Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 16

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week, a very full digest (urp!) with all the great themes in play: love, death, time, war, NaPoWriMo, etc. I’m a little sad that there’s only one more week of April!


before coffee or cricket before
the bullfrog’s unholy racket
just a book a cat staring at me
with her bright constellations
and my wrist’s constant throb
it is in this quiet that I remove my
head arrange it among corn
flowers and baby’s breath
in the florist’s refrigerated
case breathe the promise
fragrance of gardenias in boxes
rose cramped arrangements
elephant shaped vases for the ill
I’ll return for you at nine
I tell my empty skull
don’t worry I tell my blue
blue eyes I’ll always come back
I lie without blinking and close
the soft fleshy door

Rebecca Loudon, April 20.

Dear Camilla,

Fingers crossed this letter finds you in good health and still enjoying poetry!

I’m afraid I can’t quite remember your face from my reading at the New Park Centre four years ago, though I do just about recall resisting a dodgy joke about the royal family while checking the spelling of your name and signing your brand-new copy of The Knives of Villalejo. However, I’ve been thinking about you a lot these past few days, ever since my friend spotted that very copy at the Oxfam shop in Chichester last week and whizzed a photo of it over to me.

On the one hand, I hope you enjoyed it and then passed it on, rather than regretting your purchase. And then, of course, I hope that you yourself chose to give it to Oxfam. Far too many books in charity shops are from personal libraries that have been dispersed by relatives (see my blog post about Peggy Chapman-Andrews from a few years back).

And on the other hand, I’m writing to thank you for granting me this poetic rite of passage: the first time my book has been spotted at a charity shop. I’m pleasantly surprised not to feel annoyed at all that it might have been discarded. Instead, I’m excited to wonder about the prospective new life it’s been granted. As soon as I get back to Chichester, I’ll be popping in to the Oxfam shop to find out whether it’s found another owner.

In other words, I’m proud of joining the ranks of the charity shop poets. I’ve always loved second-hand books, and my collection’s now among them! For that, Camilla, I’ll always be grateful to you.

All the best,

Matthew Stewart

Matthew Stewart, A letter to a reader

iii.
After salt, tap water
tastes almost sweet, still
like nothing, flavored
with memory more
than with anything.

iv.
From the living room,
giggles (cat like tread,
is everybody
here?), the playlist faint
and set on repeat.

PF Anderson, 5 Answers

I wanted to write about writing about being in love. I thought I could write something grateful and insightful and intelligent. It turns out I can’t. In the end you simply have to sit down and do it and let it be what it will. This I learn from the to and fro of Kim Moore and Clare Shaw egging each other on to stick to their NaPoRiMo challenge via Facebook. They are each distracted by children or by work or by tiredness and still they do it. A couple of days ago each of them posted a piece for which the prompt was the challenge to write a love poem. […]

And that was the year
I made you paper hyacinths in a paper box
painted with hyacinths , and a poem for its lid.

I suppose I was thinking of cruel months
and hyacinth girls, and unexpected rains.
I was thinking of surprises. I was not thinking at all.
I was in love, and in various ways I am, still,
and thinking how we have assembled things around us
and cannot bring ourselves to throw away anything.
These cards, those bits of ribbon, these fragments.

John Foggin, Words of love

April 21st (Thursday just gone) was World Curlew Day. Curlews (or Eurasian Curlews to give them their full name) are one of my favourite species, but sadly are in steep decline. In the last few years, they’ve disappeared from a couple of areas where they previously bred on my old local patch, and the news isn’t generally good elsewhere. Related species such as Whimbrel also face pressures, and of course the Slender-billed Curlew has effectively gone extinct within the last 20 years.

All of which means World Curlew Day is a thoroughly good thing. One thing I learned on Thursday was that the date was chosen, according to the Welsh Ornithological Society, as it’s the feast day of the 6th century Welsh saint Beuno, who blessed the birds and said that they should always be protected. That sort of thing is a bit of a recurring theme with Dark Ages saints – St Cuthbert, for example, was supposed to have protected Eiders, and was also tended to by Ravens and Otters, among others.

Among other things, St Beuno is supposed to have been to have been so appalled to hear the English language being spoken that he went as far west as he could (the Llyn Peninsula) to found a monastery and get away from the uncouth Germanic invaders. I wrote a poem about it, that appeared in my second collection, hydrodaktulopsychicharmonica.

PS I’ll try to post the poem some time soon, but I’ve mislaid my copy of the book. 

Matt Merritt, World Curlew Day

Joseph Bathanti’s new poetry collection Light at the Seam, published by LSU Press during Lent, could not have arrived at a more propitious, or more precarious, time in our lives. Though we have just retraced, in faith, Christ’s journey to death and still behold in wonder His mysterious rebirth, we remain threatened by ruinous instruments of our own making; amid what we take for granted, air and water, birds and game, the earth that feeds us, we are too often oblivious to how the “[s]undial / casts its shadow on the hour” (“Sundial, West Virginia”). We have forgotten our charge to be caretakers of daylily and webworm, thistle and Queen Anne’s lace, snake and vole, “whole kingdoms of. . .whirring ethnographies of insects” (“The Assumption”).

Fundamentally a personal response to, even an indictment of, Appalachia’s coal industry and the destruction that continued mining wrecks upon the Appalachian landscape, a place “almost Heaven— / but decidedly not heaven” (“Limbo”), Light at the Seam is, ultimately, a gesture toward resilience, renewal, and hope.

The collection comprises four aptly named sections whose religious connotations are deliberate: The Assumption, The Windows of Heaven, Limbo, and Light at the Seam. These sections suggest not only only glorious beginnings and hard endings but also the in-between “imaginal phase” (“My Mother and Father”) of the likely or inevitable, be it disastrous runoff and floods, clouds of powdered coal that catch the air on fire (“Oracle”), slurries streaming toward once-pristine rivers in Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, or the simple sign “No Trespassing / [that] impends / a large red / caution” (“Keyford”). Bathanti sources in these sections the workings of both the human and the Divine, drawing unmistakable contrasts: between the beauty on earth, where [f]ireflies torch the night” and “flowers shrive, and prick eternity” (“Blessed Thistle”), and the ugliness of mountain-top removal that renders a creek “sick // green-brown in slabs of sunlight— / dull as a gorged serpent” (“Postdiluvian: Mingo County, West Virginia”); between the holding of Creation as sacred, and therefore ever-lasting, and the ill-served-taking by humans by authority and assumption, “men [not] beholden / to words on a page” (“Sentences”) who exact what’s “beyond our ken” (“Boar”); between the clarity of witness and the dark acknowledgment of our “sin black as bituminous” (“Glad Creek Falls”); between loss and the possibility of regeneration. No matter the place named, whether Mingo County, West Virginia, or Dubois, Pennsylvania, how we “look upon the earth” (“Floyd County, Kentucky”), the poet indicates, is how we map our fate and our future. But, “make no mistake: // you are permitted entry through grace” (“Daylily”), the poet reminds us, adding, “Life is more than fable, // but never stops stunning earth” (“April Snow”).

Maureen E. Doallas, Joseph Bathanti’s ‘Light at the Seam’ (Review)

On the screen, the men abduct the women willingly into sailboats and helicopters and Yves St Laurent dresses. They emerge immaculate from baths scented like money and lavender. Honey in their voices, the way they hold their coffee til it goes cold. The neat fold of their sweaters in drawers. The author’s inheritance was a patch of weeds in a meadow surrounded by smokestacks and rusted out cars. The author’s inheritance was worry, that slipped into her bed each night like a cat beneath the covers.

Kristy Bowen, napowrimo #22

and do you find
you asked after
the first bottle
(hesitantly because
this reunion shared
only the fumes
of a maybe past)
that tears come
more readily
these days?
oh yes i agreed
barely a day
goes past without
you looked
into your glass
lachrymae rerum
you pronounced
man’s relentless
cruelty to man
as the default state
and far too long
of trudging that
same old road
more like riding
that same old train
i said
only this time
it’s terminus bound
with only the last
few stations to come
ah
our waterloo
you smiled
kings cross for me
i said
and we laughed
earlsfield
you declared
potters bar
i countered
vauxhall
you intoned
finsbury park
i whispered
and we laughed
to tears
as we used to laugh
back when the line
stretched far ahead
and impatience grew
as each platform
glided to a halt
and we yearned
for the turnstiles
and the streets beyond

Dick Jones, stations

I eat my toast and look at a news website.
It says twelve hundred homeless people died in Britain in 2021.
The reporter writes of the homeless problem.
The homeless are not the problem.
The system that makes them homeless is the problem.
The people who make the system are the problem.
I see somebody has decided April will be National Poetry Month.
I click on the link. National Poetry Month would not be possible
without the support of our sponsors.
It lists them.
On twitter two poets complain they are suffering from PPD,
which apparently stands for Post-Publication Depression.
On the TV news it’s time for sport.
I hear the phrase A rain-affected day in the cricket,
switch off.

Waiting.
It will take our new friends twelve or thirteen hours to reach the border.
Train stations are sometimes bombed.
I have their photographs, open the folder and look at them
smiling, not knowing.

Bob Mee, WAR POEMS

I’ve lived an interesting life and have often been asked if I was planning to write a memoir. The events that seem to be of interest to others are sometimes personal (getting kicked out of high school, having an illegal abortion, delivering my son in a hotel room in Kabul Afghanistan, losing my best friend to AIDS), sometimes political (protesting the American war in Vietnam, being tear gassed by police at Democratic National Convention in Chicago in 1968, running a feminist abortion clinic, being a member of ACT UP NY, co-founding a lesbian press). I always deflect the question. I’ve told the story of the birth of my son many times, but something always rang untrue in the telling. If you read memoir or listen to true stories as spoken on The Moth Radio Hour, there is always a central drama and some sort of resolution; it may be something learned or revealed; settled or accepted; reconciled or forgiven; avenged or rejected. The problem I faced was that I couldn’t name the central drama in my life’s story, so how could it possibly be reconciled? I write, but I’ve always hidden my sadness in poems, not in stories.

So, when it revealed itself, it was as if my entire life needed to be rewritten. The event that encumbered me, that I didn’t tell—or spoke of rarely—was losing custody of my son to his father when he was five. Facing that fact now, trying to undo the effects of the shame I have carried for decades, has made it possible for me to want to tell this story. A story with an omission in it is a story untold. And yet the omission itself, once revealed, is only a small part of the story.

Risa Denenberg, Coming Out of Hiding

It’s too late to become a philosopher. I don’t have the stamina now to do mountains of difficult reading. I’ll have to accept — as I never did, as a reader of literature — secondary sources and summaries, watered-down versions adapted to the meanest understandings. Well, bring it, then. I’m not reading the complete works of Kant and Heidegger at this time of my life. But I may need to know something, at least, about what they meant. I don’t aspire to be a figure of any sort, literary or philosophical — which is all to the good — but I still aspire to understand: I still aspire to live a life that might mean something. I still aspire to take a bit of the edge off my own suffering, and other people’s, in whatever way I can.

It’s not just reading, of course. It’s practicing. It’s meditation, contemplation, prayer, visualization. Mushrooms. Being a damned fool, or even a blessed one. And it’s writing poetry, and possibly even making art.

I don’t see what else I can do, honestly. It’s no just that there’s no other path forward. There’s also no path back. 

Dale Favier, No Path Back

If, as you wrote, to die is truly                         to become invisible,

then perhaps                     this isn’t possible. A dram of single malt,

the waves of which                               

have crashed. These poems, carved                  from bread and butter,

shorelines, secrets             , tundra                   : something brittle,
ancient                    , deeply human. Stone                

as old as wine.

rob mclennan, Requiem for Steven Heighton

The first thing I thought of when I saw that the Russians had attacked Lviv was Adam Zagajewski’s poem “To Go to Lvov.”  In fact, the only things I know about Lvov/ Lviv come from his poems, and from his prose  book Two Cities, about Lvov and Gliwice.  Zagajewski was just a few months old when his family was forced to leave Lvov, a beautiful old, cultured town, a World Historical Site, for Gliwice, an industrial German city traded to Poland at the end of World War II.  Zagajewski’s family kept the city they’d had to leave alive with stories, and the poet absorbed their vision:  “My grandfather, despite walking right next to me in Gliwice, was in Lvov. I walked the streets of Gliwice, he walked the streets of Lvov.”  This in turn made me think of poems where place looms large–real places like Wordsworth’s Tintern Abbey, Frank O’Hara’s New York City, Alice Oswald’s Dart, about the river.  But I also think of wholly imaginary places, like Xanadu in Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan,” or Dante’s vision of Hell in the Inferno, or the metaphorical ship in Adrienne Rich’s Diving into the Wreck. And then the places in between–actual places summoned up in memory, like Zagajewski’s Lvov.  The place could be as small as a room or a garden, as large as a city or mountain range or ocean–Frost’s “Once By the Pacific.”

Sharon Bryan, Poems of Place

a moose came out of the woods and
stepped on my heart, yes
a moose, horns like driftwood oaks
came out of the forest and
stepped on my heart
a moose or maybe an elk hard to tell
given my position and the fact that
the moon was radiant, glowing, but
behind clouds and I was lying down
curled in fetal position and
holding my head in my hands

Gary Barwin, a moose came out of the woods and stepped on my heart, yes

Robert Fillman: Thank you, Meghan, for taking a moment to chat with me about your ambitious debut collection, These Few Seeds, which I loved! The book covers a lot of ground—Brooklyn, London, Greece, California, New England, Texas—was your intention to evoke place (and a range of places) when you set out to write this collection? Or did you have some other governing principle in mind? 

Meghan Sterling: It is a whirlwind, isn’t it? A big part of my life has been traveling the world—it was actually in Peru that I decided to have my daughter. As my first collection, I wanted to give it the breadth of my life, all that came before that delivered me to my daughter, as it were, that made me the person who could be her mother, who could mother at all. Traveling also gives me a broader sense of grief about what we are losing to climate change. And she may not take after me, but if she does, I hope she can travel a world that still has sacred and pristine spaces.

Diane Lockward, Terrapin Books Interview Series: Robb Fillman Interviews Meghan Sterling

Two deer coming down out of the woods
each foot a needle sewing

footprints to the dew.
Two Roe adults the colour

of last year’s leaves,
picking through the headstones

gentle as mist

Wendy Pratt, Twelve

Unfortunately, the Monday after our celebratory Easter weekend, I was due for a long-postponed brain and spine scan. I always feel a little wonky after brain MRIs – sinus infection? magnetic allergies? – and so I was a little down and out this last week. I also found out some good news (no new brain or spine lesions) but also a little bad news – a thyroid node pressing on my jugular vein and carotid artery I need to have an ultrasound on, and terrible degenerative disc disease in the neck, which I guess is why my neck hurts all the time – as well as a pinched nerve. That’s how it always is, right? As we get older – a little good news – my MS hasn’t gotten any worse – with a little bad news – age related arthritis in the neck, something I need further testing on the thyroid (which, let’s face it, my thyroid has been wonky since I was a teen.) The funniest part of the test was the front desk person, as she was handing me my MRI on disc, said to me “Your hair is the same color as the cherry blossoms – you have to take a picture with them!” So I did.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, National Poetry Month, MRIs and Upcoming Birthdays and Publications, and Signs of Spring

I walked streets
past closed shops
stood on the beach

the wind raised waves of fine sand
until it combined with the rain
to send us all indoors again

the cracked pavement
a broken mirror
reflecting the street lights up to the stars

Paul Tobin, BETTER DAYS

I’ll write more about the retreat later. I am trying to get ahead with both grading and seminary work, since I do have an appointment with a hand surgeon on Thursday, and I don’t want to get too far behind. We are at the end of the semester for both my teaching and my seminary student work. When this semester started back in January, I worried about the new Omicron variant, and I worried that my job might keep me from being successful with my classes.  A broken wrist was not on my radar screen of things to worry about. I am aware that I often worry about possible negative developments only to be blindsided by something else. Breaking that habit of worrying about the future may take more years than I have left.

Again I realize I am very lucky. I am grateful for the voice recognition that I have with my version of Word, for example.  I am grateful to be able to be at this retreat, broken wrist and all.

Kristen Berkey-Abbott, Broken Wrist Woes and Gratitude

I was told little girls don’t howl like banshees. They don’t go around with messy hair and dirty ragamuffin faces. They say please and thank you. They keep their elbows off the table.

