Poetry Blog Digest 2022, 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. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week found poets wrestling with linguistic unease, Pentecost, the place of rage in poetry, an invented form of English, the language of science, British Sign Language, and other challenges. But how to keep writing when so much in the news is so grim? Read on for some ideas.


Someone I know was pondering a fancy floral table centerpiece she was designing. She showed me a photo of it and said she wasn’t really happy with it. It was a series of vases holding spring flowers, all sitting on a mirrored plank. It was colorful and lively but it did seem a bit over the top. I said that I wondered if the mirror was the problem. She said, “But my intention was to blend contemporary with traditional,” i.e., the mirror was contemporary and the lovely spring sprays traditional. And I thought of the many conversations about poetry in which something similar was said in the face of suggestion or critique: oh, but my intention was X, X = the very thing that seemed not be working. I’ve said it myself many times, and the conversation always gives me pause.

What should win: intention or what was actually created?

I realize my loyalty tends to be with what was actually created. The created thing has its own life, and I tend to think we creators should honor the inadvertent creation rather than try to haul it back into what we thought we intended. I value the misintentions and the subconsciousness of what was actually created, and mistrust the perhaps overthought earnestness of intention.

Marilyn McCabe, A mighty pretty sight; or, On Intention and Creativity

Any reviewer of Denise Riley who has read her 2000 book The Words of Selves, proceeds if not with caution, then with a definite sense of unease. There are two principal reasons for this. One is that Riley’s work is difficult; she is known as a poets’ poet for good reason – her poems contain a lot for those knowledgeable about poetry to get their teeth into, but on a first reading many can appear a little like crossword puzzles to be solved, codes to be broken. And this is intimidating – to review and misread her work would be to expose oneself as an inadequate reviewer. She knows this, and comments in The Words of Selves, specifically on the interpretation of literary references: “When reviewers interpret a poem, they may confidently misconstrue an allusion. Often they’ll think up the most ingeniously elaborate sources for something in the text that had a plainer association, a far less baroque connection, behind it.” (p.74) So there is the concern of making a fool of yourself by over-reading (something I’m sure I’ve been guilty of in this blog more than once); that’s the first reason. The second is that much space is given in The Words of Selves to questioning and problematising the lyric I, and Riley is skeptical, even scathing, of biographical ‘selves’ in contemporary poetry: “Poetry can be heard to stagger under a weight of self-portrayal…Today’s lyric form (is) frequently a vehicle for innocuous display and confessionals” (p.94) And yet, for Riley’s reviewer, the fact of her son’s tragic death and the fact that she has written in prose and poetry about this, leaves the poet’s biographical self very close to the surface, and (the reviewer might feel) liable to breach at any time. How then to know at what point the real Denise Riley steps back and an imagined subject takes over? As one of Riley’s great philosophical concerns is the means by which language creates the Self, the uncertainty that Lurex (Picador) creates in the reader around what is being said and by whom, is unlikely to be coincidental.  

And this sense of unease is not entirely out of place. Riley herself writes of the “linguistic unease” of the writer, and so there is some solidarity perhaps between these two unequal partners in the generation of a text’s meaning, the writer-poet and the reader-reviewer. If we can proceed together with a joint feeling of guilt and inadequacy, the job of searching for meaning might not seem so lonely. 

Chris Edgoose, Dark yet sparkly – Denise Riley, Lurex and ‘the flesh of words’

My life has been a wonder of surprise and intention. Not so unusual, right? We all experience unexpected events and make decisions. But wonder is hard to remember and easy to lose. I’m lucky—poetry requires wonder. I think my Poet Sisters would agree.

In 2016 I took an online class through The Loft in Minneapolis. That alone was strange because I’d lived 45 minutes away for five years and didn’t sign up until I moved 450 miles away. The instructor, poet Amie Whittemore, guided us to give kind and specific workshop critiques. She helped us build community. By the end of the class, several of us had formed a bond and decided to continue workshopping poems.

We recently celebrated our five-year anniversary as a group. I don’t remember who came up with Poet Sisters. It sounds like a gathering of oracles or perhaps muses. Sirens, even—calling one another to days of writing and reading poetry. Our structure is simple: share one poem a month for feedback via email. We’ve been able to meet in real life, once for a one-day workshop and another time at a writing retreat where we shared a cabin “up north” in Minnesota. We’ve had video-chats during the pandemic. Sometimes we share submission calls, poets and poems we love. We encourage craft and a belief in ourselves as writers. We cheer every acceptance and accolade. Since we’ve begun this journey together, one of us has become her state’s associate poet laureate, three have books in print or forthcoming, and another has a full collection ready to go.

Lynne Jensen Lampe, Sisterhood of the Raveling Poems

We practice separation. Disentangle the cold

waves. The wind pauses, faithless. I marinate days in nights filled with
brine. What happens when an unexpected transformation lets us in

on its secret? I read the poem again, sticking my voice on the words.
Love waits. Silent. ‘Leaving’ sounds the same in every language.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, One of them is real

Words have failed so profoundly that I’m out in the garden instead, or indoors cleaning my bathrooms or reading books. Books–always my solace when my own words fail.

My latest good read is David Crystal‘s 2004 The Stories of English, already out of date in its last chapter–a fact I’m sure he gleefully acknowledges. I adore his love of how language evolves and find his non-prescriptivist approach refreshing and necessary if we are to keep literacy and communication alive. This book gave me so much information, enriched the knowledge I already have about our language, and made me laugh, too. Granted, it is word-geek humor…but that’s how I roll.

And I needed a few laughs this past week or so. My heart aches; I am sore afflicted for more reasons than I care to explain at present, though the headline news certainly has much to do with my mood. Crystal’s book got me thinking about the course I teach (come fall) and how I’ve already toned down the prescriptiveness in order to convince my students they can write and can be successful with written communication; that they are not “wrong,” just that their audience for written work differs, in college, from high school and from text messaging and other forms of writing. Crystal says we who teach English need to get over the concern about split infinitives and pronoun antecedent agreement and focus on clarity and genuine expression. I have no argument with him there–but many people I know would quibble and complain. And the English lexicon offers us so many options for how to say we disagree!

Ann E. Michael, Words fail, & yet–

calm lake
holding a stone
forever

Jim Young [no title]

Today is one of the big three church holidays; today is Pentecost. For those of you who have no reference, Pentecost is the day that comes 50 days after Easter and 10 days after Jesus goes back up to Heaven (Ascension Day). We see a group of disciples still at loose ends, still in effect, hiding out, still unsure of what to do.

Then the Holy Spirit fills them with the sound of a great rushing wind, and they speak in languages they have no way of knowing. But others understand the languages–it’s one way the disciples argue that they’re not drunk. And then they go out to change the world–but that’s the subject for an entirely different post.

You may be saying, “Great. What does all that have to do with me?”

I see that Pentecost story as having similar features to the creative process that many of us experience. If you replace the religious language, maybe you’ll see what I mean.

Often I’ve felt stymied and at loose ends. I think back to times when I’ve known exactly what to do and where to go next. I find myself missing teachers and other mentors that I’ve had. I may wallow in feelings of abandonment–where has my muse gone? Why don’t I have any great mentors now? Have all my great ideas abandoned me? What if I never write a poem again?

And then, whoosh. Often I hit a time of inspiration. I get more ideas in any given morning than I can handle. I jot down notes for later. I send of packet after packet of submissions.

Some times, it feels downright scary, like something has taken possession of me. But it’s a good spirit, and so I try to enjoy the inspired times. I’ve been at this long enough that I know that these inspired times won’t last forever.

The good news: those inspired times will come back, as long as I keep showing up, keep waiting, stay alert.

That’s the message that many of us will be hearing in our churches today. And it’s a good message to remember as we do our creative work.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Pentecost for Poets and Other Creative Souls

Chaplets of roses grew threadbare
like linen; all night a bee drowsed as if stoned on the edge
of an ivory blanket. What else crept under carpets of clover
toward our trim hedges? Every night we went to bed
like apostrophes folded into each other. That is to say,
even in sleep our hands spasmed in terror or prayer.
Call it anything but casualty, accident, or fate
— none of us grown wiser for turning away.

Luisa A. Igloria, Collateral Damage

I have a poem, ‘Accommodation Strategy’, in the second issue, here, of Public Sector Poetry, which is a rather niche journal for people like me who work in the public sector and also happen to be poets. The events of the last two years have already rendered my poem’s content out of date, but it represents a certain point in time. It just goes to show that local government is rather more fluid and dynamic now than when I started it in an eon ago.

Matthew Paul, Public Sector Poetry

Now I’m no huge Eliot fan but I do dip into the Four Quartets every now and then. I’ve never got to grips with The Waste Land, but I’m a sucker for manuscripts that show different versions, crossings out etc. It’s like getting into the poet’s head. And this edition shows every page, with annotations from both Ezra Pound and Valerie Eliot. It’s extraordinary. And I’m now enjoying going back to the poem armed with more insight into its genesis.

Meanwhile our Planet Poetry guests continue to challenge (and delight) me – in the last episode I talked with the effervescent Caleb Parkin and his excellent book This Fruiting Body, and my most recent interview was with Fiona Sampson. I admit I was nervous, interviewing a poet with such a formidable CV (29 books for starters). But Fiona was delightful and fascinating. I’m not sure yet when the interview will ‘air’ but it’ll be worth listening, I guarantee.

Robin Houghton, Currently inspired by…

Yesterday, I woke up to a mild sunny cusp of June day and was greeted with already a dozen or so submissions waiting in my inbox of new things I can’t wait to read. Yes, it’s that time again, the open submissions window for the dgp chapbook series, and one that feels a little less overwhelming now that my inbox is less of a morass and there is a bit more time weekly to devote to the press operations (including hopefully being able to read things throughout the summer as they come in and not just in a mad dash in the fall.)  

Today, I devoted an entire day to cover design exploits on handful of books that are in layout stage and it was nice to be able to actually finish what I was intending to do without running off to do other things like work or errands.  While my weekend will be focused on my writing and the next couple days devoted to freelance work, I at least will return to editing work mid-next week not feeling quite as behind as before and a couple new things are almost ready to start printing.. Tuesdays are for author copy and order fulfillment and shipping things. While initially I was doing a bit off all things each day, I find I am more productive if I center my days in a certain kind of task, even if it takes the majority of the day.

My enjoyment of different parts of the process has increased, even rather staid unexciting things like copyediting and typesetting feel more focused and grounded now that life is a little less hectic and subject to daily chaos. Or if it’s chaos, it’s more definitely orderly and self-guided chaos. 

Kristy Bowen, dancing girl press notes | june 2022

PP: Your poems are dense and agile, pivoting yet holding together in leaps. Do they come together assembled from pieces or come out of a passionate stream-of-consciousness?

SW: They tend to come out in one fell swoop. But it’s messy! I edit very slowly and very particularly. Have you heard that quote? A poet will move a comma in the morning and a comma at night and say, Oh what a day’s work! My friend’s dad told me that. But sometimes there are new waves hiding behind commas, cracks in the rocks, pieces hiding behind other pieces.

PP: Do you have writing rituals that help you into the writing frame of mind or do you write in stolen moments?

SW: Definitely stolen moments for poetry. Middle of the night, subway rides, grocery stores. I want to try the writing desk routine life someday but that day has not come yet.

For editing or prose, I can sit at a desk or in bed and crank something out. But my poetry is much more chaotic. Like catching sight of a bird and having to drop everything to chase it before it’s gone.

Pearl Pirie, Mini-interview: Sanna Wani

I will just continue to spread out flat, letting all the knots work their way out of my body and mind: a pretty little map of thoughts, lyrical as loops of string caught in school glue.

School glue in an amber bottle with a rubber tip, that would open like an eye when pressed. Or a mouth. Or a seal’s nostril.

There was a smell that I can’t quite remember, no matter how hard I try to conjure it.

It is inexplicable what sticks in my memory and what doesn’t. Last night, trying to sleep I remembered when E. was small – three or four – and while his older brother pinned my legs, E. sat on my chest and leaned over my face, inhaling so that his nostrils pinched shut again and again, like some kind of amphibious, alien creature. I laughed until I peed my pants a little.

Isn’t that something? How a memory of uncontrollable, full-body laughter can make you cry?

That school glue I used in elementary school didn’t work well. Nothing ever stayed put. I’d get home and the string had come loose in spots and created its own patterns. I guess it was an early life lesson: everything unravels, falls apart, and reconfigures according to its own mysterious will.

Ren Powell, An Amphibious, Alien Creature

I travelled to London by train and as I approached Wellington, near Taunton in Somerset, I saw an abandoned factory with most of the glass missing from the windows. This set me thinking…

summer project

we broke all the glass
in all the windows

no one stopped us
it took time

but the sounds were so addictive
the crack and cascade of glass

eyeless in autumn
the snow went wherever it would

when summer came round again
there was nothing to show it had ever been there

Paul Tobin, EYELESS IN AUTUMN

I love reading poetry anthologies.

I know they aren’t everyone’s cup of tea–there is something to be said for reading a collection in one voice–but I feel like it’s like being in an MFA classroom again–all these different voices mingling together, bouncing off each other. I love that I find new-to-me poets in anthologies–I always keep a list of author names from the poems I loved best, then look up their collections to read next. I love how it takes a theme and looks at it prismatically, through many different perspectives and cultures.

One of my favorite anthologies is Joy, edited by Christian Wiman. I also enjoy The Child’s Anthology of Poems ed. by Elizabeth Sword (I use this book with my children, but it is good for anyone). Recently I’ve read some anthologies ed. by James Crews, Healing the Divide being the most recent.

Renee Emerson, anthologies

Winner of the 2019 Burnside Review Press Book Award, as selected by poet Darcie Dennigan, is California-born Massachusetts poet and research scientist Angelo Mao’s full-length debut, Abattoir (Portland OR: Burnside Review Press, 2021). Constructed as a suite of prose poems, lyric sentences, line-breaks and pauses, Mao’s is a music of exploration, speech, fragments and hesitations; a lyric that emerges from his parallel work in the sciences. “They have invented poems with algorithms.” He writes, as part of the untitled sequence that makes up the third section. “They can be done with objectivity.” Set in four numbered sections, the poems that make up Mao’s Abattoir are constructed through a lyric of inquiry, offering words weighed carefully against each other into observation, direct statement and narrative accumulation, theses that work themselves across the length and breath of the page, the lengths of the poems. “The first thing it does / Is do a full backflip,” he writes, to open the poem “Euthanasia,” “Does the acrobatic mouse / Which rapidly explores / The perimeter comes back / To where it started / To where it sensed / What makes its ribcage / Slope-shaped as when / Thumb touches fingertips [.]” This is a book of hypotheses, offering observations on beauty, banality and every corner of existence, as explored through the possibilities of the lyric.

rob mclennan, Angelo Mao, Abattoir

In May 2019, we spent three weeks in Sweden. While there we went on several boat trips in the Stockholm area and along the west coast. I took quite a bit of video footage with no particular project in mind. But when I returned home, it came together in this video A Captain’s… using audio samples recorded in an old windmill on the island of Ölund.

The text had been published a while back and uses an invented form of english that captures the sound and feel of old nautical terminology. It imagines a captain trying to justify his privileged, colonialist position, while facing the immense and unknown dangers of the ocean.

The title comes from Australian rhyming slang: “A Captain’s” = “A Captain Cook” = a look. Captain James Cook was the celebrated English explorer who claimed the eastern seaboard of Australia for the British Empire in 1770, almost totally ignoring its long-standing occupation by First Nations people.

Ian Gibbins, A Captain’s…

The language of science is often mysterious, especially to non-scientists, of course. But there’s also often a richness of imagery and sound that feels related to the poetic. A mouth feel that is satisfying. A rhythm that makes us notice and relish in its language. My friend, the film maker Terrance Odette, posted the title of an article noting that “poetry is everywhere.” Well, that’s a challenge I couldn’t resist. So I made a poem playing with the sounds of this title. I mean, sure, heteropoly acid negolytes could enhance the performance of aqueous redox flow batteries at low temperature. Obv! That’s what we’ve all suspected all this time, but isn’t it true that “Follow-through is a poor bedfellow for the beauty of this testimonial”? Right? We poets bring the truths.

Gary Barwin, Poor Bedfellows of Science

Dylan Thomas’ Do not go gentle into that good night has bothered me for many years.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

It bothered me more when, in my 30s I sat with my dying father. All my dad wanted in his last days was release from pain. Imagine the sheer tone-deaf selfishness of that injunction in his ears. All I can hear is a young man’s impotent rage against the loss of his father. It makes me wonder about rage and poetry. Among other things. […]

Rage makes you incoherent. Articulation is the tongue-tied’s fighting. The gift is to find the right channel. I thought I’d cool my head and calm myself down by reflecting on the the rage I feel about the apparently untouchable sense of entitlement that characterises the last ten years of the contemporary Tory Party in power, and then how more or less by accident, I found a way of channelling it. The answer for me lay in the Greek Myths, the stories of the Greek pantheon, and particularly the version created by Garfield and Blishen in The God beneath the Sea. 

John Foggin, All the rage

My touchstone here is something I learned in the 1980s, during my junior year at Stony Brook University, when I took my first poetry workshop ever with June Jordan. Both in class and in the individual conferences she had with me, Professor Jordan spoke about what poetry was in a way that touched deeply the part of me aching to tell the truth about my life. I do not remember her exact words, but these two quotes, from her introduction to June Jordan’s Poetry for the People: A Revolutionary Blueprint, capture the essence of what she said:

You cannot write lies and write good poetry.

Poetry is a political action undertaken for the sake of information, the faith, the exorcism, and the lyrical invention, that telling the truth makes possible. Poetry means taking control of the language of your life. Good poems can interdict a suicide, rescue a love affair, and build a revolution in which speaking and listening to somebody becomes the first and last purpose to every social encounter.

This does not mean, of course, that writing essays is not political, that essays cannot also be about discovering the potential in telling the truth, but it’s hard to imagine an essay rescuing a love affair or preventing a suicide, at least not in the way Jordan seems to be talking about here.

Richard Jeffrey Newman, Deciding whether something should be a poem or an essay

I’m writing these words in the dead of night when destiny is busy sharpening its knives, and the sirens are sleeping.

There is a place we can unname and unweight our burdens, a place we can dig down deep into the ash for those unspent remains of humanity.

In that space, certain syllables defy gravity. Defy bullets and burning.

Hope is one syllable that comes to mind. Dream, another.

Rich Ferguson, When Destiny Sharpens Its Knives

On the one hand, I’m wary of trying to be too focused: one of the things that makes a blog a blog, if it’s just you writing, is that’s it’s unplanned. On the other, the blank screen is as intimidating as the blank page. It helps to have a sense of what you’re trying to do.

Also: however personally fulfilling it might be, keeping all your options open tends to be a pretty inefficient way of finding readers, who tend to want to know what to expect.

On reflection, there are a couple of themes I keep coming back to.

The first is simple: personal responses to individual poems. These are what got me blogging to begin with. They continue to get more hits than anything else on here: so there’s a demand. The truth is they are somewhere between a response and an analysis, which may explain why people go back to them (they’ve Google-searched the poem).

But they are personal, too, if only because I’ve chosen to write about these poems. I increasingly think sharing your enthusiasm for individual poems is central to what this thing called poetry is, and probably the best way to keep the love of it alive (if you believe E. M. Forster, the only way). I enjoy them, too.

Jeremy Wikeley, Back to Basics

I walked into the middle of a Ted Hughes poem the other week. An early morning dog walk, like any other, except that suddenly I was looking at the most enormous fish, the fish of legend, the fish of myth, a fish I had met before but only in my mind’s eye. It was put there by Hughes’s own reading of the poem, from the flock wallpaper Faber and Faber cassette shared with Paul Muldoon. It’s also in my ancient copy of River, the original coffee table edition with photos of the Exe and Taw and Torridge.

But here it was in the flesh, on an ordinary Tuesday, the film of the words I had driven to, cooked and made coffee to, happening actually yards from where I stood in a Devon field not a mile from the city centre. The poem is clear: this is an October salmon, not mid-May. But I swear the fish was the same. It all came back, as we say, flooding. The fish is dressed by death in ‘clownish ceremonials, badges and decorations’, its ‘face a ghoul-mask, a dinosaur of senility’, its ‘whole body/ A fungoid anemone of canker’. As Seamus Heaney has said, to hell with overstating it! Sometimes that is what is required.

Other lines quickly joined them as I stared, daring to inch the phone out of my pocket for a surreptitious photo, lest I spook the moment. ‘Ravenous joy’ (‘The savage amazement of life,/ The salt mouthful of actual existence,/ With strength like light’) ghosting a dying fall (‘This was inscribed in his egg’). He was probably hatched in this very pool. Fundamental accuracy of statement (Pound), never weighed more.

Anthony Wilson, Lifesaving Lines: An October Salmon, by Ted Hughes

DL Williams’s “Interdimensional Traveller” explores dimensions, particularly the two dimensional world of poems on a page and the three dimensional world of sign language. There is a QR code link to the YouTube channel where the poems appear in BSL (eventually all of them will) and also QR codes with some of the poems that links to the individual poem. This is not done in a binary spirit, where sign language is put in competition with English, but as a translator and interpreter, building links between these dimensions. An early poem, “Bilingual Poet’s Dilemma”, will be as familiar to translators as to sign language interpreters,

“What’s beautiful in a Sign
is boring in a line;
what’s pretty in a line
is confusing in Sign,
and if the twain should meet,
wouldn’t that be a feat?
So tell me, please,
which language should I use?
Which one should I choose?”

British Sign Language is not English in signs, or Sign Supported English, but a language in its own right with grammar and sentence structures that differ from English. Sign language is not universal, each language has its own version. In languages, words rarely stand alone with the same meaning each time, but pick up meaning according to the context used. A word such as ‘beacon’ may mean light, warning or hope and an interpreter has to judge whether to only translate ‘beacon’ as light or whether one of the other meanings may be appropriate. A phrase in sign language that looks like an elegantly choreographed ballet for hands, can be rendered simplistic and boring on a page. A sentence that starts in the present tense and moves into the past tense to signify a memory, is tricky to render in BSL. These issues throw up dilemmas for interpreters. However, if you are bilingual and can move back and forth between languages, how would you choose one over the other? If decide to use the best language for the poem, how will an audience react if some of your poems are in BSL and others in English? How can you interpret for the part of the monolingual audience who need interpretations?

Emma Lee, “Interdimensional Traveller” DL Williams (Burning Eye) – book review

extracting birdsong from background noise

Jason Crane, haiku: 31 May 2022

I have to admit that I love all the written aspects of writing poetry, of publishing work, but I still fret at the idea of organized readings, even after all the opportunities I’ve had to do so. The idea of talking for 15 minutes still makes me balk initially until I resettle into the reality than time flies when I’m reading, really reading, my poetry. And usually, before I know it, I’ve cleared 15 and am headed into 20. The thing of it is though is overcoming that block, “Oh, I can’t do that,” and instead jump in. When it comes down to it, I’ve never had a negative experience in a reading, in fact it becomes one of those moments in which I’m truly present. There’s great beauty in that, but also in the look-around the room and seeing who is there to hear you read because they want to be there, be it friends, writing group, fellow writers, teachers past and recent, even someone you’re sweet on. There’s a sweetness to it all that can’t be replicated under other circumstances.

Kersten Christianson, Tidal Echoes 2022

Last week’s post on First Loves led to a wonderful discussion during Fridays at 4. This week I want to continue that feeling, but with a later poetry love of mine, the work of Polish poet Wisława Szymborska (Vee-ZHWA-vah Zhim-BOR-ska).  I can read her work only in translation, and the general agreement is that the best are those by Clare Cavanaugh and Stanislav Barańczak.  Their versions are the ones that appear below.

I was completely smitten the first time I saw these titles, and then the poems that followed: “Notes from a Nonexistent Himalayan Expedition,” “The Letters of the Dead,” “In Praise of Feeling Bad About Yourself,” “Cat in an Empty Apartment,” on and on.  What drew me?  The tone of voice, that speaks about mortality with matter-of-factness, even humor.  The moments she chooses to write about, from dramatic (“The Terrorist, He Waits,” ) to the minute, the daily (“The Silence of Plants,” “A Little Girl Tugs at the Tablecloth”).  That she writes about writing poetry, something not typical of American poetry (“In Fact Every Poem.” “To My Own Poem,” ‘The Poet’s Nightmare,” “Some People Like Poetry.”)  The surfaces are deceptively simple, the depths infinite.

Sharon Bryan, Wisława Symborska

I had a good conversation with a friend who just had a book come out. She has been doing a ton of readings—both in person and on Zoom—and was just two weeks into her book’s launch, but was feeling overwhelmed. When is enough enough?

My attitude towards this, when I talked about it in my book PR for Poets, is that no one will ever say “you’re doing enough” so you have to decide. If you love doing readings, or social media, or sending out postcards, do that. Poetry has a longer shelf life than most things, so don’t worry if in the first month you haven’t gotten to everything – interviews, podcasts, blog posts, readings, etc – all of it takes it out of you, especially in the third year of a pandemic and people are just starting to go to bookstores in person again. So be kind to yourself, set boundaries. Don’t say yes to everything. And try to celebrate the small wins.

As I am finishing up my final version of Flare, Corona for BOA Editions, a lot of anxieties have come up. Is this grammar okay? Why did I leave punctuation out of this part of the poem but not this other part? Have I forgotten people I need to thank (probably!) or acknowledgements for poems that might have slipped through the cracks? I really do need to turn it in to typesetting but there is so much you want to all of the sudden fix about your manuscript. Since this is my sixth poetry book, I can say yes, this is also a normal part of the process. I get very insecure about my book right before it goes out into the world. I loved the book so much while I labor-intensively (and money intensively) sent it out to publishers. I loved it when it was taken. But now, I see nothing but flaws.

I also got a few acceptances this week that would normally be big deals to me but it felt hard to celebrate with so much other bad stuff going on. The world feels very dark and dismal (and it’s not just the abnormally cold rain, though that hasn’t helped). If you are struggling, please reach out for support and take good care of yourself. Please remember you are making a difference in the world, even if sometimes it doesn’t feel that way. Maybe take a break from social media and news. A friend of mine reminded me to submit poems (which I hadn’t been) and give myself time to write (which I also hadn’t been doing much of). Put at least one positive thing on your calendar just for fun. Wishing you as good a week as possible.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Three New Poems in Bourgeon, How to Cope with a Rough Week, Talking Publicity Efforts and Finishing Up Manuscripts and Other Poetry Things

But magazine can also mean
a chamber for holding cartridges
to feed automatically

into a gun, which reminds me
of the article I don’t need
to re-read — the one where

a radiologist describes
the slim silver line sketched
by an ordinary bullet,

versus the way
one fired from an AR-15
ripples waves of flesh

like a cigarette boat
traveling through
a narrow canal

turning any part of us
into smashed overripe melon,
nothing left to repair.

Rachel Barenblat, Magazine

We are sad on the ground, but still, our messages need to get out, we writers, we artists, we citizens. I don’t know that we will change this world, but our messages matter, they exist and are relevant all the way into someone’s near future. (“Someone told me / of course my poems / won’t change the world. // I said yes of course / my poems / won’t change the world.” — Patrizia Cavalli

Your art isn’t the phone. Poetry isn’t a text message. “Don’t use the phone,” says Jack Kerouac, “People are never ready to answer. Use poetry.”

I’m currently reading Lesley Wheeler’s Poetry’s Possible Worlds, and loving it. (Will write a longer post on it next week if all goes my way). In it she says, “A poem makes a lousy telephone.” Instead, she says, “by reading a poem, you’re entering a transportation device. You interact with the text to get somewhere, but it has a mind of its own and will match its will to yours. Rather than efficiency, you choose a complex, unpredictable experience.”

The message is, Keep sending your messages. Your words are wings; your wings are words. We are living in complicated times. We are living in times where the language and rhetoric of disinformation, propaganda, anti-intellectualism, racism etc are overwhelming. In the recent past, I have thought to myself, what is needed is more nuance. And yes? but also, I was re-reading Rachel Blau Duplessis’s Blue Studio in which she asks, “Can one be rigorous and empathetic? Antisimplistic, but with clean lines? Can one illustrate opacity and confirm clarity at one and the same time? You’d better believe it.” Can we appeal to the larger crowd out there with a message of community still? With a message of doing right? I really don’t know.

Shawna Lemay, Of Messages and Messengers

The three children smiling in the photograph are buried in the kindergarten garden.
A woman tends her allotment to the sound of explosions and sirens.

An ant crosses the table in the garden where I write.

I walk to find peace.

Old bikes propped on bay windows in tiny, slabbed front gardens.

You are somewhere close to the border now.
Yesterday they bombed the tracks.

A pigeon stops singing the way pigeons do
as if they forget the point of the song.

Bob Mee, BLACK WATER

Dream fluff shadows a thousand
skin lathered summers,
whispering sea spray, waxing
ebb shine,
an urge of fingers in hair
and salt on tongues.
Oh summer, bare your dreams
on the wind,
Crush on me again

Charlotte Hamrick, Riptide

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, 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. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week, I tried something different: compiling the digest in a completely random fashion, without any effort to find common themes. I think it hangs together just about as well as usual! Go figure.


Many years back–let’s say decades–my friend David Dunn and I briefly became small press chapbook publishers. It was not an easy task at the time, and expensive; but I worked at a type shop and could get the type set for free and a discount on the printing. We dubbed our concern LiMbo bar&grill Books. It was decidedly a labor of love, but we published four chapbooks and two broadsides before packing it in. The name emerged from David’s postcards and letters to me, in which he’d sometimes begin “Greetings from the Limbo Bar & Grill.” We were poets in our early 20s, underemployed during a recession, without any network to universities or well-connected writers. It felt like limbo.

Forty years later, dear David is dead; I have had modest success as a published poet since then–not enough to move me past avocation status–and the entire globe spins in limbo as pandemic, climate crisis, war, and oligarchies combine to keep things as interesting and unsteady as ever they were. It feels like limbo.

Feels like limbo on the publication side, too. Because my poetry collection that was supposed to be in print by 2020 seems to be indefinitely on hold. Covid interfered, the contract never arrived, and I’m beginning to wonder whether my emails are ending up in the publisher’s SPAM filter. It’s not surprising that a small independent press–in most cases underfunded and understaffed–might lose track of, say, a manuscript or two during the hassles of the pandemic protocols and all that has wrought.

Or perhaps the press has decided not to publish my book after all. The oft-rejected writer who lives inside my head supposes that could be the case and mourns, assuming the worst.

Ann E. Michael, Limbo

In the “mom-and-me pandemic book club” news, we have started a new novel, Lorna Mott Comes Home, by Le Divorce‘s Diane Johnson, about a sixty-something formerly highly respected art historian who ends her second marriage and comes home from France to California. The passages about trying to promote her book in a post-internet world are particularly appealing – the frustration trying to get back in the game after being out of it for 20 years – her daughter writes her Amazon reviews and she goes to bookstores for signings and they can’t find her books. Her adult children and two ex-husbands are in various levels of crisis as well. I might have mentioned I’m fascinated by these newer books that seem to focus on women in academia (or post-academia) going through midlife crises – there are so many about men, so few about women! The last one I really loved was Lesley Wheeler’s Unbecoming. (If you have recommendations for others, please leave them in the comments!)

Speaking of Lesley, I finished a new book by Lesley Wheeler that’s a fascinating mix of poetry close reading, cultural criticism, and personal essay, called Poetry’s Possible Worlds. She navigates difficult subject matter – including the death of a parent and political turbulence – by reading contemporary poems and then connecting them to the wider world.

She talks about how each book of poetry opens up alternate possible worlds for us to inhabit, which can help us deal with life’s crises and foibles alike. Like poet-essayist Kelly Davio’s It’s Just Nerves, which combines personal essay, navigating a mysterious autoimmune illness, and pop culture representations of disability, it’s a thought-provoking collection that makes me want to try my hand at this kind of hybrid essay-criticism. Anyway, if want to curl up with a good poetry/criticism/personal essay hybrid book, pick this up. The last essay, about her writing process, was one of my favorites in terms of its descriptions of writing flow and how projects interact with each other.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A Somber Week, Reading Lesley Wheeler’s Poetry’s Possible Worlds and Diane Johnson, and a Visit to the Japanese Gardens

rest up
get well soon

how easily it is said
however sincere
it doesn’t help much

i lost my voice in the sea a while ago
felt very miserable
i found it later on the shoreline
it had been on an adventure

now it is back we’re on speaking terms

it hurts ~ then you laugh again

Jim Young, for beth ~ hope you are bether soon

I sat with my twelve year old on the deck, and listened as he chanted the first few lines of his Torah portion. His voice cracked once or twice. That’s been happening lately. All I could think about was the parents in Uvalde whose ten year olds won’t grow up to be twelve year olds with cracking voices. 

Shortly before we started Torah portion practice, I’d told him that there was another school shooting. I wanted him to hear it from me and not from a friend at school in the morning. I assured him that where we live is one of the safest places to be. He said, “I know, Mom,” and changed the subject.

I believe what I said to him. The place where we live is as safe a place as any I can think of. And yet I can’t promise him that an angry gunman won’t break into his school, or into our synagogue, or into the supermarket where his auntie shops with his Black cousins. I can’t promise safety. No one can.

Rachel Barenblat, Morning after

Finding the glowing pine
Is not enough. I need to travel
Down the winding road
To the decrepit cabin
Full of cobwebs, broken boards.
Even deeper, I need to go,
Below the foundation,
Down to the level of packed dirt,
Down to the damp, dark place
Where memories sleep in fits,
Pushing like roots in the soil.

Christine Swint, The Numinous Pine

This is a post that begins by saying, “trust me.” This is a post written from a place of pure love. This is a post about how an author can change your life, about how books matter, and about how writers are simultaneously magical and utterly real. It’s also a post that references a line from Jane Austen about how if I loved this book less, I could talk about it more. […]

The introduction to this collection is by Kazim Ali, and it’s perfect. It ends, “These novels are meant to be experienced, not just in language, but in their rhythms, in their interruptions and silences, in their structures and patterns and shapes of thought.” Ali finds in them “a music daily as life.” Ali notes, “they are themselves alive. And in them a reader comes to life.”

Writers, too, will come to life.

Shawna Lemay, The Scent of Light by Kristjana Gunnars

It was the intriguing title that made me want to read this beautiful collection in the first place. I love the way in which the Moon Daisy weaves her way through the pages. I admire the sense of balance between joy and wonder on the one hand, and concern and pain on the other. This judicious inclusion of this ‘light and shade’ seems fitting for a dappled woodland backdrop. There are, however, other habitats to explore and enjoy; the opening poem offers a coastal setting, while the kingfisher prefers the willows by the river and the fox prepares ‘to curl up tight nose to tail’ in an urban garden.

Like Jill, the author, I found myself very worried when I first heard that a significant number of ‘nature’ words (‘acorn’, ‘buttercup’ and ‘catkin’, to name but three) had been removed from the Oxford Junior Dictionary back in 2007. Many will be familiar with Robert Macfarlane’s book, The Lost Words (illustrated by Jackie Morris); the poignant reference to ‘last words’ in Jill’s final poem, ‘The Nightjar’, did not pass me by.

The Leaping Hare and the Moon Daisy will surely appeal to adults and children alike. The author’s subjects are most engaging; we marvel at the Moorhen in her ‘green stockinged feet’ and are introduced to the Dandelion with its ‘mustardy roar’. The collection can be enjoyed for these wonderful descriptions alone, but I sense most readers will allow themselves to be transported downstream on the metaphorical undercurrent of something a little deeper, something linked to the joys, sorrows and responsibilities that reflect our humanity. 

Caroline Gill, ‘The Leaping Hare and the Moon Daisy’, a Poetry Collection by Jill Stanton-Huxton

Sometimes I start a class with a book that takes me straight to the heart of wanting to write poetry: First Loves: Poets Introduce the Essential Poems that Captivated and Inspired Them, edited by Carmela Ciuraru (Scribners 2001). If you don’t already know it, I’d recommend the amazon page review for a sense of what it’s like. Ciuraru asked a wide range of contemporary poets to choose a poem that inspired them early on and say a few words about it. Every time I read around in the book I’m taken back to some of my own sources, and the same thing happens to students when they read it: a direct line opens to those original urges. The book is full of surprises: Robert Creeley chooses Alfred Noyes’s “The Highwayman” and Wanda Coleman picks Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky,” for example.

A number of experiences made me fall in love with words: my father asking “What’s black and white and red all over?” I was stumped. “A newspaper.” What? Oh! Read! That language could do that. Or my grandmother writing out “Mairzy doats and dozy doats and little lambsy divey” after she’d sung it. Later it was Poe’s “Annabel Lee” and—like Creeley—the galloping “Highwayman.” But it was Frost’s ability to see through tranquil surfaces to the depths below that resonated with something in me, from the opening of “My November Guest” (“My sorrow, when she’s here with me/ Thinks these dark days of autumn rain/ Are beautiful as days can be….”) to the horrifying “Out, Out—,” where a young boy is mortally wounded as he’s sawing lumber.

