A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week: gathering and tidying, drawing in, broken and whole, acedia, poetry exhaustion, the humor in horror movies, thinking about excess, embracing vulnerability, cargo memories, eating at poetry readings, going to readings on public transport, women in yellow, dead girls, deep and not-so-deep thinkers, gendered and sexual violence in “The Waste Land,” participating in one’s own oppression, the Queen of Swords, invincible heart tattoos, gold-starred poems, and the touch of wings.
I’m not sure where the week has gone. I have managed to get some writing done, but with my computer in the shop and learning to use my son’s with Google Docs instead of Word which is so, so slow and having the kids around half the week, I’ve not done as much as I would have liked. But I’ve written a few poems, submitted to a few mags, had three poems accepted by a magazine and an anthology. So a good week from that perspective.Gerry Stewart, Sodden Catch-Up
It’s rained most of the week, so even with the beautiful colours going on just now, it hasn’t been a get outdoors type of week, though we’ve picked a lot of apples, have been eating lots of apple crumble and I got most of my garden jobs done. I spent some time sorting and cleaning out the kids’ stuff, their over-flowing baskets, drawers and boxes and I painted a few things that have needed it for months or years.
None of which really have much to do with writing, but it was a week for gathering and tidying, doing the little jobs that I don’t have time for while working and doing the rounds of hobbies and appointments. For sitting still and writing, for reading curled on the couch. So hopefully I can go into next week with a slightly clearer mind and a bit more energy for the long, dark slog to the winter holidays.
The days are dimming, growing shorter. The nights are darker.
This can be comforting. Darkness and shadow can be a fertile space for transformation — bulbs and seeds lie hidden within the earth, gestating, awaiting their moment to burst forth and bloom.
I suppose what I’m saying is that I’m feeling a desire to draw in, close off outside influences, and wrap myself in the comfort of hearth and home. I long for rich, warm foods, good books, and quiet.
What I’m desiring is not only an external drawing in, but an internal one. As I settle into what comforts me, I’m wondering what lies within the shadowy places within myself. What have I kept hidden? What fruits can I reap from this year’s work? What do I want to plant anew? What do I wish to nurture and grow?Andrea Blythe, Learning to Grow, So You May Reap
This is wholeness: a person with a broken heart. At first glance it’s almost a koan. Broken equals whole? How does that work, exactly? I spent some time with this koan this week, and here’s how I’ve come to understand it this year.
A person whose heart isn’t broken, at least some of the time, isn’t paying attention. A person whose heart isn’t sometimes cracked-open by the exquisite and sometimes devastating fragility of this world isn’t paying attention.
A person whose heart is so impermeable — whether to our dangerously warming planet, or to the inevitable griefs and losses that come with loving human beings who disappoint us, and who will die — that’s not wholeness. That’s bypassing.
Some of you told me that after Yom Kippur you felt like your skin was too thin and your hearts were so open that re-entry into the “regular world” was almost more than you could bear. Sukkot says: keep your heart open a little longer.
Sukkot is an opportunity to keep our hearts open wide. We build and decorate these fragile little houses. Their roofs have to be made out of plants that are harvested from the earth, and open enough to let in the stars and the rain.
A sukkah is almost a sketch of a house, a parody of a house. A hint of a house. You can see the outlines of a house, but it’s flimsy and the roof leaks and as soon as it’s built, it starts succumbing to the rain and the wind and the weather.Rachel Barenblat, Broken and whole: a d’varling for Shabbat Chol HaMoed Sukkot
It is what looked up at you
from the eyes of the wounded doe
what the clock said to itself
when the mainspring gave way.
It is the last few shudders
your father’s body made
when his heart wrote hopeless
on the hospital bed
the long sigh of a black dogAnn E. Michael, Acedia
and your beloved’s parched skin
when she could make no more tears
and told you go now.
And then I read this in Anthony Wilson’s Lifesaving Poems: “If you write poetry (and I assume that if you do, you are also actively engaged in reading it), sooner or later Poetry Exhaustion is going to happen to you. By Poetry Exhaustion I mean the complete lack of that shock of recognition you’ve always been able to count on from a favourite unputdownable book of poems. Or the sudden knowledge that the poems you have been working on for the last two months are certainly not your best work and actually not even worth keeping (though you do, in case).”
It sums up exactly the kind of ennui, mental blankness that’s stopped me writing posts and reviews and poems. It happens. You just have to hunker down and wait for something to change you. Like a poem, you can’t just will it into existence.