I heard for goodness’ sake, stop harping about not being hungry. There are plenty of children in the world who would be happy for what you’ve got. Don’t get smart with me, you know you can’t share your supper with them. You will clean your plate, missy, before going back outside. No need to panic because your friends are waiting. And no hiding food in your napkin. If you think that will work you’ve got another think coming. That’s quite enough backtalk from you.

Not till I’m grown do I learn:

Banshee comes from my Irish kin, meaning a female fairy or woman of the elves.

Ragamuffin comes from Ragamoffyn, the name of a demon in a 14th century poem.

To harp comes from harpies, winged half-human half-bird creatures in Greek mythology representing hungry wind spirits who steal food.

Happy comes from my Nordic kin, from heppinn (fortunate) and hap (luck).

Panic is related to sudden terror when woodland god Pan lets loose fierce cries, causing enemies to flee and saving his embattled friend.

I am glad to live for goodness’ sake. But hair messy, elbows on the table, I fly beyond what I used to call remembery, toward a world where another think is, indeed, coming.

Laura Grace Weldon, Backtalk

It was in the golden hills that I stopped holding your death in my arms. Your corpse, my soul. Where one stopped, the other began, fifteen years passed that way. In dreams you would come to me, miserable, suffering. And as you could not explain your life to me when you lived, you could not explain your death. Why you embraced it so. Was death the key to your cell? 

In the golden hills that I stopped holding your death in my arms. I walked along the Yuba River for miles. Purdon Crossing, Edwards Crossing, and I left the trail and went down to the water, and there I covered your death with rocks. I balanced one rock on top of another. And again. And again. And I climbed back up to the trail and left your death behind me. 

It was in the golden hills that I stopped holding your death in my arms. And that was years ago, over thirty years now since you swallowed the pills with vodka. Your corpse, my soul, for so long they have gone their own ways. You, in the light. Me, in the world. I’m just on the edge of getting old. And I like it, Cathy. I still like life. 

-for Cathy Kochanski, 1954-1983 

James Lee Jobe, the suicide of Cathy Kochanski

how it is to be
deep in league with the plants
incessant rain

Jim Young [no title]

I confess to the usual nerves about whether all this would line up right. I know the tone of book promotion is supposed to be all yay-yay-gratitude-everything’s-going-dreamily–a beautifully produced book is a really lucky thing. It’s also a really frigging hard thing: to plan, to write, to revise revise revise, to find a publisher and revise again. Then tossing the published book at the world so that it produces even a tiny guppy-size splash is hard. I find myself riding peaks and troughs. Just so it’s clear, I spend way more time fighting anxiety and inertia about this promo stuff than feeling triumphant.

This week I read the tarot cards on the future of the book and they told me, eh, false starts, disappointment, it won’t go as you hoped. I then did a consolation reading next about something lower stakes–how about my May trip to Budapest?–and they said wow, amazing, the world (literally The World) is at your feet! Um, thanks, cartomancy.

Lesley Wheeler, Poetry’s Possible Worlds for pre-order–so there, Three of Cups reversed!

Forget the vowels. Speak only
in consonants. Thick-soiled
like freshly plowed earth,
thick-soled & thick-souled.
Forgive me. I held a word
all morning like a limp-necked
bird in my hand. Would
that it drank. That it opened
its one lidless eye. That it sang.

Romana Iorga, NaPoWriMO Day 19, 2022

“Ambiguity is the world’s condition.…As a ‘picture of reality’ is it truer than any other.  Ambiguity is.”  So says Charles Simic.

In that spirit, I submit spring.  Yes, spring is a bouquet pulled and given from the dark dead closet of winter by a surprise lover — and yes, spring is a wide sky of clotted clouds and warty trees.  Yes, canopies of white cherry blossoms making the city street into a wedding lane, and yes, wondering if those branches that scratch the blue sky are dead or slow or what?  

Yes to bemuda shorts and flipflops, yes to down vests with down parkas.  Yes to breath-scented bacchanalia; yes to depletion and childhood colds that repeat every season.  

Yes to People of the Book celebrating religious holidays like overlapping dinner plates; yes to fractricidal wars.  Yes to moral imperatives that command and consume us; yes to the audaciousness of hope.  Yes to too much, yes to breath.  

Jill Pearlman, Ambiguity, Thy name is Spring

The ears, two snails stuck out of habit
on either side of the head. The nose,

windbreak in a field no longer at war with
itself. Declension of the chin that in the past

rested too long in the bowl offered by the hand.
Citadel of shoulders from which no doves

cry at twilight. The knobs on the back
which at night still flutter toward the idea

of wings.

Luisa A. Igloria, Dream of the Body as Strandbeest

The collection ends on a sequence, “Political Poem 2.0”. Part VI,

“I say poetry is
not escapism.

But I had not yet
understood how

to sit at a table and
drink a glass of water,

gratefully,
watching clouds pass.”

Poetry, regardless of the poet’s intent, is often read as autobiographical in a way that fiction isn’t. Whenever the lyrical “I” is used, some readers assume the poet is speaking which isn’t always the case. The opening two lines suggest poems are not read for the reader to escape their lives yet the remainder of the poem undermines this. The reader has not matured to understand how a simple pleasure: stopping for a drink of water and watching, being present in that moment and noticing only what is happening in that moment allows the speaker to temporary ‘escape’ other pressures and concerns. The next poem, VIII, observes a desert hawk,

“For you know
there is neither

beauty nor play
without sustenance,

and nothing, truly
nothing

without water.”

Water is life, both its source and the force that keeps life going.

Thoughout “and then the rain came”, water is literal, metaphorical and sustaining. A force that enables life, weather that revives the natural world and sustenance, not just physical but spiritual and mental. Edward Ragg has created a pamphlet of complementary lyrical and narrative poems linked thematically but experimental in approach, using language as a fluid probe.

Emma Lee, “and then the rain came” Edward Ragg (Cinnamon Press) – book review

I am playing the little game with the flowers.
This one droops to the left.
This one droops to the right.
Another has leaves like bowtie pasta.
Another has leaves like questioning arms.
I match this flower to its companion,
these leaves to their mates across the board.
As each match is made, both halves disappear:
Isn’t that the way of the world?
Eventually even the little filigreed borders are gone;
nothing is left but empty white boxes.
I press Play Again, spawn
another version of the board,
as if I’d never been there.

Jason Crane, POEM: Tiles

When I opened the carton stamped D R I V E on the side and held this carefully-made object in my hands, for the first time, I felt the impact of the oddity of the image, combined with the title, making a poem of the cover. I was holding a poem. Like a parent with several children, who loves each one differently, and who is not supposed to have a favorite (but does), I’m forced to admit that, when it comes to the cover, Drive is mine. And, here’s why. I’ve always wanted a book whose cover makes you to want to pick it up. With Drive I like the feel of the matte finish. The slightly smaller-than-standard width, made to complement the short lines in the poems––the whole glove-compartment-size of the book––makes sense. Katherine Bradford’s artwork invites the reader to reach for the book, to look, and look, again, to ask questions like: what does that airborne woman have to do with the word drive? […]

Among the notable covers of poetry books from last year is Diane Seuss’s, almost unbeautiful Frank: Sonnets. Here is a book whose shape and size fit the poems inside, the width expanded to accommodate the poet’s long lines, the cover is in evocative/provocative conversation with the poems, and the image, personal to the author, to the title, integral to how this happens, making it a perfect cover. I’ll stop there, as the discovery of how this happens is one of the many pleasures to experience in the reading of this book, and a lesson in how to judge (and appreciate) a book by its cover!

Cover Stories: Judging a Book by Its Cover – guest post by Elaine Sexton (Trish Hopkinson’s blog)

Sometimes I drag my husband to art-house-y films and when someone asks, “Was it good? Should I go see it?” I hesitate. Yes, definitely good. Also, scarred me for life.

That’s how I feel about this amazing, abrasive, challenging, brilliant book of poems by Diane Seuss. It is like nothing I’ve ever read. Your mileage may vary.

From the back cover: “Every poem in frank: sonnets is an example of the incomparable Seussian Sonnet, where elegy and narrative test the boundaries of the conventional form” (Terrance Hayes). “…an ambitious, searing, and capacious life story. The poems themselves use an ecstatic syntax to unite Seuss’s lyric leaps from one wretched sweetness to another….narratives of poverty, death, parenthood, addiction, AIDS, and the ‘dangerous business’ of literature are irreducible” (Traci Brimhall). In short, it was a little like reading a memoir—bizarre, fragmented, mesmerizing. When I first purchased this book and read a poem here and there, I was missing the point.

I’m trying to pluck out a few sentences to illustrate (but some of these untitled poems, always 14-lines but with unbridled-lengthened-lines, are all one sentence). Maybe this one about her son: “I’d authored him in my bones, he was my allegory, analogy, corollary, mirror, I forged / his suffering, his nail, his needle, his thrill” (p. 66). And, often, provocative statements that I don’t quite know what to do with: “All lives have their tropes over which we have minimal control” (p. 83); “I fell in love with death” (p. 80). Or in a poem beginning, “Thirty-nine years ago is nothing, nothing,” this ending:

I was nothing, I knew nothing then of nothing, its shacks shawled
with moss, its bitter curatives and ancient hags redressing my narratives. (p. 60)

Traci Brimhall sums it up brilliantly: “It’s a book to inhabit, to think alongside, to rage and laugh with, to behold the ways beauty is both a weapon and a relief.”

Bethany Reid, Diane Seuss: Frank

Ana Silvera is a fabulist – a teller of fables. I heard her first on Radio 3’s The Verb on 28 February 2020 and have been haunted ever since by her song Exile, with her own sruti-box (Indian harmonium) accompaniment. It starts one and a half minutes into the broadcast. Tree seeds carried in the mouth – what a strange and potent image. I carried her song in my mouth, and found myself writing new words to the tune. I sent the words to Brittle Star, a magazine that consistently published excellent poetry and prose until about 18 months ago. I was overjoyed to have my song accepted and published.

Ama Bolton, The Fabulist

Coming off
the mountain

I can say things
I cannot say,

the old monk says.
That’s why I go.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (182)

We went to the Peak District for half term, we had a lovely time in among the snow, the wind, the rain (as a Twilight Singers fan I’m now duty bound to link to Feathers, even if I am slightly misquoting the lyrics), but the weather sort of curtailed our outings. This did give me time to complete and submit my review of Stewart Carswell’s first collection, Earthworks, for London Grip. My thanks, as ever, to Michael for taking it and being so quick to publish it.

I really have to start saying no to reviews, but some how I still have 4 to do. I did start another while I was away. It’s only 350 words, and I got half way through and now I think I have to start again. Get on with it, Riches.!!

I woke up to some ace news yesterday, a mag that I have admired for a while have agreed to take one of my poems (pending acceptance of edit suggestions). I am working through their totally sensible suggestions at present, and hopefully it will all be good. I’ve gone from rarely getting editorial feedback to having a fair bit (albeit not massive) of late. I like it, I think. More news on this soon, I hope. No chickens are being counted in the making of this paragraph.

I also had the chance to catch up on some* reading while I was off. I say some, it was nowhere near enough. Every time I finish a magazine, a new one arrives, and that seems to take the place of reading the books that are piling up. It’s not exactly the end of the world though, is it?

Mat Riches, (Inspiring) Carpets

The Italian place I remember
had dark walls, and candles
in cut-glass red votive bowls.
I thought the owner was Polish.

He and my dad were buddies,
talked business, smoked cigars.
I wore black-patent Mary Janes,
drank Shirley Temples, feasted

on baskets of crusty bolillos:
French bread reimagined
into perfect torpedoes
by Mexican hands.

That’s where Dad taught me
how to relish soft-shell crab,
and the names of big wine bottles
like Jeroboam and Methuselah.

All I knew about Methuselah
was that he lived a long time,
maybe forever. I thought
Dad would too.

Rachel Barenblat, Fine Dining

To be clear: Like any love–perhaps, especially, a late-in-life one–it’s not all rainbows and confetti. Every person who’s lived a good chunk of time carries baggage, and unpacking mine has meant coming to new terms with aging and mortality and the passing of time and dreams.

In the past two months, I’ve become grounded in the reality that my body has changed and is changing. That I am going to get old and die. For real. Not in some abstract, “some day” sort of way, but in a concrete, wow-I-can’t-do-things-I-could-do-just-a-few-years-ago sort of way. In my head, I’ve still been mostly the same physical being I was in my mid-30s or so. Sure, I’d gained a few pounds, but I could still do all the same things, right? Ummm, not exactly. Now, in both my head and body, I know I’m not the same physical being I thought I was. (If you want to know how old your body really is, take up a sport you haven’t played since you were a tween. You’ll know, too.)

I know this might sound kind of grim–and I’ve had my moments of feeling fairly terrible about it all–but it’s really not. It’s becoming the foundation for a kind of gratitude I’ve never felt before. Yes, I’m going to die, but I’m not dead yet. A thing I thought was lost to me has come back. (What else might this be true for?) My body has deteriorated, but not so much that I can’t embrace this opportunity. The ladies I skate with tell me I’ve come back just in time; I’m still young enough to regain many of the skills I once had, but if I’d waited even a few more years that might not be the case. For the first time since–well, since about the time I quit skating, really–I’m feeling more gratitude than resentment toward my body.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Becoming a unicorn

Listen to the whirl of guitar & drum riding
on the breeze with whiffs of
The Big River & roast beef po boys
Listen to the rustle & crunch of
people clapping, feet dancing
in a crush of bodies & fun
Watch nimble fingers plucking strings
of steel, hair flying like freedom on fire
Watch an elderly gentleman, dapper
in dark suit & bowler hat, mesmerized
by musicians’ whirl & pop, a whisp
from his cigarette jigging overhead.

Charlotte Hamrick, NaPoWriMo 2022 day 24

The Path to Kindness is another anthology by James Crews, who also put together How to Love the World which I referenced in this post on reading poetry and on always carrying something beautiful in your mind. There’s a line from Danusha Laméris in the intro where she says, “kindness is not sugar, but salt. A dash of it gives the whole dish flavour.” Kindness is connection, and connection is something I think most of us are craving right now. It’s a good book to have on your shelf. I sort of forget who I used to be two years ago, someone who I would have described as a kind person. And this book helps me remember that. It’s also helpful to remember that kindness isn’t sweet or saccharine. It’s salty. […]

The last book in my stack is by Teju Cole: Golden Apple of the Sun. I really admire his book Blind Spot, which I’ve written about before. His latest has been well-reviewed in various places including: in Musée magazine, and Art Agenda. (Worth clicking through to see the photographs). You know I’m always up to read a book about still lifes and this is a good one. The photographs are that lovely balance between studied and unstudied. They feel natural even if they had been quite arranged. There’s just some good breathing in the photographs. A kind of very deliberate calm which is reassuring. They remind me a bit of some photos you see in recent cookbooks, but also not quite, because they’re not trying to sell you on anything other than the shapes and forms, on the experience of enlivening dailiness. If I were to use the word poetic to describe them, it would be the poetry of Derek Walcott, maybe. Precise, in control, but not without humour, not without flourish.

Shawna Lemay, Sustain the Gaze

What if everything we tell ourselves about why we feel a particular emotion at any given moment is nothing more than another story we’ve learned to compose as a way to soothe ourselves? To control one another and keep the world predictable?

Kids wake up happy without questioning their sanity or looking for the reason for it. I know there are some adults who do this, too. I have heard people talk about them and rationalize it by describing these adults as “simple-minded”. Or “special”. Unexplained cheerfulness is definitely anti-social behavior. It makes us giggle nervously. I’m not sure if it is a named archetype, but it should be. (Note to self to look it up when the headache subsides).

What if all art is just an act of unlearning? Resisting. And that our ideas of what poetry is can get in the way of that? What if art should start where we are familiar and then chisel at it until it leaves us speechless. What if instead of giving us more stories related to our own stories, it tears down every story?

What if it is the “made thing” that shows us the artifice in all made things? Even our own stories?

Ren Powell, The Artifice in Made Things & the Pleasure in Dis-Order

I know a woman that can turn a bullet into a church bell.

I know a child that can transform ill will into cotton candy bombs.

I know a man that swears it’s quarter till heaven and half past hell whenever he checks his watch.

I know enough to know I’m not even close to knowing everything.

But I do know that when I refer to my fret hand, I mean the one that plays guitar

instead of the one that worries over the weight of the world.

