Poetry Blog Digest 2024, 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, subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader, or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack.

This week: Fat Tuesday, Valentine’s Day, a blog’s birthday, a book’s birthday… as the world steadily becomes more terrible. Poetry remains one of the very few effective antidotes to despair.

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Poetry Blog Digest 2024, Week 5

river in November light between bare woods and mountain

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, subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader, or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack.

This week: a journey to the underworld, an allotted plot, becoming your own god, finding joy as a writer, and much more. Enjoy.

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Poetry Blog Digest 2024, Week 3

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, subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader, or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack.

This week, inclement weather kept many poets inside, blogging furiously. Some common themes include the winter itself; great poets and poems; and songs as poetry and vice versa. Enjoy and share.

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Poetry Blog Digest 2024, 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, subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader, or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack.

The first digest of 2024 is a day late, but hopefully not a dollar short. (And yes, I know that expression dates me. I am an old.) Ten inches of snow fell and then were partly washed away again as I compiled this post today, which is quite Janus-faced: half looking back and half looking forward, half summarizing and half summoning. Let’s begin.

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Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 49

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, subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader, or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack. This week: telephones, traumas, holiday gift ideas, cris de coeur, and a lonely vending machine. Enjoy.

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Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 48

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive, subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader, or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack. This week: old books and libraries, echo salesmen, mouths and spectacles, catastrophes and the delights of life. Enjoy!

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Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 46

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive, subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader, or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack. This week: the Bird King, 1300 chapbooks, the air full of silk, a Tasmanian double, the absence of sex in lit mags, and much, much more. Enjoy.

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Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 42

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, subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader, or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack. This week: autumn, bombs, books, cancer, bombs, the bees in Liechtenstein, theology school, and bombs. Enjoy.


A mouth becomes a stone.
A child cannot stop shaking.
Bombs fall on hospitals, schools,
Churches, mosques, homes.
Numbed, frozen, bulldozed.
The images haunt my sleep.
Over and again, what
should I do? What could
I do?

Bells ring in, what exactly?
Ring for, what exactly?

Bob Mee, WE HAVE NO IDEA, NONE AT ALL

i’m not coming out
of this poem
i am staying here
forever
and
ever

once i did
once upon a time
never
again

there were wars
and babies crying
and dying

ok
in here it is raining
but it is cosy warm rain

Jim Young, sunny boy

Trees are shedding their summer hair.
What a tiny comb was used for grooming –
tufts pile on the sidewalk, bright and seething.

Where were we when we lost our crickets?
Softly, softly they left us without a sound,
darkness falls hard on hard ground, the cushion

they made gone, no love or jangle to soften
obsession, cool nights, bombs, part of the ear’s fabric. 
You can never put the shriek back in the throat of the cricket. 

Jill Pearlman, Back to Hard Ground

who taught our darkest river to drink from the sea

who put silence inside shadow inside seed

how many who are dreamed want only to sleep

Grant Hackett [no title]

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

For me, the hammering and chiseling of revision is writing—the source of the initial gesture is from somewhere beyond regular consciousness. I often experience poetry, both reading and writing it, as something very embodied—it begins with a tingling at the base of my skull and ends with a sometimes pleasurable, sometimes sheer feeling of exhaustion when the poem is finished with me. One of my friends joked that I have “poetry ASMR,” which I love, but I’m hesitant to give the place where poetry comes from a name. I don’t really think in terms of books or projects because of feels like each poem is its own animal. If shaping a poem is one of seeing what each line might have to say to each other, shaping a book has been one of seeing what different poems might have to say to one another. […]

What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?

I’ve made a nightly ritual of reading one poem by Dickinson and one by Rilke. Dickinson surpasses Shakespeare in possessing the greatest wit in the history of the English language, and something about her synapse-snapping speed of thought and formal mastery juxtaposed with the occasionally ostentatious, more often profound mysticism of Rilke in his castle keeps me in touch with the simultaneous wide specturm and discrete nature(s) of poetry. I likewise seem to return to Ashbery, Merrill, Schuyler, The Tang Dynasty poets (Li Bai, Du Fu, and co.), Blake, Terrance Hayes, Don Paterson, Richard Siken, Anthony Madrid, Hafez, CAConrad, Ariana Reines, Sylvia Plath, Eduardo C. Corral, The Odyssey, and the poems of my friends and mentors back home in the orbit of Canada, which I can’t bring myself to list out of fear of missing someone whose work I love. I like to think my desire to feel the world and the word in these various ways informs both my poems and thinking. 

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Nathan Mader

I hear the sweet voice of a young woman
making love. “Oh!” she says, “Oh!”

The birch trees tremble with sparrows. Yellow
leaves and seed husks flicker to the ground.

Sharon Brogan, Neighborhood Mid-October

In this poem, I am accepting how it is as I say ‘let it have me’ and acknowledge I want to ‘keep it here.’ It sounds unusual, but actually I am aware of what is happening and know that at the moment there is no cure. I now turn the dark into a real person, quite sinister and let it feed on my body: ‘my body is a table so now it can feed.’ I want to keep the curtains closed to literally keep the dark in the room and get rid of colour: ‘I don’t need the glare’ and again, am perfectly happy about this.

Drop-in by Julie Stevens (Nigel Kent)

The iceberg is back.
It looms out of its coat.
It shivers its keys onto the
silver tray, and drifts toward
the table for what seems like
a thousand years.

Jon Stone, Untitled iceberg poem

Each night,
darkness settles more deeply into itself and fans

open its card deck of prophecies. My hand used
to move quickly, almost involuntarily, toward choice.

Now I understand that toward the end, it is good
to take time, to tend the slow simmer of soup.

Luisa A. Igloria, Fall

Yes, I paused in the hunt for ripe raspberries this morning to listen to what must have been a catbird running through its repertoire, yes, I note a neighbor’s lilacs confusedly in bloom, noted the neighbor apparently reconciled with the wife and dog walking together. But what have I missed?

Whatever it is must be what x is equal to. And I must keep looking. It may be the next thing I need to make the poems or essays sharper, more exact, or at least, a clearer equation through which to regard x. The unknown, possibly unanswerable: life and its puzzling questions.

Marilyn McCabe, How do you solve a problem; or, More on Paying Attention

Yesterday my daughter stepped outside to play with the four-year-old boy who lives next door. As she was leaving, I heard the boy ask my daughter what her mother’s name is.

My daughter replied, “My mom’s name is Becky. But sometimes people call her Rebecca…Because she’s a writer.”

I laughed, of course. Yes, that is I! Rebecca of the Pen!

Becky Tuch, Do editors pay attention to a writer’s name?

October is my month, my favourite month. Autumn in full swing, brazen colours and spice. Wet and slowing down. I bake, I cook, I begin to build a nest to hibernate in. It’s also our autumn school holiday, so I’ve actually been able to do all those things which is more difficult when I’m working.

October is also #scotstober month. Scotstober is a challenge to learn and use a new Scots word every day. Here’s the Twitter post for this year.  I love it, some are familiar to me, and some are new. I have done various takes on the challenge, sometimes finding poems that use the word, other times writing my own few lines. This year I’m doing the latter and creating a poem using some of the words. I can’t keep up with all 31 words, but it’s Day 22 and I have most of a poem written. 

As with most of my Scots poems, I prefer to use words I’ve heard in context or am comfortable with. Some words in the Scotstober challenge are older and not used much, so they don’t feel right in my poems. So as I’m bringing this together as a poem, I’m changing some words to suit me. I’m grateful for the inspiration Scotstober brings. […]

Day 6 ettle – to try, to strive

ahm ettlin tae no sing thi same thrain,
but thi rain an its pebbly sklyter
drouns oot mah will

Gerry Stewart, Autumn’s Brewing – Scotstober 2023 and When the Readers Don’t Get A Poem

A lively and intriguing title for a poem sequence by our guest poet Lydia Harris. Her work has featured here before (March 2019). This sequence is from her new collection Objects for Private Devotion, beautifully produced by Pindrop Press, published last year. Lydia lives in the Orkney island of Westray. Many of the poem sequences in her new book focus on local culture, people, nature, objects – such as the prayer nut which provides the cover image.

The sequence about the fieldfare is inspired by the great Serbian poet Vasco Popa. The Blackbird’s Field is also a sequence, from Popa’s Collected Poems, close on 400 pages – drawing on folk tale, surrealist fable, personal anecdote, and tribal myth. […]

Lament

I’ve lost my folk,
my night ships,
my dear blood,
thick then thin,
night bird, stray bird.

Tongue

A whip of liver-coloured flesh
sheathed in the coffin of his beak.

Fokkina McDonnell, Fieldfare, blown off course, early spring

I have mentioned before that there is a kind of pressure to – not only survive cancer – but to somehow turn it into something people call a “blessing”: a catalyst for a better life. This isn’t new to me. CSA and a bipolar diagnosis carry with them the same kind of pressure to excel: to reach a point where you say that your adversities were a “blessing” that made you who you are. That is a lot of pressure. You can’t say that and be average. Not only is the bad luck yours to deal with, it is yours to justify by way of being “better than” in some way.

Health – mental or physical – shouldn’t a competitive sport. Resilience so admired as to give us secular saints for a capitalist economy. I have to remind myself of that. It doesn’t have to be a means to an end: just a means to enjoy each day on its own terms. Have we always been such a performative species? Is it just me that sees it this way? It very well could be just me.

But there are a surprising number of cancer survivor gurus/coaches/teachers who will guide you through the process to find your better story. It is an entire industry. And it is so very seductive.

But I am not going to see this time of my life as a blessing. I do hope that I am learning things, but I have always hoped that I was continually learning to be a better person.

You know, if anything, maybe I am learning that all this effort at “improvement” is unnecessary: that maybe the clearest view is from a point of average.

Mundane even.

Invisible.

Ren Powell, I Failed at Chemo

The weekly ritual of bathing, of cleansing before church on Sunday which the son duly follows. However, he self-harms using his father’s razor. The reasoning is given in religious terms, the release of blood a sacrifice to atone for undefined and unspecified sins. Whatever those sins or perceived sins were, they seem to have triggered depression. A later poem in the same section, “The Stone In My Shoe” describes the stone as, “suicide never lets me go./I walk with its stone in my shoe”. The drugs listed in the poem are anti-depressants. It’s also a “language of this limbo.” Later, “The Idiot’s Guide to Suicide” lists unsolicited and unhelpful advice, such as “It’s just a bad mood.” “get a grip”, “keep a happy diary”, “You need to try Yoga” or “Be kind to yourself.” All things that never should be said to someone in the grip of depression.

Next section, “the universe”, a poem called “The Crab” is about avoiding saying aloud the word whose astrology sign the crab represents. The word cancer was treated as taboo as if saying it could make it contagious. Treatment leaves the sufferer,

“I’m now scared, scarred, and unable to pee.
They cut away cells, cells, and dignity
and, still, I cannot say its name.”

Emma Lee, “Red Rite Hand” Adrian Harte (in case of emergency press) – book review

The drag I was feeling when it came to writing appears to have abated and maybe it’s all because I have been consuming more than creating for a couple weeks..horror films and the Poe series and Frankenstein through dance. If these things have enduring value centuries later, maybe not all is lost in a sea of feeling unseen and unheard in the moment, a struggle all artists and writers feel at some point. 