Last week, out of the blue, I decide to re-read Robert Macfarlane’s The Old Ways. And suddenly, phrases come jumping off the page, .moments that get you in. Phrases like these:
The cold like a wire in the nose.
Snow caused everything to exceed itself
starlings…feathers sleekly black as sheaves of photographic negatives
big gulls…monitoring us with lackadaisical, violent eyes
a dolphin….a sliding bump beneath the water..like a tongue moving under a cheek
star patterns..the grandiose slosh of the Milky Way
gannets bursting up out of the sea…like white flowers unfurling…avian origami
[and, after a hard long hike] … feet puffy as rising dough
It was lovely. Language well-wrought can galvanise you like that. I’ve had a review waiting to be written for months. Macfarlane let me know that it was time I got on with it.John Foggin, Two pamphlets: Victoria Gatehouse and John-Paul Burns
The other night I wrote a horror poem about a town that killed all its children and I was like “Wow, that’s dark” and then someone posted a quote from one of my other poems that was so dark I didn’t recognize it immediately and I was like, “Wow, dark.” So I guess we have to realize our own core competencies, to use the language of the corporate world. I could try to write uplifting poems about flowers and it would probably still have some pop culture or horror aspect to it – it’s just part of who I am.Jeannine Hall Gailey, New Poems up in Waxwing and Nine Mile, New Reviews in Guest 5, and Realizing Your Core Competencies
I’ve been trying to heal up from getting sick so I can get some dental work done (horror story on its own) and trying to do uplifting things that boost my immune system, but of course some of that involves listening to Nick Drake (depressing) and watching scary movies on cable late at night. One of my big coping mechanisms to life is humor, but I find humor in horror movies and MST3K Westerns and pointing out tropes that were stolen from Westworld. (My husband didn’t even know there was an original Westworld movie in the seventies! Scandal!) One of my coping mechanisms is coloring my hair (I put in a purple streak this week for Halloween – a great thing to do if you have enforced rest!)
Maybe we have to look at the things that make us happy and do those things instead of things other people think make us happy. Does that make sense? I enjoy sipping apple cider and taking pictures of pumpkins and leaves but I also enjoy reading Japanese ghost stories or gothic tales in translation. I hope that I get healthy enough to take care of my tooth troubles but also to do a little more socializing, especially with other writers, because this time of year draws writers together in a unique way. I’m ready to see my friends, to hear some poetry in the air, to laugh. If you’re a hummingbird with a purple streak, don’t be afraid to stand out.
I often use this poem to talk about contemporary poetry’s value on parallel structure, anaphora, and excess. The reaction tends to be polarized–some readers love it, others really resist it. In particular I always enjoy the telescoping of those penultimate lines, as the poem’s “camera” seems to zoom in on a particular room and a particular speaker (one with a cold). I was delighted that this time the students found their way organically to thinking of how funerals are often the cause for a profusion of flowers.Sandra Beasley, Echoes
Since I didn’t want to create an utterly morose atmosphere, I found another way to think about excess: Neko Atsume, the Japanese mobile game of cat collecting.
The scariest part of Dr. [Brené] Brown’s recommendation is embracing vulnerability. If this is how we become authentically ourselves, then I confess it is frightening. I can handle it in small doses, but the larger the chance of feeling like I am making a fool of myself, the harder it is.
Another writer friend of mine was asking me why with all the writing I have been doing, that I have no book. I’ve toyed with a manuscript – I’ve even entered one, maybe two manuscript contests. So I have gone back and looked at a lot of my poems – especially those that have been published. and I put them together struggling to see clearly a theme. Feeling that perhaps I am too close to this, I sent her a file with the collection I pulled together. We had spoken about this in advance and I already knew that she was willing to look at it. This was a big step – exposing the very vulnerabilities that have been holding me back. I confess that now, I am happy I did this. Going back over all these years of work reminded me, I got Poetry!Michael Allyn Wells, Confession Tuesday – Searching for Authenticity
Rob [Taylor]: You mention how helpful writing was in giving you a “retreat” in yourself – what a wonderful way to phrase it! But then in “Cargo memories” you write “I’m guilty thinking of poetry as not being a life // preserver”. What are your current thoughts about the role of poetry in your life/the world? Has publishing These are not the potatoes of my youth and seeing it travel out into the world affected your thinking on this?Rob Taylor, A Little Retreat in Myself: An Interview with Matthew Walsh
Matthew [Walsh]: I think poetry can be extremely helpful to the brain and body, and I think it’s good to write things down and think things out on paper if you’re writing something personal because it can be like peeling out of an old skin and into a new one. But I don’t think it can do everything for me, personally. That’s what I was getting at in “Cargo memories.”