Rich Ferguson, Fret Hand

Now I rise like a heron in the midnight pond.
My spine is infinite, my bones divine.
Upon re-entry, I find my flesh
intact. It is worshipful, this vessel. Its
storm of neurons, its earthen feet, the prayer of my hips, my
heart’s cauldron. My ribs engorged with grief. My belly a safe house.

I shocked the clocks into obedience. In time, I will rise and
rise again,
come to rest in this spawning ground.

Kristen McHenry, Poem of the Month: The Odyssey

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 11

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week: dreams and dreamlessness, new books and completed manuscripts, the war, the Worm Moon, the equinox, and more. Enjoy.


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

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

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

Saudamini Deo, What is sadness?

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

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

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

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

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

rob mclennan, today is my fifty-second birthday;

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paul Tobin, WHEN THE WEATHER COULD BE TRUSTED

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

Matthew Paul, On dreams, Julian Cope and John Greening

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

James Lee Jobe, A dream during the afternoon nap.

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

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

Rachel Dacus, To Bravery – Writers in War

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

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

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

Luisa A. Igloria, Poem with Disregarded Sign

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

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

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

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

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Writing a Psalm of Lament

Maria Prymachenko has stopped
making pictures.

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

The shelling makes even
her eared beasts to lie down.

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

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

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

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

Kathleen Kirk, Big Old Cheese Moon

And my father?
Cigar smoke lingers
like priestly incense.

If I can
hear his voice,
remember his laugh

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

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

Rachel Barenblat, Perpetual fire

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

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

In four weeks, it will be Easter.

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

Maybe a nuclear war will come between now and Easter.

Meanwhile, the rabbits are cavorting under the full moon.

Anne Higgins, how much was mine to keep

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

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

Beth Adams, 19 Years

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

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

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

José Angel Araguz, Rotura released + virtual event info

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

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

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

John Foggin, Pressed for time: more teasers and trailers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ann E. Michael, Conventional

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

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

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

Lesley Wheeler, Differently to #AWP22

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

Julie Mellor, low water

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

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

Sue Ibrahim, How do you read a poem?

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

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

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

Matt Merritt, How we read and listen

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

Kristy Bowen, writers and value

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

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

*

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

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

Ren Powell, Brooding on (Art) Forms

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rich Ferguson, Humanity’s Mathematics

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

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

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

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

Ama Bolton, The Waste Land Revisited

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

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

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

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

Jill Pearlman, Standing with Bakhtin

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

Tom Montag, TEN OLD MONK POEMS (59)

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

Grant Hackett [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 10

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader.

This week in the poetry blogs, the still-unfolding invasion of Ukraine, and war in general, remained on many people’s minds, but made room for other topics as well, including dying or departed fathers, questions of identity and mask, and varying approaches to levity and grief.


Now’s not the time to tell your story. They said. Not when the
skies are ablaze, not when we wonder if the edges can be pulled

together again, not when a contrived dystopia keeps spawning
reasons for the anticlimactic end. There is a hierarchy of suffering,

a taxonomy of hurt, your role now is to pause, to witness, to
gather shards of cloud-grief and sew them into the first rain.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, They said

Even in the earliest literature, exile is a fate akin to death. A man without a community will die a slow death of some sort.

(Romeo does return from exile, but that wasn’t really a great decision.)

But how long can a blind man wander the desert in exile before he stumbles onto something venomous? But Oedipus didn’t go it alone. His children led him through it – to another town, where he was accepted. Then the earth swallowed him. Sophocles didn’t write about the years of wandering. He wrote a happy ending: death in the bosom of a community.

Maybe I will write about the desert years. What dies out there, what doesn’t.

I will write about what and who we bump into out there. How we can reach out to people we once knew – but, now feeling the contours of their faces with our fingers, we know them intimately for the first time. It is possible.

Ren Powell, What We Take Into Account

I’ve felt heartbroken by current events, as well as frightened, and not just for the Ukrainian people. Even if it is contained, the ramifications of this war will be felt by all of us, and who knows where it will end: are we, in fact, going back to the Cold War years? Will all the diplomatic, economic, and collaborative progress of the last forty years be lost? What about nuclear containment? What kind of weapons will be unleashed? Will nuclear facilities be protected, or will there be another horrific event like Chernobyl? Will the conflict spread to Eastern and then Western Europe? It’s unthinkable. The scale of the risk is so much greater and more complex than the well-meant but naive yellow-and-blue flags and sunflowers cropping up all over social media. If you send aid, please do it through established and reputable channels where it has a chance of getting through.

It is a very sober time: a time when I feel called to silent reflection, learning, and meditating on history and on the present, as we still deal with Covid and climate change and all the other pressing problems of our personal and shared lives that seem dwarfed by each day;s news. I haven’t been able to write much, but I’ve tried to draw. I hope you are finding ways to cope, and would be glad to have you share your thoughts.

Beth Adams, Day by Day

Palm trees in El Paso
are haloed in snow

rarer in mid-March
than the Russian tanks

bombarding a Mariupol shoe
factory, the psychiatric

hospital, a maternity ward,
apartments emptying to

missiles. A hotel sauna,
a subway — deep space

underground — targeted
humanitarian corridors

hemmed with smoking autos,
plastic bags and rolling

luggage left behind.

Maureen Doallas, Late Winter (Poem)

The Apocalypse feels like it’s knocking at the door. Are we going to answer?

The picture at left was taken this week after 1) spending two hours getting four fillings in my front teeth and 2) getting my hair cut and colored. These things are a total waste of time if a maniac ends the world in nuclear war or the pandemic kills me. Yes, I think about weird stuff like that. How do we respond of existential despair and threats of war and pestilence? Do we think harder about how we spend our time, our money, our love, our votes?

So, in a way, every act – going to work, kissing your spouse, petting your cat, is an act of rebellion against nihilism. Stopping to take pictures of trees – something I started doing when I was diagnosed with terminal cancer over five years ago (I was told I did not have six months, FYI…always get a second opinion, kids!) – is to make a record of the beauty as the world continues.  Until I stop, or it stops. My philosophy.

Speaking of that, I saw the first cherry blossoms this week in Kirkland, and I also photographed another early spring bloom, quince. Quinces look like ugly shrubs in the winter, and then they have these beautiful blooms and fruit. I’ve always liked those kinds of things. Apple trees with their twisted arms and shrubby height, how fragrant their blush petals are, their fruit that hangs on ’til September. Bulbs that when you plant them seem like nothing, brown little lumps, then bring their tulip petals and daffodil trumpets during the cold early spring. So here are some pictures of March flowers. Are you writing poetry, or sending it out, or getting ready for AWP? Good job. I have been struggling with poetry’s relevancy in the last week or so, I admit. It feels…frivolous. Extraneous. I know that it is good for the soul, but maybe my soul is feeling a little fractured right now.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, The Apocalypse is Knocking, First Cherry Blossoms, Cats From the Past and More History Repeating

Once a fox, feeling sad, looked up at the sky and waned to be a cloud, distant from the concerns of foxes  and casting only immaterial shadow over chickens. Then it began to rain and his small fox heart, no larger than a tulip, squirted water everywhere. The fox, his suffering now intense, ate a chicken and so was sad no more. 

Gary Barwin, Fox Fable (from a MS of Fables)

Yes, yes, I know. My promises to resume posting regularly here have been about as reliable as the Tory government’s…no, I’m not going to go there. I have the urge to blog, and to write more generally, and I suspect one of the main reasons is the utter chaos out there at the moment. So, I’m going to restrict myself to talking about poetry, and literature more generally, and birds, and history, and maybe some cricket (although, there’s not much about England that inspires me at the moment). I can’t guarantee it will be upbeat, exactly, but it will definitely be more fun than the news.

Matt Merritt, I’m back (again)

s l o w l y
lowering the volume
thick snow

Jason Crane, haiku: 10 March 2022

Next, have you read Ledger by Jane Hirshfield? If not, I highly recommend it. In fact, I did recommend it, on a recent CBC Edmonton radio program. You can click here to listen. (Alternatively you can watch me recommend another book of poetry on the CBC Ed news at 6. Just scroll to about the 28 minute mark here.

One poem in Ledger by JH begins, “All day wondering / if I’ve become useless.” And this speaks to me right now. Lord I do feel quite useless.

Shawna Lemay, Even an Angel Needs Rest

We buried my father, Marvin Wolfe Barenblat z”l, on Friday. He was eighty-seven years old. He was generous and funny and opinionated. It will be a while before I really understand the spiritual impacts of the fact that that both of my parents are now gone.

There are so many stories. How he grew up in San Antonio with immigrant parents. How he met my mother. Work and travel and parties. (Everyone agrees that my parents knew how to have a good time!) The places he went, the stories he told, the bargains he struck. His gregariousness. His smile.

Mine are small stories, the stories of a youngest daughter. Just as the photos above are photos that are not necessarily representative of the whole: these photos show my parents as newlyweds, then my father and me, then my father and my child. These vignettes are the picture of his life that I can most easily paint. 

Rachel Barenblat, Marvin Wolfe Barenblat z”l

On the road’s verge, geese stand looking unctuous,
vaguely irritable as I pass them
going 50 on the route I’ve taken for decades
and this time I recall two years back, when my dad
was failing, how eagerly I sought any sign
of seasonal change—
early-flowering witch hazel, or crocuses, quince,
swells in daffodils’ green emergence
while inside myself the slow emergency of his dying
began to open from probable to imminent.

Ann E. Michael, Synthesis

My dad sings “Sweet and Low”:
his doctors advised him that singing 
would strengthen his voice. It’s a song from a songbook
already old when he was a boy: we’re drifting backwards,
as old men do.

His voice wanders back and forth across the notes,
hitting some by accident. We used to sing in the car, 
driving home at night from a day on the mountain,
and I’d watch the snowflakes in the headlights:
they’d fall sleepily into view, and speed up
suddenly into white streaks that flickered away:
somewhere in the dark behind us 
they must have settled softly to rest.

Dale Favier, Sweet and Low

Emotional ups and downs these days with family and world. With weather and woe. Spring interrupted by snow. Books and poetry steady me, and sunshine! When I woke up today, it was 9 degrees. How will I walk in the parade? I wondered. In layers! It worked. The sun was shining, and I was toasty warm in boots, several socks, and various green and other layers, under a glittery green hat, handing out sunflower seeds for Ukraine on behalf of a candidate in the local St. Patrick’s Day Parade. In Chicago, they dyed the river green again. Here, we had a small but lively crowd, who knew to stay on the sunny side of the street. Dates and duties, tasks and meetings, appointments and worries–it all crowds my mind. Then I visit my folks, play cards, and we love each other into a state of calm. Each morning, I write a poem. Each evening, I fall asleep on the couch, reading.

Kathleen Kirk, Sharin’ of the Green (and Pink and Blue)

My last AWP was in 2019 in Portland, OR and I loved it. I loved the time spent with writers, fueled by coffee and creativity and late nights talking about writing and poetry. So while this year will look a little different, I’m still hopeful I’ll get that high from being around my people. […]

I need this time with poets and writers and presses. I want to wander the book fair and have authors sign their books – last time I bought 15 books, which I felt was a reasonable amount since I had to fly home and needed to fit them all in my suitcase without it going overweight. This year, I’m driving so I’ll have no such limitations. I wonder how many I’ll buy…

Courtney LeBlanc, AWP 2022

I mentioned on Facebook that my new glasses finally came in, and earlier than expected! The instant I got the text from the optometrist, I took off from work, dashed over to the eye doc’s, collected my new and glorious specs, and came home to pop out my contacts and try them on. The first thing I did was test out an old paperback poetry book that I’ve had on my list to read forever, but haven’t been able to with a 15-year old prescription. Voila! I was actually able to read the print. I wanted to cry. The new specs are so nice that I’ve even overcome my vanity enough to wear them to work a few times a week. Also, unbeknownst to me, it turns out that the frames are Kate Spade, so not only can I see, I’m also fancy. Look out world. I’m watching you—through my new, properly-prescribed lenses. I can see everything.

Kristen McHenry, Lessons from the Squat Rack, Farming Simulation Hell, Glasses Glory

One of my poems has been included in the Hope Rage Sunflowers anthology to raise money for Ukraine. Like many I am shocked and saddened and have been doom scrolling the past two weeks, so it feels good to have a way to help, even in a small way. 

From the editor: Hope Rage Sunflowers, the FFS Fundraiser bookje (PDF) is out now! Please donate directly to https://ukraine-hilfe-berlin.de/spende/ Send a screenshot of your donation to annickyerem@gmail.com or in my DMs with your email & you will receive this beautiful anthology of poems & artwork.

Gerry Stewart, A Way to Help Ukraine: Poetry Anthology

Yesterday morning, I headed over to my church to help at the food pantry.  Along the way, I stopped to get some peanut butter and jelly; the woman who runs the food pantry told me that of all the donations they get, peanut butter and jelly are the items they get the least.

I was amazed at how the food pantry has grown.  We now offer used clothing and other items (some toys, some backpacks, that kind of thing).  A local Girl Scout troop also runs a closet which offers trendier clothing for teenagers.

Our church has 2 fellowship halls, and the food and clothes pantry has taken up most of one of the fellowship halls.  Once, this would not have been possible–we would have needed that space for something else, like Sunday School classes and fellowship/outreach (like a women’s group and a men’s group).

As I bagged food, I thought about the news stories of people driving truck loads of supplies and food into Ukraine.  That is not our ministry.  We have people who come to our food pantry on such a regular basis that the woman who runs the food pantry knows about food allergies. In a way that makes me sad; we all want a food pantry to be a stop-gap measure, a response to an emergency.  In a way, this ministry feels like one of the more vital ones that we do as a small, neighborhood church.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Food Pantry Portents

Their children lived, somehow, through two wars:
the first one an invasion; the second, a war of liberation.
Because they hid in the church, they know that underneath
new tile and blood-red carpet, there used to be a crack
right down the middle of the aisle. When they left
their homes, running from the rain of bombs, one of them
carried a pair of socks but forgot his shoes. Another
couldn’t explain how it came to be that he’d lifted
the rice pot off the stove, still warm and steaming.

There are ghosts inside every bell tower, or walking
the now clean hospital halls. In front of every
flagpole in every square, pigeons peck at shadows
where prisoners were lined up for execution.
Every stone: an old name, a story.

Luisa A. Igloria, War Stories

Whether we like it or not, absolutely everything we write has its origins in our identity. Even when we use a persona, a context that’s far from our own lives, a filter of fireworks or devices, we are always writing out of who we are. That process might be more or less overt, and we might well be reluctant at times to recognise it (even to ourselves) but our identity runs through our poetry as if through rock.

Of course, over the last few years, many poets have emerged who’ve wielded their identity to terrific explicit effect – be that with an aesthetic, emotional, social or political aim. However, I also enjoy poetry that assumes, assimilates and textures its identity, using it more to enrich the genre’s capacity to create a whole new emotional world that casts fresh light on previous ones.

As a consequence, I’m especially drawn to Tamiko Dooley’s new poems on Wild Court (see here). They’re so similar yet so different, so strange yet so familiar. This is very much the effect that I seek in my own poems about life in Spain.

Matthew Stewart, Writing out of who we are

I just finished re-reading* Judy Blume’s Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret in the context of a manuscript I’m working on. In the work-in-progress, the speaker confides in and seeks guidance from an alter ego named Gertie, similar to how Blume’s protagonist Margaret talks directly to God throughout the well known novel. “Luckily for Margaret,” as the synopsis on the back cover says, “she’s got someone to confide in… someone who always listens.”

Like Margaret, the speaker in this new manuscript has a built-in sounding board and companion. Gertie, however, isn’t any kind of god — that’s not my thing. Instead, what I’m trying to do is to bifurcate the speaker’s internal dialogue. Instead of the speaker talking to herself or to God, she’s having conversations and exchanges with an “other” (a persona: Gertie) and exploring what that may offer by way of protection, comfort and confidence.

Speaking of confidence, I’m not 100% convinced I can pull it off, but I’m following where it goes anyway. That includes consulting this terrific throwback, which I originally read when I was in middle school along with a bazillion other preteens.

Carolee Bennett, “luckily for margaret”

The following is the sixth in a series of brief interviews in which one Terrapin poet interviews another Terrapin poet, one whose book was affected by the Pandemic. The purpose of these interviews is to draw some attention to these books which missed out on book launches and in-person readings. Lisa Bellamy talks with Jeff Ewing about what’s it’s like to write in multiple genres, his use of point of view, and his unique writing process. […]

Lisa: In some poems, the narrator views characters from a different perspective, as in “As the Crow Flies,” or from a third-person perspective, as in “On the Death, by Trampling, of a Man in Modoc County.” What does this change-up do artistically for you, as a writer?

