nostalgia

Iceland’s landscape is gorgeous, but its soundscape is striking, too. I expected to hear crashing breakers and waterfalls, but I forgot there would be a million unfamiliar bird calls. I spotted oystercatchers, terns, gulls, fulmers, eider ducks, redwings, and sandpipers, but more often I heard screeches, warbles, clicks, and chattering from birds I couldn’t see, much less identify. There was a sea cave near Hellnar full of gulls and maybe other white-and-grey birds–I couldn’t climb close enough to see them well–but their cacophony carried. From around a bend in the trail, they sounded weirdly like small children in a playground, some cackling, one crying from an injury. We never saw puffins or seals, but from steep field after steep field, the sheep had plenty to say.

What might stay with me most was the voice of ice on the move. The ocean beach near Jökulsárlón, noisy with sea-sounds and high wind, was so visually amazing we kept laughing with surprise at the black volcanic sands littered with glassy iceberg fragments, and just behind them, larger blue chunks of Vatnajökull bobbing on the waves. (The joy gets a lot more muted when you learn that this arm of the largest glacier between the Arctic and Antarctic is melting so fast that it will be a fjord in a few years.) We heard the ice much more clearly at a couple of less-visited glacial lagoons, Breiðárlón and Fjallsárlón, where we could tramp out to the edge of the lake and listen without other people nearby. The nearest floes were slushy; you could see as well as hear them crack then separate. Larger noises came from further away, including a rumble from the edge of the glacier. We froze to listen, wondering if it was calving.

Lesley Wheeler, Listening to Iceland

I’ve been in the garden a lot, dabbling as a gardener for the first time in my life and finding it very enjoyable, not to say relaxing and satisfying. I’ve combined my image-making and gardening interests by using flowers and foliage from the garden in my pieces, and adding text.

Andrew and I have been to London a few times, mainly moving our student son out of his accommodation for the summer and visiting our daughter, who’s lived in London for nearly a year now. How fast time has flown. I read somewhere that time moves fast when nothing much happens.

Josephine Corcoran, July Update

On the last morning, you’ll rucksack-up, / then lower your pack to the floor,/ consider the weight of things.’ My sons are moving on, and I’m travelling alone with the weight of a Brompton, folded. Companionship comes in many forms, and I have projected personality onto my bicycle – she is blue, she is named Boudicca. 

Blame the blockage in the Suez Canal, or the pandemic rush to get bicycles out of sheds, but the cycle shop nearest to London Euston is all out of bicycle clips and reflective ankle bands, and has been for months. Whilst telling me this, the kind assistant passed me a clutch of rubber bands in assorted sizes. “Try these,” he said, with the confidence of someone who can speak several languages. Boudicca, were she able to do so, would have commented that I looked like a low-budget Tintin as I climbed onto the saddle, and set off for Tufnell Park.

This is the birthplace of four symphonies, the violin concerto, / a clutch of quartets …’ 2018 – Pasqualatihaus, Vienna. 2021 – the Tufnell Park Tavern, Tufnell Park. 

This city’s a miniature of empire‘ – as true of London as it is of Vienna. The cycle route took us down the back streets, under railway bridges, past car repair shops, close to tower blocks. It took us over tarmac, and took us over glass. Nearing the pub, I felt Boudicca’s back wheel resist the road in the way it does as a tyre deflates: instant lethargy, forewarning of the need to lie on one’s back with one’s wheels in the air.

Liz Lefroy, I Repair to London

knowing your purpose is the fall of rain :: how gently can you live

Grant Hackett [no title]

When I was a kid, I sometimes played out entirely fake situations and conversations in my head, and sometimes, spilling out of my mouth.  The car was one of my favorite places to daydream on long rides, and I remember crouching down behind my mother’s seat, whispering,  conscious that she’d notice that I was mouthing my made up scenes, and already, at 5 or 6 kind of self-conscious about it. I was never one to have an imaginary friend–but more–had many that lived in my head an enacted out their stories,  When it came to writing, before I even knew how, I would fill notebooks with squiggles I imagined as stories.  While I often pulled others–my sister, my cousins, neighbor kids–into my play, I spent a lot of time in this imaginary life myself and it didn’t go away as I got older.  When I wasn’t reading in other people’s written worlds, I would just sit in my room with music on playing things out in my head, something that continued into high school. Hell, maybe even adulthood.

I wonder often if novelists and other story makers live this way–esp. since I do even as a poet. How so much of writing and thinking about stories and characters and world-building feels like like a dissociative state sometimes. And is that all writing is? So much time in our heads with other people, other lives, that we are never fully in this one?  

Kristy Bowen, film notes: writer brain

One day a door opens in the ground
and you know this is every door
you’ve ever read about in tales and fables.
The animals watch to see what you do
after you pass into the country beyond.
The trees are full of birds; at first
they make no sound, and then
they open their mouths in bursts
of rifle fire.

Luisa A. Igloria, Ex-Paradiso

Where does the time go, eh? It’s been a month of missed weekly posts and IT DOESN’T MATTER ONE JOT!!

In that month I can barely say what’s happened, but I can confirm I completed Race To The King and went to the funeral of the magnificent Lorraine Gray. I was asked to read, alongside my two closest friends, Adrian Henri’s ‘Without You‘ (and that reminds me, I must order Andrew Taylor’s book about Adrian), some other folks read Auden’s ‘If I Could Tell You’, so it was a beautiful, poetry-filled event…(Oh yes, and very, very boozy, but it’s what she would have wanted.)

So much of the last few weeks have been spent fixated on that run and then Lol’s funeral that I now find myself a bit bereft of focus. The football has been a welcome distraction, but concentrating on anything seems to escape me at present. I sat down earlier to try and look at a poem for the first time in a month, and while I know the ideas are ok, nothing grabbed me enough to want to write more of them. I was listening to Johnny Marr’s interview with our esteemed laureate yesterday while on a tip run and he talked about turning up, the act of craft, etc and I think perhaps I am out of practice. My habit of daily writing has fallen way by the wayside (as has writing these posts), so it’s time to do something about that. Not, again, that it matters either way…

Mat Riches, Falcon, Falcoff

I was off the grid for a week in early June for a family gathering in Michigan, and now it’s nearly mid-July, and I’ve been “off the grid” in all kinds of ways before and since. My last post, in early April, was mostly about March, and time still feels suspended. I wrote a poem a day in April, as planned & hoped, and I have continued to read books of poetry but am way behind in my reviewing,* as that takes concentration, re-reading, and a clear mind. I’m also reading fiction, nonfiction, essays, comics, and letters as a kind of escape as well as a way to focus. I’m walking to work. I’m swimming laps again, as this year the pool opened! I feel good but weird.

I guess I’m surprised that coming out of Covid isolation was somehow harder than being in. But why?** I’m not scared, just wary. I worked from home till June 1, 2020, and have worked masked at the workplace ever since. I’m vaccinated and go unmasked with other vaccinated people, friends and family I trust. I still wear a mask to the grocery store, though many customers, cashiers, and other employees don’t. Cases (and deaths) went way down where I live but are on the uptick again. I accompany my parents to medical appointments, where people all wear masks in healthcare settings. I was part of a masked theatre audience and will be again. But I walk to work unmasked, and it is so nice to see people’s faces again.

Kathleen Kirk, Off the Grid

What’s been (sort of) interesting about working through the pandemic is how difficult it’s been to think. I only work half time and yet, my ability to really delve deeply into a book or subject has been wanting. The library went through cycles of being closed and open but was always doing curbside pick-ups and this was quite honestly more like factory work. In the Zaretsky book [The Subversive Simone Weil: A Life in Five Ideas by Robert Zaretsky] he says,

“The act of thinking, Weil discovered, was the first casualty of factory work. A few days into her job, she was already reeling from fatigue. At times, the unremitting pace reduced Weil to tears. In one unexceptional entry, she wrote: “Very violent headache, finished the work while weeping almost uninterruptedly. (When I got home, interminable fit of sobbing).”

In her factory work, Weil said that she profoundly felt “the humiliation of this void imposed on my thought.” What are the rights of workers now, and what are our obligations to them?

Shawna Lemay, What Are You Going Through?

end of a shift
floating in the tiredness
of cared hands that soothed
or could not soothe the some times
when
time had taken the intellect away
in ways that intellects could dissect in the pages
of books devoted to the subject
and yet
this tiredness is not to be found in
the pages of any book
it is to be found in the muscles
of a mind exercised with thoughts
of the left behind that were once
the foremost but are now
simply pity in your hands
the
empathy of a washed goodnight
in the glory of walking away
just one more time
until
is such an implosive word

Jim Young, night nurse

Folk festival folk:

They work in council housing departments
and sing sad songs of flooded seams and firedamp,
poss-tubs, pinnies, lockouts ,blacklegs,
disasters, deprivation.

Or tutors in evening classes
who know The Ballad of Sir Patrick Spens,
and Matty Groves by heart; they sing without
accompaniment. And slow. And flat. They never miss
a verse. They sing the chorus after every
one, bring unimagined nuances to
the meaning of interminable.

Some sell insurance; or work in call centres,
and sing, at length, about the whaling,
silver darlings, foundering trawlers, ice;
shawled fisherwives on shivering wharves
gazing at the widowing sea.

John Foggin, Stocking fillers (3)

Summer teaching started for me this week. Excited to start new conversations and encourage young writers to engage with articulating their authentic selves while navigating the rules of different spaces. Am exhausted, won’t lie, but that’s also the life.

Did want to share two quick things:

First, here’s another article to help navigate the ever-evolving pandemic we’re in. I worry I alienate people by coming back to the high stakes we’re living in, but then I wouldn’t be staying true to myself if I didn’t. I mean, carrying on like things can go back to “normal” alienates me, so, really, this be quid pro quo, no?

Second, here’s a poem I found while seeking out ideas for a post this week:

thank the weeds
for pulling you
closer to the flowers

(Rich Heller, Lilliput Review)

I purposely share it with my aforementioned sense of feeling alienated and like a harbinger of doom. In my case, I’m working out the weeds of worry and survival, all of which doesn’t bring me down, not exactly. It brings me down and it makes me look up and value what we’re surviving for.

Here’s to the weeds.

José Angel Araguz, not in the weeds, the weeds are in me, so to speak

I was going to post the old song “I’m glad I’m not young anymore” that Maurice Chevalier sang in “Gigi”  but the lyrics don’t really apply in my case.

However, I am glad to be in the 70’s now, not back in the years of the 70’s.  Glad to be here now.

Some regrets, and one of them is that there wasn’t digital photography until so recently.  The film camera made one abstemious about what photo to take, since film cost money, and developing the film cost money and time.  There were photos of events and persons that I simply wish I had, to help my memory along.

I am glad I won’t be around in thirty years to live in the world that is coming.  

Anne Higgins, I’m glad not to be young in 2021

Before there were digital cameras, we took pictures and sent film away to have it developed.  I loved getting the prints in the mail, and I saved all the negatives, in case I wanted reprints.  I rarely wanted reprints, but I saved them.

Yesterday, my spouse and I sorted through the photo albums.  We didn’t do any digitizing–that’s a much more complicated project.  We knew that we had kept all sorts of photos, and yesterday it was time to look at them again.  We haven’t looked through most of those albums in decades.

Here are some insights:

–I was worried that the non-archival albums might have bleached the pictures away, but they’re still in good shape.

–I use the word “good” rather loosely.  These pictures were never high quality.  It’s not like we had parents who gave us quality camera equipment.  We had instamatic kinds of cameras–not Polaroids, not that kind of instant.  The kind of cameras we had took 110 film.  How do I still remember that?  Probably from decades of ordering that film and sending film away.

–Then, as now, I kept every picture.  Consequently, I have pictures of parts of the floor, a window here the side of a car, a strip of floor, all sorts of accidental photos.

–I also kept lots of photos of humans whom I no longer remember.  I dutifully wrote names on the backs of pictures, but those names didn’t help.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Sorting Photos

In a week in which, inexplicably, a kerfuffle was kicked up over Ange Mlinko’s not-extravagantly-unreasonable comments about Adrienne Rich in the London Review of Books, the poetry contribution to the same edition of the LRB, Emily Berry’s Paris, seems to have passed more or less without comment. I’m surprised only because Paris is a prose poem and prose poems always seem capable of getting someone’s goat; I would at least have expected someone to take to Twitter with a complaint about how this sort of thing ‘isn’t poetry’. I’m posting about it now not to bemoan the form of Berry’s offering (if interested, see more on the subject in relation to Jeremy Noel-Tod’s prose poetry anthology, here) but to celebrate it as a complexification of literary power dynamics, an exposé of authorial paranoia, and a parody of Proustian psychological observations.

This week is also of course Proust’s one hundred and fiftieth anniversaire, and so it is appropriate that the LRB should mark the occasion, even if it is tucked away in the sub-text of a prose poem. Berry is very witty in shrinking the vastness of Á la recherche du temps perdu to what is (prose/poetry debates notwithstanding) basically a single paragraph. And it is a paragraph repleat with ironic thoughts on that most thoughtless of modern mechanisms for capturing lost time, the selfie. What took Proust thirteen years to write, and most readers months if not years to read, is whittled down to a minute or two for readers of the LRB and a single moment of posing for the protagonist of the poem.

Chris Edgoose, Paris by Emily Berry

Composed in sections, halts and hesitations, Medin explores memory as a series of conversations, attempting to seek what might not otherwise be known or revealed without pushing too hard. Writing on her mother as part of “BROOKLYN, NOVEMBER 15, 2018,” she writes: “I have to be careful when asking questions, or else she’ll say it again: stop.” She writes between generations, from her mother and grandmother to her own children; she writes between geographies, from the family home in Paraguay to Argentina, to the United States. She writes a story and a prose in transit, in transition, perpetually in motion. To uncover another element of her own story might be to shift the entire narrative. In the same section, she adds: “She did not have time for documenting time. On top of that, who keeps a journal? Although she is writing this to me on a screen, I can hear her shouting: ‘I have never known anyone who keeps a journal.’”

This is such a remarkable book, and the ease of her prose is enviable. I keep having to hold back quoting page upon page, pushing the whole of this collection through my computer screen and in front of my own commentary. Medin writes of physical, emotional and temporal distances she wishes to travel; of cognitive distance. She writes of connection and disconnection, centred around family, and specifically, her mother. As she writes: “My mother’s domain. Her house. Was my house. this is no nostalgic writing. There is no desire to recover what’s gone. No need of further separation, of a wall built across.” As well, I’ll admit that I’m left to conjecture the purpose of the words set in bold throughout the text, but to read only those words through the collection, one can see a single, extended poem hidden in plain sight. There are layers beyond layers here. To thread such together, for example, from the opening poem, offers: “To open and close, to cut / into pieces / not your daughter, / not you. / yet, / a mother.”

rob mclennan, Silvina López Medin, Poem That Never Ends

Paul occasionally mentioned the poet Brian Jones (1938–2009) – not to be confused with the Strolling One – and a few years ago, his own publisher, Shoestring Press, published a selection of Jones’ poems. I must get round to buying a copy. In the meantime, I recently bought a lovely copy of Jones’s Interior, 25 poems published by Alan Ross in 1969. There is something Larkinian about his poetry, though without the misanthropy or suppressed bigotry. More than anyone, though, his poems remind me of Dennis O’Driscoll’s: droll, acutely aware of mortality and on the nose.

A three-part poem ‘At the Zoo’ was always going to appeal to me, because I adore zoo poems, and zoos in fact, hard though it is not to feel simultaneously thrilled by proximity to the creatures therein and repulsed by their captivity. The third part concerns Chi-Chi, the giant panda who was brought to London Zoo from Frankfurt in 1958 and was a major attraction until her death in 1972, and opens thus: ‘This is the panda that wouldn’t be shagged!’. After a superb simile, ‘wondering kids hoisted like periscopes’, he elaborates on the panda’s situation and attitude:

This is the girl
who would have none of it, who let the world
proclaim and plan the grandest wedding for her,
who travelled in state and with due coyness
one thousand miles in a beribboned crate,
who ate well at the reception, honoured the ritual,
and when the time arrived for being shagged
chose otherwise, rolled over, went to sleep.

Anthropomorphic, to a degree, this may be, but it’s fine writing, with a deceptively easy rhythm.

Matthew Paul, On Brian Jones (no, not that one)

A new episode of the New Books in Poetry podcast is up. I had an amazing conversation with Carl Marcum about his new book A Camera Obscura (Red Hen Press, 2021).

A Camera Obscura is a lyrical exploration of external and internal worlds. The heavens described in these poems could be the stars glittering above our heads, the pathways of faith, or the connection between human beings. Playing with scientific understandings of the world, along with the linguistic conventions of the poetic form, A Camera Obscura is a compelling journey that simultaneously drifts through the cosmos while being rooted to the ground beneath our feet.

Andrea Blythe, New Books in Poetry: A Camera Obscura by Carl Marcum

How rare to travel as an amateur or emigrant, so ignorant of a well-trod place that you let the place’s magic play with your “free gaze.”   I, Rhode Islander, arrive with little knowledge of New Mexico.  D.H. Lawrence, Georgia O’Keeffe, retirees and moneyed Texans stay way in my back pocket.  I take in a sightline that’s not East Coast congested, but vast and open. The roads are straight — endless — cutting through an artist’s range of pinks, ochres, yellows.  The desert unfolds like an ocean of silver-sagebrush meets horizion.  Everything breathes on thinner oxygen.  The light makes rocks and cactus levitate.  Cactus are wan and colorless until they burst into hot colors like cartoons.  Veils of rain trail from navy-dark clouds you can see in some distance town.  Sunset over a layered plane that looks like the bottom of the sky.  In sum, an otherworldliness.   

As poet Adam Zagajewski writes, to the emigrant, a rush of rain on a Paris boulevard can be Notre Dame’s equal.  He also talks of how a workaday place falls prey to the “innocent sabotage of the free gaze, thus splitting it into disconnected atoms.”   So the morning sunbeam opens the doors of vision.  It doesn’t negate the tragedy of the native tribes but observing legacy of history in situ, witnessing the past in landscape, the native absence and presence becomes more felt.  Paul Celan’s term “what happened,’ expresses the horror of what can’t be named here too. 

Jill Pearlman, Santa Fe on Thinner Oxygen

I recently won a small amount of money in a poetry competition. Poem here. I have spent the prize money, many times over, on books.

I’d like to show you some of them. First up is Untravelling, an achingly beautiful new book by Mary Frances from Penteract Press. On each page a found landscape is paired with a few lines of cutup text. Every page is a meditation. It will mean something different each time it is read. It would be the perfect companion to take on a long journey, actual or metaphorical.

Ama Bolton, A binge of books

Sometimes the wind
in the Sandhills
wants nothing

and the cottonwoods
are happy.

Tom Montag, NEBRASKA SANDHILLS (30)

How to hold fear for so long
my shoulders learn a new shape.
How to watch numbers climb
higher, and then higher.
How to hold funerals
and kindergarten
over Zoom.

How to read subtle signals
via eyes alone.
How to re-grow scallions in water
because there might not be
more to buy.
How to feel our connections
though we’re apart.

Rachel Barenblat, How To

Remember last week’s advice to myself? Stay open to connections, calmly watch for sprouting seeds?

Yeah, okay.

So I tread softly through the noise and haste. Sat calmly amid the sun and rain. Tinkered with the poem. Tinkered with the poem. TINKERED WITH THE DAMN POEM.

Rolled the poem up and beat it against the desk.

Decided clearly I know nothing about writing poems.

Quit writing forever.

Decided to go back to school in the plumbing trade.

…Then I got an idea.  …

Marilyn McCabe, Waiting on a friend; or, On Writing and Patience

I’ve seen an ink that refuses to write anything but trouble in the blood.

When the grenade demands a final cigarette before its detonation, ask it to reconsider.

See if it might like to put all that bang into creating a beautiful floral arrangement for a stranger.

Rich Ferguson, Meditations at 2 AM

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 25

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week, I found a lot of summery posts, but with that bright, hot summer light often balanced with darkness. As it should be.


I usually like to run and immerse myself in a world of earthly delights.   It’s a yes-world, a way of soaking in color, judiciously chosen openness.   What would my first long-awaited travel be like, after being sprung from lockdown?

It was immersion, but not the same yes kind —  a vast world of strangers, airports made of retractable bands and systems and uniformed people.  Alongside immersion was interrogation.  I don’t mean security and pat-downs, though that existed — I mean the world interrogating me, and me interrogating the world.  It was made of strangers — better word: strange.  The settings were familiar — I know airports and Denver, where I have landed many times, with its dung-colored scruff and line of blue mountains in the distance, emptiness that gives way to four, then eight lanes of black suburban highways.  It kept asking questions, forming and reforming, my curiosity tinged with neither trust nor distrust.  All real, this world I belong to but now, how exactly?  

Under all the real things, something was walking with me — the violence of the past year.  The idea that the naked truth had been exposed, and dark reality had emerged into plain view.  After all that death, what was appearing was a posthumous world.  Interrogate that!

Jill Pearlman, World of Curious Delights

One of my favorite juxtapositions in all genres is something beautiful that is also tinged or shot through with darkness. The Conjuring does not look like a horror movie usually would. Even something like Haunting of Hill House, while dark and lovely, seemed like a haunted house from the get go, with crumbling statuary and dark corners. But there is so much light, so much floral wall paper and sun swept floors in this film. How could ghosts live in something so filled with light?  Some of the most horrific scenes–the hanging witch over the shoulder, the sheet scene, happen in broad daylight, not in shadowy dark.  One of my favorite horror films, It Follows, does this well and has a similar seventies feel–lots of light and daylight and horrific things that live in it.  

I have a line in my website’s artist statement about this juxtaposition of the beautiful and the terrible, and I think it may be one of the things I am always striving toward, both written and visual. Collages that seems pretty but are darker (the conspiracy theory pieces for example.)  The whole of dark country flirts with this, scenes that seem pretty and subdued, but with a darkness underneath them. (My promo pieces for it are actually set alongside vintage wallpaper samples, and the footage I’ll be using for the book trailer has a similar feel.)  The book itself, playing off the photo,  is pink–a color I was hoping to be reminiscent of a teen girl’s pink bedroom. And yet, it’s very much a book about horror and things that go bump in the night.  Sort of like if you scraped away the floral wallpaper and found the devil underneath. 

Kristy Bowen, film notes | beauty and terror

Writing my way backward through intense joy writing my way backward through the beginning solstice writing my way backward through my newly shorn blonde blonde hair writing my way backward through pushing paint around until I stop judging myself writing my way backward to practice writing my way backward through miles (and miles) of jam writing my way backward through the farmers market kettle corn fresh fried doughnut spring onion pink dahlias lolling in my arms writing my way backward into summer dresses writing my way backward into reading writing my way backward I. Hope. Finally. into writing the full moon extraordinary low tides that salt air fragrant woodsmoke from campers at the state park the startled heron in my yard the hoard of giant monarch butterflies that suddenly descended drinking from my hummingbird feeders flickering in and out of vision and my joy unabated this morning I shaved my legs for only the second time in two years and opened all the windows to morning before drowning in cherry light there is no bell box on the door the lantern light casts down hard to my left near my heart I want to volunteer a standard method of gloriously happy

Rebecca Loudon, Pig and farm report

My trusty travel box of watercolors has been a good companion during the pandemic: even though I was going precisely nowhere, seeing it on my desk was often an incentive to do a sketch, and the small size of my sketchbook and the paintbox seemed to work in our small apartment, where there’s no place to spread out, or set up an easel. Though I went up to the studio once a week or so, just to check on things, I didn’t do any artwork there because we weren’t really comfortable staying very long. Too many young people and random strangers, too few masks worn in the hallways both by other renters and workmen (although they were required), and the necessity of using shared bathrooms. After getting a first dose of vaccine, I felt better about it, and now that I’ve had the second, I will work there more. Today, in fact, I started a large pastel and it felt like such a relief to work big, and in a different medium. There’s no way I could do a pastel in the apartment, the process is way too messy.

So I’m wondering if maybe these late spring watercolors are the last I’ll do for a while. Probably not, but part of the loosening of restrictions for me feels like it ought to include a creative expansion: bigger work in pastels, oil, and maybe some prints. Besides, I’m just tired of struggling with watercolor, the most difficult medium of all, and working so small. I need a break, and to shake myself up!

Beth Adams, Watercolor Wanes

My son and I head north, his first visit with his grandparents since Christmas, 2019–before Covid, before his discharge from the military. So much has changed.

We have a wonderfully unremarkable visit. We eat lunches out. We watch old movies at night. We sit on the deck and talk. My son and his grandfather go golfing. My mom and I go shopping for an outfit for her to wear to my dad’s high school reunion later in the summer.

After shopping, we get a slice of pizza from a sidewalk window and take it to a table near the beach. It is a perfect day; 76 and sunny, with a hint of breeze.

We reminisce about our visits to town when my children were children, when our time in each shop was limited and every outing included a visit to a now long-closed toy store.

“Remember when we used to talk about how one day we’d have enough time to stay as long as we wanted in the shops?” I ask her. She smiles and nods. “And now it’s that day, and we sit here and talk about missing those days.”

“Yeah,” she says.

We miss the children my children once were, those beings we’ll never get to spend another afternoon with, but This is nice, too, I think. I loved the earlier times–the earlier us–but I love this time, too, even as it contains longing. You’re going to miss this someday, too, I tell myself, and now the moment contains a different kind of longing.

“I guess we never get to have everything we want all at once,” I say.

“That’s for sure,” she answers.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Strawberry season

some kind of moth has settled
on the other lawn chair
here in the tent that keeps away the bugs
I’m listening to Verdi’s Rigoletto
for the third time today
it’s the soundtrack to the novel
that has caught me in its grasp
rain falls gently on the tent
the dog scampers toward me
but he can never find the entrance
somewhere up the hill a cow lows
(if that’s the word I want)
it’s all nearly perfect
which is probably close enough

Jason Crane, POEM: aria

The wind was creating conditions similar to the ones on the day the chop pounding into me created that awful spasm – but unlike that day, the sky was clear and the waves stayed short of whitecaps. It was gentler, and the water temperature could not have been more perfect if I’d calculated it myself. I wasn’t rushed getting in, I had enough space and time to acclimate even stiff muscle.

I wasn’t very conscious of anxiety about the place, because the water there is so glorious and clean, and in spite of the wind, the weather conditions so perfect – just about 85F, water warm on the surface and delightfully cool underneath – that I was just happy to swim.

I was tight with it at first, though.

The less-familiar body of her and how she almost crushed me once.

It was hard to loosen, to lengthen as necessary for a good stroke and easy breathing, so I spoke to her: hello, I said. Again. I’m happy to be with you today, will you have me this time? And she said, in taste and smell and texture and wave: yes, you’re welcome here, and I began to relax.

3,300/two miles later, we were besties.