Sharon Bryan, First Loves Redux

My first book had come out the previous fall, when I was both at my sickest and my most romantically fraught.  I only remember it in bits—bright yellow fall trees, a downtown fire that closed down our campus, headaches and lingering lunch dates. I was already in my 30’s. I was older than almost everyone in my program. I had long before determined workshops were only useful when everyone actually shared some idea on what made a poem good, which was an impossibility. In many ways, I found the program to be a nice incendiary, spurring me to projects I might not have done otherwise (my archer avenue poems, for example, or actually finally finishing my Cornell poems for an ekphastic class.) The lit and craft classes were interesting, the workshops mostly tedious.

We all know the horror stories of the MFAers who walk out of graduation and never write another thing.  I worried over this, in that stretch right after I finished the program, when things felt too close, too tight, and I wrote very little. I would talk to other writers and get insanely anxious when they asked me about new projects, the dreadful “what are you writing now?” I did lots of other things–like move the press operation into the Fine Arts–start the web shop, sell vintage and paper goods, and soap–and all the while, tried to distract myself from the non-writing self that only churned out a poem every couple months, nary anything I really liked. I tend to be a prolific writer, before grad school, during grad school, and even now, but between 2007 and 2011 I probably wrote about 20 poems total. A couple things happened in 2011 that set me writing again, one being the process of writing the James Franco pieces that barely felt like poems at all.  The other was girl show finding a home at Black Lawrence. By the end of the year, it seemed possible that I might actually want to write more than I was. The next spring I finished what would become beautiful, sinister that had been languishing for a couple years. I also wrote what is one of my all-time favorite series, shipwrecks of lake michigan. The poems were back and I’ve been pretty steadily writing since–an output that has filled 9 other book mss. in a decade. It’s hard to believe sometimes that I have that many poems in me, let alone that I managed to get them successfully on the page and out into the world. 

Sometimes, when eyeing my student loan balance I have been chiseling away at in small ridiculous bits, I wonder if the degree was worth it.  If either grad degree was worth it.  I do feel some of the lesson content I’ve been writing is served well by my MA degree, but the yeilds of my MFA are a little more slippery.  I absolutely believe I could have written and published (and was doing so) without the degree.  Would I be writing the same poems? In the same style? Would I be as good? Maybe not..but then again, so many poets I know do just fine without advanced degrees.  I also know many really lackluster poets with a train of them.  Many say the time to work uhindered by other things is priceless, though doing it while also working full time cut into that experience and made it more unweildy and harrowing. On the other hand, I got a discount for working on campus, so maybe it was a trade.  The 29 year old me who enrolled wasn’t sure what I was looking for.skills? legitimacy? knowledge? She could scarce have told you any more than I can now. I got better by writing more, reading more, of course,  and for that, maybe I owe those few years of study and attention I may have not gotten otherwise. 

Kristy Bowen, 15 year itch | notes on the mfa

How it is
when it comes apart
is how it is,

the old monk told
the mechanic.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (213)

“Holy Things” comprises confessional poems about relics, other items held with reverence, and bodies with a self-deprecating sense of humour. The poems don’t go the circular route but get straight to the point. In “Goddamn”, a light bulb blows,

“You unscrew
the supernova.
Mind the black
hole webs.
They’re torture
in your hair.
There, now
don’t drop—

Goddamn.
Spores of
stardust
everywhere.
It’s a nightmare
trying to get
celestial crumbs
out of the
good rug.”

A simple task to replace the bulb spotlights other areas of neglect: the ceiling cobwebs, the dust falling from the fixture or lightshade, the mess on the rug that now needs cleaning. Might it have been better to have left the bulb alone? A familiar scene where an improvement in one area, makes others look shabby in comparison and suddenly you’re spring cleaning the entire house.

Emma Lee, “Holy Things” Jay Rafferty (The Broken Spine) – book review

Tonight, tired and worried about my father, I came into this room, which we seldom use, and stretched out on the couch. I did my Duolingo lesson and the Times mini crossword and Spelling Bee on the free phone app which always kicks me out after a certain point. Then I pulled a knitted afghan over myself, thinking I might take a little nap, accompanied by the contemplative robin that’s nesting in the light fixture just outside the terrace door…but my eyes kept opening and gazing across the room at the desk. After a few minutes I had gotten up, opened the top, and set to work sorting the incongruous things I found inside: a strange, heavy antique brass writing stand with two glass inkwells; bottles of disk cleaner for LP records; three old letter openers, an intricate silver one that looked Turkish and quite lethal, and two that are clearly African; a collection of DVDs; a Silva compass with a leather case; a collection of old brass drafting equipment and a velvet snap-top jewelry box filled with old Schaeffer and Parker graphite leads; a handwritten wiring map for my father’s cabinet of turntables, tape decks and DVD players. As I did this, slowly, the thought began to form: could I actually use this desk? Could I write something here? When all the surfaces and pigeonholes were empty, I removed the vases and candlesticks to the piano, and wiped the wood with a barely-damp cloth. My sketchbook and watercolor palette went on the left side, some pens on the right. Then I ascertained that, yes, there was an outlet on the wall in fairly close proximity, set my laptop, mousepad and mouse in the center of the open desk, noticing for the first time the reassuring dents and scratches in the old mahogany — and turned the computer on.

It felt like… a moment. Like introducing your close but perhaps slightly questionable young friend to a beloved elderly grandparent. But the hinges didn’t give way, the marquetry didn’t fall out: in fact, the wood felt warm and beckoning and somehow personal, and I began immediately to write.

Beth Adams, Desk, Domain

Having finished Ulysses, I’ve gained the confidence to read other books that have been tapping me on the shoulder for years. One such is Jung’s Memories, Dreams and Reflections, recommended to me by  Anne. It’s as if, having climbed Everest, I can consider K2 (though I’d like to make clear this is a metaphor – I have attempted neither, and if I did, I would need to be carried or air-lifted down at some point).

I’m currently dog-sitting a beautiful lurcher, and she and I take long walks together. Sometimes, on these walks, I listen to the birdsong in the woods, or the lambs bleating in the fields, and sometimes, I plug myself into my phone and listen to a book. And this is how I’ve read Jung. 

It’s not an easy read – though parts of it are. That would be my review if asked for a line for the back cover. 

As Jaffa was trotting about, this is what I heard the other morning, and it illustrates my summary: 

“I never think that I am the one who must see to it that cherries grow on stalks. I stand and behold, admiring what nature can do.” Carl Jung – Memories, Dreams and Reflections. 

When I heard this, I stopped and typed it into my phone to remember the wisdom.  

I called Jaffa to me, and she came up, looking hopeful. I read out Jung’s words to her and she looked at me with her deep, kind eyes, hoping for a more edible treat, or perhaps something on the interpretation of dreams, then trotted off, ears flopping gently with each step. She urinated on some bracken. 

Liz Lefroy, I Read Jung (With Dog)

and here we are
we two
you crazy free
me creeping across
the fallen leaves
a poacher sans
traps lifting only
the mushrooms picking
only the berries
breathing just the
loaded air and
its traffic of
loam and pine
pitch and the
musk of deer

Dick Jones, Dog Latitudes §17

I could tell you how many civilians
were killed today in Iraq or Afghanistan
or Gaza or Pakistan or Yemen
by us or by our allies or with our weapons
but what’s the use?
a new season of your favorite show
will start soon and you’ll plop down
on your couch with some popcorn
or a nice plate of nachos
and go back to sleep
in a few weeks you’ll have to
Google this date to figure out
what this poem is about
and in another few weeks after that
so will I

Jason Crane, (Re-post) POEM: this changes nothing

It was chilly, the day I wanted to be dead,
but the azaleas finally tipped with pink,
finally breaking through the long cold that now bled

tiny vivid spearpoints struggling thru blunted blades,
as if their shrieking magenta opened a chink
in the brick wall. The day I wanted to be dead,

I actually didn’t. Some neuro biochem’d,
gamed my brain, meds and pain that brought me to the brink,
flipped the switch, and broke through the long calm that now fled

from my eyes, while logical-me questioned, and said,
“This makes no sense. I don’t want this. Dammit, stop. Think.
Who loses, and who wins, if I want to be dead?”

PF Anderson, Villanelle (“the day I wanted to be dead”)

I feel like I’ve been rather ruthless, but we’re still going to end up with about 10 boxes of books. That’s about half of where we started. I’m trying to give myself credit for being willing to part with so many books. I’m trying not to think about the fact that in later years,  I’m likely to part with some of the ones that I’m keeping. I’d like to get better at buying books and letting them go right after I read them, but that may not happen.

As I’ve sorted books, I’ve thought about what’s happening, across the nation and the planet. I’ve thought about the power of words, and I’ve wondered if any of our words can make a difference. I’ve thought about these books that have been important enough to me to hang onto for years and decades. I’ve thought about books as solace and inspiration. I’ve wished that I could create the kind of works that people will hang onto for decades. And who knows? I still have decades of writing life left he read. Perhaps that will happen.

But even if it doesn’t, I am grateful for the solace of words, for the solace of words collected into books.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, The Solace of Books

In certain ways, this is a collection of poems composed around and on the very idea of silence (reminiscent, through that singular element, of Nicole Markotić’s debut novel). “My birth / mother found me decades later,” [Nancy] Lee offers, “only to lose her own mom. This was / a sign, she was sure of it. The gods made her a trade for silence.” Composed through great care and a deep attention, Hsin emerges as a work of grief and loss, discovery and searching, held as the notes produced across the journey as it unfolds, unfolding. “predictable /// if you know // from where / in the sequence ///// does a mother / want [.]” she offers, elsewhere in the first section. There are elements of this collection that echo some other titles that Brick has been producing lately, especially since the shift in editorial and ownership; an echo of other of their book-length poetry debuts that explore familial loss, identity and placement through the gathering of meditative and narrative lyric fragment, whether Andrea Actis’ Grey All Over (2021) [see my review of such here], or David Bradford’s Griffin Prize-shortlisted Dream of No One but Myself (2021) [see my review of such here]. “Nothing from nothing means nothing,” Lee writes, early on in the collection, “she hummed from the back- / seat of the Pontiac, swallowed in afternoon sun.” To open the collection, she offers a brief note for the sake of context to her title. The short note ends: “Body is history and Hsin holds silence in ways that both claim and keep it at bay.”

rob mclennan, Nanci Lee, Hsin

Yesterday, as I was troubleshooting on various book-related fronts, I started wondering if “troubleshooting” was another of the military metaphors that colonize my vocabulary (“front” is one). The original meaning of troubleshooting, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, was a pleasant surprise. Here’s the first usage in print: “1905, Strand Mag.: ‘A good looking young ‘trouble-shooter’—as a mender of telephone lines is called—had asked her to marry him.’” Whoa! It’s a COMMUNICATIONS metaphor!

There have been plenty of broken connections lately, so after an initial high, I’m struggling to focus on the good stuff. Appearing at the Gaithersburg Book Festival last weekend, for example, was lucky and lovely (it’s a pretty interesting festival, too, with a political flavor). Early readers have been generous–I so appreciate every thoughtful note. None of that, though, stopped my spirits crashing. Maybe that was inevitable after logistical hairiness and physical stress (the festival was outdoors with 95 degree temperatures, plus my Achilles tendinitis flared up). The turning point mood-wise was a paradoxical one. Seeing Poetry’s Possible Worlds amid the many, many books Politics & Prose was selling was great, but it also reminded me how many, many authors are trying to get attention for their book-babies. I do have a strong core of confidence that my book is a very good one. But it’s increasingly clear to me that while I’m working harder than ever to get word out, in addition to investing money in a publicist for the first time, Poetry’s Possible Worlds is unlikely to stand out in the mob. Placing “Brave Words” on the Poets & Writers website was a glorious win, but each successful connection has 10 failed attempts behind it–magazine pitches, event queries, and other efforts that mostly don’t even get replies. I keep throwing out filament, filament, filament (sorry, changing metaphors here to Whitman’s spider), but I suspect I need to rewire my hopes as well. After all, twenty years ago, I longed to reach any audience at all, feeling increasingly hopeless about ever publishing a creative book. Here I am, after so many successes, doing that tiresome thing: training my vision on the next line of mountains.

Troubleshooting Monday involved updating various websites, including improving the book’s Goodreads listing. I finally figured out how to get the cover to appear, yay!, but can’t seem fix the issue on Amazon, and it’s such a handsome cover. I can’t get it to appear on Bookshop.org at all. How much does each of those little efforts even matter? I don’t know. I managed to settle myself down, though, by putting up a couple of reviews for other indie books. Helping other writers feels better, sometimes, than trying to boost your own signal.

Lesley Wheeler, Filaments & telephone lines

We don’t reach strong conclusions about the poem’s meaning as a class. We are a diverse group. I like leaving them with some ambiguity. I want them to figure it out for themselves, to be able to sit with complex and contradictory truths. I know that me telling them what to think or insisting on a particular interpretation won’t meet my goals. They might say what they think I want to hear, but they’re going to think what they think, do what they want to do with their ideas.

As they are gathering their things and heading for the door at the end of class, the boy who shared his ideas about the birds says to me, “I liked class today.” He’s a student I have struggled to engage. We are very different people, he and I. He hasn’t done very well with me, and I know that most days he hasn’t liked my class.

“I’m glad,” I say. “I really appreciated your contributions to our discussion.”

“Thanks,” he says, with feeling, and he smiles at me. I smile back, also with feeling. We have such different views of the world he sometimes astounds me, but I will miss him when this school year ends in just a few short weeks. I am glad to have known him, and I think he might say the same about me. There are things in each of us that the other likes and respects. I want to believe that, anyway.

We have no way of knowing, right then, what the afternoon will bring. I don’t know that after I spend it grading my students’ reading logs–which will prompt me to think hard about purposes and how I might determine if they’ve been met–I will learn, while waiting for the copy machine after school, about the latest shooting in Texas. I don’t know that I will numbly run off copies of another poem for our next class, then go to my empty classroom and sit at my desk and wonder what I should feel and do. I don’t know that I will spend long minutes wondering about the nest I’ve built for us, with its twinkle lights stretched across the ceiling, and posters with art from around the world, and a cart full of window/mirror books, and chart paper with our lists of class norms. I don’t know that I will sit in that space, remembering the day in September we began building those norms as we discussed memes about gun control, or that I will leave memory as I tune into the sounds of students playing ping-pong in the foyer while they wait to be picked up, and that it will be the pock-pock-pock of those balls hitting the paddles that will be the thing that brings me to tears.

Rita Ott Ramstad, On the morning of the latest massacre of American schoolchildren

Someone said the word obliterate.
Meaning an erasure so hard,
Nothing remains.

As children we were told
not to whistle too loudly at clouds
so they wouldn’t come too close.

The world must have whistled
in a great chorus. Or that’s what
we might want to believe.

But wind and rain have
their own voice, their own
logic.

We are always trying to put
our unformed words
into their throats.

Luisa A. Igloria, Rain Writes, Wind Erases

When our pains become so great we can no longer bear them.

When our feelings seek release, when they move us to the ends of the earth,

our hearts desiring an Eden of our own making.

It’s then we create: sing, dance, paint, write, cry out.

Our expressions: beautiful cracks in the bell of a perfectly toned hallelujah.

Not so much a cousin to longing, but the pure longing itself.

Rich Ferguson, Cracks In the Bell

In the last month or so, the book I’ve most enjoyed reading is the excellent Everyman (selected) Poems of James Merrill, edited by his biographer, Langdon Hammer. The combination of his formalist brilliance and his hedonistic, but engaged, attitude to life is irresistible.

Here’s Merrill reading Elizabeth’s Bishop exemplary villanelle ‘One Art’ and a poem of his own which he dedicated to Bishop, ‘Developers at Crystal River’.

And here’s a short but fascinating interview with him from 1991, four years before his death, in which he discusses political poetry, his awareness of the luck he had in being born so rich, and the datedness of language.

Matthew Paul, James Merrill

The downside about Napowrimo: the writing hang over.

Though I think that my month of writing a poem a day was pretty productive — probably about half the poems are usable– I was wiped out this month and only wrote one poem.

I have a kind of plodding type of writing schedule though–I usually complete two poems a month. I guess like running sprints, shaking it up and writing thirty poems vs. my typical two, could help my creativity possibly.

But after all that poetry, I find my mind wandering to different things, different projects.

I’m currently working on a cross-stitch (because it’s good to work with your hands), starting to consider revising my sci-fi middle grade novel again, and in the beginning (obsessive) stages of getting a new project (an anthology?) off the ground.

I used to worry when my steady two-poems-per-month pace was interrupted–existential questions of “will I ever write again?” plagued me. However, after many years of writing, I’ve found that there are some seasons in life that breaks are needed and good. I tend to take a break over part of the summer and let my mind wander other fields.

Renee Emerson, Writing Hang-over

The poet was exasperated that his voice had become a metaphor;
he wanted to see the blood of his voice, its lard and flesh,
its lineage—to hear its chords vibrating
even if a single utterance would cost him his life.

In our language, he finds himself placing nouns before verbs,
tainted by the lyrical I, perhaps. He picks words
that had wilted until they turned to gold. Wiping away
the dust of the centuries, he plants them in small pots.
The poet thinks he can
heal the dumb, and revive the dead.

Meanwhile, in their language, he crosses mountains and oceans
leaving a talisman on every tree
to find his way back.

Mona Kareem, Four poems – tr: Sara Elkamel

I haven’t worked on the wasp project for two weeks now. It is in my head, but I have not put in the work. Today I will pick up some parchment for the flexagon poems, though. Tomorrow, I will make the paper for the corsets and hives.

Last week on Instagram I saw something freakishly similar to what I am working on. It was well-executed, too. It has taken me a while to remind myself that there is nothing new under the sun and that the existence of something similar out there doesn’t discount the authenticity of what I am doing. I might keep my head down a while. I have a feeling if I go looking for it, I will find more similar work. And really, that is a good thing, right? It means there is something – if not universal – then relatable. Something that is a successful expression of human experience. So what?

Too often I am my own gatekeeper. That little voice. That bird with the sharp beak that keeps wounds open and blood flowing out of habit.

Not working is not humility. This assumption, belief, and self-deception that eventually I will turn out something stunningly, unequivocally unique is a kind of arrogance.

Ren Powell, Fear of Exposing Oneself

Book: Quiet Night Think: Poems & Essays  (a misFit book, ECW, 2022) by Gillian Sze. […]

During the remarkable period of early parenthood, Sze’s new maternal role urges her to contemplate her own origins, both familial and artistic. Comprised of six personal essays, poems, and a concluding long poem, Quiet Night Think takes its title from a direct translation of an eighth-century Chinese poem by Li Bai, the subject of the opening essay. Sze’s memory of reading Li Bai’s poem as a child marks the beginning of an unshakable encounter with poetry. What follows is an intimate anatomization of her particular entanglement with languages and cultures.

Sze invites readers to meditate with her on questions of emergence and transformation: What are you trying to be? Where does a word break off? What calls to us throughout the night? […]

PP: Your opening essays starts with all the paradoxes of translation, what is literally said, what is implied, what is embedded. It strikes me that poetry in the translation from life to words has some of the same challenges. In your work you mention letting work set until it has clarity and heft. Do you find that way in time alone or do you have a set of readers who help you see what is distilled enough?

GS: I think one of the best things to do with a draft is to forget about it and return to it afterwards. That little spell of amnesia allows me to, for a moment, pretend that the work isn’t even mine to begin with, and I can examine, edit, and revise it more effectively. Only when I feel like I have moved the work to a less vulnerable space do I seek out my trusted first readers.

Pearl Pirie, Mini-interview: Gillian Sze

Of all the ways to encounter loss, I picked the one in which it arrives as a stranger. A stranger who emerges from the bowels of a subway station, into the sunlight, as I hurtle down the steps into the darkness, directly in his path, looking away, refusing to meet his gaze, only a strong musky scent of an unborn morning , staining the air as we pass.

It returns sometimes, that fragrance, like a wind from a faraway place, come to moult its memory skin . Or like a pigeon that flew into a room that it doesn’t know how to escape, thrashing against the glass pane, screaming at the walls in low, gurgling sounds, rising and falling, rising and falling, trapped, afraid…alone.

On some nights, the stranger stops and calls my name. A name he should not know. A voice I should not recognize. A longing that should not be. For a morning, yet to come.

what should we call it,
the sky that does not know
it is the sky?

Rajani Radhakrishnan, A name he should not know

My next book, Look to the Crocus, will be published in 2023 by Shoestring Press!!!

I’ve been going through the editorial process poem by poem over the last few weeks, gradually ironing out the errors, tightening up poems, culling the weak. It’s been a wonderfully therapeutic process! 

It’s great to have such editorial support going through the manuscript from both publisher, John Lucas, and poet and editor, John Killick, who has been such an enthusiastic supporter of my work since he wrote a rather wonderful review of Madame Ecosse a few years back. 

The current format of the collection is a thematic division into 4 parts each with their own sub-title and each prefaced with a quote from Theodore Roethke. 

I’ve moved backwards and forwards on the idea of breaking up the manuscript into sections, and overall, I do have a preference for sections. I love the structural element of it – like chapters / seasons / weather systems. 

Also, I love introducing the sections with titles and quotes. Roethke has been such an important poet to me and I love having his words flow throughout my manuscript. 

Marion McCready, *Look to the Crocus*

I belong to a Facebook writing group called Every Damn Day Writers.  We set it up to encourage ourselves to write  every day. The practice of writing every day builds the habit of creating and of course pushes your manuscript forward. A daily schedule stirs the creative brain into action. It’s a magical key that unlocks the door — not only to a new room, but eventually a whole new book. So how do you establish a daily writing habit? Read on.

Writing Practiced

Writing practice is like ballet. Whatever talent you possess, it gets better with daily exercise. It’s impossible not to improve if you sit down to your work on a regular basis. Like meditation, the act of creating is vigorous. It’s intense and difficult, requiring great focus, making it hard to think of anything else.

It can be argued that writing is meditation. Though the body may be still for long minutes during this act, a lot is going on neurologically. Your sympathetic nervous system calms, the scientists report. And over a long period of exercising this function, the brain changes, studies have found. It moves toward the habit of sustained happiness.

Changing Your Brain to Enhance Creativity

Do you feel happier after a period of writing? I call it “writer’s glow”. It occurs to me even after a short bout of creating, say working out a one-page poem. The focus drops away the “monkey mind” habit of my brain to be distracted by passing thoughts. The space left afterward is clear and fresh, like a beautiful landscape. In fact, everything feels beautiful for a while writing.

The lucky thing is that this daily writing practice becomes easier the more you do it. It’s the power of habit, which works for good habits as well as bad ones because we’re all essentially addictive personalities. I choose to be addicted to writing because it makes me happy. And because of it, I have published four novels in four years.

Rachel Dacus, Writing Tips — The Practice of Writing Every Day

I was listening to a podcast recently with a guest who explained that after a terrible period of psychological distress, she decided that she needed a project in order to focus her mind on something besides her own emotional pain. She bought an enormous amount of yarn and spent the next six months steadily knitting a gigantic blanket, working on it every single day no matter what. At the end of the project, she felt a little better, but just as importantly, she learned the value of persistence and consistency, and her faith in her ability to heal herself was restored. I think that was a very wise thing for her to do for herself. As a culture, we seem to have abandoned the value of pushing through and persisting in the face of adversity. Fuddy-duddy concepts like patience, stoicism, and simply taking our minds off of our pain for a little while with something productive like work or creative pursuits is considered old-fashioned. The trendy way to cope with mental distress is to make TikTok videos and engage in pathological wallowing. I say this as someone who has wallowed in many bouts of psychological distress, especially when I was younger. I have since learned that emotional distress is often passing and that it’s okay to subsume it in work, physical activity or other distractions. Contrary to popular counseling wisdom, I believe that distraction is a very useful tool. In many cases, the distress simply resolves itself on its own due to not having been fed. As the Brits tend to say, sometimes you just need to get on with it. I’m also reminded that I still have a punch needle embroidery project to finish and I should get on with that.

Today would probably be a good day for it, as it is a pre-planned No-Leave Sunday, wherein I stay in pajamas all day, eschew make-up and don’t leave the house, not even to check the mail. I used to engage in No-Leave Sundays fairly regularly, but they have fallen by the wayside over the years for various reasons. I find No-Leave Sundays very restorative. I like to have what feels like an enormous expanse of unscheduled time in front of me in which to knock around, putter and waste. It helps my brain unravel from the work stress of having way too freaking much to do all of the time and never enough to time do all of it. It feels lavish and indulgent and a little transgressive.

Kristen McHenry, Coping by Crafting, No-Leave Sunday Revival, Litmus Test

In spite of myself, my resentment that they are rats with tails, that they lounge in my chaises longues and massage themselves in the rims of my flowered pots, I have been admiring squirrels.

Such looseness; such fearless sense of play.  One — followed by her playmate — in motion leaps to her sure death from the roof but catches a frail branch, hangs belly-up as the branch dip low with weight until she rights herself, scrapes the bark with her nails — and darts.

Lilies of the valley have dropped their sweet white flowers, confetti is scattered around the hawthorn tree, the Dionysian rally of spring is exhausting —

but there are the squirrels, defying reason.

Once they’re hanging from a thread, how do they will themselves back? 
Do these masters of risk appraise a car tire and decide— uh uh,  not this one, over and over? 

And don’t these tricksters know these are dark times?  That destructive forces are overwhelming us?

And yet they play, play, play.  Before our tired eyes, they play, as if their very survival depended on it. If I banished them from the garden, who would remind us to play?

Jill Pearlman, Lessons from My Backyard Enemies

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 18

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: skylarks and stitchwort, politics and mental illness, pondering the use of the first person in poetry, American Mothers’ Day, and more. Enjoy!


For a year I have been thinking about getting back to fitness with each run I take but back is surely the wrong word to choose when ahead is where the gift of full recovery lies. And today the lane I am running along reminds me that neither word serves and it is only the now of the cow parsley, the fields of beans, the North Downs holding up a sun-bright sky that matters, this moment, this breath  

here now
stopping to listen
to the skylark’s song

Lynne Rees, Haibun ~ Words

Whatever the cause and whenever it began, I am grateful that in this week in which we are reaching, again, for Mary Oliver’s “Of the Empire,” I used my time to eat slow dinners with my family and care gently for our dying dog and meet my students with compassion and skate until my body broke a sweat and sit on our front porch in the early evening sun. I am grateful I had space to write these words for no one but you and me and to imagine going back in time and taking aside that struggling, striving woman I once was and telling her this:

You don’t have to earn your right to be here, to take up space on your little speck of the planet, for the blip of time that is yours. You have no more obligation to the world than a tulip or hummingbird or raindrop does. You, too, get to just be. Make your choices knowing that everything you have and do and love will pass. Everything. The best way to serve the world, probably, is to grow and be guided by a heart that is large, and soft, and full of kindness. That’s a project it will never be too late to start, but the sooner you can, the better. Maybe don’t be so slow with that one, yeah?

Rita Ott Ramstad, Slow Going

I came this way a day ago
and thought I heard a flock of angry geese
it was the screech of machinery
a tractor and plough

today harrows
have broken up the clods
and shattered stalks of maize
litter the furrows

white drifts of stitchwort
in the narrow field-margin
vetch and speedwell
buttercup and herb-robert

Ama Bolton, Sunday walk

You can leave your hometown but still feel a loss when it is wiped out by a tornado.

But these tears are for my grandmother’s America which seemed to be on a path towards a more compassionate culture. When I was in high school, my grandmother thought that the local segregated schools were appropriate, and she once dragged me out of a theater performance of Mahalia because we were the only white people in the audience. She wasn’t a forward-thinking woman. But by her 80s called to tell me about a “brilliant young man” she was going to vote for named Obama.

My grandmother went to church twice a week as long as I was alive. Well – until the pastor retired and a young guy took over and preached that it was the wife’s job to “obey”. That was the last time she or my grandfather went to church. She thought it was a weird glitch. She didn’t imagine it was a harbinger of something that… is here now.

I am glad she didn’t live to see this. This promise of death for the women who grew up the way she did. Hand to mouth. No bus fare to a safe clinic. No safety net of people who will help. Who care. My grandmother didn’t need to say that her friend could have been her. And knowing what I know now about my grandmother’s life, I wonder…

Ren Powell, Sorry for the Discursion

There are people who consider it their job to argue about politics. Fine. I let them. There are American-made celebrities who are so ripe with their own importance and wealth and the rushed necessity of using their “platform” (I dislike that term) that they simply must talk of such things. I am neither of those creatures and prefer to go on using what art I possess to make beauty and truth (though what I make is not devoid of thought and may be known, surely) and so add to the sum of what is good in the world. That is what you might label as my politics–to stand against evils and blight by working in my small, nearly anonymous way to add to that sum of truth and beauty.

Marly Youmans, On being asked for my politics

The schools in Helsinki are on strike, so the kids and I are at home. It feels strange to be in a union and on strike after 30 plus years of working freelance or low wage jobs. Schools in Finland only had the first 6-week lockdown due to Covid, but have stayed open since, so it feels weird to shut them for this. But necessary. 

I’m not sure how long the strike will last, a week at most at least to begin with. I can’t do school work and can’t do much of my research project beside go through literature, but I have so much I want to do, I need to read for my course tomorrow, plant potatoes and onions, tidy the garden after cutting down a tree, clean the house (ok, I don’t want to do that, but it needs doing) and write, of course. 

Vappu (May Day or Beltane) was cold as usual. We tried a picnic with our Scottish Society friends, but it was short-lived. […]

It has felt non-stop with worries these days. Climate change, Covid, Brexit, Ukraine and Finland wondering whether to join NATO and now the possible repeal of Roe vs Wade. I tend to keep away from the political here as it’s so overwhelming and I need a respite, but it feels like we’re sliding towards something dark and omnipresent that’s slowly consuming us.

I started a list poem about the time the Amazon and Australian fires were happening, a list of ‘I can’t breathe’ lines, each a body blow of breath-stopping events from across the world, from George Floyd to the streets of Bucha. It keeps growing, saddeningly. I see no signs of being able to stop writing it, but I need to speak up in my small way.

Gerry Stewart, May Days: On Strike, Out of Breath

PP: What do you consume that keeps play alive for you? What’s the secret to staying so alert?

GB: One of the things that keeps play alive, that helps me feel the possibility of exploration, of being open and also transcending my own self-imposed limitations is error. By making mistakes, but not trying too hard not to, and by being open to what they might suggest, I’m often shown another way to proceed, to consider something that I might not have. Another practice is collaboration. I continually collaborate with a wide range of writers and creative artists. Through this engagement, I can’t hold on to my preconceptions, or my ownership of work and processes, but instead have the opportunity to follow this new process, these other ways of conceiving of the work and the creative process. Of trusting the writing itself and the collaboration. I do try to work on craft and at getting better, to be able to do more things and do them better, but at the same time, I make a point of trying new approaches, of learning about other ways of writing and other approaches. I try to pay attention to what interesting writing is happening or has happened. I try to watch with three eyes and clap hands with one.

Pearl Pirie, Mini-interview: Gary Barwin

When this latest dark period struck, the intensity took me totally by surprise. I’d certainly had dark periods before; 2020, for example, saw the end of what I thought would be a lifelong relationship and the start of my life in a van. But this was something different. It was debilitating in a way I hadn’t experienced since the breakdown that put me on meds in the first place.

This period also coincided with National Poetry Writing Month, aka NaPoWriMo. I decided to participate. Over the years I’ve likened poetry and Buddhist practice, in that both help you see the world as it is. That can be great, but when the world is a pile of poop, writing a poem every day is less about observation and more about being slowly buried. Art can amplify the bad as well as the good. Looking back at most of the poems I wrote in April, I can see a terrifying darkness and despair. And I wonder whether writing a poem every day was less about processing and more about wallowing.

Somehow, for reasons I can’t even begin to name, that dark blanket lifted after two weeks, and I’m doing much, much better now. I’ve accepted the reality that I’ll have to live in my van until summer, when I can afford to rent an apartment. I’ve begun to adjust to my office job, and even to find comfort in the nice folks with whom I work and the access to a bathroom and a tea kettle and a paycheck. I can look ahead to a time when I’ve got my own place and feel more stable and secure.

This year’s NaPoWriMo gave me a lot to think about concerning the relationship between my writing and my state of mind. I’ll definitely exercise more caution if this happens again, and I’ll try to pay more attention to the interplay between art and emotion.

Jason Crane, The Art Of Despair

A post I wrote in September of 2018 titled, 10 Poems for Loss, Grief, Consolation has been consistently the top post here on Transactions with Beauty. It has always been popular, but in the last two years, as you can imagine, the stats on this post keep growing. In my intro to that post I said that I hope you had no need of the poems at present. But the thing is, we have almost all needed them, or at least, we have all experienced loss of some sort these past two years, we have grieved for not just our loved ones who have left us, but for so many things. So. Many. Things. We have needed consolation but I would wager that you have also consoled.

The second poem I included with my 2018 post was my own In Lieu of Flowers which can be found in my book The Flower Can Always Be Changing. (My publisher has copies if you need one). And that poem is everywhere — including on a list of poems about losing a loved one on Book Riot.

As of today’s date, the sobering news from CBC: “The World Health Organization is estimating that nearly 15 million people were killed either by the coronavirus or by its impact on overwhelmed health systems in the past two years, more than double the official death toll of six million.” It’s difficult to think in such big numbers, to feel. As the poet Wislawa Szymborska said in her poem “A Large Number,” “Four billion people on this earth, / but my imagination is still the same. / It’s bad with large numbers. / It’s still taken by particularity.” And many of us don’t need to use our imaginations, we know the particularities. We are familiar.

Shawna Lemay, 5 More Poems for Loss, Grief, Consolation

As if I sit, silent, fishing gear suspended over dry
earth, the ocean, far away, pushing against an

indifferent shore. While all the love has escaped
into the sky and become the sun, the sharp May

heat a reminder of what it could be like, closer,
higher, if we dared to leave the shade. I dream of

asking the questions that matter. Not looking for
answers.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, The conviction of jasmine

In 2018, at the 100th anniversary of World War I, the Great War, the war to end all wars, I immersed myself in lots of WWI reading and movie-viewing, sort of curating a WWI film festival for the library. So I was well aware of the famous carrier pigeon, Cher Ami, and how she saved the Lost Battalion. And also how she was misunderstood as a “he.” Hence, the male version of her French name. 

Kathleen Rooney develops all this so beautifully in Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey, also giving us a full look at the major who led his men into the Argonne Forest, following orders, and doing it brilliantly and efficiently, thus, accidentally, leading many of them to their deaths or maiming. Alas! Part of the charm of this book is that the chapters alternate in point of view, between the pigeon and the major. It was easy to believe in the way pigeons might “think,” how their homing instinct might work, and how consciousness continues–especially if you are taxidermied and live on in the Smithsonian Institution. 

So probably Cher Ami pre-disposed me to pick up Dr. Bird’s Advice to Sad Poets, to find out what a real pigeon/imaginary therapist might “say” to a depressed high school boy. Also, sometimes I am a sad poet myself. And I do love this book’s cover (see above; at hand is the movie cover). I am glad that the boy also gets a human therapist. I watched a lot of movies over the past few years, but only today did I realize that Dr. Bird was released as a movie in 2021. (You can watch it on Hulu. But I can’t.) I liked how the humor in this book ran gently under the depression and family dysfunction, and I loved Dr. Bird!

Here in real life, the sun has come out! I am clearing out gardens, looking at the pink and white bleeding heart and dark lilacs, and birdwatching. Coincidentally, my parents have actual nesting doves at their house!

Kathleen Kirk, A Coincidence of Pigeons

The other day, poet Matthew Stewart tweeted this, sparking off a very interesting discussion about the use of the first person in poetry, and the frequent assumption by readers (and Matthew was talking specifically about critics) that this is the poet themselves.

I don’t have a great deal to add to it, but I do find it odd that this assumption gets made with poetry by people who have no difficulty in accepting that a first person narrator in a novel is not necessarily the writer themselves.

That said, I wonder whether it’s also a question of degrees for poetry readers? If the poem is written in, say, the voice of a historical character, or an animal, the reader has no trouble knowing that the “I” is not the poet. Does the problem occur mainly when the “I” is not the poet, as such, but a character not that far away from them?

Matt Merritt, The first person in poetry

(after Billy Collins)

I think the poem speaks for itself. But for clarity:

When I say ‘I’,
I do not mean me.
Except when I do.
Or when I didn’t,
but it turned out
it was me anyway.

Oh, and whether ‘I’ is me or not
does not mean any of the things
in the poem actually happened,
or that if they did, that they happened to me,
or to anyone in particular.
Though they probably did.

So, for the record:
‘I’ may not be telling the truth
and this will be deliberate.
This may be for the purposes
of a greater truth,
or that I just don’t want you to know the truth.

Anyway, I think the poem should be clear now.