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 12/21/2023

Ten poems, read by 14 young poets, dazzled the packed Perspektiven Raum with brilliance and bravery. 14-year-old Grela Rabi’s as yet untitled poem that begins, “am boden kleben sie fest,“ was selected by our panel of three judges to win the 500 CHF gift certificate to Wenaweser Fahrradcentrum in Schaan. Congratulations Grela! The 500 CHF donation to the climate-themed charity of their choice, was split between the classes from ISR and Liechtenstein Gymnasium. The ISR classes chose to donate to “the bees in Liechtenstein.”  All participants received a book of poetry (from previous Word to Action participants) and a potted plant to take home. Class teachers received books on composing poetry. […]

My reflection is this: the poems were moving in different ways. It was interesting to see that the poems were different based on age group. The youngest were sad but optimistic about the future and used fantastical imagery to get the point across. Some were totally realistic about the trouble the planet is in. And the rest were a bit alarmed and made a call to action. This last category seemed to move the judges the most. At Word to Action we know that poetry physically changes those who hear it; it can move us to take action.

Cathy Wittmeyer, WTA Blog 15 Oct 23 Contest Results

Poetry can be so healing precisely because it springs from that deepest place of reckoning with what it means to be human — the place we seek with the intellect but touch with the intuition. And down there in the depths, we don’t much differ from one another, sharing the same basic longings, the same basic fears. Clifton reflects:

Poetry can heal. Because it comes from a heart, it can speak to another heart.

[…]

Somebody asked me why is it that I want to heal the world. I want to heal Lucille Clifton! And fortunately, I am very human just like all the other ones, all the other humans.

With an eye to what it means to be a poet, she adds a sentiment equally true of any creative endeavor:

I didn’t graduate from college, which isn’t necessary to be a poet. It is only necessary to be interested in humans and to be in touch with yourself as a human.

Complement with Clifton’s classic “won’t you celebrate with me” — a living testament to this poetry of personhood turned art — and her spare, stunning ode to the common ground of being, then revisit Wendell Berry on how to be a poet and a complete human being and Anne Gilchrist — Whitman’s most beloved friend — on inner wholeness and the key to a flourishing soul.

Maria Popova, How to Be a Living Poem: Lucille Clifton on the Balance of Intellect and Intuition in Creative Work and the Healing Power of Connection

Sometimes I feel like all religion is a search for order in the world. Maryann Corbett’s recent collection of poetryThe O in the Air, offers order to a disorderly world; or rather points out the order within the seemingly meaningless details of life.

I started reading Corbett’s poetry with her collection Credo for the Checkout Line in Winter and made my way through all of her work last summer. Less familiar with formal poetry, I was mesmerized by the meters of her work– the surprising yet inevitable conclusions of her poems. A free verse poet myself, I felt like someone who only sings folk songs listening to someone singing opera and totally nailing it. […]

A Tennessee girl raised in the Bible belt, I kept drawing together the marriage of her Catholicism and formal sensibilities; liturgy, rhythm, and tradition are deeply connected to the spiritual in her book. Whereas in the country churches I was shuffled to growing up, we were more likely to have an impromptu testimony or sing verse four just ONE more time—and here I am, a free verse poet. Church traditions and poetry traditions can learn from each other, I believe, and I found myself learning much from yet another inspiring collection of poems by Maryann Corbett.

Renee Emerson, a review of The O in the Air by Maryann Corbett

On October 12th, I announced a $200 donation to the Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA) who will provide aid to displaced and fleeing families in Gaza. Today, and retroactively for purchases from 10/12 to date, I am going to forgo all income for the press and donate that money to Medical Aid for Palestinians. What this means is that the $3 I would normally keep from each sale will instead be donated. In addition, I am going to match that amount with a personal donation to the same org. In other words, each book purchased gives $6 to Gaza. […]

Additionally, I call on all of you who are able to donate money to one of the following organizations:

As an added incentive, if you email me (deadmallpress@gmail.com) a receipt for a donation of $20 or more to one of these orgs, I will send you all four of my own chapbooks for free (including shipping). Just be sure to include a mailing address as well. I know it’s not much, but it’s what I have to give.

R. M. Haines, New Fund-Raising for Palestine

Human animals are still animals. We have evolved over thousands of years to be incredibly sensitive to our environment. We have evolved to survive at all costs. Our beautiful big human brains can’t tell the difference between anxiety caused by something far away, and anxiety caused by something in the room. They are one and the same with the same flight or fight response. If we are feeding ourselves a constant diet of news, which is, invariably bad, terrible, frightening news, we are constantly keeping ourselves in a place in which we feel we have to be hyper aware of everything that is happening because at any moment we may need to act.

It is good to be informed. But there is a limit to what you can actually do to help, understand, prepare, protect. I feel like even saying this is a kind of failure, a sort of cowardly way of looking at any situation. But it is a realistic way of looking at the situation of the world being on fire. […]

I don’t know any single person that isn’t in pain from watching the world burn. But pain is a counterbalance to love and I don’t know any one person that isn’t feeling immense love and a fierce desire to protect and help their fellow people, fellow world citizens. To be alive and aware is an act of resistance. Help where you can, be kind where you can, but that includes yourself.

Wendy Pratt, Know this: Your life is Precious Too

When I run away to theology school,
I will turn off the news. I will submerge
myself in books from an earlier age.
I will abandon the controversies
of our current time to lose myself
in arcane arguments of past heresies.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Teaching Observations and Theology School

So there I was. Sunday morning, in a suitably poet-like dress ( I restrained myself from the Byron sleeves this time) the comfort of chunky boots and my jade pendant that goes with me to every scary situation. This was going to be the first time reading in real life. I shook ( just the one leg bizarrely) but my voice stayed steady, I managed to look up at my audience, pause where I wanted to pause and even breathe occasionally. In hindsight perhaps choosing to read a poem about one of my last conversations with my Dad added a layer of difficulty I didn’t need, but I’ve never been one to take the easy route. Unless I’m hill climbing. Then I’m scouting for it before I set foot on the path.

I felt lovely. Energised, and pleased to have spoken my poem as it needed to be spoken, with the added boost of praise from a poet I really admire. I’ve put off reading in public for a very long time and realise that it is something I desperately want to do – to hear the sounds of the language I have chosen, and to test out the impact or effect on those who are listening.

Kathryn Anna Marshall, Taking a step forward

I am overcome & rejuvenated by imbalance – complexity
it blocks out the constant nitter-natter, and is oddly calming

or watch a chipmunk pack its cheeks

Pearl Pirie, New chapbook: cento

4. Then there are poems about love and lust and coming of age, perhaps. As if all life is visceral even at its most tender. “O minute hand, teach me / how to hold a man the way thirst/ holds water…” – A little closer to the edge.
5. And then of course is the end that is possibly the beginning of the narrative, the whole narrative. The look within: “Ocean, don’t be afraid. / The end of the road is so far ahead/ it is already behind us.” – Someday I’ll love Ocean Vuong and “& so what— if my feathers / are burning. I / never asked for flight” – Devotion. These are the last two poems. As if the book is waiting for its sequel. Not to tell the reader more. But to tell the poet just a little bit more.
6. This is not a quick read because you will keep going back to read some poems. You can fill your senses with lines like “The way a field turns / its secrets / into peonies.” – Into the breach or “How / does anyone stop / regret / without cutting / off his hands?” – Seventh Circle of Earth or “I enter / my life / the way words / entered me— / by falling / through / the silence / of this wide / open mouth”. – Logophobia. You always leave the page wondering if it is about the past or the future, about beauty or violence, about a person or a people, and if the one is actually possible without the other.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Reading list update -17

Numbers. Begin with
one thousand four hundred

news-worthy names shared
world-wide. Not Beit Lahia’s.

There, leaflets, like birds,
still fall from the sky,

where the cries of dogs
become lullabies;

pots and pans, rockets.

Maureen E. Doallas, A Poet’s View (Poem)

Three or four years ago, I knew I wanted to write about the footballing heroes of my childhood, those lower-league footballers who triumphed and failed before my eyes, who evoked a sense of masculinity that was hugely different to today’s view of men, whose team generated a sense of belonging among the local fans. In short, I knew I wanted to write directly about Aldershot F.C. footballers of the 1980s, but indirectly about far more. However, I didn’t know how to go about putting such a group of poems together. And that was when I read Stanley Cook’s excellent poetry for the first time.

Cook wrote two separate pamphlets on the back of his time working as a schoolteacher, Form Photograph (Phoenix/Peterloo, 1971) and Staff Photograph (Peterloo Poets, 1972). In each case, he created a set of vignettes. The first batch, of course, were pupils, while the second were teachers. He generated these portraits of individuals within a specific context, building a wider picture of society through the implicit dialogues that were generated among the poems, accumulating his effects via verbal collage.

On reading Cook’s poems, I admired them immensely and suddenly realised I could adapt his technique to my footballers. And rather than using a photo, I was drawn to the team sheet that appeared on the back of every programme, and thus ‘Starting Eleven’, the second section in Whatever You Do, Just Don’t, started to take shape. Thank you, Stanley! I’d like to think you’d enjoy my poems too…

Matthew Stewart, From ‘Form Photograph’ to ‘Starting Eleven’

One of the things I’m working on now is an essay, ironically, on lyric essays, so I’ve been doing some research, reading some books of lyric essays. It’s weird for me, since I’ve been a journalist, a technical writer, an ad copywriter, a book reviewer, and a poet, but until the pandemic I didn’t write personal essays or lyric essays. Even though I’ve had some essays published I certainly don’t consider myself any kind of expert.

But on Facebook I put up a query and got some really interesting answers, from people who definitely are more qualified than me. And as a poet I’m attracted to the idea of an essay that isn’t necessarily: theme, point, point, conclusion. That allows for leaps, long parentheticals and ellipses – in short, essays that mimic poetry in a lot of ways.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A New Review of Flare in New Pages, Pumpkins and Typewriters, Halloween Mystery Parties and Thoughts on the Lyric Essay

I sometimes send stuff to US paper journals. I don’t know my way around very well, and depend on online ranking lists etc. As in the UK, US paper magazines are disappearing (e.g. Tin House and Glimmer Train – 2 of the top 5 in one list), and the online replacements don’t have the same impact. I think more of their journals are university based. And there’s the pay-to-submit issue.

I have trouble understanding currently fashionable US poetry, so it’s the short story market I focus on. There’s a wide range of journals. The most recent one that I was in paid me $20 for a piece of Flash and sent me (expensively, unexpectedly) a contributor’s copy, cover price $18. But it’s only 290th in one list I found, and in another list it’s categorised as Tier 4, Respected: usually small circulation, one or more “notable” prize mentions, sometimes payment.

Tim Love, Breaking into the US market

I first started thinking about this post not long after writing the last one…probably sometime around the Tuesday when I started reading the book from which the poem below is drawn from. The poem below reminded me of sitting in my garden a few days before…just sitting on the edge of my patio and staring into space. It had been a rough day at work—there have been a few of those of late, but the future is hopefully looking brighter—and while I was contemplating my naval opportunities (basically setting off to sea and not coming back, a wasp came sidling up to me like some sort of stripey spiv. A fucking wasp, in October!! I ask you…

The sight of the wasp had me at this time of year had me worried about global warming, but also had me harking back the summer when another one of the apocrita critters had stung me on the back of the neck. I was also nervous having also been bitten on the back of my leg by an ant while sitting in the same spot a couple of weeks ago. What have I done to upset the insects of my garden?