My swim-mate and I made perfect sighting lines and clean corners, drinking in the sweet, wild, aliveness of the place: raptors soared above, one of them a bald eagle, another a peregrine, another a redtail. A family of geese, the cygnets still messy-feathered, tracked us briefly: a family of ducks, 7 ducklings not even teacup-sized, swam alongside later.

It was hard to stop, and I could have stayed for another round, maybe this time faster – but instead I added a couple hundred to hit 2 miles even, thanked her, and let it be: Highland Lake, amended. Mended. Made joy and safety, as water should be, and usually is.

So relieved, when I realized what sharp edges of past trouble had just been smoothed away.

JJS, Spasm Lake, revisited

In long years, long after the new webbing of my new grown wings
has extended and dried, after my first exultations in the air,

after I am so used to strength and freedom
that this present weakness is a dream: I will come home to this
cold green dark and shadowed river and lay my drops of fire

in the river mud, to glow and blaze and glitter;
you will need both hands to prise one up, should you
be so unwise, and it will carry heat like the pennies

so long ago, when you were a tow-headed boy
and the river-water made you gasp, and red coins
winked in the sun.

Dale Favier, Copper

I don’t want to write today. My computer screens’ backgrounds are black instead of showing the photo I have had on them for four years. It is one of those days. Everything seems to be slightly out of its respective groove. Out of focus. Grinding. Even Leonard, who is lying on the floor next to me, is breathing more heavily than usual. Arhythmically.

On the walk this evening I was thinking about work. Already playing out autumn term scenes in my head that are unlikely to happen and unnecessary to itch about. What’s wrong with me? I’m trying to breathe easily and to listen to the blackbirds. And the train that is passing. And the truth is that once it has passed, the fading sound is pleasurable to focus on. The quieting to a hush. The world goes on. Is going on.

Someone outside is scolding. Leonard takes notice. Stands up. Figures it’s none of his business and lies down again.

These tiny things make up my days now. Sometimes it is difficult to find meaning in them. I mean, isn’t that what we have to do when our lives are stuck: find meaning in/for the small, meaningless things?

I write. I suppose that is an attempt to make meaning. To dig up what’s needed from memory to construct a story I can be satisfied with. That will justify the extra glass of wine, the extra hour of sleep, the dropped obligation.

Dropped obligations – so many of them – swept up into closets and threatening to topple on my head like a bit of slapstick if I ever go there in my mind.

And yet. Walking in the sunshine felt good this evening. It’s been a year since I felt the sun on my face like that. The grass in the field has grown past my waist. A dozen or so oystercatchers were calling while they skimmed the surface of the pond.

Ren Powell, Circular Stories

Further up. Dense shrubs
thickets of berries slubbed
like raw silk, leaves daubed

with stippled insect eggs
or lichen, fungus, swags
of spider webbing, sacs and bags

and butterflies, brute gnats
undeterred by repellent. We swat
stobs, are scratched. The scat

along trailside I recognize as bear
but say nothing, though a fear
threads my ribs tightly where

instinct thumps.

Ann E. Michael, The berries

The television news never speaks of the health of the creatures in the forest or of the deeds of insects. The reporters do not give updates on the growth of the spruce trees or the douglas fir, and no one describes the sound the wind makes in tree branches to the home audience. But the number of COVID-19 deaths? That is information that you cannot escape. Grief is our cloak as the wind blows.

James Lee Jobe, 2 prose poems. Eh

It has been a week of horrifying headlines.  I spent much of yesterday toggling back to accounts of the collapse of the condo building in Surfside Beach, even though I knew it was much too early for anyone to know the cause of it.

But I also want to remember this week as one of natural wonders.  I began the work week seeing dolphins in a tidal lake near me, and I’m finishing the work week seeing a rainbow in the sky: [photo]

I also noticed the pots of milkweed that we grew from seed.  Why does that ability to grow a plant from a seed always seem like a miracle?

Later this week-end, we’ll enjoy this pineapple, grown from a pineapple top that we planted years ago.  It, too, feels like a miracle.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Horrifying Headlines and Miracles of Nature

Summer was rind and fruit;
then sudden, humid fermentation.

We held one ear in the direction of rain,
the other open to cricket call.

Not even locusts gathered
as clouds on the horizon.

The fields radiated in all
directions, as though in those

old dreams of possibility.
We tried to take the measure

of this intractable body of heat.
No one had the heart to open

one striped umbrella, one
gaudy beach chair.

Luisa A. Igloria, A Vision

After a long year, it was time to leave the house, and I knew where I was headed. To those early places of sand and sea.

I watched a tug crossing the Coos Bay Bar. Sat on the same jetty I climbed on as a young girl. Found comfort in the smell of ocean. The wind blowing my hair. Remembered bits of a poem by John Masefield called Sea-Fever.

I must go down to the seas again, for the call of
the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day and white clouds
flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the
the sea-gulls crying.

It has been a long 15 months—a sitting on the knife’s edge of coming and going.

But I am one of the lucky ones, who has been lucky enough to walk the beach again, grow a garden, give peas to the neighbors, bouquets of flowers to the bedroom, create one small patch in the middle of a changing city, where bees, hummingbirds, and scrub jays, can find a place to land.

Just imagine if moving forward we could all find one small thing that would show this stressed planet how much we love being here and how much we long to stay. What if we wore amulets of sea water around our necks to remind us what holiness is?

Carey Taylor, Sea-Fever

a year and a half of survival
I lived three weeks in a cave
the beds were tombstones

Ama Bolton, ABCD June 2021

I’ve been dreaming of my mother as a younger woman, the way she looked when I was a child and teenager, although in these dreams, she’s also somehow elderly and dying. The night of the summer solstice, she was sick in bed staring at a crack that had just formed on the ceiling. It looked like a man with antlers, and she was afraid of him. The next morning I, of course, went down an internet rabbit hole reading about deer-deities and Horned Gods. Underworld guides and mediators. Huh.

I thought more about the dream as I caught up with fellow poetry bloggers and read Ann Michael’s post “Constricted” about literary blockages related to sorrow. I’m pretty healthy right now, aside from the usual trouble sleeping and some chronic tendonitis (ah, middle age), but I feel the draggy reluctance to work, cook, or take walks that I associate with illness. The heat and humidity, my husband said. Sadness for my daughter, who is going through a rough breakup, is in the mix. But grief for my mother is also moving through my body and mind even when I’m not aware of it. It’s a more complicated, subterranean, barbed process than I would have guessed.

Lesley Wheeler, Snagged in the antlers

A poem by Rosemary Wahtola Trommer titled, “How it Might Continue” begins:

“Wherever we go, the chance for joy,
whole orchards of amazement —

one more reason to always travel
with our pockets full of exclamation marks,

so that we might scatter them for others
like apple seeds.”

I found this poem in the “Indie Poetry Bestseller” — What the World Needs Now: Poetry of Gratitude and Hope. And to be honest, I almost did not pick up this book, partly because of the word bestseller, and because of late I have become so freaking bitter and jaded. There it is, the truth, haha. But then I noticed that Ross Gay who wrote a book I love, The Book of Delights had written the foreword. So I was first a little swayed by the word “indie” and then more so by the name, Ross Gay. And I was right to be swayed. I was worried that the poetry would be light and frothy, but instead found that it is steadying and real.

The thing is, that in the proper context, talk of gratitude is helpful. (When it’s just offered as a chaser to the usual, “remember to breathe and drink water” platitudes I can’t help but roll my eyes). In the intro, the editor, James Crews quotes David Steindl-Rast who said, “In daily life, we must see that it is not happiness that makes us grateful. It is gratefulness that makes us happy.” Crews says that this book is a model for “the kind of mindfulness that is the gateway to a fuller, more sustainable happiness that can be called joy.” And “We may survive without it, but we cannot thrive.” I love that the book has reading group questions in the back. I would definitely choose this for a book club book at the library, for example. And as it turns out this book and the wonderful array of writers and poems did lead me back to joy, at least a little joy, a small pocket of joy. And you know what? I’ll take that.

Shawna Lemay, Pockets Full of Exclamation Marks

Excited to share that my next book, we say Yes way before you, is forthcoming from Black Lawrence Press in March 2022! You can read about the project as well as two poems from it in this profile. Special thanks to Diane Goettel and the BLP crew for being so welcoming!

Been sitting on this news for a few weeks. I actually got the phone call a day or two before we moved all our belongings to a new city. I’ve been going through a difficult time specifically in terms of how I see myself as a writer. Getting this news was a win I didn’t know I needed.

Part of this new book process has me writing for permissions, something that is new to me and which this article by Jane Friedman gives invaluable advice about. Along with learning a new literacy and genre of writing, there’s the work of reconciling the metaphor in the language, the word permission itself. I often get stuck in such conceptual/metaphorical tangents while doing the “office work” type of things of a writing life. The very language of publication–submission, rejection, acceptance, etc.–is charged with (un)intentional and telling meaning.

José Angel Araguz, book news & co.

3 – How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?

I set myself deadlines, and find that concentrates my mind. I write notes on my phone and always keep a pen and paper on my bedside locker, ready to record a dream or some thought that comes to me in the night – if I wait until morning, the notion will have dissolved with the dark, and nothing I do will entice it back to me.

I need to be at my desk every day and write, waiting for inspiration is just procrastination and doesn’t work.

I try to get the first draft down in one or two days.  Re-writes and edits can take days or weeks, longer sometimes. Often the completed poem bears little resemblance to the seed from which it grew.

4 – Where does a poem or work of prose usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a “book” from the very beginning?

My poems used to arrive from ideas that needed to be shaped by words, but now my poems begin with phrases or words or things in the world that startle themselves, and me, by being things in the world.

Stories begin with language; I love listening to people talk, to steal a bit of their talk for dialogue.

Curiously, it’s not until I’m putting a poetry collection together that I identify themes running through series of the poems, which I put into sections in the book.

Poems arrive over time, often unbidden, and they will declare their bruises if they’re pressed into a ‘book’ shape for the sake of a theme.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Eleanor Hooker

Go more wild, was the advice about a recent poem draft. I know what she meant. Sort of. But how?

She meant let the poem leap more, keeping the reader surprised and fleet on her feet. Let my mind go more wild, she meant.

So I said, Okay, mind, go more wild. But it just sat there. Jump! I said. Dance, you varmint! Nothing. I felt like Toad (of Frog and) trying to get his garden to grow, jumping up and down and yelling at the seeds.

But I realized, actually thanks to the Rick Barot book I’m reading, that when my poems get leapy, it’s not because my mind has leaped but rather because it has picked up shiny objects like a crow, objects that are similar, or reflect each other. In one poem in Barot’s The Galleons, he mentions an old woman at a casino, Gertrude Stein, time, a food court, lost languages, extinct birds, Keats. Some of these act as metaphors, some more as associations. Not so much “like” as “as.”

When my mind is usefully gathering, it’s catching the glimpse of connections as I read or listen or watch in the world. At times I’m stunned by the ways in which books and articles I seemingly randomly pick up to read begin to resonate with each other. At times like these, I can just reach out and pluck ideas as they whirl in front of me, so tuned am I to what I’m thinking about that the act feels almost mindless, like reaching for pistachios in a bowl. Later at the page, I’ll do the work of figuring out how to present the images or ideas in a networked way.

Marilyn McCabe, Can’t make no connection; or, On Poetry and Creative Association

reading a poem
i look for the like button

the book quivers

Jim Young [no title]

Happy to have an interview I did for Redactions Issue 25 with poet, friend, and publisher Kelli Russell Agodon about her new book with Copper Canyon Press, Dialogues with Rising Tides, available online and in the new print issue. Here’s a quick quote:

“JHG: You have an interesting philosophy about the attitude of competition and scarcity in the poetry world. Could you talk a little about that?

KRA: I guess I do have an interesting philosophy in that regards – I believe in the poetry world, there is enough for everyone. I reject the scarcity mindset that the field is only big enough for so many of us and only so many can come to play. That’s nonsense, we can always use another poet. And we don’t have to feel threatened by them, that now there will be one less spot for me to publish my poems…Just because a poet doesn’t win a prize, doesn’t mean that their book isn’t changing someone else’s life this very moment or having a profound effect on someone. I have never believed success can be measured in art – people try to measure it based on American beliefs such as “this book is better because it 1) sold more copies 2) won a prize 3) was published by a certain press 4) was featured in a certain journal or magazine 5) got an excellent review 6) made the author earn X number of dollars” and so on. . . . Who said that was success? Who wrote that definition? That’s not my definition of success – my idea of success isn’t built from opinion and numbers.”

Here is a link to read it.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, My Interview with Kelli Agodon in Redactions, Some Scenes of Hummingbirds, Supermoons, and Mt Rainier, 100 plus Heat Wave

A correspondence on haiku and then sonnets led me to dip into Don Paterson’s 1999 anthology 101 Sonnets (Faber). I was pleased to find Patrick Kavanagh’s ‘Inniskeen Road: July Evening’ included. It’s the only poem I’ve ever ‘borrowed’ from – I used the equally punning phrase ‘blooming sun’ in the first poem, concerning a herd of cows in County Down, which I had published, in Poetry Ireland Review, appropriately, in 1987.

I bought a copy of, and was greatly affected by, Kavanagh’s Collected Poems in my first year at university, in 1985/86. That was around the time that Tom MacIntyre’s play adaptation of Kavanagh’s masterpiece, ‘The Great Hunger’, was finishing a triumphant run at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, which had revived interest in a poet whose posthumous reputation had, it seems, not been as high as it ought to have been, despite advocacy from the likes of Heaney and Montague. (The play incidentally reminds me of Paul Durcan’s poem, ‘What Shall I Wear, Darling, to The Great Hunger?’ which I saw him read at Coleraine in, I think, 1990.)

Paterson’s verdict on Kavanagh’s sonnet is brief but mostly spot-on:

This is about as good as it gets – effortless rhymes, effortless accommodation of natural speech to the form – and that lovely pun on ‘blooming’. Fine witty poem on the predicament of the provincial aesthete.

The Predicament of the Provincial Aesthete sounds rather like the title of an Angus Wilson novel.

I like the way that the first half of the octet is packed full of an energy and activity which is deliberately lacking from the second half, as if the ‘mile of road’ could be in a Beckett play or a Jack B. Yeats painting. The three phrases which stand out from the octet – ‘the half-talk of mysteries’, ‘the wink-and-elbow language of delight’ and (‘not / A footfall tapping secrecies of stone’ – are perfect: economical yet conveying some sort of magic in the air.

The turn of the poem is a large one: whereas the octet is entirely observation of the all-seeing narrator, the sestet moves into the personal. Poems which talk about poetry are often dull as ditch-water, but here the comparison with the model for Robinson Crusoe leads the reader, this one at least, to consider whether Kavanagh was doing more than a sketch of ‘the predicament of the provincial aesthete’. Do these six lines, especially the couplet, not give a sense, again, that a poet anywhere is as isolated as Selkirk was, and, like an old-time traveller or tramp, ‘king / Of banks and stones and every blooming thing’. That would do for me.

Matthew Paul, On Kavanagh, Hughes, Burra and Sisson

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading Marco Fraticelli’s Night Coach (Guernica Editions, 1983) this week. The book was published in 1983, so I’m playing catch up (as I am with haiku publications in general) but after reading Drifting, I wanted to get to know Fraticelli’s work a bit more. And reading Drifting beforehand really enriched my reading experience of this collection. Night Coach contains some beautiful haiku. Many are love poems, some tender, some erotic, and the illustrations by Marlene L’Abbe are spare and powerful, perfectly complementing the text. […]

The inspiration for the later collection, Drifting, came from Fraticelli’s discovery of some letters in an abandoned house, and there’s a sense of walking through some of those empty rooms in one or two poems in Night Coach. For example:

A religious calendar
In the dead man’s room
And maps pinned to the walls

There’s just enough here to hint at a narrative, while leaving space for the reader to construct their own. A small number of the Night Coach poems do appear in Drifting, for example:

Moonlight on ice
The farmer carries heavy rocks
In his dreams

I’m tempted to say that the word ‘heavy’ might be superfluous here, but it does add emphasis – there’s a sense of burden, of exhaustion, of getting nowhere, and that cold ‘moonlight on ice’ lights up the scene, as though we’re watching the man’s struggle.

Julie Mellor, Night Coach by Marco Fraticelli

Aside from tweaking yesterday’s poem, I have managed to lay waste to the morning without much accomplishment. Unlike yesterday, when I was a weeding demon in the garden, and also cut down the leaves of autumn crocuses (croci!) that will magically return as flowers in the fall… What a weird emblem of resurrection they are! The big broad leaves of spring turn brown and die, and the the autumn ravishment comes, dreamy and floating and leafless. Spirit flowers…

Despite having wasted my precious time, today I am pleased with the thought that at 4:00 p.m. for approximately 30 minutes (if you believe the prophecies of the weather mages), it will hit 80 degrees. I do not really believe the online weather mages but am still pleased (being a Southerner not adjusted to Yankeedom despite all these years here) by the hope. 

And I am also idly, not particularly seriously, wondering if the world has changed so much that it’s really not mine anymore, and so it’s a good thing that I live a mostly unseen life in an obscure little village. Out there in the world, do people read books anymore? Do they read poetry? And if they do, do they read what’s called free verse and / or formal poetry (the thing we used to call “poetry”?) 

Are poets and writers like modern-day lacemakers, addicted to making things of beauty and truth? Everybody loves the idea of beautiful handmade lace, but few have any. (What does it mean for lace to be truthful? Well-made, I suppose. Delicate but strong.) Maybe for a marriage? For a wedding dress? 

Except some of us elope and need no lace. 

I eloped.  

Marly Youmans, Late morning thoughts

up and down the boulevard, we ponder, we prowl; we hope, we howl.

and while our grammar may be a bit rusty and restless from being stuck in the slammer of solitude for so long,

I hear our summer parades will only be rained upon by non-fretting confetti.

Rich Ferguson, Up and down the boulevard

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 22

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week, many bloggers took an existential turn. Others aired grievances and critiques. Sometimes they converged. Enjoy.


Fox barking to my right, to my left: what does it mean to be open? Risk, and patience. One bark after another, on and on they call and respond. Once home, once lost, once dead and blue at the bottom of the stair, stepped over: dream. Just a dream. The calls of foxes sound like screaming coughs, lungs gone closed and blued: I remember my dreams, even the ones I’d forget. What does it mean, “a wild patience has taken me this far,” if risk, if death? They bark and bark, echoing against June midnight, mountain. Crickets. Frogs. A whiffle of horse, a sussurus of sleep. I miss her, also gone. The new ones make sure to say my name.

JJS, Almost-ghazal, vulpine

and the rain
fell in one
long story
we sidestepped
between trees
i tripped my length
into fallen water
and you chased
a hare
into a rainbow

Dick Jones, dog sutras

You asked me once to tell about the whales
still in the deep places, untroubled. So I did.
I had a voice that persuaded then: I was young
and believed in victory. Far out to sea and far below,
I said, they are moving, huge and slow, older than us,
older than time, waiting us out. They know places still
that we do not. At last you fell asleep,
exhausted by fear and wretchedness: but I lay awake
and all night the stars picked their way across the sky.

Dale Favier, The Doubts

There are even organisms      

that rarely die simply because they get  old. Take the immortal jellyfish, for instance: faced
     with danger or threat, its clear, pulsing tent dandelion-ringed with 90 stingers might hitch a ride
     on the bottom of a cargo ship; or better yet, press the reset button to change itself back into a polyp.

Luisa A. Igloria, The Immortal Jellyfish Says No to Your Ageist Crap

The 27 year old finds a picture of your house, a picture of your writing room.  She imagines long mornings writing in dappled sunlight, drinking strong coffee.  She does not consider the long hours you have to work in your non-writing job to pay for the writing room where you never get to stay long enough. 

The 27 year old thinks about her own life trajectory, so much of it yet to come.  She thinks about your trajectory, both your writing arc and the other elements of your life’s narrative.  She cannot realize how fast it all goes, how one minute you are just starting out, full of resolve, ready to change the world with your words, and then the next minutes, decades have disappeared, while you still feel like your younger self.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Writer Me: Younger Me, Older Me

between the soul and its autumn :: all of time can be found

Grant Hackett [no title]

I was, I wasn’t, I am, I’m not, I will be, I won’t be
I shot twenty-four arrows this afternoon
one hit the small pink target on the hay bale
the rest disappeared into the mist

I have a post office box & a driver’s license
am I real now?

Jason Crane, POEM: vespers

How many of you remember The Interlude on television, when there was only one (b/w) channel and a 17” screen was regarded as excessive, and potentially damaging to eyesight unless you lived  in a huge house? Programme sequences were interrupted intermittently by the interlude. I’m not sure why. Maybe it was because the programmers had all grown up with the notion that visual entertainment like the theatre and the cinema traditionally had interval breaks when you could in one case go to the bar, and in another, buy an ice cream from a lady with a tray. Or maybe they thought that television posed too great a challenge to the concentration and/or eyesight, and that viewers needed a break for reasons of health and safety. 

Whatever the  reason, there would be a break that might feature a gently turning windmill or the hands of a person you never saw working at a potter’s wheel. It’s only just now struck me that they both involved turning wheels. Why? Are wheels soothing? If you use Google, you’ll find there was also one with a lady working a spinning wheel, but every now and then, a kitten playing with a ball of wool, and one of teams of horse drawn ploughs.

So I thought that if it was good enough for the BBC in its pomp, it was good enough for me. One reason why I write poems, and about poems, is that some years ago I used to go to folk clubs which were essentially sing-/play-arounds. The organiser would point to me and say “are you performing” and I’d say no and that would be it, until one night the organiser said ‘can’t you do a poem or something’. That’s how it started.

John Foggin, Stocking fillers

What struck me about the movie [I Used to Go Here], which was enjoyable enough, was a scene with the writer and a student in a cafe, where she begins to suggest edits and is cut off by the young writer’s reluctance to change her work in the interest of making it “publishable.” Set aside that most fiction writers have no idea about the experience of poets, and vice-versa, and the fact that it was weird they were having the conversation in the first place. There was something familiar and aggravating about the scene.  Especially given the main character’s queasy dissatisfaction with her publishing experience–no control on the edits, the cover, a general dislike of the book she just put into the world. The younger writer, who seems unliked by her fellow students for whatever reason,  is self-possessed enough to hold her ground in a way I’m not sure I would have been, even at 30.  She mentions that she likes her title and has no desire to change things for publishability. Is, in fact, planning on starting a press to publish work she wants to. You watch as the main character is both flabbergasted and deeply uncomfortable by the conversation, even mocking when she learns of the press and dismissive of the work she is shown.

It’s familiar because it happens to many of us.  Maybe all of us. When I was in my MFA program, I’d already started an online journal and was on the verge of starting the press, and yet people I met seemed one of two things–shocked or surprised, and largely put-off.  Instead of support, it was like a dirty little secret.   I once had a conversation with a male student I didn’t know all that well, and in the hallway outside class, he told me he “didn’t believe the things people said about” me and I was really confused.  I always felt like an outsider anyway–being slightly older, working for the college, being further along in publishing my work, and also, writing at a different stage in my development. I had a full-time job, creative distractions and limited time, so I wasn’t as much part of the socializing so many people talk about in programs. In the first few weeks of the very first workshop people seemed to at first, love my work, then slowly begin to hate it. The comments went from nice, to really mean, and I don’t think the work changed all that much. Later, I went out for a beer with two classmates and they said people didn’t like me because I didn’t seem to give a fuck about all of it, and maybe I didn’t.  It got better, I was part-time, so actually took classes over a four year span, and better and more self-directed poets joined on later and did things like start journals and presses and do the work of poeting.  The first year left a taste in my mouth, though, that never fully went away. 

Sometimes, I page back through this blog from those years, where I was very honest about my experience and my struggles.  I would fault myself not as not caring, but maybe caring too much about the wrong things. Or the things that weren’t for me. Unlike the younger writer in the film, I wouldn’t have been brave enough to question things like that publicly–that push to fit things into neat publishable boxes and to do things the way they’d been done only because someone said that was where they were done.  I might do so secretly under cover of the internet, but not in person. I saw so much bad advice in those years. For me and my classmates. I’m always shocked at the stats on MFA-ers who never write another word, but I get it. I totally do. 

Kristy Bowen, film notes | the mfa on screen

Sitting on my mother’s couch in Rohnert Park, watching the blue and red flashing lights on the television screen, I realized what must have happened. Of all the times for this to occur, my first and so far only reading at Moe’s happened to coincide with an event that included the possibility of violence. Not even the most die-hard poetry fans would risk bodily injury to hear me read, nor should they. The five people who’d come must not have realized what was going on just a few blocks from the bookstore. I felt bad for them.

In What Could Possibly Go Wrong, which starts with an illuminating quote from Harry Crews: “The artist lives in an atmosphere of perpetual failure,” the issue of scheduling comes up often. Lola Haskins’ university reading was empty due to the simultaneous audience-sucks of a very important test plus another famous speaker; Jo McDougall was pre-empted by Monica Lewinsky’s TV interview; Marilyn Stablein was upstaged by a “faculty event.” Bar noise, changes in personnel, and lack of promotion added to the woes of reading in front of an audience. 

On the back cover, after the price, a short phrase sums up the book’s classifications: Bad Luck / Fate / Literature. Sounds like the plot of a Russian novel. 

Or the life of a poet.

Erica Goss, My Worst Poetry Reading

I came across an article the other day that reminded me that instead of hopelessly dreading my likely failure to make the most of a good opportunity, I could consider planning ways to manage stress. Self-help is not my preferred genre, and I have successfully avoided lots of pieces about social reentry post-Covid, but I was click-baited this time by a title about “using sobriety strategies,” about which I know little. Plus I’m desperate. The Washington Post article by Erin Shaw Street is here, although I don’t know if the link will work for everyone.

In short, the advice is to “start with acceptance”–this reentry thing will probably take a while, and that’s okay. “Have a plan, but stay flexible”: well, I always have a plan. My idea was to turn the week into a writer’s retreat at home, so my spouse is visiting family. Next week I’ll order out, let the dust pile up, and refuse to answer email. Write write write, I thought, and get back on the submission train, too. Maybe even use the empty house to lay out all my recent poems and see if they’re beginning to form a new collection! My revised plan: sure, try all that stuff, but if it doesn’t work, just do my workshop, make the best of my two 15-minute meetings with fancy editors, forgive myself if some of it falls flat, and otherwise chill. That’s the “pay attention to your feelings” part, which lately have made themselves very clear. “Practice gratitude and mindfulness”: well, all right, I know breathing exercises and I’ve actually worked on mindfulness lately, in my distracted way. What I’m proudest of, by the way of emotional planning, is in the “having a group of trusted friends to call on” category. I have actually scheduled a phone chat with Jeannine Hall Gailey right before the conference, because she is the best literary cheerleader I know. How about that! Me, planning a social interaction for my own sake, because it will make me feel connected and maybe even slightly more confident!! Miracles can happen. I also wrote the principles on a post-it note and stuck it on my office window frame, hoping I’ll stick with the program.