It’s called ‘Me’.

Sue Ibrahim, Introduction

I like writing
a poem that does

what it does
without me,

the old monk said.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (196)

Imagine this: A line of women poets stretching back, back through history, back through through layers of crinoline and taffeta and silk and underskirts and corsets and back, and back through kitchens and studies and libraries and maid’s quarters and milking sheds, back and back, all the way back to the oral traditions, to the women we can’t name, the anonymous women of history, their poems; their voices lost. This week I’ve been thinking a lot about those women, and the tail end of that link that is me, and how I sit here, how I am attached and connected to this line, how I sit alongside the other women poets that I know. Last night I met with my regular Fettling group. This is a group I set up a while ago. It’s a small group of just eight people, who meet every two weeks, and the purpose of the Fettling groups is to really focus on moving poems forward with group discussion, but also to find new ways to invigorate the way that attendees write, to find new ways of taking risks and pushing boundaries and comfort zones. Of all the groups, workshops and courses that I run, this is probably my favourite. Last night I brought along some wisdom from Eavan Boland. We discussed the ‘domestic poem’ and the revolutionary act of writing about interior life; how these mostly female spaces had been marginalised, de-valued, how poems about these places were perhaps devalued too, in the wider context of the poetry ‘community’, how that might, in turn, put women off writing the ‘domestic poem’ for fear of not being taken seriously. And then we took the radical act of writing a domestic poem, based on a painting by Eric Bowman. We talked about the term ‘poetess’ and the way that it’s purpose is to highlight the feminine of the poet, how it has become something of a criticism, or at the very least a condescending term that ‘others’ the woman poet, dividing her from the flock and herding her away. There is something to be said for this sort of contemplation, alongside being prompted to write, there is something necessary, at least for me, in accessing the thoughts of other poets in the development of my own self, in terms of becoming a poet. The wisdom of other poets is crucial to me, it connects me to the poets that have come before me and especially to the women poets and authors upon whose shoulders I am standing, precariously, and hoping that I am doing a good job. It was good to be in a group sharing this with other poets. There is something special about the way that a small group can meet on zoom, and open themselves up, how the intimacy of the safe space means that poems shared become as much about craft as they are an acknowledgement of the experience and process of creating the poem.

This morning I read this quote:

I like to think that the customs of friendship, as well as the loving esteem which are so visible in the communal life of women, will become evident in the practice and concept of the poetic tradition also. That women poets from generation to generation, will befriend one another. Eavan Boland

That’s what this is to me, this slow journey to myself. I am finding the connection to other writers and especially women writers and poets to be a kind of befriending. I feel welcomed into this long line of poets, this long line of women writers, and I am cherishing their wisdom.

Wendy Pratt, Women Asserting their Place in Poetry

Windsor, Ontario-based poet, editor, writer and critic Nicole Markotić’s latest full-length poetry title is After Beowulf (Toronto ON: Coach House Books, 2022), a book of simultaneous translation, transelation (as Moure coined it, via her 2001 Anansi title, Sheep’s Vigil by a Fervent Person) and reimagining of the classic Old English poem Beowulf (c. 700-1000 AD), rifling through a myriad of forms as a way through her own reading of an ancient poem imagined, interpreted and reimagined from Seamus Heaney’s translation to an episode of Star Trek: Voyageur. Reworking one of the earliest of epic poems through English and Danish traditions, there is a swagger to Markotić’s lyric, one propelled by both character and the language, writing a collage of sound and meaning, gymnastic in its application and collision. As is well-known, the old stories adapt themselves to our requirements, and update to meet and suit us [see also: my review of Helen Hajnoczky’s Frost & Pollen, which includes a reworking of The Green Knight], and Markotić works her assembling of language, lyric and permeations of English into a kind of Frankenstein’s Monster, stitching together scraps from a variety of prior adaptations, and a language-hybrid that blends contemporary banter with Old English. “Herewith trespasses / Grendel – no introduction – breaks into / the Introduction,” she writes, early on in the collection, “foul foundling, heaping with narrative potential / (contrast: that ‘one good king’ / repeating line, colossus-driven) / his celebmentia gains real estate / then fades to black, fades / into macabre backstory.”

rob mclennan, Nicole Markotić, After Beowulf

Marianne’s poem is published on the Tinywords website and it appealed to me because I love collecting bits of unusual paper (I have a carrier bag full upstairs). I’ve done a bit of collage, but always thought of it as separate to haiku. Having seen her work, I feel inspired to do something similar, although I’m well aware that there’s a huge amount of time gone into her piece – it’s not just the making, it’s the thinking behind it. These days I’m wary of setting myself up to do something I don’t have time to achieve! Still, her work will stay lodged in my head until the right time comes along.

Similarly with Bill Water’s work, I can see there’s a good deal of time spent not only on the crafting of the fairy doors, and the haiku that go with them, but also positioning them, finding the right space/ environment/ backdrop (call it what you will). Bill has many poems on public display and I like the generosity of that.
Both of these pieces seem to have a playfulness about them. ‘Playful’ is a word that is often applied to art, suggesting some sort of trick, or in joke, but I think in this instance, it’s in the creative process itself; the fun that was had in the making shines through.

Julie Mellor, thread of light

Although not back to how it was before the pandemic, I am increasingly venturing out in the world to attend poetry events and readings, as well as still going to online things. Trowbridge Stanza, the monthly poetry group I organise, is meeting in person again, although not monthly, as we previously did, but every other month (this might change in the autumn). I went to an interesting talk about The Wasteland at Bristol Library last month, part of Lyra Poetry Festival. It was so great to be out and about and to travel home while it’s still light. Spring brings such longed-for delights. I felt the same way last Wednesday in London for a launch of Kathy Pimlott’s debut collection the small manoeuvres (Verve Poetry Press). I’ve followed Kathy’s poetry for several years, bought both of her pamphlets from the Emma Press, and long-admired her precise, original, engaging poems. Her poem ‘As You Are 90, I Must Be 65‘ is published at And Other Poems and is one of those I nominated for the 2019 Forward Prize for Best Single Poem. It was just terrific to hear Kathy read, she has an assured and unshowy performance style that held everyone’s attention last week in the rather beautiful setting of the Phoenix Community Garden which is (amazingly) hidden within the heart of London’s West End.

I was also impressed by readings I heard at the online launch of books by Betty Doyle, Qudsia Akhtar, Erica Gillingham and Nicki Heinen (all Verve Poetry Press). Unfortunately Nicki couldn’t be there but Geraldine Clarkson read some of her poems, as well as poems of her own. My overwhelming feeling at this event was a feeling that poetry has upped its game since I was last at a reading (pre-pandemic). These are strong, strong poems. I was similarly dazzled at the launch of books by Anita Pati, Jemma Borg and Denise Saul (Pavilion Poetry Press). I will be surprised if at least one of these aforementioned poets isn’t on one or more of the big poetry prizes this year.

Josephine Corcoran, Out and About Again

I’ve written before on this blog about the excellence of Kathy Pimlott’s poetry – a review, here, of her first Emma Press pamphlet Goose Fair Night (2016). Kathy’s second pamphlet, Elastic Glue (2019), was just as good, and contained several poems concerning the gentrification of her neighbourhood of Covent Garden and Seven Dials in central London.

I was therefore delighted to be able to attend the launch, on Wednesday at the lovely setting of Phoenix Garden, of Kathy’s first full collection, The Small Manoeuvres, published by Verve Poetry Press and available to buy here. It was a very enjoyable evening, which included Kathy reading some of the fine poems in the book.

Like the two pamphlets, the poems in The Small Manoeuvres are full of Kathy’s clear-eyed perceptions, a palpable sense of social justice, deep respect for family, friendship (especially amongst women), history and memory, and finely-drawn character studies. They are, in the best way, very readable poems, without any irritating tricksy-bollock nonsense. For these reasons, Kathy is among my very favourite contemporary poets.

Matthew Paul, On Kathy Pimlott

Diabetes has not defined the speaker but it is part of who she is and managing it has forged the adult she has come to be. Her achievements have not come despite her diabetes but because of its successful management.

“Blood Sugar, Sex, Magic” is a contemplative journey from childhood to adulthood of life with type 1 diabetes. Sarah James has a compassionate ear, she never turns to self-pity even when being mocked or describing the sense of unfairness at being disabled: having plans go awry or letting people down because of her diabetes. It’s a journey through acceptance and learning to live with its consequences through powerful, thought-provoking poems.

Emma Lee, “Blood Sugar, Sex, Magic” Sarah James (Verve Press) – book review

In his recent book Singer Come from Afar, Kim Stafford suggests the difference between great poems and important poems has something to to with the occasion of their relevance. He says important poems “are utterances written as a local act of friendship or devotion, and given to a person, shared at an occasion, or performed in support of a cause.” Such a poem may later be considered a great poem, though more often would be relegated to the status of “an expendable artifact of the moment.” Framing poems as expendable artifacts does seem accurate in many regards. A page, that can be burned or shredded; an oral performance, uttered into time and lost thereafter; a digital event, that can be corrupted or invisibly archived in the “cloud”–those fragments and unfinished pieces we let languish and eventually discard. Perhaps important to us once, these poems are ephemera.

Stafford’s recent collection celebrates the local and the relevant, even the immediate, at the risk of not being lasting, whatever that may mean. Published in 2021, the book includes a selection of pandemic-related poems, many of which appeared on his Instagram feed @kimstaffordpoetry. Few of these poems are “great” in the literary sense, in my opinion, but that doesn’t mean they are not worthy of publication; this reader appreciates the urgency in the pandemic poems, the need to connect with others sharing the predicament of “social distancing.” We should not ignore the value of local, person-centered poems, narratives of the everyday. Not every human interaction requires epics, and really–the majority of contemporary poems address the small important events and metaphors that sometimes resonate with larger aims. My own work tends that way, so I’m not one to talk about greatness.

Besides, there are a couple of poems in Stafford’s book that will hold up well to literary explication, poems I have already enjoyed re-reading, such as “Chores of Inspiration” and “Do You Need Anything from the Mountain” with its lines “Bring me that skein of fire/that hangs in intimate eternity, after//the dark but before the thunder, when/the bounty of yearning in one cloud/reaches for another…”

I guess each of us has the capacity to evaluate what it is we consider important and what we consider great. I happen to like the bounty of yearning in Kim Stafford’s clouds.

Ann E. Michael, Important

ND Poet Laureate — 1995 until his death April 28, 2022

While much has been and will be said about this remarkable poet/writer, his ability to be intensely present will be his legacy for me – and a personal reminder to carry that forward in my life. He gave 100% of himself to the conversation or the moment. Like when he said to me, “Sit on this side. That’s my good ear and I want to hear everything you say.” In a world overrun with too many distractions, let’s agree to always give others our good ear and be intensely present.

Bonnie Larson Staiger, Honoring the Memory of Larry Woiwode

Out of the corner of my eye, and not on the syllabus, a small green book, left lying around under ash by Squirrel. I ask to borrow it, take it everywhere. Poems that take my breath away. Wishing I had done him and not Ted Hughes.Poems I have been waiting all my life to read, falling head over heels instantly, insanely. That vase. Somewhere becoming rain.

And now this. A wasted first year, a disappearing act in the second, playing catch-up in the third, just as I realise this might mean something. Mrs Dalloway. To the Lighthouse. Jacob’s Room.

Their greenness is a kind of grief. Oh yes. Like something almost being said. Chatting up Molly at the end of year drinks, Dutch courage mixed with fear, knowing it would come to nothing. Having wanted to say something for three years. Always in the row just behind. The almost cutting through me. Words at once true and kind. Greenness. Grief. A lesson in almost. And now the future.

Anthony Wilson, Lifesaving Lines: The Trees, by Philip Larkin

One thing that took my mind off of the abscess/root canal business was that my author questionnaire for BOA was due on my birthday, and then the finished draft of my manuscript of Flare, Corona was turned in a half-hour before my root canal a few days later. (I knew I wouldn’t be up to much the rest of that day, because they give me some anesthesia – Versed – for the root canal that doesn’t take away pain but does make your memories fuzzy and makes you very sleepy the rest of the 24-hour period. Also keeps you from flinching as much when they’re trying to drill your teeth.)

I’d been working on the book since its acceptance, so there wasn’t much left to do: shifted some poems around, updated the acknowledgements, added a couple of newer poems, and had my mom proofread for obvious grammar/spelling issues, and sent it off to my editor at BOA. Now I just have to wait for edits – exciting! You may think: “Jeannine, isn’t it awfully early to be thinking about your book which is slated for release in spring/summer 23?” But no, it’s really not! My next steps include finding good cover art and starting to collect blurbs!

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A Root Canal Birthday Week, Work on My Upcoming Book, and Talking about Timing and Poetry Submissions

got my voice back
it was there all the time
one has to be phlegmatic
and curtail your expectorations

the swim to cure my cold killed me
the swim to kill my cold cured me

acute coryza is such a violet word
don’t you think

Jim Young, cold comforts

I’m working on the premise of circa 25 poems will make it in. The current list is at 27, with four more backups. There is so much to do, each one will need its tyres kicking to make sure it’s as strong as it could be, even the more recent ones where I think my writing has improved.

They’ve all got to earn their place, so after (or is it before) the above there’s the process of seeing how they talk to each other. Do I want sections? It’s sort of loosely fallen into 3 sections so far, but are they something to be called out? It seems like overkill in a pamphlet to me, but who knows if that will change? Do I need a theme? No, I don’t think so as yet. Not least because that probably means more poems need to be written and at the current rate of knots I wouldn’t be ready for 3023, let alone next year. Also, as much as I love a themed collection, it can get a bit samey. I don’t have a theme as yet, so it would be forced.

I’ve just reviewed a debut pamphlet by someone where the work seems to either have been written circa 2008ish (at least when it was first published somewhere) or more recently during lockdown, etc (based on the themes of the poems). I can’t tell which poems fell between those dates, but it feels like an old-fashioned debut of the best poems you have available in the best order and that is just absolutely dandy with me.

There will be loads more prevarications, changes, questions, pacing up and down, heavy drinking (not essential, but I like it) and the like to come, but this feels like day one, a marker in the sand, etc.

Mat Riches, The work starts here…

What is it to be a “Southern” poet? Is it merely where you were born? Is it what you write about, or a style of writing?

Let’s say someone lives most of their life in California, and moves to Tennessee. How long before they can call themselves “Southern”?

With all of our moving, I feel a bit displaced as a writer. When I first began writing, I would solidly claim to be a Southern, mid-south poet, but now, when I type out my current address on a submission, I wonder what I can really claim.

How do you define regional poetry? By the poet being from there, currently living there, or writing about the place?

Renee Emerson, What makes a Southern writer “Southern”?

Somewhere around 2010, I taught a class in our four-week May term on writing poetry in forms. One project we did together: after reading more serious haiku and renku, my students had to staff a public booth and write haiku on commission in exchange for donations to the local foodbank. This involved interviewing clients about the messages they wished to send; composing custom haiku based on the interviews; and transcribing them on pretty postcards the clients could send to whomever they wished. To give my students practice in advance, I had them interview me about my mother, and I sent their haiku to her in time for Mother’s Day.

To my amazement, my mother wrote haiku back to my students (English 205). I spotted the sheet earlier this year but wasn’t in any frame of mind to reread them, so I resolved I would pull them out for Mother’s Day 2022. It feels uncanny to hear her voice in them now. She references my daughter dying her hair blue at thirteen; after returning to blondness for more than a decade, my twenty-five-year-old daughter has recently gone blue-haired again. The Lydia in the last verse was my daughter’s closest friend then (I have no idea about “handsome poopface.”) The “cheeky, cheeky boy” is my son Cam (twenty-one and still cheeky).

My mother was a reader, not a poet, other than on this occasion (as far as I know). I’m grateful to have this gift now and smiling as I remember how she upstaged me every Mother’s Day after my kids were born–phoning early to wish ME happy Mother’s Day before I managed to call her.

Lesley Wheeler, My mother’s haiku

We all came from mothers: we have something in common.
Our first act almost unspeakable 
hurtling towards bright lights, causing our Other shrieking pain.
Mothers let us off the hook — 
it wasn’t really our fault —
the pea-green stuff was cleared off, we sucked from the core of the earth,
nestled, smiled, were cutely dressed, learned the Hula hoop, read Nietszche, 
or learned to shoot, worked EMT 
or spent years shooting hoops, opened a laundry

How ridiculous the way life steps in to scatter one ur-motherhood story
it cannot be mastered
as every “birth plan” and over-imposition will veer off course

Let each birth be
or not  
as it wants 

Jill Pearlman, The Howl of Motherhood

Today is Mother’s Day, and I’m thinking about my mother-in-law who passed away this year on April 1, just a week after her 88th birthday.

She spent so many holidays and other visits at my house, and although I would not say she was like a second mother to me, she was a positive presence in my life, and she imparted her tidbits of elder wisdom to me and our family over the years.

At the end of yoga class yesterday my teacher wished us a happy Mother’s Day, and I responded that I wanted to wish her a special day, too, because even though she never gave birth to a child, she has nurtured me and many others over the years as her spiritual children.

I’ve tapered off the anti-depressants that I’ve been taking since my youngest son was three months old. For almost thirty years I’ve been on one kind of SSRI or another, all stemming from severe post partem depression and then ensuing trauma.

Maybe because I’m off the meds, a certain kind of pervasive sadness has returned. I’m trying to work my way through the fatigue and mild anxiety in the hopes that my body will re-learn to regulate itself and I can learn how to let these moods come and go without latching onto the idea that I need the SSRI to cope. Thirty years on these meds is a long time. I want to give my body a chance to heal on its own.

What helps me is going to yoga class with my beloved teachers, listening to guided meditations, and being outside under the wild waving trees who stand sentinel over my garden, these oaks and pines that quiver with nonjudgmental aliveness. And tea. Tea steeped in my MIL’s pot.

Christine Swint, Mother’s Day and the Blues

Thanks to “Range,” the book I reviewed in last week’s post, I recently made the astonishing discovery that in 18th century Venice, there was a famous orphanage called the Ospedale della Pietà (Orphanage of Pity) that became known for producing some of the world’s most accomplished female musicians. For some reason, I was captivated by the detail that outside of the orphanage, there was a stand of drawers. If a baby was small enough to fit into a drawer, it could be left there, and when the drawer was closed, a bell would go off and one of the nuns would come and collect the baby. Many of the babies left there were born of ladies of ill repute, but some were illegitimate children born to members of royal families. The story of how the orphanage developed their young musicians is fascinating, but not as interesting to me as pondering how many times a day that bell rang. I imagine early-morning misty Venetian skies, the mournful sound of the bell, and the mother scuttling furtively away, her figure hidden in a bonnet and voluminous skirt. There is a whole other story to be told there aside from the virtuoso musicians.

Kristen McHenry, Bells of Venice, Latent Strategist, Too Far In

Welcome to the Sunday edition of the pig and farm report. It is bloody cold out here on the island 41° this morning. My lilacs refuse to open my herb garden looks like the saddest bit of vegetable you find in the bottom of your refrigerator bin in autumn and forget about planting tomatoes those ruby beating hearts. Still it is unbearably beautiful when the sun shines and the rain makes my yard smell like the most intense lovely day you can imagine from camp in utter girlhood. Bunnies are still hopping about deer still play statue in the yard and the rhododendrons that grow everywhere in my yard carry on voracious and bright. Spring continues in spite of wool trousers cashmere sweaters heavy blankets and the propane fire blazing from dawn until bedtime not to mention snuggly cats. 

Today is difficult for me. The echo of mother precious mother that is everywhere today strikes my ear as vinegar my mother being the sort of person to prove that just because you can procreate doesn’t mean you should. I guess that’s all I have to say about it but those who know know and those who don’t carry on believing that we all had brilliant loving parents. I did go to the grocery this morning and the smell of flowers and guilt for sale at every cash register was palpable. I listened to John Lennon wailing on my car radio on the way home. Maybe all my dials really have flown off. 

That’s it for today. Look how beautiful my front yard is blazing in frozen sunlight.

Rebecca Loudon, Pig and farm report

Why her mouth always twists
every question into a story. Why the story
wants to pull out everything that is past.
Why the past can’t seem to figure out
it’s only a difference in the SIM card, if at all.
Why all the data in a chip cannot house the world.
One type of world wants to be touched, but never
tasted. Another is entirely made by a frenzy of moths.
Why the paper doll lost its hat, traveling in the mail.
She doesn’t know how to tell the mother
who made her that she will likely never arrive.
The other mother is more like her. She is faithful
to the one script still legible in her mind.

Luisa A. Igloria, The Causative

In this dream I gallop, trot, and prance. Yes, that’s right. Actual prancing. It feels good to be a fast horse. In another dream I was a moose, and in still another I was a dog. There may not be an exact explanation, but there is this – it always feels pretty good. Excellent. In this dream I am a fast horse, moving swiftly across a grassy prairie. The bright sunshine is warm and fine on my back, and when I awake I see the saddle and bridle waiting silently beside my bed.

James Lee Jobe, In my dream I have somehow become a fast horse.

Every morning, the sun manages to find our one good vein, and delivers its dose of roaming gold.

Radiant blood enriches the senses. Dharma oxygen feeds the foolish heart.

Call us dream addicts, jonesing for the promise of another day.

Joy’s ever-wandering junkies searching for that shimmer of clear calm beyond the bottle, bullet, or bad decision.

Lift our bones into the light, their carbon hopes shining.

This life, this love.

When we’re ash, glue us into the book of good intentions.

Rich Ferguson, Roaming Gold

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 15

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. With major religious holidays this weekend, Poetry Month just past the midway point, and spring well underway in some places, many poets this week struck a playful or celebratory note, even as serious issues still needed to be wrestled with and poems needed to be written or pored over. Enjoy.


I want to say so much about
this oak and these first bluebells
but what can I say that you
don’t already see and feel yourselves?

The weight of that trunk hunkering
over the frail brushstrokes of colour.
You might even imagine their barely
perceptible scent soon to be booming

through the woods. We are comforted
in these moments, aren’t we? The reliable
return of Spring. By beauty.
The way our small hearts sing.

Above me the first shimmer of green
in the splayed branches. At my feet
these steadfast little gifts. I want to
believe in a world that can change and heal.

Lynne Rees, Poem ~ So much

The author places a blindfold over her eyes and her body in an enormous circle. Flirts with broken taillights and right angles. Throws pages into the river. Still, she shivers under streetlamps, gaslit and ghost prone. Touch her, and she leaves a small black mark on the underside of your wrist. Large enough to bite. What a fight when the author went down and down into the tunnel and came out bearing a single string with which to hang you. A single page smooth and white as the back of a dead woman’s hand. The author could crack her bones each night and assemble anew every morning, but nothing went back together as sound as it began.

Kristy Bowen, napowrimo #15

I’ve taken a little dive into Spanish language poetry recently, with two wonderfully bilingual volumes: Jorge Luis Borges’s Poems of the Night — an anthology of variously translated works focused on…well…la noce, and sleep, and insomnia, death, and sunrise, sunset, and of course, la luna; and America, by Fernando Valverde, translated by Carolyn Forché — an outsider’s view of our strange land.

Side-by-side bilingual translations are, for me, the only way to go when I read poetry in translation. Even if I don’t understand one letter, it’s important for me to see how it looks on the page, see the rhythm of the words laid out, glimpse if, for example, the original language seems to use end rhyme but the translation does not, or whether line breaks are different, or if, (as in one notable experience I’ve written about in these pages) entire stanzas have been foregone. If I recognize the letters, I may try sounding out the poems, just to get them in my mouth, how the language requires my tongue to tick or tangle, my lips to pop or pooch.

Both of these authors are grounded in the land and flinging through the stars. Reading them makes the world new again in the freshness of their perspectives, their imagery, the way syntax is often turned around from the English norm, how some words are softer than the same in English, some harder. Feel how soft “estrella” sounds compared to the relative burst of “star.” (And yet both have their place, don’t they, when we think about the characters of stars on different nights, under different skies, different emotions?)

Marilyn McCabe, Jump a little higher; or, On Reading Borges and Valverde

set fair the pop of the dubbin tin

The haiku above, one of the April contingent in The Haiku Calendar 2022, still very much worth buying from the incomparable Snapshot Press, here, has been talking to me for the past week and a half. Few haiku as short as this – just nine syllables – do as much work.

I picture the poet/protagonist, having consulted the weather forecast, down on his haunches to polish his faithful pair of sturdy black boots, for a walk into the countryside, maybe, or out to the coast.

The familiar sound as the tin-lid’s catch releases is immensely satisfying. Chard is as observant and excellent a haiku poet as anyone writing today, so he knows that the ‘pop’ needs no qualifying adjective, and his choice of the rather old-school ‘dubbin‘ is inspired.

It’s also pertinent to note that Chard didn’t write ‘set fair the dubbin tin’s pop’. His wording enables a double surprise: of the pop itself, and then that what causes the pop is something as apparently trivial as opening a tin of shoe polish.

Except that it isn’t trivial, and it shifts the focus: what we see is an act born of tradition; of someone with standards to maintain, standards no doubt instilled in him as a boy. The day is ‘set fair’, so boots need to be looking their best.

Matthew Paul, On a haiku by Simon Chard

Very pleased to be one of the 21 poets in this zuihitsu portfolio, edited by Dana Isokawa and published in the Asian American Writers’ Workshop’s magazine The Margins. Asked for a note to accompany my three zuihitsu, I wrote this: “I was introduced to the zuihitsu in a workshop on Japanese poetic forms taught by Kimiko Hahn and immediately fell in love with it. How fresh Sei Shōnagon sounds across the centuries! What is the secret to such eternal freshness? Trained in traditional Western forms, I was looking to expand my repertoire by looking again to the East, and what I found was not so much a form as a voice. Sure, Sei Shōnagon is a privileged snob, as a literary friend pointed out with a sniff, but I love to put on her beautiful robe, rub some precious rouge on my cheeks, burn a fine incense stick, and wait for my lover to arrive in the night.”

Jee Leong Koh, When I Go Home with Someone

I’m occasionally contacted by people who have been moved by one of my flower poems and it’s nice to know that my poems are out there and working their way into occasional lives despite my minimal active involvement in the current poetry scene. 

I’m so enjoying the work of Matthew Sweeney at the moment, it has taken me a while to really get on board with his poems but I’m seeing possibilities in his work that could potentially help me move on in my writing. I absolutely love his poem The Owl

Marion McCready [no title]

Dion O’Reilly: Nature, or what we now call The Living World, is a prominent feature in your poetry. Do you consider yourself an eco-poet?

Yvonne Zipter: I’ve never actually thought about it, but I think that’s a fair label to apply to my work. If ecopoetry explores “the relationship between nature and culture, language and perception,” as Forrest Gander posits in The Ecopoetry Anthology (eds. Ann Fisher-Wirth and Laura-Gray Street), then it makes perfect sense to apply that term to my work. Kissing the Long Face of the Greyhound, for instance, is organized roughly as a dialogue between the natural world and humans, the intent being to show how they—we—are interrelated. But I tend to agree with Naturalist Weekly that “labels can be challenging for readers and writers. They have a tendency to limit our ability to see the world. One of the things I really appreciate about poetry is that any given poem may produce different meanings to different people. . . . Any poetry that gets you to think about your role or place in the natural world is beneficial and . . . the labels we give them are only helpful if they contribute to the joy of the audience.” That said, I would be honored to be thought of as an ecopoet.

Diane Lockward, Terrapin Interview Series: Dion O’Reilly Interviews Yvonne Zipter

And what of the one just out of the shadow
of that tree, where the woman stands alone, her eyes
empty, her clothes wet with the failure of escape, all her

longing pressed into the lines on her brow, ordinariness
in her swallowed swear, in the line of her shoulders
unable to hold up the grey sky? What of that puddle

that looks up at her, the lady who wants to leave, the
puddle that wants to follow her feet? What is left after
the rain is no longer rain, after a reflection disentangles
itself from a puddle that didn’t know how to hold it?

Rajani Radhakrishnan, When rain is no longer rain

I had my computer at my sewing station.  I was able to write a bit, sew a bit, on and on through the day.  It was wonderful.

At Quilt Camp, I leave my aging laptop in the Faith Center where the sewing tables are set up. The building is completely empty when we go for meals, and I did wonder if my computer was safe. Then I laughed at myself. Every woman in this room has a sewing machine that is more valuable than my computer–and many of those sewing machines may contain just as much in the way of electronics as my computer. These are not your grandmothers’ Singer sewing machines. Alas.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Last Look Back at Quilt Camp

Glancing out the window at the park across the street I see a man walking with an umbrella. Fat, slow raindrops. A low and dark sky. He closes the umbrella and looks up, smiling at the rain. In my house I begin singing an old song that was popular long ago when I was a young man. I sing the lyrics very quietly. How quiet? Like a field mouse. The man spreads wings that I had not noticed before and he begins to rise up through the rain, his face turned upward, and he gives off a light as he rises, an aura, golden at times, then silver, then golden again. Up, up, up he goes until I cannot see him through the window. He rises through the rain, then higher, through a tiny bit of snow. I am singing now with words that are all but invisible. 

James Lee Jobe, it’s a spring rain far below heaven

pond life
thumbing the pages
of my childhood
british insects ~ birds eggs
underlined with a boy’s joy

Jim Young [no title]

How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?

I come from a long line of poets. My father was a poet. My grandfather was a poet. My great grandfather was a poet. None of this is true, but I suppose it could be, I never asked any of them. I didn’t really come to poetry as opposed to anything else. My poems are fiction, and non-fiction, and some of them are actually short stories, and others are ideas for novels that reasonably pass as poems. I prefer things that are shorter because it doesn’t take me very long to express an idea or what I’m thinking of, unless I’m intentionally drawing it out. In a poem I can get through a whole event in under a page, in a novel it takes 150 pages and half of that is just people walking from one place to another and talking to each other about the places they’re walking to and from and what they’re thinking about while they’re walking. My poems also include walking though, if that’s something you’re into. […]

What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?

I don’t have a routine. I have two small kids and an old house with a long list of things to fix, and a full-time job. Today I changed the cabin air filter on my car. But now it’s rattling. So I’m doing this, and then later, I will stick my hand in a blower mower and try to fish out a leaf… or a dead mouse… or something. My wife is the best, though. She’ll carve out time for me to write when I don’t. Other than that, I mostly jot poems down on my phone as they come to me. Then, when I have the time, I put them into Google Docs. Then I change the font to Garamond or something hi-brow like that and see if I’m impressed by myself. If I am, I keep it. If I’m not, I trash it. Then I make dinner, or something. I’m impressed by people who have routines and little quirks around their writing. I hear all the time about writing corners or whole rooms. My office has my tool chest and a water rower in it (the water rower was free, I’m not rich, don’t worry), I don’t have room for a writing room. I remember reading this one writer talk about how they had their own writing space and their whole process was some sort of meditation ritual. They even talked about lighting a candle just out of view, something about the eternal flame of creativity or whatever, I’m sure. I remember laughing when I heard it because it was so ridiculous to me but at the same time, that’s cool if you have time and space on your side. I have neither. Also, time is a flat circle. I like to think my routine is not that of a “writer” but some average person who writes. Shout out to average people. If I get that Amazon Prime special I’ll upgrade myself and start lighting candles or something.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Tyler Engström

Watching a Coral Reef on YouTube

The cats and I are fascinated by stripes, speckles, electric blue & yellow, drifting orange, waving pearlescent white, golden dots, glowing eyes under rocks. We are voyeurs to underwater acrobatics, ballets of flipping fins, action chases in invisible undertows, the rhythmic pulse of ghostly tentacles. The cats twitch their whiskers, flip their tails, eyes widened in hypnotic stares while I fall deeper and deeper into a loose-jointed calm, surrendering to my own undertow.

Charlotte Hamrick, NaPoWriMo 2022 day 15

I am wound up. But bound.

I think this inertia is one reason I am drawn toward formal verse when I feel hopeless. Formal verse is somewhat effortless. The poeticized knowledge is guaranteed to translate into something acceptable on some level. There is a sense of sureness in a slavish execution.

I had a graduate student years ago who turned in a draft all too light on research, in which she postulated that a particularly adventurous painter would have (not) accomplished his modernist work had his teachers been prescriptive in terms of his art training. Ah, but the truth is: they were. They were naturalists. His training had been as rigid as a tongue with no familiarity with curse words.

I figure part of the draw of the rigid framework is to discover what really needs to escape from it. Otherwise, we are simply working within the contemporary frameworks we think of as “new”, but are actually familiar enough to give us that sureness of execution. We want the pedigree. It has a purpose, too, beyond the name-dropping.

But maybe the tighter the restrictions, the more meaning can be brought into view? In this same podcast this morning, Anthony Etherin talked about only having written sestinas that were also anagrams, explaining that he didn’t think he would write a good sestina without even more demanding constraints.

There is something fascinating about this idea. I can’t help but think that the attention to conscious constraints is what allows us to bypass our linguistic and cultural, unconscious constraints.

Right now, I am going to pour another cup of tea and write a sestina.

Ren Powell, Weekends are for sextains?

Breathe. Fall. Let the chest fall. Exhale.
Inhale. The air does and does not
move itself. The air is hungry.
The body is hungry for air.
It is a kind of love affair,
the way the body and the air
both lunge and leap, both rise and fall,
grasping at each other as if
this is the true purpose of life,
narrowing to a pinpoint like
vision, like a trajectory,
the point where falling stops and then
eyes open, look up through the leaves
to that blue at the beginning.

PF Anderson, Falling

Today I hit a lull with write a poem a day April so I’ve allowed myself to fail publicly. I went grocery shopping this morning early and tomorrow I have an evening appointment with a new dermatologist. Neither of these things should account for the fear panic in my heart but the panic is there and I’ve learned to listen to my body. The real poem I wanted to write today was a cryptic message I found deep in the bowels of my email account that simply read

ADD PICKLES

now we’ll never know

Rebecca Loudon, Pig and farm report

Parsons Marsh
homelessness comes with
no destination

Jason Crane, haiku: 11 April 2022

I wrote the first version of this poem in the fall of 1987, the day before I began my first “real” job after graduating from college. It had been more than 10 years since I’d quit skating, but these were the words that came to me as I thought about leaving behind my life as a student, the only one I’d ever known. Sitting at my sunny dining table, I thought about how it would likely be decades before I would again have time on a weekday morning to write poems.

I wondered what I was gaining and what I was losing and how I would feel about it all far in the future, at the end of my work life, when I might again be able to spend weekday mornings writing poems.

Rita Ott Ramstad, On taking flight

it could be rain
or a distant headland
on that dim horizon

a lighthouse
white-washed buildings
low stone walls enclosing green

an iron gate to let you in
never go back
there will be lock and chain

Ama Bolton, View from Fjara

Maurice Scully’s Things That Happen, written 1981-2006 and finally published in complete form, one volume from Shearsman (2020).  I’ve been reading this gargantuan work in smaller pieces throughout the decades now, since approximately 2000 when I was living in Galway and editing The Burning Bush literary magazine.  I got in touch with Scully around that time, and I’d received a couple of his chapbooks from Randolph Healy, poet and publisher of Wild Honey Press.  I was immediately drawn to Scully’s work, along with that of other innovative Irish poets whose writing was finally beginning to come to prominence.  Scully and I exchanged a few letters (before email became the primary mode of communication), and he sent me some more of his books as well, and I’ve written about these and others in various essays and reviews — for example, online: of Prelude, Tig, A Tour of the Lattice; and about further of these book-excerpts in various print outlets.  Initially I approached them as self-contained chapbooks or what have you, but especially when larger pieces of Things That Happen began coming out from Shearsman and other presses in the early 2000-10s, the bigger picture began to emerge.  Now there is this single volume of approximately 600 pp., finally bringing it all together and allowing us to encounter it as one.  There’s something about the book itself, a big blue object, minimalist design, an object of apparent import even before being read.  “The book / is fat.”

Michael S. Begnal, Maurice Scully’s Things That Happen

On Saturday night at second seder we’ll begin counting the Omer: the 49 days between Pesach and Shavuot, between liberation and revelation. Here are seven new prayer-poems for that journey, one for each week — plus a prayer before counting, and a closing piece that integrates the journey before Shavuot — from Bayit: Building Jewish: Step by Step / Omer 5782.

This time, seven members of Bayit’s Liturgical Arts Working Group wanted to co-create together. So each of us took one week of the Omer. (I got hod, the week of humility and splendor.)

I also wrote an adaptation of a classical prayer before counting the Omer, and we co-wrote a kind of cento, a collaborative poem made (mostly) of lines from our other pieces woven-together, for the end of the journey. You can find all of this (in PDF form, and also as google slides) here at Builders Blog.

Shared with deepest thanks to collaborators and co-creators Trisha Arlin, R. Dara Lithwick, R. Bracha Jaffe, R. David Evan Markus, R. Sonja Keren Pilz, and R. David Zaslow. We hope these new prayer-poems uplift you on your journey toward Sinai.