Mat Riches, Stripey Spivs

The concept of ambition in poetry, and how one defines that word in relation to poetry, is something I first encountered in Donald Hall’s 1988 book Poetry and Ambition–still in print from University of Michigan. I read this book of essays in 1991, in between changing diapers and coordinating naptimes for two children under the age of four. It was difficult to feel ambition about career at that time, and a career in poetry was ever a pipe dream; but the notion that a writer could feel ambitious about the work she might be doing in learning about and endeavoring to craft really good poems, even should she fail most of the time, felt encouraging to me. I recommend this book, as there’s also a good deal one can find to disagree with in it, and debate is useful for thinking.

Fast-forward to today (time does seem to move in fast-forward), and I find myself retired from a career on the fringes of academia, where I taught composition to students less-prepared for college and ran the writing center at a university. But I did not teach poetry or creative writing and was staff, not professorial/tenured; so the need to be career-ambitious through poetry was null. That suited my personality well. Maybe too well. Yet somehow I managed to get a reasonable amount of my work published (see the sidebar of this page) and to get several chapbooks and books into print (see the My Books tab here). I had my own form of ambition.

What now, I wonder? I have so much work to revise! Recently, I submitted an experimental, historically-based chapbook to a publisher, and I’m working on getting a new book of older work, though not as old as The Red Queen Hypothesis‘ poems, into print. Will I spend the next few years just catching up? Possibly. Is that “ambitious”? Nah, just means I wasn’t ambitious enough to get to it earlier!

Ann E. Michael, Once again, ambition

An AK-47 claiming he’s the delivery boy and a knock-kneed tuba tuned to the key of gloom.

Bad weather, lousy music, and World War III bearing a bouquet of bombs.

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and a clogged toilet doing a crappy Bob Dylan impression.

A half-dressed serial killer wanting to slip into something less comfortable.

Banging on my front door: droughts, diseases, and all the bad poems I’ve ever written coming back to haunt me.

Rich Ferguson, Banging On My Front Door

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 40

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive, subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader, or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack. This week found poets wrestling with war, illness, the deaths of loved ones, and publishers giving up the ghost, while also rejoicing at new poems, new books, old friends and autumn weather, among many other things. Enjoy.


My beloved doesn’t understand my enthusiasm for “putting the gardens to bed for winter.” It seems like boring, hard work. Yet I don’t clean everything up–I always leave cover for bees and other creatures that need leaf litter and old stems in order to winter over. However, taking down the stalks and cutting back the peonies (etc) feels satisfying to me. I work in the cooler weather and sense the difference in the air. I recognize the annuals are dying and the perennials are going dormant, the trees let go of their coloring leaves; walnuts, oaks, and hickories seem to fling their mast upon the earth with every gust of wind. There’s nothing sad or somber about the changing of seasons. Winter must arrive in order for spring to do its thing. I like to think of daffodils, muscari, and irises huddled quietly in soil and taking much-required rest before the warmth unthaws the earth. I feel the same.

Ann E. Michael, There & back again, with weeding

To not know; to think only about the usual mixed feelings of crossing back to “real life” after a holiday, with tender feet and breathing open pores.  To be one of the ravers in the Israeli desert dancing under the starry October sky.  To be an observant Jew dancing wildly over Sukkot-Shabbat-Simchat Torah, giving thanks over three holidays celebrating joy, joy, joy, going into otherness – not knowing about the bloody weekend.

I was counting the hours of those in blissful ignorance, having switched off their devices for another kind of communication as one holiday slid into another into another — before they’d have to rejoin those who knew. That sliver of innocence would not narrow and close in the usual way, with a shiver, a tremble as we cross back over the straits — as poet Yehuda Amichai writes, trying to soak it all up before the flute holes close.

From one kind of abyss to another.  Strewn with corpses draped like black flowers/on roads, on the tops of cars, in one’s hearts and arms.

Jill Pearlman, Beyond Belief

A song, a garden, a salvation. A goodness, a grace, a sky-blue smile.

A skeleton key that’ll unlock well-being’s fortune and not the grave.

Rich Ferguson, The Skeleton Key at Wellness and Vine

It’s over five months into chemotherapy treatments and, even though the drugs are less harsh than they were the first 3 months, it is taking a different kind of toll on me. I didn’t hit a wall, really, but have sunk slowly in terms of feeling enthusiastic about anything. I have forced myself these past 6 weeks to exercise for an hour and a half five days a week. But that is it. There’s nothing left after the walks, the runs, the hiit program and yoga.

There is nothing left with which to write even.

I am not sure I have ever done anything this difficult in my life. I am after-the-marathon-tired, but it’s not over yet. Sometimes I can’t even grasp why I’m doing this. And I know that sounds childish. But it has been difficult to keep in mind any kind of timeline or image of a future reality. When is this “over”? What will that look like?

Ren Powell, Understanding Fatigue

Today is National Poetry Day in the UK, and this year’s theme is ‘Refuge’.

On a global scale, the world is experiencing the highest levels of displacement ever recorded. On a more personal level, I have friends who have become refugees this year. And while the disastrous war in Ukraine or the horrors of migrants drowning in the Mediterranean may be prominent in the thoughts of many, they are just the tip of an iceberg which includes mass displacement in and from countries such as Congo, Afghanistan and so many others, due to war, natural disasters, famine and a host of other reasons. Even for those who have fled or claimed asylum under marginally less terrible conditions than some others, the emotional impact (at the very least) is shocking.

Carolyn Forché’s ‘The Boatman’, from her most recent and truly wonderful collection In the Lateness of the World, speaks in the voice of a taxi driver who is also a Syrian refugee. I find the juxtaposition of the incredible horror of what he’s endured to arrive in a (relatively, apparently) safe city, with his determination to “see that you arrive safely, my friend, I will get you there”, almost unbearable. Forché brilliantly conveys the contrasts between the warm taxi and the filthy, dangerous rubber boat, the hotel in Rome with its portraits of films stars and the dead child floating in the water. How surreal it is to hear someone in a calm environment quietly describe the inhumanity they endured to arrive there. And there is also an underlying sense that death is never far away. ‘The Boatman’, as a title and the self-description of “the boatman, driving a taxi at the end of the world”, makes me think of Charon, who took the souls of the dead across the river Styx. 

Clarissa Aykroyd, National Poetry Day: Refuge and Carolyn Forché’s ‘The Boatman’

There is an interesting phrase in Gordon Weiss’s 2011 book on the root causes and final days of Sri Lanka’s 26-year civil war, ‘The Cage’. Weiss describes the careful record keeping and desperate telephone calls of a small group of Tamil government doctors who were trapped along with thousands of civilians in the ‘siege zone’ as the Sri Lankan army finally closed in on the Tamil Tigers. These were, Weiss says, integral to “the compilation of memory” that subsequently provided evidence of atrocity that would otherwise have been obliterated entirely. “Instinctively (the doctors) understood better than most that the only gravestone that those who died would receive would be in the form of the ticks and marks on a hospital casualty form”, he writes, and “…(o)ften the UN would speak to the doctors from their radiotelephones, listening to their pleas for help and intervention while the dull sound of exploding shells crackled up the line…” (p276). 

There is a comparison to be made I think (albeit one that I have to be careful in making) between the heroically steady and precise record keeping of those doctors, and their real-time testimonies of witness, and the enormous job of compilation that the three editors of this first ever anthology of Sri Lankan and diasporic poetry have undertaken. The voices that they allow to emerge, rising as they do from both within layers of division inside Sri Lanka over the last 60 or 70 years, and from around the world as the diasporic community has grown over the same period, create a rich and varied psychological/political landscape which is as unique – and often as harrowing – as the experience of Sri Lankans over the period since independence from British colonial rule in 1948. It is hard not to read this project of anthologisation as one in which a compilation is taking place so that a shared cultural memory is not obliterated by the deliberate forgetfulness of the powerful global forces that shape history. 

Chris Edgoose, The life of their land 

This is an ugly game
of dominoes. There
is always one more.
Waiting to fall.
Ampersand.
Melomys & more.

Who should the bears
blame, as they
starve on melting ice,
on river banks,
who should the green
sea turtles blame,
or emperor penguins,
their babies much
too young to swim?

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Bramble Cay Melomys

Sukkot for me evokes both fragility (the sukkah begins falling apart as soon as it’s created; every life is a sukkah, fragile and fleeting; God knows I’ve sat with sorrow in the sukkah at times) and joy (Torah tells us to rejoice in our festivals; this is zman simchateinu, the season of our rejoicing; on Shemini Atzeret, the 8th day, God calls us to linger a little longer in joy.) These poems are somewhat in the mode of Texts to the Holy, though I leave it to you to decide who is speaking, and to whom. […]

I see how fragile everything is
around you, how tenuous
any peace. Reasons for sorrow
pile up like fallen leaves.
Feel my heart touching yours,
enfolding yours.
I’m here with you where you are
under this roof that lets in rain.

Rachel Barenblat, Rejoice / Fragile

I am so happy that I wrote a poem.  It’s been weeks of writing a few lines and then sputtering.  And in the spirit of appreciation for August Kristin who left me poem notes, let me write down an idea for another poem I had as I drove back from Lutheranch, back across Georgia on Sunday.

I thought about what and who had previously been on the land, about Harriet Tubman leading slaves to safety.  I thought about dark skies and scars and reading the stars, a map to freedom, stars that scar the black back of the sky.  I thought about all the people we cannot save, no matter how hard we try.  I thought about writing about Harriet Tubman when she’s old and cannot save people anymore, but is that valid?  I realized I don’t know much about Harriet Tubman when she’s old.  I thought about Harriet Tubman and the Stono River and her spywork during the Civil War.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Cassandra Colors Her Hair after the Apocalypse

Humour seems to me to be a useful and sometimes subtle tool to get over a message about the general state of the society that I find myself, however reluctantly, a part of. There are plenty of poems here that poke affectionate fun at people and their habits, at myself for the absurd elements of my own life – and often, because I read a lot of poetry and far too often poets want to be taken so very seriously, at poets. Sometimes something deeper and more serious lurks beneath the surface, but sometimes it’s justifiable as fun for fun’s sake.

Maybe the point in jabbering on about this is a reaction to a whole string of poems I’ve read recently, and comments in discussions, where the writers seem to inhabit a closed, incredibly self-indulgent, self-absorbed world, as if they are unaware of what’s happening outside.

This week’s prime example, was a bizarre and to my mind scarcely believable debate, carried out with a considerable amount of fury, as to what is, and what is not, a haiku. I found both bizarre and ridiculous that people were getting so worked up about it that they were resorting to insults.

The world is burning and people are being slaughtered, folks, and you’re worrying about this?!

Maybe the point here is a message – please let’s take ourselves a little less seriously and remind ourselves that we’re here to untangle the madness that comes with the responsibility of being human in whatever way seems appropriate at the time – and not to preoccupy ourselves with pedantry, particularly when it involves such a flimsy thing as a perceived poetic form.

Bob Mee, COME ON POETS, TAKE YOURSELVES A LITTLE LESS SERIOUSLY, PLEASE

waking up a thousand birds :: i have to be a perfect dawn

(first appeared in Roadrunner Haiku Journal in 2009)

Grant Hackett [no title]

Ok, you might say, so what do poems about Aldershot Town footballers of the 1980s have in common with poems about life in rural Spain, for instance? Well, quite a lot now you come to mention it.