Lesley Wheeler, Conference anxiety times a million

And in my writing life, it’s been a season of rejection, rejection, rejection. Yes, I try to comfort myself that I’ve been lucky enough to have five poetry books published, or that I’ve gotten into some of my dream journals, or that I have wonderful supportive poet friends to help celebrate the wins and mourn the losses. But sometimes I wonder if the rewards are worth the effort. So, if one day I just stopped writing or sending out poetry, it’s not like anyone would demand it or clamor for my next book. To be honest, I also wonder about the effort of keeping this blog up as well – it does take time and energy, and I’m not sure that many people even read it (thanks, those that read and comment though, of course!)

I don’t want you to think it’s all gloom and doom in my head; it’s not. And I certainly recognize that many people, including some of my friends and family, have had it much worse than me lately. Every poet probably struggles with rejection, and we do tend to be prone to melancholy; it’s been a hard year for everyone; I recognize that catastrophic feelings don’t help anything. I think it would be nice if I could feel like I was able to do something useful again in the world, get paid for my work, or at least feel like I was helping others. I’m writing an essay for an anthology on speculative work and I’ll be offering an online class on speculative poetry soon (of course I’ll post details when it’s closer.) So those projects are good. And I really am thinking about moving forward on acquiring a place to use as a writer’s retreat – La Conner, WA or Port Townsend, WA maybe? So I’m trying to see the good things coming. I promise.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, First Butterflies, Sunny Days and Speculative Poetry Picks, Broken Teeth and Meditations on Melancholy

I have a pamphlet of poems without a publisher – that is, I haven’t found a publisher who wants the poems – that is, I’ve sent the pamphlet to two pamphlet competitions without luck. So, you could say I haven’t tried that hard to find a publisher, perhaps because I have doubts about the pamphlet as a whole, but earlier this year I made a decision to put these poems to one side, for now, which has been liberating and released some new writing energy. I’m now working on new poems, approaching them in a completely different way to usual, and gradually accumulating poems that might be a book, eventually. Individual poems from my unpublished pamphlet – I think of it as a ghost pamphlet – have been published in magazines and perhaps I will be able to salvage some of those poems and include them in my newer manuscript. Not an unhappy state to be in, just not a state brimming with success.

Josephine Corcoran, End of month blog and some wildflower poems

1. Compile a rough draft of a draft of a draft manuscript.

2. Slash and burn – round 1/n. Doubt spelling, suspect grammar, hate most lines.

3. Cold acceptance that this is crap but maybe it is marginally better than other crap. No? Probably not.

4. Idea! Write new poems. Abandon idea.

5. Existential question: To book or not to book?

Rajani Radhakrishnan, 10 steps to a new poetry book

I say if a lit mag can’t get to your submission in 6 months, they have to publish it whether they want to or not. I mean, by that point hope has been sparked in the little writer’s otherwise dark and bitter heart. And a year with no reply? That spark has lit the kindling. “Surely that they kept it this long means it’s in the line-up,” the writer begins to allow herself to think, warming her hands on the fire. Come on, lit mags, are you really going to send your hard, cold rain down now, douse the small flame?

Yes. Apparently, yes. Back in 2018 I submitted to a magazine I had been published in before. A year and eight months later I got a rejection. Standard reject, no “thanks for your patience,” no “sorry it took us a while.” (That’s the last they’ll hear of ME. THAT’ll learn ’em.) Not to mention the no-simultaneous-submissions mag that’s now had three poems for six months.

Talk about being nibbled to death by ducks. My goodness po is a terrible biz.

Marilyn McCabe, Bird on a wire; or, On Seeking Publication

Nell also mentions an interesting and often-since-asserted observation by Billy Collins, made two decades ago, that, in Britain, ‘the number of poets is equal to the number of readers of poetry’. Nell, rightly I think, says that there may well be more poets than there are readers of poetry. Stop me if I’ve told you this before, but 10 or 15 years ago, when I was directly employed by a certain south-west London local authority, there was an article in the staff newspaper about a member of staff who had self-published a pamphlet of his poems and who was quoted as saying words-to-the-effect that he didn’t read contemporary poets because he considered none of them to be worthy of his attention. It hadn’t seemed to occur to him that potential readers of his pamphlet might agree with him and therefore decide that his output was equally unworthy of their attention. I have no idea whether he sold any copies. I hope not. The sheer arrogance of someone wanting to write and air poems without first reading widely and absorbing the lessons of their reading into their own poetry-writing goes beyond (predominantly male) entitlement to the point of being downright peculiar. He’s probably since progressed to become one of those people who go along to open mic sessions to read their poem, invariably exceeding their time-slot, then leave at the interval so that there’s no possibility that they might feel obliged to hear too many of anyone else’s poems or to look at, let alone buy, any of the books on sale. (I realise, though, that not everyone has the financial wherewithal to buy books.)

Nell also says that ‘a good and loyal reader is harder to find than a poet’. If every person who knows the value of contemporary poetry were to buy books for those who haven’t read any poems since school and tell them, with as much vehemence as necessary, that they really will enjoy the experience, then the poetry readership can grow. Despite the un-self-aware idiots like the one I’ve described above, there are still many fine poets to be discovered; more, probably, than one could ever hope to read whilst living a full-ish life. Why shouldn’t a book or two of poems on the beach be as common a sight as crime novels, thrillers or bonkbusters?

Matthew Paul, On HappenStance Press, the reader and the poet

I once heard Sonny Rollins play in Toronto. It was a perfect summer day in the 80s when I was studying music at York University, and a bunch of us went to the Molson Amphitheatre on Toronto’s waterfront. We lay on the grass just outside the cover of the roof watching Sonny, the blue of Lake Ontario in our vision. I remember one extended solo by Rollins, where the band dropped out and it was just him. Such a delightful squonking. Low register honks. Motifs broken up and tossed around. Time made into a salad. And all of it connected with Rollins’ characteristically playful intelligence. As Wallace Stevens says, “the poem of the mind in the act of finding/ What will suffice.” 

Ok, so gravitas didn’t seem to be explicitly there and the Coltrane-like bursting the seams, burning through the gates to another world. But there was meaning. Significance. And humility. And the sense of deeply being oneself. How? For Rollins his playing is often all about “the mind in the act of finding.” And what will suffice? Intelligence. Resilience. Creativity. Joy. A celebration of being. Of communication.

And the other thing I’ve come to understand in Rollins’ approach is ethics. Living through action and making choices. In a recent interview, Rollins says, “I’m just progressing through life, able to evolve now and to realize that to really live in a spiritual way I have to be an ethical person.”  In his music I hear this decision to live ethically. To be in the world. To choose one note after the other as an ethical act. To embrace life. To choose positivity, communication, joy. The life-force. To keep playing, performing. To be an old man and to St-Thomas-the-hell out of life. 

It’s an astounding thing.

Gary Barwin, Ethical Squonking: On the Coltrane-Rollins Continuum

It began with pain right where my heart is — a pain I initially discounted as probably a bad case of heartburn. It wasn’t such a big pain you’d right away think, heart attack. But after I lay down and it went away, I got up and went around doing things and it came back. Again, I went into denial. This is really bad heartburn — could my ulcer have reopened? Never, heart attack. I just turned 72 this month. Although my father and brother both had heart disease, my mantra was, I’ll take after my mother.

Called my doc’s private number. He picked right up, listened, said “Go to the ER and tell them you’re having chest pain. You’ll go to the head of the line.”

It wasn’t a comfortable procedure or hospital stay. But everyone who cared for me was wonderful. It was comforting to feel I’d survive and live well after this, as my cardiologist told me. […]

And the first thing I wanted to write when I could, was a poem. This one is for everyone I met and everyone who sent love.

The Heart

The heart is a muscle.
I feel its clench
protesting the lack
of blood, its nourishment,
and I go down, prone, bowing
to a central throne it inhabits in my body,
thrown to my back
and then to hospital,
where relinquishing clothes
and goods, I’m surrounded
by those familiar with a distressed heart’s ways.

Hours later, I am profoundly
embraced by science and love
that inexplicably flows
from these people whose powerful hearts
and muscles show up here every day.
And prayers that like a cavalcade of butterflies
shore me up in this new and sweeter life.

Rachel Dacus, A new heart, a new path forward

“We’ve been lucky. There was the nursing home outbreak,” she says, her voice lowering. The nursing home in town is a scant quarter-mile from the office where I’m getting my blood drawn. “And the soldiers’ home in Holyoke. But other than that, it’s been pretty good here.”

“May it stay that way,” I agree. 

“All done!” She smiles, pressing a wad of gauze where the needle was just withdrawn. Now I look over, and I see the test-tubes full of dark red blood. The color always surprises me. It’s so vivid, so deep. 

I’m not sure what they’re looking for this time, but we can’t schedule the next procedure until they run whatever tests they need to run on these gleaming garnet vials.

I wonder how many mini-conversations like this she has over the course of a day. How many lives she briefly touches with her blue-gloved hands. 

When I exit the building, I inhale lilacs under the clouded sky. 

Rachel Barenblat, Garnet

This weekend I spent some time reading poetry—some for a literary magazine I judge submissions for, and some from books that have been lying around that I haven’t cracked open for a while, namely by Wallace Stevens, who is my favorite poet, and Kahil Gibran. I needed to read both of those poets because somewhere in all of the chaos and heaviness of working at a hospital during the pandemic, I have lost my sense of passion and wonder. I feel ground-down and machine-like. I’ve been in survival mode for a long time, devoid of a sense of beauty and boundlessness, afraid to take any time to notice the natural world around me, afraid to slow down, afraid to allow for any sense of space and openness in my life. I shut everything out except the work that is front of me day-to-day, and I’ve been driven by dread—dread of the massive responsibility that has been handed to me at my place of work and at the same time, dread of being laid off, dread of loss both real and anticipated, and dread of what may come in the future for our country and for the world. I needed to read about love and astonishment and the miracle of pineapples and the cat forgotten in the moon and how the trees are there for me. I needed good language, the language of noticing, the language of elevation of the spirit and the essential divinity of human life:

“The whole of the wideness of night is for you,
A self that touches all edges.”
–Wallace Stevens, A Rabbit as the King of Ghosts

We’re coming out of it now, and I’m ready. Ready to breathe without a mask muffling my nose and mouth, ready for traffic and shopping malls and movies and night parties, ready for patients to flow into our facilities again, ready for the world to open its petals like a rose and for humanity to return to human-ing. For better or for worse, I don’t have a particular religion to hang my spiritual beliefs on, but I believe that we are children of God, and we need to remember our origins.

Kristen McHenry, Swimming Nostalgia, The Language of Divinity, Opening Day

“Remember we must die” need not be a call to religious fervor or to pessimistic existentialism. It is merely a fact that we ignore at our peril; for if we remember death is ahead, we can attune ourselves more closely to the lives we do have–and those others with whom we are in relationships. For whether you know it or not, your body has a relationship to Earth and all of its beings. Even, perhaps, the carrion beetle, not to mention billions of microbes and your best friend’s mother.

When I write about death (and I do), I find the tone of the poem depends a great deal on which words or images I use: the clear flow, or the leavings in the sieve. Different purposes, of course. Sometimes the poem wanders in sorrow, sometimes there’s clarity or a lifting of grief. It depends on the perspective (sometimes the speaker of the poem isn’t me), and on where the poem itself decides to go, particularly as I revise. Many readers believe that poems only ever arise from the writer’s experience, but poems are works of the imagination. And they are sometimes informed, or re-formed, by experience or insight that comes later in the writing process.

My own grief? That’s private. I may not decide ever to communicate how that feels. However, having sensed sorrow in my bones and gut and in the empty places in my community of loved ones, I can write about being in the moment of bereavement and the many moments afterwards when the losses make us ache. I like to imagine that memento mori keeps me alert to life. Even when I feel sad.

Ann E. Michael, Memento mori

It is a raw dawn on the morning of the poor.
“Be thankful,” they are told, “Here is your daily crust.”
The feathers of the wealthy have been groomed for the ball.
The day passes quickly for those who are pleasured.
Evening is a pistol and a whip; all the knives have been sharpened.
There will be fresh meat. “Where did the day go?”
Even as the poor ones scurry off, the music begins to play,
And the sound of laughter escapes the ballroom
The way a balloon escapes a child’s hand.

James Lee Jobe, Fresh meat.

cut the wild flowers were livid
~
living the wild flowers were vivid
~
in the hedgerows of my never mind
~
the limp excuses fall dry
~
in the hushed vase
~
the petals fall
~
lonely is the room
~
now
~

Jim Young, them cut

Otherworldly beauty, otherworldly creatures, otherworldly powers.

History lessons that keep writing and rewriting themselves.

Fake moon landings, alleged alien abductions, labyrinthine underground bunkers running through our blood.

It’s all part of how we’re hot-wired to allow our imaginations to roam wild, how we reverse engineer out-of-this-world technologies to better understand ourselves.

Close encounters of the lovebird kind, unknown lifeforms roaming darker minds.

From conspiracy theories to rational inquiry, from matters of the heart to unidentified aerial phenomena—

there’s a little Area 51 in all of us.

Rich Ferguson, You and Me Ufology

No, today’s post takes as its point of departure the fact that many younger generations always write poetry via a keyboard and a screen. Their typing is far more rapid than my two-fingered efforts, and a fair chunk of them don’t even own a printer. This last point means that they read through their drafts on a monitor rather than on a piece of paper, of course.

The key issue is whether the above-mentioned shift in writing habits is affecting the way their poetry is functioning. There seem to be two major questions. The first is whether speed of writing encourages lines to be longer, freer, less tense. The pen weighs up every letter before committing it to the notebook, but the keyboard rushes onwards.

The second matter for debate, meanwhile, is whether trends in line endings are also altering. The argument might be that moving a line ending with a pen involves writing the poem or at least the stanza out again (and again). It entails meditated probing as to whether an experiment functions. However, on a screen, the return key encourages the poet to play around with line endings at will, changing and then changing back in a few seconds flat, spotting immediately how semantics and synax might interact with expected and unexpected line endings. 

In other words, my suggestion is that if there’s a generalised evolution towards longer lines and more unexpected line endings among younger poets, it might not just be because of their aesthetic tastes but because the actual means by which they write are also different. And this is before even starting to consider poems that might have been drafted on phones…!

Matthew Stewart, Line length and line endings in the digital age

low battery —
trying to silence
the wrong smoke alarm

Bill Waters, Haiku about sounds or silences

I feel such a kinship with library systems, especially those in small towns. Often a hub, they have the ability to bring together, and in many cases, create community. When Bruce and I traveled Canada for many summers, our first stop was often the local library. It wasn’t just to borrow Wi-Fi to contact home, but also check out local happenings, what types of resources were offered, what folks were reading in their neck of the woods. In fact, I collected a good 7-10 library cards from small town libraries across Canada, from British Columbia to Newfoundland. I may never return to these destinations, but I like to think that my card-carrying membership added to their collective reader base, somehow.

Last fall, I sent some poetry to Mason Street, the Newark Library Literary Journal. The Newark Library is located in Newark, New York, and of course my curiosity about such an offering through a library system got the best of me and I had to learn more about this particular library. Like so many libraries I’ve had the joy of experiencing, the Newark Library is really no different. Community within community.

Mason Street’s Editor and Founder, Celeste Schantz selected my poem “Troubadour” for the winter issue and “Faithful” for the spring. Both poems are in good company, and I was especially delighted, no, fangirl delighted, to see that poet Marge Piercy headlines the spring issue with “My Library Memories.” Swoon! If you haven’t read her work, you should. The first collection of hers that I savored is titled The Moon Is Always Female, a must-read. This is her 7th collection of writing. Organized into two sections, the first is categorized as “amusingly elegiac to the erotic, the classical to the funny (Amazon).” The second section is lunar in nature. It consists of a series of 15 poems for “a calendar based on lunar rather than solar divisions” (Amazon).

I’m really thankful that both “Troubadour” and “Faithful” found a home in the pages of a literary journal of a thriving library far away from home. Should you get the chance, read both issues. Visit the archives. But most importantly, keep writing and sharing our work with the world.

Kersten Christianson, Mason Street, Newark Library Literary Journal

I think TFP (not 100% sure about The Frip yet, but it will sink in and become shorthand soon enough, I’m sure) will be with us for a long time to come. I’m looking forward to seeing the new poems arriving week by week, perhaps I may even manage to get one in there; although the famous adage of Meet us half way and submit one first applies at the moment.

I must confess that I was a bit worried when Hilary first approached me and asked me to review Rendang. I can’t put my finger on it, but it felt like the biggest review I’ve been asked to write so far, the most complex book yet, and I wondered if I was up to the task if I could find something interesting to say (and to be fair that’s the same with every review I write, and every poem, and every post here…and every sentence I say out loud, etc).

If I’m honest I was worried about engaging with the “contradictions of identity and cultural memory” mentioned in the blurb. Not because I didn’t want to or don’t feel I need to. I absolutely do, it was more a feeling of do I have anything valid to say on the matter without falling into the lazy tropes that Alyca Pirmohamed refers to here in her excellent essay at Wild Court, those adjectives like ‘urgent’, ‘important’, etc?

I think I avoided that, but I don’t think I can be the judge as to whether I had anything interesting to say. However, I found it fascinating and educational for a variety of reasons to engage with the collection as a whole by examining how the poems developed between pamphlet and collection, as well as the newer work, and how that benefits from the space and time afforded by a collection (literally and metaphorically).

Mat Riches, That Friday (poem) Feeling

So much for my New Year’s resolution to avoid buying new books. Somehow, my April blog push led me hither and yon over the entire poetry landscape, and I ended up buying a truckload of books. Among them, Ada Limon’s Bright Dead Things (Milkweed, 2015). Looks like The Carrying is next (winner of the 2019 National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry).

I have a major poetry-crush on this poet. Not only does she write about horses and honky-tonks (subjects dear to my heart), but dogs, owls, sex, and death. She’s got it all. And language! Oh, my!

Bethany Reid, The amazing ADA LIMÓN

First up is the almost obligatory cat poem, simply called “cat” which didn’t come with trigger warning but introduces the idea of suicide and ends,

“we are all decomposing slowly
so that is of some comfort
we are all a million dying stars
so that is of some comfort “

The ability of the narrator to be comforted by the idea life will end anyway and it ends for everything around us is enough for him to accept natural causes is a better way to go. It also shows how something unexpected, encountering a cat, can knock someone out of a rut, a pattern of rumination and look beyond themselves. Instead of feeling like a burden the world would be better off without, the narrator has seen he can have a place in this world and the current pattern of things will stop, not with a sudden jerk, but a series of small changes.

Emma Lee, “Blue the Green Sky” Stuart M Buck (The Broken Spine) – book review

Theirs is a fascinating kind of call-and-response through the poems in Hearing, each short single-stanza lyric burst including author initials, so one doesn’t lose track of who composed which, from two poets deeply engaged with language, listening and experimentation. The crediting of each individual author is something I find interesting, suggesting the collection less a collaboration-per-se than a conversation in poetic form. This is a lyric through which each poet is responding to the other, akin to what Canadian poets and married couple Kim Maltman and Roo Borson did in their own conversation through lyric, the poetry title The Transparence of November / Snow (Kingston ON: Quarry Press, 1985). In Hearing, there is something lovely about a collection that exists as such a conversation, especially between two highly accomplished poets who happen to also be close friends, as though we are being allowed to listen in on, or even overhear, a conversation that might otherwise have been privately spoken.

rob mclennan, Lyn Hejinian and Leslie Scalapino, Hearing

[A] teacher friend has gotten me into the Poetry Unbound podcast and this has set me off on a new tangent. I’m also not into audio stuff much. I have struggled to focus on online lectures, audio books, music, podcasts, becoming distracted, flipping away if it’s on a screen. I listened to one PU podcast because my friend was raving about the title of the poem being a sign of a great poem, so I though I’d listen to the poem at least. 

The poem read on the podcast was Hanif Abdurraqib’s ‘When We Were 13, Jeff’s Father Left The Needle Down On A Journey Record Before Leaving The House One Morning And Never Coming Back’ and my friend was right. The title is killer, the poem even more so. The presenter Pádraig Ó Tuama has an amazing voice for reading poetry and he brings his own gentle enthusiasm for the poems he shares. So I listened on. And again on the way home from school that afternoon. I continued to pick another episode and another and another, in the mornings before work and often on the way home. 

One day after a partially tough morning with the child I support at school, I brought my lunch up to the classroom, rather than sit amongst the noise of fourth graders in the cafeteria. I needed to calm down before the next class started, so I stuck on a random episode called ‘A Poem for What You Learn Alone’ which seemed to suit my mood. The poem was Brad Aaron’s Modlin’s poem ‘What You Missed That Day You Were Absent from Fourth Grade’. It is nothing about fourth grade and exactly what I needed. I think I’ve heard all three seasons now, but keep going back to favourites or finding one that I that I’ve forgotten. 

Gerry Stewart, A Poetic Daunder – Stepping Away from the Familiar

There are days when I fantasize about not having to teach. Not to get away from the work exactly, but to spread myself out thinly over the days. To breathe easily. While the pandemic has been difficult in so many ways, it has also given me the opportunity to slow down. Listen. Can I listen to the birds with the same sustained interest that I listen to a student presentation? This is a kind of work, too. What do I earn from this?

My childhood was a cramped succession of dramas, of noise and movement. A montage of cigarettes and speed, cocaine and black eyes. Drama became a kind of addiction that I struggled with through my 20s. I walked that jagged edge of violence where you never know which side someone will fall on: wounded or… disappeared. And as soon as I write this down I think: no, I’m not being fair to everyone. And still, I censor myself. After censoring myself in the first place. I make excuses for other people.

Maybe no one should ever tell the whole truth? At least not for the sake of entertainment or to makes one’s self interesting like a spectacle at Coney Island. Though people do buy tickets.

When I was in high school I went to the county fair alone and bought a ticket to see one of the “freaks”, assuming it would be a mirror trick of some sort. A kind of theatrical presentation. It wasn’t. The “freak” was a person. I turned around immediately and threw up outside the tent.

No. That would make a good story. I didn’t throw up. I just wanted to. I felt a sense of shame that was too familiar. But weirdly, I felt a shared sense of shame. With the person in the tent. I couldn’t explain it then, and I can’t explain it now except to say I understand why the whales that are kept in tiny pools and mistreated at theme parks will give kisses to their trainers on cue.

I don’t want to choose revenge or forgiveness. I want a middle path here, too. It seems even my personal life isn’t really free of ethical concerns.

And my writing never will be.

So for now, I write about mundane things like lapwings and chaffinches. The vibrating silence of the Hardanger plateau where the snow still lies in July. How cold has a smell where the North Sea is untouched by the Gulf Stream, and the harbour in Stavanger can smell like watermelon.

Ren Powell, A Story of Going Feral

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 21

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week, I found a lot of posts about learning or re-learning from the familiar, the close-at-hand, the wilderness in one’s own backyard — something I suppose I’ve become perceptually vigilant for, since daily walks around my own small part of the world have become so crucial to preserving my sanity, not to mention unlocking new levels of perception and (maybe, hopefully) expression. As Ren Powell puts it, “Why do I feel a need to go away from home to pay close attention?” One’s own home ground may in fact be the best vantage point from which to hear what Shawna Lemay, quoting Li-Young Lee, calls “the hum of the universe.” And poets can translate that hum even into something as homey as prose...


It’s late 90s Baghdad: with a trembling heart and weak joints, Ra’ad Abdulqadir, the editor of Aqlam literary magazine, would return from his office to his home in the western outskirts of the capital every day. He would change into his pajamas, lay down on the couch, and begin to write a poem for what would become his most notable work, Falcon with Sun Overhead. He would then doze off with the notebook resting on his belly. Like much of the rest of Iraq, Ra’ad spent the 90s suffering from health issues, and the hospital visits became part of his routine. He hated doctors and hospitals and chronicled their dreadful presence in his poems. “The poet used to be an angel,” he told novelist Warid Badir al-Salim in what’s considered his last interview in 1999. “Now he is a coal miner.”

And what does that mean for you, Mr. Ra’ad? “Well, I like to think of myself as the angel in the coalfield.”

And so he is—the angel in the coalfield, the cemetery, the empty classrooms, the white hospitals, the dark streets. For years, he was the kind of poet loved and envied by both his contemporaries and the generations that followed for his magical ability to keep the angel’s garb free of ash. Now, though, he has been underrated and forgotten.

Mona Kareem, How Ra’ad Abdulqadir Changed the Iraqi Prose Poem Forever

Portland, Oregon poet and fiction writer Zachary Schomburg’s latest poetry title is Fjords vol. II (Boston MA: Black Ocean, 2021), described as the “second volume of Zachary Schomburg’s Fjords series of evocative prose poetry,” following the prior volume, Fjords vol. I (Black Ocean, 2012). I’m curious at the extension of his prose poetry project and how far it might continue, and if it sits within or alongside the trajectory of his other published poetry collections, all of which have appeared with Black Ocean: The Man Suit(2007), Scary, No Scary (2009), The Book of Joshua (2014) and Pulver Maar: Poems 2014-2018 (2019) [see my review of such here]. The pieces in Fjords vol. II are each short bursts of individually titled, single-paragraph prose poems collected together as a book-length suite. The narratives of Schomburg’s poems are fond of establishing a simultaneous light and dark tone, and writing poems with odd turns, and endings that sit, not as endings, but as a place for the mind to pause. In many ways, Schomburg’s poems haven’t beginnings or endings, but points at which the narratives start, with another point where the narrative stops. The effect is occasionally jarring, often turning bits of the logic of each piece back in on itself, as though it is for the reader to discern each poem’s actual shape: far bigger on the inside, perhaps. These are poems that reveal themselves in layers, and reward repeated readings.

rob mclennan, Zachary Schomburg, Fjords vol. II

Periodically I watch some free videos offered by artist Nicholas Wilton, who has a program called Art2Life. He’s unflaggingly enthusiastic and filled with wonder at discovering or uncovering processes by which he, and theoretically we, can bring our creative impulses to fruition on the canvas.

In a recent short one, he talked about how he’s trying to stay present with and focused on not what he is putting on the canvas but how he is feeling while doing it. And the feeling he is trying to maintain is, basically one of openness and a sense of possibility. And deliberately NOT a sense of assessment, judgment, predetermination of what should be happening on the canvas. He talks about having a “free outlook” and the “sense of wildness and freedom” with which he often starts a new painting — all that blank space, how it frames the first few marks beautifully — and maintaining that outlook and free sense throughout the process.

By focusing on the space out of which he is creating, rather than what is being created, he’s able to allow all kinds of things to happen. He says he can see both his own training at work in this more intuitive way of making, as well as a new “wild”-ness that is exciting.

Yes, I say. And thank you for the reminder. I’m talking as a writer now, and agree that the key to when I’m writing well and interestingly, and maybe the key to revision as well, is the center — i.e., me — out of which I am creating. And I love that feeling of openness and possibility. It’s a kind of ebullience, a word that means boiling up, bubbling up.