Rachel Barenblat, New prayer-poems for the Omer journey

“Early on, I divined that this book already exists in the future. / After all, I thought of it; it’s a probability somewhere, complete, on a shelf. / My intention is to consult that future edition and create this one, the original, for you.” -Mei-mei Berssenbrugge, from A Treatise on Stars (2020)

At first, when a hectic term ends, I have no idea how to slow down. Panic rises about whatever work I’ve been putting off, usually difficult writing-related stuff–this year, not only the usual submissions but planning events and media to launch Poetry’s Possible Worlds, although I’ve set up a few things. I’m jazzed about the first one, a virtual conversation with Virginia Poet Laureate Luisa A. Igloria. Called “Exploring Poetry’s Possible Worlds,” it will be hosted via Zoom by The Muse Writers Center in Norfolk and nicely positioned near the close of National Poetry Month on Friday, April 29, from 6-7 pm EDT. Many poems have created transformative spaces for me, and I hope Luisa and I can create one for you. If you’d like to join in, register here.

The official launch date is May 17, so my book is from the future, as Berssenbrugge writes, but advance copies came this week and they’re gorgeous. […]

It’s not all publicity labor and task force reports over here, though. I’m really reading again: some of it’s for fall teaching, granted, but wonderful all the same. I picked up A Treatise on Stars just for the weird, lovely fun of it. I’d never read a full book by Berssenbrugge before and it was way stranger than I expected, all about receiving signals from the sky and dolphins and other people. What a pleasure to sip poetry on the porch, catching her wavelength. Just shifting the enormous pile of books around to see what had accumulated was gratifying, as is thinking about summer trips and even cleaning out my sock drawer.

Lesley Wheeler, Ashes to bluebells

It’s National Poetry Month and I’m feeling overwhelmed by poetry. Wait, that’s not an accurate statement. It’s National Poetry Month and I have a lot of things on my to-do list, some of them poetry related, and I’m feeling overwhelmed. That’s a true statement.

This month my independent poetry press, Riot in Your Throat, is open for full length manuscript submissions so I’m reading subs and hoping to find 2-3 to publish. (If you have a full length manuscript looking for a home, please submit!)

I’m also pulling together my new collection, which will be published spring 2023 by Write Bloody. For me this means printing the poems and then laying them on the floor, seeing what sort of cohesion starts to emerge. It’s also a little overwhelming because at first, it feels like there’s nothing to pull the poems together. And then slowly, as I start to move poems around, to pull poems out and insert different ones, it starts to come together. It helps that my dogs, Piper and Cricket, are there to supervise. Until they decide it’s time to play and nearly make a mess of everything.

Courtney LeBlanc, Overwhelmed by Poetry

I’m down for a saffron sink
a boom smart
a purperglance spree
one, four, one, one
I’m splendid
fifty-three alpha minus
the way I found the spirit’s spanner was
I had a shopping cart chest
a Napoleonic shriner
a headcold of trees

Gary Barwin, EXECUTOR SHRIKES. A little poetic funk

I’m thrilled to be one of the featured NaPoWriMo participants today, along with the inimitable Arti Jain of My Ordinary Moments! It was NaPoWriMo 2017 that brought me back to poetry after a long hiatus and to be recognized like this means the world to me. Many thanks to Maureen Thorson for gathering us again around the fire, so we can release into the wild all the words we’ve cooped up inside us for a very long year.

Today’s prompt challenges us “to write a poem that, like the example poem here, joyfully states that “Everything is Going to Be Amazing.” Sometimes, good fortune can seem impossibly distant, but even if you can’t drum up the enthusiasm to write yourself a riotous pep-talk, perhaps you can muse on the possibility of good things coming down the track. As they say, “the sun will come up tomorrow,” and if nothing else, this world offers us the persistent possibility of surprise.” (Full NaPoWriMo post available here.)

As for my response, it’s an example of what reading nursery rhymes and A. A. Milne obsessively to your children might do to you. The last line came out unintentionally racy, but I’m not apologizing for it. It’s the lucky number 13 that did it! Also, I’m so happy to have found E. A. Shepard’s original illustrations to Winnie-the-Pooh. Today is a truly lucky day. (Did the world exist before the internet? Did we?) And last but not least, if you haven’t yet watched the film Goodbye Christopher Robin, please do. It’s wonderful.

Romana Iorga, NaPoWriMo Day 13, 2022

It’s ink on paper,
it’s not art,
these poems,
the old monk said.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (172)

Zoë Fay-Stindt: […] I’m trying to think about your first question, about what my favorite earth body is… So I grew up in North Carolina and France, back and forth–

Sarah Nwafor: Oh, right! We talked about this because I want to practice French with you. Yes. 

Zoë Fay-Stindt: Yeah! Right, yes. So, I feel constantly inhabited by multiple landscapes at once, and the rivers are what draw me in–what raised me. And I’m realizing, especially being in Iowa where there is very little undead water or water that is alive and thriving, I’m realizing now how much I relied on water because of how dynamic and fluid it is. I relied on that so much for my healing and for my mental well-being. So I’m struggling without it. What about you?

Sarah Nwafor: That’s beautiful. Rivers are important. That’s one of my goals this year is to really be in right relationship with water–water is an intense element but she’s important. Oh, my favorite earth bodies–let me think. Oh, I really love forests so much. Everything you need is in a forest, you know? They have little streams and creeks. And salamanders. They have soft moss, which is one of my favorite things to touch. And of course trees—trees are ancestors. And there’s also something so spooky too about being in a forest. Even now as an adult I feel like I have to watch myself when I’m in a forest. There’s a level of respect that I need to hold myself with when I’m in a forest. I just feel like trees give me like grandfather energy.

Trish Hopkinson, Poet Sarah Nnenna Loveth Nwafor interviewed by Zoë Fay-Stindt

The Easter moon recedes behind
an impasto of cloud. The first Sunday
after the first full moon
after the vernal equinox. Christ.

The booing of the geese, the jeering of the crows.
What else? What did you expect? 
The echoes fade, the light goes. The palette knife
lays down diamonds of silver, squares of slate,

banked snow mounds of white, and the moon
(remember the crescent? That was Ramadan)
is extinguished. You said
there was another life, on the far side:

you said to think of it. What life?
What side? I think of the side
running, running till it runs clear. Maybe
that’s not what you meant. 

Dale Favier, Easter Moon

After all the words of two Passover Seders, what remains? — meaning unsayable.  After flowing wine, a vertiginous sea, questions of morality and freedom, of being a stranger and redemption, after provocations, interruptions, questions posed with incomplete answers —ah!  The inchoate feeling.  A floating satisfaction.  After all the words, no words. We straddled time — we are slaves, we are part of the redemption — and we sat at a table eating fresh fish cooked in spices with fiery sweet potatoes.  The cat stretches her back.  It was a verbal catharsis that, in Avivah Zornberg’s witty terms, rephrases Wittgenstein: “Whereof one cannot speak, one must say everything.”  We talk and keep talking and will talk as long as we can. “It,” absence or mystery and longing for full presence, will elude our desires to fix or define, and we will long after it.

We walk outside, feel the spray of rain on our faces, soft wisps of air that are not-bombs, soft clouds-not-plagues, nighttime smell of magnolia mixed with darkness and awakening mud.  The happening happened and meaning was made. The happening is happening and meaning is being made. We don’t even have to say Dayenu!

Jill Pearlman, Cascading Seder

Stay curious – it will continue to pay off. Learn a new language, or a new instrument, read new literary journals and poets you’ve never heard of. Read fiction and non-fiction on subjects you don’t really know anything about.  Education? Travel? Close examination of the natural world? Yes! The point is, never stop being curious about your world – that is what will drive your writing long term.

Be kind when you can be. Volunteer with younger writers; review someone’s book; do someone a favor who can’t do you a favor back. There can be a lot of competition and not enough kindness in the art world, the poetry world, the work world in general. Believe me, your small and large acts of kindness will reverberate more than you know. A note to someone to say what their work meant to you – or how much you loved their class in eighth grade – or thank them for support during a hard time – that sort of thing matters.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Advice for the New(ish) Writer (Plus Pictures of Birds and Flowers, Because Spring)

This is not
a ritual of feeding
so much as enactment
of a ticking
urge inside you,
the one that insists
on finishing the smallest
task, on bringing every
beginning to its close
and leaving nothing
behind—

If only
each one were
the equivalent of a wish
fulfilled: the bomb
undetonated, the rifle
permanently jammed;
every brick and gleaming
window back in place
at the hospital, the school,
the playground, the theatre,
the train station. Everyone
alive in the country
they love—

Luisa A. Igloria, Cracking Pumpkin Seeds Between Your Teeth at Midnight

The day is a bowl, the bowl is a day, a poem is a bowl. The bowl fills, the bowl empties. Hungry, sated, the bowl goes back and forth. The bowl is endless; the bowl is eternal.

I read poetry to fill up, to empty. I read it with affection, with dismay. I read calmly, for calm, and sometimes for sorrow. I read to feel and to let someone else do the feeling for me. I read for mystery, to not know, to sit and howl in the not knowing, to steep in it, and I read for clarity and understanding and for the shock and howl of that too. […]

I forget what I love, and go to find it in a poem. I am at a loss. I am sanguine. I am losing my confidence. I feel gaslighted. I am dismayed by the world. I need joy. I am unsettled. I go to poetry. I miss beauty. I miss you. I feel alone. I hate. I feel poisoned. Poetry. Poetry. Poetry.

I don’t know what to do with my life. I don’t want change; I do want change. I want light and I want integrity. I want sense and intelligent thought and delight. I want hope. I want commiseration and I want good trouble and I want to be roused. I want the exquisite. I want fun. I don’t want to be told. I don’t want unrest. I want play. I am exhausted. I am foggy. But I am bold. Poetry, I tell you, poetry.

Shawna Lemay, A Day is a Bowl, or, How and Why I’m Reading Poetry Now

If kissing were a mathematical formula, the equation of a circle would equal the shape of puckered lips—

an elliptical sweetness whose radius is centered at the origin of bliss.

Any and all equivalent chord theorems would refer to your joy’s intuited music—

songs soothing savage global anxieties into a geo-born geometry whose main function is to create an earth that is beautiful and round.

An earth that graciously bears humanity’s weight, along with providing an error-free formula stating that true love can exist,

just like the presence of a perfect-circle kiss.

Rich Ferguson, The Formula of a Kiss

I was in my mid-twenties when I decided I was going to write poetry “seriously,” and I started by signing up for a class in Contemporary Poetry.  The book assigned was Poems of Our Moment, edited by John Hollander.  I didn’t recognize any of the names in the Table of Contents, and couldn’t seem to take hold of the first few I tried to read, so I decided to start with the poems by women.  That’s when I discovered that out of thirty-seven poets in the book, just three were women: May Swenson, Adrienne Rich, and Sylvia Plath–names that meant nothing to me.  I could at least follow the Swenson poems, and admired the ones by Rich–little steps forward.   And then I read “The Bee Meeting.”  It was one of those moments that divide our lives into before and after.  It took me over completely, mind and body, as if I’d been abducted not by aliens but by someone who knew deep things about me that I didn’t yet know myself.  I felt as if I had  to write to her, to connect.  And then I turned to the Contributors’ Notes and discovered she was already dead.  Elation, then devastation.  But at least the poems were still there.

Sharon Bryan, Poems that Grab You and Never Let Go

But first came Plath. After Ursula Le Guin, the only female author we studied. Her name was a rumour, freighted with glamour and gossip. Could it be true? What did the poems have to say? Ariel, the classic Faber black and white cover. Lunchtimes listening to recordings (From the radio? There were no audiobooks then.) of someone reading the Letters, all of those notes about rationing, the cold and English reserve. Suddenly, this was literature as life, of having absolutely no choice in the matter. The beekeeping poems. Lady Lazarus. That lampshade. Coming face to face with voice as (what?) persona, mythology, as performance. As absolutely having no choice in the matter. I crawled into the library one night and took out a book of essays, which stopped with an analysis of her. The word pathological. (I had to look it up.) Knowing then that I would spend a good deal of my life crawling into libraries, thinking about poems, and looking up words I did not know. (‘Cut’ was one of the poems we had not covered.) Then, the weather hotting up and exams approaching like the future, those final poems at the end of the book (her life), ‘Edge’ among them. What was it Borton said? ‘A perfect poem.’ That impossible last line, ‘Her blacks crackle and drag.’ The music of that. The inevitability. ‘A sense of something utterly completed vied with a sense of something startled into scope and freedom. The reader was permitted the sensation of a whole meaning simultaneously clicking shut and breaking open, a momentary illusion that the fulfilments which were experienced in the ear spelled out meanings and fulfilments available in the world.’ (Heaney on Lowell, The Government of the Tongue.) The book’s final line, about words governing a life. I knew (we all knew) nothing. But kind of prophetic. This is what it takes. This is what you have to measure up against. It got me going, like a fat gold watch.

Anthony Wilson, Lifesaving Lines: Edge, by Sylvia Plath

THE GIRL WHO GOES ALONE, Elizabeth Austen. Floating Bridge Press, 909 NE 43rd St, #205, Seattle, WA 98105, 2010, 40 pages, $12 paper, www.floatingbridgepress.org.

I was excavating shelves, looking for a more recent Floating Bridge chapbook—which I know I purchased last year—and I turned up this one. Yes, I read it a long time back, with pleasure, but it hasn’t ever made it onto the blog. So, here we are, another book about a poet, walking.

The Girl Who Goes Alone won the Floating Bridge chapbook award and was Elizabeth Austen’s poetry debut. Since 2010 she has gone on to write several books, including the full-length Every Dress a Decision (2011). She served as Poet Laureate of Washington State from 2014-2016. She is an acclaimed teacher and speaker. Her poems capture the “trance-like tidal pull / of sweat and flesh” (“For Lost Sainthood”), while at the same time eluding any grasp. Dave Meckleburg described The Girl Who Goes Alone as “an excellent feminist manifesto,” that “becomes a guidebook through the wilderness of being human that anyone can use.” Exactly.

Bethany Reid, Elizabeth Austen, The Girl Who Goes Alone

The weather warmed and got windy, and that bodes reasonably well for garden prepping even if the last frost date is still almost a month away. I got digging, sowed more spinach and carrots, cheered on the lettuce sprouts, and–with some help from Best Beloved–pried most of the winter weeds out of the veg patch and set up a raised bed or two.

While I was out there pulling creeping charlie and clover and reviewing my garden plan for this year, it occurred to me that my process in gardening parallels my process in writing. My approach to each has similarities, probably due to my temperament though perhaps due to the way I go about problem solving. The process is part habituation or practice and part experiment, with failure posing challenges I investigate with inquiry, curiosity–rather than ongoing frustration. And sometimes, I just give up and move on without a need to succeed for the sake of winning.

I have no need to develop a new variety of green bean nor to nurture the prize-winning cucumber or dahlia. My yard looks more lived-in than landscaped; on occasion, we’ve managed to really spruce the place up, but it never stays that way for long. I admire gorgeous, showy gardens but am just as happy to have to crawl under a tree to find spring beauties, mayapples, efts, rabbit nests, mushrooms. My perennials and my veg patch grow from years of experimentation: half-price columbines that looked as though they might never recover, clumps of irises from friends’ gardens, heirloom varieties I start from seed. The failures are many, but I learn from them. Mostly I learn what won’t grow here without special tending I haven’t energy to expend, or I learn which things deer, rabbits, groundhogs, and squirrels eat and decide how or whether to balance my yearning for food or flora with the creatures that live here and the weather I can’t control. There are a few things I’ve learned to grow reliably and with confidence–ah, the standbys! But the others are so interesting, I keep trying.

Ann E. Michael, Process parallels

For some people, the story of resurrection begins with a cross. For me, it begins with song.

Yesterday morning, walking the dog beneath a grey sky, collar turned up against a chill breeze, I heard the first calls of the varied thrush. That single flutelike tone that burrs close to buzz at the end. A watery sound that means the season has turned.

And though it is not yet the pleasantly green, budding part of spring (indeed right now graupel is setting all the winter dried leaves to tremble), the world is filled with light.  I walked on the beach without gloves.

This time of year requires persistence. Belief that bluebells are pushing up beneath the layers of rumpled alder leaves. Belief that the soil is warming, that soon I will be able to seed radishes. Belief that the fiddleheads will push up like brown knuckles and then unfurl into fronds.

Belief that I, too, am shaking off winter’s dreaming and now turn to doing. Turn to pencil on page. Turn to writers in residence at Storyknife and writers preparing for the Kachemak Bay Writers’ Conference. Like ice that breaks apart all at once on a creek that swells with melt rush.

Erin Coughlin Hollowell, Resurrection

I drove their car back, it was a joy to drive, much nicer than ours. It took about an hour, with my dad in the front seat. They were both getting smaller right before my eyes. He did really well, all in all, and is very stoic, but I can see already that he is changed, he is frailer. They both are. As I drove I pointed out the landscape features and we talked about churches they’d visited nearby, the myths and village folklore that surrounded them, the way the road swept away into the fields, the beauty of it. Mum sat in the back and read her book. There was a sense of role reversal, I thought back to the same conversations we’d had as children, the driving to see relatives in Thirsk, the pointing out of the landscape features, the stories that were attached to those places. I had a sense that we were driving forward to an unknown point, and all there was to do was to move, to progress, to mark off each small accomplishment, to celebrate the wins and manage the losses.

I am sat in my office, just returned from a walk in the lane. It is warm; the first proper warm day of this year. It was good to feel the warmth on my skin. No coat or even cardigan: I wore my cut off jeans and a loose flowered blouse, no make up, hair pinched up in a clip. There is something about this unpeeling of winter clothes that is very freeing. The swallows are back; a pair in the lane, exactly where I first saw them last year. They skim the fields and flit and turn like bats on the wing, they sit on the telephone lines, forked tails hanging, chattering and they bring joy with them. Tiny things, moving across the globe, directed only by the purpose of existence. I stopped to watch the buzzards, paired up again. I was hoping to see the courtship display I’d witnessed last year – that death defying tumble of claws and wings and sudden rise to circle the air drafts opposite each other. Not today.

We have starlings nesting in the porch, the house is alive with their chittering and whistles. The office window is open to the blossom and the grass scents, the rumble of sheep in the fields, the lambs calling back. This is blissful. Life can only ever be lived in the moment you are in. The future, the past, they don’t really exist. There is only this moment.

Wendy Pratt, Travelling Without Moving

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 11

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: dreams and dreamlessness, new books and completed manuscripts, the war, the Worm Moon, the equinox, and more. Enjoy.


My mother once had a dream soon after her mother’s death. My grandmother is calling from an unknown place to let my mother know she is okay. She asks her to describe the place she is in. All my grandmother is able to answer is: a large building, grey, grey. Moments after, a man disconnects the phone after reminding her sternly that she had been instructed not to call anyone. 

If someone asked me today to describe the place I am in, I would answer the same thing: a large building, grey, grey. The earth seems post mortem. 

Someone asks an old woman standing under a lamppost what is sadness? She answers: dreaming of Kalashnikovs made of flowers. 

Saudamini Deo, What is sadness?

The advice in my planner this morning, as I sat down at my desk with the window open, listening to the birdsong in the garden, was ‘Become less connected to the outcome and more committed to the work‘ attributed to Iman Europe. Strangely, this is something I had already been thinking about this week. I feel that stepping back a little from what was a frantic work schedule has given me the space and time to grow into my own writing. Seeing the advice in the planner felt very much like one of those fate moments in which a path that you are following is confirmed to be the right direction by something or someone stepping in to your life at just the right time. Chris and I have both been suffering with Covid this week. Not seriously, but enough to force me to spend time in bed reading rather than working. I’ve been reading Tanya Shadrick’s The Cure for Sleep and recognising parts of myself in it. Not in the parts about the journey through motherhood, though I would hope that if Matilda had lived I would have found my own way though it and grown as a person, but rather the later life revelation of the creative impulse, the casting off of what was expected in order to be something else, the falling off the cliff-of-reality sensation of death, being near death and the unrelenting truth that life is so short, not a day must be wasted somehow juxtaposed alongside the need to find a way of living slowly. I have been forced by the virus to live slowly this week, doing the bare minimum of work and then retreating to bed, propped up with pillows and surrounded by tissues and tea and books while the seagulls drifted past and the birds sang in the garden. It reminded me how much I am in need of this peace-time, and what it does for my own writing. I am a better writer when I slow down and embrace the process, rather than reaching for the end of the project.

Wendy Pratt, Permission to Rest, Read and Grow as a Writer

My third pandemic-era birthday. How am I feeling? I’m not exactly sure; I’ll admit to feeling an unease about moving in through my fifties (although: aging is far preferable to death; remember, that my long-running plan includes an eventual passing at the age of one hundred and five). And, given my fiftieth was scheduled two days after the original pandemic lockdown, I decided some time ago that I would remain in my forties until this whole period passes (it only seems fair), to only enter my fifties once this is over. To enter my fifties, as one might say, “already in-progress.” We are home, we are home, we are forever home. Staycation day #732, by my count, although Christine has begun the occasional day in the lab over the past couple of weeks (including today). The children remain in their e-learning, at least until the end of the school year. […]

My third annual                       isolation birthday. A rehearsal
of inarticulate space,

a glass, reflects. This breath by breath. Half-century, plus. A hand
between palms.

rob mclennan, today is my fifty-second birthday;

We’ve had a colder March than usual, and it’s been gray and rainy, but in fact, spring is springing around us, despite war and pandemic and other apocalypses. Jonquils and hyacinths are up, and the early plum and cherry blossoms are starting to appear. I’ve heard more birdsong; my garden, mostly still asleep, is showing signs that it is actually a garden. And how is it the Spring Equinox already? […]

I’m trying to review a poetry book for the first time in a while – Dana Levin’s Now Do You Know Where You Are, from Copper Canyon. Exercising those reviewer muscles again. The book has made me cry three times. It’s also one of those books you really need to pay attention to and read the notes at the end of the book. It’s not a book you can skim easily and that also might make it more rewarding.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Despite Everything, Spring and Solstice; Choosing an Author Photo Every Decade; and Reviews and Reading Reports

the red wind from the Sahara
had blown a fine sand as far as Blackpool
depositing it all over the paintwork of the cars
parked in the street of our boarding house

I traced my finger in wonder
through the thin rust red layer
on car after car
entranced that I was making contact
with somewhere so impossibly distant

now I know that happened once in a while
back when the weather could be trusted

Paul Tobin, WHEN THE WEATHER COULD BE TRUSTED

In these dreadful times of international crisis, it’s unsurprising that several people I’ve talked to lately have reported that they’ve been having really out-there dreams, worthy almost of the psychedelic effects in Ken Russell’s Altered States, whose star, William Hurt died yesterday. My elder son told me about a dream he had of giant vampiric lobsters. I’ve been having vivid dreams, too, exacerbated by some virulent bug which has made me achy, heady and snotty since Saturday. This morning, I woke up, strangely, with the tune and words of ‘Lunatic and Fire Pistol’, the closing song of Julian Cope’s first solo album World Shut Your Mouth (1984), spinning around my head.

Matthew Paul, On dreams, Julian Cope and John Greening

A dream during the afternoon nap. I followed a winding trail of switchbacks, going up a mountainside. It seemed like hours, and I was tired, worn out. Eventually, I scrambled through some brush and I came out onto a diving board, impossibly high up, maybe fifty feet or more from the pool of water. I was now exhausted, and almost out of breath from my asthma, but I knew I was supposed to jump. I could see a friend below, in the water, waving at me to come on. and I did. I hit the water feet first, far too hard and very fast, and though the water was deep I went straight to the bottom, and curled up on my side, and laid there with my eyes closed. How long could I stay down? I should kick off from the concrete bottom for the surface before my breath gives out. Maybe it was already too late. I opened my eyes and I was awake, in my own bed. Why did I have such a dream? Why was I climbing up? And knowing the danger, why did I jump instead of turning back? And most of all, this – how can I so easily close my eyes in one world and open them again in another? 

James Lee Jobe, A dream during the afternoon nap.

Every day on Twitter I share coffee with a woman named Yaroslava. She writes about her daily life in war-torn Ukraine, calling her diary #WarCoffee. She hopes that through the details of her disrupted life she can connect with us around the world. Yaroslava invites comments, photos of our lives, and conversation. It’s become a lively, supportive community. Join in – follow @strategywoman on Twitter.

Yaroslava wants to affirm our unity as one world. It’s an amazing account via the basics of her life—coffee, work, and the sounds of sirens, other people snoring, and families sharing small spaces.

Rachel Dacus, To Bravery – Writers in War

Wouldn’t you rather the wind wielded
its sharpest knives or that nothing but the sun
detonated its carbon into the atmosphere

Wouldn’t you rather have ordinary
death rather than terror tunnel
through the world

Have only rain and mud
mushrooms and butterflies
stir up graves in cemeteries

Luisa A. Igloria, Poem with Disregarded Sign

Today I need to get started on my Psalm of Lament for one of my seminary classes.  Here is the assignment, which is a really cool way to help us understand the assignment:

This assignment has 2 parts (Please post as ONE document): 1) Write your own lament, either individual or communal, following the structure of the lament psalm as discussed in the videos, assigned readings, and power points. There is no specified length for your lament. 2) In one paragraph, discuss why you would or would not preach from an angry lament in your ministry setting. Due Sunday, March 20 by 11:59 p.m. No attachments please. Cut and paste a previously written Word document with both parts in it.

I’ve been thinking about the assignment for days, but I feel a bit of hesitancy.  My main hesitancy is that there are so many possible laments:  climate change (it’s 70 degrees warmer than normal in Antarctica, an event which would have been declared as impossible, until it happened–see this story in The Washington Post), the pandemic, the invasion of Ukraine, various refugee crises, so many of my friends moving away, and that’s just the immediate list.

There are advantages to each one, and disadvantages too.  Part of me imagines that all of my classmates will be writing about Ukraine, so part of me wants to do something different.  But Putin is such an easy subject for a Psalm of lament–too easy?  And does climate change have an obvious enough villain?  Could my Psalm of lament ask for a planetary reset?  That’s probably not a good idea for humans, depending on how far back we go. 

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Writing a Psalm of Lament

Maria Prymachenko has stopped
making pictures.

In Kyiv, her yellows and blues
fall from the eyes
of two-headed chickens.

The shelling makes even
her eared beasts to lie down.

Things no longer go well
here. The villain speaks with
his claw of iron,
hobbling the painter’s hand.

Her canvases aflame,
the arsonist moves west,
ash just another mark
on the foreheads of soldiers.

Maureen E. Doallas, How Spring Comes in Ukraine (Poem)

We saw the big old, recently full moon last night, looking like a huge cheese wheel in the sky! Turns out, it’s the Worm Moon, according to the almanac. And it’s not really named for the earthworms that are emerging here as it turns spring, but some beetle larvae that start coming out of tree bark about now. (Read all about it here, in the Old Farmer’s Almanac!) I am happy to see the sunshine on this first day of spring, especially after a gloomy, cold day of rain. I woke up sad and heavy with dismay, my brain scattered with tasks and difficult conversations. The week ahead looms risky, with a medical procedure for my dad on Wednesday, various meetings I prepared for in advance, so I wouldn’t forget, and which I fear, nonetheless, I might forget or feel unprepared for. Is this all part of the atmosphere when spring comes? I think maybe yes. And/or that continuing suspension of time that I felt/feel during the pandemic? Is it a natural part of the aging process? I do, relentlessly, write everything down now in list form, so I can check it off—but it’s not just the satisfaction of checking things off, getting things done, it’s also the need to remember to do the things at all. Is it not all memory rooted? Is some motivation gone, some desire? Has that been lost in the mist? In the dark gray clouds that obscured the big old cheese moon last night before it hung there so yellow and weighty in the sky? I did not see the worm…turn.

Kathleen Kirk, Big Old Cheese Moon

And my father?
Cigar smoke lingers
like priestly incense.

If I can
hear his voice,
remember his laugh

he’s still here
though I can’t clasp
his hand anymore.

We remember Shabbat.
We remember our dead.
The fire does not go out.

Rachel Barenblat, Perpetual fire

It’s a lull time for me; before the real bursting forth of Spring in the garden, though each morning I see a little more green pushing out of the mulch.

Our Mallards are back, too. Two couples so far, two nests under the azaleas. Sister Patricia insists in erecting ugly orange cones on the sidewalk near each nest, though previous experience says that the ducks don’t mind out walking by.  I ignore the cones. […]

In four weeks, it will be Easter.

In the meantime, on the world stage, Russia continues to bomb Ukraine. The Ukrainians continue to suffer, and the rest of the world continues to pray and worry.

Maybe a nuclear war will come between now and Easter.

Meanwhile, the rabbits are cavorting under the full moon.

Anne Higgins, how much was mine to keep

Today marks nineteen years of continuous blogging here, and I find myself at a loss for words. Partly because it doesn’t even make sense to me that I’ve done this for that long; partly because Cassandra — like nearly everyone else — failed to predict the tragedy unfolding in the Ukraine with its huge ramifications for the world’s political future; and partly because — also like nearly everyone else — I am weary, and unable to package things up into any sort of comforting explanation or pretty picture, either for myself, or for public consumption.

But that’s all right. There are times in all of our lives when we simply have to let go of and be still, finding consolation and strength in the simplest things: a raindrop hanging on a branch; a cat playing with a ribbon; the clouds traversing the sky; damp earth emerging from the snow.

Beth Adams, 19 Years

First off, I’m excited to share that my new poetry collection, Rotura, is officially out from Black Lawrence Press. Copies can be ordered here.

I want to thank everyone who has supported me throughout the years, either by pre-ordering this latest book or has simply read a poem of mine and held space for it. This poetry thing is amazing and I’m grateful to be able to share it with so many communities and individuals. Abrazos to each of you!

I also want to thank Diane Goettel for believing in this book and for the wonderful phone call last May. We were in the middle of being forced to move (long story, oof), and hearing that the manuscript had resonated with her meant a lot amid the chaos. Thank you as well to everyone at BLP who continues to be wonderful to work with!

José Angel Araguz, Rotura released + virtual event info

Another milestone passed. The MS is off to the printer on Monday.

Today I did the last of many proof-reads, and effectively signed off on the manuscript of my new collection. We’ve scratched our heads over how to persuade Word to make prosepoems symmetrical and now it’s up to the printer. It’s all out of my hands, and I’m at the stage of staring at the text and wondering what it’s all about. It’s the stage painters know, which has gone beyond the stage of finishing a painting you’re already tired of, but has to be finished, because…well, it does. The stage of looking at what you’ve made and not quite recognising it as yours. Not exactly regretting it, but wishing it had said what it was meant to, and then accepting that ‘meaning’ is largely out of your hands once you start something, because it makes up its rules as it goes along until how it ends is inevitable, regardless of what you intended.

I suspect that what this collection is mainly about is puzzlement, written by someone on the outside, looking in, listening to a language he recognises but doesn’t quite understand, like your reflection in a train window that may just be your alter ego, looking in, wondering about you. Or like looking at a painting and wondering about the mystery that’s looking back. Or looking at moments in your own childhood and wondering if they were actually yours. No wonder that every now and again I’ll settle for looking at a bit of landscape that’s simply what it is and lets you walk about in it.

John Foggin, Pressed for time: more teasers and trailers

Small actions bring sustenance and/or joy to others. But in the pressure of everyday life, it’s possible to overlook our interconnectedness and difficult to find time to consider the purposes behind our actions.

Through “Unfurling” Alison Lock has created a series of meditative poems, exploring how giving ourselves space to press reset and re-focus our attention on what sustains us offers new inspirations and sources of creativity during a time of imposed external restrictions. Each has a prayer-like quality asking us to question and re-frame our lives to create space to consider our actions and their effect on the world around us.

Emma Lee, “Unfurling” Alison Lock (Palewell Press) – book review

Once upon a recent walk, I picked up from a Free Little Library a fragile, yellowing paperback entitled “American Verse from the Colonial Days to the Present.” Until recently, I haven’t been able to actually read it due to the glasses situation being so out of whack and the book’s print being so tiny and faded, but alas! I have finally been able to peruse some of the amazing work in the book and I have been discovering a lot of poets that I knew little to nothing about, Sidney Lanier being the one I shall discuss here, and specifically, his poem “The Marshes of Glynn.” Why everyone on the planet is not intimately familiar with “The Marshes of Glynn” is a crime and a tragedy. It’s a jaw-dropping, epic poem of pure genius and I can’t believe this is the first I’ve heard of it.

Sidney Lanier was born in 1842 in Macon, Georgia. He was as equally fond of music as poetry, and enormously talented at both. Unfortunately, his life was cut short at the age of 39 due to a long battle with tuberculosis, which he contracted after being captured and imprisoned during the Civil War. However, he left behind a significant body of work, including his most famous poem, “The Marshes of Glynn.” It’s a work of spiritually and passion, a love letter to nature, and, I believe, quite possibly an inspiration to some of Walt Whitman’s later work.

Reading “The Marshes of Glynn,” it is apparent that Lanier was musician in his soul. “Marshes” reads like a symphony, with long, sweeping passages that reach dramatic heights, then slowly ratchet down until climbing back up again into grand, crashing crescendos. Lanier uses repetition and pacing in the same way that a musician does, slowing and speeding the work to reflect his deep emotions tied to the marshes—feelings of ecstasy and joy, the soothing of despair, and a deep, boundary-less connection to nature.

Kristen McHenry, Poem Review: The Marshes of Glynn by Sidney Lanier

The following is the seventh in a series of brief interviews in which one Terrapin poet interviews another Terrapin poet, one whose book was affected by the Pandemic. The purpose of these interviews is to draw some attention to these books which missed out on book launches and in-person readings. Ann Fisher-Wirth talks with Christine Stewart-Nuñez about book organization, marriage to another creative person, motherhood and poetry, and being a state Poet Laureate.

Ann Fisher-Wirth: In one poem toward the end of The Poet & the Architect, “Map and Meaning,” you write of the difficulty of learning to make “one’s own map” rather than relying on the maps created by others, and you say that the map you eventually created “marked the spirals of stops along my path.” The book itself is structured into four “Rings,” and each section page that announces a new ring has a little drawing of a spiral. So I’d like to invite you to tell us about spirals. What do they signify to you, both in organizing this book and—perhaps—in organizing the “map” of your life?

Christine Stewart-Nuñez: I’m so glad you asked about the spiral! It’s long been a symbol I’ve used. I kept some of my writing from grade school, and spirals abound in the margins of that saved work. Even now, I use the symbol to show “insight” when I’m annotating the margins of a text. In The Poet & The Architect, besides existing as an image in some of the poems, it also serves as an organizational strategy. The spiral helped me conceptualize how poems could return to earlier themes, picking up images introduced in those poems and broadening or expanding them. I decided to start each ring with the most intimate poems and move outward from there. For example, the first poems are short and set both spatially and temporally before the meeting of the poet and the architect. Next the poems move outward from the intimacy of new coupledom to establishing a family and experiencing life together. “Credo,” which employs syllabic lines based on fractal integers, gathers fractal images from life, nature, and architecture, and ends the book with an invocation of time and space in a much broader context. I think ultimately the spiral captures my sense of time—moving forward yet reaching back to a central core. For example, “Credo” ends by connecting the birth of my son Xavier, the death of my sister Theresa, and divine light.

Diane Lockward, Terrapin Books Interview Series: Ann Fisher-Wirth Interviews Christine Stewart-Nuñez

A bunch of years ago, BFF Jill Crammond introduced me to Emergency Brake by Ruth Madievsky, and I was hooked immediately. I wrote about the collection in 2020, digging into some of what the book and its poems do and calling Madievsky’s use of language “next-level playful.” Her poems bust at the seams with wild imagery and imaginative phrasing.

Turn after turn, her lines surprise me as a reader. And as a poet? I find myself fawning over the work with the highest-of-all poet compliments: “I wish I’d written that!” A review of Emergency Brake in Prairie Schooner calls Madievsky’s poems “bracing yet raucous, vicious yet whimsical,” and a Waxwing review says, “Madievsky creates episodes of surprising disjunctive association and beauty.”

While some of this talent is likely natural to “metaphor maker par excellence” Madievsky (Jill is similarly gifted, btw!), I do believe that learning to trust our own strangeness in our writing is a skill we can develop. So let’s practice! Using some Madievsky poems I really love, I’ve crafted three poetry prompts to get us started.

Carolee Bennett, 3 poetry prompts inspired by poems from ruth madievsky

It’s been a long time since I attended a convention, concert, or any large event. Thanks to covid, longer than usual. This year, I’m braving the Association of Writers & Writing Programs’ annual conference–in person, next week–since it’s being held near me, in Philadelphia, this time. Never one for large crowds or rooms full of strangers, given my natural inclination to internalize or curl up in a corner with a book, I have nevertheless attended AWP in the past and have found it supplies me with creative energy in the form of writers I need to read, intellectual ideas I want to explore, and reasons to keep writing. […]

Meanwhile, the month of March does its typical lunge and feint, volt, and passe arriere as it heads toward springtime…I never know what to expect, weather-wise. Today: mild and almost 70 F. I’m hoping we get a string of 50-degree days that permit some garden preparation. But then again, that’s always what I hope for in March.