The main nexus is the chafing of belonging and estrangement. In the commuter belt in South-West Surrey and North Hampshire, where most town centres look alike, have similar shops and chain restaurants, where people don’t put down anchors but move around to be closer to a new job, there’s no doubt that the second half of the 20th century saw a loss of community, of identity, which was pretty deeply felt by the time I was a kid in the area during the 1980s. In that respect, lower-league football had become a significant factor in generating or recovering communal identities. By supporting their local team, people belonged. And that was definitely what attracted me to Aldershot Town.

Not enough, of course, because I ended up leaving southern England for Extremadura, where I found a profound, established sense of identity in small towns such as Almendralejo and Villafranca de los Barros. In retrospect, that feeling of belonging was what made me stay, even though I would never quite be one of them, always a foreigner.

This dual perspective runs through Whatever You Do, Just Don’t and knits its sections together. By straddling two countries, two languages, two societies, I can’t 100% feel at home in either, but my perspectives on them both have acquired extra nuance, additional layers. In these poems, Sunday tapas and siestas in deepest Extremadura might even remind you of a nap after Roast Topside or Brisket in Knaphill or Croydon in 1979 or 1982…

Matthew Stewart, Four sections, one book

It would be impossible not to absolutely delight in the lyric gestures of Bennington, Vermont poet, essayist and erasure artist Mary Ruefle’s latest, a collection of short and shorter prose and prose poems simply titled The Book (Seattle WA/New York NY: Wave Books, 2023). Ruefle is the author of well over a dozen full-length titles, most recently Selected Poems (Wave Books, 2010), Madness, Rack, and Honey: Collected Lectures (Wave Books, 2012) [see my review of such here], Trances of the Blast (Wave Books, 2013) [see my review of such here] and Dunce (Wave Books, 2019) [see my review of such here], and this latest collection offer pieces that sit within a wide gradient, from prose poem to the very short story and everything in-between. There is something quite magical in the way her pieces exist within this collection, this “book,” offering the notion of genre as something wonderfully fluid. Within compact lines and wonderful flow, she offers intimate and lyric slivers of life and thinking, meditations on ordinariness that is never truly ordinary, or spectacular simply because of that ordinariness. The variations on her prose structures hold an enormity, packing nuance into every phrase. “That book sat on my various shelves for decades until I got around to it,” she writes, to open the piece “THE BOOK,” “and then it seemed to be written especially for me. I hope this provides some hope to the other unread books surrounding me who are wondering what will happen to them when I die.” There is such a joy within these sentences, these phrases, one that appreciates and explores with such a level of curiosity and wonder combined with a deep and abiding wisdom that it is it be envied.

rob mclennan, Mary Ruefle, The Book

There are a lot of options for adult skaters–testing, competitions, clubs, classes, private lessons, etc. There are different kinds of skating a person might focus on–freestyle (jumps and spins), dance (solo or paired), moves in the field. I’d thought about and dabbled in different ways of skating since first returning to the ice. Exploring was good and I’m glad I tried on different goals and ways of being a skater, but my lack of a clear focus contributed to my feelings of ennui. Then, a long thread in an online forum this August full of older skaters talking about life-altering skating injuries gave me serious pause about my attempts to return to jumping and spinning. Did I really want to risk my ability to do all kinds of things I now take for granted just so I could do a waltz jump that was likely never going to look or feel the way it did 45 years ago? A few weeks ago, while talking about possible goals with another skater, I said, “I think I’d rather do simple things beautifully than hard or risky things I can barely get through.” As soon as I heard myself, I knew I’d figured it out, my new skating manifesto:

Simple things, done beautifully.

I want to be a strong skater. I want to skate with speed. I want to skate without fear. I want to skate gracefully. I can do all of those things if I’m skating simply.

At my next lesson, I shared this way of thinking about it with my coach. “You often say you don’t want to nit-pick,” I told him, “but I think I want you to nit-pick. I don’t want to just execute a move. I want to master it.” He took me back to working on basics.

I then had one of the best lessons I’ve ever had. Focusing on moving beautifully broke through a block in understanding I’d had about doing crossovers, one of the simplest moves there is. I was able to do crossovers more powerfully than I had previously, and with less fear.

That felt so good, I started thinking about how it might be to do other simple things beautifully. I followed Kate Lebo’s process for making chicken pot pie, one night roasting a chicken and making gravy, and the next roasting vegetables (using herbs from our garden) and making pie crust. The third night I put all the parts together into a pie, and it was pretty amazing. Pot pie is one of the simplest dishes there is, and Lebo showed me how to make it beautifully. Now, I’m wondering how I might apply this way of thinking and being to everything–to my relationships, to work, to writing, to making a home.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Simple things, done beautifully

Simon Cutts is a poet, printer and publisher and the thread of continuity that runs through the legendary Coracle Press. The Small Press Model is a collection of more-or less short prose pieces, many of them occasional and previously published, some new, all of them concerned one way or another with the question of publication in all its various forms. Cutts’ overall approach, and the philosophy that lies behind Coracle, might be best summed up by the following quote from one of the last pieces in this book, a note on the work of artist Peter Downsbrough: ‘I am always amazed at the simplicity of devices in the construction of his work, the home-madeness that leads to such an abstraction and austerity of the finished work.’

That sense of the hand-made, the austere and simple is, I think, what characterises Cutts’ philosophy of publication; the idea of the published thing as an object fitted to its primary purpose and taking its place in a world of objects, is central to his practice (along with his various Coracle partners) and to this book.

The book also reminds us of his very inclusive definition of what constitutes publication. Yes, there are lots of books, but a Coracle Press publication can be a single page of printer (or blank) paper, a gatefold, a book, a catalogue, an exhibition, a building or the monumental resin on concrete publication of his A History of the Airfields of Lincolnshire that graces the cover of The Small Press Model.

Crucially, for Cutts, publication is a physical experience. This might mean a concern with the qualities of paper:

“I suddenly realised that I was interested in the transparency of sheets of paper and variable lines of coloured type.”

or, as an extension, the physical qualities of traditional print processes or the frequent examples of books and other physical objects being a continuum; again, A History of the Airfields of Lincolnshire is a good example, having started life as a book before becoming a monumental presence.

Billy Mills, The Small Press Model by Simon Cutts: A Review

There’s a strong preference for summer running through these poems. In the title poem, a childhood memory of a neighbour who had “drab furniture with crochet antimacassars” and who “only spoke the island Welsh,” yet was kind,

“In a hot summer that reverberated to the sound
of roller skates tearing up concrete
she took us in her shiny black Morris Minor,
speeding past farms and fields of potatoes,
to the candy floss paradise of Benllech
with its wide apron of sand and donkeys.
Me in my beloved yellow towelling hot pants,
while ‘Seasons in the Sun’ played
from everyone’s open door.”

Readers can almost hear the children playing on the beach, the splash of waves and the song blaring from open windows. Even the black is polished to a cheerful shine. In contrast, “Winter’s Breath” ends,

“Winter is a black and white country.
The old know this: it strips flesh
from trees, flowers, bones.”

Emma Lee, “Seasons in the Sun” Annest Gwilym (Gwasg Carreg Gwalch) – book review

Richard remarked on how ‘stuffy’ the poetry world can be. Over the years, Penteract Press has published many exceptional works, including The Book of Penteract anthology, Christian Bök’s The Kazimir Effect, your own collections Stray Arts (and Other Inventions) and Slate Petals (and Other Wordscapes), and Pedro Poitevin’s Nowhere at Home. It never ceases to astonish me that these publications – and indeed experimental poetry generally – appear to receive little or no attention from what one might call the ‘literary establishment’. What are your thoughts on this?

Anthony: The poetry world is run by a small number of cliques. But this shouldn’t be surprising: it’s true of literally every industry. It’s unfortunate that the styles favoured by these cliques are at odds with the poetry we wish to promote — but it is what it is.

We can remind ourselves that innovation and technical skill ultimately win out. The art that gets remembered tends to be outside the mainstream of its day, and mainstream artists rarely have any longevity.

That said, fame isn’t much use when you’re dead….

It’s also worth considering that even ‘popular’ poetic styles aren’t particularly popular. This lack of popularity makes it easier for non-mainstream poets to do their own thing — after all, we can see what we’re missing out on by remaining on the fringes, and the answer is: not a lot.

More coverage for Penteract, constraint, and visual poetry would be nice. However, from an aesthetic perspective, I’m quite happy to be outside mainstream circles. There’s little in the mainstream that inspires me, these days.

Marian Christie, ‘Everyone is invited’ – An Interview with Anthony Etherin of Penteract Press

This news hit a lot of people hard, myself included. My first response was shock. But we just read that magazine!, I thought, the way people sometimes respond after hearing terrible news about a person—But I just saw them!

A literary magazine is not a person, of course. But the closure of this particular journal means not only the loss of another vital home for beautiful and important contemporary writing, but the loss of jobs for the editors. I interviewed Lauren about a week ago, as part of our Lit Mag Reading Club discussion of Gettysburg Review. She was engaged, funny, and clearly passionate about this work.

If the magazine’s closing felt shocking to me, I cannot imagine how these editors feel. From what they’ve tweeted, it appears they were completely excluded from this decision.

It also appears the editors were given no warning that this was coming, and that there was no negotiation option made available to them. Nor, it seems, was there any effort to seek a buyer for the magazine. The college board met last week and presumably discussed this situation. The editors, from what I gather, were not part of that discussion.

Evidently too, the college president’s reasons for closing the magazine are not based on facts. According to the editors, he inflated the magazine’s budget when speaking with the faculty. He also hinted at layoffs which suggest a need for budget-cutting overall. Yet just last week, the college received a $10 million-dollar donation from a former English major. The editors are right to ask, where is that money going?

Another question, of course, is what can be done?

Several magazines have gone through threats of closure over the years, then pulled through. In spring of 2022 Conjunctions almost stopped publication, but then didn’t, after outcry and public pressure upon Bard College. In the Story Magazine newsletter from a few days ago, Editor Michael Nye recounted the way people rallied behind and ultimately saved Missouri Review.

The editors of Gettysburg Review are encouraging readers to reach out to the president and provost of Gettysburg College.

Becky Tuch, Can we save Gettysburg Review?

I’ve been thinking a lot about this idea, which opens my book Keep Moving: Notes on Loss, Creativity, and Change: every ending is also a beginning, and we don’t necessarily know of what. A wise person once told me to start each day by asking this question: What else is possible?

Life constantly surprises me—sometimes in painful ways, sometimes in wonderful ways. Change is the only constant, isn’t it? During an interview the other day I was asked how I live so comfortably with ambiguity and ambivalence. My answer: I don’t! I don’t live comfortably with the unknowns, but I try not to struggle against them. I try to trust the ebb and flow. As Rilke wrote, “Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror. Just keep going. No feeling is final.” […]

Keep Moving has been a miracle in my life. Writing these notes-to-self each day helped me become more optimistic and open to change. And as I shared in my memoir, You Could Make This Place Beautiful, the advance for the book enabled me and my kids to stay in our house. Nothing stressed me out more, or woke me up in the middle of the night more, than the fear of losing our house in the divorce. I worried about having to uproot my kids from their neighborhood, move them away from their friends, and put them in a new school. I had no idea how I would manage to keep us here.

If you’ve been divorced or faced a major financial hurdle for another reason—medical bills, a job loss—you understand that frantic fear. Keep Moving is why I’m writing this to you from my office in the front room of my house, watching people walking by with strollers and dogs. It feels like a miracle to me.

Maggie Smith, On Surprise & Gratitude

Why is brief light so beautiful at such a time

of day? Sometimes I drive under a canopy
arching over certain avenues just to feel

immersed in that dapple, imagining
voices speaking from out of the leaves.