Marilyn McCabe, Warped by the rain; or, On Letting Go Control

Throughout the pandemic, in warm and cold weather, I often sit on my front porch. We’ve set up a table and chairs, curtains and heaters. I can be outside and work on my writing despite the weather. Or in celebration of it. 

It’s very pleasant—fresh air, bird song, many trees. 

Across the street, I frequently hear my neighbour, the artist John Miecznikowski, practising cornet. I understand that his son was an accomplished trumpeter and he gave the instrument to his father to learn. (They also share a love of motorcycles, and John has told me some great stories about his riding exploits in the 60s and 70s.) 

Because John is “learning,” he often plays what sounds like hymns, or at least, simple tunes, but on cornet they have a English brass band sound to them. 

Recently as I was working on a new novel, I listened to the sound of the trumpet entangled with the sound of the wind and the birds. I had been working on a cello piece for my old high school friend George. I decided instead to write something for John, something that evoked that entwining of trumpet and bird song. 

Gary Barwin, My neighbour John plays trumpet and I hear him while birds sing.

Being at sea suits me sometimes. I like learning. It’s why I’m always trying unfamiliar forms and genres. I just published a short essay, “Hand of Smoke,” in Speculative Nonfiction, that’s about being a student and also demonstrates me in a state of experiment–what am I willing to say about myself in the plainer mode of prose, and is this a risk I can succeed at? Enjoying being at sea can shipwreck into stress pretty quickly. […]

The other side-effect of my mother’s death, though, is a changed perspective on what’s urgent. Apparently I CAN put everything aside for big swaths of time to take care of others and myself. I’d lost that muscle memory since my kids became independent. It’s a lucky thing to like your work, but work doesn’t always like you back. When it’s too much, it really is fine to say screw it. Literature is watertight and unsinkable.

Lesley Wheeler, I don’t know what I’m doing again

Roche sits snugly below the limestone promontory from which its name derives, and straddles Maltby Dike which provided water for washing and beer, presumably upstream of its use as a depository from the latrine. It’s a beautiful setting, as ruined abbeys almost always are. No wonder that Turner, Constable, Piper, Sutherland and others were drawn to paint them so often. On a day like today, when the sun has finally arrived to announce the start of summer, the scene at Roche looked very beautiful indeed. It reminded me very much of Waverley Abbey, near Farnham in Surrey, the Cistercians’ first abbey in England. There, I wrote this haiku, published in Presence no. 54 and undoubtedly echoing [Peter] Levi subconsciously:

ruined abbey:
the dark mullein’s yellows                                               
light the transept

I wrote some more haiku this morning. It would have been rude not to, since they’re such inspiring places.

Matthew Paul, On ruined abbeys

I have to admit I went into Katherine May’s new book Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times with specific expectations which is unusual for me with non-fiction books. Expectations about what wintering meant and what I was looking for from the book. I can’t remember where I came across the recommendation for the book, but idea that caught my eye amounted to learning to cope with the winters of our life and a connection to Finland. […]

The book contains many of my favourite wintery things which is saying a lot because to be honest I am not a fan of the season of winter at all. But I do love the darkness and magic of Samhain, the Cailleach, standing stones, hibernation during the cold dark months, wolves. She also looks at a few I don’t like as much like saunas and winter swimming. Both these latter things are very much part of the Finnish psyche, though Finland really doesn’t feature much in the book outside of this. May turns to these various things to try and work through her wintering periods. 

Oddly, it felt like she was full of energy to go off and try all these various techniques, on her own and with other people, something I think many people who need to ‘winter’ would struggle with, to be social, try new adventures. I realise that the events and adventures she wrote about were maybe separated by years at different periods of wintering, but I would have liked more examination of how to face the dark stillness of winter when there aren’t friends around or even strangers to go stand at Stonehenge on midsummer. This would have made the book even more helpful in the last year when we couldn’t go out much when we have been forced to winter and many of us found it incredibly difficult.

Gerry Stewart, Book Review – Wintering by Katherine May

as if life ripens on our limbs, sweetening
with every step, every right step —
I watch your uneven breath, the awkward
shape of your sleep, so much of the night
is just a defence against another morning.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, As if death is so discerning

Notice how the rain
falls down,
the old monk said.

Think like that, like
the falling rain.

Tom Montag, TEN OLD MONK POEMS (17)

A squirrel stopped halfway up the tree trunk to stare at us. Perfectly silhouetted against the blue sky, so that the silly fur-forks standing up from the tips of his ears were visible. I still have no idea if the tussle we witnessed a few weeks back was a fight for territory or some kind of mating activity. Maybe there is a second squirrel tucked away in the tree with babies.

It almost makes me sad to be so ignorant of something so close. I think maybe this summer – when school lets out in two weeks – I could pack a lunch and settle under the trees there. Bring binoculars and spy a little. Why not?

It’s odd. I actually have plans to do something similar next month. We are flying and boating all the way up to an island above the arctic circle to stay in a cabin with friends, without running water. I hope to spend a few days on the beach waiting and watching for porpoises and otters. Scanning the sky for birds of prey and trying to identify them.

Why do I feel a need to go away from home to pay close attention? It’s almost as if it is “allowed” then. It’s not indulgent, or eccentric, or peculiar. It’s a vacation.

Ren Powell, In My Own Front Yard

scrolling slowly
through a wet temple garden
on my time line

Jim Young [no title]

The range children are allowed to travel on their own is what psychologist Roger Hart has termed the “geography of children.” This range, for an eight-year-old, has shrunk from 6 or so city blocks a few decades ago to barely beyond the front door today. In the 1970’s, Dr. Hart spent two years conducting informal walking interviews with every child between the ages of four and 12 in one Vermont town to discover where and how they played. Kids particularly enjoyed the type of play that manipulated the physical world, making forts or using sticks and dirt to create (as one child did) a miniature airport. Dr. Hart observed that four and five-year-old children were allowed to play in the neighborhood without direct supervision, and children had the run of the town by the age of 10.

He went back to that town three decades later to see how childhood might have changed. No surprise, parents were much more involved in the moment-to-moment details of their children’s lives, resulting in much less freedom for children (and adults, presumably). As he did in interviews back in the 1970’s, he asked children to talk about secret places they liked to play. One child called out to his mother to ask if he had such a place. Dr. Hart wrote, “That would have been inconceivable 30 years ago. Then, most children I interviewed had places they went to that their parents had never been to.” Thirty years later, Dr. Hart found no children who played with sticks. This impeded freedom to play away from adult gaze has only gotten worse since.

Laura Grace Weldon, Neighborhood Kids & Authentic Freedom

When I was a kid the tree was impossibly enormous. It was like the giant Christmas tree that rose out of the stage, dwarfing everyone, in the local ballet’s performance of the Nutcracker. But mine wasn’t a Christmas tree. My tree had a big smooth trunk and thick, sturdy branches. One branch protruded over the jasmine, and there was another one a bit higher and to one side. The lower one was perfect for sitting on, letting my legs dangle. The higher one was perfect for leaning on with a book. I always had a book, Laura Ingalls Wilder or EB White eventually giving way to Robert Heinlein and Marion Zimmer Bradley. Eventually I got brave enough to climb higher, onto the roof of the playhouse with its asphalt shingles. Sometimes I would read up there, instead. Once I carved my initials into the bark with my red pocket knife, alongside the initials of the kid I had a crush on. The magnolia’s leaves were big and oval-shaped and glossy and they cast pockets of cool shade that kept the playhouse roof from overheating. The best time to climb my tree was late May — right around my mother’s birthday — when the magnolia would open her great creamy blooms. Her flowers were as big as my head. The petals bruised easily. Later, when they dried up and fell off, they were like scraps of tan leather. I used to try to stitch them together with monkeygrass to make doll clothes. By then, they only had a shadow of their former fragrance, but they were still sweet. I can almost remember that fragrance, forty years later and two thousand miles away.

Rachel Barenblat, Grandiflora

I finished a fiction book this week and I’m still reading Poets at Work, which is wonderful and strangely … well, comforting, for lack of a better word. I’ll be sad and bereft when I finish it. The Lowell interview is my favorite thus far, although I also just began the Walcott review — and I love reading it because it reminds me of being in his classes, and also the few precious times I had conversations with him outside of class.

But it also might end up be my favorite because of what he says in the interview, and how it resonates alongside other things I’ve been engaging with, like the Airea D. Matthew’s episode of the Commonplaces podcast. 

 For instance, this morning, I copied down this from the Walcott interview:

“What we can do as poets in terms of our honesty is simply to write within the immediate perimeter of not more than twenty miles, really.”

This made me think about my own art in this context, and about how I write, and my subject matter — which is often very much centered around my own experiences, not necessarily things that would seem universal — and I can’t escape that this is determined by my gender, my sexuality, my race, my socio-economic class, my career, where I live, etc. And then I was wondering if that’s worth anything. But I don’t think we can ever really know, or worry, about whether or not our work is worth anything to anyone else, unless we just want to make canned, color-by-number nonsense. We have to be honest, with ourselves and others, and perhaps in the way that Walcott suggests. 

Sarah Kain Gutowski, How to Ease Away from a Particularly Traumatic Semester: Reading, Listening, Thinking, Walking

I think Adam Zagajewski’s poems were easy to love, which is no bad thing. When I think of his poems, words such as the following come to mind: humane, gentle, affectionate, clarifying. After 9/11, his poem ‘Try to Praise the Mutilated World’ became very famous in its English-speaking translation by Clare Cavanagh when it appeared in The New Yorker. Not one of my personal favourites of his poems, I still appreciate it and its immense value in the wake of a huge, world-changing tragedy. It distills what I think Zagajewski did best – the acknowledgement that dark, horrendous things happen but the equal observation that life continues and that the value of light, beauty and faith remains unchanged. […]

It’s so hard to choose a favourite poem by Zagajewski. When I reread them now, years after first readings, they remind me of emotions and moments in my life, and they take me to places which I’ve visited or which I hope to visit some day. ‘Star’ has been a talisman for me for many years. ‘Vita Contemplativa’ occupies a central place of importance in my pantheon of poems, and lines from it often surface in my mind. ‘Poetry Searches for Radiance’ is a powerful mission statement for poetry. Whether one of his collections, a selected poems or something randomly found online, his works will reward both casual reading and prolonged engagement. What is much harder than finding the right poem by Zagajewski is accepting that he’s not here any more. 

Clarissa Aykroyd, Remembering Adam Zagajewski, 1945-2021

This project, the best kind, emerged from the whim of writer and artist, Matthew Wolfe. When the pandemic began, he started assembling and sharing on Facebook a daily photograph of possessions, many with notes. Each photo carried a shadowbox appeal, a frozen moment in time. Enter Sheila-Na-Gig editor, Hayley Mitchell Haugen, who suggested moving this work to a book format, and to open a call for writers to share their writing in response to Matthew’s photos.

And so the birth of Pandemic Evolution!

It is a hefty volume, beautifully crafted. The book contains Matthew’s writing, a record of the early days of the pandemic, his photographs with notes, and the writings of 46 poets from the U.S., Canada, India, and Wales, who responded in kind, ekphrastically, to Matthew’s work.

I am grateful to have three poems included in this collection: “Day 79: Something Cohen Said,” “Outside Terrace, B.C.,” and “Day 100: Road Trip Is Life.”

This project is truly an act of a collaboration in both the project and more global sense. It is one that I’ll look back on in gratitude having had this chance to document those early days the world entered into a period of social distancing, questioning, uncertainty, and survival.

Kersten Christianson, Pandemic Evolution

Last Saturday, 22nd May, was Artists’ Book Club Dove’s first in-person meeting since September last year. We have had ark-building weather recently, but by great good fortune this was a warm sunny afternoon with very little wind. We carried our chairs and picnics through knee-high buttercups in Dove Meadow to a clearing beside the Tree House (visible top right in the photo below, taken by Bron) and passed books and ideas around. What it treat it was to be together. […]

I’m only half-way through India
I’d rather do the washing up
if I were a reptile

in between the showers
a bit of deckle-grooming
cuckoos bitterns warblers marsh harriers

hot chocolate with a dash of brandy
hedgehog highways and rabbit lintels

Ama Bolton, ABCD late May 2021

This book has just been published by Suffolk Poetry Society as a response to the diminishing state of nature. It forms part of a collaboration between the Society and The Lettering Arts Trust (Snape), where an exhibition of the same name opens in July. I am delighted to have two poems and a micro-poem about IUCN red-listed species included. 

The topic resonates closely with Robert Macfarlane’s work (supported by Jackie Morris and her artwork) in response to an increasing concern over the fact that ‘nature words’ (the ‘lost words’: see here) were being removed from the 2007 edition of the Oxford Junior Dictionary. Apparently space was needed for words deemed more valuable in a digital and technical age. You can read my post here about a previous exhibition at The Lettering Arts Trust on this subject. 

Caroline Gill, ‘On a Knife Edge’, a new anthology from Suffolk Poetry Society

It was shocking, and not a little dreamlike, to experience going from a very small social circle that included my nuclear family, my sisters and niece, and a few very good, close friends and suddenly finding myself in Memorial Day travel at the Atlanta airport.

We were traveling to Oak Park, Ill to see my mother-in-law, more than likely for the last time, or maybe not. She is quite old, infirm, and suffering from dementia. She remains tied to her body by a silken thread, and so we plunged into the stream to be with her. […]

The Pandemic has made me much more conscious of my mortality. At 60, I’ve retired from public school teaching with a small pension, and I try to spend evenings on the back porch watching the sun set through the poplars and pines.

I’m so grateful to be alive, to have survived thus far, for breath, community, and connection. I want to dwell in these moments. My body and mind bask in the peace I feel under the trees in the evening air.

Christine Swint, Airport, Pandemic, and Gratitude

The littlest doll is also the one that doesn’t come apart, the one who stands complete. A inner strength that comes through in the poems that touch on the poet’s father’s death when she was aged 15. In “Matryoshka”, after the funeral, some dolls are taken apart some are “some shut tight, permanently locked in grief,” which leaves,

“The littlest doll found herself rattling around
in the wrong size body,
suddenly bulky with responsibilities
and listening to echoes.
To all eyes an adult, within, a child.”

The implication is that in the transition from child to adult, we don’t shed layers, we gain them. The intact baby doll is wrapped in experience and expectation. The external appearance is of an adult but the speaker still feels her inner child, hesitant and lacking confidence.

Emma Lee, “Russian Doll” Teika Marija Smits (Indigo Dreams Publishing) – book review

According to recent assessments from the eager
to travel again, have drinks with friends, shed

the year’s wardrobe of almost sackcloth
and ashes—we’ve come through to the other

side. But what is the other side if not a reverse-
engineered vision of this one; a looking glass

in which (we pray) each full-blown tragedy of
the past year shrinks back to what it wasn’t

before the unfathomable struck?

Luisa A. Igloria, A Tunnel has Openings on Both Ends

I had thought I would write about cicadas and husks and post-menopausal Noah’s wife feeling like she, too, is a husk.  This morning, I’m thinking about cicadas and Noah’s wife wondering why they got a space in the ark if they’re only going to emerge into life every 17 years.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Cliche with Full Moon and Sunrise

beneath my house of memory :: a wind of unknown depth

Grant Hackett [no title]

Can you tell me how In an Ideal World I’d Not be Murdered came into being? 

I laid all the poems out on the floor to see how they spoke to each other. As I was going through them my biggest surprise was that the bulk of the collection was written using a very different voice to the one that I am most familiar with. I am a lyric poet by default. I tend towards the experimental, cross genre, free verse. I also approach subjects by going in slant. But this writing was radically different, it was narrative, direct, it employed characters and had a plot. Through the characters not only was I able to re-enact the past, but also to understand what happened and speak about it – although in these poems the boundaries between reality and fiction are blurred!

Crystal was one of the first characters on the scene and she was fierce and feisty! She had her own voice and demanded she be featured in her own book. The title In an Ideal World I’d Not Be Murdered is taken from the title of the penultimate poem in the publication, where Crystal sets out her own manifesto for an ideal world – full of contradiction and ambiguity:

Crystal knew what she wanted and that was somewhere quiet, but not so quiet I get
murdered.

Other characters trauma-wounds are experienced and displayed through the body, but are also expressions of fragmented memory, such as:      

Ash held off the stab wound
through her laugh. 

Abegail Morley, In Conversation with Chaucer Cameron

By the time I landed back in the city, internet journals were blossoming all over, and my first publication there (a site called Poetry Midwest)  was just as exciting as the one in print.  I was all in for sending out work at the rewards of publication, especially in those pre-social media days. Somehow, the community felt more connected then, or at least, the online journal community did.  Journal publications would be met with fanfare and sometimes fan letters from other poets. Some of the people I met in those years are still my online friends now, decades later and across several states. Some of the journals are still publishing, some faded into internet obscurity and 404 errors.  (Stirring and Pedestal Mag, for example,  are still going strong.)  At first, some poets scoffed at the online word, poets who now embrace it pretty regularly. I learned quickly that print journals were nice, but online was where things were more likely to get read (esp. by non-poets.)

The poetry world was, and still is, a constellation of communities.  I moved in several for awhile and at different points.  The online poets, the blogger poets.  The open-mic poets I did readings with in local bars and coffeehouses.  The MFA poets I was meeting at Columbia. Each community had their bibles.  The most exclusive online journals were the ones I couldn’t get into, but I kept trying and eventually did, though sometimes it took years.  (A couple others I am still trying to get into..lol..)  The open-mic crowd had their own local pubs and presses. The academics had a ranking of “high tier” and “lower tier” that I will never quite be at home with or understand. Community journals, academic housed journals. Journals run by one person and some html skills (wicked alice was very much this.) As such, I moved through journals in all these communities and met many different people in them. Even more awesome, was often invited to submit by editors who liked my work that landed in places I might not otherwise even thought about sending to. 

Ultimately, I have always kind of sucked at the submission game.  I was better a decade ago.  More often than not, even when i am writing a lot, I will go months without sending out a thing, then fire off a round to some familiar favorites and some pie-in-the sky places I’d like to see word.  Maybe some new discoveries I think are cool (Twitter has been awesome for this.). I stopped trying to get into places it didn’t really seem like my work was a fir for or whose work or values I didn’t esp appreciate..  At some point, I stopped trying to build a resume or appear in the sorts of places that got a certain kind of attention  and more just wanted to see if I could reach new or existing audiences with them. I began to think of poems as breadcrumbs you leave out in the world that lead back to a larger body of work, either just in general or to specific projects. This has made all the difference. 

Kristy Bowen, breadcrumbs

Further to my post last week about certain poetry readings in London, I thought it was only fair to focus today on regular events that are held all over the country (having mentioned them in passing as a point of comparison and/or contrast with London).

I myself have been a guest poet at regular events in Leicester, Nottingham, Cheltenham, Manchester, Huddersfield, Edinburgh, Chichester, Portsmouth, Cambridge, Coventry, Oxford, Shrewsbury, Bradford on Avon, Reading, Lewes and Birmingham, so I’m speaking from personal experience when I state that these events are all idiosyncratic and play an important role in many people’s lives, reaching far beyond the stereotypes of open mics, etc.

First off, there’s invariably a dedicated individual or team who volunteer to run things, often without any funding whatsoever (the irony, of course, is that this is where poetry really flourishes and makes a contribution to society). Secondly, there are the regular attendees, some of whom even arrive from outlying towns and villages, coming together for the reading in question. And that’s before considering their personal circumstances: on several occasions, a member of the audience has told me that poetry events provided their main (or even only) source of social interaction.

In other words, this post is a celebration of regular poetry events all over the country, though it’s also a lament, as their temporary shift online provides yet another example of the huge damage that the pandemic has inflicted on many people who already suffered great loneliness. And then, finally, it’s an expression of hope, that poetry can still form communities, even maintain them via the internet, and emerge into a post-pandemic era where we’ll be able to gather above a pub or in a village hall, and listen to each other’s poems once more.

Matthew Stewart, The communities created by regular poetry events

And so the job I’m applying for is one who praises. From, again, Li-Young Lee:

“Praise is the state of excess, ecstasy. We counted up all the deaths; we counted up all the dying: we counted up all the terrible things in life, and guess what? There’s still Van Gogh painting sunflowers, there’s still morning glories. There’s an excess in the universe, a much-ness, a too-much-ness.”

So I’m turning to Van Gogh, to the sunflowers, and to the morning glories. I’m going to change the station, flip the dial, change the channel in my brain, and devote myself to the hum of the universe. The mess is going to continue, I know that, and it totally sucks. I’m so beyond exhausted by heading into the fray (both physically with the day job and mentally). So I’m just setting it aside. I’m going to be a fool and turn back to the beautiful, I’m going to fix my broken hearing. I’ll end with another passage of Li-Young Lee speaking about the hum:

“I think it’s bad when poets say, “I don’t believe in the beautiful anymore. Look at the world.” Well, I say, “You’re looking the wrong way. You’re looking at the past. Poets should traffic in the ideal. You don’t traffic only in the past.” For me, as far back as I can remember, I was trying to hear a kind of hum, trying to feel it, and if I could hear or feel that hum, then the words just came and perched on that hum. If I don’t hear the hum, then I have to make the poem out of words. But if I’m hearing the hum and I hear it very clearly, the perfect words like birds will come and perch on that line. They will be the perfect words. but if my hearing is off — if it’s a little broken — and I’m faking it, then I’m putting the words in there, making the illusion there is something underneath. No. I’m interested in the frequency under those words.”

Shawna Lemay, The Hum of the Universe

After three cloudy, seasonable days–with no rain (we are in a drought)–the temperatures here got up to around 80° F and the cicadas emerged. I took a long walk around campus to observe the hatch.

Judging by the divots in the mulch around the trees, skunks, squirrels, raccoons, and other omnivores had a feast last night. But enough fourth-instar nymphs made it up the trees that I quickly lost count of how many exoskeletons clung abandoned to the bark of pines, maples, rowans, and assorted campus-landscape trees. There were also pale, newly-emergent cicadas–not yet imagoes–most of which were drying out their wings and bodies in the breeze. A few were still in the haemolymph stage (teneral adult stage), which is fascinating. Their wings are still furled, as they haven’t yet inflated with whatever fluid circulates through their systems, and the insects look particularly weird.

Brood X hatches mostly south of us, though this county is right on the border. Definitely seeing more of them this year than I have for many years past.

Magicicada are justly famous for their loudness. There were not many full-fledged adult bugs on campus at noon today; but when I return (on Friday or, perhaps, Tuesday), I expect the place will be buzzing. The students are not here to make the place buzz–I’ll be happy to hear the cicadas.

Ann E. Michael, Hatching day

Every day, more and more faces are stepping out from behind their masks,

lips making their debut on reality’s stage after having been in hiding for well over a year.

Thin lips, full lips, heart-shaped lips, turned-down lips.

Throughout L.A., all these rediscovered lips are like the new Norma Desmond, emerging from their Sunset Boulevard seclusion,

telling the ghost of Mr. DeMille they’re ready for their close-up.

Rich Ferguson, The Itness of Lips

So, last week I talked about discouragement from the whole rejection-cycle of being a poet. This week I’m going to talk about poetry dreams. The sort you’ve thought about for a while and think – now may be the time to take steps towards making them a reality. You know, I’ve been sending out resumes for jobs in the literary world (this is a big secret) but it got me thinking about what kind of work I could start on my own. I’ve thought a long time about opening up my own press, and lately I’ve gotten to start thinking about Virginia Woolf – the way she cultivated her own circle of talented artists, writers, and critics, and invited them to her home because her health didn’t do well when she was away. I thought about maybe investing in a little writer’s retreat cabin in a resort area that I could use, but could also rent out to friends (writers and artists), and maybe even running a little writer’s retreat of my own. I think that would be within the range of things I could do without endangering my health, especially if I had an accessible place to host from. What do you guys think?

The main thing keeping me from starting a press in the knowledge that while I have some gifts that are good for running a press – enthusiasm for getting underrepresented voices out into the world, a great reader (and pretty good editor, if I do say so myself), PR and marketing know-how, a pretty good idea of how to run a business – my worry is that I recognize I don’t really have a great mind for detail (even worse since the MS). I wonder if I could get a partner in the press who was great at detail-work. I know that the caveat of a one-or-two person press is that if, for instance, one person’s health fails (which has happened at two of my own publishers) then the press is gone. Thus my hesitance to “go for it.” (Well, that and paperwork – one of my least favorite things in life.)

So the kinds of jobs I’ve been applying for would be doing marketing and PR for presses – or even acquisition editor, a job I’ve had before in my previous life at Microsoft. While it would be fun to be part of a team in that case, would it be more fun if I had more ownership?

So, even if I don’t have the money, partners, or plans completely available right now, there’s no harm in putting these things out into the universe, is there? Please chime in in the comments if you have any thoughts, encouragements, or ideas about what I’ve posted here….

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Almost Summer – Memorial Day Weekend, Supermoons, and Dreaming Some Poetry Dreams

Collective dreaming, tons of it, was being reported early in the pandemic. It was a phenomenon of nocturnal spaces around the world.  I was thinking about that this morning around 4am, looking out from the second story window at a sea-green garden,  an octopus’ garden, to use the Beatles’ words, with the blue-green flesh of hydrangea calling out, the pompom leaves of trees being shaken in a hynotic motion; thinking of the way we tapped into soft, amorphous time and space world during the pandemic.

I was thinking of this after we had our first dinner party; as people return to social space, they rush towards individuation only to find they fit awkwardly in their bodies. 

What was all that dreaming about?  The unconscious was ordering things in a way of deeper reality, and people not previously accustomed were becoming awake to it.  When we needed it, a curative, creative depths became available beyond the frontal barking of social media, beyond the dominating mind.

What can we now collectively gather?  Is it too much to think of reforming a collective mythology, desires and fears of our shared humanity behind the lids?  What if we made a bank of dreams — the way we bank money, and bank blood, now bank sperm and eggs and genetic material. Thinking on the model of cloud banks, dream banks will mark undivided and shifting spaces where psyches run into each other, billow and split and dissolve. I’ll start. I dreamed C.D. Wright gave me a haircut, very slanted across my neck as we talked about her waiting to receive a certificate to teach swimming; I dreamed about my mother’s belly, my bodily home, in different ages and stages. Of course, I dreamed of bounding outside of lockdown, climbing over roofs and living in endless reconfiguration of rooms. The possibilities are endless.

Jill Pearlman, Dream Bank for the Post-Covid World

Rain against the window. The sound of my wife laughing in another room. A sadness for the mounting grief in the world. Things that tell me I am still alive.

James Lee Jobe, The universe. My wife laughing.

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 10

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week, the one-year anniversary of the official beginning of the pandemic in many places loomed large, but creative resilience found expression in many other ways, as well. Here in central Pennsylvania, I’m pleased to report that early spring is well underway, with the return of the phoebe and field sparrow and the weird nightly courtship rituals of the timberdoodle, AKA American woodcock, a shorebird whose ancestors decided that oceans were highly overrated and actually an overgrown meadow is just as good as a beach. Which in a time of continued travel restrictions is kind of an inspiring attitude.