Ann E. Michael, Conventional

It’s been a packed week, but also kind of a splendid one. I feel more connected to literary people again–and more conscious of how much the first pandemic year, especially, disconnected us.

I returned from a good conference last Sunday to visit with the wonderful poet January Gill O’Neil, who talked to my class the next day and gave a terrific public reading. We had some good conversations not only about poetry itself but ambition, publishing, and publicity. Then on Thursday I spoke on a panel at the Virginia Festival of the Book in Charlottesville with Cliff Garstang and Sharon Harrigan. The theme was “Uncertainty in Literary Fiction,” and after the logistics of parking and an on-site Covid test, I thoroughly enjoyed the conversation–AND signing a pile of copies of Unbecoming for strangers, which hasn’t happened much in the last two years. Afterward I had dinner with Jan Beatty, long a poetry-crush of mine, and the next day I drove back to C’ville to see old friend Sara Robinson read from her latest collection with Hiram Larew. The loss of my mother last year made me more aware that our opportunities to support each other are not endless. Afterward Chris and I dined on a restaurant patio, enjoying the near-spring balminess.

Those were all highs. I felt like a writer again, reintegrating that part of myself with being a teacher and advisee and committee leader (sigh) and tired secret striver. Now I’m getting my head and my bags together for the AWP convention, this year in Philadelphia, which can be a great gathering but also a challenging one, logistically and sometimes emotionally. I’m participating in more events than I remember doing in the misty past.

Lesley Wheeler, Differently to #AWP22

During a poetry walk led by Steve Ely for our local arts’ week last Sunday morning, I produced the photo haiku above. It’s a while since I participated in this sort of poetry event and it was good to see some familiar faces again, and to hear Steve’s take on the local landscape. However, listening to poetry on the walk, and then at a reading the following evening, made me realise how far away from that sort of poetry I’d moved (given that I almost exclusively read and write haiku now). This is not a complaint, simply an observation. I enjoy words in a different way these days: they need to be less involved with the imagination and more connected to things, more in touch with the surroundings. And I need to feel that connection too. Walking helps. I do it daily, and would probably do more and go further if work/ life didn’t get in the way. I’ve been reading Santoka recently. I admire his dedication to the act of walking, of going forward, following the philosophy of ‘step by step, you arrive’. He spent years on the road; I’m lucky if I spend an hour and a half walking in any one given day. He bedded down in rented rooms of varying degrees of discomfort, whereas I can return to the comfort of my own home.

Julie Mellor, low water

What if, as has happened to me, you’ve read a poem, and you think, wow, that’s brilliant (or some more literary response than that) and then you find out the poet is really not the great person you hoped they’d be (or worse). Yes, people you may not like can actually write poems that you do like. Except now you know what the poet’s like, it’s ruined the poem for you (probably an exaggeration). I’m not suggesting this article on Larkin would have that effect. Whether you like or dislike Larkin’s poems or the man, such as you know anything about him from what you’ve read – and don’t forget biographies (and autobiographies) are selective/subjective too – this new ‘fact’ is, at the very least, likely to prove a distraction when reading the poems. Is that a good thing? 

You will gather I don’t have the answers to these questions. I don’t think anyone has. It’s up to the individual, probably, to decide. But therein lies the difficulty – because people will often write or talk as if their view is right, rather than a suggestion, and also give you information that you didn’t necessarily want (because it’s impossible to completely block out this information – sorry). And, clearly, all of this can affect not just how you read a poem, but how you write one too.  

Sue Ibrahim, How do you read a poem?

This is a really fascinating and excellent response by Sue Ibrahim to some of the questions raised by that article about Larkin I posted about, and it’s something that I’ve been thinking about a lot for a couple of days, mainly because I’m planning for my first readings in a long, long time.

I generally say a few words in introduction to each poem, but it is very hard to hit the right balance, I think. I’m very wary of leading the listener to approach a poem in a particular way, or giving them too much background information, but there are some where I think you need to give the listener/reader a way in.

I once saw a relatively well-known UK poet read (a writer whose work I like a lot), and their introductions started to become explicit instructions for understanding the poems, which rather ruined them for me. It was down, I think, to nervousness as much as anything else, but it’s something to be avoided. Similarly, I haven’t read a great deal about the lives of poets, or at least not until long after I’ve read their work.

Matt Merritt, How we read and listen

My days usually start now with freelance writerly things in the first few hours and editing/design work in the afternoons. While I’ve sold art & design & book things online for years, this whole getting paid to write thing is a delight and something I’ve never felt, so it’s extra exciting that I get to do it. That I can do it. That someone actually, you know, wants to give me money for doing something that almost feels like breathing. Something I want to do anyway. That is entirely new. Somewhere there is a lesson here for writers about valuing your work and the things you are able to do that not everyone else, at least non-writers, can.

Kristy Bowen, writers and value

All of my work the past few years is integrated with a kind of field-guide observational relationship with nature. From wasps to telomeres. My approach to nature isn’t Romantic, rather a method to “ground” the lyric expression in a larger context. 

I want to flip the metaphor relationship of the lyric poem: human experience is the vehicle, and what we consider the “natural world” is the tenor. It is an attempt to move away from an anthropocentric view. 

*

What is horrific is natural. Nature is horrific. Yes, there is the deer in the grove. And there is the blacklegged tick on the neck of the deer in the grove. And in the gut of that tick, the Borrelia burgdorferi move through the tick’s body.

There is a reason designers look to the tiny elements of the natural world when creating their monsters.

Ren Powell, Brooding on (Art) Forms

I’m writing to you from in the company of the black dog. This is fine. In the words of Simon and Garfunkel, “I have my books and my poetry to protect me.” A lot of it comes from pure old grief, and we know these days, that grieving takes many forms, comes from a lot of places, and that loss compounds loss. The hierarchy of grief is such that the black dog cares not which rung. My griefs, I know, are relatively small, and the collective grief of the world is large. Still, I invite it in. […]

Things I’m thinking about this morning: the architecture of the soul, photography and witness, Rilke’s line, “you must change your life,” Larkin’s “what will survive of us is love,” Lispector’s “each of us is responsible for the world,” Zagajewski’s “try to praise the mutilated world,” Cixous’s “whoever says: I am alone breaks the solitude and affirms it by this act of speech,” Dufy’s “some days, although we cannot pray, a prayer utters itself,” Pessoa’s “to be great, be whole: don’t exaggerate or leave out any part of you.” I could go on. The line at the center of my novel Rumi and the Red Handbag, is “what are you going through?” and I’m thinking a lot about that one too.

In John O’Donohue’s book Beauty, he reminds us of the words by Pascal: “In difficult times you should always carry something beautiful in your mind.”

Shawna Lemay, On Practice, Poetry, and On Always Carrying Something Beautiful in Your Mind

Meanwhile, on the other side of eternity, death is thumbing through the latest clothing catalog; it’s getting tired of wearing black.

As for the rest of us, the price of living keeps going up each day while the value of human life declines.

Such is the mathematics of humanity, always an odd number in the bunch where things don’t divide up evenly.

All the more reason for a Noah’s ark of the heart—two of everything divine.

Rich Ferguson, Humanity’s Mathematics

How differently we might respond to TS Eliot’s groundbreaking poem if he had stayed with his first title, ‘He do the police in different voices.’ And how different our experience would have been if Ezra Pound hadn’t encouraged Eliot to thin the first draft by almost half. Twenty seven writers have been meeting regularly on zoom to unravel Eliot’s notoriously ‘difficult’ poem and prepare a day of readings and discussion for the centenary of its publication in 1922. Sue Boyle traces their challenging journey and talks about the exciting multi-media performance piece which has evolved from their collaborative work.Sue Boyle

As one of those twenty seven writers, I have been immersed in Eliot’s poem and in our responses to it for months. Much of my recent writing relates to it, directly or indirectly.

The calypso singers are still laughing but the fishermen have thrown down their flowers

And in the captain’s tower
are the poets still at war
Eliot and Pound
turning a line around
deleting a stanza here
adding a fragment there
fine-tuning the sound 
while the great ship goes down?

Ama Bolton, The Waste Land Revisited

“Truth is not born nor is it to be found inside the head of an individual person, it is born between people collectively searching for truth, in the process of their dialogic interaction.”  Mikhail Bakhtin, Russian literary critic and philosopher 

Today, as crocus are pushing up their thorny heads and shells of war continue fall, I want to raise the flag of Mikhail Bakhtin. Bakhtin and his theory of multiple voices to the rescue!  Bakhtin as Chief Negotiator at the table!  Bakhtin with not one ear but several ears to hear. 

Bakhtin, who knows that the space of dialog is fragile and is annihilated in the rush to annihilate an opponent. Bakhtin, who suggests bringing a humanity to words rather than make a fetish of them.

In quiet moment, whether it is precious pause in an argument or blank space between text, an incipient melody will begin to form in my head.  I start to translate it with my fleshy voice.  Others will pick up a bar, a thread, will hum, together within the hour we will have created a song.   National anthem: Bakhtin!

Jill Pearlman, Standing with Bakhtin

Sometimes you only have to
say a line and that’s enough,
the old monk told the poet.

Tom Montag, TEN OLD MONK POEMS (59)

is the dreamlessness inside me visible :: to those who will never be

Grant Hackett [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, 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. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week: night cities, dreams and apparitions, wake-up routines, books of nothing, alter egos, the future of lit mags, orgies and book proofs, and much more. Enjoy.


Night settles over the park, shadows have rolled themselves up;
the sky, a flat translucence behind cut-out branches
casts a blue light on the snow.

In the hedge, little lights glow like forgotten fireflies,
the sparrow-flock has flown, a leaping squirrel
leaves sculpted waves of white along the rail.

Now, only furtive shapes move on the white path:
runner, skier, the eager dog
pulling his master further into the black trees.

Beth Adams, Winter Night

Amidst hardly blogging at all last autumn (can you do something amidst not doing something?), I sadly neglected to apprise my more-faithful-than-I-deserve blog readers of a new poem publication. 

My poem ‘Return to the Night City’ appeared late last year in The Crank, a new-ish online poetry journal edited by Humphrey Astley. This journal is trend-minimal (or words to that effect), and thus inclines more to formal or formal-adjacent poetry than my work often does, although I do think my poetry likes nodding to form. 

You can download the PDF of issue 4, where my poem appears, here: https://www.thecrankmag.com/issue-4

The past issues are very much worth reading, and I think another is on its way soon. 

‘Return to the Night City’ was specifically inspired by WS Graham’s ‘The Night City’, one of my favourite poems about London. My tribute came partly from reading ‘The Night City’ and thinking of all the associations, particularly literary, that I have with this city. It also came from a slightly stupid incident a few years ago when I flew back so late from somewhere in Europe (Portugal, maybe?) that I could only get a train to Blackfriars, and I then started hiking along the Thames with my suitcase at about 2 in the morning. I came to my senses after about fifteen minutes and got a cab, but this poem is sort of the magical realism version of that incident. Tonally, I tried to approach the original Graham poem, without turning my own poem into pastiche. 

Clarissa Aykroyd, New(ish) poem in The Crank: Return to the Night City

We are unable to accept
these poems

We are on fire and possibly
infected. The Poetry Editorial Board responded

strongly, admiring your craft and total rage
but disagreed about how to extinguish

fire or end infection.
Eat the rich.

They’re not infected. The poems struck
like bowling balls in a flu

knocking readers down.
We coughed. Our flesh burned.

Gary Barwin, THANK YOU, a poem based on a rejection letter from a literary journal

Sometime near Christmas, it might even have been Christmas day, a black pheasant appeared in the woods and tree-lined lanes round the village. I say it was black, but in actual fact it was the most lustrous dark green/black, an oily, moss black. I was out walking the dog when it appeared from the grounds of the manor house: elegant, watchful, picking and placing its feet among the beech leaves, moving forward in that slightly hunched-shouldered way. It had with it a brown, bog standard pheasant and they were moving through the murky, rainy dusk of winter without knowing how beautiful they were.

It felt like some kind of ornithomancy, I kept reading into its appearance a dark mark. But it was/is so beautiful, I was always pleased to see it. I kept seeing it around the village when I was out and about, sometimes with its friend, sometimes on its own. I saw it after a flurry of snow had set once, it seemed to grow more elegant against the white. I wanted to write a poem about it, tried to write a poem about it and have been trying ever since. Nothing seems to quite do it justice, it slips from me, slips away from the poem and ends up being some Christmas card depiction of a pheasant. I can’t quite seem to find the way into the poem, the direction of it, the purpose of it. There have been some great poems written about pheasants, perhaps I should stop making myself feel bad about my own by reading them, but when I come across poems like this one by Graham Mort, on the Poetry Society website, it makes me want to read every poem ever written, and strive to create something better. Here it is on the PS website: Cock Pheasant. […]

I have been trying to write poems since January, not just poems about pheasants, but poems specifically for a new collection to be published by Smith-Doorstop. I’ve struggled a bit to push through imposter syndrome and also to remember how to write a poem. I heard this week that the collection has been put back a little, as have many other collections. I think the pandemic has had a big effect on the publishing industry and I do think the canaries are always the smaller, indie publishers. I thought I’d be disappointed, but all of a sudden, with the pressure off, knowing I have more time, I started writing more poems; in fact I started writing better poems and started to see how to edit and adapt the poems already written, how to push the boundaries in them. This week I finished the first draft of a sonnet crown I’d been working on since December, and whilst it needs fettling, needs the judders tuning and the angles sanding, I’m pleased with it. I’ve ended up writing about twenty sonnets in all, but my aim was seven, and I can see that the other thirteen sonnets are the tools I’ve been using to dig down to these seven sonnets, this sonnet crown.

Wendy Pratt, The Black Pheasant

Waking from a dream that was both strong and strange
I quietly slip outside to the patio. The house is dark and cold,
and the patio is wet from an earlier rain, although the sky
has now cleared. Lifting my arms, I reach for heaven like one
might reach up for a book on a high shelf. Can I see the title
of the book? No, I can’t, not from here. But I reach for it anyway.

James Lee Jobe, Reaching for heaven, or a book.

The hazel’s buds are about to open, first yellow of the season; red-winged blackbirds have returned; this morning, several flocks of snow geese in Vs high above me. Then, a brief but crazy-wild snow squall. Yes, it is February.

What I find myself assessing lately is “the need to publish” thing. I feel a reckoning coming on, personally, in which societal changes are implicated–and my age, as well.

Let me backtrack.

When I first started writing poetry seriously (reading, studying, crafting, workshopping), publishing was a paper-only endeavor that involved typing and retyping poems, sending them with SASE (self-addressed, stamped envelope) to various literary magazines and journals both Major and minor, and waiting for up to a year for rejection or acceptance. The acceptances were necessary if I wanted a book publisher to take my work seriously, or to have an academic institution consider me as worthy of hire, or to apply for higher-stakes literary grants and opportunities. The game, as it were, operated on those hierarchies: journal publications, chapbooks, solo collections, college stints.

I did a bit of that, though not enough, I suppose. I got my chapbooks and solo collections (see books here) and a fair number of poems in actual (and, now, virtual) print. But ambition ain’t exactly my middle name; my college work has not been tenured and doesn’t fall under the creative writing category–I run the writing center at my university, where it’s all about grammar, spelling, documentation, essay structure. I enjoy the work, but it is not poetry.

Back to poetry publication: the new assessment is about whether I care anymore.

Ann E. Michael, That need to publish? –eh…

books of nothing
a chained library
not an invitation

huge dead thistles
where blue butterflies breed
a flat-pack beetle

Ama Bolton, ABCD February 2022

Here’s a thing. I’ve just checked, and found that since early November last year I’ve written only two appreciations/reviews of other people’s poetry.

How on earth did I end up like this?After all, I started the great fogginzo’s cobweb precisely to share and celebrate work I’d just come across and couldn’t wait to tell you about. Part of the answer to this is obvious..like many others I’ve been locked out of the everyday world of trips and visits and chance encounters. And in this context, particularly I’ve not been able to go on retreats or to readings or to open mics for over two years. I’ve not been well for most those two years, and I’ve not heard new poems being performed. I’ve not bought books at a reading because of the poems I heard, and brought them home, and reread them, and got to know them as friends .

Let’s throw into the mix that, apart from missing the frisson, the buzz of company and of new experiences, I’ve been putting a collection together and trying to lay some nagging half-written poems to rest. I’ve been turned inwards. It might work for some, but it’s never worked for me, because, for me, poetry is performative, feeding on the to and fro of people’s reaction. For months now I’ve not been able to hear the poem on the page; its meaning drifts away in a jumble of words. 

I thought it was all coming back when I wrote about Kim Moore and Carola Luther, but then I lost track of it again. You’ll be familiar with the idea of Writer’s Block. I never imagined that there could be such a thing as Reader’s Block, and it’s truly alarming to be in the middle of it.

Anyway. Maybe it’s something to do with the early onset of spring, the urgency in the air and at the tips and edges of things, but the buzz and excitement is coming back, bit by bit. I’m reading poems aloud to myself again, relishing the texture and brush of another mind. The words are coming alive off the page for the first time in ages and ages. I found myself absorbed in other folk’s poems, and hearing them rather than just looking, nose pressed to the window. Loved re-reading Samantha Wynne-Rydderch’s Banjo. Ditto MacCaig favourites, and David Constantine……never thought it would come back, that music.

John Foggin, My kind of poetry: Jean Atkin’s “The bicycles of ice and salt”

My kind is doomed
but since when was I a partisan of men?
My country is ruined
but since when was I a patriot?

My loyalties
are elsewhere. To the violet
swell of the sky against the east:

to the long pull of words
muttered by soldiers going
to pile their bones by the lake.

I have Du Fu for company,
and Ovidius Naso; 
you could travel further
and do worse.

Dale Favier, A Northern Bank

Dizzy this morning. Waking again in a shirt so damp it borders on wet. Oh, these growing pains. I remember when growing pains were the deep throbs behind a breast bud, an ache in the femur that felt like the sharp edge of cold.

Now there is the ache in the femur that is the sharp edge of cold, a deep throb likely a straining bubble of panic. A night sweat: a who-knows-what. Don’t google it.

I remember when taking a nap meant crying. And here we are again.

Since I have stopped worrying about the truth of the details and focused on letting the memories surface as they will (still half-submerged, like the Loch Ness monster, more suggestion than shape), my sleep has been crowded with sensual details. Mostly from the desert.

Cinder block, a metal slide at noon, a scraped and weeping knee – the wound full of sand. Dry heat filling the lungs. My lungs. My knee. My fingers running over the porous, snagging surface of the cinder block wall.

Ren Powell, Opening Letters to the World

Since I live in a bat cave, only to emerge for work, the gym, and a weekly grocery run, until recently I was blissfully unaware of the “That Girl” YouTube trend. I came across it while I was perusing videos by Abby Sharp, a common-sense dietitian who I watch now and then. Abby was very fired up about the proliferation of “That Girl” videos, which I have come to learn are self-improvement videos, usually made by models, minor internet stars or fitness gurus, detailing their uber-healthy morning routines. From what I’ve seen from my relatively shallow dive into these videos, these routines invariably involve a “gratitude journal,” a green drink, fruit, a workout, and a skincare regimen. The idea is that these routines will lead to a healthier physical and mental mindset, improve your productivity, and allow you to be “the best version of yourself.” The problem is that they are laughably unrealistic for the average person, which is why Abby took umbrage with the whole thing while reviewing a “That Girl” video by someone named Vanessa Tiiu. I have no idea who Vanessa Tiiu is, but she certainly seems to have some leisure time on her hands. Her morning routine is lovely. She gets up early, spends about fifteen minutes rubbing various products onto her face, drinks a big glass of lemon water, and then writes in not one, but two journals, followed by a breakfast of some sort of oatmeal-looking thing topped with berries, and the inevitable green drink. She follows all of that with a full workout and a long walk, all while encouraging her viewers to do the same. Personally, I think how out of touch Vanessa is with the average working person is hilarious, but Abby is a bit of a perfectionist and I could tell it got under her skin and made her feel inferior. It didn’t make me feel inferior in the least. I found the whole thing quite inspiring, in fact. I shall now present, for your edification, my own “That Girl” routine. Feel free to take from it whatever works for you:

Switch alarm off at 5:45 a.m. and cover head with blanket, trying to stave off creeping existential despair. Fall vaguely back asleep until jerked awake by the terror of having possibly overslept. Check clock and groan. Throw off blanket and head to the bathroom for morning pee. Vacillate on whether or not to weigh self, scrutinize body in contact-lens-less eyes, and decide against it. Stumble to kitchen for cup of coffee and head to computer room to look at news. Give up in horror after about three minutes and switch on video game instead. Play video game for too long in attempt to tame cows so I can trade milk to the local tinker for weapons upgrade. Reluctantly switch off video game and go to living room to get dressed. Hate what I picked out the night before and creep into bedroom (if Mr. Typist is still sleeping) to get new clothes. Pick out another wrong thing in the dark and decide to just give up and go with original wrong thing. Suck down another cup of coffee while getting dressed and debating whether or not to do morning ab exercises. Ultimately negotiate with self to do them at work on my lunch break knowing full well I likely won’t do them at work on my lunch break. Decidedly skip the gratitude journal, as it dulls my anger and I need my anger for fuel. Mindlessly wolf down a few breakfast pickles while deciding whether or not to make my typical fried egg over tuna or just get something quick from the case at work. (This one is 50-50.) Head back to the bathroom to brush teeth and slather on makeup while feeling vaguely resentful about the professional necessity of slathering on makeup. Do final face check and decide it will have to do. Suck down one more hasty cup of coffee before popping an Altoid (coffee breath) and shambling into coat. Grab purse, adjust headphones, fire up a podcast so I don’t have to be alone with my thoughts, and head out the door.

I don’t detail all of this to make you feel inferior. After all, as Abby points out, we must all do what is best for us personally and not compare ourselves to others. I’m just telling you what makes me my best self, that’s all. It has taken years of practice to cultivate this routine, and you shouldn’t feel bad if you can’t achieve those heights right out of the gate. Start small and build up! Before you know it, you too will be That Girl.

Kristen McHenry, I’m That Girl!

I am thrilled to have had my poem “Birthday Fires” chosen as the winner of the 2022 Neahkahnie Mountain Poetry Prize. This is an annual contest held by the Hoffman Center for the Arts in Manzanita, Oregon, with this year’s judge being Lana Hechtman Ayers.

This poem began after I read the line in a poem from Henri Cole: “I came from a place with a hole in it”. As poems are wont to do, it found its own story to tell, its own feelings to express.

Having learned to read and write at Garibaldi Grade School, I am thrilled my words have returned full circle to this part of the Northern Oregon Coast. I have fond memories of living at the Coast Guard Station in Garibaldi, learning to swim at the Nehalem pool, and having the ability to roam this small town with the freedom of an earlier era.

You can check out my poem and the 2nd and 3rd place winners here: Hoffman Center for the Arts.

Carey Taylor, Neahkahnie Mountain Poetry Prize

I’m re-reading Kim Addonizio’s Bukowski in a Sundress. I needed something refreshing and grounding, and her straight shooting memoir came to mind. Her honesty about the messiness of life helps me accept my own missteps and shenanigans and work with them from a writing standpoint. Plus, I’m a sucker for feisty little nuggets of writing advice, like this:

“Have an uncomfortable mind; be strange. Be disturbed: by what is happening on the planet, and to it; by the cruelty, and stupidity humanity is capable of; by the unbearable beauty of certain music, and the mysteries and failures of love, and the brief, confusing, exhilarating hour of your own life.”

The ending there — “brief, confusing, exhilarating hour” — brings to mind Mary Oliver’s line about your one wild and precious life, but that’s not the part that grabs me. It’s the opening: “Have an uncomfortable mind. Be strange.” That’s a sweet spot for me (and for many others). I do my best work when I’m agitated in some way.

*

It’s perfect timing to be reminded of the generative power of disturbance. After growing my hair long during the pandemic, I’m now trying to rediscover the spit and vinegar of my signature short, short, short red ‘do and to tap into the spunky, edgy version of myself I used to rely upon so heavily. I’ve grown weary of feeling so “meh.”

I’m also pushing a bit harder on my Gertie poem project. I wrote some about it here, but the gist is that Gertie is a persona (an alter ego, I suppose) to whom I turn for protection and comfort. It’s a true story. I started talking to Gertie in my head while taking walks at the start of pandemic. Then she found her way into my poems. I was delighted by her presence on the page and also a bit spooked. I’m less likely to reveal my uncomfortable, strange mind now than I used to be. I am not sure why and hope it’s not a long affliction because I can see it holding me back.

Since Gertie is a direct representation of that discomfort and weirdness, I fall sometimes into the old bear trap of doubt: Is this silly? Will I seem ridiculous? Does this voice have anything important to say? Is it of value to anyone but me? Is this thing even going to work? Those questions are fine to ask once the poems are written, but they’re deadly as the drafts are trying to be birthed. I’m grateful for writing pals (Jill, Sarah and the Madwomen) and for amazing examples by other writers I admire, like Addonizio. Their words shake me by my shoulders and send me back in to do the work.

Carolee Bennett, “an uncomfortable mind”

Somewhere, a vein.
Little tributary encircling

a lower region. A calf,
perhaps. No, lower:
an ankle. Who dipped
their foot in the same

river twice, three times,
uncountable; and emerged
hypostatic.

Luisa A. Igloria, Diagnostic

The issue of notes is a thorny one. I recently read a poetry collection containing lots of end-notes which were often more interesting than the actual poems. (I realise that is subjective and what the poet chooses to include and what to omit from the poem is up to them.) Other poems seemed all but nonsensical without the notes; a feeling familiar to me from being in galleries looking at pieces of art whose labels were essential to be able to grasp the significance of the images / constructions. Equally, I’ve read poetry collections where the poems have been crying out for end-notes, as though not to include them constitutes a deliberate withholding of requisite information. Yes, we all have access to search engines and reference books, but it is arguably an act of generosity to the reader to provide notes where they are needed.

Matthew Paul, On ‘The Rupert Man’

After the storm
we go out
to survey the damage
reflect on whether
we could have prepared
better, differently.

But some trees will fall.
Some places
where we believed
we were safe, protected
can sometimes
disappoint.

We could
Ignore the debris
for as long as possible
and nurse
the unfairness of it all
or get on with

clearing the ground
repair what we can
a little less fearful
perhaps
of the next gust
when it comes.

Lynne Rees, Poem ~ Clearing the ground

now is that a storm moon
far away above the restless harbour
is it beguiled by the colours
seduced by the moods of
the houses riding the palette
of the town sloped away
far above the rash of buoys

Jim Young, tenby evening after a storm

CNN did an article this week, surprisingly, on the future of literary magazines, particularly smaller mags: Long-standing literary magazines are struggling to stay afloat. Where do they go from here? – CNN Style.  They talk about the lit mags going under – even big ones, like The Believer.

In the fifties and sixties, the CIA, among other government agencies, sunk a surprising amount of money into literary magazines like The Paris Review, The Kenyon Review, and many others, in order to fight the cold war, so the speak, in the art world.

For a while, universities seemed willing to foot the bill for literary magazines for the prestige, but now, they’re shutting down MFA programs and their accompanying literary magazines left and right, as unbusiness-y, unprofitable.

So what is the future of lit mags? I joked that maybe it’s in the hands of some of the richest people in the country – the ex-wives of Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos, aka Melinda and MacKenzie. I met MacKenzie once at a writer’s conference, not knowing who she was, assuming she was just another struggling writer. I think she might be open to a solicitation for the right kind of magazine – she’s giving away her fortune at astounding rates, which: good for her. Their husbands were never going to do much for the arts out here, even though they live here in Seattle (and the Eastside). You’d think they’d do more for local culture! But their ex-wives will be big contenders in shaping where Seattle’s non-profit scene is at, and not just that, but the whole country’s non-profit scene.

When I volunteered for several lit mags, I begged them to try to raise subscription numbers, to take adds from local businesses, to hold more creative fundraisers, anything so they weren’t so attached to either a) a university’s funding or b) a single angel investor. How can a literary magazine make a profit, and do we even want to worry about that? My answer is, if you want to keep them around, then yes. Often, lit mags are very expensive compared even to the fanciest “regular” magazines. Younger readers expect to get their content for free – even regular mags are struggling with subscriptions. So we have to give readers a reason to buy the magazine. What would that be? What do you think? Are lit mags doomed? Can someone start throwing awesome parties that might attract billionaires looking to share the wealth with the literary arts? And invite me?

Jeannine Hall Gailey, The Future of Lit Mags, Birds and Blooms in February

The Journal has, I’m pleased to say, reached Issue 65 – or 75 if, as it says in the welcome, you include its former life as The Journal of Contemporary Anglo-Scandinavian Poetry. Edited and published by Sam Smith, who somehow keeps up his enthusiasm for the job year upon year, it usually provides me with something unusual, something that takes it out of the ordinary.

This time I was drawn to a four-page piece by Estill Pollock, Night Watch, ostensibly about Rembrandt but as you’d expect about far more than that; and Julie Maclean’s fine How We Love A Dead Scribe, an imaginary podcast interview with Marianne Moore. (For those who don’t know, Moore died in 1972, aged 86.)

It says so much for Sam Smith that he would happily give Pollock four pages of his magazine for this one poem. Most editors would frown and think Pollock unreasonable for submitting such a thing. I like long poems, so I suppose I would be more inclined to take to it than some, but it’s far more than ‘another ekphrastic poem’, many of which I find a bit tiresome. It could be seen as a run-through of Rembrandt’s life, using the famous painting as a hook, but Pollock writes so well it rattles along, full of conversational phrases and vivid images. Sometimes the style is loose but never uneconomical, as in Rembrandt’s apprenticeship:

Rembrandt, eighteen, yawns – drudge Apprentice/ To still-life squibs of pelt and pear, to infill/ Landscapes with distant hills, windmills or/ The lowering skies favoured by the Master for yet/ Another version of Apocalypse, the genre/ And his screw-loose boss both
Long out of fashion

Pollock captures a kitchen-maid perfectly – her root-vegetable features – and Rembrandt as a jobbing young painter picking up commissions where he can – the patrons, their wives/ And butterball daughters. He has fun, too, with the image of Rembrandt up in his studio having some kind of accident: Crashing lath-and-plaster, Saskia shouting up the stairs/ For God’s sake you blockhead you ruined the stew. / Rembrandt, white with dust, coughing. (Saskia, his wife and sometime model.)

It’s this kind of detail that gives the poem its life and vibrancy. Yes, it tells of Rembrandt’s life, and is therefore a biography, which can feel a bit wooden: In 1638, he buys the Breestraat house… but it’s as if even in this Pollock is playing with the subject, with the task he has set himself. By including the incident of the insane 1985 attack on the painting Danae, he takes the poem on to a new level, a consideration of the fragility of what we achieve, if we attempt some kind of art and puts words into, or quotes, the perpetrator: I warned her to atone – she is mine, and mine alone.

There is sadness, inevitably, as Pollock finishes off with Rembrandt’s decline into poverty: For the burial, no tolling bells at Westerkerk, no stone, the pallbearers/All strangers, paid in day-rate ale.

I enjoyed the poem, its images and language, and it set me off in search of an old book of Pollock’s, from 2006, published by Cinnamon Press, called Relic Environments, which is well worth exploring if you can find it. I’ll try to review that soon. He had a book published in the USA recently but I don’t yet have that. It may be easier to find.

Bob Mee, THE JOURNAL: ESTILL POLLOCK’S NIGHT WATCH & JULIE MACLEAN’S HOW WE LOVE A DEAD SCRIBE

The latest from Sydney, Australian poet and editor Pam Brown is the pandemic response poems of Stasis Shuffle (St. Lucia, Queensland: Hunter Publishers, 2021), her second book to appear last year, after Endings & Spacings (Sydney Australia: Never-Never Books, 2021) [see my review of such here]. Stasis Shuffle is a book directly responding to the restlessness of uncertainty, health measures and remaining in place. In this way, Stasis Shuffle adds to a growing list of pandemic-response poetry projects, a list that already includes Lillian Nećakov’s il virus (Vancouver BC: Anvil Press, 2021) [see my review of such here] and Lisa Samuels’ Breach (Norwich England: Boiler House Press, 2021) [see my review of such here]. Brown’s poems appear to be composed in the quick-sketch form of the poetic journal, attempting to capture, through the long form of the book-length poem, a particular period of time from her home in Sydney; composed in an accretion of short lines, phrases and quick turns, in a kind of perpetual ongoingness, akin to a lengthier structure of what might be called “Creeleyesque,” after the late American poet Robert Creeley. “the / it’s-interesting / bla-bla,” she writes, near the beginning of the collection, “question is – // is your slowly accreting poem / morphing into a larger cloud yet – // a major poem / ghosting in to sydney / past the heads, / making its way to ashfield // darker & darker / birds swirling around in it – / leaves / rubbish & debris / full of menace & meaning?”

She writes of memory and nostalgia, situating herself and her thinking through an assemblage of playful breaths and breaks, collage and accumulation, phrases and visuals. While the poems here offer an ongoingness, they also provide a sense of a gathering of fragments collected over an extended period, something reminiscent of American poet and translator Joshua Beckman’s Animal Days (Seattle WA/New York NY: Wave Books, 2021) [see my review of such here]. Her poems accumulate, offering a portrait of a space, of a time; and a texture across a singular lyric.

rob mclennan, Pam Brown, Stasis Shuffle

An intriguing idea: take a collection of postcards and the messages written on them and publish with the message alongside the front of the postcard. The full name and address of the recipient is excluded so readers have to focus on the messages for clues. The reader is drawn in by questioning why the sender picked that particular card, why they chose to focus on those particular details – in a brief message there’s no space for small talk and pleasantries – and what the relationship might be between sender and recipient. One of the first is a seaside postcard with five images from the English costal town of Newquay, three of the images show small yachts in the harbour, one shows holiday-makers sitting on the quay wall and the last shows the beach with the town in the background, the message,

“One night, a cat bit Dan and Raz on the thigh. They were fined for biting the cat back. If anything, it is too peaceful here. One feels that there is something wrong. Perhaps there is.”

Emma Lee, “Life Here is Full of Tomorrows” Mélisande Fitzsimons (Leafe Press) – book review

Just like last night,
the stars and their stories,
the old monk said.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (135)

I know, we’re in the second month of 2022 and I’m only now talking about the journals I filled in 2021? Yes, I am woefully behind the curve and I have no excuse other than *waves hands wildly about* life.

In 2020 I filled six full journals and started on a seventh before the calendar flipped into 2021. In 2021, I continued and filled six journals with poems. As you can see, I tend to prefer a slim Moleskin with a blank cover I can then cover with stickers — because who doesn’t love stickers?! My sister sent me the unicorn/mermaid journal while I was recovering from meniscus repair surgery and so of course I filled it with poems.

Now, two weeks into February and I’m pages away from filling my first journal of the year (that last one in the photo, on the bottom right). Which is good because I just ordered a bunch of new stickers from Redbubble and I need to put them somewhere.

I’ve started a poetry exchange with a friend – she writes a poem and then I respond to her poem with one of my own. Back and forth we go, using one another’s words to prompt more poems. It’s a wonderful exercise, it keeps me motivated, it gives me inspiration, and it allows me to fill my journal. It’s a pretty great thing.

Courtney LeBlanc, Journals of 2021

–It is delightful to have time to cook, especially on days that would have been heavy with meetings if I was still employed at the full-time job.  Last week, I made lemon muffins.  This week I’ll take the pumpkin butter that I made and experiment with turning it into pumpkin bread.  My pumpkin butter recipe is essentially cans of pumpkin, spices, and sugar.  Next week, I’ll try turning pumpkin butter into a ricotta cake.

–My pumpkin butter recipe makes WAY too much for one household, and I make it so seldom, that I always forget.

–I am delighting in lunch dates with friends.  It’s good to reconnect with people, while at the same time sad to realize how unconnected I had become.

–I do like having time to walk, although there are days when I feel like Dorothy Wordsworth.  Of course, a life of long walks, cooking, and journaling about it all does not seem like a bad deal to me.

–I am reminded of a friend who was reading a biography of Wordsworth and came away convinced that British citizens in England had gobs more time in the early 19th century regardless of social status,  She may be right. 

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Bits and Pieces from the First Thirteen Days of Underemployment

“You’re home from the hospital,” we prompt
our father, back in assisted living.
“No I’m not,” he insists. “This isn’t home.”
I wonder which house he’s remembering.
He thinks he’s somewhere temporary.
In the end, does the body feel
as extraneous as the oxygen tank
he keeps forgetting he’s tethered to?
But there’s country music at happy hour
and he tells himself stories
that turn his nurses into old friends.
He knows he’s somewhere temporary.
A mezuzah gleams on the final door.
We don’t know when he’ll go through.