Jeff: It’s very freeing to get away from the constant “I.” Seeing the scene from an abstracted point of view—in “As the Crow Flies”—or a third person, really does allow me to put myself at that vantage. To get a wider, more objective view of the action. The default “I” point of view of a lot of poems—mine included—does convey a certain intimacy, but it’s also constricting. Claustrophobic. I get itchy and anxious after a while. It’s clearly the point of view a writer has the most authority over and experience with, but there’s a danger of coming to see it as genuinely authoritative. As a reader, it makes me suspicious and a little resentful. Like most people I get tired of myself, and it’s a relief sometimes to break out of that.

Diane Lockward, Terrapin Books Interview Series: Lisa Bellamy Interviews Jeff Ewing

I like being an old man, but friend,
I have no intention of being a quiet old man.
I am going describe everything,
The sun, the moon, the North Star,
Even boring things like my family, politics,
And the sounds that trains make at night.
My ‘I’ poems will be like death;
Inescapable. I feel another coming on me.
Even as I am just finishing this one.

James Lee Jobe, the inescapable ‘I’ poems

Yesterday, at a NeMLA panel called “Hybrid, Feminist, & Collaborative,” the writer and artist Mary-Kim Arnold talked about “feeling like a hybrid” as a child born in Korea then adopted into a New York family. Explore her whole amazing website if you have time, but here’s one piece that literally stitches image to text in a stunning way. Anna Maria Hong, who organized this panel, read “Siren” and showed a clip from a forthcoming Bennington musical theater production of her hybrid novel H&G, which looks extraordinary. Scheduled to speak third–and read for the very first time from Poetry’s Possible Worlds!–I revised my prefatory marks on the fly, having realized some things. First, I don’t feel like a hybrid. I often feel monstrous, though, like Anna Maria’s “Siren,” particularly in moments of apparently unwomanly anger. And I’m always deeply interested in who gets monsterized and how and why. Second, I’m interested in genres and the spaces between them because I have a powerful drive to understand the rules. This comes partly from watching my immigrant mother studying to be a middle-class American; it’s probably also true that I’m an observer by temperament. Maybe even more importantly, I’m the eldest child of an alcoholic father whose moods were unpredictable, intense, sometimes violent. I needed to figure out what genre I was in every day to navigate the plot twists.

March has already had a lot of ups and downs, but that panel was a peak for me. That’s academic conferencing at its best: you’re rattling around in your own head then a good conversation rings you like a bell.

Lesley Wheeler, Fairy monster godmother gets the chair

We think we create our own personalities, that we have the freedom to create our selves, but this is another lie of capitalism and (often anyway) of white supremacy.  On some level Kerouac himself understood that, though he would never have framed it in those terms.  I’ve been rereading his Book of Dreams (1960), an often-overlooked novel(?) in his oeuvre, and it’s a compelling text, not least for its insight about the functioning of the mind.  Kerouac attacks Freud for his mere interpretation of hidden motivations (“Freudianism is a big stupid mistaken dealing with causes and conditions instead of the mysterious, essential permanent reality of Mind Essence” [Book of Dreams, 2001 edition, p. 282]), and instead (influenced by Buddhism) sees dreams as part of the same mind-matter that constructs the waking world as well as the sleeping world.  I think there’s an obvious component to subconscious dreams that do lend themselves to interpretation of/connection to daily quotidian conscious life, and clearly I subscribe to a certain degree to materialist “causes and conditions,” and I’d suggest that Kerouac’s unfiltered confessions in this book are in fact open to a variety of interpretations.

But again, these dynamics are perhaps merely the surface overlay of personality.  Though most of Book of Dreams is just that (the actual dreams, without attempt to explain or interpret), Kerouac at times does make comment about the nature of existence, consciousness, and art.  He writes,

words, images & dream are fingers of false imagination pointing at the reality of Holy Emptiness—but my words are still many & my images stretch to the holy void like a road that has an end—It’s the ROAD OF THE HOLY VOID this writing this life, this image of regrets—— (pp. 280-81)

We can’t escape these particulars or dynamics; they are the stuff of the world and inevitably of art.  We might perhaps be able to turn off the conscious mind’s investment in them only sometimes, through meditation, say (which Kerouac apparently was not very good at).  We (or I) might wish that Kerouac was sometimes better at negotiating the shit that the world threw his way; the alcohol didn’t help.  But before it all turned bad, and coexisting with the regrets (his or mine or everyone’s), Kerouac throughout much of his poetry (by which I mean also his prose) demonstrated tenderness for all living things, through his poetics lived deeply in the world, and elaborated an innovative style out of which good things came, and which is delightful in itself.

Michael S. Begnal, On Kerouac’s Centennial

And so I stood there, staring at it,
For too long, in an otherwise dull
Museum, wondering if Pound
Ever played the trombone, not
Just this one, any trombone,
In all of his long, weird life.
The guide hovered ever closer
As if suspecting I’d rumbled them.
I tapped the glass to alarm her more
And, seeing her jump, moved on
To a case of prehistoric pots,
Most of which were broken.

Bob Mee, EZRA POUND’S TROMBONE (SOMETIMES YOU JUST HAVE TO HAVE FUN)

If my nerves were sturdier,

if I could let your apocalypse talk
roll off my back,

if my favorite nightcap were plunging off a cliff
and being pulled back,

if I didn’t like to kick off my boots

and the Ultimate Fight weren’t your morning caffeine,

if you didn’t love to troll and tease me,

if I didn’t ask, for the sake of beauty and continuity,
Is there time to slice the cucumber,

we might roll together in bellylaugh when you predict, They’ll
just take out New York.

Jill Pearlman, Armageddon Blues

This is a terrible thing to say out loud, but here it is; judge me as you wish: I’ve found myself in a reading quagmire of not-very-good poetry.

These are collections that have risen in contests to be accorded the winning spot. By not-very-good, I mean, the poems are, for example, boringly obvious, drearily strident, frustatingly short-falling of what they seem to be reaching for, inert, so coded to some inner key that they’re inaccessible. Yes, there are some cunning turns of phrase here and there, some good sound work, some lively choices of images or words, some poems that work, by which I mean, transport me beyond themselves. There may be, and I’m being generous here, a chapbook-length (like 18-20 pages) of decent poems in each of the three full-length (and by that I mean, over 75 pages…) collections I’m referring to here. Maybe.

What am I missing? Is it just down to personal taste? Am I reading too fast, reading too crabby? Is my aesthetic too damned narrow? Do I just not know good poetry when I read it?

It brings me huge distress, because I feel I have to question what I think I know about poetry. And I have to question what I think I know about my own poetry, and how to make it better.

Marilyn McCabe, I’m on the dark side of the moon; or, On the Perils of Reading Poetry

I’m learning it’s quite easy to become the hermit I’ve always been, sleeping and working strange hours.  I am getting a lot done.  Getting the shop ready for the update next week and keeping up with daily freelance projects. Catching up on things like orders and author batches and getting new layouts polished off in the afternoons. Even with a lot of stuff to accomplish in any given day, it is more purposeful and less chaos, which has changed so much about how I feel and done wonders for my general baseline anxiety levels. Even printing is more orderly and systematic and much less tearful than it used to be (this has to do with some outsourcing, but even in the interiors are less stress-inducing when I am not constantly past my deadlines already). I did not expect quite this much of a change, but I should have. 

As for creative work, I’ve stalled out a bit on my collage series, not really liking the results just yet, but need to spend time with the poems they accompany to get unstick. The poems I am happy with, the art, not so much. I did manage to finish up what will hopefully be the final proof on animal, vegetable.. monster, and barring any significant issues, should have it under wraps a couple weeks into April.  Which of course, means I now turn my attention to promo and trailers and such. 

Kristy Bowen, hermit life and abroad

trying on dream clothes
that of course always fit well
and are tailored to perfection
I talked jazz with the assistant

there are worse ways to pass a night
than buying threads
but you wake
unsatisfied with your tactile wardrobe

no matter how hard you try
on successive nights
the tailors shop eludes you
in that vast city inside your head

Paul Tobin, A VAST CITY INSIDE YOUR HEAD

The latest from Cobourg, Ontario poet, writer, editor and publisher Stuart Ross is The Book of Grief and Hamburgers (Toronto ON: ECW Press, 2022), a blend of essay, memoir and prose poem that moves its slow way through and across an accumulation of grief and personal loss, attending the personal in a way far more vulnerable than he has allowed himself prior. As the back cover attests, The Book of Grief and Hamburgers was composed “during the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, shortly after the sudden death of his brother – leaving him the last living member of his family – and anticipating the death of his closest friend after a catastrophic diagnosis, this meditation on mortality is a literary shiva, a moving act of resistance against self-annihilation, and an elegy for those Stuart loved.” The form of lyric homage and recollection certainly isn’t new, although one might think it not as prevalent as it might be, and I can only think of a handful of examples in Canadian writing over the past thirty years, such as George Bowering’s book of prose recollections, The Moustache, Memories of Greg Curnoe (Toronto ON: Coach House Press, 1993), James Hawes’ writing Peter Van Toorn through his new chapbook Under an Overpass, a Fox (Montreal QC: Turret House Press, 2022), Erín Moure writing her late friend Paul through Sitting Shiva on Minto Avenue, by Toots (Vancouver BC: New Star Books, 2017) [see my review of such here], or even Sharon Thesen writing Angela Bowering through her Weeping Willow (Vancouver BC: Nomados, 2005), a chapbook-length sequence that later landed in her full-length The Good Bacteria(Toronto ON: House of Anansi, 2006).

The difference in the examples I’ve cited, of course, is that each of these were composed around a single person, whereas Ross explores the layering and accumulation of grief itself, one that has built up over the years through the deaths of his parents, and a variety of friends, mentors and contemporaries including David W. McFadden, Richard Huttel, John Lavery, Nelson Ball and RM Vaughan. While this particular project was triggered by the sudden and unexpected loss of Ross’ brother Barry in 2020, twenty years after the death of their brother, Owen, and through hearing of the terminal cancer diagnosis of his longtime friend, the Ottawa poet Michael Dennis (one shouldn’t overlook, as well, the simultaneous loss of their beloved dog, Lily), all of these relationships are referenced, explored and layered through an attempt, through the narrative, to come to some kind of, if not conclusion, an acknowledgment of how best to allow for this space, and to move forward.

rob mclennan, Stuart Ross, The Book of Grief and Hamburgers

Outside my window, there’s a murder of crows that would rather you call them a choir.

For a small fee, they’ll sing a song to keep your heart from exploding.

The war of the week channel shows me that those once considered the salt of the earth can sometimes turn into quite the lousy seasoning for your slice of life.

Rather than reaching for another snack, I keep all fingers crossed.

Perhaps good fortune will arrive any moment at the local greyhound station.

Rich Ferguson, On the War of the Week Channel

Not surprisingly, the terrible destruction in Ukraine is on my mind right now, a bloody livestream in my head and heart as I go about my safe, ordinary life here–feeding my cats, doing the laundry, shopping for groceries, going for a walk.  I was at one extraordinary event, a reading via zoom earlier in the week, with Ukrainian poets and their English translators–and 850 people there to watch and listen.  There was, not surprisingly, a lot of weeping, and some of mine was for the gift of being in that group, sharing the grief and the beauty.

With Ukrainian citizens arming themselves and joining the fight, it’s hard to draw a clean line between them and designated soldiers, but I’ve when I read any battle story I’m drawn to the lives of civilians, the impact of war on them.  It only occurred to me today that might be because I am one of those affected civilians.  I was born during World War II, and my father was away in the South Pacific for the first three years of my life–something that shaped my childhood and has left ripples through my adult life.  My family didn’t suffer any of the horrendous effects of having war on their home ground, but they were affected by it nonetheless. Wars touch everyone in some way.  Those of us who write poems have to find our own vantage points, what only we can say about the unfolding events.

Sharon Bryan, Civilian Life in Wartime (via Bethany Reid)

Despite the doom-and-gloom-scrolling I do from my Hong Kong apartment, I’ve found solace recently in writing more light verse in response to the news. Reading, writing, and publishing light verse in response to current events has kept my spirits buoyed — knowing that my words are in the company of other wonderful writers of light verse who are staring into the face of tragedy, loss, suffering, and war and responding with humor and wit offers a strange kind of comfort.

It is easy to watch the news and despair. However, we all do what we can and give the world what we can. At this moment, what I can offer is not something weighty, but something light and witty. Basically, writing in response to the news has both helped me return to the comfort of the writing desk and kept me going.

Scot Slaby, Wagging news doggerel

some of my favourite movie posters
find a healthier balance
make things right
world-leading and deliberate cruelty
my new collection
women cannot send their sons to die
every day is a memorial day
increase the vegetable patch
exclusive member deals

Ama Bolton, Lines from my Twitter feed #2

Each week we talk about how to recognize and respond to the earliest hints of conflict, from the interpersonal to the global. We begin to see myriad creative, collaborative ways to respond. We also begin to recognize some of the things we’ve heard about, witnessed, or done ourselves have actually been examples of nonviolence. At the end of each session, I ask participants to share stories of peace in action. These stories strengthen our bones, build our world anew.

One day a woman describes driving home when she comes across three young teens hunched with menace over a fourth. One holds a length of wood at his side and it appears he’s used it on that boy. She finds herself pulling the car over, standing at her door, yelling leave him alone.

All four look up, incredulous. Why you stop for him? one boy jeers. She comes closer till the cowering boy stands up straight, his face impassive, and walks away.

She says, Does it matter who I stop for? Next time it might be you.

Laura Grace Weldon, Peace In Action

Any two things
are related,
the old monk says,
once you see both.

Tom Montag, TEN OLD MONK POEMS (57)

baffled
along the long groynes
the sea’s roar

Jim Young [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 9

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader.

This week found many poetry bloggers wrestling with some variation on the question What good is poetry in times of war? And several linked to Ilya Kaminsky’s interview with Leah Asmelash on CNN, which I also highly recommend.


This morning, an unseen wind illuminated by an unseen light source manifested as a great bright spume of snow lifting from the peaks across the bay. The mountains lay, as they always do this time of year, like a pale bulwark against a sky that starts indigo and brightens. Wind has smoothed the snow-covered mountains, filling vast folded valleys. The morning was quiet except for the sound of melt water sluicing through the creek below my home.

Almost five thousand miles away, Ukrainian people were (and are) fleeing from an invading force. Lives are being destroyed, uprooted, shorn. This is not invisible. We can watch it happening. And yet where I was, quiet. One thing does not blot out the other. Holding two dissonant thoughts is a challenge. The world can be beautiful and people can do violent, horrible things.

What can we do? We can stay open, we can hold two things. And we can try to help.

One of the things we can hold is that the violence in Ukraine is wrong, but also wrong is the violence in Palestine, the violence that is perpetrated in this country against Indigenous people and all people of color. We can help the people in Ukraine in many ways. We can also help other people who are being systematically harmed. Our hearts can accommodate caring for many people.

Another thing we can also do is breathe. Watch each day’s amazing light show. Go for walks. Plant a garden.

And read the work of many people who are telling of their pain. Open your heart to loving many people so that you cannot look away. Let your heart lead you to support others in whatever way you can.

Erin Coughlin Hollowell, Holding two things

radio talk
what sort of spring is it
where bombs fall

Julie Mellor, what sort of spring is it …

From Warsan Shire’s brand-new book Bless the Daughter Raised by a Voice in Her Head, a stanza from a poem called “Assimilation”:

The refugee’s heart has six chambers.
In the first is your mother’s unpacked suitcase.
In the second, your father cries into his hands.
The third room is an immigration office,
your severed legs in the fourth,
in the fifth a uterus–yours?
The sixth opens with the right papers.