I see clusters of moth wings outlined with Damascus
steel, the glisten of hummingbirds teetering on slips

of vine. Even the blood inside the hard bronze
carapace of a horseshoe crab radiates fluorescence.

Luisa A. Igloria, Allowance (13)

This isn’t really a post about magic, it’s about the power of poetry, as an art form that depends almost exclusively on a hyper-aware use of language, for good or ill. […]

Canntaireachd is a verbalisation of pipe tunes, to be used when teaching a student new music. You sang it until you’d learned it, then got the fingering right on the chanter, and then you learned to play it on the pipes. Far from being random vocalisation, it is an elaborately coded highly technical language. Pipers would say it is more effective than staff notation, as it is written to convey not only pitch and rhythm, but dynamics and intensity, and I’m glad to say it’s still being taught. You can hear an example of it in Martin Bennett’s Chanter, given a surprising twist on his Grit album.

Elizabeth Rimmer, Hocus Pocus

i dread to tread the wounded ways
where he brought forth time’s voices
still the crack-lipped words tell and still
the moments dear to this man’s standing
still the morning
still the air
of thomas dare be there

upon reading a poem by RS Thomas

Jim Young, be thee there

It is one of the hardest things in life — discerning where we end and the rest of the world begins, negotiating the permeable boundary between self and other, all the while longing for its dissolution, longing to be set free from the prison of ourselves. That is why we cherish nature and art, those supreme instruments of unselfing, in Iris Murdoch’s lovely phrase; that is why happiness, as Willa Cather so perfectly defined it, is so often the feeling of being “dissolved into something complete and great.”

Because our sense of self is rooted in the body, it is through the body that we most readily and rapturously break the boundary in the ecstatic dissolution we call eros.

That is what former U.S. Poet Laureate Maxine Kumin (June 6, 1925–February 6, 2014) explores in her subtle and stunning 1970 poem “After Love,” found in her indispensable Selected Poems (public library).

Maria Popova, After Love: Maxine Kumin’s Stunning Poem About Eros as a Portal to Unselfing

This is a short poem that came to me in what felt like a very few minutes, on the third anniversary of my father’s death.  I had forgotten the date, but when my husband and daughter urged me to go out with them one Sunday, I had a strong sense I needed to stay at home.  Sitting on the decking, I suddenly remembered the significance of the day, 6th June, and sat very quietly connecting to the experience of being with my father as he lay dying. The poem came through to me at that point, just a light poured through him in his last eleven minutes.  I do remember having to look up the word for an alchemical container though! ‘An alembic’.

At the time of his dying I wanted to recite the mantra from the Buddhist Heart Sutra, ‘Gate, gate, paragate, parasamgate, bodhi svaha!but couldn’t remember the ‘samgateof the fourth word, so looked it up on my Mac.  The mantra, in Sanskrit, means ‘Gone, gone, gone beyond, gone utterly beyond, what an awakening, Amen!’.It interests me, perhaps as a psychotherapist, that the part of the word I couldn’t remember was the ‘utterly beyond’.  On my Mac I found the singer, Deva Premal’s version – so with her singing accompanying me, I sang it to my father. What happened next is brought to life in the poem.

Drop-in by Hélène Demetriades (Nigel Kent)

The image of Proust’s broken vase gave me a vehicle to think about how an object comes to be precious and meaningful. It also helped me find a metaphorical link between the museum exhibition and our human lives, which are a series of short-lived displays. Since my consideration of wonder has always been both critical and creative, I cherish these moments when the distinction between thinking about wonder as a critic and as a poet dissolves.

Maya C. Popa, Wonder Wednesday

I just picked up a book of poems I don’t get at all. So I suggested to myself that I pick three of these poems at random and try to write an imitation of them, just to see what I might learn along the way. Isn’t that a good idea, potentially? I mean, it would force me to settle into the rhythm of the poems, the syntaxes, what seems to be playing out with the nouns and verbs and images. When I say “imitation” I usually either do a word by word replacement of words I come up with off the top of my head, or, more commonly, I try to choose OPPOSITE words. Not all words have opposites of course, but I give it a shot. If a poem starts “After the moon rose…” I might write “Before the seed settled…” Get what I mean? It’s an interesting exercise.

Marilyn McCabe, Long list of priors; or, On Procrastination

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

Actually, I always wanted to be a writer, throughout my childhood. So when I went to university I studied literature and writing. But I was so disappointed and repelled by my graduate program in creative writing (at Concordia, FYI) that I sought escape from it and wanted to find other outlets. So I stumbled into the visual arts through the world of zines and DIY publishing and performance, and at the time, I found it so much more free than what I was encountering at grad school. I put aside writing and literature for basically a decade, to do performance and film and visual arts projects, and then finally came back to it in 2018. […]

Writing seems like one of the few tools that makes sharing or expressing an interior world possible. It’s a way of representing lived reality. And lived reality—actual lives—are so repressed all the time.

I also think that any use of language is at least a little bit magical, in the sense of the speech act, like the act of naming, or the act of promising. It’s a way to make spells. […]

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

I once heard John Giorno respond to the question of “How to make it as an artist” with the answer “You have to ruin your life,” and it comes to mind often. I think it’s true in the sense that your life will no longer make sense to most people (ie. ruined) but it will also be a lot better (ie. ruined in the romantic sense, of having a more full relationship to the forces of change).

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Amy Ching-Yan Lam (rob mclennan)

I think the majority of literary competition guidelines now include a statement on AI. Usually AI isn’t allowed, though the wording tends to be along the lines that they’ll delete the accepted online piece if AI use is subsequently discovered.

Cult. Magazine has an enlightened (or resigned?) attitude – “If AI tools were used to make your submission, please inform us how you used the tool and why”. The pieces are collaborations of sorts. They’ve benefitted from the work of others, but so have pieces that were workshop exercises, or pieces that are “after” another work.

Tim Love, Writing and AI

So you’re a writer of a certain age, who has written a certain number of books, and after, say, twenty years, you’re still not getting major attention for your work. Read: you are not winning the big money, big attention awards.

But think about this: the people that are winning the big awards are not winning by accident, and maybe not even because of their talent. Someone out there has done a PR campaign, gotten to have lunch with the right people in charge, went to the right schools, got the right mentors. And a LOT of that has to do with class and with money. No disrespect to people that win big, but if you look behind the curtains, you’ll notice that a LOT of them have a LOT of money. It costs something to put yourself out there in the best light—either money from your publisher, or your family, or from powerful mentors at powerful institutions. Does this mean, shocking intake of breath, literature is not always a meritocracy? I’m just going to suggest that those of you struggling with not getting a major award should realize that there are aspects of the world of grants, fellowships, prestige awards that are not going to be…completely in your control. I wish people would talk about this stuff a little bit more and be more honest about what it takes to really make it as a poet. For instance, Louise Gluck inherited a fortune from her father’s invention of the X-acto knife. Merwin inherited a ton of money, TS Eliot married it (and then put his wife in an institution so he could access that money faster). No shade on any of those poets (well, maybe a little at Eliot—what a jerk!), but they were able to be influential poets because they had talent but also because they had money.

Not to say every poet with money becomes influential, or every prizewinner has secret millions (but you’d be surprised how many do!) I wasn’t born with money, I didn’t marry into money, and I didn’t win the lottery, so I didn’t go to the fanciest schools and I’m still paying off student loans from my less-fancy schools. Does that mean I will live a writer’s life without recognition, awards, fellowships, etc? Not necessarily. I do know people who are just like me who have succeeded in making the “big time.” And Sylvia Plath won the Pulitzer…but not til many years after her death. So perhaps we all – writers, scientists, people in competitive fields like composing or physics – feel that we are being looked over, but continue with our work nonetheless. I remember my father, a robotics scientist, was always depressed a week or so after learning he didn’t win an NSF (the science equivalent of the NEA) grant. I later had a college roommate who was one of the people who screened NSF applications, who told me it was a depressing job because there were so many great applicants and she could only choose a very small number to win. I think about both those things a lot.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, October or August? More Pumpkin Farms, A Review of Lessons in Chemistry on Apple TV, Talking a Little about Prizes (and Why You Shouldn’t Feel Bad if You Don’t Win)

Setting some personal guidelines for how and which markets to send your work can be helpful to keep focus on your priorities—and sometimes breaking those rules is completely appropriate. Having some flexibility will make your submission strategy more fulfilling. For example, I often send new poems (which are always my ‘best’ poems at the moment) to top tier literary magazines and journals first, hoping I’ll hit the literary jackpot and be published by The New Yorker or Poetry. So far, no such luck, but I keep trying anyway. You never know when one of your pieces will be the perfect fit for a specific issue. Once I’ve had several rejections from those markets, I lower my sights a bit and start sending to more mid-tier markets. I also make exceptions from time to time; send a poem I wrote for a prompt to a themed call or send some poems to a university journal because I really like their aesthetic and what they’re up to. I definitely lean toward feminist lit mags and can’t help but to send them work, regardless of how new they are or how few followers they have on social media.

Trish Hopkinson, Do I need a strategy to submit to lit mags?

Let’s say you are what you consume. I want to become more clear-headed, astute, insightful, observant, persuasive, better at listening. If I read what is sloppy or loopy, maybe I read too indiscriminately and I squander my time.

Maybe I get frustrated easily. Maybe poetry isn’t the tool for what I want to be fed.

Each media has its strengths. Hum. Haw.  Hum. 10% of poetry, maybe 5% of it, knocks me back on my heels.

Maybe that is a good rate.

To honour the exploration, the edges, matters. What matters is everything not the notable and marketable golden hour that can have an elevator pitch towards one outcome. Poetry should explore, should sometimes fail, should leave gaps where new standards can emerge.

Poetry can create not only reflect. Poetry isn’t like hockey where you need equipment and support of an industry and stadium of audience. Poetry can be done collaboratively or as a whisper to and from self. Poetry isn’t mainstream capitalist. It’s jangled or can be. Not trying for offbeat or in hand.

Pearl Pirie, disability & writing

In other news, I was very lucky to have been mentioned in a post by my old mucker, Matthew Stewart. His second collection, Whatever You Do, Just Don’t is starting to turn up in the world and I’m enjoying seeing people enjoying it and savouring it. (Excellent review by Christopher James).

As Matthew himself notes, I’ve

“seen all the poems in Whatever You Do, Just Don’t at multiple stages in their development, and has given me feedback on every single one, from first draft to reassembly after Nell’s ritual dismembering of words, lines and stanza of numerous poems that we had thought finished. Just as I have for him, of course.”

And this is the crux of his post, it’s not about me, it’s not about him either. It’s about us, as writers (and fuck it, as people) having folks that are friends that support and help each other through encouragement, goading, provoking and supporting. He’s the first to tell me something is shit or good, as I am say something isn’t working.

What changes as a result of this is up to the recipient, but, the space is safe to say this stuff. It’s  likely true elsewhere, but I, for one, welcome the trust that comes from it.

I’m less happy that he has texted me to insult me about the Arsenal result by questioning the origins of my fandom, but y’know…it comes with the territory. I will say, however, that I’m honoured and looking forward to seeing the old sod again in the flesh in November. You should come along too on the 7th November. 7pm. The Devereux Pub.