Rachel Barenblat, Through

Today, a snow storm and the really amazing realization that I do not have to go out into it unless I want to (and I certainly do not.) Instead, I stayed tucked inside with a writing assignment on Slavic Mythology I was finishing up. On the subject of further proof that Christian missionaries ruin all the fun, I had a hard time,  since I know the lesson content is written with high school kids in mind, trying to convey that some celebrations involved orgies, without actually using the word, ya know, “orgies. ” I settled on “fertility rites” but it loses something in the translation.  The myth and fairy tale content is a nice break sometimes from the lit, esp since yesterday involved  an in-deep piece on confessional poetry, and earlier in the week, the rabbit holes of Lillian Hellman and her testimony in front of the House Committee of Un-American Activities (something easily I could have spent many more hours reading about but had to stop before I went too deep into 1950’s nonsense and the evil figure of Walt Disney.)

A couple days ago, my proof copy of animal, vegetable. monster arrived, and there is the usual adjustments on the interior, but am very happy with the cover. I should be able to get the whole shebang finalized in early March, which pushes back the release a bit later than I intended, but April is my birthday month, so it seems propitious to bring it out then. In the meantime, I plan to start making some videos, including some for the artist statement pieces that open the book. Also some other promos for reels and such as we get closer. I went with a slightly smaller trim size and am really liking the look, as well as the creme paper instead of the usual white.  

Kristy Bowen, orgies and book proofs, oh my!

when colors die are they laid to rest :: in a bliss as white as the moon

Grant Hackett [no title]

Geraldine Connolly: What central themes haunted you in the writing of Ghost Dogs?

Dion O’Reilly: The mind grappling with a world full of both exquisite beauty and also unimaginable evil pervades Ghost Dogs. We shy away from what we call the cruel facts, but if they can be balanced, almost in the way a painter balances light and dark in chiaroscuro, then the poems come alive with insight. I believe such juxtaposition of supposed opposites ignites the lyric moment, an experience of deep connection with the Living World. So I guess I would say connection haunts the book–how to connect, which I feel is the work of poetry.

Gerry: The California landscape is very vivid in your work. How does the landscape of your childhood inform the poems?

Dion: I grew up in a beautiful place–the Soquel Valley, on an eighteen acre ranch with two streams running through it. So I write what I know. But I think it’s a mistake to think we are separate from the world around us. A landscape is a self-portrait; a self-portrait contains a world. I would hope if I grew up in Detroit, I would be able to write about it the way Jamaal May does.
 
Gerry: Can you tell us about your writing process?

Dion: Ghost Dogs contains stories I carried for many years. The difficulty was in seeing the narratives differently. For example, writing about my sister led me to express a new compassion for her. I struggle not to be the heroine of the tale, not to write revenge poems, not to reinforce tired grudges or viewpoints. Gotta say, that’s hard to do, and I don’t know if it’s any easier now than it ever was. Nowadays, I work less from my old narratives and more from prompts, word lists, and form. I think that’s a common evolution for poets. Still, word lists often excavate memories related to those in Ghost Dogs. I think it’s good to allow yourself to be obsessed.

Diane Lockward, Terrapin Book Interview Series: Geraldine Connolly Interviews Dion O’Reilly

I started this blog in March 2011, during a Fulbright fellowship in Wellington, New Zealand, as an intellectual diary during one of my life’s biggest adventures. My forthcoming book, Poetry’s Possible Worlds, is in many ways this blog’s culmination. I’ve always read to survive my life, and in the blog, then called “The Cave, The Hive,” I chronicled what I was reading and what I thought about it. This book puts reading under a microscope: how do poets create little worlds, and why does it sustain me to dwell in them?

I began conceiving and drafting this hybrid essay collection–criticism blended with personal narrative–in 2012. I had NO IDEA it would take this long to deliver it to the world. I started with questions about audience, wanting to write a book that non-poetry-insiders might enjoy: hence each chapter begins with a contemporary poem reprinted in full, so you can have your own feelings about it before I bring my professorial wonkiness to bear. I dialed the wonkiness way down, for that matter, although I researched the hell out of many intersecting fields: narrative theory, poetry studies, the cognitive science of “literary transportation,” and more. And I got pretty personal. I read these poems as my parents split and the astonishing scope of my father’s lies came to light. He died; my kids grew up; midlife crisis slammed me; my mother got sick. Poetry helped me think through harassment at work, the repercussions of sexual assault during college, and my struggle to accept life in an aging body. It’s all in there, my intellectual, artistic, teacherly, physical, and spiritual selves in collision. I gave the book everything I had.

That emotional work made the book hard to shape, but so did trying to invent a form. The chapters braid story and argument, a mixed art plenty of people practice, but I had to ponder what proportions of each would serve each of my goals best. I have scholarly standards–you need to read every text you can find that bears on your topics!–but then I sublimated that research in service to pace, suspense, and readability. I thought a memoiristic book might be easier than writing straight-up scholarship like Voicing American Poetry, but ha! It was at least as strenuous, just in different ways.

Lesley Wheeler, On the threshold of Poetry’s Possible Worlds

To those wearing three-piece suits of demagoguery. Those who deforest landscapes of possibilities.

All the politicians who’ve hollowed out mother nature‘s womb and created a war room.

To those who turn dance floors into killing floors. Those hooked on the apocalypse jukebox, continually tuned into the static of crashtastic demise.

To those who slaughter the bebop of birdsong with the sounds of one bomb drop after another.

Those who bully blue skies to black and blue. Those who separate the light from the dark and then enchain the bright, enslave the bright—

above all your noise and destruction, there is still a wondrous song ringing in our ears.

A song that remains the steady core of our dizzily spinning world.

Rich Ferguson, Not a Dear John Letter, But Close

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 1

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This first full week of the year found some poets still looking back at 2021, some looking ahead with goals and writing strategies for 2022, and many looking within. I have a bit of brain fog as I recover from a mild, breakthrough case of COVID, so the arrangement may be less coherent than usual, but as always there are so many interesting and surprising posts, it almost doesn’t matter what order they’re in. Enjoy.


To net the light before it escapes
our horizon, stretching
in the expanse between us; stars
migrating like geese.

To learn the language of distance,
pull the furthest past into focus
like a new-born child her mother’s face.

Karen Dennison, Poetry and science 1

I haven’t been doing too much poetry writing lately, but one morning this week I drafted a poem called “Lying to Myself,” that sort of veered off topic as if to demonstrate the title. Furthermore, when I flipped the pages of the poem-drafting notebook, I saw that I had been drafting poems all along, just not doing much further with them. Sometimes I typed them into my computer, revising a bit, et cetera, but some just sat there languishing… 

Then a friend sent me a text with a link to a New York Times article on languishing as a state of unfocused mind during Covid, not depression but also not flourishing. Yes, it clicked. Thanks, Chris! It was an article from April 2021, revisited in December 2021, and I couldn’t read it on my phone, and I hope can see it via this link, but I could read it on my computer, thanks to an electronic subscription given to me by a friend. Thanks, Scott!

It was comforting to learn that I’d intuitively found ways over the past year and a half to both comfort and focus myself, and that I didn’t have to see all my tactics as escape or avoidance but rather as real strategies to fend off too much languishing. I could create temporary “flow”—that state of time both suspended and flashing by during intense focus on a creative project or sports—when drafting even the poems I forgot (or didn’t revise or submit later). I could get steady satisfaction from small daily tasks and goals. I could, as I did, immerse myself in other stories than my own, every time I read a book or watched a movie, and I did a lot of that. 

Kathleen Kirk, Lying to Myself

For a while a white softness
would rub out the dirt of the streets,
the remains of this year’s
half-hearted celebrations.
And then, soon after,
we’d be thirsty for colour again,
our mind would shovel away
the heavy burden
from green bushes and red cars,
we’d long for the blue sea,
the moonlight in a warm night
when the cicadas cannot sleep.
But to make it all worth it,
first the snow must come.

Magda Kapa, No snow here

January 6th is Epiphany, when Christians celebrate the coming of the Three Kings from the East to the cradle in Bethlehem, led by a star blazing in the heavens that “stopped over the place where Jesus lay.” It’s always been my favorite Christmas story, in spite of the fact that I hardly believe a word of it. Like all the Biblical narratives, it probably has seeds of truth. The Greek word magos (of which magoi is the plural, later shortened to magi) gives us “magic” and “magician”: the magi were generally thought to be priest-astronomers who were well-versed in astronomy and astrology, alchemy, and other types of esoteric practices. […]

I thought about the Magi again this past weekend as we watched a documentary about the James Webb telescope, launched on Christmas Day and now well into its journey to deep space, where — if everything goes as hoped and planned — it will send pictures and data of unprecedented clarity and detail back to earth, furthering our knowledge of both the near and far reaches of our universe and its origins. The telescope will be able to “see” infrared light from over 13.5 billion years ago, when the first stars and galaxies were forming, and it will also give much clearer data and measurements of planets in other galaxies which might harbor conditions conducive to life.

In some ways, it’s easier for me to believe in wise men from the East, following a star to Bethlehem to search for the infant King of the Jews, than to wrap my head around stars coming into being from a Big Bang 13.8 billion years ago — what does that number even mean? Let alone the concept of some sort of ultra-compacted super-heated Density suddenly expanding into the Somethingness that eventually gave rise to Everything. But I do trust science, and mathematics, and the observations of astrophysics, and I am prepared to be amazed many more times in my life by the explorations and discoveries of space science. I hope I live long enough to see some proof of what I have always believed: that we are not alone in the universe, and that Life probably exists in many other places and forms.

Beth Adams, Stars

what to do but
trace the hollow
of the moon
taste the air that once
held your name
and know how
one by one
inch by inch
shadows lengthen
inside you

Rajani Radhakrishnan, What to do

Stanza length happens to be one of the aspects of a draft I am most likely to change when revising. Stanzas being the little rooms of the poem, it seems the spaces between stanzas play, usually, a more than visual role in the best poems…well, that got me thinking about space in the poem and somehow led to thinking what poems offer. Why we read and write them, even in the 21st century.

Explicitly: The poem is a space for reflection. In the space of the poem, a reader can expand perspective or feel resonance, as in a concert hall; or find a mirroring of the reader’s self (reflection); or, in a critical sense, the reader can reflect upon the poem’s topic, context, argument, content, imagery, craft, language, or beauty. The space of the poem urges response and responsiveness. Poems are not rooms built solely by and for the writer but built of the circumstances and for the reader, too.

What poetry means, in terms of reflection, is that the response can be reflective of the reader’s space, as well as the writer’s. I know that I have had different responses/readings of the same poem depending upon the place I was in while reading it (emotional, physical, contextual “place”). Different kinds of mirrors reflect different visual images. The lighting matters. The time of day. The mood. All of those are spaces, metaphorically or actually. Different stanzaic rooms, different poetic rooms–ready for a reader’s exploration.

Ann E. Michael, Reflective spaces

by what power does the dark pull of the moon :: become our silver light

Grant Hackett [no title]

We adjourned to the courtyard for our evening worship.  There’s a Native American group that we’ll learn more about today who came last night.  They had a smudging ceremony in the courtyard.  We each stepped forward to be smudged with sage that smoked in what looked like a giant shell.  The elders swirled the smoke around us with big feathers.

I wish I could have heard better.  At first I thought the same words were repeated with everyone, but as I watched, I realized that wasn’t true.  I was second to be smudged.  The female elder of the tribe said, “Oh, such strong shoulders” as she touched them with the feather.  She said, “And a good heart.”  I’m not sure of the rest, although at one point, she did say, “We’re getting rid of all negativity.”

Later she told me that there are 4 types of smudging smoke:  tobacco, sage, sweetgrass, and cedar.  I wonder if those smudging ceremonies are different.

The one we experienced last night was very powerful.  Many of us cried a bit, and a few of us were deeply shaken, and I’m not sure whether it was in a good way or a bad way.  Once again, I was reminded of how cerebral most of our mainline Protestant worship services are, and how it might be much more powerful/effective to do more embodied practices.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, The First Full Day of the 2022 Onground Intensive

The mushrooms kick in and your brain grows feathery wings
And flies right out of the window, into the exploding green sky.
You hear bassoons and oboes. Someone is singing the poems
Of Emily Dickinson quite loudly, and without any particular melody.
The smell of french fries. Aah. And flowers fly beside you
Like small birds. Chirping. Any hard feelings you were harboring
Are now gone. You love your enemies, just like Jesus said.

James Lee Jobe, Jesus and the French Fries.

Almost wisdom,
the master said before

he dismissed it,
the old monk’s poem.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (98)

Is it nerve-wracking meeting with other humans during Omicron’s numbers, overrun hospitals, and daily news? It was! Was it worth it? Well, neither Glenn and I (who tested before and after) got sick, our guests didn’t get sick, and everyone was vaccinated (most triple-vaccinated, except me) and we were running four air purifiers and kept windows open (circulation still important!) so definitely yes. I have missed other humans! It’s just not the same over the phone or over Zoom. And Glenn really enjoys cooking for humans who aren’t quite as jaded to his excellent food as me and the cats have become.

While Rose and Glenn bonded over Seahawks and cooking, Kelli showed me how to share an Instagram story (Instagram is still a new skill set for me) and we talked poetry, PR, the problems of launching books during a pandemic…you know, typical girl stuff! Seriously, family bonding and writer-friend bonding felt really life-affirming. It also felt unfamiliar – seeing people in person. When this pandemic is over (someday soon, hopefully,) I’m going to have to re-learn my socializing skills. What is it going to be like to do a poetry reading in public again?

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Late Holiday Celebrations, 10 Questions with Massachusetts Review, After the Snow, Floods, and Next Week, a Speculative Poetry Class

wandering poet
in the catacombs of mind
a thousand coffins

Jim Young [no title]

Today I am grateful for the poetry books of others as well as for the wonder of my own deep revision. 

This afternoon, I’m halfway through Disappearing Queen by Gail Martin, winner of the Wilder Prize by Two Sylvias Press and I don’t want it to end. The different narrative threads include the life of bees, the life of an older American woman, and the accrued losses implicit in both. […]

And somehow, the day is almost gone and my poem “architectural digest, reboot” is nowhere near done; neither is “The Pickle Barrel at Morse’s”. Maybe they never will be. When working on new poems there is simply joy at  attempting something new; a deep feeling of gratitude for the creation.

May your creativity flair in unexpected and exciting ways; may your creativity swerve sideways or even take a small rest. I feel so lucky to be living this life as a writer and a secret painter; to be creating community and also to love the solitude. 

Susan Rich, Happy New Year, One Day Late

the letters on the gravestone
became letter-shaped pools where
letter-shaped moss grew

Gary Barwin, PO(E)TATOES

This year was another big reading year for me – I read 319 books, down from last year’s 332 books! Of those books consumed, here were my favorites:

Poetry

~ No Small Gift by Jennifer Franklin: Poems with themes of betrayal, mothering a severely autistic and epileptic child, battling cancer during a divorce, mythology, and eventually, hope.

~ Where the Water Begins by Kimberly Casey: Poems with themes of loss, grief, addiction, hope, health, and figuring out how to keep moving forward.

~ All Sex and No Story by Laura Passin: A chapbook of poems that focus on the body, desire, sex, relationships, and the boundaries in between.

~ Green by Melissa Fite Johnson: Poems with themes of loss, teenage angst, hope, love and forgiving yourself for the mistakes you made in the past.

~ Borrowing Your Body by Laura Passin: Poems with themes of death, dying, loss, space, science, the infinite universe and surviving it all.

Courtney LeBlanc, Best Books Read in 2021

The band announces itself with a flourish
before fading into the soft white of the piano.
It sounds better because it’s old,
a half-remembered audio phantasm
floating just out of reach.
Sure it would be nice to hear
every nuance, every breath, every
subtle shift in tone or timbre.
But given the choice, I’ll take
the crackles and static,
the muted highs and lows,
the mid-range heard as if
underwater, perhaps from
the bottom of a pool
while the band
plays on the
patio
above.

Jason Crane, POEM: Listening To Claude Thornhill’s “Snowfall”

A couple things changed in the last 6 months–even the last two months.  I began to feel a little more smothered and hopeless at the Library as things continued to be too much weight and my enthusiasms that used to buoy me waned.  Remedies for it seemed even further on the horizon if there at all, with pandemic budgets and hiring freezes.  I was trying to hold on to the side of the boat, scared to swim, but I was still drowning somehow.  I started looking for wreckage, a door, a board, anything I could build a raft with.  I didn’t want another ship (ie another library job), though nearby ships were aplenty in this land of the Great Resignations, but I did need something that could keep me out of the water should solid land be further out than I thought or the sea more treacherous than it looked.  

I found a good one in the form of some freelance work, maybe even comfy as a rowboat, in  November and its proved to actually be pretty enjoyable, but is not so heavy that I can’t control its weight.  Enough to make up the lost library income (that’s actually not that much, also part of the problem) and get me somewhere safely.  By leaving, I realized that I could parlay funds from unused vacation hours (months and months b/c  we could never actually take time off) into a nest egg of savings should I need it for emergencies (this was another thing, as single person household I worried about.) . I figured things like health insurance premiums and self-employment taxes and other things that seemed scary. 

All I needed was to let go and start rowing…

Kristy Bowen, onward, across the sea

At the behest of a long-time poetry mentor and friend of mine, I made a commitment recently that I’m both nervous and excited about. I’ve agreed to write and post one new poem per month on this blog. There, I’ve said it publicly and now I’m accountable. For a number of reasons I’m not going to detail here,I’ve been in a hopeless funk for a long time about writing poetry and have struggled to find the calling. So I appreciate this nudge—or more like the light kick in the pants I needed to get going again. Because I am me, of course I decided to re-start this endeavor by writing a sestina about the Burr vs. Hamilton duel, but quickly discovered that this was far too ambitious a plan for my weakened, out-of-shape poetry muscles. It’s like when I go ham at the gym after a long absence and end up debilitatlingly sore the next day. So I’m going to start with something a little simpler and work my way up. I can’t guarantee when the first new poem will show up, but it will be some time in January. I also offer no guarantees as to the quality or literary worth of any new poem. However, if you insult one of my poems, I shall challenge you to a duel!

Kristen McHenry, Affairs of Honor, Poem Promise

The great thing about the first week of this year: I dedicated a substantial chunk to poetry. I discovered that although I’d revised older work, I hadn’t drafted a new poem AT ALL since summer 2021. That’s really rare for me. I tend to throw down drafts during spare hours and come back to them during academic breaks, but honestly, October through December were remarkably short on spare hours. In retrospect, it was right to commit to what felt like countless conferences and conventions to get word out about my 2020 books, and I have no desire to put aside my Shenandoah editorship, even though it can be an overwhelming amount of labor. I received edits on my forthcoming essay collection later than I expected, so mid-fall involved a full-court press on enacting them. I also put scads of creative energy into teaching, and I don’t regret it. But I said yes to too much other service/ committee work. My brain was always revving at top speed, which made sleep difficult, and that created a circular kind of tiredness. Pandemic anxiety and grief for my mother were also operating like background programs, slowing my machine. My PT person told me to walk less to let my tendonitis heal, but that’s bad for body and mind in other ways.

I know what to do with myself to recover from months like that, and as best I can, I’m doing it: more downtime and fun reading, non-homework evenings, plus physical pleasures like sleep, good food, hot baths. I took my respirator mask to a couple of art museums during those few days in Savannah–looking at art restores me, maybe because it’s slow and silent or because it always fills me with a sense of shared effort. The flow experience of writing lifts me, too, but it wasn’t happening. Re-approaching my poetry ms-in-progress felt like hard work I was reluctant to begin.

By dint of ruthless will, though, I made myself shift poems around, add, cut, and revise individual pieces to bring the book into cohesion–the usual arithmetic of solving for the book–and I called in a friend for advice. I can’t say I achieved flow very often last week, and the book still needs more time and thinking, but I do feel better after making real hours for the efforts most important to me. And I wrote two new pieces, one at the crack of dawn this morning!

Lesley Wheeler, The work + worry equations of winter 2022

You’ve seen the plot before. The local police have been told not to apprehend a criminal but keep him under surveillance because Interpol want to catch the whole network. But an ambitious, impetuous young cop who’s unaware of the big picture arrests the criminal because he thinks the criminal’s getting away.

Apprehending a poem can have the same plot. Committing yourself to the first interpretation ensures that you get the bird in the hand, but you might miss out on many more that two other possibilities in the bush.

So follow at a distance. Wait for it to make contact with more significant agents. Try to picture the whole network. The first idea you have may be the easiest to find because it’s the most superficial. Don’t think that the title says it all. Don’t think that the rhymes are what it’s all about. Remember that even low-level operatives are cunning enough to lead you down blind alleys.

Tim Love, Apprehending

I’m currently reading, and very much admiring, the excellent Nine Arches Press book, Why I Write Poetry, edited by Ian Humphreys, in which 25 contemporary UK-based poets address aspects of their poetry practice and motivation. The subtitle, of sorts, of the book is, ‘essays on becoming a poet, keeping going and advice for the writing life’. These words from Rosie Garland chime precisely with attitudes to artists like [Louis] Wain:

‘Outsider’ is an opinion, imposed by those who regard themselves as ‘inside’, and impose their arbitrary norms.

Yesterday was the seventy-fifth birthday, as it were, and tomorrow marks six years since the death, of the person who did as much as anyone to give licence to outsiders in the UK and beyond: David Bowie. Later this year, it will be fifty years since his incarnation as Ziggy Stardust changed many people’s lives forever. His first gig as Ziggy took place on 10 February 1972, at the Toby Jug pub at Tolworth roundabout, a mile away from the house in Old Malden that my parents, brothers and I had just moved into. We got our cat, Puzzle, shortly after. I read the other day an excellent piece, here, about Bowie’s northern patrilineage.

The sense of being an outsider, of ‘othering’, is, perhaps unsurprisingly, a recurrent theme in the book. Nine Arches, like increasing numbers of others, is a publisher which specialises in bringing to the fore poetry by diverse voices who would undoubtedly have been marginalised, if not entirely unpublished, in previous generations, and the much longer established poetry publishers seem to have started to respond too. I’m very glad, incidentally, that Nine Arches will be publishing Ramona Herdman’s first full collection this year. Of late, I’ve also been (re-)reading Caleb Parkin’s Nine Arches collection, This Fruiting Body, which is full of riches – even his most straightforward poems, such as his magnificent ‘Ode on a Black Plastic Compost Bin’, are so lush that each one needs properly savouring.

There is much to relate to, to be inspired by, and to reflect upon in Why I Write Poetry’s essays. Each is heartfelt and I know I will come back to them again.

Matthew Paul, On Louis Wain and Why I Write Poetry

Comprised of seventy-three large full-colour photographs of visual poems comprised of a combination of object (leaf, bark, branch) and text, is Toronto poet, editor and publisher Kate Siklosi’s full-length debut, leavings (Malmö, Sweden: Timglaset Editions, 2021). leavings is a collection of visual pieces composed through a combination of printed text, visual poems and letraset combined with leaves, twigs, branches and fir to reveal, in close detail, the physical interactions between nature and language, and the impact of absolute brevity. […]

The pieces are structured in four titled sections, with a single large image per page: the twenty works of “a leaf,” the twenty-three pieces of “a leave,” the eleven pieces of “a left,” and the nineteen pieces of “a mend.” By section titles alone, Siklosi’s quartet hints at an echo of bpNichol’s infamous eight-line poem etched into the concrete of the Toronto lane that now shares his name: “A / LAKE / A / LINE / A / LONE [.]” Just as in Nichol’s poem set in concrete, Siklosi’s poems are uniquely physical, and deliberately temporal; the delicate nature of some of these pieces suggest that most, if not all, might no longer exist in the forms shown in the photographs, leaving the photograph as both framing and document of an object that can’t easily, or ever, be archived. Is her purpose, then, through the exploration, the object or the documentation? There is something fascinating in the way the pieces in leavings also suggest an approach in tandem with her found materials. These pieces exist, one might say, in collaboration between Siklosi and her materials (leaves, branches, etcetera), as opposed to her simply dismantling and repurposing whatever materials she may have found as part of her walks (her acknowledgments include a “Thank you to NourbeSe for our ravine walks, on which many of these leaves and thoughts were collected.”). Instead, Siklosi appears to respond, from her collaborative corner, as a way of shaping to and around the materials-at-hand. It is no accident, I would think, that her dedication reads, simply: “for the land, our wisest poet [.]” As she writes to preface the collection:

a life is composed of leavings: the remains of crusts and skins, the remnants of night in a dawn sky, the residue of mourning, loves too deep and too shallow, the hard words left unsaid, the time taken, the dust in our tracks. in our tiny expanse, things pass and things grow. we kill and we cultivate. we hurt and we mend. we pick up the pieces and create. we do better and we fail. we thread ragged beginnings from the trodden decay of our pasts. beginnings still. we collect, windswept and tired, in piles against a fence. in our shared fragility, we quilt a being, warm and enough.

rob mclennan, Kate Siklosi, leavings

Ivory, ecru, massed
petals on three heads
of hydrangea. After three
days, each begins to sport
a light ochre outline. We know
what it means: everything
goes into decline. Yesterday,
a communion. Today, a wedding.
Tomorrow, blooms falling
like snow into the open earth.

Luisa A. Igloria, Life Cycle of White

“Reading IS writing”

Well, actually…it isn’t.

Sorry to disappoint you! But only writing is actually writing.

Reading however is an excellent tool for your writing. Along with writing everyday, I try to read at least a couple of poems everyday. I like to think of it as “filling the cup of creativity.”

Reading gets good rhythms and sounds in my mind, topics I want to dialogue with, jumping off points, arguments. Reading / Writing is a conversation between two people who may never meet.

It can be comforting when going through a dry spell of writing to hear that Reading is as good as writing, but don’t let that idea hinder you from bravely meeting the page.

To be clear: you shouldn’t feel any shame about taking a break from writing to just spend time reading. Maybe life has taken a lot out of you, and you really need some filling up! And, in my experience, the more I read, the more likely it is that my reading will spill out into writing sooner than later.

So go read! But don’t ONLY read if you want to hit your writing goals.

Renee Emerson, Tips for Writing Productivity: Read (but not too much…)

The birds return in one of the final poems, “The Un-flight of Porcelain Birds”,

“Spillikins of feather,
your wings are kept by clay.
Roost in my palm, echo of wild things.
You have never trembled evening from your throat.
You have never known
the blue sail of sky.”

There’s a note of regret: these representations of birds will never be wild but can be kept and domesticated. They aren’t sentient beings so won’t know they’ve never known flight, but there seems to be a transference: the narrator is transferring her feelings of confinement and lack of freedom to the birds. The lack here is not having the same freedoms as neurotypical people, the restrictions of suffering domestic violence and the fear that keeps her checking her reactions and actions appear “normal” to others.

“Be Feared” are poems from a poet taking back control of how she expresses herself, how she centres herself, not to dominate others, but to assert her boundaries and encourage others to accommodate her. They acknowledge her suffering from abuse, from being neuro-diverse and how she moves from surviving to coping and thriving. She draws on folklore and myth to make sense of a world that is strange. Jane Burn has created a series of poems of resilience and remaining true to oneself in a world that demands compliance and capitulation.

Emma Lee, “Be Feared” Jane Burn (Nine Arches Press) – book review

A year ago, I wrote, “Since there’s no guarantee 2021 is going to be any less pandemic-y than 2020, I’ve opted for a no nonsense approach to the year’s poetry goals.” The statement introduced a super simplified poetry action plan* for 2021 I thought I’d pared down enough to help me feel productive without applying too much pressure. However, 2021 required more rest and restoration than I’d anticipated. Every activity (writing-related or not) required a recovery period. While that may always have been true, I became acutely aware of the swing of the pendulum.

In looking back at the year, I also realized that most of the writing activities I did were in social/group settings (virtually, of course). I spent far less time with solo writing efforts, like crafting new poems, revising existing drafts and submitting work. It’s possible that my temperament throughout the year — never before have I needed so much mind-numbing downtime — made that true, but it’s also likely that so much engagement with others required more recovery than anticipated (and in comparison with solitary activities).

When I set goals for 2022 in the coming days, I’m going to take that into account and aim for a quieter, more inward-facing writing year. But I have no regrets about what I did/didn’t accomplish in 2021. I rested more than I wrote (2021 was also full of some huge life changes), but I showed up for workshops and readings that will inform and inspire me for years to come.

Carolee Bennett, revisiting 2021 poetry goals: more rest than writing

How do you want to live, now? That has been the question asked by countless writers and I ask it of myself all the time. The Canadian writer Elizabeth Smart once asked:

“Isn’t there some statement you’d like to make? Anything noted while alive? Anything felt, seen, heard, done? You are here. You’re having your turn. Isn’t there something you know and nobody else does? What if nobody listens? Is it all to be wasted? All blasted? What about that pricey pain? What about those people. They sit outside this story, but give it its shape. If it has a shape. What about all the words that were said and all the words that were never said?”

As for me, I do want to make of my life art. I want to be a witness to splendour. I want to get as much down as possible, whether by the light of photography or by the light of my weird noticing. I want my presence to be art. I don’t want to waste anything, not a moment. I want this blog to be art and I want to inspire you to make art of your life. I want my peanut butter sandwiches to be art, and I want the flowers I arrange in a vase to be art. You’ll remember this quotation by Anne Morrow Lindbergh from her lovely small book, Gift from the Sea.

“Arranging a bowl of flowers in the morning can give a sense of quiet in a crowded day- like writing a poem or saying a prayer.”

I look around at all the people I know navigating this pandemic life with grace and fortitude and the way they parent and work from home and do all these things that we would have thought to be weird in the beforetimes. So weird and so impossibly difficult! And yet though so many are stretched so thin, processing a ton of unevenly disseminated information on how to stay safe, keeping their loved ones safe, working in non-ideal situations, and etc, they are often doing it with a sense of humour, with elegance, with an amazing make the best of it attitude. Sure, we’re all crumbling from time to time; we’re struggling. In the last two years most of us have felt pretty much every emotion under the sun. But if this isn’t art, the lives we are leading right now, then I don’t know what is. If, as Li-Young Lee says, the self is the final opus, then how do you want your soul to look when all this is said and done?

Shawna Lemay, Your Life and the Work of Art

There is no map to show me
where clouds go.
Exactly where do clouds go?

Wind blows its hail
across the field.
In the darkness of the shed
the pigs bury themselves
in fresh straw.
I shut myself in the cabin,
watch trees bend and water
gather itself in old tracks
I’d forgotten were there.
In the end is the beginning,
in the beginning, the end.

Bob Mee, BEGINNING OF THE YEAR

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 52 + New Year’s 2022

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.

The last week of the year always has a kind of aimless, limbo-like feeling, as several bloggers observed, so I was impressed by how many still managed an end-of-the-year post. The selection below doesn’t quite reflect how many of those posts included favorite book lists as well, so really, quite a lot of riches for those with the time to click through.

Here’s hoping 2022 brings a bit of peace and sanity, but if not, there’s always poetry. Happy New Year.


Years ago, I worked for an organization that always closed down during the week between Christmas and New Year’s, and as such I became habituated to taking those days off and have made it something of a tradition. Nothing is going to get accomplished in that time anyway. It’s an informal national “down week” as it should be, because these are frozen, dead, throw-away days in which humans are not meant to be functional. Hence no post last week. I’ve been off since December 23rd, doing nothing but loafing around and making a full-time job of trying to keep warm in the 15-degree weather in our under-insulated apartment, shivering in a turtleneck (thanks, Mom!), a hoodie, a knit hat, and double socks.

Kristen McHenry, Days of Loafing, Re-Discovering Dorothy, History Buff

It’s the break of day, New Year’s Eve. I’m writing from the warm, night-morning-darkness of my living room, the only light is that of decorative twinkle and the snow glow outside. My holiday boon is scattered on the nearby table, gifts that are already page-tabbed and folded open. I’ve finished Amy Butcher’s Mother Trucker, and working through Robert Hass’s Time and Materials by day and by night, Ken Gould’s mystery, Death’s Grip, along with Kerstin Ekman’s Scandia Noir read, Under the Snow. As is the case with readers, these are 4 named titles. Waiting in the background sit short stacks of 24 additional titles, patiently awaiting their own cracks in spine. There is a new blank book awaiting rough writings in chicken scratch scrawl, bright beaded earrings, magnetic haiku and coffee poetry sets, and real coffee from a friend to accompany all of these wild ways to spend winter time.

Kersten Christianson, New Year’s Eve: Closing the Book of 2021

at the end of every verse
leave a promise —
what shall we do with sleep
without a morning to wake up to
what shall we do with rain
when skin cannot endure the wet
what shall we do with all this
longing, without the grammar
of hope —

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Leave a promise

I have begun and started this post so many times in the last week. Usually I really look forward to writing the end of year blog, to look back at the good things that have happened. But this year it fels really different – every time I look at my 2021 diary at the months that have passed I feel sadness at all the things that didn’t happen, all the people I didn’t see, all the times when my daughter missed out, when I missed out.  And I also know that I’m lucky because I am healthy and I’ve been able to do some things.  I can’t stop thinking about friends who are still isolating, still unable to leave their houses.

It’s hard to look back on a year that has been threaded through with a low hum of anxiety, but I have had some lovely things happen this year. Probably the most obvious one of those is the publication of my second poetry collection All the Men I Never Married.  But perhaps more than any other year, it has felt like a year where I’ve been able to try out different ways of my work reaching a wider audience – so I’m going to list a few of them here, just in case there are other people out there with slightly more time on their hands than usual, in this strange gap between Christmas and New Year.  

Kim Moore, END OF YEAR BLOG

Today I undertook one of my favorite and also least favorite projects of the year–transferring all my random slips of paper and no-longer sticky post-its into a new sketchbook/planner for 2022.  Good because its bright white blank pages are sort of exciting, least because it just makes me remember all the things I never got a chance to get to.  I started the post-it system after years of lost to-do lists and actual planners and trying to understand bullet journaling and a million things that did not work to keep my mind organized.  The premise was simple..the front pages sort the days of the week, the coming weeks, the coming month, the coming year.  As things arise, I write them on the 1 inch post-its and stick them to the corresponding day.  Obviously stuff gets moved and transferred to coming weeks and I suppose gets done eventually if if ever does. 

I have spreads for dgp projects in the works, including columns–layout-cover designs–proofing–so that I can see at a glance what is happening with each book. I have a section for monthly goals, though as the year goes on, I usually lose track of filling these pages out, but occasionally they help me finish up things. The worst, though, is a section titled “PROJECTS’ where every idea I have –for poems, for art projects, for shop lovelies–usually just sort of go to die, only to be moved to the next planner every late December. I also have pages for the library and things happening there. Admittedly, I didn’t even change books between 2020 and 2021, since so much was just lingering from the previous year. There are ideas for art & design projects that I’ve been moving from book to book since 2013.  Also writing projects.  Occasionally, like unusual creatures, I finish them eventually, but more often not. I might seem productive on occasion, but not half as productive as I’d like.

Kristy Bowen, new year, new planner

The fae character in my novel Unbecoming was, I now understand, incredibly fun to write because in imagining her, I got to inhabit the person I might have been if I were thoroughly, deliciously selfish, unworried about anyone’s future. I rarely consciously knew what she would say or do next; instead, I would take a break from writing and hear her whisper her next lines. The last dictation I received is her last quotation in the book: “I don’t know what I want, but I want it very much.” Word.

Speaking of traces of the past: one last magazine issue with a poem of mine slid under the old year’s wire. “You Know Where the Smithy Stood by the Clinkers” just appeared in the new National Poetry Review. It’s based on a lecture given several years ago by W&L archaeologist Don Gaylord. It immediately helped me see the buildings I work in in a different way, but I had to revise the poem many times, mostly by paring it down, until its architectural bones became clear. The past is always present, even when you suppress difficult memories.

Lesley Wheeler, Sacrifices, gifts, and a year in reading

It’s become a tradition and a privilege to spend New Years Eve with L. and B.

L. is the one who invited me to eat 12 grapes at midnight. She and B lived in Spain for a few years. I believe that to make a wish with each grape is her own twist on the Spanish tradition. Today I reread the blog post from 2020 and realize that my 12 wishes last night were nearly identical to those two years ago: synonyms and shifted specifics. New perspectives. New approaches.

I’m not sure what to make of that in terms of my personal growth. Walt Whitman contradicted himself because he contained multitudes. I repeat myself. I think that is because I contain a multitude of threads as well, and am on a dialectical path. Where it ends doesn’t seem to be as important anymore. Only that I keep moving towards something.

The word “ease” had come up a lot over the past two years. Maybe the past three years. But this morning I read the word “gentle”.

I lingered on the word gentle.