I’m teaching Twenty-First Century Poetry to undergrads right now under the theme “Spacetime,” and we’re reading some Black British poetry next to Jahan Ramazani’s arguments in “A Transnational Poetics” that English Studies too often siloes literature by authors’ nationalities (and by period, as in “Twentieth Century British and Irish Poetry,” which I’m teaching next year). Plenty of people writing in English have deep affiliations with multiple regions and nations; they do hybrid and border-work through their powerful poetry, in conversation with other authors who do NOT write in English. Professors do have to carve the massive sea of writing in English into related chunks to design courses and curricula, but as Ramazani says, we don’t have to imitate immigration and border officials–might there be other ways of grouping books? […]

I didn’t know, when I devised the syllabus long ago, how these poems would resonate within and against Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, but it’s also true that atrocities are always happening. Sometimes U.S. media covers them with insight, inspiring people to feel with and maybe eventually even help the victims–and sometimes it doesn’t, especially when the refugees are brown and black and poor and queer. I’ve been struggling with how to frame my response to that media coverage, because while what is happening to Ukraine’s people is heartbreaking, it’s not a country whose government I can admire. Check out what Amnesty International says, for instance, about Ukraine in the last couple of years: “Allegations of torture and other ill-treatment, particularly in police custody, continued. Security service officials responsible for secret detention and torture in eastern Ukraine from 2014 to 2016 continued to enjoy complete impunity. Attacks by groups advocating discrimination against activists and marginalized minorities continued, often with total impunity. Intimidation and violence against journalists were regularly reported. Domestic violence remained widespread…” (This is true of the U.S., as well: how many of the countries claiming to be democracies really are?) Russia is run by a dangerous lunatic, but there are other, insidious kinds of violence he and others have been perpetrating, without most people calling them emergencies.

Someone said to me yesterday, “I changed my syllabus to teach Ilya Kaminsky today, of course,” and I fell silent. Aside from receiving it as passive-aggressive–ah, academia–I found myself thinking that this was not the only right response to the invasion. I love Ilya Kaminsky’s work. It’s amazing and everyone should read it. But I was glad I was teaching Warsan Shire. And I’m so glad to finally have her first full-length collection in my hands. It looks amazing, too.

Lesley Wheeler, Reading Warsan Shire during a Russian invasion

There are shoes in the streets
of Kharkiv, feet herding

to shelter, children in pink
snow suits handed off

to strangers for safekeeping,
the speech of goodbye tears

breaking the silence
that follows the shelling.

Occupied and occupier

cleave the meaning
of war in Kharkiv,

break it down
into fragments of sound —

one, the whistles of rockets;
one, the louder testimony of loss.

Maureen E. Doallas, War Language (Poem)

It continues to be hard to concentrate.

I’ve been reading little but poetry and the news this past week. We are familiar with the lines by Auden, “poetry makes nothing happen.” But “it survives, / A way of happening, a mouth.”

Have you read the interview with Ilya Kaminsky? I would highly recommend it if not. […]

Poetry can hold nuance so well, it can hold irony, it can hold joy right beside horrifying loss. And isn’t this what our lives look like right now, those of us safe and privileged, witnessing from afar but also maybe dealing with our own private anguishes, illnesses, difficulties (or maybe just relatively minor discomforts)? Today I took a book off my shelf, by Julia Hartwig. (A case for owning poetry). In Praise of the Unfinished is the book, the poem I opened to is “Who Said.” It begins:

Who said that during the massacre of the innocents
flowers weren’t in full bloom
the air breathing intoxicating fragrances
and birds reaching the heights of melodious song
young lovers entwined in the embrace of love

But would it have been right for a chronicler at the time
to describe these and not the street flooded with blood…”

Does our watching the news and scrolling twitter change anything? Does reading poems change anything? Does witnessing in this way change anything? How is it possible that we can have one line of poetry about the massacre of innocents and the next about flowers? But of course we can.

Shawna Lemay, Reading Poetry

In the context of events elsewhere, my thoughts turn to Auden’s statement, made in 1939, that ‘Poetry makes nothing happen’. Leaving aside the potential layers of nuance that we could read into his statement (e.g. whether he’s implying that it shouldn’t have to do so), it’s an important point of departure for any discussion of the relationship of poetry to war.

Like any theme, poets (and by extension, readers) can meet it head-on, in political and moral terms, or they can come at it aslant. Both approaches are valid, of course, but I personally prefer to find emotional refuge in poems that at first glace seem to have nothing to do with war.

At first, in the opening days of the war, I felt guilty and self-indulgent for admitting this to myself, for sharing poems on Twitter that appeared far removed from the context of Ukraine. However, as these poems lent me their support, I realised that reading them wasn’t an act of cowardice, nor was it turning the other cheek.

Instead, by treasuring the human significance and ramifications of simple, everyday acts, we implicitly celebrate love, which is the counterpoint to war. And therein lies one of the key roles that poetry can play in our lives, reminding us of what makes us who we are, of the values that keep us sane and might just lead us out of this mess.

If poetry helps us keep our humanity in the face of evil, its importance is beyond doubt.

Matthew Stewart, On reading and writing poems during the war

I think of the watches in Hiroshima that stopped at 8:15…what
does war do to time? That it is frozen, yet flowing? I look up at

the sky. A black kite circles, a cloud waits, the late-morning sun
slants at deliberate angles. 200 miles to either coast, then open

sea. There is nowhere to go. A second kite enters the frame.
They float together. Orbits only they can see. A student is dead,

far away from home, in a battle he wanted no part of. Still. Yet
moving. The cloud stretches. Straightening. A shroud. A moment.

The news is incessant. Time reaches for it with long arms. Have
you heard a kite cry into the quiet? Like a whistle. Like a siren.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Black Kite

Lent begins today: the Christian season of repentance, reflection, and renunciation. I went to the noontime services at the cathedral, and when the priest came down the aisle with the bowl of ashes, I rose — but only reluctantly — to receive them. It probably would have been more honest to stay in my seat.

After two years of a pandemic that has taken so many to an early grave, and convinced most of us of our mortality if we didn’t accept it before, I felt resistance to this reminder, symbolized by the ashes and the accompanying words “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.” In a time of aggression and horrific war, I do not need a reminder of the human lust for power and too many rulers’ disregard for life. When we are told that we come from the dust of the earth, and will return to it, I already know all too well the intense pressure the earth is under because of human behavior, and what the future is likely to hold because of climate change.

Furthermore, all of these things are related. Like many of you, I’ve been reflecting on the failures of institutions and governments, as well as the behaviors of individuals, for two years now. I’ve felt helpless, and also tried to see where I could be of help, extending myself to others, and feeling immensely grateful for the people who have extended themselves to me. Many of us have tried to do this, and a lot of those efforts have been successful: building and nurturing supportive relationships and groups who have met and sustained each other in creative new ways.

What we do not need right now is guilt, and unfortunately Lent tends to go either in that direction, or toward the superficial, as if giving up chocolate is really going to melt human hardness of heart. Sincere reflection on how we can be more courageous, more loving, more open to each other, and more aware of the interconnection of all living things is always needed and welcome. But as I looked around the sanctuary today, the people I recognized in the pews were people who already do this, and try to live their lives responsibly and lovingly.  These are not people who think vaccines should be withheld from poor countries, or people who don’t recycle and drive massive vehicles, or who support white supremacy, or think that despots who want to overthrow legitimate governments are admirable.

And yet these are precisely the problems we are facing, along with many others. What would make me feel some movement this Lent, instead of turning to individuals and saying “This is on you, admit your faults, repent,” would be to hear our institutions and governments say, “We have been reflecting on how we have failed in our tasks and our mission to you. We have been self-serving, short-sighted and hypocritical, and we want to repent, to reform, to change, to do better.”

Beth Adams, Ash Wednesday, in this Time of Perpetual Lent

Photos of chirpy milkmen
in the Blitz: ciggy in the corner of the mouth,
stripy apron, delivering pints;

photos of the children of Aleppo
and all the other cities under the sun,
the sound of planes high up, the crumpling
of exploding shells a distance off, where people
go about their business among broken stones
in the footings of lost civilisations

and somewhere in a corner
there will be rugs and carpets,
tented blanket walls, and women
who tend small fires, shape flatbreads, patting
soft discs of dough from palm to palm,
and somewhere there is a call to prayer,
and always small boys intent on a football.
In repetition of small things
is our salvation […]

John Foggin, Pressed for time….

A lot of us approach Ash Wednesday as a kind of wake up call, a reminder that we all die in the end, and so we better get on with what we plan to do with our lives.  Because we live in a secular culture that wants us to forget this reality, in many ways the Ash Wednesday message that we’re returning to death is an important one.

But the pandemic has driven that point home in a way that the symbolism and sermons of Ash Wednesday services never quite managed to do.  Almost everyone I know, from all walks of life, is making different life decisions than they would have made three years ago.

The eruption of war in Europe has shifted our attention to the ash part of Ash Wednesday.  We may be thinking of the futility of all that we do, when it will all end in ash and decay.  With nuclear saber rattling happening and mass bombings in Ukraine, do we need to emphasize the “Remember that you are dust” message of Ash Wednesday?

Our church will have a prayer table with candles to light as we pray for Ukraine, and to me, that’s a potent Ash Wednesday symbol too. We are asked to remember that we are dust, but we are not told that our descent to ashes gives us license to forget the tribulations of the world.  Many of us are old enough to have seen that iron curtains can come down, that freedom fighters can emerge from prisons and go on to win national elections. 

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Ash Wednesday in a Time of Plague and War

In July 2011, a terrorist detonated a bomb in central Oslo before travelling to the island of Utøya to commit a mass shooting. That day 77 people lost their lives (8 in the bombing and 69 on the island) and a further 209 were injured. Many of those killed were teenagers. “Utøya Thereafter” is a collaborative project using court documents and other research, with concrete elegies from Harry Man, where each poem takes on the shape of a portrait of the person the poem is about, and “Prosjektil”, Endre Ruset’s poem presented bilingually in its original Norwegian and English translation, plus a conversation between the two poets. The aim was to foreground the victims and survivors. On the island itself the learning centre has 69 columns of wood as a tribute. Not all of the 69 poems are included here so the names are not used. […]

Endre Ruset observes, “Watching the trial and listening to the names of the victims and the places being read through, all in the order in which the victims had died, it was incantatory, like poetry, but the saddest, most profoundly awful and gut-wrenching poetry that I had every heard. It went right through my nervous system and into my body. I had a bodily reaction to it.”

Poetry is a natural response to extremes of emotion. It can carry the heft of trauma in a condensed form and offer a sense of controlling what seems too vast to grab or get a handle on. Harry Man’s portraits and Endre Ruset’s litany of trajectories offer a respect exploration of the resulting grief and trauma from that day for both the lives that were stopped and the ones that continue, bereft or surviving. “Utøya Thereafter” is packed with compassion and tributes that rightly centres the victims over and above the perpetrator. A remarkable achievement.

Emma Lee, “Utøya Thereafter” Harry Man and Endre Ruset (Hercules Editions) – book review

What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?

In some ways, I think public-facing writers have a huge responsibility and if your platform is large enough, you can really enact change in people’s hearts and minds. Reading is a great creator of empathy. But I also love the idea of writing being a personal process. Even if it just changes you from the inside out, I think there’s still a lot of power there. I come back a lot to Ursula K. Le Guin’s Bryn Mawr College speech from 1986, in which she says, “People can’t contradict each other, only words can: words separated from experience for use as weapons, words that make the wound, the split between subject and object, exposing and exploiting the object but disguising and defending the subject.” We can only write from our own personal experience, but that experience can transcend space and time, a great dark gulf, to get to the reader.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Holly Lyn Walrath

Times like these, all your tongue wants to do is coat itself in white-out and go hide out; permanent hibernation in a din of white noise.

Times like these, bad juju in a pretty dress seems a far safer bet than that horoscope you bought at the 99-Cent store and ended up using as a brokeass drink coaster on the coast of unmagical thinking.

Should you say everything feels so heavy, it’s not hyperbole.

These days, the clouds above look more and more like battlefields than a case of the feels.

Rich Ferguson, The Feels

Today is the fifteenth anniversary of the bombing of the booksellers’ street in Baghdad on 5th March 2007. I was not able to be at the reading/badgemaking event on Thursday at Bower Ashton campus, organised by Sarah Bodman and Angie Butler, but thanks to Sarah I was able to Zoom in and sit for an hour on a book trolley. I read the poem below (from”Flowers of Flame: Unheard Voices of Iraq”); the city is Baghdad, but it could be anywhere. The threat of bombardment never goes away entirely. A ceasefire may last 20 years but is not the same as peace. I made a quick collage at home while those present in person made badges on the theme of Reparation and Repair.

Ama Bolton, Remembering Al-Mutanabbi Street

I’ve been reading the work of a Polish poet whose mind ping pongs, Czeslaw Milosz. A witness of multiple 20th century cataclysms, Milosz followed the tortuous turns of his fractured consciousness.  After he arrived in Berkeley, California, he wrote, “Who will honor the city without a name/If so many are dead and other pan gold/Or sell arms in faraway countries?” He was remembering his hometown, Vilnius, then in Lithuania, later a part of Poland in the poem, “City Without a Name.”  

Blink in the poem, then ask where are we now? We’re in Death Valley.  We are lost in wonder.  Also at the zero point for the imagination.  A place of not extinction but a low buzz, imperceptible murmur, desolate, alien.  A place of immersion. As is true with all darknesses, it is alive with potential. 

I thought of the zero point as Orthodox Christians were celebrating “Forgiveness Sunday.”  To be a fly on the wall in the Orthodox churches! Imagine the buzz inside the heads and consciences of Russians and Ukrainians alike. What are Russians murmuring to themselves? I imagine a descent down to a void, wildness, to experience the howl, a cry of anguish. Radical insight, a shock of recognition.  To be a fly that could make a swerve, a turn in action. The small voice longs to be heard. 

Jill Pearlman, The Ping Pong Mind

You’ve also felt sad and as if incapable of wonder, piteous
and needy in your everyday suffering; forgetful of those
small, uncountable deliverances that came just in the nick
of time when you wished for a door, any door, opening with
the clarity of early morning— But what does one do
with so much grief? O countless hands, pressed
against train windows. Overnight, fields turn into plots
for burying. Smoke billows from wreckage of buildings.

Luisa A. Igloria, Poem with Lines from Czeslaw Milosz

As Ilya’s piece shows, poetry can stay important even in a time as fraught as ours. I’m currently reading Dana Levin’s upcoming book from Copper Canyon, Now Do You Know Where You Are, for a review and her work is apocalyptic in its own way and it delves into her move to St. Louis, where my father grew up. Of course, with the title, I immediately staged a photo picturing Sylvia the kitten going on a road trip with the book as reading material. Ah, some of us have different ways of dealing with stress!

In a way, reading her work was able to transport me and made me think about what poetry is and isn’t able to do. I’ve been writing poems about nuclear war, about the Doomsday clock, about being in a pandemic as a disabled person. Are these poems that will help other people? I can’t tell. But I can say they are what I need to write right now.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Finding My Way with Poetry and Trumpeter Swans in a Week of War and Anxiety, A Change in Perspective

Life in hills and farms goes on
more quietly than before,
difficult situations held
as they usually are
like a straw between teeth.

The last things lost
are nonetheless changed:
a bounty of curls
on the pillow of a once-shared bed
turns grey.
Linen closets, kitchen cabinets,
the child’s pale room
have altered, become simpler,
more desperate.

When infrastructures fail—
rails, roads, electricity—
we are merely afraid;
it’s when simple things leave us
we have lost all our wars.

Ann E. Michael, What poetry says

fence dances
in the wind
sun on my hat brim

Jason Crane, haiku: 6 March 2022 (#2)

What has changed since my last blog in January? Well, the world has changed dramatically, hasn’t it, but, here in my small corner of west Wiltshire, the news is less distressing. Since I last wrote here, there have been two in-person Trowbridge Stanza meetings, after a break of two years. Our monthly gatherings, on first Saturdays at Drawing Projects UK in Trowbridge, have started up again. It’s been a treat to catch up with old friends and make some new ones.

In February we viewed and talked about the selected drawings in the 2021 Trinity Buoy Wharf Drawing Prize and, on 5 March, we met to share the beginnings of poems some of us had written in response to the exhibition. We also had the chance to hear artist and novelist Roma Tearne, one of the exhibitors in the prize, talk about her creative process which often begins with an image, a found photograph or drawing, picked up from flea markets and stalls. Roma shared some of her notebooks, spilling over with lines of text, sketches, and pasted in photos – beautiful objects in their own right.