Mat Riches, If you see Sidney Road, tell me

One night we woke up to hear Patsy Cline singing Walking After Midnight on mamma’s stereo and daddy’s old truck rumbling down the road like the Big Foot. We peeked around the kitchen door to see mamma slow dancing, her arms wrapped around herself, fried chicken and mashed taters slip-sliding down the wall like the tears falling down her cheeks. Maggie took her red rooster feather and plaited it in mamma’s long hair while I took Patsy off the stereo and put on James singing Give it up or turnit a loose. Then we Soul Train lined our mamma up up up into the starry, starry sky.

Charlotte Hamrick, A set of linked micros

I practice
letting go . . .
autumn morning

Bill Waters, Hopewell Valley Neighbors magazine: October ’23

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 38

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, subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader, or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack. This week: the equinox, telepathy, stream-writing, list poems, and much more. Enjoy.


It is peak bramble time, jam-making, pickling, apple cake and plum crumble time. The first geese are here, and the last housemartins are lining up to leave. The bird population in the garden has changed – the sparrows are mostly in the fields just now, so the blue tits have a chance at the feeders. The magpies are mostly bothering something else in the woods, there are starlings along all the roof tops, and the robin is noisily staking out his winter territory in the hawthorns over the burn. The temperature has dropped ten degrees over the last week, and I’m about to pick the last tomatoes and move the lemon verbenas and the scented leaf geraniums into the greenhouse before the frost. I’ll be stripping out the spent annuals, and sowing the seeds I’ve saved to jump start next summer’s flowers, and I’ll be making pot pourri and some dried flower arrangements to give us scent and colour through the dark days.

Because next week is the equinox, one of the tipping points of the year, and we’re heading for winter. I’m having a tipping point of some other kinds too. I seem to have shifted from ‘learning about’ this new territory, to ‘getting to know’ it. I am aware, not only of new facts as they come to my attention, but how they impact things I already know. I understand more about why some plants are thriving and some aren’t, how taking out all the stones from the front garden changes not only the drainage, but the feel of the soil, and I can hear when there’s a new bird in the garden. It feels like a more mutual phase, as the garden responds to what I’ve done – and not always in the way I expect. I had no idea the marshmallows would grow so tall, or how much shade the lilac tree casts.

And in writing, too. I’ll be in the house more than the garden, in my head more than the world. I’m out of the note-making, researching, puzzling, planning stage and into the real words on the page. Unwilding is still very short – less than five per cent of the total, but there are actual words! And more importantly, as it turns out, the next poetry collection has begun to happen. It is tentatively called The Midsummer Foxes but it is also going to have bees, weather, music, herbs and the moon. I have always wanted to do a ‘four elements’ collection, and this may well be it. I am embarrassingly excited about it!

Elizabeth Rimmer, The Tipping Point

straw bales
a lonely tractor giving birth
to autumn

Jim Young [no title]

On Eurostar from the Netherlands I wrote two poems about returning home and a poem about forgetting. I haven’t knowingly written a poem for a while. I had hoped I could, after bike rides, visits to museums, spending time with Giya. I felt refreshed by being away. I saw new things, including Snow White and the Broken Arm by Marlene Dumas, a South African by birth who lives in Amsterdam. And Snow White is holding a camera. When I went to visit mum and showed it to her she laughed. That was the response of a writer, I realised. It was subversive. 

There is lots to do now. It’s a question of pacing, breathing and breaks, I’m told. 

I want to think more. I’ve been in plant mind all spring and summer. Autumn’s provoking a change. 

Jackie Wills, Coming home and thinking more

In Latin, the word equinox means equal night—
there are two times each year when day

and night are the same length in all parts
of the world. On one side, she was dying.

On the other, she was already dead,
her breaths having slowed until

they could not mist the mirror anymore.
The three women who cared for her until

the end folded the sheets and prepared
her body for its last ceremony of fire,

for sifting into an urn bearing her name.

Luisa A. Igloria, Death in a Different Time Zone

A CBe event at the Barbican scheduled for Wednesday this week, the 27th, has been postponed (to 31 January next year) because of poor ticket sales. How many tickets were sold? As many as a tree-surgeon friend could count on his right hand, after having lost two fingers on that hand to one of those chopping machines into which fallen branches are fed.

Ouch. It’s dose of realism. Event organisers who schedule Ian McEwan or Zadie Smith or Marie Kondo or Michael Palin can stroll into the box office, quids in; event organisers who schedule small-press writers have to run ten times faster for often, as here, zero result.

The Barbican event was ticketed. They pay the writers. Many book events don’t. This is tricky: earlier this month I heard a librarian speak about her unease at having to charge £3 for an author event when for many of the people she wanted to come that was a barrier. The regular charge for book events in London is £10, which equals 2.5 Costa coffees and the food budget for a week for many. We want open access; we want writers to be valued; and it’s depressing how often money gets in the way rather than helping.

Once, a friend and I were the only people to turn up to a stage adaptation of Kafka in a pub theatre and they put on the show just for us.

On the plus side: for publishers whose authors cannot fill stadia, every reader matters.

Charles Boyle, Postponed

21st June 2017, a sweltering day in London, was a significant date for me in two respects. The number one reason was that it was the launch of my first full collection, The Knives of Villalejo, at the LRB bookshop. But the second reason is that at the same event I met my mate Mat Riches for the first time.

On that back of that reading (and a fair few pints after the event itself!), we exchanged a couple of poems by email, gave each other feedback, found the feedback useful, realised we also had a fair bit in common apart from poetry, and began a WhatsApp chat that must now have thousands of messages in its archive. It soon stretched well beyond poetry to the key issues of dodgy craft beer, dodgy football teams, dodgy knees and dodgy tastes in shirts.

In fact, I’d argue that every poet needs a mate like Mat, and I feel hugely fortunate to have found him. He’s seen all the poems in Whatever You Do, Just Don’t at multiple stages in their development, and has given me feedback on every single one, from first draft to reassembly after Nell’s ritual dismembering of words, lines and stanza of numerous poems that we had thought finished. Just as I have for him, of course. His development as a poet has been massive over these six years, and his forthcoming pamphlet, Collecting the Data, will be a terrific calling card.

Mat and I are very different poets, but I’d suggest the key to our successful mutual support is that we never attempt to get the other to write in our aesthetic or voice. Instead, we strive to understand, respect and sometimes push each other gently towards a stretching of our self-imposed limits.

Perhaps the only bad thing is that we now can’t ethically bring ourselves to review our respective books.

Matthew Stewart, My mate Mat

Rex Jung is a neuroscientist who studies creativity. He defines creativity as what is “novel and useful” [emphasis mine]. By choosing to live a creative life, by choosing to seek out the poetic in the humdrum details of our daily lives, we can use writing to gain the perspective we need to become the person each of us wants to be: we can live deliberately.

We can cultivate attention and gratitude. We can create stronger connections with the physical realities of Earth, and with each other. If we look inward, but aim toward art—and if we are fortunate—we can transcend ourselves.

Life imitates art far more than art imitates Life.
Oscar Wilde

We construct our narratives. Which story are you choosing? Because this choice is who you are.

Ren Powell, Metaphor as a Present Tense Manifesto

Kierkegaard suggests that we’re depressed, in modern times, precisely because we’re trying to live in the present moment: we have emptied the past and the future of all meaning. “Everything is cut away but the present; no wonder, then, that one loses it in the constant anxiety about losing it.” In these conditions McMindfulness is more likely to exacerbate depression than to relieve it. Relying on the present moment to supply all our meaning was already overloading it: piling more on is not likely to help.

I still think most people will need mindfulness practices (very broadly construed) to have a life worth living. But I’ve joined the rebellion against locating the present moment as the place where reality lives. There’s a lot of reality. Some ways of reaching out to touch it are historical, and some are soteriological. The fact that “we look before and after” is a feature, not a bug. Sure, it can get us in trouble. What can’t? Man is born to trouble, as the sparks fly upward.

A quiet Fall day. I have failed in everything. And still no rain.

Dale Favier, “Everything is cut away but the Present”

One of the gifts of lyric poetry is the way that it can hold space for a full range of truths as well as ways to access understandings of truth. I often tell writers that what we are after is awkward human utterance. This can be interpreted both as craft as well as content. Figuring out what needs to be said as well as how it needs to be said–this is the gift and animation of engaging with poetry and its truths.

These thoughts are on my mind after spending time with the digital album Songs For Wo​(​Men) 2 (Hello America Stereo Cassette) by Mugabi Byenkya. This album’s narrative arc centers the experiences of a disabled body navigating an able-bodied world as well as the themes of intimacy and love and their role in survival. What charges through the listening experience is Byenkya’s lyric sensibility.

The opening to “Tina,” for example, sets a scene deftly then quickly makes clear what the stakes are:

Housekeeping keeps knocking on the door telling me to open up. I sit and listen. I’m the reason that the towel rack lies mangled askew on the chalky linoleum floor, wondering how much this is going to rack up in charges, wracking my mind for a convincing enough excuse, because I had a seizure while getting out of the shower is a little too much truth, a little too much awkward silence, a little too much shifty eyes, a little too much tiptoeing past the room but barging in when the fork clatters to the ground, a little too much.

The scene here depicts the liminal space of having to negotiate around vulnerability. The physical vulnerability of the moment runs parallel with the emotional vulnerability behind the speaker’s voice. Reading the words alone makes clear the mind at work; the wordplay of “open up” can be appreciated and lingered over in text, such a poignant note to hit before moving forward. Listening to Byenkya’s voice behind words, however, adds a further dimension, makes clear exactly the “opening up” to come.

The idea present in the phrasing “a little too much truth” lives at the core of this album. Byenkya’s awareness and ability to evoke for listeners moments of “a little too much truth” is a gift to watch in action.

José Angel Araguz, microreview: Songs For Wo​(​Men) 2 by Mugabi Byenkya

Geoff Bouvier’s first book, Living Room, was selected by Heather McHugh as the winner of the 2005 APR/Honickman First Book Prize. His second book, Glass Harmonica, was published in 2011 by Quale Press. He received an MFA from Bard College’s Milton Avery Graduate School of the Arts in 1997 and a PhD in Creative Writing from Florida State University in 2016. In 2009, he was the Roberta C. Holloway visiting poet at the University of California – Berkeley. He lives in Richmond, Virginia, with his partner, the novelist SJ Sindu, and teaches at Virginia Commonwealth University and Vermont College of Fine Arts.

1 – How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
I don’t remember the first book I ever read, but it fundamentally changed me. The mere fact of words – lines of little scribbles that were somehow signs of meaning – shifted my basic understanding of everything.

The first book I wrote – “The Cake Who Lost Its Crumbs,” when I was three – taught me that I could sculpt those little significant meaningful scribbles. My audience was my mother and father, who were quite encouraging.

The first book I published, thirty-three years later, relined my confidence. Though Living Room found only a modest audience, it did earn me some inroads into academia, where I’ve been able to cultivate a life of the mind.

With my new book, Us From Nothing, I wanted words to again shift my basic understanding of everything. I had to try to understand who I am, why I’m here, where I came from, and where I might be headed. It took me 7 years to research and revise what became a serial epic prose poem about the most important milestones in human history.

2 – How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
Psychologically, from the moment I learned to read, it was the words that got me, first and foremost. The mere fact of words. I didn’t care about stories or characters. Those words were drawing attention to themselves as words. That’s the poetry. That hooked me.

Factually, I grew up in a house full of books – my parents were both teachers and readers – but the shelf with the poetry books was the only one with cobwebs on it. I think I gravitated toward it because no one else ever touched it; the poetry books could be mine, all mine.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Geoff Bouvier

My latest poetry book has an unusual backstory: the pandemic and my telepathic parents.