Rooster consciousness,
the rooster that sees light in darkness
rooster announces the light while submerged in darkness
from the deepest place as it’s starting to turn

soon we’ll be in light, you can feel it
it teases, it plays in spring dazzle
that exhilaration, that rush forward
to leave everything behind

Jill Pearlman, That Old Keen Darkness

Like many people I am having my pandemic anniversary today. Last March on Friday the 13th I had a ticket from Barcelona to Frankfurt. I was nervous about flying but I also a little excited because I thought that instead of the usual long weekend I might get to stay two or even three weeks in Germany. I stayed just short of a year, and only returned to Barcelona in late February to renew my visa, a sad hassle I won’t go into except to say I’m now a prisoner of Spain until the card is in my hand. I am considering clandestinely crossing and re-crossing the border. I have a couple days to decide.

I’m not one of those who dislikes the pandemic because it prohibits contact with other people. I am not big on contact with other people. My homefolk are enough for me although it has been difficult not to be able to see my parents, whom I can’t wave to from a backyard because of the ocean.

For me, the biggest problem is the anxiety, always worrying about whether you or a loved one might be struck by the virus. Counting the days from your trip to the store, or interaction with a person who got too close asking for directions, or doctor visit or, hey, the appointment at the Spanish visa office!

I don’t lament the ‘loss’ of the past 12 months. It was a gift to stay in one place with my family. I published a book. I read a lot. I tried new things creatively. A take-out meal became a special event. I discovered a little public garden near my home. Our sweet dog died. We got a new sofa and chair. I gave up make-up and bras. I saved a lot on airfare and things that I might have bought as a kind of pastime. I saw my first sequoias. I cut my husband’s and son’s hair without a mishap. It dawned on me that ordering wine online was better than lugging it home. I made do.

Sarah J Sloat, Get Your Year On

So, are we there yet? Chronically ill and disabled people in Washington State are STILL not eligible for the vaccination yet, but I’m hoping the time is drawing closer (and I’m twittering about it to my governor as much as possible.) With the vaccine being an important step to being able to live a normal life again for both me and Glenn – we are starting to think about things we might be able to do again without worry – shopping at a grocery store or picking up flowers, browsing in a bookstore or going for my MRIs (among other doctor and dentist appointments) without fear of dying as a result. I have been in a stew of anxiety since the year began – wondering and waiting for the vaccine to be available – but now I’m starting to hope I’ll be vaccinated by my birthday at the end of April, that I’ll be able to visit Skagit Valley’s tulip gardens while they’re still in bloom, that I might be able to see my friends and family in person and even hug them (?) I’d like to visit Snoqualmie Falls in spring, too – I love the woods – and maybe even an exotic day trip out to Port Townsend. […]

During this last two weeks, I also had some pretty crushing rejections – including a press that kept my book for a year (ouch) – and am hoping that a good press will give one or both of my books a chance very soon. I want to be able to focus on something positive as we wait out the rest of this painful year (plus) of plague.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Changing Times (and Seasons), New Poems in the Fairy Tale Review, Science Fiction Libraries, and Daring to Hope

It’s been a year of a lot of pastoral listening: sometimes trying to offer comfort, and sometimes just sitting with people in the low or frightened or anxious or despairing place where we are. It’s been a year of learning how to lead services on Zoom, how to facilitate spiritual experience from afar. It’s been a year of contactless grocery pickup and staying apart and washing masks. It’s been a year of loneliness and solitude and grief and losses — so many losses, even for those of us who’ve made it through.

I think it will likely take years for the full impact of the COVID-19 pandemic to be known. How will this year have shaped us: the loneliness, the loss, the grief — the science denialism and politicization of masks — and also the unexpected moments of connection or kindness against the backdrop of so much trauma? Those of us who have made it through will be changed by what this last year has held. I want to believe that we can harness those changes for the good of each other, but I don’t know how.

Rachel Barenblat, One year

And meanwhile, who could have predicted the state I’m in now? My teacher daughter, my mother, and I all received our first shots in the last ten days. (I’m eligible because having a BMI over 25 makes me elevated-risk, which seems both bogus and dispiriting, but I’ll take it.) I received the Moderna vaccine, and the following day, I was intermittently woozy and headachey and even more insomniac than usual. Honestly, the latter could be a kind of future shock. I’m a veteran student of apocalypse, but I hadn’t imagined this.

The vaccine site epitomized the current weirdness. There was a Peebles department store on the edge of town for decades that went out of business a couple of years ago. Then it became a Gorman’s, which also died, and then the state leased the empty building for vaccinations. I arrived there Friday morning and a line snaked out the building, the most people I’d seen in one spot in ages, but it moved with rapid efficiency. Cheerful guards at the door kept us spaced six feet apart. Inside, I checked in then waited on along a switchback line made of yellow caution tape strung along traffic cones. Above our heads hung purple retail signs saying “big names not big bucks!” and “fashion is fierce!” The jab with a tiny needle was painless. I waited in the sea of chairs for longer than the required 15 minutes, just watching people and feeling stunned. It looked sf, surreal. Even more strangely, the people inhabiting the dreamscape were fizzing with hope.

Lesley Wheeler, Change of State

I’m a fan of Terry Pratchett – that wise, witty, inventive, humane man. I have 30+ of his audio books on a flash drive, and I listen to them over and over in the car. I love his characters, not least Tiffany Aching, the witch and keeper of sheep. She has a great love of words that she experiences in a kind of synaesthesia. They are mobile, tactile, visual, aural, all at once.Like this:

Susurrus . . . according to her grandmother’s dictionary, it meant ‘a low soft sound, as of whispering or muttering’. Tiffany liked the taste of the word. It made her think of mysterious people in long cloaks whispering important secrets behind a door: susurrususssurrusss … (The Wee Free Men)

There’s one that’s stuck in my head of late. Desultory. Limp-wristed, indolent, dilatory. That’s me. That’s twelve months of self-isolating and procrastination. It’s what happens when days fail to have meaning as events or sequences, when deadlines seem like irrelevances. Time to do something about it. Time to catch up.

It’s what we say when we haven’t seen someone for a long time…”let’s get together and do some catching up”. Of course there is the obverse …as in “playing catch up” which is when a team will rush things, and forget the plan and take risks, and generally lose the plot on the way to losing. I’ll keep that in mind. The thing is, poets go on writing, and even through a year of Covid, books are published and I buy them, and I mean to tell folk about the ones I liked. And then I go all desultory. So here’s the plan. I’m going to do some catching up; I resolve to get back to a proper routine of regular cobweb posts and tell you about the books that have made me happier in the last year.

John Foggin, Catching up: John Duffy’s “A Gowpen”

Right now, with five kids between the ages of 6 months old and 9 years old at home all the time, writing feels like wringing water from a stone.

I love it, sincerely love it, but its difficult to find time to come to the page at all, let alone to create something I’m satisfied with enough to show other actual real live humans.

Even the acrobatics required to come to this space means…eating cold soup.

The point is to be faithful.
Faithful to keep creating my work, revising my work, and submitting my work.

I fully believe creativity and writing is a gift from God–but also believe it isn’t up to me what He does with it. I’d love to see something bloom from all this–I’d love to put some poems in the hands of readers.

Until then, I’m going to keep believing in the value of showing up, of revising, of eating cold soup.

Renee Emerson, Cold Soup

I think about the things I’ve learned and done this past year. I finessed my cooking skills once I was working from home and got a little bit more culinarily adventurous. I got really good at building online exhibits and programming. I watched every apocalyptic disaster movie on streaming, all of The Office, and the entirety of the Friday the 13th sequels.  I went back to working onsite in July, but I still managed to finish a manuscript of poems. To go to Rockford a couple times to see my dad & sister before rates went up in the fall, then again at Christmas after a short quarantine. I’ve done readings, hosted meetings, and ran trivia nights on zoom. I released a new book into the world last summer and another one this week.  Sometimes doubly masked, I’ve white knuckled it on bus rides to and fro for months. While my co-workers and I share distanced spaces and chat, I haven’t socially seen anyone but my boyfriend in months. 

What didn’t I do?  Read books for pleasure for one (lack of concentration).  Or really, outside of a couple more practical paintings and couple postcards, make art.  While I filled orders for books, I lacked concentration for layouts or cover designs. Just reading manuscripts last fall was unbearably hard, as was answering the simplest emails. I didn’t eat takeout for months because I wan’t sure it was safe.I didn’t go to movies or thrift stores or the places I enjoy greatly. At first, I didn’t spend money because I thought for sure, the academic world would collapse and me with it.  When the first stimulus came through, I bought sheets and new bedding since that was there I spent most of my time.   

Kristy Bowen, apocalypse ravioli: one year later

Thinking back to the first lockdown how did it affect you and your writing?

I wasn’t really writing anything new at the beginning of the year, and when the lockdown began I think I became even less motivated to write. I think I needed physical activity more – gardening, walking, cleaning and moving furniture. I struggle to write poetry unless I’m on my own in the house. As a consequence I didn’t send anything out to magazines in 2020. And I was already under a self-imposed moratorium on entering competitions.

Have you found a distinction between your motivation to write poetry and your work on Planet Poetry?

Yes, Planet Poetry harks back to an urge I’ve had for years, to do some kind of podcast/radio thing. I looked into podcasting a couple of years ago with my friend Lucy. We used to do little ‘audio blogs’ years ago, on Foursquare (remember that?). But starting a podcast felt like a big project and I had other things on the go. Then when Peter Kenny mentioned the idea to me last summer I jumped at it. It’s great fun to do with a friend, and poetry was the obvious topic. It feels like I’m still participating in the poetry community, even though I’m not meeting people at live readings or workshopping groups, or sending work to magazines.

You published your updated version of A Guide to Getting Published in UK Poetry Magazines in November, was it helpful to have this project to work on during 2020?

Absolutely. The timing wasn’t great, because it coincided with my starting a new course (more about that below) and also the launch of Planet Poetry. But I’m so glad I did it, as I think the time was right and people were very receptive. It’s also a guilt-free way of funding my poetry book-buying, magazine subs and other small poetry costs.

Do you see a relationship between creativity and wellbeing?

For me, certainly. I derive great pleasure both from making things, and also from making things happen. It’s very satisfying, and it’s fun! I realise I’m very lucky to have the time to do so. Usually at least half my energy goes into managing musical projects with my husband. But there hasn’t been much to do on that this last year. Hence the podcast, and then the ‘guide’. I also hand-made some little booklets for a few friends last spring, each with a little recipe, a favourite poem, some images etc. As one recipient remarked, “it’s fascinating what people get up to in lockdown!”

Abegail Morely, Creativity and Lockdown: In Conversation with Robin Houghton

That [Edward] Burra lived most of his life in the part of the world from whence my Paul grandparents’ forebears hailed adds to my sense of connection with him. My paternal and idiosyncratic grandfather, Walter RH Paul (1903–1989), from Eastbourne, thirty miles west of Rye, undertook teacher training at the College of St Mark a mile away up the Kings Road from where Burra was honing his craft at Chelsea Polytechnic. I like to imagine they may have bumped into each other occasionally, but who knows.

If you are unfamiliar with Burra’s art, you’re missing out. Seek it out.

All of this is a long preamble to the fact that, last summer, I wrote several poems inspired by Burra paintings. Many ekphrastic poems seem to me to be simply a rendering into words of the scene depicted in the artwork. I tend to use them, as I always did on Pascale Petit’s now legendary Poetry from Art sessions at Tate, as springboards to explore my own tangents. That’s the case with both my published poems after Burra: ‘The Nitpickers’, and ‘Blue Baby: Blitz Over Britain’. The latter is one of three poems of mine published in the spring issue of The High Window today.

Matthew Paul, On Edward Burra

It began with Chilean poet, Vincente Huidobro. The opening / preface of his poetic masterpiece, Altazor, launches into a metaphysical cascade of imagery. This was exciting to a young poet like me—at age 29 with some Spanish knowledge and seeking a manifesto to climb (the name “altazor” is a combination of the noun “altura” / “altitude” and the adjective “azorado” / “bewildered” or “taken aback”). 

I’d been experimenting with layered or looking-glass ekphrasis (a term that I’ve coined for this process). As I create cinepoems, a visual language in of itself, I found this poem in particular to be different: it was fueled by a homophonic translation (three languages fused: English, Spanish, and the visual). From this, a separate Lithuanian poem sprung, inspired by the overlapped sounds of street noise, a looped harpsichord, and selected juxtapositions of the poet’s translated phrases and/or words. Now four languages.

Lina Ramona Vitkauskas, Keeping Up With The Huidobros • (New Cinepoem, 2021)

I am mesmerized by this videopoem, linked below, the rapid flash images that nevertheless seem rarely to change, short stops in motel or diner parking lots nothwithstanding, and an occasional glimpse of the changing character of the landscape, but only a glimpse, as the landscape is chiefly anti-land, it’s the roadscape, mostly the highwayscape. We all know it. The blacktop, the yellow lines, the signs flashing by flashing by and the rear ends of trucks, stolid, unimpressed with your own meager mileage-eating.

The voice drones on and I mean that in the nicest way, because it’s saying interesting things, mournful things, meaningful things, and I drift in and out of focus, as I do on the road as the miles slip by and I think suddenly, wait a minute, where am I.

There is music in the background that is meant to live in the background, the way the radio blurbles along as if anyone is really listening, when often times it’s just noise against the great and awful silence, the silence of Life, or Aloneness, or Eternity, or The Grave, and the DJ prattles on, and the songs merge as if one long song and what you thought at one point was your finger bopping to a beat had become many miles before just a nervous tapping, or vice versa.

And arrival becomes a strange and new way of being, disorienting, and for a moment you forget how to live in one place, and you miss, a little bit, the moving road.

I skied today under a wide blue sky, and had the trail to myself, and was thinking about this videopoem, and also wondering, as I often do, what is the purpose of life, if life has a purpose. Sometimes I go down a nihilistic spiral with that question, but often I end up at Rilke: “Maybe we are here to say: house, bridge, fountain, gate…”

Everywhere West

Marilyn McCabe, Sitting downtown in a railway station; or, On videopoem “Everywhere West” by Chris Green and Mark Neumann

I was just sitting on the patio enjoying the cool of late afternoon when I decided to visit The Oracle. She provided lots of words, as usual, but I created a brief verse, as is my way.

Away. Then Back.

elaborate shadows drive a
sleepy beauty
blue languid love
sweats in arms of honey
chants over skin
raw as rain
on the moon

*

Inspiration via magneticpoetry.com .

Charlotte Hamrick, Away. Then Back.

The neighbours have cut a hole in the hedge opposite our house for a new driveway, freeing an old five bar gate from a decade of knotted ivy and uprooting a screen of spindly trees to reveal a canopy of sky I have never seen from my window before. But even knowing this, when I glanced across the room this morning all I saw was a barricade of dull grey hoarding, something they must have erected while I slept, for privacy perhaps, or to keep people out from the half-built garage, and effectively blocked my view. And then I unsaw what my imagination wanted me to see and stared at the canopy of sky left by a retreating storm. Perhaps we are all too hasty at times, slipping into the satisfaction of our nurtured suspicions and resentments, rather than seeing what lies before us. 

Lynne Rees, Prose poem: Gaps in a hedge

I’ve always had mixed feelings about poetry readings, and I hate Zoom. Poetry readings can be great and they can be terrible. Some poets can read their poems well and some can’t. Sometimes people want to talk before and after the readings and are friendly and welcoming. Sometimes they just go off into their own huddles and ignore you if you’re not part of that group. Sometimes they throw up fascinating characters.

I’ve just found this, which I jotted down about one such character shortly after the reading:

It’s been the best of times,
the worst of times,
and I’ve taken myself off
to recover,
to reflect,
to write stuff
which even I can’t categorise,
which just seems to flow out of me
formlessly,
from page to page,
each one of which
I throw over my shoulder
as I finish performing them.

And she did!

Sue Ibrahim, Poetry readings

Because writing, my whole life, has been marked by fallow periods that are just as important as the ones in which words bloom.

Because I can still connect with far-away folks through their blogs or through email or social media.

Because too much heat and light will kill the seeds of whimsy before they sprout.

Because white space might be the most important element of design.

Because the days are getting longer but life is getting shorter.

Because sometimes even I need a break from my voice.

Because right now I want to listen more than talk.

Because a hiatus is a pause, not a stop.

Rita Ott Ramstad, On hiatus

I’m not trying to make any tired statements about how the unpleasant sets the pleasant in relief and makes us appreciate it more. That’s an intellectual exercise.

I am thinking more about letting go of the need to judge each moment according to expectations and stories. To physically be in the moment and notice what I am perceiving, letting go of the illusion that it can or should be anything else.

It’s humbling. All this powerlessness. Even the powerlessness in rejecting the stories that my mind wants to cling to, to make sense of the world. To give myself an illusion of comprehension, of control. If I can’t change things, I can put them in boxes.

Numb toes are “bad”. When I get back to the house, they’ll hurt as the circulation begins again. I should hurry back to the house. Don’t stand here and stare at the pink water.

I’m not an idiot. This animal body of mine will avoid what is unpleasant and will seek what is pleasant when it can. This meaty head will justify it all somehow.

But where I put my attention in the meantime is my choice.

In the meantime. That’s an interesting word: meantime. I looked it up. It means during a time when something else is being done, or during a time before something happens.

My life is a series of meantimes.

I’ve been working now for a while on a manuscript that focuses on time and impermanence. And I have been considering my own relationship with the concept. Like an anorexic with food, I put a lot of attention and effort into controlling the hours of my days. But like an anorexic, the more controlling and precise I become, the less nourishment I am able to take in. I am not using my time well. I want to stop time until I “figure it out”. But time is unavoidable.

And time rushes at me in the meantime. But there is no “there” there. Except for death.

I recently read about complexity as a form of avoidance. Systems, calendars, plans. Over-thinking. This should all be so simple. To stop telling myself the stories. To be here now – and not in a meantime.

Ren Powell, In the Meantime

What is it that we owe each other as human beings? When I say, take care, to someone how do I mean it now, and why would I say it if it’s provisional? How far does our empathy stretch? How far, how deep really, are we willing do dig to understand why someone believes what they believe? How can we have quieter conversations with people we disagree with? How can we still be humble and open and resist coldness? How can we continue to be interested in the stories of ordinary people with whom we disagree? In what ways are we obligated to share what we know? How are we obligated to one another? What is happiness? What does it mean to forgive and how does forgiving (or not forgiving) change us? How do we hold our mistakes in our hands? How do we make moral and ethical decisions without succumbing to fatigue?

How can we exercise our moral imagination? How can we tend to our soul? Is it ethical to leverage shame for a common good? What is our relationship to hope now? What are our griefs and how can we help others navigate their griefs? Is our life, though perhaps less wild, more precious now and what will you do with that one life, thank you Mary Oliver as always for that one. If how we live our life is how we live our days, then how can we adapt our pandemic-informed days to incorporate our hopes, dreams, delights, values, our goals? What is our relationship to beauty now? Can asking questions be a kind of spiritual practice? What happens when we consider the opposite?

Shawna Lemay, One Year Later…I Have Some Questions

the horizon thickens

the sea separates
from the curdled sky

we rise like wet birds
from the water
into emptiness, into nothing

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Throwback to some Cherita

Let’s say that your poems wear old Wellington boots and walk through mud on the way to the market. At the market people buy these poems even though they are rather worn and dirty. Frayed at the ends. Threadbare poems. Used. Let’s say that the hopes of your early years are not the hopes you have now. Once you wanted so much, but now? Some sleep. A day where things don’t hurt so much. What things? Your feet. Your empty house. In fact, let’s say that the sun skips your house today, all the other houses have sunshine. Not yours. Let’s say that it is time for goodbye. Let’s say you have become a memory.

James Lee Jobe, Threadbare poems. Used.

To the ancestors, I make offerings
of wood and fire, strings of dried

marigold and strawflower— Yet it’s
as if they want to tithe every small

joy I put away in a box under my bed,
every small stretch of time that seems

to have escaped the mouth of some
new agony. Through sparse, dry grass

that slept all winter, now the sharp
green spades of daffodils begin

to make openings in the soil.

Luisa A. Igloria, A Benefaction

Checking in this week after being absent last week due to spraining my ankle while going downstairs doing the laundry. Been describing my foot as looking like rotten meat. Like, Charles Baudelaire would’ve written about it rotten. Like, Upton Sinclair would’ve seen in it a metaphor to use in The Jungle rotten.

But I’m back at it, life. Last night, I had a blast reading as part of the Pangyrus issue 8 reading alongside Pam Painter, Joelle Fraser, Ryane Nicole Granados, and Artress Bethany White. Highlights included White’s poem “Outlander Blues” and Granados’ essay “Love Letter to My Soon to Be 13-Year-Old Black Son.” We also had a lovely conversation among the readers afterward, moderated by Greg Harris. At one point, I took a shot at the Norton anthology and suggested that lit mags hold the real lively canons of our times. Do with that what you will.

Another highlight of my week was sharing the work of J. Jennifer Espinoza with my literature students. Espinoza’s “Makeup Ritual” (second poem at the link) in particular led to some engaging conversations about human experience and the value of daily rituals to provide grounding in a world constantly upended.

José Angel Araguz, sprained & rotten thoughts

TL;DR Press paired with Action Against Hunger, an international organization committed to supporting malnourished children and their families by beating hunger. 41 writers from around the world have contributed writings to this anthology: Hope. I am thrilled that my short poem, “Sitting with Emily,” is included. Thank you to the editors of TL;DR for including it and pushing this publication out into the world, and to Action Against Hunger for the important work they do to increase access to food sustainability.

Kersten Christianson, TL;DR Press: Hope

Your book is split into two sections, with the first offering free verse poetry and the second memoir as a series of poetic vignettes. Why did you choose to blend poetry and memoir into a single book? How are the two sections meant to balance and communicate with each other? 

The first section, Vaudeville, is more performative, playing with persona. I see the second section, Diagnosis, as offstage/backstage/behind the scenes. While the first section is poetry and the second section is flash nonfiction, they both address topics like illness, identity, and politics. I wanted the two parts to be in conversation with each other, but in a subtle way. I wanted the sections to be two distinct experiences about the same world. Two ways of looking at things. I think the two sections of short forms support each other, but not in overly obvious ways. I wanted to keep surprising the reader, but also keep the overall manuscript cohesive. I wanted the reader to find their own way through material that isn’t linear without getting lost. 

You mention that Vaudeville, the first section of the book, is more performative. How do you approach expressing performance or persona in a poem? To what degree do the performative aspects connect to your own personal experience? 

I worked in the performing arts for many years before I was a writer, so I often approach poetry with that mindset. Since poetry feels so much like performing to me, I feel unafraid writing most poems. There is a nervous energy to it, but it’s mostly positive energy. Embracing the idea of performance as a poet makes it easier for me to generate poems. It doesn’t matter if the poem is revealingly autobiographical or if the voice of the poem is odd and the opposite of my personality. Taking risks with poetry feels good because there is a sort of buffer. I feel keenly aware of the absence of such a buffer when writing nonfiction, but I have worked to become more comfortable with it.

Andrea Blythe, Poet Spotlight: Meg Johnson on Illness, Persona, and the Performance of Poetry

Known as “the first Tibetan female poet to be published in English,” San Francisco poet and writer Tsering Wangmo Dhompa’s latest publication, her first poetry title in a decade, is the chapbook REVOLUTE (Charlottesville VA: Albion Books, 2021), produced as the fourth title of Albion Books’ Series Seven [see here for my reviews of the first, second and third of the same series]. Dhompa is the author of the poetry collections Rules of the House (Berkeley CA: Apogee Press, 2002), In the Absent Everyday (Apogee Press, 2005) and My rice tastes like the lake (Apogee Press, 2011) [see my review of such here], as well as the memoir/non-fiction book A Home in Tibet (Penguin India, 2013), a title published in the United States as Coming Home to Tibet: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and Belonging (Boulder CO: Shambhala Publications, 2016). Furthering a number of the concerns of her earlier works, Dhompa’s new chapbook speaks of exile and return, and the translation into further exile, with the discovery that what was once “home” has since changed, evolved, to a point beyond recognition. In a triptych of three poem-sequences—“Revolute,” “The history of sadness” and “Inner revolution”—Dhompa writes on memory and belonging, home and time, temporal and familiar spaces, and the collision that can’t help but emerge between two different cultures. “What grouping of texts, which images,” she writes, as part of the longer title sequence, “will speak to someone who is not me, / but like me, has no place to escape / from the place of belonging / that is no more.”

Dhompa’s published work-to-date has very much engaged with lyric explorations around emerging from one culture and continent to living fully within another, writing in and around exile and notions of belonging, as well as the concerns and complications around attempting to exist fully within the possibilities of both spaces. “Mothers remember / the bodies they buried. / Life after death,” she writes, as part of “The history of sadness,” “and death / in every breath. Belonging: a verb, / and belonging / a strip of hope fed with orchids / on sale and recipes / brought from a country I now hover / over in virtual maps.” What is curious about this current work is the way in which her poems extend across a larger canvas: not composed as suites of shorter meditations, but longer sequences that stretch beyond what she has previously attempted. The effect allows for a further level of depth and inquiry, and an admission in how her lyrics are so very much connected to each other. Further on in the same opening sequence, she writes: “The point that ink makes is storied, we’ve memorized / its conventions. The primary theme is land / and who stole it.” Through the triptych of poems, Dhompa slowly evolves her lyric from one of the disappearance of what it was they had left behind, to a poem that includes her mother, writing around mothers and mothering, and the potential loss of her mother, even beyond her mother’s own loss of homeland. “Is there a replacement / for the slow and stretched vowels in a mouth / accommodating something new?”

rob mclennan, Tsering Wangmo Dhompa, REVOLUTE

power cut
all the news stopped
except mine

Jim Young [no title]

A few days ago, I asked Twitter whether the expression Full-Time Poet is a contradiction in terms. The wide range of replies was fascinating.

Some people homed in on the cash, as in the need for an inheritance or a high-earning partner if somebody wanted to devote all their time to writing. This suggestion, in turn, garnered responses from others who understood Full-Time to be a synonym of Professional. In other words, certain poets do view themselves as Full-Time in the sense that their professional lives revolve around poetry: its teaching, its workshopping, its reviewing, etc, which also combines with their own writing. The counter-argument, of course, is that their workload means that they might not have much time or energy left for actual creation of the genre, meaning that they’re anything but Full-Time in one sense but completely committed in another.

And then there’s an alternative take, which is implicit in my loaded question. This involves questioning whether poetry is improved by spending eight hours a day at a desk, trying to write, draft and re-draft the stuff. It wonders whether the creation of poetry’s not better served by other stimuli, be they sleeping (!), drinking or doing a job that has nothing to do with poetry whatsoever. Moreover, this issue connects with a false dichotomy between so-called Amateur and Professional poets, as if the origin of a person’s earnings were to dictate the artistic value of their creation. On both sides of this absurd debate, there seem to be delicate egos.