Josephine Corcoran, Towards Spring

Old barrel keys are heavy in the hand. Most have a round or oval bow, though two brassy ones sport criss-cross shapes instead. All have rounded shafts, pin holes of varying diameter, and idiosyncratic teeth. Shaped entirely unlike the keys I can get copied for a buck-fifty at the local hardware store. One is stamped J. MICHALIK PRAHA. Did that key travel with my mother and her parents in 1939? So did the sideboard where I keep china, the one with a cabinet to which I long ago lost the key. I try every key twice, but the Czech cabinet remains locked. Maybe it’s better that way. I know it contains the silver goblet from my wedding, a marriage long ago undone. No one gets to know what else might be inside.

Rachel Barenblat, Keys

This week in teaching my Latinx Literature class and discussing Rhina P. Espaillat’s poem, “Bilingual/Bilingüe,” I found myself musing briefly on how this poem is a microcosm of some of the controversies surrounding Latinx poetry and the different practices in publishing work in both English and Spanish.

Specifically, I have learned and seen over the years within the Latinx community arguments for and against italicizing Spanish words in a text; arguments for and against including definitions and/or translations with a bilingual text; arguments for and against even mixing the two languages. These arguments hold a nuanced weight and the conclusions are different for each writer because they strike at the core of one’s identity and agency.

In terms of identity, there is much to be said about representation, how having un poco de Spanish can make one feel seen, a little less alone among a sea of English. A decision to include or not include Spanish is often one that factors in audience. Who is this work for? Who has access to it?

In terms of agency, being able to represent one’s full authentic self on the page is essential. More importantly, having the power to make that decision is key to feeling respected as a writer. Often the decision to italicize Spanish used in a text is the choice of an editor or publisher; when this happens, a writer feels othered, made to feel different and exoticized. One need only look at the unquestioned, unothered use of Latin and French phrases in texts to see how these feelings naturally arise.

José Angel Araguz, Latinx Poetry: opportunity and some thoughts

We (myself and Steve Nash) are currently reading submissions for issue five of Spelt Magazine, the magazine I founded just over a year ago. Spelt is a print magazine in which we seek to celebrate and validate the rural experience through poetry, creative non fiction, author interviews, columnists and writing prompts. We’ve made it through a whole year, which is a huge milestone, and we are excited about our second year, which will involve further growth, more platforms and, hopefully, some extra funding. Starting and running a magazine, especially a print magazine, is definitely a labour of love. But It is also incredibly rewarding. It’s a thrilling feeling to be part of the writing and publication journeys of other writers, and to provide a platform for people, and to create something that is so very aesthetically pleasing, it is a great source of joy for me, and something that we are very proud of. It seemed crazy to start this magazine during a pandemic, but it really has helped to give purpose and stability in times when there was none. if you are thinking about starting your own lit. mag, here are ten things that really worked to help us reach our goals and stay motivated.

Wendy Pratt, Ten Things That Really Worked to Help me Set Up a Literary Magazine

I see that more and more magazines are in trouble: closed for a year or more while they deal with piles of submissions, getting more and more aggressive in an effort to discourage wrongdoing (‘any work sent outside of the reading window WILL BE DELETED WITHOUT BEING READ’). On more than one occasion I’ve approached editors of magazines I admire, but that are clearly struggling to cope with submissions, and offered to help them put in place some really simple, cheap/free systems that would benefit both them and those submitting. Or even offered to be a reader, to help reduce the slush pile, or just help with the dreadful feeling of overwhelm. I have never had a reply, not even ‘thanks but no thanks.’ I’m no expert at running a magazine. But I know about marketing, systems, time management, delegating and customer service.

I understand that running a poetry magazine is often one person’s dream, and they want to do it their way. But if the ship is sinking, why not take an offer of help, however modest? More importantly, why not approach (or even just observe) how other journals do it? Not everything is down to funding. Some of the smallest publications have methods worth emulating.

It looks like this is turning into a rant aimed at magazine editors. I don’t mean it to be – some of the nicest people I know edit poetry magazines! And I wouldn’t get so exercised about it if I didn’t care. But I’m asking the question generally. There are many magazines doing a brilliant job; I just don’t understand why there aren’t more.

Robin Houghton, A little tough love for poetry magazines

As presses close and lit journals shutter, especially post pandemic when everyone has been struggling,  there is much talk on the internets about what happens to our work when the things that used to seem inviolate–publishing houses, presses, lit mags–are in flux all the time. I’ve had two presses fold on me, one after publishing one book and accepting a second (girl show, which later found a great home at BLP ) and another (little apocalypse) that made it to the final proof stage and the press, which had published another project, had to close.  (that one I do eventually intend to put into print, but right now, it’s just a freebie read on my website.) My young poet self would have been frustrated with all the uncertainty of this world we call publishing, but now I just figure the work is also fleeting and shifting. There’s a certain amount of responsibility I feel l should take in making my work available if other avenues fail or end. 

There are, of course, poems in the fever almanac I cringe to read, mostly ones that seemed ever so brilliant at age 30 that seem kind of unspectacular now.  But then again, sometimes I cringe when things are published and later soften toward the work.  I remember hearing poets talking about how your work of any given period is simply an example of what you were working on during a give span of time. If it’s not perfect, and you’ve thrown it out in the world, it’s still important in your development and scope of artist.  Even if you hate it sometimes.

Kristy Bowen, her daughters become diction

This is quickly becoming one of my favourite techniques: running a poem multiple times through Google Translate in a variety of languages — sometimes chosen by their first letter, their region, jumping around to unrelated languages, or randomly. What comes out is often very interesting. I then sculpt the results, tinkering with phrasing and images, but usually there are several surprising and arresting images that have turned up and my job is to highlight them, or get the less interesting stuff out of the way. Sometimes I do a little associational thinking,such as changing the line to a line that has some of the same sounds through a kind of homophonic translation, or else changing images so that they rhyme with each other. In the poem below, there were some lines about olive oil and some word beginning with M. I cut out the olive oil line and changed the M word to “Merlot.”

I find this technique very generative. It jumps me into a place where I am exploring and playing and also, feeling this kind of creative looseness. This enables some interesting and surprising form and content but also opens me up to putting in things that are hanging around in my mind or in the zeitgeist. I guess because my role is to “find” the poem in the text that I’ve generated, I’m open to what that might be—what it might refer to and what it might look like. Also, I’m piggybacking on the backs of giants, or at least their word choices and their forms and structure. I’m not tied to either but all of a sudden I’m in conversation with them. And my sense of the original, the sense of the writer, the sense of moment all get folded into it. I find this a very fruitful place to be.

Gary Barwin, After Hopkins

When I was eleven years old, a friend of my parents gave me Diane Wakoski’s 1968 poetry collection, Inside the Blood Factory. Needless to say, the poems were far over my head, but some of the lines stood out to me, even at that young age—from “House of the Heart:” “The sun is being born / with shaky legs, slender as new beans” and from “Rescue Poem,” “You have an invisible telephone / booth around you.”

When I was older, I read the book again, and some of Wakoski’s other work. I was struck by the tone of the speaker in the poems—that of a slightly baffled outsider, trying to negotiate a generally hostile world with opaque laws (I admit, this is how I feel much of the time). Wakoski writes in uneven lines—some short, some long, wrapping across the page, some indented. Her phrasing is unmistakable, original, and still seemed fresh as I read the poems again after all those years.

I would not recommend reading Wakoski to anyone under the age of thirty. Her poems are rich in lived experience, deeply personal, and long—many span pages and require dedicated concentration. It’s difficult to write a poem that keeps the reader’s interest over more than one or two pages, but that’s one of Wakoski’s skills. Her poems weave a powerful spell, and, in spite of their length, seem to end quickly.

Erica Goss, Diane Wakoski: An Appreciation

Robin Rosen Chang: I loved The Feast Delayed, Diane. Congratulations on this gorgeous book. While reading it, I noticed what I consider a tension between the act of living and the act of grieving. On one hand, poems such as “The End of Grief” or “Last Day of September” offer the idea of hope and moving beyond grief, whereas in “Orientation,” the speaker, who is married to an astronomer, reflects about living “in a state of constant orientation.” Is acceptance of where one is oriented at a particular moment, even if it’s somewhere painful, a central concern in The Feast Delayed? Of course, this also relates to the notion of “the feast delayed.”

Diane LeBlanc: I’d love to turn that question back to you because your collection, The Curator’s Notes, particularly the title poem, reflects on the dynamic tension between living with wonder and grieving. Reflection ideally examines the past, analyzes experience, and imagines how we respond to new experiences based on the past. The tension in “Orientation” is between hyper-awareness of where I am and the confusion caused by lack of orientation, or living in rooms painted the same shade of white that blur into one another. So in a way, yes, acceptance of where one is oriented is a central concern. I wrote many of these poems between 2015 and 2020, when the U.S. political landscape shifted, science deniers influenced public policy, and I no longer understood who I was in the changing narrative of America.

Throughout the book, I explore responsibility and my place in a web of being, hoping to measure how my choices move or disrupt other strands of the web. Perhaps the feast is delayed, but the poems find agency in doing things to salvage and to disrupt.

Diane Lockward, Terrapin Books Interview Series: Robin Rosen-Chang Interviews Diane LeBlanc

I remember my publisher referring to books as “ferske varer” – produce that goes quickly out of date. And I get that – in our market-driven system – that is a fact. But I figure there has to be another way of approaching art. A way to avoid being swept up in the attention economy, the consumerist throw-away society.

I don’t think I am advocating preciousness. Just attention.

This is my problem. I’m not making blanket statements about the state of the arts.

I know there are artists who strive to make that one beautiful thing. And there are artists who are driven by other (legitimate) impulses. I think that I have spent years waiting for inspiration, in the sense that I have been expecting that the outside world would cause a worthy reaction: “The artist responds to their culture”, “Art needs to be relevant”. Relevant to who or to what? My culture – our culture changes so quickly. Maybe change itself is the only thing one can honestly respond to.

I need to slow down. Step away from social media’s armchair generals, and the what-I-ate-for-dinner photos. I need to turn off the podcasts I’ve been listening to for hours a day. I need quiet.

Ren Powell, On Not Being a Reactive Artist

I was going to write something about how Flo had finally picked a poetry book up off my bookshelves. It was the collected work of Dannie Abse. However, it turns out she wanted something to help her with a sore back while she stretched out on the floor. Still, he was a doctor, so there’s that.

I was going write something about how it’s possible to construct a fairly helpful poetry writing/performance tutorial from the lyrics of American Music Club’s song, Johnny Mathis’ Feet. (check the song out. Mark Eitzel is an amazing songwriter).

But I didn’t, and now I probably never will.

So much has happened in the last few weeks, the world is all at once a different place to the one we inhabited a month ago. It’s also entirely the same (and that is both good and bad). There’s nothing I can add to the news coming out of the Ukraine (other than solidarity with the people of Ukraine and condemnation of President Putin for his actions) without it sounding like sub-GCSE-level politics, so I’ll spare you that.

I will point you to the work of Charlotte Shevchenko Knight. She is a British-Ukranian poet. I was lucky enough to read on the same bill as her at a Resonance poetry evening, and really enjoyed her work. I will also point you at the evening of Poetry for Ukraine fundraiser she is part of next week. Go, sign up. Donate.

Mat Riches, Clearing The Decks

It’s quite possible that kindness is the answer to everything. Human beings, driven like nails into moldy, rotten wood, into boards that exist for no reason at all. The old, cataloged and hidden away, where the not-so-old don’t have to see what it is that they will themselves slowly become if they can only avoid death for long enough. The young are taught lies and half-truths in order to ensure conformity and compliance. The talking snake, the virgin birth, the resurrection. The white Jesus. The white heroes. Loaded weapons, lying in piles in the streets for anyone to use. Death, at a wholesale price, a bargain rate, or even free. Life, lived at half-mast. Not emotion, but token emotion. Not strength, but anger. Rage. Turn out the lights, it will be better for us to sit in the dark, it will be better if only we can reach out without needing to see, if only we might clasp our hands in the darkness. 

James Lee Jobe, the answer to everything

this morning
the sun is early again
fat buds

Jim Young [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 31

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week: wildfires and harvest metaphors, Covid worries, learning to swim, reading books for the Sealey challenge, and much more.


Mountains of fire, the forest
Is a fantastic red blaze.
Lightning in the summer sky,
The earth is as dry as old bones.
And we burn, each of us is an ember.
This is the hour to hold on to hope,
The hour to keep faith and have courage.
May we not fail, and if we do fail
Let it be brazen. Let it be fierce.
Let the final light of being
Illuminate the entire earth.

James Lee Jobe, each of us is an ember

When I began this pastel a month ago, I was thinking with longing about the silvery olive trees in Greece, billowing in the wind off the sea and the mountain tops. That was before the wildfires began that are now raging across the mainland and the Peloponnese, bringing enormous destruction, suffering and loss. Today I look at this picture with different eyes, and have been thinking of the legend of Prometheus, the Titan who stole fire from the Olympian gods and gave it to humans — for that deed he was glorified by humans, but punished by Zeus, who chained him to a rock where an eagle continually preyed upon his liver, until Hercules freed him many centuries later. But it has taken three millennia for us to begin to understand the deeper meaning behind that myth, and why the gods might not have wanted man to have fire, and to start to recognize the results and the price of our selfish neglect of the earth and all its gifts.

This particular olive tree grows at the top of a hill in Epidaurus, site of perhaps the most perfect ancient Greek theater, and of the shrine of Asclepias: a sacred place of pilgrimage and healing for the ancient Greeks. I had climbed up all the steps of the theater to the very top, and then looked out over the back in the opposite direction, where there was a farmer’s road and a grove of olive trees, whose leaves made rustling music in the wind.

In the pastel, I tried to capture that sense of restless, continual movement against the stony ochre-tinged earth and the tall mountains in the distance: the time I spent contemplating that scene remains a memory just as vivid as that of the theater and the surrounding shrine.

Beth Adams, Olive Trees at Epidaurus

Since my last post here, my main creative accomplishment has been to keep the door open to both writing and visual art just for the pleasure… no expectation to make reading notes and no expectation to write anything more than notes or jot down bits of inspiration. I quietly kept my toe in the writing waters by finishing up a micro class with Sarah Freligh and Zoom workshops with both the Madwomen and members of my local poetry community.

I also let expectations go for my social life, for wellness pursuits, for schedules, for work, for play, etc. I am terrible at going with the flow, but I did surrender to it.

I realize now that this was a delayed response to the Collective Big Pause (i.e. global pandemic and associated social distancing/lock downs). I don’t do well with transitions, and I loathe uncertainty. I prefer clear paths over liminal space. I appreciate deadlines and established time frames. While so many of you leaned into the stillness of the pandemic, I didn’t know what to do with myself.

I don’t mean the solitude got to me: Solitude is a good friend of mine. I mean that while many were able to soothe themselves with familiar pleasures (like favorite hobbies) or even seek new pleasures (like fresh projects or development of long-desired skills), I pretty much froze. I understood that I could be (maybe even should be) using the time differently, but instead I just sat in it. I worked online during the day, and at night and on weekends, I got numb. I checked out.

The last few months, early spring at first, now deep into summer, have been about easing my way back into feeling. I’m not all the way there yet, but starting with pleasure seemed wise. Savoring morning coffee. Working my muscles hard. Putting my ear to the creative ground and capturing bits of language. Shooting the shit with my boys whenever the opportunity presents itself and for as long. Absorbing sun. Reading books cover-to-cover. Painting my nails. Eating and drinking what I want.

Carolee Bennett, the annoying chewing sounds my brain makes

brown water grey headland
litter of shattered shale
wave lines slant to the shore

junction 23 roundabout
a mass of moon daisies
horses up to their knees in buttercups

I have the right
to be absolutely
wrong

Ama Bolton, Desire Lines

I grew up in small towns. On top of that, I lived in the country, not in town. I think living in relative isolation was good preparation for living in a pandemic. Honestly, I’m only now starting to miss in-person socializing. A little. One good thing about isolation of this kind is that you have almost complete control over your life and how you want to spend your time because you don’t have a lot of outside choices. There have been minimal demands from “out there” and I’ve spent almost every day doing exactly what I wanted. Kind of like it was before I started grade school. I was an expert at entertaining myself. I had books, I had nature, I had animals. I was never bored. During the past year and a half I have rarely been bored. I feel sad for people who need more stimulation. I’m sure it’s been much harder on them.