I think poetry—reading or writing it—can help healing or start healing. What I feel is that the real life preserver is the writing community. Those people are so good. If you’re a writer then you share this special little thing with all the other writers out there.
This was the first reading I’ve ever done where the audience was eating dinner. And I loved that, and now I’ll always want people to be eating. There was something wonderfully assuring about the clink of forks and the light glinting off wineglasses while I read my work; some little existential cell inside me was happy that these people were getting sustenance. I have a longstanding blood-sugar issue—an aftereffect from a scary health crisis about 12 years ago—and I tend to get glucose crashes at inconvenient moments, like right in the middle of a reading*. So I’m obsessive about eating a solid meal before doing a reading. At the Barkin’ Dog I was able to order a full sit-down meal (and a giant glass of iced tea), and then ate half of it while the first reader performed. This was pretty much a perfect scenario; by the time I got to read, I was warm and tanked up, and there was still food left to polish off after my show was over. All the eating and waitstaff did make for a little extra noise during the reading, but it was nothing a seasoned open mike veteran can’t handle. (What poet hasn’t had to shout over a growling cappuccino machine or a phone ringing or a fight breaking out in the bar?)Amy Miller, Writers & One-Nighters
Deborah and Colin at The Leaping Word kindly invited me to be their guest poet at Silver Street Poets’ monthly meeting in October. This is a gathering of interesting and friendly poets in a super venue – close to the centre, just the right size, good natural light and good acoustics. Book-sales were encouraging, too. The bus journeys there and back gave me useful time for thinking, observing, writing and knitting!
I’ll go again for some high-quality live poetry whenever I’m free on the first Friday of the month. November’s guest is Chaucer Cameron, whose latest work, Wild Whispers, is an international poetry film project working with collaborators from ten countries. Chaucer co-edits the online poetry film journal, Poetry Film Live, well worth a visit.
I was thrilled to learn that I was on the long-list for the Winchester Poetry Prize. I very much enjoyed the day-trip by train to Winchester last Saturday. On the absurdly overcrowded Virgin train from Basingstoke we were sardine-packed next to the first-class loo with Mark Totterdell and Jane. Such a pleasure to meet them. Later we did a book-swap. Mapping is a great collection, well-observed, intelligent and witty, beautifully written without being at all showy.Ama Bolton, Poetry in Bristol and Winchester
I never forgot her. The young woman wore a yellow dress and her smile seemed to glow in the sunshine. I’m pretty sure she was with a young man, but as a child that didn’t interest me. I was on another of our family’s summer trips. These were starkly frugal, multi-week affairs meant to educate us at every free historical site possible. Our days were spent in a hot car, our nights in our tiny travel trailer. Much of the time I was carsick or asthmatic, or both. I longed for my library books, my pink bike, and all the other comforts of home.
On this day I stood in a crowd of tourists watching a demonstration of colonial candle-dipping or blacksmithing. Trapped at armpit height behind people holding cameras, I couldn’t see a thing. That’s when I noticed Yellow Dress Woman strolling on the grass nearby. I squinted at the aliveness she radiated.
It occurred to me that she wanted to be there and I realized with a sudden full-body shiver that growing up wasn’t an abstraction. This was a revelation — that a time would come when I too could make my own choices. Her image stayed with me like a beacon through the rest of my growing up years. […]
It’s strange how fleeting images manage to plug into a waiting receptor. A man stopping to help an elder or a woman unselfconsciously nursing her baby may expand your awareness, give you new resolve, or offer clarity. We gather and hold these moments, none of us knowing what moments from our lives are carried by others.Laura Grace Weldon, Yellow Dress Woman
drifts downJason Crane, POEM: Courtney’s laugh
from the floor
like a shower
of ginkgo leaves
in an autumn breeze
“Zombie Girl writes down her name. Writes a letter to her congressman. A classified ad. Dead Girl seeking. Dead Girl seeping through her days. Zombie Girl makes a chalk drawing of her former lovers on the floor beside the bed. Decides sex is beside the point when you are all body, all hunger. All meat moving through the world.”Kristy Bowen, songs for dead girls
In honor of Halloween, I’ve been exploring some past spooky poems via social media the past couple weeks, but I have a whole new treat on hand today, an as yet unreleased as a complete series, songs for dead girls. Originally part of my little apocalypse manuscript, these poems fit in well with its end of the world ways, but only a couple of the poems have seen light of day on their own.