My parents communicated telepathically — mostly when my father was at work. She was a stay-at-home Mom; he was a shipman in the Brooklyn Navy Yard and had no access to a telephone.  When I was too young for school, she’d ask me to play quietly and then converse with him. Naturally, I thought all married couples could transmit thought messages.

I inherited this useful ability, which granted me access to communications “across the miles,” so to speak.  For example, I could reach my father while he was driving and insist that he turn around and come home. I kept this channel open so the dead could reach out, too; My Dungeon Ghost is a memoir poem about an elementary school classmate who became a paid assassin, died behind bars, and telepathically requested “a boon.”
 
With outsiders, this was never discussed, even though my family considers telepathy to be a normal thing even children are expected to do. Though I’ve had my share of uncanny conversations and experiences, I deliberately excluded these from my writing. Then the pandemic arrived with a panicked lockdown — and the silken privacy of isolation granted permission to open a locked door. I decided this collection would be different: a conjuring of the literary and speculative, the familiar and the alien, with judicious sampling from other poets.

Drop-in by LindaAnn LoSchiavo (Nigel Kent)

This was the first in-person reading I’ve done in a long time. I’d forgotten how bad the nerves are when I read out. Getting the collections off the bookshelf and going through them, choosing what to read was like going backwards in time, like looking through photos and seeing images of previous selves. I literally had to knock the dust off them, especially the early ones. I have five collections in all: three full and two pamphlets and I have another full collection coming out next year. You’d think by now I’d feel reasonably confident in my abilities as a poet but for some reason, poetry is probably my main area of intense feelings of imposter syndrome. Often I get so nervous before a reading that I’ll spend the whole day beforehand stuck in ‘waiting mode’ feeling sick with nerves. But I think something might have changed this year, the nerves are definitely not as bad. I think it’s since I signed the book deal contract on my nature-landscape-memoir. I have spent a year writing about belonging and what it is to belong, to feel you have a place in the world. I feel like I have spent a year validating my right to exist in the arts sphere, and other places, my own landscape, my own skin. The difference between having a poetry collection published and a main stream trad published non poetry book is immense – I’m going to write a post about it in the future – and it helps that there’s a team working with me, all of us working towards getting the edits finished, getting the book landed and absolutely shining. I don’t know what it is I’m trying to say – something about being taken seriously as a writer, but also, that self recognition, the finding of inner value in your own work…you have got to have that to grow.

Anyway, I think because the nerves were less debilitating this time, and because I didn’t have books to flog or a course to sell, I think because I was simply taking part (not organising for a change – the relief!) I was able to enjoy the evening more fully, I was fully present. I chatted to poetry friends, I got the gossip on other sectors of the arts world, I enjoyed, oh fully enjoyed, the readings by the other poets and when I came to read I felt a genuine connection with the audience. As I sat watching the night draw in on Northway, listening to the musicians between sets and watching the good folk of Scarborough going out into the town, or coming in and out of the SJT theatre opposite, the shop lights and the street lights glittering, the sound of traffic moving through the town, I thought – this could be anywhere. We could be in London, we could be in Manchester, but here we are in Scarborough.’ It pleases me to see cultural events like this springing up in the town, and I’m pleased to just be a tiny part of that.

Wendy Pratt, Knocking the Dust Off – Reading Out

I have a live reading as part of an Acumen evening coming up this week […]. Do pop in if you find yourself in Dulwich on Thursday. I liked what Wendy [Pratt] had to say about not having to organise the reading so she could step back and enjoy just reading. I liked her note about not having books to sell as well— this will be my last reading before I do have to start thinking about that.

However, what I really liked was the poem that Wendy included at the end of the post. It’s her lovely ‘Love Letter to Scarborough on a Saturday Night‘ from her most recent collection, ‘ When I Think of My Body as a Horse‘ (reviewed by some knobhead here). Maybe it’s the fact that I have family in Scarbados—NB, I don’t think it is, but I love this poem.  The whole collection is a moving feast, a marvel and  just moving, so if you’ve not read it please do.

Now, I could just cheat and tell you to read the Scarborough poem and call that it, but oh no, dear reader…I want you to have more…

Mat Riches, Nationalising Breaking Glass and Rood-Screens

On Thursday evening I did a reading with Catherine Kyle Broadwall (she read from her fun new book, Fulgurite—full of fairy tale poems!) and read from Field Guide to the End of the World and Flare, Corona, which I think went pretty well. Had a good crowd, it was a super cute store—great eclectic magazine sections, great fiction and poetry sections, and a stuffed narwhal hanging from the ceiling, and we sold a lot of books, which was fun. It had been a minute since I’d done a reading, so I was glad it went pretty well. […]

I got a total of four rejections and two acceptances this week – and one was from a place I’ve been trying to get into for years, JAMA, or the Journal of the American Medical Association. I’m not a doctor, but I do have a pre-med biology degree, and I write medically themed poetry all the time, so it seemed like a natural fit—but the first poem they took wasn’t at all medically related, ironically. Ha ha!

Fall always means new pens and notebooks, catching up on paperwork, starting the academic year—so even those of us who don’t work in academia will be affected by the increased work at literary magazines or invitations to come read at classes, all that sort of thing.

Although I am still recovering from my antibody infusion from almost two weeks ago, I’m starting to feel a little more productive as the days get colder and shorter.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, It’s Fall Witches! Autumn Equinox with Glass Pumpkins, a Reading Report from Edmonds Bookshop and an Upcoming Zoom Reading, Exciting Acceptances

Such a joy last weekend to attend one of a few readings organized by Editor Cassandra Arnold to celebrate her release of Alchemy and Miracles (Gilbert & Hall Press, 2023). Everyone read so beautifully! This collection is filled with nature poems written by 83 poets from all over the world, including three writers from right here in Southeast Alaska. Yes, I’m over the moon to have work in this compilation with fellow Blue Canoe writers Mandy Ramsey from Haines and Bonnie Demerjian from Wrangell. If you get the chance, give Cassandra Arnold a follow on Instagram (@cassandra_art_and_stories) where you’ll surely be inspired about all things poetry. And yes, she designed this lovely cover, too! Alchemy and Miracles may be purchased through Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Happy Autumn, all! In true, Southeast Alaskan form, termination dust on the high peaks yesterday morning.

Kersten Christianson, Autumnal Alchemy

You can’t see in the photograph that the speaker is sitting on her hands, nor can you see her feet, described later as “thick toes, accustomed to field” that are squeezed painfully into borrowed shoes. And the face gives no evidence of physical pain, but that makes the speaker even more believable. She has prepared for this moment, this unveiling, and nervous as she is, she will not allow something as minor as discomfort to ruin it.

Smith turns the poem in the second stanza by changing the verb tense, moving into second person, though it feels more like the speaker is talking to the picture or into a mirror rather than talking directly to the reader. It’s a fantastic use of the second person, because usually the effect of the move is to grab the reader by the shirt, so to speak, and demand their attention, but here it’s more introspective.

Tell me that I have earned at least this much woman. Tell me

that this day is worth all the nights I wished the muscle

of myself away.

The “tell me” is a request for validation or acceptance, but again, the speaker isn’t asking for it from us. She’s asking it from herself, which is important because she isn’t sure that she’ll receive it from anyone else. The end of the poem leaves this uncertain:

Here I am, Mama, vexing your savior,

barely alive beneath face powder and wild prayer. Here I am,

both your daughter and your son, stinking of violet water.

The “vexing your savior” combined with “wild prayer” really hits hard for me because of my own experiences of estrangement from family over matters of faith. I feel what’s at stake and why she still needs to be this person no matter the cost. There’s an ache here that stays unresolved, and I think that’s why it sticks with me.

Brian Spears, Sitting for a picture

Wow, I felt a lot of love for RS Thomas after my last blog post.

I wonder if we need more spirituality today, generally I mean. I speak as a moderate atheist. I think I used to call myself an ‘agnostic’ – wanting to leave the door open I suppose – but we all grow older, and so our thoughts and beliefs mature one way or another. I now love a lot of things about the church of my upbringing (although I hated it as a child!), but it stops well short of faith. The only church service I enjoy is Evensong, but I love the architecture of churches and can’t resist going inside any I come across. I’ve often sung the services in cathedrals with my choir the Lewes Singers: I will sing anything, but I never say the creed. It’s always a moving experience, but perhaps that’s the feeling of being in the presence of faith: people who truly believe. I don’t just mean those participating in the service, but also the thousands of souls who have worshipped there for centuries, right back to the stonemasons and labourers who built the massive edifices. I respect all that, and feel privileged to be a part of it.

But spirituality feels much wider, more inclusive than religion as such. My impression is that RS continually questioned his faith. Isn’t that what many of us do, even the atheists? What do we believe in? Surely it can’t just be Gaia, politics, football or reality TV?

Robin Houghton, On spirituality, a submission and the wonder of lists

The Days of Awe open on Rosh Hashanah and close on Yom Kippur. When my birthday falls on Rosh Hashanah, it gets lost in the birthday of the world; when it falls on Yom Kippur, celebrations turn sober and thin. Gallows humor when fasting, enacting symbolic death? Fat chance! 

This year, the birthday fell smack in the middle of the Days of Awe – and I got a day or two of awe. When your walls come tumbling down (Rabbi Alan Lew’s image), as they did unbidden during this season of introspection, you get some light in the gaps of the rebuilding. That happened mid-week – all in betweens! – in a New England-y place familiar and known (Maine) but charged. I cleared the slate and came with heightened sensibility; came to the sapphire sky with such a mind. Something came to meet me. 

Everything got renewed by the sea, standing on the deck of a fishery
in the presence of a rope coiled, braided, stiff with the sting of fish iodine
and rusted wires woven together with gates, doors, traps
and floats bulbed in mottled white and bright fuchsia 
hanging like a bunch of radishes. 

Yes to Paul Eluard: “Is there another world? Yes, in this one.”

Jill Pearlman, All the Days of Awe

Do I read Emily Dickinson because she speaks to me directly and clearly? In truth, no. I’m very often mystified. And I think this is a point worth making: we don’t always read the writers we love out of a profound sense of familiarity or comprehension. But where I don’t understand her, a different kind of understanding steps in, a knowledge layers deep that I would not otherwise have activated that day. Dickinson makes me experience what she herself described here:

“If I read a book [and] it makes my whole body so cold no fire can ever warm me, I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry.”

Dickinson’s social quickness and wit is often overlooked in favor of her reclusive tendencies. If you don’t believe me, read her letters. I have just flipped to a passage at random and found a letter to her brother Austin that I had marked years ago. It reads:

Your welcome letter found me all engrossed in the history of Sulphuric Acid!!!!!

Yes, she included five exclamation points. Later in the letter, she tells her brother she’s eager for a Valentine—all the other girls have received them—so, where is hers? She insists that Austin tell Thomas she’s pining for one.

Maya C. Popa, Wonder Wednesday

Since learning that yoga is not, in fact, a sinister cult but a really useful way of caring for my back, I regularly breathe out deeply. This is something I’ve done both in classes, and in front of ‘Yoga with Adrienne’ and her free YouTube videos. 

When younger, I did breathing exercises for wellbeing by default when playing the flute. A lot of my lessons were spent with my teacher encouraging me to develop breath and diaphragm control. I had no idea how useful a life skill this was as I channelled a column of air into a top C. 