Charlotte Hamrick, Favorite Fiction: 2nd Quarter 2021

I have to admit, my three days a week in the library (courtesy of all those extra vacation days I’d been hoarding the past couple years) have made this summer seem a bit lengthier than they usually are. While most pass in a stack of weeks that are indistinguishable from the next. Now there’s some space between the work weeks–days I can devote to other kinds of work–mostly writing and the press, but sometimes a little painting thrown in. They make the days I go downtown feel like a singular week and not just one bleeding into the next. But even still. we are already knee deep in August it seems. Already creeping closer to the beginning of the semester while side-eyeing the news headlines. Columbia seems to acting from a place of hope I’m not sure they will get to just yet. The edict a few weeks back about going maskless on campus was snatched away even before most of us actually took ours off for any period of time. There are plans for in-person outdoor convocation and 75 percent reduced instruction, but I still feel like they are being way too optimistic given that even in well-vaxxed Chicago, our positive rate is somehow, impossibly creeping up nevertheless and the rest of the state is a giant, under-vaccinated mess. I fear for the folks I know in Florida and have a governor intent on killing everyone it seems. Even places under good leadership are failing.

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 8/7/2021

I don’t want to reckon with my choices:
feels like that’s all we’ve done for 18 months
(should I mask, is this safe, what if
we meet outside and never breathe together?)
I don’t want to query who will live
and who will die, who by wildfire and who
by flooded subway, who intubated and alone
and who will have enough while others lack.
I just want all of us to thrive: our hearts
at ease, our hopes in reach at last.
Come close to me, God. Comfort me with apples.
Remind me the world is born again each year —
even if I’m not ready, even if this year
I’m not sure I know the words to pray.

Rachel Barenblat, Sonnet for our second COVID Rosh Hashanah

I’ve staged this harvest, taking only enough spuds at a time for the next meal in order to achieve that tub-to-table-in-20-minutes freshness which has been the whole point, or at least a good part of the point. I’ve served them with mint from the window box, and roasted them with rosemary which grows next to the mint. With the next and final serving, I plan to smother then in buttery sage – the window box sage is flourishing, having been dug up and sent to me by Morar by Royal Mail last autumn. She’d read I didn’t have any to go with my parsley, rosemary, and thyme (I Bottle Abundance). 

The rest of the point of the harvest has been to do with the pleasure of engaging in the physical world, the necessity of it. The joy of it is the reminder that growth often takes place out of sight … but oh … this is beginning to sound like it’s heading in the direction of a sermon …

You’re right, dear reader: I’m going to use my potato harvest as a metaphor for creativity. You see, all the while these Charlottes were growing underground, I’ve been working on poems hidden in a file on my computer since 2019, now published by Fair Acre Press. I’d originally hoped their coming to light would coincide with Beethoven’s 250th birthday in December 2020. This late harvest has also come in stages: a Zoom launch, a reading at the Poetry Pharmacy, and then a performance in mid-Devon on a summer’s evening of extraordinary heat and calm. 

Carol Caffrey and I had hatched the idea of a joint event back in the spring when our host, Richard Higgins, was looking for productions for a short season of open air events. It had seemed, then, so theoretical, so impossible: the chances were that it would never happen.

And then, it did. 

Our journey down the M5 and through the high-hedged lanes was long. When we saw our names in huge letters on arrival at Brushford Barton, it was as if we had dug our hands into the soil, and, unbelieving until the moment of contact, found potatoes … 

Liz Lefroy, I Harvest My Crops

grain theory

there is something i need more than facts. i need a good theory. or better put i need a theory about good. consulting scientists seems useless. they want the former while i seek the later. what makes something anything or us good. i am listening to kenny garrett play his sax with miles davis. I believe that will be the starting point of my search for the theory of good. when miles plays a song you dont listen to the song you just listen to miles. the song will appear at some point but you just stay lost in miles and it will come when it feels like it. 

someday. maybe tomorrow. i will come to you all and report my findings in the middle of a five hundred acre field of rye…

the loose sounds
of jazz
composing a melody
out of a ‘riff’

Michael Rehling, Haibun 213

I like distinctions, categories, naming things. But then if I think too much about them, categories, they fall apart. I’ve been thinking again about this idea of “narrative” poetry and “lyric” poetry. Many intelligent things have been said about those categories, I’m sure, none of which I can remember at the moment. 

But I’ve been thinking too about time, as I often do, and time seems to be the primary distinction between the narrative and the lyric poem. A narrative unfolds over time; a lyric is of a moment. Is that true? 

I was asking a friend recently about a poem of hers that unfolds over a short period of time but is focused on the feeling of a moment. She describes what she’s been up to in her work recently as “trying to use fragments of narrative as part of an attempt to creat a non-narrative experience.” 

Is a narrative poem just a long way toward a lyric moment? I don’t know. Maybe. Isn’t the whole point of telling a story to give that moment of impact? When all the notes of the song come together in a resonant chord? 

But that idea of music is the purview of the lyric, isn’t it? The etymology of narrate is gnarus, meaning knowing. Not much is known about the origin of the word lyre, or Greek lyra or lura, that stringed instrument of long ago, but made its way to the French lyrique or short poem expression emotion suited for singing to the lyre. Or something like that. 

Marilyn McCabe, It’s time time time that you love; or, On Narrative, Lyric, and the Restless Eye

I’ve been in a funk this summer, and feeling, frankly, as though all this writing is pointless. Aren’t there already enough books in the world? Despite good friends, despite a class in which I was assigned to write one metaphor per day. (Which can also be similes, “This weird funk, purple like Puget Sound at dusk,” or brilliant word substitutions: “A blue funk washed over me.”) Despite walks. Despite baking many loaves of sourdough bread.

But it is August, and that means POPO, or POetry POstcard Fest. I don’t always sign up for August, as I participate in my friend Carla’s February postcards event each year. But this year, August postcards feels like a good idea. Somewhere I have a quote written down, about letting go of expectations and big-picture goals and doing just the one next right thing. The metaphors can be that next right thing; the postcards can be that next right thing.

Bethany Reid, Writing a Postcard

My grandfather cutting cantaloupe on a summer morning as he readies for work, the light shining through the sink window’s short curtains. He sprinkles his melon, soft and vivid as the Hermistons I offer to my son like jewels, with salt. Paul Harvey’s voice is tinny through the radio, and my grandmother is still sleeping in their bed upstairs. I like not needing to say anything, having him all to myself, being cared for only by him, who makes me a piece of toast in the toaster that now sits on a shelf in my mother’s kitchen. He dies of a heart attack at 63. The night he dies, I sleep in that bed with my grandma, in his spot. 

I sit at my kitchen table and read a piece my friend Sharon is writing about grandmothers and canning and writing. About preservation and sustenance. She writes that she cans with words, not food. Then I read my friend Bethany’s piece about doubting the purpose of writing, she who writes multiple books through decades of mothering and teaching. I consider my history, the jars of applesauce my great-grandmother sent to our suburban house every fall that she made from apples grown on the farm, and how three generations later I am only just now, well into a sixth decade of living, beginning to learn how to grow food. I consider the tomatoes ripening in a bowl on the table, the literal fruits of my labor. I consider the one book of poems I cultivated, now nearly 20 years ago, and I wonder if the writer in me is a pale hosta. Maybe she is. Or maybe she is a rat, scratching at survival through blog posts and Instasnippets. Maybe she is an invasive, drought-resistant perennial with deep, woody roots. Maybe she is none of those things and all of those things. Maybe she is everything in the garden–the hostas and rinds and rats and tomatoes and trumpets and weeds and bees, being fed by whatever they can find there, wherever they can find it. It’s a conceit that brings comfort, here on the edge of the cusp of autumn, these brief weeks of both harvesting and fading. 

Rita Ott Ramstad, On the edge of the cusp

clutching the letter —
her dad lifts her up
to the mail slot

Bill Waters, Haiku about family and friends

–As I looked at all the glassware, I thought of our younger selves, the ones who wanted to have a glass for every possible type of drink.  Have we ever made margaritas or martinis?  No, but if we do, we have the glass for it.

–I gave away the one, lonely wine glass, the first one I ever bought, at a store near the B.Dalton’s in a mall long ago.  I bought it the summer after I graduated from undergraduate school.  I imagined that a grown woman needed a wine glass.

–Why did I think a grown woman only needed one wine glass?  And why is it so small?

–How did we end up with so many pillowcases?  Where are the sheets that once went with these pillowcases?  Do the pillowcases miss the sheets that have gone on to other destinies?

When I got to the Good Will drop off station yesterday, I was surprised to see a line of cars.  I patiently waited my turn, watching the people pop out and haul their stuff to the pile:  a pair of shoes, a child’s scooter, bag after bag of stuff.  And then I added my two bags of stuff and my carton of glassware.  I pondered the basic question:  what will become of all this stuff?  Will it go round and round and round again?

There are larger questions, of course.  Do others really need my cast-aways?  How does the earth bear this burden?

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Wisdom from the Good Will Drop Off

Before becoming self-conscious of all the things I’m doing wrong, I didn’t used to think about swimming when swimming, but I did sometimes think about poems. Some poets like to go walking. Personally I rarely get inspired when I’m out and about. And I have to say I don’t really write anything in my head while swimming, but being in the water is fraught with metaphorical energy, as are (for me and many others I suspect) swimming pools generally. I’ve had a ‘lido’ poem on the go for at least a decade, I think it’s currently out somewhere but I won’t be surprised if it comes back rejected again. Unlike ‘Lido’ by Alison McVety from her fine collection Lighthouses (Smith Doorstop) that sticks in my mind, the swimmer ‘left to plough on’ in the rain, ‘ten years gone and I’m still turning and swimming, turning and swimming’.

I’m now trying to remember various ‘not waving but drowning’ type poems, particularly one by a (currently living) poet whose brother downed… perhaps you can help me out? I think I read it in a magazine some time in the last ten years. I just did a search for ‘poem about a brother who drowned’ and it threw up an extraordinary list of results, all of the ’25+ Heartening Poems for a Deceased Brother’s Funeral’ variety. Funerals are probably the only time 99% of the population ever wants to encounter a poem, to be fair. Anyway, if I ever get to do a flip turn I’ll let you know.

Robin Houghton, Not drowning but waving

I’ll preface this by saying that I’ve been on holiday for this past week which is extremely useful in refusing to be worn out. And when I say holiday, I mean that I’ve not been at my day job but have instead been working on the proofs for my book, Everything Affects Everyone, and sorting out various parts of my life and planning just a little into the future. We also went to Banff, and I visited this little tree growing in a stone fence, and which I’ve taken photos of for years. Still, this little tree refuses to give up its hold and boy do I admire and love this little tree for just rooting in and keeping the faith. I have communed with this little sapling for years via my camera lens, which I guess means that it’s not really a sapling, is it? Returning, I never really expect it to be there. Afterwards, I don’t think much about it. We go home, life resumes. But every year when we return to Banff, I mosey by and when it’s there it’s such a pleasant surprise.

Shawna Lemay, On Refusing to Be Worn Out

walking sideways
in bosherton’s lily ponds
freshwater crabs

swansea’s mirage
drinking with the dead poets
in the kardohma

dreams of empire
all the red in the atlas
fading away

laugharne
around every corner
dylan

blue pool
half the depth
of my trepidation

Jim Young [no title]

‘What’s wrong with me?’ you used to ask as you watched
the man you knew you were slipping from your grasp.
Oh Daddy, why can’t I just remember the good times?

Bingo, helping you with your Spanish homework, the time
we went to Laugharne together to Dylan’s boathouse,
how you used to say to me, ‘You’re just like your mother.’

But still, after all these months, when the curtain first
goes up on my memory it is the latter darkness
that steps towards the footlights. I have to believe

this will pass, that grief will loosen its shroud
and the stage will flood with light and I will be
filled with joy, with the grace of your well-lived life.

Lynne Rees, Poem ~ Stage

He recants forms, the shape and texture of her throat once
translucent as a lotus stem, an old woman’s pouch now. When
she lifts her feet to cross the threshold, he turns away to burrow
in the pastel core of silence, looking intently at the emptiness
as the air decants with the freedom of uncoupling.

Uma Gowrishankar, Uncoupling

I’m starting to worry about having a job. I don’t mean whether I can find one. I mean whether it was a good idea to find the one I’ve got. I work just three days a week and that seems like not that much until I think THREE OUT OF SEVEN DAYS THAT’S ALMOST HALF and then I start questioning everything. Without the job I make about $250 a month doing my little things I do. Sending people weird emails and making the occasional podcast. I used to make twice that but I gave one of my shows to someone else because if there’s one thing I’ve always been good at it’s financial planning. I mostly don’t watch other van life videos or Instagram accounts anymore but the other day I caught up on one of my favorites and he’s out there climbing mountains and paddling across lakes and I have, like, five polo shirts so I can wear them to work and I wonder if I’ve slid back too far. Right now I’m listening to the rain on the roof of the van and thinking about the loon calls I heard earlier and remembering the smell of the high desert and that time I drove as far as you can drive until you have to start paddling toward Havana and maybe I should go to bed and think about all this tomorrow.

Jason Crane, Havana

What turned out to be four lines of the poem appeared as I was driving along the M4 in rain like stair rods. I found myself repeating them over and over in my head to avoid forgetting them, building on what was one line, then two before getting to the fourth one. I was just debating whether to ask Rachael to write them down for me or to ask Siri to take a note (that would have felt weird, talking gibberish into my wrist while R and F were listening), but thankfully a services popped up, so I could type it up to come back to.

It’s a start. Who knows what will come of it.

Mat Riches, Vona Groarke’s Trumpet

I’m really delighted that my video accidentals (recalculated) has been selected for the International Review of Poetry, Videopoetry and Video-Art for the special on-line 10th edition of Bologna in Lettere, screening on 4th August 2021, curated by Enzo Campi.

This video started out life as a more-or-less standard poem. But then I realised that I could replace many of the verbs, prepositions, conjunctions and other linguistic elements with mathematical operators or symbols used in algebra, statistic,computing and engineering. The implementation of these operators and symbols in the piece is all internally consistent, so that a given symbol always means the same thing. Video was the ideal way to integrate the new text with the original poem via the voice-over. Most of the images were filmed in and around my home in South Australia.

Ian Gibbins, accidentals (recalculated) at Bologna in Lettere 10th edition

I’m writing from a blessed weekend of rain after a 51-day drought here in the Seattle area. I took a long walk under the cloud cover and my garden is much happier. […]

So, the month of August is often a good month to get in a dose (or 30) of poetry with The Sealey Challenge, with the goal of reading a book of poetry a day and posting about it. So far, I didn’t quite make it to that (lots going on, read above) but I did read two new books and revisited a few old favorites, plus ordered a few signed copies of new books from friends. I also plan a visit to Open Books in Seattle when I can get the time.

I notice all the reading inspired me to write a few new poems – something I rarely do in August unless pressed – and helped me stay calm during a time of great stress. Also, Sylvia really enjoys getting in on the Sealey Challenge by playing model cat.

I encourage you all to do a little poetry shopping and/or revisiting old favorites on your shelf if you get the time, and posting about it. The conversation about poetry couldn’t happen at a better time – we all need a positive distraction from the endless stress of the past year and a half.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A Week of Too Much Drama, Sealey Challenges, Possible Good News, and Virtual Breadloaf Starting Tomorrow

Summer is almost over here in Finland, after months of high temps and no rain, thunderstorms hit last night and it’s been raining all day. Schools start back in a week, so we’re on the wind-down. 

I’m torn about going back, I will miss the lazy days, but I would really like to talk to adults again. My stress insomnia has already started up, but hopefully that will pass once I go back for our orientation. 

I’ve decided to try the Sealey Challenge this month, to read a poetry collection a day for the month of August. I have to admit I’m not good at keeping up with my poetry reading. I buy collections and dip into them, but often struggle to sit down and read the whole book at once. 

I’m not sure if I’ll get through a whole collection in one day and will sometimes feel I’m not doing justice to the poet. I read fiction quickly, too quickly to appreciate play of language and technique unless I force myself to really slow down like I’m doing with my current reread of Sunset Song by Lewis Grassic Gibbon which is a beautifully poetic novel and needs a slow read. 

I will treat this challenge as the introduction to the poems I’m reading, a first splash about and then I can spend some time fully exploring my favourites later.

Gerry Stewart, Sealey Challenge: Day 1

The river runs through this book [Postcolonial Love Poem by Natalie Diaz]. “The First Water is the Body” begins, “The Colorado River is the most endangered river in the United States–also, it is a part of my body.” Later, the “I” becomes a “we.” “We carry the river, its body of water, in our body.” In the poem called “exhibits from The American Water Museum,” water is like language: “I am fluent in water. Water is fluent in my body– / it spoke my body into existence.”