read the entire series here:
In addition to tinkering with various poems, I enjoyed being at The Big Poetry Weekend in Swindon a few weeks ago, meeting up with several poetry friends I’ve made over the years. In particular, I liked hearing the poems and ideas of poet Nuar Alsadir in conversation with Hilda Sheehan. I’ve been dipping in and out of NA’s book Fourth Person Singular ever since it was first published in 2017. Sometimes, I feel I’m not clever enough for the book, other times I experience the thrill of being in the company of someone who is alive with clever ideas and thoughts – you know that experience of spending time with someone brainy, communicative and interesting? NA’s work plays and interacts with ideas about the lyrical I in poetry, about who is speaking and who the reader assumes is speaking. This is fascinating even at moments when I’m not sure I’ve grasped what is being said (and by whom!). Some notes I made from Nuar’s talk include:
originality is a narcissistic delusion
and, on editing:
leave it alone
I love both of these quotes. If you’d like to read about Nuar Alsadir’s work in more detail, Dave Coates has written a more in-depth blog here.Josephine Corcoran, Mid-October Notes and looking ahead to November
When I heard that Harold Bloom died yesterday, my first thought was that I was seeing an old piece of news that had made it into my Facebook feed. I thought he had died several years ago. But no, it was yesterday.Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Bloviators and New Waves
I thought, how appropriate that Bloom dies on the same day that both Margaret Atwood and Bernadine Evaristo won the Booker prize, in spite of the rule that the prize can only go to one author.
I confess that I haven’t read the work of Evaristo, but I plan to. I am also rather astonished to realize that I have never finished a work written by Bloom. I understand his importance, but his work seems important to a different century.
If I was a younger student in grad school, perhaps I would write a paper considering how the anxiety of influence is different in our current age, where there can be such a variety of influences, and it seems harder to know which mediums will shake out to be most important. Maybe I would argue that one of Bloom’s most important ideas isn’t really important anymore. Or maybe I’d see it as more important than ever.
During my own grad school years, in the late 80’s to early 90’s, Bloom seemed like a rather shrill voice, going on and on about the traditional canon and how women and minorities were ruining it all. Or maybe that’s just how he was interpreted by the larger news outlets who still gave him a voice.
And yet, here is Bloom once again bulldozing his way into a post that had been intended to celebrate the accomplishments of female writers. Can we never get away from these old white guy bloviators?
I started teaching modernism as a graduate student, leading discussion sections for Walt Litz at Princeton in ’91. When I arrived at W&L in ’94, I resolved to teach much more diverse syllabi: I put the version of modernism I’d studied in conversation with the New Negro Renaissance and included many women writers (Walt’s syllabus was all white and male). Soon I was bringing in formalist modernism, too–featuring the so-called “songbird poets” and analyzing various kinds of experiment that earlier discussions of the field hadn’t made much space for. Something I love about teaching, though, is that you can’t just rest on your laurels: I’m teaching you a version of modernism that’s fuller and more complicated than the one I received–aren’t I the greatest? Changes in scholarship and theory demand renovated approaches, but so do the students themselves.
I posted on Facebook recently that my students have never been so alert to questions of gendered and sexual violence in “The Waste Land” as they were this October. I was really glad I had this recent suite of short essays from Modernism/ modernity to bring to class, organized by Megan Quigley and centered on how #metoo has changed conversations about a modernist poetic monument. My current students think sexual violation, as reality and metaphor, is at the very foundation of modernism, and while I’ve always highlighted those elements in certain poems, I’m still trying to get my head around that as a perspective shift on the whole field. They’re very interested, too, in modernist portrayals of mental illness and how it’s persistently feminized; the more I consider those questions, the more foundational they seem, as well. Honestly, I wish I had more than twelve weeks with these students, so we could deepen our reading together.Lesley Wheeler, Teaching US Poetry from 1900-1950
Fissures on Twitter are so mundane that people are barely talking about this one anymore, but I’m still ruminating on it, both as a female in America and as a writer.
So let me start with this: kindness is a false flag here. (While kindness is definitely “on brand” for Ellen, I don’t think it requires us to set aside our other principles and play nice with everyone.) What this is actually about (as far as I’m concerned) is what “civil society” keeps asking of women: instead of telling men to not commit war crimes, for example, it instructs women to be polite even if they do.
Instead of challenging this, Ellen’s explanation doubles down on kindness and in doing so, it perpetuates the expectation that women shall not rock the boat. You already know how it works: if we walk out, we’re rude; if we’re dismissive, we’re uppity bitches. At the same time, if we stay in our seats, we’re complicit in the aggression against us. (Cue this the “asking for it” argument.) Ellen understands politics and celebrity and has both benefited from these and been battered by these. That’s why it’s so unfortunate that she chose a reductive argument for “staying” instead of a more nuanced one.