More recently, I exhaled deeply on opening a box of copies of Festival in a Book – A Celebration of Wenlock Poetry Festival. I had been holding my breath for two weeks: between the moment of pressing send on the final proofs and lifting out the first book. I breathed even more freely when Anna Dreda, Festival Founder, said she loves the anthology created in honour of her Festival and its legacy. 

It has struck me since that the publication of a book of poetry is, in some ways, an exhalation, a letting go. A breathing out of thought and word and music into the world. Breath and word. The word made paper. It can’t be taken back now. And it will become part of other people’s breathing, internal and external, when read. 

Liz Lefroy, I Exhale Deeply

I know sometimes a poem can simmer away for years before the poet feels it’s done, or at least in a state competent enough to be abandoned. I know some people feel writing slowly and meticulously, working on the placing of words in relation to each other, how each fits or alters the metre, a rhyming scheme, or the demands and rigours of the particular form that is at the heart of the attempt, is the proper way to pay respect to poetry as a craft to be learned. Sometimes this process allows time for an exploration into what the poet actually wants to say – because it’s not always obvious to the poet at the outset. I appreciate this, and have written this way.

And of course there is the question of feedback. A poem might be sent to a trusted poetry friend for appraisal, even for thorough workshopping. Bits might be lopped off, the tense altered, adjectives questioned, the lines rejigged to the point of a new opening or closing line. And if the poem ever becomes a part of a collection, then the publisher’s editor, who might or might not be the same person, might well want to suggest even more alterations. This is normal enough stuff. Some thinner-skinned poets seem to struggle with it but after many years of working for newspapers, I understand the role of the sub-editor and the value of a good one. Far from it being bothersome, I appreciate the effort and generosity of those who take the time to offer their thoughts.

However, not all poetry is written as methodically and meticulously as this. An obvious point, perhaps, but in poetry’s case ‘rules are not always rules’.

More recently, or at least recently more frequently, I have felt more confident in the technique of stream-writing, not simply as a warm-up exercise, but as a valid form of delving into what the mind contains and wants to share. When I begin I have no idea what will come out of it. I might have one line, one image, and I usually feel calm enough to shut everything else out and let the words, images, phrases, chunks of conversation maybe, emerge and work out their own order. It’s an exploration, without prior warning, of the recesses of the mind. Sometimes, as I’ve said in the past, the result is completely disconnected rubbish because I’m unable to think or connect thought and so it is deleted. Other times, it feels as if I may have hit on something, that the words have a relationship to one another, a rhythm that might alter and swing around, but that forms a whole that contains some kind of meaning, in the strict sense of the word, as in an emotional connection not simply a logical process. The validity of this way of doing things is a matter of opinion and it’s certainly not something I would do every time I sat down to write, but I’m finding that with more practice comes more consistency, as I suppose is the way with any technique.

That is not to say the ‘end result’ cannot stand editing. There are poets who employ stream-writing as an inviolable technique, valid only if left well alone as the produce of the mind at that particular moment in life or time. I see the point in this as a principle but the obvious danger is that it may end up as a stream of self-indulgent drivel, a celebration of egotism in a string of boring sentences.

Bob Mee, Untitled

There can be beauty in a list: its specificity, also the rhythm and sound–which order does the poet choose for each word? That matters. Chronology perhaps; category, like the scientist; or else sound, such as alliteration; or possibly by the thread of some concatenation that gradually creates associations. The logic of a list poem differs from other forms of lists.

I always think of Whitman as an early and consummate “list poet,” though a great many of his poems do not rely on the strategy. There are list poems that employ anaphora and those that build through phrases. Others rely on modifiers that escalate or change tone to surprise the reader. In my own process it has been useful to begin drafting poems through listing, though often I abandon the list when I revise.

Also, I teach myself about the world and its people, environs, and ideas through lists.

For example, having strayed temporarily from my home region, I’m getting acquainted with a “new” place by making lists of birds, trees, flowers–yeah, the naming-things approach so basic to human beings, like when my children were just learning to talk and conversation with them consisted largely of naming objects or actions.

This is not a poem:

Pygmy nuthatch, juniper titmouse, pinyon jay. Gambel oak, Abert’s squirrel, pinacate stink beetle, skink. Quaking aspen, limber pine. Common raven, Woodhouse’s scrub-jay, fireweed, globemallow, bear corn, oak gall, crow. Pinyon, cholla, Ponderosa pine, alligator juniper, Apache plume, sandwort, groundsel. Gneiss, granite, gray oak, spotted towhee, rabbitbrush, bajada, arroyo, muttongrass, mesa, schist.

Ann E. Michael, Lists

Somewhere a chair is waiting for us. Maybe at home. Maybe at the doctor’s office. Maybe in an empty lot beside a busy street where a sparrow sings in the thicket.

Carey Taylor, Off Killingsworth


When his partner suddenly died, life changed utterly for Paul Stephenson. In Hard Drive a prologue and epilogue hold six parts of almost equal length. These poems take the reader through the journey of grief: Signature, Officialdom, Clearing Shelves, Covered Reservoir, Intentions, Attachment.

‘A noted formalist, with a flair for experiment, pattern and the use of constraints’, Paul also has a talent for intriguing titles: Other people who died at 38; Better Verbs for Scattering; We weren’t married. He was my civil partner.

There is a great variety of form: erasure poems, use of indents and columns, haibun, prose poems, alongside the narrative poems which range in length from three lines to the five-page poem Your Brain.

Fokkina McDonnell, Hard Drive

A little while ago, I read a pamphlet by Nikki Dudley. It was about her Nan, Greenie, and about how Greenie´s dementia had a huge impact not only on her, but also on Nikki and the whole family. At the time I was reading this, my father had died after living with Parkinson´s-related dementia for the last years of his life. And my mother, who was (and still is) alive, was living with dementia as well. The book meant a lot to me and I came back to it again and again. It is a mixture of poetry, CNF and visual poetry, the latter illustrating perfectly that dementia is not a linear thing, but something scattered, murky, out of reach for those who live with it and those who are their witnesses in this process. When I wrote my own book, St. Eisenberg and the Sunshine Bus, Nikki’s book helped me to think outside the box in describing my father’s dementia.

So when Beir Bua Press closed down and it wasn’t clear what would happen with all the books, I approached Nikki and asked her what she thought about Sídhe Press re-publishing her book. We agreed on working together and on September 15, Just One More I Go, was re-published by Sídhe Press. It is, of course, the same book it was, but I hope we have added and improved to it in a way that honours Greenie. As well as an additional poem, we now have photos of Greenie not only on the cover, but also tucked inside the book- one more thing to illustrate who she was and is to Nikki, and once we read it, to us. And it slots in seamlessly with Our Own Coordinates- Poems About Dementia, which was the first book I published with Sídhe Press.

Annick Yerem, Just One More Before I Go by Nikki Dudley

母と娘(こ)に生れあはせし花野かな 正木ゆう子

haha to ko ni umareawaseshi hanano kana

            our fate of being

            a mother and a daughter

            flowering field …

                                                            Yuko Masaki

from Haiku Dai-Saijiki (Comprehensive Haiku Saijiki), Kadokawa Shoten, Tokyo, 2006

Fay’s Note:  “hanano” (flowering field) is an autumn kigo.

Fay Aoyagi, Today’s Haiku (September 25, 2023)

Two of Trish Kerrison’s sons have Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, which triggers progressive muscle failure and usually limits life to eighteen years or below, although they are now in their late-twenties. The poems are an honest, and occasionally humorous, look at life as a mother and carer. The short introductory poem takes the image of four lines drawn in sand to make a box, “to put people in// to live,/contained,// until the sands shift.” Children are life-changing events but also a tickbox on a life’s milestones: job, marry, children, etc. A disabled child can leave parents feeling as if their life’s foundations have slipped away. No one pictures themselves with a disabled child. There’s not only the extra care work involved but battles to get the support parents are entitled to, the juggling of carers and work, and the feeling of constantly fighting the same battles over and over. But parents keep going, as “The Ground Beneath Our Feet” concludes as parents

“laugh, even as the sands are shifting.
We walk on unsteady feet, unsteady ground.
We don’t look down.”

Emma Lee, “Beyond Caring” Trish Kerrison (Five Leaves) – book review

Today, riding back to the city, and drinking my first PSL of the year, I noticed some trees were somehow bright yellow amid still plentiful green and remembered we had crossed that official threshold into autumn–the equinox. That early dark creeps in slowly, but starts racing toward December about now, helped along by the time change that will come in early November.  I have not started my fall decorating or swapped out my summer clothes for cooler weather but possibly this week I will do both. 

This week is less thick with writing than last week with lots of deadlines and the first draft of the poetry study guide trial assignment. In addition to the usual lifestyle and design stuff, it was really nice to spend some time, deep diving on a single poem (Sharon Olds’ “Rite of Passage)” and putting all that literary analysis education I paid so much for to good use. There were chapbook orders and layouts on new books that will be coming. There was one new poem in the cryptozoology series, but it feels halting and stiff like I haven’t written enough in the past couple of months, poetry-wise, sort of like clearing your throat after a long silence. 

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 9/25/2023

I sometimes laugh when I think back to my NY post and declaring 2023 to be the year of my ALL. This year, and it’s only September, has already exceeded expectations. I’m looking forward honestly to January when I can write down the plot of this past year, and call forth the next. (Carefully, very carefully….)

But also, don’t worry, it seems with every amazing thing that’s happened, there’s been a balance check. But I still believe in the unsaid, (a post I wrote in 2017), I still believe in the words of Nicole Brossard who says, “You have to be insane to confide the essential to anyone anywhere except in a poem.” 

Still, life is wonderful, still life is wonderful……My book on that subject and the art life will be coming out in January, and I remain very proud of it. More on that soon…..

In the meantime, our garden season is coming to a close, the poetry of fall is upon us.

Shawna Lemay, Another Season of Seeing

I often sort of felt like I was the only stranger at a party where everyone else were lifelong friends. Much hugging and exclaiming around me while I stand awkwardly smiling and clutching my wine glass. One of the many great things about online learning though is that I don’t have to be there in the room with the awkward smile and the wine glass. I can be HOME with the video turned off, my brow furrowed, thinking wait…what? […]

And no, I’m not going to tell you which poet, because I’m sure you love love love their work and might be a tad judge-y of me for noooot really being tuned into it. I’m hoping, though, that sense of not-getting-it -even-though-you-want-to resonates. I’m happy to be reminded that I don’t need to love it all, that I can just keep reading on. And that maybe there will come a time when this poet’s work is exactly what I’ll need.

The poetry mansion has many rooms, so it’s okay that I slide out of this one and wander into some other room, or lurk in the hallway for a while. I’m sure there’s another party I’ll feel more comfortable in. Have wine glass, will travel.

Marilyn McCabe, You don’t know what love is; or, On Learning and Appreciation

Famished for good fortune, well fed on the hungers of the needy, we can name all the saints but cannot bend their mercies so one size fits all.

To sing, to seek, to rosary old stones.

To regal and re-gold tired sunrises.

Scatter worries for the birds feasting on hard times.

For the ones flying south in winter, scatter hopes so joy may expand.

Rich Ferguson, Blessed Light For the Dying

For the Earth,
both hands in an arc.
A fist for the moon.
Gravity a rope,
unseen in the dark.

Palms up for the tides,
both high and low,
the hands raise and lower
as they ebb and flow.

The planet spins,
the pull taunts,
the moon is what
the water wants.

Jason Crane, POEM: Describing A Satellite

island: the moon
that swallowed the moon
a mouth that gathered clouds

Grant Hackett [no title]