I read Dylan Thomas’s poem again this morning with more empathy – and a different understanding – than I’ve had before. It’s wonderful, because for the first time I see the specific context of the speaker’s perspective. I see the words “old age” (would that Death allowed us all that experience), and the speaker’s projecting his own fears onto his father, and onto every other old man’s evaluation of their worth in the world. I think I’ve read this poem always making way for the poet/speaker’s greater wisdom, and I read the advice in the poem as a kind of sutra. I am thrilled no one deprived me of this discovery: that this (projected) perspective is not wrong, but is only one perspective. A true perspective, but not the true perspective. And that is not to say that no one has ever analysed the poem this way, explained it, described it to me. But if they did, I wasn’t able to take the lesson in.

Long live the hyper-realistic beauty of the unreliable narrator.

Ren Powell, What Falls Away Gently

As 2021 stumbles to a close, it might be obvious to anyone who was paying attention (and I don’t know if anyone was) that I was not writing in here much in recent months; to be precise, since September. In many ways, September and onwards was a big improvement over the rest of my life since the start of the pandemic in early 2020. I got a new job working with children’s literature – so far, on course to be my best job ever – and before starting, I had time to visit my family in Canada. I also spent September weekends as part of the Sea Reconnection exhibition, which as an art-and-poetry exhibition was a first for me and certainly a highlight of the year.

I haven’t felt much like writing, though. My pandemic experience has avoided the worst that many have experienced (severe illness, death of loved ones, prolonged unemployment, etc) but at times I feel like it’s sort of flattened me out. I hope to get back into more of a writing frame of mind in the months to come, even in small ways, which I think will help.

Clarissa Aykroyd, Ten years of The Stone and the Star

Pull out the drawers,
and balled-up socks
sigh of their own accord.

Throw open the windows
and huddled shapes
of air unfold

forgotten wings. Old
beds of ash retire
into the soil so flint

or a match could strike
a small yellow flame
to brilliance.

Luisa A. Igloria, Encadenada

Yesterday we went for a long walk at Parc Jean-Drapeau, site of Montreal’s Expo 67: this geodesic dome, designed by Buckminster Fuller, was the United States pavilion for Expo, and is now a museum dedicated to the environment. But yesterday we were pretty much the only people on the two islands in the middle of the river, and even though it was a grey day, it was just what I needed. Lots of wildlife tracks in the snow, many birds including a huge flock of robins (what are they thinking?), the St Lawrence roiling along in its winter mood, red rose hips against the snow, junipers loaded with blue berries, overgrown plantings, a greenhouse where large tropical plants were being overwintered, and many odd graphic images from the desolation of winter and the decay or remnants of structures built for Expo that have fallen into disuse. I hope you’ll enjoy taking this walk with me, and I wish you all the best for the year to come.

Beth Adams, A New Year’s Walk

I have got a great deal out of writing this blog this year. The feedback is as immediate as social media, and far more fulfilling. There is always a chance someone will read it, so it never feels pointless. I write about whatever I want, however I want: that anyone is listening at all is a luxury! Yet, having had a month or so away from blogging, I can see how my relationship with it might have some things in common with submitting poetry to magazines, or using social media: that feeling that I need to just keep publishing; that fear of rejection, which only feeds the desire to publish more.

Is there a solution? Jonathan Davidson suggests we broaden our understanding of what sharing poetry entails to include a greater focus on different kinds of reading (e.g., out loud, at special occasions), and on reaching more non-poets. I agree. Davidson’s focus is largely on collections, but I think the insight can be extended to individual poems. Why should the default ‘end point’ be publication in a magazine?

For most people I know, poetry is a marginal art, so it’s a fair assumption that by placing a poem in a magazine you will have a greater chance of finding an appreciative reader (i.e. another poet) than sharing it with someone you know. But the end result of this way of thinking isn’t just a self-fulfilling prophecy which keeps poetry on the margins: it effects our idea of what a poem even is.

There are ways of rethinking how we share poetry among regular writers, too. I suspect a lot of writers engage with poetry groups and workshops, at least in part, as steps towards publication. But there is no reason why they have to be. I attended a regular poetry evening when I was at university. I have never produced so much rubbish in my life, but I have rarely felt so much like I knew why I was writing.

My own solution over the last few years has been to try to publish less poetry, and more writing about poetry. I can see this wouldn’t appeal to everyone. It may end up with me not publishing any of my own poetry at all (which isn’t necessarily a disaster). But I’ve also found that I appreciate poetry – writing it and reading it – more, not less.

Jeremy Wikeley, A Year in (Not) Publishing

Imagine how it feels when the sky is dark and you’re the first star. That’s Frank’s trusty Tree Service. You’re the first tree. You’re reborn. You’re a tree and you’re reborn as a tree. And soon you’ll be surrounded by a forest of trees reborn in a forest reborn and filled with trees.

Gary Barwin, Rise Up, Trees: Frank’s Tree Service.

year’s end
bald pines hold
the sky in place

Julie Mellor, year’s end

I was sad to read that Kirsty Karkow had died, on Christmas Eve. She was a fine haiku and tanka poet. I had some correspondence with her twenty or so years ago and had been in online kukai groups with her in the late ’90s. She’d lived in Maine for many years but was born and educated in England. On Curtis Dunlap’s old ‘Blogging Along Tobacco Road’ blog, which was always a pleasurable read, you can still find Kirsty’s admirable contribution, here.

Matthew Paul, On Sylvia Kantaris and Kirsty Karkow

I cannot recall where I learned of Byung-chul Han, but I’ve had the pleasure of reading one of his books of philosophical essays (The Scent of Time) recently, and seldom has a philosophy text resonated so immediately with my circumstances. In this book, Han argues for contemplative time. He says it is essential for humans and human society and claims the “acceleration” of everyday life robs us of the value of reflective thought and “slow time.”

Raised and educated in Germany, where he now teaches, Han invokes the works of several German philosophers to provide a starting-point regarding the acceleration of time. He draws on Nietzsche, Arendt, Husserl and, to a larger extent, Heidegger…but Derrida, Aquinas, Aristotle, and others as well. He also quotes from quite a few poets, such as Celan, Hölderlin, Büchner, Handke, Ch’iao Chi, and spends two chapters on Proust (but of course…).

Han posits that the point-like, algorithmic availability of information runs counter to knowledge and wisdom, which require experience, which in turn requires duration and connection rather than arbitrary retrieval: “Promising, commitment and fidelity, for instance, are genuinely temporal practices. They bind the future by continuing the present into the future…creating a temporal continuity.” He criticizes the very technology that permits a person like me to learn about his work (I am certain I heard of him online somewhere). That criticism says the faster we go, the further we are from our earthiness–the airplane removes us from earth’s gravitational field as well as from the soil, “estranging the human being from it.” He adds, “The internet and electronic mail let geography, even the earth itself, disappear…Modern technology de-terrestrializes human life.”

Strong opinions, large claims. But oh, I thought at once of Whitman and his long expansive drawling poems when I read, “Instead of leisurely strolling around, one rushes from one event to another. This haste and restlessness characterize neither the flâneur nor the vagabond.” The whizzing about leads to anxiety and a lack of durable relationships. People hover instead of connect, swiping left or doomscrolling, feeling bored–which is a kind of empty-mindedness. I observe this trend of rushing and hovering in my students and among my colleagues. I have not found much Whitman-like lounging in current poetry publications, but a great deal of anxiety appears in contemporary poems. Writers reflect the times. Context shapes us.

Ann E. Michael, Slowing time

year’s end
waiting for candy
in the rain

Jason Crane, haiku: 31 December 2021

Field Guide to Invasive Species of Minnesota by Amelia Gorman

This gorgeous chapbook explores the ecological dangers of Climate Change and the emotional impacts of human nature. These poems flirt with the speculative, presenting a near future that feels nurtured by the here and now, offering visions of what could be while feeling anchored in what has been. The pairing of botanical illustrations with these lush poems is the kind of book I love to have and hold in its physical form, so that I can flip through its beautiful pages.

Andrea Blythe, Books I Loved Reading in 2021

The end of the year rolls near and I am just lifting my head towards my blog. It’s been forgotten in the shuffle of working life and as that end-of-year-in-review feeling rolls in I have to be honest with myself about several things. 

Where I am at geographically, career-wise, with a view to my family and my energy levels means I cannot place much focus on my writing. And 2022 will be even more difficult. I’m starting my teacher training course in January while working full-time at a school and raising my kids. I’m currently fitting writing in at the weekends, but soon that will be taken over by my course. I will continue to try and do a bit of writing, but compromises will be made. 

And it hurts to think I will have to put it aside or squeeze it into the cracks. I would love to be working as a writer even part-time, but I need to focus on a career that I know will give some financial security. I’m finishing off a commission for some poetry this week and coming to the end of an editing job. I hope other small opportunities present themselves, but I will have to protect what little time I have to study and spend with my kids as much as I can.

My book will obviously not be published in 2021. I knew this was the case from early summer as nothing seemed to be moving forward, including communication. Maybe something will happen next year, but I no longer hold out much hope. My book was accepted about the time my decades-long relationship fell apart, so it felt a positive part of my renewal, a reason to look forward and celebrate my hard work. Then Covid and Brexit and Time bulldozed on through and here I am, still waiting, trying to be patient. 

Gerry Stewart, The End of 2021 Draws Nigh

2021 was also the year I launched a book during a pandemic! What fun! Strangers came out in April, and was formally launched in May, with an online event featuring Sadiqa de Meijer and Sue Sinclair, and hosted by my editor Luke Hathaway. You can view that here. Unable to tour the book, this summer I took my tour local, with readings around Vancouver (even those were fraught – one was canceled by a record-shattering “heat dome,” another was rained our and had to be moved into the overhang area of an elementary school playground… normal stuff!). I loved getting to hear new poems from fellow pandemic-launching poets – eleven total guest readers over the course of the series. Readings at the Vancouver Writers Fest, Word Vancouver, and the Real Vancouver Writers Series kept me busy all fall, and helped me feel like it might really be reaching readers out there in the world! Reviews of the book and also interviews about the book kept me afloat despite the lack of in-person connections. Thank you to everyone who spent some time with Strangers in 2021 – it meant a great deal to me.

Rob Taylor, the 2021 roll of nickels year in review

I’ve been thinking as I look at my stats for the year that there’s some sort of link between my running this year and my writing. Correlation isn’t causation, etc and I don’t have the charts to hand (the wherewithal to tally up each month to make the chart),but I know that up to June this year I finished 10 poems and was roughly averaging 40-50k a week, and between July and now I’ve finished 5 poems and am averaging about 20K a week.

I’ve also run less overall. Last year it was 1600K, this year it’s just over 1500. I was aiming for 2000K, but

I think the reason behind these declines are that I was up a lot earlier in the first half of the year, and using the time after the runs to work on poems. I was training for Race To The King, and when folks mentioned I’d be struggling for motivation after that I didn’t believe them. How right they were. A combination of injury before the race, and exhaustion after has left me struggling to get back into the right frame of mind. It’s been the same with writing, the mad kick bollock scramble of the second half of 2021 has just left me with no interest in picking up a pen. I have no doubt it will come back. I can see a draft I started a coupe of weeks ago staring at me and I know I want to get to it, so I have faith.

Mat Riches, Run on lines…

When I look back at previous goals and roundups from around this time of year, I can see that pretty much every year I say I am going to cut back work, live a healthier lifestyle, live a ‘less chaotic life’ and have never quite managed it, until this year. My favourite mantra of this year, and one I’ll be taking with me into next year is ‘Everything in your life is a reflection of a choice you have made. If you want different outcomes, make different choices.’ Changing habits, changing learned behaviour, thought habits, unhealthy coping strategies etc is not about will power. Will power plays its part, but rather than being a shield you use to protect you from cravings, will power is tool you can use to reinforce the positive habits, affirming to yourself that you are worth change, that you are worth nice things, good health, a happy work/life balance. This year I managed to over work myself to a point at which I triggered an underlying heart condition and very high blood pressure. In fact, what I’d thought was the menopause turned out to be my body struggling with what I was doing to it. The doctors I spoke to told me I needed to cut down caffeine, alcohol and stress to manage it. Reader, I did not know who I was without caffeine, alcohol and stress. I cut back caffeine consumption to just first thing in the morning and the occasional afternoon cup of tea. Knowing I could still get my Wendy strength coffee first thing meant I was happy to cut back for the rest of the day. The stress and the booze were much harder to cut down. I enlisted the help of a personal health trainer to help me change my terrible relationship with alcohol, which you can read about here and reader, it worked, it continues to work. I had my first hangover in four months this week. I’ve taken the brakes off a little over Christmas and drunk more than I have been doing and amazingly found that I don’t really want to drink much anymore. Which makes me a cheap date and a complete and utter lightweight. This is my biggest achievement of this year. I know there will be people who don’t really understand that cutting back booze is a big achievement, it’s not like I have gone Tee Total, but the change in my health, my happiness, my anxiety and my self confidence is noticeable. I’m not going back. I’ve done this before and never quite managed it because I gave booze up completely without changing my thought process around it. This time it really does feel different. I have altered my thinking, altered my motivations.

Wendy Pratt, 2021 – My Year in Review- Best Books, Best People, Best Moments, Best Foot Forward

even when I did not know your name, sparrow,
I knew your song, the particular way
you break the silence

Han VanderHart, Bird Song Sounds Out of Tune Only to the Human Ear

Do you remember at the beginning of the pandemic there were all the jokes about the line “I hope this email finds you well.” And let’s face it, for the last couple of years, we haven’t been well, or at least not all the time, and certainly not in all the ways one would wish to be well. What even is wellness now? I don’t want any easy and pat wellness advice myself because this stuff is hard and recurring and complicated and we can be more than one thing at once, anyway. One thing I do know, is that what we normally think of as wellness is not this steady stream. Sure we can be resilient but we also get to take breaks from being resilient. (Which is perhaps a form of resiliency). So what I hope for you in this coming year is that you find your way to a wellness, and in the times when things are more crumbly, you find ways to return and return to a space where you feel okay and sometimes even content and happy.

Shawna Lemay, Keeping Your Appointments in 2022

Let me be the photographer staring down into the lens
of a Box Brownie, let me really see my mother’s red hair,
my father’s best trousers, my brother’s barely lived in skin,

our white socks and Start-Rite sandals, or deeper still –
the cotton handkerchiefs in our dress pockets, Dad’s tattoos
hidden under his long sleeved shirt, the sand beneath

the soil and grass under our feet, the scent in the darkness
when we opened the coalbunker door, what we knew then,
what we didn’t know, what we were unable to even imagine.

Lynne Rees, Poem ~ 1963

Palpable: what else to call poems with lines such as “I RUB MESSAGES INTO THE WALL B/C I KNOW / SOMEDAY I WILL BE DELETED.” The urgency implied in the typographical choice to use all caps (here and consistently throughout the collection) brings with it the implication of presence. Words in all caps are emphasized, given more presence before the eye. Such emphasis and presence are more often associated with brand slogans, protest signs, even text messages–a set of seemingly incongruent examples that yet are totally in line with the world interrogated by Abi-Karam. Only that these are poems, and the poetic space is flexible enough to hold a human pulse despite these implications, and resilient enough push back, to voice and be a voice.

José Angel Araguz, microreview: Villainy by Andrea Abi-Karam

The first poems in Danger Days by Catherine Pierce (Saturnalia Press, 2020) lead one to expect that this book will be all about end times and apocalypse.  The fourth poem dispels this idea: “High Dangerous” is the name her young sons give to hydrangeas.  But there is danger there too: the bees in the flowers.

Pierce finds danger in many supposedly ordinary places.  In motherhood, for instance, in “How Becoming a Mother Is Like Space Travel.” (Both find themselves rearranged.) “Abecedarian for the Dangerous Animals” covers five kinds of animal: bees, bats, the cassowary, the golden dart frog, and humans. […]

One set of poems addresses the history of words, in a series she calls “From the Compendium of Romantic Words.” In each poem she explores, deconstructs and plays with a particular word.  My favorite is “delicatessen” which begins:

Noun.  Notable for a sibilant elegance heightened
by the suggestion of cured meats.  Not deli,
a vulgar nickname, a fly-den, a swing-by, but
a long sigh of syllables, a time machine.  Inside
its languid hiss: flannel suits, stenographer glamour.
When the word is uttered, a skyline materializes.

Ellen Roberts Young, Recommendation: Danger Days by Catherine Pierce

Love Letter to Who Owns the Heavens [by Corey Van Landingham] brought back to me memories from January 1991. I was visiting friends at the University of Maine in Orono (UMO) and trying to rekindle a romance with a boyfriend from high school. He refused to see me, so I met friends in the Bears Den where we ate and watched TV. It was the night coalition forces launched the attack on Iraq. A screen in the corner of the room in the student union broadcast the bombardment. Here’s what Wikipedia says about the moment: “The war marked the introduction of live news broadcasts from the front lines of the battle, principally by the US network CNN. The war has also earned the nickname Video Game War after the daily broadcast of images from cameras on board U.S. bombers during Operation Desert Storm.”

I can’t recall if we were horrified but know for sure we were mesmerized. And, even though I was just 18 at the time, I’m ashamed to admit that I was more pained by the romantic abandonment than by what I saw on TV. Even though the scenes from my UMO visit have stuck with me, I never bothered to include them in a poem. If I had, I’d probably have written about the boy and not the televised introduction to war in my lifetime. It’s a daunting task to consider even now.

I’m still not writing much about world events in my poems, but thankfully my interrogation of our complicity in them has evolved, and Van Landingham’s poems support this necessary and difficult line of questioning. In “{Pennsylvania Triptych},” she writes, “To participate in the demolition is to be a part of history. Is what I tell myself…” She goes on, “As if, ante- / bellum, white and wealthy, with your father’s / father’s sprawling fields, you wouldn’t have let the / house staff serve you pheasant.” We must come to terms with our participation in dehumanizing others if we are to understand how to stop it.

Carolee Bennett, “the body becomes a downloadable thing”

How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
It was completely administrative! I decided to apply to MFA programs last minute and the deadlines were coming up. I had to put together a portfolio and figured it would take less time to write poetry than to write prose (ha!). I became a poet thanks to early deadlines. But I kept with poetry because I love its sparseness— it’s a form in which what you don’t say is as important as what you do say. Absence speaks, it’s mystical— a fairytale in itself. […]

What is the best piece of advice you’ve heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
In writing: act as if everyone is enlightened but you (Sandra Alcosser).

In general: “Dlatego dwie uszy jeden język dano, iżby mniej mówiono a więcej słuchano.” It”s a common Polish saying, loosely translated: “you got two ears and one mouth to speak less and listen more”. In fact, come to think of it, this applies perfectly to writing too.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Anna van Valkenburg

An interesting poem shows consideration-in-process. To “consider” means “be with the stars,” doesn’t it? Who doesn’t want that from a poem?

Poems in which the poet knows too much at the outset can tend toward flatness, I have found. The movement, if there is movement, in such a poem is of a busy person through a room who gives you a brisk nod. “Oh, there goes old whatsisname. Hunh,” you think. And that’s that. A more interesting poem wanders in, sits down with you, says something unexpected, ponders, ask you something, maybe, tells a tale, perhaps, shows you something, and in some way you share the moment.

You still might think, Hunh. But it’s a lingering hunh, a “I want to think more about this” hunh, or a “I never looked at that way before” hunh. You might want to call that poem some late afternoon and see if it wants to go get a beer.

Marilyn McCabe, Don’t stand so close to me; or, On Poems That Know Too Much

I am feeling forlorn this New Year’s morning.  Forlorn weather –  53 degrees and pouring rain, and likely to do so all day.

Last night I went to a New Year’s Eve gathering with eight other old folks –  55+ on the menu at Perkins Pancake House.  Very subdued.  It was a long table and I was the last to arrive and I didn’t get to sit with the friends I enjoy conversing with.  Not even any wine.  We closed the place at 8PM.  Sigh.

I drove home, remembering the New Year’s Eves of my wild youth:  in Philadelphia several with Patrick and his friends, in Baltimore in the apartment at Wellington Gate, and on Barclay Street, even a few in the early years of life in the Daughters.  Sigh.

So it goes.  I keep teaching Slaughterhouse Five to my Modernity class, now on Zoom due to COVID.

Anne Higgins, The times are nightfall; look – their light grows less

But for today, let me not focus on all that is coming at me/us in January.  Let me enjoy one more day of tropical drinks by the pool.  Let me focus on reading fiction, since I won’t have a chance to do that much once my seminary classes get underway.  Let me enjoy meals with loved ones and views of a different coastline.

And perhaps I will write a poem.  A few days ago, I made this Facebook post:”It is oddly foggy on the west coast of Florida this morning. It looks like it snowed overnight–or that something dreadful has happened to a lot of mermaids.”

Since then, I’ve continued to think of mermaids and sea foam and the death of mermaid dreams–or is it the resurrection of the girlhood dreams of mermaids?   I came up with this line to begin a poem:  Some days it is better to be sea foam.

Yesterday, the morning fog that looks like sea foam was tinted in different colors, which made me think that maybe sea foam doesn’t represent one eternal idea, but many.  

A poem is percolating, and I want to remember.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, A Soft Ending to Vacation

I know it’s a little cheesy, and harder during a pandemic year, but I still went through the steps of doing my yearly inspiration board, and using my hands to cut and glue things makes me feel like a kid again, and there’s something innately…optimistic about putting up words and pictures that make you feel happy and hopeful. This year, words like “friends,” “inspiration,” “magic,” and “happiness” made appearances, along with images of foxes, pink typewriters, blooms and butterflies.

Anyway, I encourage you to try it yourself, even if it’s just a temporary one on a corkboard, or posting inspiring things on your fridge. What could we look forward to? What are the best possibilities? I’m far too good at looking at the dark side.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Happy New Year! Snowed-In Seattle, Inspiration Board for 2022, Variant Problems, and Late Celebrations

We are born into this life with all its bombs & birdsongs, diseases & deities, poverty & purity. Born into criminals & kissers, debtors & creditors, greed & generosity. Born into freedom & detention, flowers & fault lines, climate change & genocides. Dancing, singing, weeping, raging. Slaving, building, crushing, creating—the beauty & brawl of it all.

Rich Ferguson, Into This

The lines of this poem are a factory that employs
the dead. Ghosts of people that walk
on concrete floors, their eyes
like blank sheets of paper. Do you
have a pen? Me neither.

What is a day? Rows and lines
of broken things – dreams, hopes, love.
No, that’s too hard and I reject it.
A day is you with your shoes off.
You are running toward me
laughing. You are telling me
about some poet from The Gaza Strip
or Kentucky.

James Lee Jobe, Their eyes are like blank sheets of paper.

How lucky the kitchen was stocked with tiny marshmallows and French chocolate
waiting in dishes for guests that would never come…
a list of movies, a fireplace with stacks of crackling logs
six-point crumpled Kleenex fluttering as paper snowflakes in an infinity of patterns
tables littered with bottles —- cough syrup, elderberry, zinc —
and cake vying for room with white test kits

We laughed into delirium when time was a stream of barely noted
notches in the inevitable: 
and talked of dreams, Rebbe Nachman, how to organize notebooks
not optimists but expecting each day would get better

New Year’s Eve was a muted affair; 
even if historic and global, we could say we did it in our pyjamas
in our own creaturely language
although we were still stuck in the indeterminacy

Jill Pearlman, Merry Quarantine

In spite of this, I’m starting this year feeling more optimistic than last year. Perhaps misguidedly. It’s not as if there’s a safe pair of hands in charge in the UK. But there are signs that the covid virus might be becoming less dangerous, which is something to feel hopeful about, even though we are still far from being in the all clear. On top of this, I have my own creative projects ticking away, and time to work on them, and my husband, Andrew, and our two grown-up children are well, we’ve navigated our way through the past two years and we’re still talking to each other and supporting each other’s plans. I’m so glad we’ve all been here for each other, at the end of a phone, if not always in person.

Josephine Corcoran, Light Ahead (maybe)

So, there we are. A year of recycled poems, stocking fillers, stand-ups, long-delayed appreciations and reviews, and far too much about being unwell and sorry for myself. And let’s be fair. In the world ‘out there’ it was a truly horrible year, a sleep of reason beginning with a failed putsch by morons led by a moron in the USA, and ending with tsunamis of incompetence, criminality and sleaze in what passes for government. What keeps me sane? You do. You and the poets whose work makes the world a better place. Go well. Stay well.

John Foggin, 2021: That was the year that was

You find the edge
of the wind right

where it ripples,
the old monk says.

You can almost
taste the sand.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (93)

 the extravagance of sun after a swim

Jim Young [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 51

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week, a special winter holiday edition. Enjoy.


Shortest day of the year.
All the clocks are wrong.

Overhead is a dull seashell.
Clouds cover the sun.

I have to trust
what I can’t see.

And my heart —
a worried compass needle

yearning
for your light.

Rachel Barenblat, Solstice

The snow absorbs sound waves. But the magpie’s bellies chatter like shakers in an improvised concert. The front yard is filled with tension. A drama without narrative.

The magpies are quiet now.

Wait.

They will begin again. Like barren Shakers, they’ll gather and make something beautiful.

Then they’ll be gone. Again.

Just wait.

Ren Powell, Magpies and Snow

Of course, it wasn’t as if Santa actually existed. All rosy cheeked in Mrs Santa’s bed, he was always the sentimental love child of advertising campaigns and folktales. Didn’t stop his attempts at merriment with what he irritatingly called his “elf.” There’s a reason he could travel around the world so quickly. And then she’d begged him to do the inevitable and sell to Old Jeff Bezos, so she could gather the elves around her, the real elves, each with their small childlike brightness, and, dressed in the warm skins of reindeer, set out into the tundra, the real tundra, and find the winter sun.

Gary Barwin, Two stories about Mrs Santa

Since moving to Torquay four years ago I have not seen the sunrise on the shortest day, this has been partially due to bad weather. Traditionally I would drive to Avebury to celebrate the New Year, but these days it is too far. 

Having a beach hut on Meadfoot Beach is the next best thing. We went down and watched the sun hide behind the clouds. It was high tide and there was quite a swell.

Here’s to a better year ahead. Peace, love and unity to you all.

Paul Tobin, MEADFOOT 21.12.21

Oh no! I can see I haven’t posted for several weeks, has there really been nothing to talk about? Let me see…

First of all, nothing to do with poetry but my Covid experience was pretty mild in the end. So as far I’m concerned the jabs were worth it. Plus we’ve made it to Christmas without having to cancel a single concert, which is a result, and in fact I’ve just got back from a bout of rustic carol singing on the outside terrace of the fantastic Chaseley Trust. So a big yay for Christmas. […]

The newest episode of Planet Poetry is in the bag and coming out tomorrow. It’s a Christmas special featuring an interview with Di Slaney (Candlestick Press) and Sharon Black (Pindrop Press), both of them poets as well as publishers, talking about their writing and their publishing practice. Peter Kenny and I are proud of the fact that we are now 5 episodes into our second season – I think that makes us veterans in poetry podcasting terms! We’ve already got some brilliant guests lined up for 2022 so if you haven’t already, please do subscribe ‘wherever you get your podcasts’, as they say.

Robin Houghton, So this is Christmas, and what have I done?

No, this isn’t inspired by Johnny Mathis blaring out at all hours, but my Christmas Eve trip out into the Peaks. I caught the Hope Valley line from Sheffield and walked along to Brough, with the intention of finding the site of the Roman fort Navio, before taking an anti-clockwise route up Win Hill.

Navio, first established around 80 CE, was strategically important for the Romans because it was the next fortress across middle England from Templeborough, remnants of which now stand in Clifton Park, Rotherham, just down the road from where I am now. In his Roman Britain (1955), the first volume of ‘The Pelican History of England’ (sic), I.A. Richmond outlined its economic importance also: ‘Yet another exploitation is the lead ore from stream deposits found in the Roman fort at Navio (Brough on Noe), from which the district was in part policed.’ Lead was invaluable to the Romans as a source of silver by the process of cupellation, and no doubt a major reason why they hung around in this distant island for as long as they did.

There are all but the slightest traces of the fort on the site. Buxton Museum contains the artefacts recovered from it. It must’ve been a bleak place to be stationed, even with the view across the River Noe towards Lose Hill, and Mam Tor to the west. Auden’s couplet sonnet ‘Roman Wall Blues’, with its memorable opening, comes to mind:

Over the heather the wet wind blows,
I’ve lice in my tunic and a cold in my nose.

Matthew Paul, Return to Hope

How much heaven
can we stand?
Even the stars
don’t know,
the old monk says.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (89)

Yesterday was dark, as in dark all morning with rain and then just dark.  These days around the solstice are usually not just literally the darkest, but also heavy somehow in a way I never feel in other parts of the year. I slept very late, spent both days in my pajamas, working on various things through most of the weekend.  My past couple of weeks have been pretty busy, finishing up batches of chaps to get out before the holiday and  taking on more freelance copy work to get a feel for how well it will make going it alone should I decide to do it.  

Which is of course a lie because I have already mostly decided to do it, at least in my heart, if not having worked out all the logistics just yet.  I’ve been thinking about it probably since early  October, but only in the last few weeks has it become a safe enough and desirable endeavor to make happen. Once the decision was made, there was this rush of relief and happiness I don’t think I’ve felt in years, and that feeling alone is perhaps my answer. There are times when I don’t want to leave, but it’s gotten to the point where I can’t–for financial reasons, for burnout reasons–afford to stay. Not even figuring in potential increased shop offerings and income (which will happen when I’m not working 40+ hours a week elsewhere) the freelance work devotes half as many hours for twice the pay. And its actually kind of fun.  Or at least a sort of work-fun,  It gives me hope for days that can be half spent working on that stuff, half spent on the shop and the press. The ability to dial back and take on less if things get crazy. Not all day spent at the library and off hours, late nights weekends spent on other things, which is how it has always been since the beginning. 

I can’t even imagine having time to put into action all the projects and ideas I want to do without having to always work around the giant hulking beast of a full-time job that grants stability, but drains your energy. I don’t dare think it will be easy or without sacrifices (financially), but at this point, it hurts more not to try to make it happen. I keep telling myself this is what I’ve been preparing for all these years. Now I just need to take that step. 

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 12/19/2021

We are expecting 2-5 inches of snow over the Christmas weekend, then several days below freezing, so we might be stuck on our hill, which would make getting supplies tougher, so we are prepared to eat leftovers and after that, our supply of potatoes and pumpkin seeds. But I love seeing some snow.

But we did have a cherry tree with one branch blossoming, right on Christmas Eve; seems symbolic, like beauty’s triumph over death, life over winter , or something like that. We need anything that gives us hope these days.

The generosity and apparent ferocity of nature is always surprising. We should pay closer attention. [….]

Thank you to the Massachusetts Review who included my poem “Things I Forgot to Tell You About the End of the World” in their end-of-the-year Climate Issue. I feel lucky to be in such a great issue, and the fact that it’s the closing poem of the issue.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Happy Solstice/Christmas/Holidays, A Poem in the Climate Issue of Massachusetts Review, Poetry Book Recommendations from 2021, and Things to Remember About the Last Year

At a certain point one stops caring what makes sense and what doesn’t, going instead on animal knowledge of what is true, resonant if reasoning isn’t. In Greek, xάνω ελπίδα sounds permanent, rather than transient, as losing hope should, and απώλεια means both loss and waste. I do not mourn the death of Joan Didion, screamed into every nook and cranny, but neither do I say in public spare me, she was the original Karen; I prefer not to, this hue and cry, and my own savage wit so pointlessly sharp. Let people love who they love. Let them not. We have our reasons. I make a mixtape, though electronic, called sparklegothfolk: it goes on and on. Dead Can Dance. Cocteau Twins. Peter Murphy. Kate Bush. Wicker Man soundtrack, burning. The darkest people have the radiant love of harmonies, have you noted? Always in the barley and the fire.

Solstice, and the sky cracks open, just as it was too late.

JJS, Systrophe

christmas eve rain
the wood pigeons are preening
in the silver birch

Jim Young [no title]

I love the turning of the year toward light at the winter solstice. It makes up a bit for winter looming ahead. This year was tough for everybody, it seems; as Eric Tran said when he visited to give a poetry reading here, we spent the pandemic borrowing energy from the future, and now we have to pay it back. My mother died at the end of April and she’s very much on my mind as I perform seasonal rituals: recent stuff like sending her a zillion gifts at Christmas 2020 to distract her from going out and taking risks; old stuff like mixing up Christmas pudding to steam and flame it (we always did that as kids, although I riff on borrowed recipes and she just bought Crosse & Blackwell). I need to find a quiet moment to think about her.

I don’t know what that viking-druid I spotted on the trail yesterday portends. He’s looking toward the new year, but I’m mostly looking back. For a conference, I went on a binge of reading related to fairies and Faerie, old tales people keep making new. I discuss some of them here, in the annual “pleasures” column hosted by Aqueduct Press. They make me remember my mother, too, who was the teller of fairy stories in my house, as her Irish father was to her. He used to take her on walks to a Liverpool park in the 40s, where they’d put their sugar ration in a matchbox and leave it for the fairies. You have to propitiate them with sacrifice, or–what? It was always clear to me that Enid Blyton tales of brownies making “mischief” were euphemistic. Fairies are more dangerous than that. Thinking about all this sent me on a weird late night Google binge last week, asking questions about why sacrifice is so central to so many religions and legends. Google didn’t know, but I’d welcome your theories.

Lesley Wheeler, Weird tree-person looking east

So it will be a different Christmas, once again…we have a tree, and lights, and the smells of baking; there’s snow outside and warmth inside, but the holiday will be a quiet one. I’m sure we’ll check in with friends and family via zoom. My daily task is to keep my own spirits up, and to face the seemingly-interminable pandemic, and uncertainty about the future, with courage. It’s not easy for me, and takes conscious intention. Today before I got up I thought quite a bit about gratitude. Later I baked a complicated cake, made some five-pointed origami stars, wrote letters, took a long vigorous walk in the park, and still, I felt the presence of discouragement and anxiety in the background. The predictability of the solstice is ancient and steady, though — and I took comfort in that.

Beth Adams, Lights on at 1 pm: Winter Solstice

this blue-washed evening
lighthouse beams sweep the sky clean
again and again and again

Ama Bolton, Shortest day

My sister, Catherine, has always been Santa. She’s the kind of Santa who shops deals all year and stashes baubles away in the linen closet until it’s time to wrap them. She is a loyal adherent to the philosophy of more is more when it comes to gifting—she sent me a similar box that contained fifty presents for my fiftieth birthday–which is why I know there will be at least five presents for each of us, plus the dogs, inside that box. We can all reliably predict the contents. Among other, more unexpected things, there will be fleece pajama pants for each of us, chocolate bars for each of the kids. Chew toys for the dogs. For me, Walkers Shortbread cookies, the kind in the red and black plaid box, and for my husband, hot sauce. Always and forever, hot sauce.

For most of our family life, we’ve lived far away from loved ones, so holiday gatherings have usually meant just the four of us. We don’t like the traditional Christmas meals of ham or turkey. We don’t go to church. So, there is great comfort in the anticipation and surety that surrounds the Santa box. It signals, not unlike my mother-in-law’s (excellent, really!) fruitcake, the arrival of Christmas, connects us with family and continues one of the only real holiday traditions we have.

Sheila Squillante, Sister Santa

The outline of this lawn in the back garden remained unchanged throughout my childhood. Its corner – in the image, its apex – falls neatly behind the youngest boy’s head. Perhaps there is some composition here? I’d guess it was my father pressing the white button on the black plastic box of a Kodak camera. Taking such a picture was more the father’s job in those days. His clumsiness in framing the image ought not to be judged too harshly (these were still relatively early days for mass photography) but it stirs in me the thought that he was always a man more at home with objects than words or people. I wish he’d taken the picture again, a little lower, filling the chosen frame with his three children. Forty years later, setting the scene behind the large window in the image, sat around the dining table that (for fully 50 years) looked out onto the back garden, I wrote of him when forgetfulness and confusion troubled him more and more:

Past ninety and still no books to read
your knuckles rap the laid table

gestures beside a stumble of words
so much aware of their inadequacy

it hurts us both in different ways
since a man without language is no man

finding too late the absence of words
builds a prison you’re no longer able

to dominate objects as once you did
the world turns in your loosening grip

Martyn Crucefix, The Unlikely Wound Inflicted by a Photograph

It was only a matter
of time before security showed
then blue-lit us across town

to some kind of safety,
a ward I used to know
from before supplies ran out
and prices rocketed.
Of course, they vanished.

Ran, more like it.
There’s fear, and there’s fear,
if you catch me. Something
about papers, the border. Those eyes.
Her silence. The baby anything but.

Anthony Wilson, Call the Midwife

I would have been happy to spend the Christmas Eve service in silence and candles, just soaking in the beauty.  

But we had a service of readings and singing and a homily, and the Eucharist.  We had to pivot here, too, with soloists out because of sinus infections and COVID exposure.  I thought of all the weeks of drama about who would sing which song, and in the end, we had to switch some of the music.