For what it’s worth, my own perspective was brought into focus by my wife when I mentioned this issue to her. She innocently remarked that if I suddenly stopped talking to her in the car because I mulling over a stanza, or if she found herself waiting by the door, shopping bags in hand, because I’d suddenly had to jot down a line in my notebook before we left for the market, then I was most definitely a Full-Time Poet myself. In other words, the term might well be applied to anyone who writes in the genre. This is because our creative process is alive, both consciously and subconsciously, in our heads and hearts, throughout the day and night. We never stop being poets, starting to write our poems long before we put pen to paper…

Matthew Stewart, Full-Time Poet?

So I’ve submitted about 70 poems multiple times and had 8 accepted? That’s not a bad ratio, and I’m grateful.

A lot of my friends don’t realize that my superpower as a child was to be invisible. Even now I sometimes imagine disappearing, dropping off everyone’s radar, moving to a desert island or a cabin on a creek somewhere. I’d write for the joy of it, for myself. (My brother and sisters would say that I’m already doing this. “Where are you?”) I’d stack all my notebooks up on a shelf and admire them, all by my lonesome. But here I am, well into this journey called life, and my art (not to mention my husband and three daughters) has consistently asked me to step forward and be seen. Yes, it terrifies me. Again and again, my poetry friends and the writing world in general has scooted over and made a place for me. They brought cake.

Thanks for being here with me.

Bethany Reid, Welcome to the New Website!

For this poetry prompt on foreplay, start by reading “When We’re in Bed and You Take Out Your Mouth Guard, I Know It’s On” by Melissa Crowe and give some thought to what you like/admire.

As an awkward, clumsy person, my delight in this poem starts with the title. I have great affection for its nerdiness (the mouth guard) and its smoothness (the slang “it’s on”). But mostly, it’s hilarious. And frankly, so is sex. Wonderful, yes, but so strange, especially if you’re doing it right LOL

I also think the title is extra endearing because of what Crowe does with it: The removal of mouth guard as foreplay isn’t mentioned anywhere else in the poem. It would be tempting to make the poem “about” that ritual or use it as a starting point for a narrative play-by-play of what happened next, but Crowe’s poem leaves it alone entirely and surprises us by jump back in time (instead of gunning straight for whatever happens after the lover takes out the mouth guard).

What the body of the poem offers is spectacular, as well. As told through a string of scenes and memories, Crowe’s narrator shares past habits she and her partner had developed ahead of being intimate. The snapshots give us a fascinating history of the romantic and sexual relationship. And although it starts in such a goofy place, the poem builds in significant ways, including pacing, eroticism/heat and meaning. In fact, the poem ends up taking sex quite seriously, elevating it to the sacred: “your worshipful mouth, my whole body lit / from within and without.”

It’s also worth noting that Crowe makes the poem sensual without being raunchy or explicit: “my lap, where you’d sweat and sweat until I cried out.”

Carolee Bennett, poetry prompt for when you want to get it on

some mornings address us through a twilight zone microphone.

others allure us with their long, sleek horizon lines resembling the clavicles of modigliani models.

some mornings got slumbirds unwowing us with melodies of gutter-uttered vowels.

other mornings mix us a xanadu-infused cocktail whose insobriety offers us quiet joy.

Rich Ferguson, some mornings

orange flies on the sheep-poo
butterflies on snowdrops
brimstones on crocus

a ladybird in my bed all winter
all over my duvet oh dear
disdained by the family

Arthur the Aardvark
took on another life
he tells me nothing

Ama Bolton, ABCD February 2021

Sunday was a day of re-arranging rooms, re-ordering tidiness, setting the house straight again and preparing for the week ahead. Over the weekend I was drawn again and again to a new poem by Jemma Borg in the TLS. The poem is called ‘Dissection of a marriage’. There are so many extraordinary lines and images I like. For instance

“She swam alone in her body, carrying nothing
but her shadow. She was as bored as a parked car.”

What does it mean? I keep returning to the poem and now I’ve printed it out so I can keep reading it. What I like most is that it’s about more than it says on the page. It lives another life. That’s poetry for you! How have I forgotten poetry’s ability to shape shift and slip between meanings? Because I have forgotten that in recent times.

Josephine Corcoran, Diary Snippets, weekending 14 March, 2021

We aren’t finished with the virus, and it is certainly not finished with us, in spite of the fact that many of us in wealthy western countries now have access to vaccines. The disparity in access, as always, has to do with poverty, the color of our skins, our ability to use technology, the strengths and weaknesses of our governments. I am holding in my heart those who desperately wait, and also thinking of the incalculable toll of loss and grief, interrupted lives, and dashed hopes that this year has cost. Those of us who survive will continue and someday fairly soon, we’ll start picking up the threads of our former lives. I don’t think any of us will be the same, but each of us has a chance to be a better person than we were before.

Beth Adams, Hermit Diary 59. Late Winter, Interior

a new day
traffic cones & trees
in the fog

James Brush, 03.11.21

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 8

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week: signs of spring, political and philosophical reflections, loves and deaths.


There’s an air of spring
examining the frozen
earth by touch, shyly.

We’re not ready yet
for happiness, the heavy
curtains are still closed.

At least the winter
would not lie to us, would not
say all will be good.

One doesn’t know now.

Magda Kapa, February 2021

A teetering peregrine at the pinnacle of an iced tree. But chickadees. Orioles? Nuthatches. Voices changing. “I can smell the leaves under the water, under the ice,” I say. “Not spring, but evidence of it. Can you?” Amazed, he cannot. The infinite distance. Animal. 

He says please don’t give up on me. The time of ice shatter and mud seems never to end, is always beginning and beginning: it’s nearly March again. “The sap is up in your willow, did you see?” I mention. He hadn’t, but now that I point it out, he can.

The horse is mad at me for being away. He shoves me pointedly, eats his apology carrots refusing to meet my eye, then caves and kisses me profusely. I laugh. The birds’ voices are new. Spring is just there, just outside the frame, in their tiny lungs and mouths.

I am lost, confused, clear, present, gone, awake, asleep, disoriented, alert. Loss is permanent, but it has no end, and mind doesn’t change the shape of it. Animal loyal. To faultlines. I saw a plain moth tonight,

her gray drab elation—

JJS, spring

because the existential subtraction of the past year laid bare the excesses of my carefully contrived alignments,
because the new minimalist right angles of being are putting to shame the cursive blooms of February after a summer, a monsoon, a winter, of letting go,
because so much was so unnecessary, so exhausting, so mindless that turning away was turning inward, hearing myself, allowing the words to come when they were ready — like rain, like a storm, like the night — filling the spaces between here and sky, between me and myself, becoming a bridge that leads to another chance,
because when this stillness has passed, the chaos will come rushing back but there will be a memory of this time when so much nothing happened that it was still a little something,
because sometimes, something is more than enough

then the sky looked down
at the sea, and asked—
what is that strange colour?

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Because February 2021

around the headstone
of one who died at twenty:
wind-puffed primroses

This haiku of mine, published in Presence 56, resulted from a trip a couple of late-Februarys ago to Sheepleas, a nature reserve maintained by Surrey Wildlife Trust between West Horsley and East Horsley. […]

In his magnum opus Flora Britannica (Sinclair-Stevenson, 1996), Richard Mabey, the doyen of British nature writing who’s just turned 80, reminds us that the word ‘primrose’ derives from ‘prima rosa’, i.e. that it – Primula vulgaris – is the first flower of spring. […]

In my poem, I went for ‘first thought, best thought’ in describing the impact of the wind on the flowers. Sometimes, one can over-complicate a haiku by thinking too much about whether an adjective (or a verb) is the best fit. In this instance, it was definitely a case of following Roy Walker’s advice. But in one of those nice incidences of synchronicity (or deeply-buried unconscious association), a beautifully illustrated book, Shakespeare’s Flowers by Jessica Kerr (Longman, 1969), which I bought in Warwick on a visit there with John Barlow about 10 years ago, has jogged my memory of a famous quotation from Act 1, Scene iii of Hamlet: ‘Whiles, like a puff’d and reckless libertine, / Himself the primrose path of dalliance / treads.’ Despite having studied Hamlet in depth several times in days gone by, I can’t claim that the allusion in my poem was deliberate. Pleasingly, the book lists several other mentions of the primrose in Shakespeare’s oeuvre, including the Porter’s line in Act 2, Scene iii of Macbeth, about ‘the primrose / way to the everlasting bon-fire.’ In The Two Noble Kinsmen, listed as a joint work between Shakespeare and John Fletcher, the primrose is described as ‘first-born child of Ver / Merry spring-time’s harbinger.’

Matthew Paul, Sheepleas

second dose
winter rages deep
inside me

James Brush, 02.26.21

There are days in the circle of the year that carry an emotional weight. Children’s birthdays, parents’ death-days, anniversaries of weddings and disasters. I didn’t know the reason for my heavy heart last Sunday until I remembered that it was the day my father died 41 years ago, much younger than I am now.

On Monday, Lawrence Ferlinghetti died aged 101. One of the most influential poets of his generation. I saw his spellbinding performance at the International Poetry Incarnation at the Albert Hall in London. June 11th 1965. Keele to London and back the same night by thumb. Does anyone hitch-hike nowadays? 

John Keats died 200 years ago on Tuesday, aged 25. His poetry is still resonant and memorable, still popular, still on the GCSE curriculum, still being learnt by heart as I did many years ago.

By heart

Imagine – I am sixteen
and suffering my first heartbreak.
English homework this week:

learn a stanza from Keats’s
Ode to a Nightingale. In class
Miss Wilson asks me to recite.

Now more than ever seems it rich to die,
to cease upon the midnight with no pain …
Someone giggles. Someone guffaws.

To thy high requiem become a sod.
An explosion of mirth.
Miss Wilson tries to hide a smile.

Did I get it wrong?
No, says Miss Wilson,
you said it as if you meant it.

Next Friday will be the fourteenth anniversary of the car-bombing of the booksellers’ quarter in Baghdad. Commemorative readings have been held around the world every year since then.

Ama Bolton, Anniversaries

Every time I write 2021, it seems like an impossibility.  Still, the latter part of this week, the very last of February, has been warmer and the snow in its enormous drifts, slowly whittling away.  I watched a video of the ice breaking up on the lake, which is a good sign (I know she’s over there, but the mounds of snow and sand make it hard to see her from the bus in daytime, and it’s all blackness on my way home in any season.)  March is technically the beginning of spring according to meteorologists, but we have at least a few weeks where anything at all can happen. Still, I am in better sorts this weekend, even though it’s been a long grindy week that began with webpage building for a fairly large faculty publication showcase and ended with meetings and zooms and a backlog of ILL shipments needing to go out. Still I can walk freely on the sidewalks without dodging slush and ice, so it’s much better than even a week ago. 

Today, I’ve been getting poems ready for my Pretty Owl Poetry reading this evening, the first I’ve done from home (the Poetry Foundation one I did in the library)   I will likely shut the cats in the bedroom to stop them from interrupting as they occasionally do for most work-related meetings. I’m reading some of the tabloid poems, including the one in the journal (“Dick Cheney is a Robot”), as well as some of the conspiracy theory pieces that I’ve been working on this year. On one hand, virtual readings are nice since they let me read for things I would not have before due to location and with an unlimited audience to boot.  I also do not have to spend 45 to an hour on public trans getting to readings in seeming every part of the city but my own.  Also, my social awkwardness feels less acute via zoom in some ways, but more in others. We’ll see how it goes.  I also need to keep reminding myself of time zone variations in the virtual world. It’s still strange to think that even a year ago, we’d never have dreamed the norm of reading to web cams instead of real people in a real room. That I’d even be doing a reading from my living room on a random Saturday night.  What’s been lost, what’s been gained.  

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 2/27/2021

I’m writing, here and there, editing pieces that have been hanging around ‘in progress’ for the last year or longer. My Scottish collection is up in the air. The publisher is struggling with the changes Brexit has brought to the publishing industry as well as personal issues and everything has been delayed and delayed again. I’m just trying not to think about it because I’m sure my living in the EU is going to throw up new problems when my book is considered. 

My writing group went through a rough patch and has re-emerged a bit bruised, but hopefully stronger. I am grateful that we’re managing to reshape the group into something of which we can be proud. They have been a lifeline over the past year, even if only virtual and I would have hated if it broke apart.

Spring is coming, I’m sure. I can see it, patches of dead grass reappearing in the garden, but find it hard to put much faith in its promise. Covid is getting a stronger foothold here in Finland and while we’re trying to get the vaccine out, it’s a slow, painful wait. There is that chink of light slowing expanding.

I’ve had a few poems published while I’ve been dormant here. I’m very grateful to all the time and hard work all these editors and their staff have put in to produce these issues. I know it’s not easy. I’ve been wallowing in memories of my experiences in publishing in Edinburgh and though it’s very rose-coloured at the moment, I do remember it being very difficult and rarely rewarding from the day-to-day perspective.

Gerry Stewart, The Light is Starting to Return

Like a sad dragon, I’m currently sitting on a diminishing hoard of potential poems for future issues of ShenandoahFall ’21 and Spring ’22, presuming we get there–knowing I can’t keep ALL the gold. I’m already rejecting good poems, trying to get down to 20-ish from more than 700 batches. The last couple of weeks have been largely a sifting process: holding each poem against the light, seeing how pieces might fit together.

One issue I’ve been pondering, in part triggered by a tweet from Kelli Russell Agodon: how are the poems I’m reading manifesting the extraordinary pressures of a global pandemic? The answer I gave Kelli is that the poetic worlds seem a notch smaller: I’m getting more poems about the flora and fauna close to hand, fewer about conversation and art and the randomness of being a human walking around in the built world. That’s not a bad thing, but it can make the submission pile less various. I’m certainly coming across references to Covid-19, too, as well as elegies and poems about anxiety, depression, and isolation, but not as many as I expected. This may be because poetry has such a slow burn that we won’t really see the literary results of any crisis for a few years. It may also be because a lot of people just can’t write lately–their lives are busier and their brains can’t rev down enough for reflection. I’m interested to see how things shake out in the literary world and otherwise.

Lesley Wheeler, The present and future of pandemic poetry

This is the second in my mini-series on UK & Irish poetry magazines. The three featured today are all long-standing publications.

Stand started up in 1954, when, according to the website,  “Jon Silkin used his £5 redundancy money, received after trying to organise some of his fellow manual workers, to found a magazine which would ‘stand’ against injustice and oppression, and ‘stand’ for the role that the arts, poetry and fiction in particular, could and should play in that fight.”

What a brilliant story. Jon Silkin died in 1997 and the magazine has had a number of editors over the years, and a long association with the University of Leeds that continues to this day. John Whale is the current managing editor, and each edition seems to include a nice mix of both well-established and newer poets. It runs to around 150 pages and the landscape layout, while interesting, offers I suspect some challenges. The name of every contributor since 1999 appears on the website!

Robin Houghton, On poetry magazines: Stand, Agenda, The Dark Horse

I’m startled by the poems that make up Denver, Colorado poet Wayne Miller’s fifth full-length poetry title, We the Jury (Minneapolis MN: Milkweed Editions, 2021), a collection of lyrics on public executions, American justice, family and what we fail to understand. In an array of simultaneously devastating and stunningly beautiful lyrics, Miller writes on culture, class and race, and the implications of how America has arrived at this particular point in time; poems on trauma, death and violence, hidden beauty and America’s uneasy ease with what people are willing to endure, and willing to impart. There is an unerring lightness to his lyrics; a remarkable precision, as an arrow piercing the reeds to reach an impossible target. As he writes at the end of the short sequence “RAIN STUDY,” one of multiple poems that write on and around the subject of rain: “On the undersurface / of a raindrop / as it falls: // a fisheyed reflection / of the ground / rising at tremendous speed // and that’s it—” Or how he writes of a bird at the airport at the opening of “THE FUTURE,” “A bird in the airport / hopping among our feet— // dun puffed chest, / a sparrow I think— // collecting bits of popcorn / beside the luggage // while invisible speakers / fill the air with names // of cities irrelevant / to the air outside // from which this bird / has become mysteriously // separated.” Miller strikes at the intimate heart of so many subjects, and it is the intimacy through which he attends that provide these pieces with so much power. His is an unflinching, steady gaze, and he clearly feels and sees deeply, attending to the world around him through a lyric that manages to unpack complex ideas across a handful of carved, crafted lines. The poem “ON PROGRESS,” for example, “PARABLE OF CHILDHOOD” or “ON HISTORY” providing, in their own ways, master classes in how one writes out such complexity and contradiction of ideas and emotion; how to pack into a small space that which can’t be easily explained or described. In Miller’s poems, he knows that judgement is not the same as comprehension, and rarely synonymous with justice, healing or absolution; he knows his country, and his culture, has much to atone, and even more to acknowledge, so willing to pass over events for the next one, fully ignoring the implications, the trauma or the patterns.

rob mclennan, Wayne Miller, We the Jury

It’s been wild y’all. Some minor emergencies. Some heavy conversations in and out of the classroom and mentoring spaces that I work in. The thread continues to be survival and understanding, in that order.

These themes run through Dash Harris’ “No, I’m Not a Proud Latina” which I taught this week. This article, which calls out issues of anti-Blackness in the Latinx community, stirred up a number of reactions which had me lecturing on speaking truth to power, how marginalized writers are often necessarily making decisions at the intersection of politics, culture, and experience in order to survive and understand this world. I also spoke about how community should hold space for the positive while also acknowledging and working through the negative. That for community to matter it must be an inclusive practice, not just an ideal or romanticized gesture. At one point, I found myself talking about identity, how in the U.S. we often discuss it in terms of a possession or territory. The trope is how we have to “find ourselves” before we can be ourselves. What else can it be beyond this? What if identity, or really identities, are sides of the self we’re privileged to be able to honor and exist in, however briefly?

José Angel Araguz, survival & understanding

The World Health Organization reports 2,462, 911 souls have been taken by Covid-19 so far. WorldoMeter reports 2,479, 882. By some accounts we have already passed a half million deaths in the U.S. Each death the loss of a uniquely precious being.

There are many, this last pandemic year, who have fervently pushed for life to “return to normal.” Under that noise is another sound, the human community wailing. Each new grief amplifies our losses. Everywhere, keening.   

The largest share of deaths, here and around the world, are our elders. What has been taken cannot be fathomed. A proverb from Mali reminds us, “When an old man dies, a library burns to the ground.”

We haven’t yet begun to address what brought us such a toll, including the greed underlying disinformation, mismanagement, and structural inequality. I hope, as we do, we center on regenerative justice for people and for all living systems.

We haven’t yet begun to fathom our losses, let alone how to honor those lives. I hope, as we do, we tell stories, we create, we cherish. I hope we, in the end, make this about peace.  

Re-member us,
you who are living,
restore us, renew us.
Speak for our silence.
Continue our work.
Bless the breath of life.
Sing of the hidden patterns.
Weave the web of peace.

Judith Anderson   

Laura Grace Weldon, Under The Noise

Today many people will be writing tributes to Lawrence Ferlinghetti and with good reason.  He was an amazing poet, founder of the Beat movement, founder of City Lights bookstore, publisher.  What an amazing life, and how fortunate that he lived to be 101.

But today I am feeling the deep loss of Octavia Butler, who died 15 years ago today.  I’ve written about her often, it feels like.  But there’s a reason for that–she wrote her most important work decades ago, and it feels more relevant now than it did when I first read it, decades ago.

Consider this passage from Parable of the Talents, published in 1998:”Choose your leaders with wisdom and forethought.
To be led by a coward is to be controlled by all that the coward fears.
To be led by a fool is to be led by the opportunists who control the fool.
To be led by a thief is to offer up your most precious treasures to be stolen.
To be led by a liar is to ask to be lied to.
To be led by a tyrant is to sell yourself and those you love into slavery.” (p. 167)

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Octavia Butler and All the Realities

If I am told one more time by a newsperson or magazine article that I need to build more “resilience,” I will scream. It has been a year since the pandemic was recognized here in the states, a year in which we lost 500,000 people in our country and 5,000 in our state. I am still waiting to hear when Washington State will start vaccinating people like me – disabled, chronically ill types who would certainly be at risk of death if they caught covid – but alas, they are only focusing on age as a risk factor, so I guess I’ll be waiting forever? It’s enough to give a girl a nervous breakdown, especially with the news that more contagious, more deadly variants of covid-19 are developing in CA and NY.

Add on top of that, the writer’s life that is mostly rejection, rejection, rejection, and the advice to build resilience can get really old. I did get an acceptance today, and I have some poems coming out soon in “dream journals” of mine, journals I have been loving for years, like Fairy Tale Review and Image, among others. So I am thankful for that.

But as I as listening to hail hit our roof and windows the other night, I was wondering if one of my three manuscripts I’ve been sending out will get taken soon, or at least before I die. I’m not kidding about that, and I’m not being melodramatic. Everything feels dangerous right now – I have to go to the dentist for a broken tooth this week, and get an MRI for my liver tumors which could kill me if we don’t keep a close eye on them- and without a vaccine it literally feels like I’m risking my life. And let’s not even talk about how impatient my neurologists are being for me to get brain MRIs and other MS tests I have to do in person. I can’t imagine how it feels for my friends who are young but have cancer and are going to regular treatments – and I have several – and be unable to get a vaccine while constantly being in a dangerous hospital environment. Much worse than me, probably. In the meantime, I’m happy for friends in other states who are able to get the vaccine, but I wish my own state would start acting like it values the lives of people like me. I’m happy the third vaccine, Johnson & Johnson, has been approved, but no word on rollout yet. No amount of resilience is going to make up for the tension, anxiety, loneliness, boredom, danger and strain of the last year, and platitudes do not make things better. My usual coping mechanisms- spending time in nature, reading and writing, and connecting with friends (these days, mostly by phone) – may not be adequate to what we are facing.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Almost Spring, Tired of Resilience, and Contemplating Ten Years Ago

Well, how about that February, huh?

Seems like more than a few of us have had ourselves quite a month. Sometimes, when I’m feeling a little overwhelmed or worn out, I like to go back through my camera roll to see what sense it can give me of a time. Often, it helps me see that my feeling about a time isn’t the whole picture of it. Because I often take photos of what delights me, it can be an exercise in reminding myself of the small moments that don’t (but probably should) carry as much weight as some of the larger ones.

Oh, bollocks!

(I’ve been listening to Tana French audiobooks for a few months now, and there are some Irish words seeping into my thoughts.)

Look at me up there in that last full paragraph, sounding so wise and grounded. Cue the montage of lovely little life vignettes: flowers on the table, a stack of good books, snow sparkling under the rising sun. Oh, I meant every word as each came through my fingers (and I could easily create such a montage), but re-reading them as a whole I could feel my whole being rise up in resistance to such facile positivity–which is probably evidence of how easily inspirational Insta quotes can seep into a person if she’s not careful.

Attaining peace and contentment is not necessarily about finding delight, or about making sure you put every little thing on some balance scale, so that a multitude of small good things somehow mitigate or outweigh a fewer number of heavier bad things.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Goodbye to you, February

I mention this playlist because a song from it came up during my run on Tuesday morning that got me thinking.

The song is called Made Up Love Song #43 by The Guillemots. […]

It’s a lovely pop song that I think should be more widely known, but there are plenty of those around. A couple of things struck me as I was hyperventilating my way up a hill towards Crystal Palace when I heard the lyric “there’s poetry in an empty coke can”.

Firstly, I haven’t really written a new poem for a while (not worried about that, there are notes and drafts aplenty), but the other thing was how might I respond to what is essentially a creative prompt from the singer, Fyfe Dangerfield. I know folks have mixed feelings about prompts, and I do too. I am generally ok with them, but not when they are your sole source of inspiration.

However, I got to thinking about how I might respond to the prompt. I’ve not gone anywhere near writing it yet, but here are the thoughts I have for exploring it…perhaps these even count as my own prompts…

How did the can get there? Was it thrown away, left there by someone? Is it in a bin? Has it fallen from a lorry on a way to a recycling plant? Is it still awaiting recycling because its owner is next to it?

Who is the owner? Is it someone on a picnic, are they alone or part of a group? A runner (them again) gasping on a hot day?

Where is it? On that picnic? Outside a pub, inside a pub (Oh god, I’d love to be doing that right now), left after a dad took his kids to the pub on his day with them.

Is it in the street being kicked about by kids, or grown-ups, is it being blown about by the wind?

Who is near it? Is there a wasp hovering around the ring pull?

Is it cold or warm?

Is there any liquid left in the can at all? 

Is this just an excuse to post this song because it mentions poetry?

Who knows?

Mat Riches, I Can, I can’t…

When I was in art school, I once had a poetry professor who, on the first day of class, introduced himself as a failed painter. Immediately, that proclamation (and others) rubbed me the wrong way and I ended up dropping the class in favor of a film course instead. A year prior to that, I had taken a course entitled “Word & Image” that spoke to impulses I’d had since childhood: pairing words and images together and understanding how they co-exist. One of the main questions was, Why can’t you make words and images? As someone who studied both art and literature as an undergraduate and went on to earn an MFA in interdisciplinary art practice, I embrace the notion that you can write and make images for your writings. William Blake, Beatrix Potter, Shel Silverstein, Kurt Vonnegut, and Faith Ringgold all did it. And plenty of other authors, too! There are also image-makers who, while better known for their visuals, write splendidly for their books. Take Sally Mann’s prose for her photography books, for instance.

A few of my published books combine my words and images and I have titles with  “illustrative” and “disruptive” approaches, which I will explain in later in this post. My poetry books, Water for the Cactus Woman (Spuyten Duyvil) and Belladonna Magic: Spells in the Form of Poetry & Photography, feature “disruptive” photographs, whereas the poetry collection Heaven Is a Photograph features “illustrative” photographs. I have also created the covers for a few of my books and chapbooks, but that’s really a separate topic from interior artwork. Book covers largely serve to market a book, whereas interior artwork is part of the book itself.

If you’re intrigued by the idea of incorporating photography into your poetry manuscript, read on. But, first, a note: I am using photography as the visual art example here because the barrier to creation is lower than it is for other media. However, you can just as easily apply these two approaches to other types of visual art, including drawing and painting.

Weaving Your Photographs Into Your Poetry Manuscript – guest post by Christine Sloan Stoddard (Trish Hopkinson’s blog)

True to my word, I made some new collages for February, which I’ve posted on Instagram.  My collage work is growing and I’m going to have to find a folder to keep the work safe from coffee spills and creases.