We’re up to our elbows in shit as citizens in this dysfunctional democracy/republic and could really benefit from deep, meaningful reflection and conversation. Oversimplified, kindness as a platform maintains the status quo. It allows those in power (and those abusing that power) to keep their power, and the only benefactors of Ellen’s kindness are those for whom the truth is uncomfortable.
To put it bluntly, one of the ways the patriarchy persists is because women have been trained not to make anyone uncomfortable. As a writer (and this is a writing blog, after all), everything hinges on this idea. The truth often discomforts, and it matters who gets to speak it.
In just the last couple of weeks, the following have made headlines: how much AOC spends on her hair, whether or not Elizabeth Warren dominated a marine in the bedroom and Kamala Harris getting mocked for her laughter. Women are expected to tend to our appearance. Just not too extravagantly. Women are expected to like sex. But not too much. Women are treated like children — expected to be seen not heard and certainly not to laugh too loudly at anything the president’s son doesn’t think is funny.
The expectation to be pleasing is a weapon.
“Thanks” to Ellen conjuring kindness, I’m reflecting on times that I have censored myself — both face to face and in my writing — to avoid making anyone uncomfortable. And that includes myself. Sometimes, it’s easier to be polite than to make waves. We’re habituated to it.
“Thanks” to Ellen, I have a better understanding of “the personal is political” and how, as writers, that plays out in our poems and essays. It’s not kindness to swallow our truths. It’s called participating in our own oppression. The truth can be scary… but *we* are not the ones who should be unnerved.Carolee Bennett, i read the news today, oh boy
All of this is to say that I only read the cards for my own purposes, although from time to time I’ll get out my deck with friends and let them tell me what they think their cards mean to them. It’s like helping someone interpret a dream. Only the dreamer knows for sure if your interpretation rings true.
Without going into all the free writing I did for this Awareness Spread, I will share a few of my conclusions. For the third card, representing worries or mental habits that might be interfering with my creative endeavors, I pulled the Devil.
Honestly, I didn’t need to ponder this one too much. I’ve gotten into a habit of scouring the news every day to find some sign that maybe the Orange Menace will be deposed. It’s an unhealthy preoccupation. I’ve let that devil take up too much mental real estate.
The Queen of Swords represents my higher self. This card is part of my birth card constellation in the sun sign of Libra, so I immediately identified with her. Swords are ruled by the element of air. It’s Libra season and the air is cooler finally. In Ayurvedic health teachings, fall is the season of vata, the air element, and this dosha happens to be the strongest for me. In fact, I tend to be highly anxious if I don’t tend to grounding myself.
I love this time of year, before the holidays when it’s good to be outdoors again in Georgia. I feel the confidence this queen of swords displays. Clear minded, able to express myself, and excited about the possibilities that await with my writing and with a bit of dabbling with paint.Christine Swint, Creative Explorations With Tarot
Those who’ve have made an impression upon us throughout our lifetime tattoo us in some way—skull, rose, a flaming crown of thorns. Perhaps a black cat curled around a quarter moon, a dolphin leaping from our inner sea, or a dream catcher below the throat reminding us our own song is a dazzling one. Some tattoo our flesh with darker inks, hushed moments hidden from the public. Others ink us with light so bright, we’re often mistaken for the sun. Invincible heart tattoos through which no bullets can pass, leaving feeling bold as love when next we meet.Rich Ferguson, Land of the Inked People
As you can see from the above picture, I keep a note of everything I send out. If I get an acceptance, I mark it with a foil star. Childish? Perhaps. But it works like a little affirmation that I’m doing the right thing, a way of acknowledging that something I’ve created has found its way out into the world. I think I got the idea from reading Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, although I’ve been doing it for such a long time now I might be mistaken. Anyway, I know some poets use spreadsheets, but I like the hands on approach!Julie Mellor, Give yourself a gold star
Can you hear croaking amid the whispers of midnight? It’s the splashing against the wings of finer things, those beings and creatures that some people deny. This noise is axe-heavy with the taste of iron and the fear of death. This sound haunted the Puritans and the Jacobites, and felt rough against the skin, but soft against the mind. Who will now wade in the silver waters? Who will take the plunge and croak with the toads? You and I, that’s who. Begin slowly and then pick up the pace along the muddy riverbank. The fear of death is nothing more than the fear of life. The taste of iron, the croaking, the whispers, and the touch of wings; these things await. I’m ready when you are. James Lee Jobe, prose poem – ‘Can you hear croaking’