I am not immune to the life lesson contained here: the ability to pivot, the beauty that is possible if we can let go of our preconceived notions of what the experience and the space should be.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Pivoting on Christmas Eve

In the thrift store before closing,
on Christmas Eve, a handful of people
thumb through trays of vintage
jewelry, crushed hats, shoes of worn
leather, hunting for a clasp, a bit
of rubbed velvet. Looking,
listening for signals of another act,
an encore. Not flourishes, though,
or any of the intricate caprices;
the single line of music delivers
the sharpest pang. Cantabile,
meaning songlike. Meaning
what wakes the deepest silences
before you even become aware.

Luisa A. Igloria, Beyond measure

And there’s something else. A gift which couldn’t be wrapped. And it’s this — that it’s possible to dance to Handel’s Messiah, and that joy when doing this is inevitable. After we’d opened our presents, we’d push back the  coffee table and prance around: And the Glory of the Lord. All We Like Sheep. His Yoke is Easy. Hallelujah! 

Here he is, wearing a coat made by Gabriel. Here he is. My beloved friend. Here he is – Graham, GKA, Gray: half fallen angel, half risen dervish. 

Liz Lefroy, I Unwrap Three Gifts

We’re in our bedroom. I’m standing behind them, arms around their waist. I ask whether there’s anything we could do to fix things, to be together. They smile sadly but don’t answer. That’s when I awake, my brain saving me from another crushing reply. Christmas slips the knife back in. I know it takes time, but hasn’t there been enough? I’m ready for the part where it hurts less. Mostly I just want them back so damn much and I want to stop wanting that.

the kettle is on
in someone else’s house
Christmas

Jason Crane, A Christmas haibun

Do I dream of you or you of me?
What is it we’re afraid of?
Mist brings back this and that.

Owls live here. House martins, bats.
The blue cobalt crust fungus.
Orchids are early this year.

A hare slips past a fallen ash.
A squirrel stops and stares.
Tell no-one. Let me stay.

Bob Mee, A POEM AS A NET

Mary knows George would never understand they live in a snow globe that gets taken out and shaken once a year. That the life he’s been longing to escape has a finite border, and for a moment, as he clutches Tommy to his chest and Janie plonks away at the piano, he knows it too. This place where it’s always Christmas Eve, where the difference between life and death is $8,000 dollars that always goes missing and returns tenfold, and Zuzu’s sinister flowers bloom in the wintertime. Quick! Ring a bell.

Collin Kelley, New Poetry Project: Poem 3 – “What Mary Bailey Saw”

It has been a while since I’ve seen a poetry title by American-Vietnamese poet Truong Tran, so I was intrigued to see his collaboration with San Francisco poet Damon Potter, 100 Words: Poems (Oakland CA: Omnidawn, 2021). The poems that make up 100 Words: Poems are very much composed via a collaborative call-and-response, as they each respond to the prompt of an individual word, set as each poem’s title. As the book asks: how does one see the other? Composed through one hundred words-as-prompts, the project is reminiscent, somewhat, of Kingston writer Diane Schoemperlen’s debut novel, In the Language of Love(1994), a book composed in one hundred chapters, each chapter prompted by and titled “based on one of the one hundred words in the Standard Word Association Test, which was used to measure sanity.”

Composed as a process of vulnerability and exchange, there is something curious in Tran and Potter’s shared poems, uncertain as to which poet wrote which section, a process more open and interesting to read through than had each section been credited. The point, I suppose, was entirely to bleed into uncertainty, and a closeness of reading. In terms of potential authorship, some sections appear rather straightforward, and others, less so. As they write as part of “perhaps an afterword or a new beginning,” a sequence set at the end of the collection: “i am documenting a way of getting to you. it is a map to be shared in the / hopes that one day should that day come that you can use it as a way to / get to me.” There is something quite compelling in the depth of this conversation, into the bare bones of being, speaking on elements of race and privilege, belonging and othering, difference and sameness, either perceived or actual, and how perception itself shapes our lived reality. Opening an endless sequence of questions, there aren’t answers per se, but the way in which each writer responds, both to the prompt and to each other, that provides the strength of this collection. It is the place where these two writers meet, in the space of the poem, of the page, that resounds.

rob mclennan, Daman Potter and Truong Tran, 100 Words: Poems

I’ve been once again trying to learn to play the piano, blessedly for the household, on a keyboard with headphones, as it’s a painful tune.

Plunk…plunk…plunkplunkkerplu…crap…plunk…plunk… You get the idea. I like learning, even as I sometimes beat on the keys like a chimp in my frustration. Like that’s going to help. One loses control sometimes.

It’s the trying, the practice, the let’s see how it’s going to go today. Nothing like being a beginner to keep the ego at bay. Bay? Nay, swamp.

There’s a freshness in my approach to this beast that is often missing from my approach to writing poetry.

I had an idea this morning and boop boop wrote a poem. I kind of liked it. But I distrusted how easily it came.

I don’t mistrust all easy things, but I know enough about my own process to have sneaking suspicion that I’ve written not out of the difficult place of questions but rather the often more-satisfying-in-the-moment place of knowing. I knew how to write that poem, and I knew what I was going to say. And there it is, grinning winningly at me.

I shake my head. Sorry, pal. You’re cute. You’re one-night-stand cute, sure. But I’m after the real thing, baby, the messy, what the hell am I doing, what’s going to happen next thing. And you ain’t it. Plunk plunk…plunk…plink…crap

Marilyn McCabe, An ordinary pain; or, On Writing and Knowing

Silence is never completely silent. Something somewhere moves, it might be birdsong, a distance car, the clank of a heating system, a breeze making leaves dance, even snow crunches underfoot. Not responding to someone’s question can be an answer. When not speaking, we are rarely still. We fidget, tap feet or fingers, fold arms, fiddle with clothing or hair, jangle jewellery, clothes can squeak or rattle, we hum, swallow, sniff, breathe. If you’re attuned to body language, you pick up someone’s mood and learn to anticipate their response.

When I read my poems to an audience I look for
a smile of recognition, the stillness of true listening,
a fidget of boredom, a clue into how I’m heard.

(“Tracking Sounds, Crossing Borders”)

When you can’t hear your own voice properly, you compensate. I’ve also started a sequence of poems following Rose Ayling-Ellis’s dances on BBC’s “Strictly Come Dancing” and how she manages to dance despite not being able to fully hear the music. It drew out all the compensatory measures I use without thinking about them. I pass as hearing and was nervous that I wasn’t “deaf enough” to qualify for Arachne Press’s anthology “What Meets the Eye”. I am delighted to be part of the anthology with my poem “Tracking Sounds, Crossing Borders”, even if I still don’t know where the border between hard of hearing and deaf lies.

Emma Lee, The Art of Anticipation

Sometimes my sadness is like a symphony that only I can hear.
The beans are done and the rice is done
And now I am slicing bell peppers so that we can dip them in hummus.
An editor told me recently that he doesn’t like poems that begin with ‘I.’
But I don’t really care what he likes.

James Lee Jobe, Poems that begin with ‘I’

So I keep returning to dormancy, and how that might work for a large mammal who cannot sleep underground for 12 or more weeks.

I’ve decided to take the winter off from things that make up too many of the hours I spend on my phone. I’m taking the social media apps (other than Messenger, which I use to communicate with folks) off my phone and I’m not going to write here again until Sunday, March 20th, the first day of spring. I’m not going completely off-line, but I intend to be much more intentional about being on. What I want is to clear some space and be purposeful about what I let into it. I think I need some arbitrary restrictions and some public declaration to make a necessary quiet happen.

I have been wary of writing that last paragraph because there are things I know I will miss, and because writing here has become a thing I count on for several different kinds of good things. I have been avoiding it because if I didn’t write it I could more easily change my mind about the whole thing. I was avoiding it because there’s some fear in this for me.

But I’m saying it and am going to do it because last week, when I went into Powell’s, a bookstore that covers an entire city block and was once one of my favorite places, I felt overwhelmed by the cacophony of voices shouting at me from the shelves. There is so much clamor in the world, and so often lately all I can hear is a grating din. I want to see if I can create a pocket of quiet within it, if I can make my way back to some part of that young girl who loved to make a grilled cheese sandwich and a bowl of canned chicken noodle soup and eat them slowly at her family’s kitchen table in the company of a book, able to hear nothing in her mind’s ear but the voice of one other person speaking to her. I don’t know if this experiment is as much about becoming some other kind of writer as it is about becoming a different kind of reader. All I know is that somehow, I’ve lost my way, and I want to find it again.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Dormancy

All human suffering reduced to a tickle in the back of the throat. Hearts worn on sleeves, both as a fashion statement, and to allow your love to get some fresh air. Play checkers with your freckles, Twister with your lips. Spend some time in the music world twilight zone—somewhere between “Lust for Life” and “There’s a Light That Never Goes Out”. Fold and refold your DNA into origamis of better tomorrows.

Rich Ferguson, Better Tomorrow Beatitudes

The winter rolls over the land
like a cold carpet.
It’s soothing that seasons
haven’t forgotten their job yet.
As the days get shorter
we shrink a bit more in them too:
less steps, less words, less thoughts.
Only desires are still growing.
How to forget those bonfires
we’ve lit ourselves behind us?
The dancing shadows we watch
are ours.

Magda Kapa, Low Light

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 50

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This edition was compiled in a bit of a rush, so I apologize if it seems a bit more disorderly than usual. Some posts about childhood led me to posts about the holiday season, favorite books (and blogs!) of the year, writing advice, po-biz pondering, and more. Enjoy.


The field was a living space. We walked through the field to get to the woods. Its edges were important to the shape of our days. Other children had parks, community centers. We had our field and a good half-hour of driving in any direction to reach a gas station.

As a living image, as personal history with land, the field to me is pure potential. It is unmarked by play structures. There would be fields in my future that my father fenced for our goats and chickens (I remember how impressed my parents were, when I was in college, and I told them my friend fenced—they thought only of farm skills, not athletics), but this field was different. This field was unfenced.

If you got down low in the field, there were field mice in grass burrows. There were wild tomatillos growing, tiny green fruit in their paper lantern wrappings. If you crouched or lay down, you could disappear from sight, the sedge grasses waving in the wind above you. There is a specific sound of wind through the grass before a storm—the sedge billowed like a copper sea.

I can trace my poetics back to this unfenced field. I spent five or six years practicing meter and formal poetry, until I could write iambic pentameter without thinking about it. Paradise Lost was like home to me. That is the fenced field. I return, as I must return, to the field of pure potential, unmarked by wire and posts. The only electricity that hums there is that of the person in the field.

Han VanderHart, The Field and Poetry

childhood running
we caught all the butterflies
and killed them

Jim Young [no title]

To Mr. Typist’s great bemusement, I went down a John Denver rabbit hole this week thanks to a casual comment on one of my Facebook posts. I hadn’t listened to John Denver’s music or thought about him for many years, but the comment inspired to me go and watch his concert footage from the 70’s, and I was awash with memories. I tried to explain to Mr. Typist that when I lived in Alaska as a young child, during the summers hippies would emerge in the early evenings on porches with guitars and play John Denver songs, and all of us children would gather around and sing along. We had no idea what the lyrics meant, but we knew they felt good to sing. I don’t know why there were hippies on an Air Force base in Alaska, but there were, in greater numbers than you might imagine. And they have an unerring instinct for twilight and children and catchy, emotionally compelling songs about mountains and nature, so there you have it—spontaneous 70’s John Denver porch concerts on an Air Force base in the middle of Alaska.

Kristen McHenry, John Denver Rabbit Hole, Bike Embroilment, Frozen Shoulder

Charlie, bald head, sullen sage, you say our lives are cartoons to be puzzled over again and again. What are we equal to and what do we translate? Like Schrödinger’s Dog, the dog is always there but what about us? Sisyphus and Lucy kissing in a tree. The kite’s a twisted bird in the branches. Ancestors, Charlie. All these years. What’s the best thing about rhetorical questions? 

Gary Barwin, Charlie Brown’s Body

A prohibition….

….lifted on the stroke of midnight
on some special Eve, Midsummer, say, or Christmas.

Then, it’s said that stones, or trees, or owls can speak.
Or toys piled pell-mell in boxes kept in lofts, in attic cupboards;

and also things that hang in Christmas trees,
like fairies, snowmen, angels, and wind-up clockwork toys.

What is it, do you think, they say, just once a year, just for one day,
This is the truth of it. The dark that lasts all year, the silent dust

that settles bit by bit, grows coarse and gritty, will clog their tongues.
Listen. They’re as mad as stones and deaf as owls. They’re let to speak,

have forgotten how, and what, to say. Stay silent
till the twelfth night. And then they’re put away.

John Foggin, Christmas stocking fillers

It’s all really depressing. I won’t be eligible for a booster until early January. More restrictions are likely to be imposed, and in my opinion, far too late. The federal government of Canada is requesting that all international trips be cancelled, and it sounds like border restrictions will be re-imposed soon. “Rethink your holiday parties,” is both lame and ineffective, but people are desperate to be with their families, too. Sadly, we had already cancelled our plans to be with my father in upstate New York today for his 97th birthday, and obviously we won’t be seeing our American family members for Christmas. I have to just try not to think about what that means. Meanwhile, in the U.S. and many other places, people seem to be doing whatever they feel like, and counting on their vaccinations to protect them from serious illness. I hope it works, and wish them well.

So, all I can say, from this interior space where I will be for most of the next few months: color helps. And reading. I’ve been working on a new print, which you’ll see eventually: the carving was complicated and absorbing, and the repetitive process of printing is calming. I’ve been grateful for it.

I want to think not about breakthrough infections, but about breakthrough color: the way primary red and yellow, and gamboge and intense cobalt blue and viridian push aside everything else we’re obsessing about, and make us stop and look, make us feel something emotional and positive.

Beth Adams, Christmas Fruit, and Breakthrough Color

As night falls, no one
says crepuscular or eventide.
As the orphaned child sobs under
the mother tree, no one blames
patriarchy. The crone isn’t wise, only
bitter. The young are either desperate
or lost. The last page delivers a verdict
reputed to be the will of the gods.

Luisa A. Igloria, Reasons to Disrupt the Narrative

This past week I’ve been flashing on Penelope Fitzgerald’s scintillating descriptions of preparing a house. Her novel “Blue Flower,” set in the 18th century, is full of the bright crush of domestic detail, the half-laborious, half-ecstatic ritual of organizing a home. As I was dashing around, making way for my grown kids and friends to migrate, I heard Fitzgerald’s echo — “great dingy snowfalls of sheets, pillow-cases, bolster-cases, vests, bodices, drawers, from the upper windows into the courtyard … into giant baskets.” I’m not firing up the old Maytag with anything but a switch; still, I note my excitement to make a nest, a safe haven through methodical hands-on work. I bent my head as I came down from the attic, carrying unrolling stored mattresses, shaking goose down through the corners of comforters, slapping pillows to life so they seem just born, cutting flowers for vases.

Jill Pearlman, The Home Groove

how can night air on a branch of december :: have turned its face to me

Grant Hackett [no title]

My first idea was for a haunted house and I would put all the regrets that haunt me on the boards of the house. But I made the house too big, with no room for all the ghosts and monsters that I envisioned circling the house. And then these other aspects appeared: the woman on the side of the house, the stuff going on in the attic (not exactly sure what’s going on there), the plants and pumpkins and cats and the table inside that’s ready for tea.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Six Weeks of Sketch Responses to “Crisis Contemplation”

Out from the corners of night, shadows gather like hungry soldiers at mess. To the west, these shadows slowly eat the Vaca Hills and roll down easy to the ocean to drown.

Veterans sleep in front of TV sets, numbed by beer and weak programming.

From the south, a chill breeze races up the delta lands and marshes, the estuaries. Herons shiver in the cold water, wading and hunting. Dragon flies race; they are fighter pilots in a Hollywood movie.

This breeze makes a lonely sound, like a saxophone on the radio. Like a child crying for something it cannot have.

The corners of night square off into a box. The lid is shut now. It will not open until morning.

James Lee Jobe, numbed by beer and weak programming

red barn     long shadows
rust-colored hawk descends
and vanishes

Ann E. Michael, Few words

Last week, my daughter, who is planning a Christmas celebration across a continent and ocean with a young man she loves, asked me about our Christmas day traditions. “I remember the advent calendar and decorating stockings before Christmas, but I can’t remember much about the day itself other than opening presents,” she said.

“Oh, honey,” I said. “I was always so wasted by Christmas day I didn’t do much more than make a breakfast and clean up the wrapping paper and take a nap. And some years we spent the day in the car.”

I told her about staying up long after everyone had gone to bed, wrapping gifts. I told her, laughing at myself, about the year her dad and older sister had built a train table for the Brio set, and I was painting the little town scene on the base of it until after 2:00 AM on Christmas morning. I told her about the year I made her a dress-up trunk. “I had to find a trunk, and the clothes to put in the trunk–which I got from multiple visits to Goodwill–and the flower and letter decals I put on the lid of the trunk.” I told her about how my favorite moment of Christmas was often the one that happened in those middle-of-the-night hours, when everything was finally done and I would sit by myself in front of the lit tree in our dark living room and sip a glass of wine and relish the calm. I even told her the story of the laptop year and the afternoon at the dentist.

“Well, you know why I wanted a laptop,” she said. I told her I didn’t.

“I wanted to be like you,” she said. “Every morning when I got up, you’d be downstairs on your computer.”

“Really?” I said. “I never knew that.” I remembered those years when I used to get up at 4:30 in the morning so I would have time to write, and how that time often ended when she, like me, always an early riser, came down our stairs to find me sitting on the couch, tapping away. I both loved and dreaded the sound of her footsteps.

She paused. “For someone who’s so aware of so many things, how could you have missed that?”

“I don’t know,” I said. I suppose it’s because missing things is what we do, especially when we are in the thick of it.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Not exactly a Hallmark holiday movie

Although they are two very different debut collections, Inhale/Exile by Abeer Ameer and Mother, Nature by Aoife Lyall share a number of similarities when considered together, the most obvious being that they are both concerned with notions of Home. In Inhale/Exile, Home is Iraq, or perhaps the more ancient Mesopotamian homeland, ‘the land of two rivers’, from which her own family and many of the characters in her poems fled during the days of Saddam Hussain’s totalitarian Baathist regime. But Home is also the UK for a poet who was born in Sunderland and raised in Wales; and so, much of the work is suffused with both a refugee’s paradoxical longing to return to what is now an ‘alien land / called home’ (The Fugitive’s Wife (vi) return) – Ameer uses the evocative Welsh word hiraeth in her acknowledgement of gratitude to the Iraqi diaspora community – and an understanding of non-belonging in a land which remains foreign: language errors, for example causing a recent exile, who I take to be the poet’s father, ‘an awkwardness he’ll know well’ (The Waiting Groom). The awkwardness is not Ameer’s as a second generation Iraqi immigrant to the UK, but that of her parents’ and her grandparents’ generations, for whom Inhale/Exhale stands as an impressive tribute. For Lyall, simultaneously celebrating the birth of one child and mourning the loss by miscarriage of another, the speaker/poet herself is Home to her surviving baby: ‘I am your home / Hold me close and you can hear the ocean’ (‘Hermit Crab’). The ‘I’ and the ‘you’ of these poems exist in a state of symbiosis, their mutual dependencies are the fabric that binds them and protects them from the outside world. They are the universe drawn inwards, and for a time (painfully short for the mother) they are hermetically sealed and yet all-containing. But this is no smugly beatific Earth Mother; the Mother-as-Home in Mother, Nature bears all the pain and responsibilty of nature’s personification: ‘…I tried not to cry. I felt your stomach fill / with the violant sting of golden milk. / My body bled for you.’ (‘3oz’); ‘There is no room for error / (…) / …If I open / my eyes to the chance of falling / I will fall. And down will come baby, / cradle and all.’ (‘Trapeze’). And the grief of a mother’s loss, Lyall shows us, is an emptiness which is far from metaphorical; it is of course the all-too-physical reality of an unoccupied womb, ‘this house your home in me a hollow place’ (‘Ithaca’). This is a truth we may have already known, but Lyall’s language begins to make us feel it.

Chris Edgoose, Two debuts: Abeer Ameer and Aoife Lyall

Over the last dozen years or so, Angela France has developed into a seriously good poet. I was thinking about the collections I’ve read this year, wondering which I preferred – and then her book, Terminarchy (Nine Arches Press, £9.99) dropped on the mat with the bills and early Christmas cards.

Within a few pages – I have a strange habit of beginning books I don’t know at the back as well as the front – I thought this seemed so confident and assured I wanted to read it all, there and then. As is so often the case, it wasn’t possible. For a start, hens had to be cleaned out and fed, the home-made pig-sty, known to family as Pig Ugly, needed to be upgraded to deal with winter, given the arrival of four new inhabitants at the weekend. I was also writing a (bad) long poem, which eventually failed to survive ‘Delete’, and which took up a stupid amount of time before its demise.

So, when I finally settled to read Terminarchy, from front to back this time, it was with a fresh eye. And after two readings, I’ve found it the most pleasing new collection of my 2021. By that I mean that so much is published each year it’s impossible to read everything. I also have a tendency to re-read old, familiar books that have been on the shelves for decades. Nevertheless, acknowledging the limits of the statement, Terminarchy is top of my relatively lengthy list.

Bob Mee, POETRY COLLECTION I’VE ENJOYED MOST THIS YEAR – TERMINARCHY BY ANGELA FRANCE

The highlight of my recent reading continues to be Gillian Allnutt. I love the polished simplicity of her poetry, which makes much contemporary poetry look and sounds overwritten in comparison. Take these lines from ‘Tabitha and Lintel: An Imaginary Tale’ from her 2001 collection Lintel: ‘Snails have crossed the doorstone in the dark night / secretly as nuns, at compline, in procession’. Probably not everyone’s cup of tea, but I like it.

Matthew Paul, It was twenty years ago today

I’ve been reading in that want-to-underline-every-sentence way (not that I’ve ever been an underliner, except in college when it seemed like that’s what everyone did and so I thought that’s what “studying” meant, a skill I had never learned) an essay by Daniel Tobin in the anthology Poets on the Psalms (edited by Lynn Domina, Trinity U Press, 2008). Tobin, whose poetry I only recently encountered, speaks movingly — and so eruditely that I have to really slow down my usual impetuous reading pace — of how the psalms are the crying out of the human need to be heard and seen, in this case by a God who has seemed to have removed itself.

But he’s also indicating that communicating itself, speech, writing, is an incantation to create an other, or an Other, as a way of becoming oneself, of confirming being. Or maybe I’m going too far here, but it interests me, this idea. I think of hearing coyotes howl in the woods at night. I thought they howl after a kill but that’s apparently a misunderstanding of this act. It’s a “sounding,” that is, the individuals of the pack locating themselves and each other in the dark. So the psalm — and the poem, and the song, the story — are how we say “I am” and ask “Are you?” (And if the coyote howls and there’s no response?)

Marilyn McCabe, Captivity required from us a song; or, On Daniel Tobin and the Psalms

I simply don’t believe that poetry blogs are anachronistic in 2021. What’s more, when compiling my annual (subjective and incomplete) list of the Best U.K. Poetry Blogs, I was reassured and reminded by all these amazing bloggers’ efforts that the medium is very much alive and kicking, offering a more substantial and less ephemeral format than social media.

This year’s list even includes several top-notch newcomers, some of whom have been blogging for years but have only appeared on my limited radar this time around. Let’s start with them…

Matthew Stewart, The Best U.K. Poetry Blogs of 2021

As far as retreats go, it was a small group, just eighteen people plus myself and, surprise surprise, all women. I’m not sure what it is about me that puts the men folk off working with me. (because I refer to them as ‘men folk’ perhaps?) I do get the impression that I’m not really taken seriously as a writer or workshop facilitator by some men, perhaps because I write about, or have written about baby death and pregnancy and infertility. Traditionally ‘women’s issues’. Maybe it’s because I am ‘friendly and approachable’ which seems to translate as fluffy and inconsequential in some circles. There are, of course, women writers who don’t take me seriously either. Although it irritates me slightly; this feeling of not being taken seriously as a writer/facilitator, I have an inkling that it might well be more about my own insecurities. You can’t please all the people. And I know I carry my working class background on my shoulder, not like a chip, more like a parrot; always telling me that I don’t fit in and am not good enough. The same parrot tells me all sorts of awful stuff about how ugly and fat I am and how I won’t fit in because of that too and how I am totally unlovable. I’m not going to lie, the parrot is a nasty little bitch. But I’m sort of used to it now, the parrot, and mostly it is fairly inconsequential to me, mostly it doesn’t rule me, mostly I find that a bit of kindness to the parrot goes a long way. Maybe it just wants a cracker and a dark cover and some sleep in a safe place, I don’t know. I have stretched the analogy of the parrot too far now. It is dead. It is no more. etc. Anyway, back to the retreat. To be honest, to be able to share the week of the retreat with an all woman group was something very special indeed. What I’ve learnt as a facilitator is that to be able to provide a safe, warm, welcoming place where people, and in particular women, can just be, is important. And that’s what the retreat was like. We had people from all backgrounds, people with all sorts of personal life difficulties, all looking for something special to them. I wanted to create a place that felt like a retreat in the true sense of the word, where just for a few hours in the day, people could come and prioritise themselves and their writing. There were opportunities to hone writing skills, to be prompted to write new work, but there was also plenty of opportunities for quiet, no pressure, group activities, just writing together, talking, sharing our thoughts. And, of course down time/writing time. The evening reading events were a real highlight, in particular our last guest of the week, Jonathan Davidson, who’s honesty about the writing world, about the working class poets who never got their chance, about his own journey and the people who he had met on that journey was filled with love and humour.

Going back to the deceased parrot- I’d happened to mention that I was feeling a bit bruised by my book not having made it onto any lists – not award lists, not book of the year lists (It is continuing in great strides to not make it onto any lists at all by the way) – and how, even though I knew I had done what I needed to do with the book, that I felt it covered what I wanted it to cover in a way that made sense to me, it still stung a bit, but that as writers you are not meant to really say that out loud. As writers we are supposed to be slapped in the face by rejection after rejection and just get on with it, because it’s part of the job. And we do, but do you know what, it hurts still. Why wouldn’t it? Every poem has a sliver of yourself in it, especially the personal ones. What I got back from sharing this was such good, solid, kind, appreciative feedback, because the people on the course had read my book. They had heard poems from it in workshops, stuff I didn’t know anything about, and I can’t tell you how much it lifted my spirits to hear that the book, the book that launched in a pandemic, was finding its way around the writing community and being used in workshops and doing good stuff for people. I do not need the lists, I need this, these moment of recognition from readers. I had been a bit blocked and that seemed to free me to be able to work on new poems for the new collection. It shut that god damned parrot up.

Wendy Pratt, Retreating from the World

38. Recognize the Value in Silence

This one at first will not sound heartening. C.D. Wright has written a piece called “If one were to try to describe the heed that poetry requires.” (And I honestly thing you could replace the word poetry with and art making process). It begins, “Barbara Guest called it orchid attention. She felt the poem should tremble a little.” She talks about the “uncountable hours” a poet will spend in their lives on their tender observations, on their craft. She compares it to scientists spending a lifetime cataloguing and observing one small niche subject. Wright says, “As with most scientific papers, silence may be all that is at the other end. Maybe silence itself has value beyond being humbling. Maybe the record being made is its primary worth, and the rest of our temporal span is meant just for living and for the attention it commands.”

The truth is that even if you receive some attention for your books, the great majority of writers live mainly in obscurity. We live with a lot of silence on the other end. We do our work knowing that it may very well be met with silence. So it’s good to figure out what the value of silence is for you. Yes, it’s humbling. But it’s more than that. And the deeper you go into it, the greater the value.

Shawna Lemay, 20 (More) Pieces of Advice for Writers

I just finished writing a poem, and I’m worn out. 

For days I walked around in that weird stage I call “pre-poem anxiety,” which feels almost like a period of mourning: what the hell have I been doing with my time, not writing a poem? I’m plagued with morbid thoughts: what if I died tomorrow and I hadn’t written the next poem? What if the last thing I did before (awful thing happens) was NOT write a poem?

This catastrophizing mood comes over me when the interval between finishing a poem and writing a new one has dragged on too long. I search through my journals, make word lists, read poetry, looking for anything to spark an idea and get me writing again. 

Eventually something starts to gel. This leads to the next phase, where it almost feels like you have an itch in your brain. It’s a physical sensation, this itch. It comes over you while you’re going about your daily tasks. I walk around in a semi-daze, forget where I am, ignore my to-do list filled with deadlines and commitments. Before I’ve written a word, I enter a state of hyper-focus. 

Then I write the first line. I think it’s the most beautiful line ever written; I’m in tears, struck by its brilliance. I can’t believe it came from my brain. There it sits, on the page in front of me, vibrating, fresh, and unlike any line I’ve ever written before. I read it over and over. I’m as proud of it as a new parent whose child has just uttered her first word.

One line leads to the next. I’m in a state of semi-mania, writing hundreds of words, most of which will be deleted and rewritten.

Erica Goss, The Emotional Stages of Writing a Poem

The main way that I have been able to continue writing while homeschooling and being home with five kids is the “Open It Everyday” method.

EVERYDAY open your writing notebook. Even if you just glance over what you read last, or put it down and read something else, pick up the book and open it and look at it, Every Single Day. I used to say “five minutes a day” but honestly even less than that can still work.

Inevitably I write something in the notebook (maybe just a line or a few words). Inevitably a poem forms.

Over the past 7 years, amidst having babies, losing babies, three moves, and many, many classes taught, I was still able to write enough poems to produce two poetry books I’ve published (or are forthcoming– Church Ladies!) and one manuscript unpublished (as of yet). And also a middle grade novel, and the countless poems I tossed out because they weren’t good enough for a book (hundreds).

I’m not really a fast writer, I’m just persistent and consistent. Being persistent will get you further than you think.

Renee Emerson, Tips for Writing Productivity: #1 Open It Everyday

I’m also watching poetry Twitter, as usual, and recent posts about some beloved poet, unnamed, who paid $25,000 for a publicist to promote their first collection and, as you’d suspect, did pretty freaking well. (It’s probably terrible to ask you to message me if you know who the $25K person is–I’m just crassly curious.) I don’t have that kind of money burning a hole in my pocket, but I have thought about smaller-scale consulting with a publicist, and I know other friends who have, as well–it’s suddenly an open secret that many writers find audiences by investing cash upfront in the process. It’s one way of managing another huge time commitment, I guess, as well as a way that the publishing playing field will never be level. Certainly applying for reading series, festivals, etc. is work I strain to get done. It’s the usual quandary of whether to play the system as it exists or step aside into an alternate artistic economy. I get the arguments for both strategies. I like to think that if I spent some money and gained prominence from it (which can’t be a given, right?), I’d use any power I gained to help other writers. In some ways I already do, but that is certainly a rationalization–if your real goal is to help others, you don’t start by hiring a publicist. Anyway, as I slow down and look around, it’s one of the things that seems to be on my mind.

Lesley Wheeler, Shenandoah, #DisConIII, biobreaks

I think the bulk of the negative reactions were 1) a purity test for poets that we don’t hold fiction and non-fiction writers to (they often hire publicists with no static) and 2) a class envy response – who has $25,000 to spend on promoting a poetry book? Most of us do not. My first thought was “$25,000 is a car!” I didn’t grow up wealthy, and don’t consider myself someone who could easily justify coming up with that kind of money to promote my books. Heck, I have trouble spending $150 on an online ad for my book!

But, having interviewed a few publicists for my book PR for Poets, and having researched book publicity, there’s really no reason a poet can’t hire a $25,000 publicist – although most publicists don’t work with poets, don’t know poetry’s markets or reviewers, or just don’t see enough money in it to do it.

Am I pretty excited to have a publisher for my seventh book who has an in-house marketing and PR person at last? Absolutely. I’m used to doing everything myself, with varying results for varying amounts of time, energy, money, and hustle. I think that’s the experience of most poets – getting together their own mailing lists, asking bookstores for readings, maybe even sending out their own review copies. The prospect of marketing a book during a pandemic – which is something a lot of my friends have already had to do – is daunting indeed. There are already whispers of cancellations of people and publishers who had been planning to go to AWP 2022. I already took a class on Instagram to get that account going before my two new books come out. I do take this stuff seriously.

I am hoping AWP 2023 – which is, yay, supposed to take place in Seattle – will be safe. I really enjoy seeing my old friends – and I’d love to meet my two most recent publishers in person – the editors at Alternating Current and BOA Editions. And do a reading or two, take friends out to see parks, bookstores, and coffee shops.

So, when I wrote my book, PR for Poets, I said for most poets, spending more than $5,000 – the going rate for a publicist for one month – on promoting their poetry book probably doesn’t make sense. Most royalty rates and poetry sales will rarely net more than $1,000. (It’s happened for me on a couple books, but certainly not all.) But if someone has the money lying around, and they really want to advance their poetry careers – big fellowships, tenure track jobs, visibility that makes them more likely to get well-paid speaking and teaching gigs – I mean, who am I to say they shouldn’t?

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Finding Holiday Cheer, a Few Thoughts on Poetry and Publicity, and a Few End of the Year Book Suggestions

David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?

As a dog owner, I do a lot of walking. I don’t listen to music while I walk or look at my phone. I pay attention to the dog and the natural world and lines come to me. That happens whether we’re on city streets or in the woods. In Fredericton, the dog and I walked often along the Wolastoq river. Fredericton has a wonderful system of trails that are usually almost entirely people-free. I learned that the river is different every day, even in the winter when it’s frozen. The river didn’t necessarily make its way into my poetry, but those walks helped me to think and allowed lines to come to me. Now that I live in Victoria, the dog is very old and can’t walk as far or as fast. We do make it fairly regularly to the off-leash dog park on Dallas Road though. There, I let the dog take his time sniffing weeds and grass and other dog’s butts, and I enjoy the view of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Olympics across the strait and the sun on my face. And lines often come to me.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Sharon McCartney

hill farm
the curlew’s long call
over the lambing shed

Julie Mellor, Presence

I haven’t been to Texas since the unveiling of mom’s headstone. The backpack I use when traveling has been in the closet a long time. In its pockets I find paper remnants from the Cuba trip in 2019.

I also unearth my pocket Koren siddur which I had given up for lost, and a wooden coin that reads (after Simcha Bunim) on one side “for my sake was the world created” and on the other “I am dust and ashes.”

Flying for the first time in almost two years was always going to be strange. Flying for the first time during a global pandemic, even more so. Thankfully no one is belligerent about wearing a mask.

To make the day even more surreal, it turns out my local airport has been redone. New parking garage, new traffic flow, new everything. Delta still flies out of the B gates; at least that hasn’t changed.

On the first plane I watch Roadrunner, the Tony Bourdain film. I loved his writing, and the way he brought the world into our living rooms. I loved how much he seemed to love the wide world.

There’s a sense of dislocation in the film. The dislocation of travel, especially the kind of travel he did 250 days a year. The dislocation of a world where his light shines now only in memory.

Rachel Barenblat, Dislocation

maybe it was only about
that moment of knowing, enduring,
of that certainty of surrender —
knowing the sun would melt our wings
knowing that falling was another
becoming,
remembering that within the clouds
we too smell of unborn lake —
but that wasn’t the plan, was it?

Rajani Radhakrishnan, No way back

In other news, I’ve been greatly enjoying the bit of freelance work I’ve been dipping my toes in.  Last week, I got to write about installation art, this week, a short story I had not read previously by Kate Chopin.  Next up, fashion in the Great Gatsby. I don’t know what next year will bring, but a little extra money around the holidays is a great help. I’ve been doing these other types of writing instead of poems in the morning, along with some more work on some short fiction, but I am getting itchy to get back to poems after the new year (or possibly during the brief holiday break. Tonight, I attended the release reading for Carla Sameth’s WHAT IS LEFT, and her work and the guest readers left me incredibly inspired to get back to it.  This week brings much assembling the last round of releases and new layouts on the very last chaps of 2021. I will also be finalizing details on next year’s selections, sending out agreements, and getting started on some other little bits I have planned. I am also in-deep on my advent project, which develops a little more each day. 

It gets dark so early, especially on weekends when I tend to sleep in and then have only a few hours before the night descends.  I light my small tree and the faux candles and try to do cozy things like make cookies and soup. Last night, a feast of stuffed pasta shells and garlic bread and holiday romance movies. I try to be festive while also still being anxious. 

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 12/12/21

I hear the voices of loving defiance refusing to perish.

bell hooks once said, “I will not have my life narrowed down. I will not bow down to somebody else’s whim or to someone else’s ignorance.”

Before that, Paul Robeson:

“… I belong to the American resistance movement which fights against American imperialism, just as the resistance movement fought against Hitler.”

All the voices of benevolent intransigence will forever transmit across history’s airwaves.

Far beyond my life, they will grace the ears of others.

Courage is timeless. Intransigence, ageless.

Rich Ferguson, What Echoes Through the Ages

When I’ve filled
the emptiness

with poems,
I’ll be done,

the old monk said.

Tom Montag, TEN OLD MONK POEMS (46)

the ferry departs
to the whistle’s shriek
morning snow melted

Jason Crane, haiku: 18 December 2021