My poetry collection What Are You After? was published by Nine Arches Press in 2018, which means that I now have nearly three year’s worth of uncollected poems which I need to give my attention to.  Some of have been published in various places, some are yet to find a home.  I’m keeping an eye on the poetry, in between the plays and the collages.  As well as my own work, I have some poetry reviews to write for The North and I must choose three poems from And Other Poems to nominate to the Forward Prizes, Best Single Poem. The deadline for nominations is fast approaching.  I’m also gradually adding links to recordings of poems already published at And Other Poems, from SoundCloud, Vimeo or YouTube, so that the poems can be experienced by more readers in different ways.  If you have any poems at And Other Poems, do please send me a link to a recording and I will add it to the site.

I’ve gone for walks outside without a coat for the first time in a while, making the most of the mild, gently sunny weather that we’re currently enjoying in west Wiltshire and elsewhere in the UK.  Lots of crocuses out in our local park.  Spring is coming.

Josephine Corcoran, No Big Leaps in February

A friend said I seem lighter these days.
It’s true I’m shedding the ballast of memory;
at times I float high enough to see.
I see the Hoover Dam rise from the desert floor.
I see the waxing moon set the cacti alight.
I see a woman laugh in a YouTube video.
I see a dog watching from down the hallway.
These things too I add to my memory;
in the spaces made by what I’ve left.

Jason Crane, The Accidental Balloonist

Last night, many of us gathered for a YouTube watch party for the virtual premiere of Tasty Other: A Dramatic Song Cycle. What a gift to have Victor Labenske compose this song cycle from nine of my poems! Elda McGinty Peralta and Judith Spaite Labenske brought so much humor, skill, beauty, and brilliance to the vocals, and Victor’s playing and back-up vocals were gorgeous too. The YouTube video will remain available to view; it includes the audio track and the sheet music, which is also available for purchase here.

When I wrote poems based on anxiety dreams during my pregnancy ten years ago, I couldn’t have imagined that some of them would become a song cycle, but last night I got to watch and listen with my nine-year-old son eagerly watching and listening with me, and that was such a joy.

Katie Manning, Tasty Other Song Cycle Premiere

In January, it was 130 years since the birth of the great Russian poet Osip Mandelstam. Mandelstam is widely translated and read in the English-speaking world, but unsurprisingly, his influence is greater in Russian-speaking countries. A victim of state persecution and of the efforts of other literary figures who opposed his subversive views, Mandelstam is as readable and relevant as ever today.

This year, a group of popular musicians have released a tribute album which sets Mandelstam’s words to music. The album is called Сохрани мою речь насегда (in English, Keep My Words Forever) and can be found on streaming platforms including Spotify, Apple Music and others. […]

I have listened to the album and was very moved by it. My own grasp of Russian is still nascent and as a result, I’m obviously missing some of the impact of the words. The musical styles featured include jazz, 80s-style pop, rap and more, and the poems include works such as ‘I despise the light’, ‘This night is irredeemable’ and ‘I returned to my city, familiar to tears’. Personally, I definitely liked some tracks better than others. But above all, this project reveals the extreme vitality of Mandelstam’s work in our time, and a desire to bring him closer to new audiences, many of which I am sure will embrace his poems if they haven’t already. I love to see that Mandelstam is still loved so much.

Clarissa Aykroyd, Keep My Words Forever: a tribute album for Osip Mandelstam

In 2010, Terrance Hayes published Lighthead, his third collection, which would go on to win the National Book Award. In the notes at the back, he spends the most time defining the pecha kucha, a mode based on the format of Japanese business presentations. But he also acknowledges that his poem “The Golden Shovel” “is, as the end words suggest, after Gwendolyn Brooks’ ‘We Real Cool.'” A few entries later, he notes, “‘The Last Train to Africa’ is after Elizabeth Alexander’s poem ‘Ladders.’ Like the form used in ‘The Golden Shovel,’ the end words come from her poem.” Hayes would later elaborate on the backstory, which involved asking his two children to memorize poems–one by Langston Hughes, the other by Gwendolyn Brooks–and, after becoming preoccupied with their nightly attempts at recitation, deciding to “string the whole poem down the page and write into it.” Multiple drafts resulted, two of which made it into the collection. 

“The Golden Shovel” would be a striking, classroom-friendly poem under any circumstances, because it showcases Hayes’ gift for the heightened lyric vernacular, his disciplined and yet playful lineation (sometimes enjambing mid-word), and an ongoing thematic concern with the father figure. But something caught afire about this “nonce form”–a term I assign because it’s invention that can be credited to a particular poet, in a particular moment, that may or may not carry forward. What fueled interest is both excitement for Hayes’ work and shared reverence for the figure of Gwendolyn Brooks (1917-2000), an incredibly brilliant poet–the first Black poet to win the Pulitzer Prize, the first Black woman to act as poetry consultant for the Library of Congress. The opportunity to teach these two important voices in conversation helped move the form from the realm of “nonce” to “contemporary form,”  as multiple poets began engaging the mode at the same time. 

The chief engineer of this initiative is Peter Kahn, himself a noted slam poet with an MFA from Fairfield University who, as a Visiting Fellow at Goldsmiths-University of London, founded the Spoken Word Education Training Programme. Kahn has taught in Chicago’s high schools since 1994, and his investment in distilling and assigning the Golden Shovel to students seeded a cohort of young poets. He co-edited, with Ravi Shankar and Patricia Smith, The Golden Shovel Anthology: New Poems Honoring Gwendolyn Brooks, which came out in 2017 from the University of Arkansas Press. The anthology’s intent, which Kahn described in an interview, was the place student work alongside that of more established poets, all of whom would constitute a “second generation” to Hayes’ original experiment. Hayes’ blessing, in the form of introducing the anthology, offers the clear dictate that “the ‘Golden Shovel’ form belongs to no one so much as Ms. Brooks. Peter Kahn, a citizen of Brooks’ Chicago understands as much.”

Sandra Beasley, The Golden Shovel: On the Legacy of Ms. Brooks and the Future of the Form

Welcome to the Dionysian spring holidays — Mardi Gras, Carnivale, Purim, falling in love — that turn things upside down during a year in which everything has been turned upside down.  It makes for fascinating spatial — and metaspatial — thinking.  If I turn upside down while I’m standing on my head, am I right side up?

No, but it opens the imagination up to all kinds of interesting propositions! What kind of reversals or forays into chaos would you induce to find some new stability, some reemergence of order?  The rabbis back in the day allowed all kinds of forbidden habits to happpen, even commanded them. The faithful get dead drunk, so that their utterance is completely and totally confused.  Up is down, he is she, heavy is light, mourning is celebration.  Surprise breaks into the expected to shatter fixed concepts of reality.  Inside that reality was a little miracle lurking all the time, another divine reality, a seeming opposite joined by a hinge to a larger unity.  

What seems like happy confusion is a whole field of philosophy, naturally, with twists and turns through the nonduality of mysticism and literature. Heraclitus, the Greek philosopher, illustrates simultaneous difference and sameness with the famous aphorism: 

“The road up and the road down are the same thing.”  It’s a succinct vision to hold as we approach the anniversary of the pandemic. 

I’m rarely so clear-sighted. I’m in the camp of Artsi Ifrach, an Israeli-Moroccan fashion designer who said, “All those phantasmagorical connections might seem odd to certain people, but for me they create an inner, quiet logic.”

Jill Pearlman, Topsy Turvy Holidays during an Inverted Year

I think I’m perceiving that at certain stages in the development of a poem, the poet needs to move at first without much conscious thought, much the way I just laid water and color down on my paper, and then turned the paper around and around. What I intended was that somehow the colors would create some shape that would allow me to find something on the page to make a picture of. That didn’t happen. In the absence of that intended result, the absence of a discernible object or presence, I had to find another way. The frustration of my intent turned out to be a freedom and a way to discover something new.

The word intend is from Latin meaning stretching toward something. Sometimes in the writing of something, the process of writing itself causes the thing to stretch toward something unexpected. And it might take a clear-eyed view, probably after some time away from the poem, for me to be able to see what my own poem is saying, what it’s claiming as its own intentions or my own subconscious ones.

I’ve got a few poems in my holding cell at the moment, and keep revisiting them. They’re not bad. They’re not good. One in particular came out of an art exhibit the details of which I can no longer remember, but I know I wanted to write something out of the experience of that exhibit. I’m wondering now if I need to leave the exhibit behind, and see if the poem is actually reaching toward something entirely different. But no! That’s not what I intended! Plus if it goes in an entirely different direction then it won’t fit in with this manuscript I’m developing!

Tough luck, kid. Is this an adventure, or ain’t it?

Marilyn McCabe, I was gambling in Havana; or, On Creativity and Intent

My life revolves around lists. As soon as I arrive at my desk in the morning, I check the list I made at the beginning of the week. If it’s Friday, I hope to see a bunch of completed tasks which I’ve been able to check off: “prep for tutoring,” “write review,” “what the heck’s wrong with my website,” “submit.” I write my lists in a 200-page, 99-cent, wide-ruled composition book, which usually lasts about a year. I save my list books and occasionally go through them, noticing that, for example, tasks from 2017 have still not been checked off or that a certain task—i.e., “make new lead magnet”—remains, from week to week, undone.

A list is not just a way to manage your life. It’s also a way to write poems. I use list-making often; in fact, at least half of my poems started as lists. Writing lists is a great way to wake up a sluggish brain, especially one that seems resistant to sudden inspiration (mid-winter doldrums, anyone?) You can make lists of literally anything: words, sounds, flavors, colors, things that make you happy, sad, or angry, seasons, planets, places you’ve visited, places you’d like to visit, and on and on and on.

Making lists is an effective way to break out of writer’s block. One of my tried-and-true methods is to go through the work of a poet I admire and make lists of random lines from their poems.

Erica Goss, The Power of the List

For this poetry prompt for the dead or wounded, start by reading “Fall” by Didi Jackson and give some thought to what you like/admire.

Quite simply, I’m in love with Jackson’s poem. The tenderness in it, not only for the injured bird but also for the little girls as they learn about death, is just lovely. And isn’t it paced perfectly? Its short lines — along with the space between the couplets — allows the moment to unfold slowly. It eases us into the ceremony of caring for our dead and makes room for us to feel the loss. We’re also given space to wonder along with the narrator how we may be teaching children (or others) how to grieve. The narrator is aware of the weight of her words. She is careful with what she shares and what she withholds.

Ultimately, as is so often true, we carry on for the dead, make their work our own. In this case the girls “pick the song // and sing it / over and over again.” And somehow the poem’s form — a long string of short couplets — contributes to the sense that we, in tribute to what we’ve lost, carry on… even if that itself is a sense of falling, stumbling forward as if drawn there (down the page, perhaps inevitably, by a certain kind of gravity).

Carolee Bennett, poetry prompt for the dead or wounded

After my father’s
funeral, she stayed in bed for weeks—
En esta tierra, tan solo a mi, all alone
in the land of her living. I don’t know
why the bars of this song have come back
to her now; but she is smiling even in
the parts with yo te quiero and que
me muero. Of course we understand
that to love is to die a little until the end;
even as the throat holds onto that small
tremolo for as long as it can.

Luisa A. Igloria, Tremolando

Love
in the moment of

falling from,
letting go,

is love, as when
the skin

does not know
what the skin

knows.

Tom Montag, LOVE

Be the mirror your lover longs to encounter first thing in the morning.

Dare to let your words go without makeup; those thoughts can often reveal the rawest beauty.

When reading between the lines, make sure you can interpret the syllables of secrets.

From your deepest, most daring and adored dreams, discover a new penpal and write daily.

Know that Van Gogh’s ear hears all the colors of your heart.

Rich Ferguson, Abyss / A Bliss

Today, in another part of the park, I heard someone whistling in the distance, as if calling a dog, but when I got closer I saw it was a man with a bag of seed or breadcrumbs, whistling to call the squirrels, and sure enough, there were dozens around him on the snow and climbing down out of the trees.

And I admit I wondered: if I still lived here when I was really elderly, or really alone, would I turn into an old lady who wanders through the park, feeding the squirrels?

Beth Adams, Hermit Diary 57. Winter Scenes in the Park

At this point in the pandemic, a year-ish in now, it’s safe to say the disappointments will be piling up. Maybe there has even been a time or two where you have been disappointed in yourself. I know I have been. It’s easy, as they say, to be a buddhist at the top of a mountain or in a cave, but it’s trickier to practice buddhism among non-buddhists.

By now you’ll have lost loved ones, attended a Zoom funeral, had fallings out with people you thought were friends, gotten hate mail, and you’ve also had to confront the fact that we live in a time where a great many people think it’s okay to just sacrifice old people, people with health conditions, people living in poverty, houseless people. A great many people think it’s okay to be racist. And so it’s not surprising that a lot of people have been talking about hitting yet another wall. Or is it just the same wall we’re bashing into again? For me, it’s not the isolation, or the taking care, or the mask wearing that’s getting to me, it’s all the people who are blatantly not.

I’ve read articles and listened to talks on finding the courage to have nuanced conversations in these difficult times and in all honesty I’m so down with that from an academic stance. But in reality, I’m exhausted. I feel like I’ve spent the last decade seriously engaged in all sorts of conversations with all sorts of people, and also writing about these things here and in my novels, and yet here we are. It’s like having all our work erased and then asked to do it all over again, with angrier, more careless, more entitled, more ill-intentioned, and more misinformed people than before. Like, okay, sure, I can do that. After I nap for a thousand years.

Shawna Lemay, The Disappointments Will Be Piling Up

During the last general election campaign, my attention was drawn to several articles that described the echo chamber effect of social media.  In other words, supporters of a party tended to follow people of their own political persuasion. Their timelines and newsfeeds were consequently stuffed full of views that reflected theirs, which led to a misguided belief that everyone was of a similar mindset. Of course, many disappointments on polling days were colossal.

Over the last few days, I’ve been thinking about the parallels that exist between the above-mentioned scenario and poetry on social media. These parallels have several manifestations.

First off, there are poets who only surround themselves with others who write within their same aesthetic, thus encouraging them to look inwards, feeling they’re the only true believers. This is very much along the lines of political beliefs, as per my previous anecdote.

Then there’s the bubble, the misguided belief that Twitter or Facebook make up the only poetry world that remains, when huge numbers of poets and readers actually don’t have social media accounts. Moreover, this sensation has grown during the pandemic. Physical contact has been stunted, so there are no opportunities to have conversations with people at readings who’ve never heard of supposed big fish from Twitter, for instance.

And to top it off, there’s a shrinking of the world on social media, as poets only look in on themselves, using their own jargon, their own frames of reference, their own allusions, their own entrenched positions and axes to grind, all going round in ever-decreasing circles. I often think that any non-poets who might venture onto many poetry threads would be scared off for life.

All of the above forms part of my concern that poets tend to cut themselves off from wider society. Social media, while providing excellent chances for people to feel less alone, is unfortunately adept at developing echo chambers. As poets, I feel we should use such platforms to reach out to readers, to share work, to show that we’re inclusive. That way, we might earn ourselves a few votes at the next literary genre elections and at least keep our deposit…!

Matthew Stewart, The echo chamber

There are halls of
mirrors, sometimes

people are like
paper dolls.

The ones that played
with me in childhood,

careful shapes
with scissors,

and coloured
in dresses.

Nor I in 3D, in my
mind sometimes.

One theory of existence is
we are holograms.

Or maybe life is a
blinking in and out,

as with breathing,
but faster than

the speed of light.

Marie Craven, Infinity

These poems are like a dog’s dirty footprint in the middle of the kitchen floor, or like a traffic signal that has gone dark; someone is always right there to complain. If you can get beyond complaint and praise, there is a river. Did you know that? It is always summer there under the shade trees, and the trout are biting.

James Lee Jobe, the early blossoms on my peach tree

The scent
of this covid year:
sour scallion-water
in the kitchen window,

the tail-ends
of green onions
trying to miracle
fresh green from

tap water and sun.
When it catches
in my throat
I choke, then

remember
if my sense of smell
still works,
how lucky

I am.

Rachel Barenblat, Scallions

Last March you became seriously ill with Covid and the recovery time is long and slow. How did this experience change the way you perceived things in general, and creativity in particular?

Yes, it was a rough time. I was hospitalised on oxygen for six days, and although luckily I didn’t get Long Covid, I have noticed differences. I think I’m fully recovered now (touch wood) but I got so tired for a long time and also had such bad brain fog that I couldn’t remember even basic words, not ideal for a writer!

I’ve had a lot of help – my local hospital, Pembury, have been brilliant, and the respiratory physio there actually told me to read as a way of regaining concentration which was interesting. I can see the benefits, reading stops me doomscrolling on social media – doomscrolling, there’s another word I hadn’t heard before this  year.

When I got ill, I’d been working on a novel about an 18th century gardener, but it seemed ridiculous to be writing about the past when what was happening right now was actually where my heart was. I started writing blog posts as a way of helping other people, but also making sense for myself about my experiences.

And then I felt a real urge to write poems. I think this was because the shape worked as a container for a lot of difficult emotions, and also because it helped to lose myself in choosing the exact right word, line break, and even rhythm for what I wanted to say. There was an element of organisation in the writing that I wasn’t finding in my life!

Recently though I’ve been loving reading and watching TV for escapism, and I keep finding myself thinking about my handsome Georgian gardener so who knows! To go back to  your original question, maybe this is the answer – to let ourselves follow what we need to do right now.

Abegail Morley, Creativity in Lockdown: In Conversation with Sarah Salway

the tidelines of the mind
no one’s asphalt 
in everyone’s visual field
the paths are cross
one grows
one erodes
life is a boundary state

Jim Young, insteps

It’s the last day of February.

The sky still glows now past seven in the evening. A few impatient primroses are up, and there are bird calls I haven’t heard since fall. We sputter towards the summer. A day of snow, a day of hail, a day of blue-blue sky, and a south-westerly wind. Snow again. E. is pulling up the cobblestones in the drive, filling in the hollows with sand, and laying them again. Between the weather systems.

Walking Leonard I have an eye out for the lapwing’s return. I listen for the squeeze-toy call. I thought I heard it last night, but E. said I was mistaken. Anticipation, uncertainty. And the funny thing is, I have no idea why it matters to me. I grip onto this though — the lapwing — like gripping onto a handrail to hoist myself up the next step when I am too tired to just let my body move of its own will. Somewhere in me outside of logic, it means something.

About all I know of the lapwing is that it nests in the fields and is vulnerable to the tractors that drive through them.

If winter’s darkness is difficult, spring’s prodding and unpredictability are a trial to endure. Nothing returning from the dead comes back easily. The rearranging of matter causes morning sickness.

Persephone comes
& spring, her colicky infant
cannot fix his gaze
on the world – sleeps & shudders
– no idea what lies in store

Ren Powell, Persephone’s Ambivalence

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 7

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week: a hodge-podge of delightful and challenging posts that nonetheless seem to converge on a single point, or cluster of related points, though at the moment I’m too tired to work out quite what that might be. Enjoy.


The big conversation that the world is having. Human voices are only the tiniest part of it. Zipper of crow flight against the white blank sky. Syllables of sea birds that float, read left to right, right to left, moment to disappear. Alder branch hashmarks over a smudge of obscured sunlight. Blue slash of shadow, so sharp it cuts you.

In the preface of The Way Winter Comes, Sherry Simpson writes, “The more you looked, the more you saw, but you could never see it all.” The poet Jane Hirshfield says, “Everything changes. Everything is connected. Pay attention.” Two voices that I love speaking to each other over time. I walk along the beach, cobbles shifting beneath my feet. I am watching a group of seabirds continually rearrange themselves in a line. They go beneath the waves and then resurface. Dot dot dash. Dot…… dot. Dot.

Erin Coughlin Hollowell, The big conversation that the world is having

The point from the start was to figure out how to live. Some people grow out of asking “why? why? why?” — with infuriating persistence — in toddlerhood. Not me. Partly no doubt because my parents strongly encouraged curiosity, so I generally felt I was a good boy when I inquired. And then, I had a rare father who could actually tell me why the sky was blue, and what held the Moon up, or what was really happening in Southeast Asia. But mostly because what you don’t know can cut you off at the knees, and often does. It’s pure self-defense to know as much as you can, about everything you can. You have to look after yourself, in this life.

But you end up studying yourself in the mirror, and seeing a strange, inquisitive face examining you, with great attention, although maybe not with overflowing sympathy. The eyes overlarge, and the belly swollen with — promise? Or what? You tell me.

How to live: which includes what to do with your days: maybe boils down to that. Certainly how to hold your days up to the sun. (Or up to whatever sky God gives you.) 

But first, anyway, you have to slow down and quiet down, until you can hear the drip of the snowmelt and the grooming of the cat and the shift of the heat exchanger. More haste, less speed. 

Dale Favier, Mahamudra

I don’t think the world has ever been less messy than it is now. That the struggles and cruelties and hates haven’t always been there… somewhere. But there’s also been space for refuge. Not ignorance, but rest.

A little space for all of the tiny creatures that make us who we are to thrive again. And rise again. In a world that’s not a matrix, not a thought experiment.

What I yearn for now may well be something we yearn for more as we age, but it is oddly familiar to what we were given naturally — what we allowed ourselves — when we were very young.

cut roses drying
in the vase — fragments of dead
leaves turn to powder
wedging themselves in the grain
of this old oak writing desk

Ren Powell, What I’ve Learned in the Pandemic

Last week I noticed a poem shared by Blue Diode Press on Twitter. ‘Meditation’, by Eunice De Souza, appeared in the collection A Necklace of Skulls: Collected Poems (Penguin).

The poem’s first two lines leapt out at me:

The lonely ask too much and then
too little

I love how the form reflects its content: how these two lines mirror what they’re describing.

All those words (relatively) crammed into that first line, in haste and at too great length; only to fall away into the sad stump of the second. 

How differently it would read if the line break fell in the obvious place – after ‘too much’. I really FEEL it this way.

I see a baby who cries and cries, then gives up crying.

I also think about ideas I’ve explored before – people thinking they know what they want (read ‘lack’) but that familiar yearning masking an ambivalence, or terror. 

I explore similar concerns myself – to all of these – in The Girl Who Cried.

Because I can feel I’ve spent my life rushing towards people, then retreating. Asking ‘too much and then / too little’.

So there it is: the magic. 

A whole lifetime’s dilemma distilled – understood, reflected back – in two short lines of poetry.

Charlotte Gann, TWO SHORT LINES OF POETRY

I remember in grad school hearing that one of my teachers would sometimes take sizeable breaks from writing — six month, year long, insane (to me) breaks from writing–but she still managed to be Louise Gluck, so I suppose it did her no harm.

I have one manuscript languishing for a publisher (I finished it at a difficult time in my life so did not send it out for the longest), one manuscript recently completed (all about that difficult time in my life and emotionally challenging to write), so now I feel like I might need a bit of a breather from poetry.

That time between projects–because I tend to be a project-type of writer–has historically been a bit panicky for me. What do I do next?! I think, biting my nails. But this has been more like…Do I write another grief poem? Ugh. Do I write historical persona like I once loved? Double Ugh.

So I think it’s time to let the field lie fallow, so to speak, until it feels like it’s time to dive in again.

Have you ever taken a writing break? What was it like?

Renee Emerson, Shelving It

I haven’t been writing much. This is not unusual for me. I go for long periods without writing much, or writing little bits that I discover later, or writing quite a bit only I haven’t noticed it. Mostly these days the notebook sits closed. But I’ve been willing to paint. Maybe not with alacrity, but I’m more likely to open my little sketchbook than my notebook.

I’ve been painting mostly from photographs, even though I know from my artist friends that that is frowned upon, although I’m unclear why, but one friend is Rather Stern about it. So I do it anyway, but feel guilty about it, which I figure makes it okay.

Marilyn McCabe, Kiss me on a midnight street; or, Creativity and Letting Go of Control

Hard to believe that this photo was only taken last Friday- this afternoon it’s been about 15 degrees warmer. Interestingly, the word ‘edge’ seems to have been cropping up quite a bit in my haiku recently. On the surface, I think it’s to do with the walks I take, which often follow field boundaries marked by dry stone walls. Millstone grit is a feature of the landscape here, and the walls are a couple of hundred years old at least. The stone is mapped with lichen of various colours: yellow, green, white, and after hard weather the iron deposits oxidise and the stone becomes rust-coloured.

But, back to the word ‘edge’. Perhaps it’s signalling where my work is right now, sort of on the fringes, between making and doing. Somehow haiku demand more ‘doing’, more living. Nothing seems to surface unless I’ve been out walking, crossing the fields while it’s still quiet, listening, thinking. I walk everyday. The end of last week was hard because there was a bitter East wind. The start of that week was even harder because I was still self-isolating. But my period of self-confinement was short. Some people have been isolating for the best part of a year. I can’t imagine how that must feel, what it must do to a person. I found myself constantly going to the spare room window to look out over the fields, almost as if I needed to check they were still there. I didn’t write much either.

Julie Mellor, edge of day

My book turned 5 months old this week and I have a feeling now that it is something quite separate from me. An iceberg broken away and drifting off, handkerchiefs waving from the deck.

I always loved the word handkerchief because of that silent -d-, but also because of the dainty waving of it, the lace or embroidery. Always for crying or goodbye. I bought some old handkerchiefs online recently and god knows why. Would it be affected to use one? It would be an exercise in sustainability. Ok, I’ve sold myself on toting a handkerchief around. I love washing things in the sink. That feeling of care.

Sarah J Sloat, Behold Your Horses

Of course, we more commonly use “limbo” to mean a place of transition or uncertainty here on earth, often one in which we feel trapped. (If a person has been in this kind of limbo during the past week, they might have spent more time than is probably healthy wondering if a certain person who departed life has landed in Bolgia 9 or 10 of Hell’s eighth circle.) It can feel like a kind of hell to be in this kind of limbo, and it can require the agility and flexibility a person needs to successfully pass under the limbo stick. I think of the Tom Hanks movie The Terminal, in which his main character is trapped in airport limbo, neither permitted to enter the United States nor return home to his country no longer recognized as a country, and how he adapted to a way of being that feels impossible to most of us.

It’s been a long time since I saw that movie (and I think I slept through a good portion of it) or danced the limbo or read Dante–so these thoughts might be all kinds of gibberish–but I’m claiming “limbo” as my word of the week. It’s been six days since I’ve lived at home, and while I am grateful to have a place with heat and light and water and food, it feels as if I’ve slipped into a deeper circle of pandemic hell, where life is simultaneously both on hold and moving forward, and I don’t know how long it will remain this way. When I packed my little suitcase last Monday, I thought, surely, I would only be gone a few days. I told myself to think of it as a little vacation, a lark, a treat: permission to relax that it is so hard to give myself at home. It was not unlike my initial stance toward Covid shutdown; I optimistically threw a box of brownie mix and supplies for an embroidery project into a bag before closing the door to my dark, frigid house.

Now, after 6 days and four phone conversations with the power company and daily trips back and forth just to make sure that the power is, indeed, still not on, I find myself re-enacting the stages of acceptance I first lived last March. I long to go home at the same time I’m almost feeling as if the life I lived there is slipping away from me. I’m moving from disbelief to acceptance, and my new not-normal is beginning to feel some kind of normal, a transformation I am both resisting and welcoming. We are perverse and adaptable creatures, we humans, whether we want to be or not.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Meditation on Limbo

rolling blackouts
how the wind howls
& the candles dance

on the radio Lizzo
feeling good as hell

James Brush, 02.16.21

This is the time of year when I would ordinarily be taking my kid back to my birthplace — to see family, to breathe the air of where I come from, to enjoy Mexican breakfast at Panchito’s and big fluffy Texas-sized pancakes at the Pioneer Flour Mill. In this pandemic year, there’s no trip to Texas. The last time I was there was for mom’s unveiling.

Knowing that most of Texas is suffering cold and snow and rolling power outages, making these enchiladas feels like a kind of embodied prayer. When I make challah on Fridays I sing while kneading the dough. Tonight I am praying for Texas as I simmer the chili sauce, as I dip the corn tortillas in oil, as I tuck each rolled enchilada into the baking dish.

I spoke with family there this morning, and texted with them again later in the day. Like most of Texas, they didn’t have power or heat. Southern homes aren’t build to keep out the cold — they’re designed to retain cool. A lot of Texans don’t own warm winter clothes; why would they? Often at this time of year, it’s warm enough to wear short sleeves.

I could talk about why Texas has its own power grid, or the outrage of wholly preventable tragedies, or the importance of a robust safety net and good infrastructure in all neighborhoods, or the climate crisis that inevitably feeds worsening weather patterns. Instead I’m rolling enchiladas and praying that somebody can get the power up and running again.

Rachel Barenblat, A prayer in a casserole dish

L.A. winds whip through alleyways, wail eulogies for the lost, tear ghost sheets from cemetery clotheslines.

L.A. winds steer birds off course; break trees of their branches and will; deflower flowers, scatter all cautions to the wind.

They huff and puff, blow down homeless encampments, give rise to stray plastic bags tracing the wind’s form yet unable to comprehend the wind’s full shape and power.

Then, without warning, L.A. winds die out.

All the plastic bags, flower petals, ragged tents, cardboard shelters, and stray bird feathers fall to the ground, joining the broken branches.

The city grows quiet.

Takes on the many colors of its inner mood ring: violet for loving, amber for unsettled, gray for anxious.

Rich Ferguson, L.A. Winds

Yesterday, I had the TV on for background noise while working on a writing project, and there was a dude on Naked and Afraid claiming he had nothing but good vibes while being absolutely devoured by mosquitos. By contrast, his female companion and co-contestant was quite freaked out and complained lots. He had less tolerance for those complaints — i.e. her honesty about her discomfort — than she had for the mosquitos.

Of course, I found it hilarious that his supposed good vibes were so powerless against the agitation he felt as a result of how his partner met her own needs. His belief that his (selectively) good attitude was the only acceptable response to the mosquitos reminded me of a relatively new concept: “toxic positivity.” It insists that if we just turn that frown upside down, all will be well. Or better, at least.

While I’m not a Debbie Downer, I am a known skeptic of silver lining theories, and it’s refreshing that some positivity is being called out as harmful. Why must we take everything in stride?

Carolee Bennett, where the sun don’t shine

For reasons, I felt gritty and low-down and wicked this weekend, so I set about downloading “Grand Theft Auto 5.” I didn’t realize the process was going to take ten years. This game is a monster. I kept checking on the download throughout the day, but it wasn’t until 9:00 p.m. that it fully propagated on my system, and by then I was too tired to figure out how to get through the tutorial. I’m going to try again today. So far it’s quite loud and violent, and I’m stuck in the tutorial because I can’t figure out how to “take cover.” But I’m looking forward to playing someone mean and crooked. I want to steal cars and blow things up. I want to be bad and sultry and quick and criminal. I want to zip around L.A. in a flashy stolen vehicle and bask in the blazing California sun. I am tired of living a grim, responsible life in a cold, gray respectable city. I’m bustin’ out, folks. If the Feds kick my door down, it’s been nice knowing you.

Kristen McHenry, Low-Down Gritty Me, Age Shock, Gym Bag Redux

A lovely evening for a swim. The tide was low and the water cool, and as I waded out (quite far before it was deep enough to swim) I noticed that the squishy mud I was wading through was warm, quite a bit warmer than the water actually.

estuary ::
the night gives back
what the day has taken

Dylan Tweney [untitled photo post]

after my bath
i sit and compose haiku
about my swim

Jim Young [no title]

I was delighted to unpack my copies of the new Locked Down anthology from Susan Jane Sims of Poetry Space. The book has just been published and contains a large mix of poems, diary extracts, photographs and art. 

My poem, a metaphorical lockdown one, has as its focus the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD, as witnessed and recorded by the Younger Pliny. The theme seems particularly pertinent and poignant in the light of yesterday’s eruption of Etna on Sicily. 

Back in the mid-1980s David and I spent a year in Italy, and during that time travelled from Rome to Herculaneum and Pompeii, in the shadow of Vesuvius. We also journeyed further south, crossing to Sicily in the train on board the ferry. Naples had been absolutely bitter (this was February); but once we reached the shadow of Mount Etna, the sun beat down on us as we cast our coats aside and rolled up our shirt sleeves. Kind Italian fruit growers offered us giant oranges as we disembarked.  

Caroline Gill, ‘Locked Down’ anthology from Poetry Space

So here I am in the backseat, struggling to relax and enjoy the scenery. This February is a holding-pattern of a month; it’s also busy. I’m halfway through the master class I’m teaching at Randolph College. I’m virtually attending the Poetry and Pedagogy Conference hosted by West Chester starting tomorrow and looking forward to hearing panels about teaching. The workshop I’m running on Saturday morning, on how and why to teach single-author collections, is nearly ready, and I’m giving a reading with the other workshop leaders on Saturday night. Meanwhile, my department is assembling a list for the registrar of our fall courses, so I’m in planning mode for my own fall offerings. The clock is definitely ticking on my sabbatical, even though the second half of the leave year remains fuzzy in many ways, for obvious reasons. (Deep breaths through the diaphragm. Amygdala, calm down.)

Nope, amygdala thinks my editorial load is fight-or-flight. It’s a privilege to work for a great magazine with a great Editor-in-Chief; accepting poems and promoting their wonderfulness is a thrill. Yet, open for submissions for the first two weeks of February, Shenandoah received 736 batches of poems. 736!!! I’m working hard, but when I get down to the most irresistible poems I’ll still have more than enough for multiple issues, which means more hours of difficult siftings and rejection letters that can be wrenching to write. (I have 19 spots max for Fall ’21 and Spring ’22 combined, with some reserved for a portfolio curated by our BIPOC Editorial Fellow in poetry, Sylvia Jones.) I’m trying to take it more slowly than usual and not feel so overwhelmed, but it’s a lot.

The stressy busy-ness is only partly about work, after all. Part of my brain is always rehearsing the vigilance script: steer clear of that maskless man; what can I cook over the next several days to postpone another trip to the supermarket, because it never feels safe there; my mother and daughter are on that airplane, how do I keep it aloft from down here? Oh, February. Oh, amygdala.

Lesley Wheeler, Oh, February. Oh, amygdala.

The towel dried
in the open, a flag rigged to mean look

away, she isn’t who you want. Nobody said
double or shadow. Outside in the world:

you stepped out of that jerry-built
altar, careful to rinse the musk-smell

of magnolias from your nape. You
learned to answer but quietly. How long

did it take before the two of you drew
closer to one another, breathed

in unison under blankets, clasped
hands under a billow of netting.

Luisa A. Igloria, Imago

something with a tail to nuzzle into your palm           to pierce
                             the soft                shell of your heart             something
to take home

something that rolls from under your feet      gathers
              no moss           loves              glass houses        something
to hold in your fist

something with roots you want to slip       sleep under
            climb into           hug          borrow its skin

Romana Iorga, some things to watch out for in a poem

We’d uncoil our Sargent jumps, tapping your top
as you became our iceberg, Sherman tank,
or high-rise block. Your walls were stormed,
but stayed unopened by broken bricks or pot-shots
from our BB guns. David lost an eye
in the ricochet, though I can barely
recall how he came to be standing there.
You were hauled away for scrap soon after.
I should find out where he is now.

Mat Riches, Post-Rock Shipping Containers

Sandra Beasley, a friend of mine who has several severe food allergies like my own, wrote this essay about claiming her identity as a disabled writer. It’s worth a read. And it made me think of my own nervousness, two AWP’s ago, when I was on a panel and was part of a reading for disabled writers. Was I disabled enough?  Could I speak to this group with any authority? Anyway, what does it mean to add “disabled” to your bio, or your descriptions of yourself on social media? If you look at my pictures, you wouldn’t necessarily see any disability, unless you looked closely, or looked at how I cropped out a wheelchair or cane. I notice small things (like my left side never fully recovered from the 2018 MS flare, and I still limp a little on that side, and my eye on that side isn’t quite the same as the one on the right side. Another small thing is I have more trouble reading my poems correctly out loud than I used to. A poetry editor recently asked me to record a video for their site, and asked for a re-recording because I had made minor errors in the words. But I knew that in a re-recording, I was likely to make the same, or worse, errors, because MS makes it difficult for me to read, focus on a camera, and stand at the same time. Did the editor know how bad she made me feel for this neurological anomaly? Probably not. It’s the same with Zoom readings and meetings – I have to shut off my camera sometimes when my brain gets overwhelmed trying to sort noise and imagery and trying to respond properly that that information. It could be perceived as a bad attitude – but really it’s my disability that’s controlling things. During quarantine, I have not asked as much of my body – not trying to walk unfamiliar routes, or dealing with people who don’t know I have MS, or driving to downtown readings that require stairs or doctor’s appointments that take hours of physical endurance to go to. But I still get tired doing things the average person wouldn’t. I have a telltale sign when I’ve done too much that my husband notices – my hands and legs start to tremble fairly aggressively, and this usually means worse symptoms will happen. “Time to rest,” he’ll say, and though I might resist his advice, he’s right. Anyway, I’m telling you all this because it’s hard to be vulnerable and admit your physical, neurological, and mental disabilities. Everyone who has them has a hard time claiming them in a positive way. Do we call ourselves a “disabled person” or a “person with disabilities.” This is an actual thing we have to think about.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Snow Woes, Who Gets to Be a Disabled Writer, and Having Trouble Getting It Together? Me too.

My pastor asked me if I wanted to do the meditation for Ash Wednesday, and I jumped at the chance.  I knew it would be pre-recorded, and I knew that I’ve been enjoying my approach of recording segments and seeing how to stitch them together.  I like that the process pulls on my poetry brain.  I like trying to think of ways to make the message new.

This year offers additional challenges.  There’s the standard challenge of having heard the message already:  Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.  Some of us might say, “We hear this every year.  Blah, blah, blah, dust, ash, rust, smash.”

But this year, with Ash Wednesday coming after a year of these reminders of our mortality, how do we make the message new?  This year, after a year of watching all we’ve built implode, explode, decay, and disappear, how do we create a message that touches on these themes but doesn’t leave us clinically depressed?

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Video Sermon on Ash Wednesday

I’ve been shielding and self-isolating for a year. It’s my Covid-versary. At the start, you don’t mark the date. I just remember thinking that it would be sorted by the end of April, and I’d go to St Ives to write. And then that became September, except it didn’t. And so on. Can you remember what day it is anymore? 

If someone told you a year ago you’ll be isolated for a year you’d probably say but I can’t do that. Much in the style of folk who post on social media that they can’t wait for X or Y or whatever. meaning that they don’t want to. I can’t do that. I’m reminded of Kim Moore’s glorious Trumpet Teacher’s curse

a curse on the teacher who says I’m rubbish at music
in a loud enough voice for the whole class to hear

I can’t do that. We believe we can’t cope. We lose someone we love. We lose an occupation. How will we survive? It turns out that you can, that you have, that you do. I had another anniversary in January. Eight years ago I joined an inspirational fellowship and gave up alcohol. I thought I couldn’t do it, but it turned out I could. The remarkable thing is that, as a result, I started to write, seriously, and joined another inspirational fellowship of people who write poems. I’ve had a book published every year since. I started to write a poetry blog, and about 750,000 words later, I’m still writing it. It turns out I could do it after all. As can we all, mostly. 

John Foggin, Keeping on: my kind of poetry. Martin Zarrop

One of the things I enjoy most about readings is the live audience – you can see how they’re reacting, you can address people through eye contact. And on Zoom? You’re lucky if you’ve spotted your friends, who could be on page 2 of the mosaic, you could be faced with a patchwork of faces and blank screens with names, some of which are something like ‘K’s laptop’. Everyone’s muted. Ugh!

The last reading I did, I had the poems on my computer screen so I could read off them and not keep looking down. When it’s just your head and shoulders visible, if people are looking at me (and hopefully they’re not all the time!) I want to seem as if I’m addressing them. I know I like this when I’m watching a poet read, and a number of people have told me they like it too. The downside to this strategy is, if you’re on a laptop, you might find your Word document (with the poems on) obscures the Zoom window, and with no ‘feedback loop’ you just have to carry on and trust people are there and haven’t all gone home, or that your connection has died and you haven’t realised, so you’ve been talking to yourself for ten minutes. Another way might be to pin your poems on the wall above your screen, which come to think of it might work better as you’ll be looking at a point just above the camera. OK now I’m overthinking things, and making myself more anxious…

Robin Houghton, On giving a poetry reading via Zoom

Today someone said I
seemed like a pink lady.

In another part of town
I heard a tiny bird-

song that touched me.
A meeting was held and

I got naked on a screen,
with my clothes on.

I kept someone waiting
for over an hour,

was forgiven.

Marie Craven, I Heard a Bird

Have you noticed a change in submissions to Atrium Poetry since lockdown?

I think we received more submissions in 2020 than in previous years, and I’m sure a good chunk of that was lockdown-related. Some people commented in their cover email or bio that they’d been inspired to start writing/return to writing when lockdown began. We have had a lot of poems about Covid (see next question!).

If poets are considering sending work to you should they send poems about Covid or are you saturated by them?

We don’t have any set themes at Atrium, so poets are free to send us work on whatever subjects they wish. Having said that, we have been (understandably) sent a lot of Covid-related poems, and I would make the point that the only ones we’ve gone on to accept for publication have been ones that look at the pandemic in a fresh and original light (though the same applies to any subject, really!). We’ve received many poems that essentially say the same sorts of things as each other (‘it’s hard not seeing family and friends/ I’m worried about older relatives/ I’m washing my hands a lot’!). It’s not eye-catching or ‘different’ enough to simply state the more obvious aspects, relatable though they are.

How will you focus on your writing during this current lockdown and do you have any tips for other poets?

I’d just made my ‘Writing Projects for 2021’ list when lockdown was announced, and my initial feeling was ‘just carry on regardless’, despite the restrictions on time.

The reality, though, is that I’ve not been able to keep up with things – daytime is taken up by home school and other work, and I’m too old now to have any energy left to write in the evenings! But my experience of the first lockdown reassures me that writing will pick back up again in time, and I’m trying to be relaxed about it! Needs must, and it’s not forever.

I suppose, with that in mind, my tip for other poets would be don’t be too hard on yourself if you don’t get much writing done during lockdown – for some it’s a very productive time, but for others (most?) there are too many other things going on to focus properly on writing, whether that be because of other commitments or just because you can’t find the oomph to do it in amongst the general worry! The urge/time/brain-space to write will return – you’ve not written your last poem. Trying to follow my own advice there…

Abegail Morley, Creativity in Lockdown: In Conversation with Claire Walker

I’ve been thinking about submissions from a different angle recently. In the autumn, I had to embark on a recruitment exercise at work for the first time in many moons and was disappointed, but not surprised, that nothing had changed in terms of the information gathered on the application form: the requirement for the applicant to state their full name, date of birth, gender, educational and work histories, with dates, surely provides more than enough ammunition for a bigoted manager to discriminate negatively on the grounds of age, gender, schooling and, in many cases, their ethnicity and class also. There should surely be scope for pseudonymous applications, without a requirement to state gender unless the job requires it in accordance with the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 and the Equality Act 2010. In many cases, though, stating the name of one’s school would give away one’s gender, or birth gender at least. Does any information really matter other than work history and how the skills and knowledge the applicant has acquired over the years might be applicable to the role they are applying for?

A similar pseudonymous approach could of course be tried for all poetry submissions, with the proviso that acceptance is conditional so that unrepentant plagiarists or criminals convicted of the most serious offences might be subsequently excluded as appropriate. But then there’s the argument that subject-matter and/or the authorial time and outlook often convey as much about the poet as any full disclosure of name and biography might. In the poetry world, there’s been much talk of ‘levelling-up’ long before our abominable government started hoodwinking the gullible into thinking they were serious about that agenda. (Outlawing the establishment of fee-paying schools and turning existing ones into non-fee-paying might be a good start, if you ask me.) Much excellent positive discrimination in the last decade has enabled the diversification of poets being published in the UK. Ultimately, letting fine poems shine regardless of their authors’ background or identity so that otherwise marginalised voices are heard as loudly as any others ought to be an essential part of the mission statement for any journal now, and I struggle to think of any UK-based journal which fails to adhere to that basic principle. None of this is original thinking, I know, and none of it is rocket science either. Yet, in the same way that there is now a war on ‘woke-ness’ in wider British society, I suspect there is a disgruntled (no doubt 99% white middle-class male) minority within the poetry community who feel that positive discrimination has gone much too far. Well, yaboo-sucks to them.

Matthew Paul, The information

I sometimes turn a short story into Flash as an exercise. What I try to avoid is ending up with a piece that has lost weight but is still wearing the same old clothes. I focus on a single scene, lose a side-plot, or lose a character. If I return to the short story I’m usually able to exploit what I’ve learned when writing the Flash.

Sometimes I’ve made a page-long poem more episodic, then I’ve broken it into a few poems. Not all of the shorter poems succeed, but at least I’ve salvaged something.

Welsh writer Cynan Jones’ story “The Edge of the Shoal” began as a 30,000-word short novel but he cut it to 11,500 words because “it didn’t work.”  When he sent it to The New Yorker they liked it but asked him to cut it in half. He took 4 days to cut the story to 6,000 words. In that form the New Yorker published it and it won The 2017 BBC National Short Story Award. The original version was published by Granta as a novella entitled “Cove”, which then won the Wales Book of the Year Fiction Prize.

Moral – you may want to keep more than one version of some of your pieces – short and long versions. If you chop, keep your drafts. You may never become famous enough to sell them, but they may have something valuable that gets worn away by rewrites.

Tim Love, Editing down

In 2017 – 2018 I had a lovely time working in a secondary school in Bath one day work, employed as a Writer in Residence. I used this blog as a notebook to document the workshops, so I thought I’d link to a few of the posts I wrote, for anyone who might find them useful at this time of homeschooling and being stuck indoors. The young writers I worked with were mostly aged 11 – 16 but the workshops can be adapted for other ages – and for yourself if you’re in the mood to do some writing and you need a little inspiration. […]
 
Cutting up text to write poems – This workshop produced an impressive amount of work by the students I worked with, even those who told me they “didn’t like writing”. Cutting up and manipulating text can be satisfying and fun and makes a change from facing up to the blank page. I was strict with my young writers and didn’t allow them to add in extra words “so a sentence made sense” but they were allowed to write anything they wanted in their own notebooks, so many new phrases and ideas popped up, leading to fresh poems and stories.

Josephine Corcoran, DIY Poetry Writing Workshops

Edmonton poet Paul Zits’ third collection is Exhibit (Calgary AB: University of Calgary Press, 2019), following Massacre Street(University of Alberta Press, 2013) [see my review of such here] and Leap-seconds(Insomniac Press, 2017). I’m frustrated in that I don’t even think I saw a copy of that second collection, and only received a copy of this latest collection a few months back; why is Paul Zits so silent on these books he’s been publishing? As the back cover to this new collection offers: “In the winter of 1926, Margaret McPhail went on trial for the murder of Alex, and throughout, maintained her innocence. More than a retelling of her trial, Exhibit chronicles the path to a verdict, misstep by misstep. Unique and rewarding, this is a masterful work of collage poetry that rests in the spaces where reality is constructed and where reality is blurred.” I’m immediately fascinated at Zits’ exploration of the prairie document, retelling the bones of a story of early prairie history through the shape of poetry, putting him in a lineage of multiple prairie writers such as Dennis Cooley, Monty Reid, Robert Kroetsch and Kristjana Gunners, among others. Zits applies the elements of the story into short, sketched lyrics, presenting and capturing moments that accumulate and shape into a larger narrative of what might, or may, have happened. He writes out the spaces amid the spaces; what is known and impossible to know. Unlike Kroetsch or Cooley, Zits’ collage-story attempts the impossibility of truth, even through the knowledge of that impossibility. His lyrics present with the facts as best as possible, allowing the reader the space to get inside.

rob mclennan, Three short reviews: June Gehringer, Tess Brown-Lavoie + Paul Zits

 I’ve always considered myself a poet whose work relies tremendously on research, whether it’s more serious (the Chicago World’s Fair, the Italian Reniassance) or less serious (tabloid headlines and slenderman lore.) In the early 2000’s my errata project, which cobbled together both orginal and found texts was one of the first things I’d written that involved external sources directly, but I’d touched on bits obliquely before.  Many of my first, better poems were steeped in history, mythology/folklore, and literature. (I always say I din’t have much to write about myself, so I plumbed these to exhaustion.) Thus I have a lot of mermaid poems, even from the beginning. Fairy tale poems –my favorites being Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, and Hansel & Gretel–all things that I’ve written more than one poem about.  My entire project, the shared properties of water and stars is basially a take on Goldilocks that’s expanded into story problem logic.  

Later, I devoted an entire chapbook length series to Resurrection Mary, Chicago’s own vanishing hitchhiker legend, a project that not only had me deep in chicago history, but doing fun things like ghost tours. girl show involved a lot of searching into sideshow and carnival performers of the 30s and 40’s (and the discovery of the Hilton sisters, after which my two siamese are named.) There was the summer I spent reading Slenderman stories and books about the legend, as well as digging into true crime about the stabbing in Waukesha. There was research into pin-ups and nuclear america for strange machine and terrestrial animal. Extinction and evolution for my series written for the Field Museum. Ekphrastic subject matter for the Cornell Project, my Dali series, the Shining poems.

Kristy Bowen, writing history and myth

I’m talking brain imaging, I say. Our brains mirror other brains; that’s how we understand one another. He’s still got his patient listener face on, so I continue. This explains how clichés impair writing. Because when we hear a cliché like put the cart before the horse our brains don’t evidence any interest. That saying was originally a clever use of language the first 1,000 or 100,000 times it was said but our brains react minimally to clichés. Brain imaging shows we take them in only at the most basic level. Phrases like “scared out of my wits” or “made of money” were original once, but now they deaden our responses.  Besides, many clichés in common usage come to us from generations ago, when everyone knew how foolhardy it was to put the actual cart before the actual horse. Take the cliché “caught red-handed.” This likely came from centuries back, when serfs worked the land of some lord or another. There were strict rules against poaching. Even if one’s family was starving on what little they could grow, it was illegal to hunt on the lord’s land. Caught red-handed meant you had blood on your hands and would be severely punished.         

Mark alleges he still likes clichés and gleefully adds the cliché, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”* It’s a game now. We continue to toss out ever more ridiculous clichés until we weary of them and put the audiobook back on.

Listening to it, we finally we reach a cliché-related accord. I agree with him that a book’s character can and perhaps should use clichés if it’s in keeping with that character. In this pop mystery, I can see why a character or two would talk this way. Mark agrees with me that the book we’re listening to also uses clichés in description and plot development outside of character narration, and it’s off-putting. We listen a few more miles and he says. “Now I can’t help but hear all the clichés. Thanks.” We give up on the book.

Yes, we’re still married. And yes, I still give that cliché talk but have learned to keep it in the classroom.

Laura Grace Weldon, Clichés

In “The Oscillations” Kate Fox has a collection that explores neurodivergency and how masking differences comes at a cost and the isolation that can result, although there’s also hope in new connections as a world shifts. The pandemic is a backdrop, something battled and overcome with a journey towards renewal. The poems have a focused, conversational tone which belies their careful structure: the apparent casualness relies on sound echoes and partial rhymes. These poems both skim the surface and explore the depths, which path is taken is up to the reader.

Emma Lee, “The Oscillations” Kate Fox (Nine Arches Press) – book review

I have had the pleasure of knowing [Saddiq] Dzukogi over a number of years, sharing correspondence over poems and life. In his work, I have always found a paced, meditative way with the line that develops emotional depth across images that hold for a reader like sunsets: intense, clear, and with a momentum one can feel.

“Wineglass” below is a good example of this. Through intimate narration, the poem develops from its title image into a vessel of its own, holding the speaker’s grief while also moving through the experience of it. Physical details such as “Hands, cloudy from rubbing the grave,” evoke the speaker’s state of mind through the image of cloudiness and emphatic action of rubbing, while the word choice of cloudy/grave parallel the speaker’s desire to mix and be heard across worlds.

José Angel Araguz, writer feature: Saddiq Dzukogi

How do I hold
her in tenderness— one way of tending a life is to stand in a queue

at the shop as beans get roasted. It takes time to prepare
a tumbler of frothy coffee— a lifetime if it is the final gulp.

You in your chair overlooking the deck and I in my terrace where
the hibiscus shrub is eaten by mealybugs, hold the cup of absence.

Uma Gowrishankar, how to drink loss

There is nothing more pleasing than to write with a newly filled, well-flowing fountain pen, on the pages of a C.D. Notebook (another obsession). Let me make this case for writers of all kinds to use a fountain pen: the more you write and use your writing instrument, the better it will flow. If you leave off writing, there is the possibility that the ink will dry in the mechanism, and things will start to get hinky. Which is to say blotchy or dry or skippish. The more you write the more you flow. And that, my friends is the secret to fountain pens and the secret to writing. And the secret to refraining from giving in to the cussedness of it all. You know.

Shawna Lemay, The Cussedness of Fountain Pens

that moment when the very first raindrops
tumble down from the broken sky
scattered and fat
perfect
lovely

James Lee Jobe, you are alone in the silence

A xylophone of icycles on a rusted bridge, a bass drum of cloud.
A glimmer of moonlight on the coldest night for twenty years.
I have your last letter in my pocket.

I hear you saying I wish I could see you once more.
Someone saw you in your house by the sea.
A sense of lamps. I should have known you’d understand

The laziness of forgiveness, the hard work of bitterness,
The emptiness in every room. Did anyone see you move in?
One by one your books will abandon you.

Bob Mee, A QUESTION OF SIGHT AND SOUND AND THREE OTHER NEW PIECES THAT MUST SPEAK FOR THEMSELVES

I think
of us loving
into the night,

the darkness
not something
we have feared.

We empty
ourselves into it
again and again.

Loss fills us
for another
go at hope.

Tom Montag, AN IMAGE OF