Love poems wind in and out. Animals. Snake, wolf, crane, coyote, bull, tiger, horse, yellow jacket, all the animals on the ark. More basketball. In “The Mustangs,” her brother is a high school basketball star; the team is beloved by the whole community. “We ran up and down the length of our lives, all of us, lit by the lights of the gym, toward freedom–we Mustangs. On those nights, we were forgiven for all we would ever do wrong.”

It was a beautiful day to read this book outside. I love August, its pure summer feel, its poignant, back-to-school-soon, summer’s-almost-over-feel—but it isn’t! Summer goes on and on, long past school. And now August is the Sealey Challenge for me, a poetry book a day, a lushness of reading in the green afternoon, the coneflowers blooming, phlox, round two of golden lilies, the oregano flower-headed and leaning out into the lawn. I love how I can read these poems to learn, to experience beauty and desire in someone else’s language, culture, voice. I’m reading for joy!–though, yes, I encounter grief–and for knowledge. I learn that “Manhattan is a Lenape Word.” I learn the “Top Ten Reasons Why Indians Are Good at Basketball.”

And what a thrill to find Kearney, Nebraska in a poem, a town I lived in as a child, and the sandhill cranes. In a heartbreaking brother poem with a dismantled Polaroid camera. What a book! And what is a sky hook? Ah, now I know!

Kathleen Kirk, Postcolonial Love Poem

Delayed due to lockdowns and pandemic but finally available is Jordan Abel’s incredibly powerful NISHGA (Toronto ON: McClelland and Stewart, 2021). His first book since his third poetry title, the Griffin Poetry Prize-winningInjun (Vancouver BC: Talonbooks, 2016) [see my review of such here], the critical memoir that is NISHGA utilizes archival scraps, talks, interviews, visual poems and other forms into a book-length collage that speaks of and to generational trauma and the residential school system, and the ways in which he has used his work to engage larger conversations about aboriginal culture and colonialism, and an exploration on his own identity and indigeneity. As he writes early on in the collection under the title “Notes”: “I remember talking with a colleague of a colleague at a book launch in Vancouver. She came up to me after my reading and wanted to talk. At some point, she asked me if I spoke Nisga’a. I said no and she asked why. But it wasn’t just the question why. There was something else there too. She didn’t say it, but she wanted to know how I could have been so irresponsible. How I could have been Nisga’a my whole life but never bothered to learn the language. As if I had access. As if I could just flip a switch and know. as if I hadn’t wanted to. As if I hadn’t felt that hole inside me. As if filling it was that easy.”

He writes of generational violence that rippled out from the residential school system, and how his work in The Place of Scraps (Talonbooks, 2013) [see my review of such here], for example, responded directly to some of those concerns. He writes of his background as Nisga’a but without access to his biological father, a Nisga’a artist who left when Abel was still an infant. Abel speaks of that disconnect; of growing up Nisga’a without knowing or even meeting anyone else Nisga’a until, as an adult, he briefly met his father for the first time. There is an enormous amount of pain throughout this project, and Abel maps some dark and difficult histories, from his own personal disconnects to a generational trauma, prompted by that original break due to the theft of his grandparents as children. How might anyone respond in such a situation?

rob mclennan, Jordan Abel, NISHGA

Twenty years after the most deadly terrorist attack on United States soil, what comes to mind? 

For many of the 117 poets whose work was selected for the forthcoming commemorative anthology Crossing the Rift: North Carolina Poets on 9/11 & Its Aftermath (Press 53, September 11, 2021), what comes to mind is “the morning / rainfreshed” (Jeannette Cabanis-Brewin, “Tony Writes to Say He’s Alive”), “[t]hat September morning’s iris of sky” (Debra Allbery, “The Wakeful Bird Sings Darkling”), cloudless and blued into brilliance before exploding into unforgettable images of fire and toxic smoke, of bodies falling and returned to dust. For others in this anniversary collection, memory remains “one of those days when you remember / exactly where you were,” when “we lost the last of our innocence” (Kaye Nelson Ratliff, “Infamous Days”) and were forever after to carry “the long litany of the lost” (Glenis Redmond, “Witness the Whole World”) into a “new age of wars, two wars abroad that never end, and one at home to rip the fabric of our nation apart” (Robert Morgan, “A Sickness in the Air”).  

The clarity of what is remembered, and of what was and continues to be done in consequence, acts as both thorn and spur. Raised as  they are, individually and collectively, the poets’ voices guide us through the wreckage of our common history and challenge us to seek something better.

Maureen Doallas, 9/11 Remembered: ‘Crossing the Rift’ (Review)

“The Thin Line Between Everything and Nothing” is a collection of flash fiction that shows how small moments can create the longest life changes, as exemplified in “Sarajevo Rose” where a man thinks back to his regular purchase of fresh flowers after a woman dropped a coin in the market place, “He doesn’t remember dropping his sister’s hand. The building shook with the blast. When he looked up, his sister was gone. Damir has read how Sarajevans painted red roses in the shell’s concrete scars. When his flowers wilt, the petals fall to the floor. Damir never picks them up.”

Most stories though are told from a woman’s viewpoint. The woman’s story starts with being a war reporter, in “Bulletproof” where “they loan me a flak jacket, a big blue thing designed for men. It squashes my shoulders, metal plates pinning flat my chest, breasts yielding to the weight of them.” Of course, she wears it for protection, but also because “there are more male journalists on the frontline than women, because men are better at the warry stuff, and women more lightweight. I wear it because I don’t want to rock the boat and give the news desk another reason not to send me to do this job. I wear it because I’ve told them I am the best ‘man’ for the job. I wear it because I want to be part of the solution and not part of the problem.” The problem isn’t that it’s ill-fitting or the sexism inherent in war-reporting but what it doesn’t protect her from: the very thing she’s there to report on.

Emma Lee, “The Thin Line Between Everything and Nothing” Hannah Storm (Reflex Press) – book review

In a recent interview, poet and essayist Erica Hunt shared the following in response to a question about the best writing advice she’d ever received:

From Rachel Blau DuPlessis in “Statement on Poetics”—paraphrasing now: A poem is “bottomless,” “intricate,” and “tangible” in detail. I like thinking this is true regardless of “school” or length. Here is what it has helped me to appreciate: A poem is a work made through language that bears rereading, to discover that difficulty is never without love.

Erica Hunt, interview

I’ve come to realize that these latter two concepts, rereading and difficulty, have become integral to my poetic practice. I have long considered rereading central to poetic experience. Rereading implies dwelling, lingering, becoming engrossed in the matter at hand. That we may read and reread a poem, each time coming away with more, with something different–that is poetry’s lifegiving gift. If nothing else, we reread because one can’t catch everything all at once. We look words up, try phrases aloud, wonder: Who talks like this? Life’s a cacophony we sense music out of; why shouldn’t art be similar?

The other concept, difficulty, is something that I have been slower to embrace. On one level, this reluctance seems natural. There is, for one, the early difficulty of the classroom, the way poetry is traditionally taught to be a kind of puzzle, a use of language shrouded in mystery, the poet a wizard behind a curtain, knowing more than you and deigning to obfuscate the ordinary for you to luck upon. And there are definitely poems that live up to this tradition; and this type of poetry remains teachable but not graspable, or, to use a word Hunt quotes above, tangible.

This occurrence of a poem being out of a reader’s grasp brings with it a number of connotations. On the one hand there is gaslighting; we have had whole generations believing that they are at fault for not understanding “great” poetry, which often leads people to give up on poetry altogether. This brings to mind the implication of the literal “grasp,” that there are certain people whose touch and presence around poetry would sully it. I try to dispel this kind of thinking in my own teaching practices by showing that linguistic difficulty should be embraced in good faith, that we can engage with a poem and allow it to teach us how to read it, but also that we should trust our reactions as readers as well. This good faith is a human trait, a way of endeavoring and persevering.

Finding ways of endeavoring and persevering is central to the body of work gathered in Hunt’s Jump the Clock: New & Selected Poems (Nightboat Books). Across Hunt’s lively body of work, one comes in contact with a voice able to interrogate while remaining attuned to language’s vulnerable and raw personal nature. When reading Hunt’s poems, one feels attuned to language’s plasticity at the service of connecting and not intellectual indulgence. To put it another way, her poems meet a reader half way and allow the reader space to work out meaning as well as a meaningful experience.

José Angel Araguz, microreview: Erica Hunt’s Jump the Clock

A woman cradles a skull in her hands like a bouquet.
The sun carves scallops on every window. Each face
accepts the signature of time. Lie closer to the floor
where it is cooler. Dip a cotton square dipped in water
to lay across your brow. The procession
is just starting or ending. It begins
and ends at the same place.

Luisa A. Igloria, Acts of Levitation are Difficult in the Heat

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 28

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts.

A bit of a quiet week, in which bloggers asked: Have you tried something new in lockdown? Should one be an ant now? And did you know there was a patron saint of pandemics, St. Corona? “I weave for myself / a hammock of my unanswered questions,” Ann E. Michael declared.

One thing that surprised and delighted me, as publisher of the Moving Poems website, was reading three different bloggers’ adventures with making poetry videos. Among other mysteriously shared wavelengths...


On horseback
     in the Green Mountains one minute,
waiting for COVID in nursing home
     the next. I have it already,
of course, from scraps;  months
     of panicked combat for air,
so I can’t see her. She’s—vanished.
     There are so many things
one should not have to fight for.
     Every organ system inflamed,
I become oatstraw. Vicodin. Ginger.
     A liquid diet. Somehow vertical,
somehow  48,when the pain
     is very bad I still want
to call my mother. We did try hard,
     and fixed that much:
I could call her, if I was scared.
     The vixen emerges from night grass
three feet away, fixes tapetum on mine.
     Pure sensual grace
and home, that wild. What is it, beauty,
     I say, meaning both
we must help each other
     and such compelling danger,
the illusion of safety.

     She never answers.
Grey foxes: feline software in canine hardware,
     someone says on Twitter.
They are the only canid with retractable claws,
     I have learned. When they need to
they can climb trees like cats.

JJS, Vulpine

I wonder if Ennio Morricone ever replaced a washer, or tightened the grub screw on a bath tap? I am thinking this as I listen to his composition, ‘Gabriel’s Oboe’. Morricone died this week, as one day I will, and I didn’t know till now that he was an avant-garde classical composer: that he regarded these seldom-heard works as his important ones.

This existential mood of mine is driven by sleep-deprivation and by the fact that my hot bath tap is broken. The mixer taps are new, so not strictly broken, but loose. But it might as well be broken as no water comes out. […]

Sitting there, on the roof, as dawn brought the day into focus, I thought about the avant-garde part of my life – not my main occupation, not the lecturing job for which I am infamous to several hundred social work students past and present, but the part of me that I want to fulfill as much as possible before I die: the poetry part. The words that swim through my head, that arrange themselves on the page. I thought about the way that the main stuff squeezes this less-known part until it squeaks, needs attention, needs to lie in the bath because there is no chance of swimming pools opening any time soon, and I need my body to be weightless from time to time.

Liz Lefroy, I Worry About Plumbing

Rob Taylor: “These are the days of not writing… Nothing’s missing. What’s not here?” feels like a good summary, for many, of our current COVID-19 moment. A major theme in Pineapple Express is isolation (in “Disturbances” you write “For months you haven’t seen your neighbours,” which also strikes home right now). A common joke these days is that self-isolation is something poets have been training for their whole lives. Could you talk a little about the knife-edge of isolation for writers — that need for solitude in order to be able to write, and the negative consequences that can come with it? Do you have any advice for people — writers or otherwise — in this time of externally-imposed isolation?

Evelyn Lau: Solitude is bliss for introverts, and most poets would agree that they crave time, space and isolation in order to write and think. I’ve lived alone since I was sixteen, and the challenges inherent in that have always been practical — i.e. financial — rather than emotional. My partner and I have been together for two decades, but we’ve never lived under the same roof. What some people would find painful — coming home to an empty apartment — is the greatest source of solace for me. Is that strange? It feels so essential that anything else is unimaginable. The easy explanation is to say that I need solitude to write, but really it’s just to stay sane.

The danger is that isolation leads to rumination, which can lead to depression. Those of us who need very little social interaction to feel fulfilled definitely have an advantage over the extroverts right now. My advice isn’t original: establish a structure to the day, get out of your head by getting into your body (exercise), find beauty and wonder in small things.

Rob: Yes, yes, excellent advice (the good advice doesn’t always have to be novel — it usually isn’t)!

Speaking of changes brought on by COVID-19, you’ve traditionally avoided work on computers (I seem to recall that you didn’t have an email address until you took on the role of Vancouver poet laureate in 2011, a position which required one). Could you talk about that choice to stay “offline” as much as possible? How are you finding life now that you’re forced to use the internet for work, etc? Is it affecting your capacity to write?

Evelyn: AARGGH! Right now I’m sprawled on the floor outside my building lounge, using my partner’s laptop to pick up on the WiFi signal. This pandemic has yanked me into the 21st century!

Normally I maintain a distraction-free zone by not having WiFi or a modern computer at home, and not having a cellphone. It might be odd to hear this from a writer, but writing doesn’t come “naturally” — it’s often very painstaking, and so much time and creative effort are wasted in email correspondence.

Rob Taylor, The Monastery of Poetry: An Interview with Evelyn Lau

He says the microwave is talking to him.
What’s she saying, Henry? She says,
“Noli me tangere. The last person
may have been exposed.” She says
it’s time to work from home.

Ellen Roberts Young, Another Minor Poem for this Time

So many invisible things that I rely on:
gravity, oxygen, radio waves, the workings
of my mind, of your mind, awareness.
Though sometimes one materialises
in front of me when I least expect it:
the woman who stepped onto the grass
so I could run past safely. Thank you.

Lynne Rees, Poem: Invisible

Maybe tomorrow, no oranges, no flour,
no disinfectant soap. We live without guarantees
despite the product labels’ promises.
This year the pear tree bears no fruit:
few bees? late frost? Does it want a reason?
Yet I quiver with my need to know.
Knowing, old as I am, uncertainty means change.
Comfort? That requires a trust not at odds
with what’s ambiguous. I weave for myself
a hammock of my unanswered questions,
settle into it, become seed pod, chrysalis, womb.
I place my trust in change.

Ann E. Michael, Uncertainties

When it comes to preparing for the future, I have always been more ant than grasshopper. That has, in many ways, served me well, but being the ant requires knowing your geography, your climate, and your resources. It means knowing what you’ll need to survive the winter and how to preserve and store what feeds you.

After becoming a teacher, I learned quickly how important it is to use the summer to prepare for the coming school year. I learned how to store up what I needed to be OK (or OK enough) to get myself to the following June. For the first time ever, I don’t.

How does one be an ant now? Should one be an ant now?

I have long wondered why I’ve so needed the summers to recover and prepare, why working in public education has been so taxing for me and many of my colleagues. Sure, the hours are long, but many people work long hours. We don’t have the resources we need, but many people struggle with resource scarcity in their work. Over the past month or so, the debates about policing and school re-opening have illuminated for me something I couldn’t see from within our system (as is so often the case when we are trying really hard to be OK in untenable situations): The struggle comes not so much from the hours or the lack of supplies and tools; it’s from the weight of all that schools have come to carry, which includes not just educating everyone (a heavy enough bundle in itself), but also providing healthcare, social services, meals, and child care. Now, some would have us believe that the very functioning of the entire economy rests upon us.

I see that, perhaps, part of the reason my summer preparations haven’t really been getting the job done in recent years is that I haven’t really understood the landscape in which I’ve been trying to live.

As I think about how to be an ant now, I understand it’s not so much that the geography around me has changed as it is that I’m seeing it from a different vantage point. It’s like I’m suddenly viewing it from miles above, perhaps looking down through the window of a plane. Of course I’ve been aware of shifting plates, erupting volcanoes, rivers that have changed course and jumped their previous banks. Now, however, I can see the totality of those singular impacts, and how those of us working in country have been so consumed with responding to the seemingly small (yet never-ending) immediate crises of opening cracks and raining ash and flash floods that many of us failed to comprehend the bigger emerging picture. Now that I can see the landscape whole, I find myself lost. The topography doesn’t match any of my maps.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Of ants, grasshoppers, maps, and being lost

I feel particularly stuck right now because I don’t have the release of travel, of periodic escape to remind myself there’s a bigger world. I’m reading a lot but mostly books about small towns, too: Stephen King’s sin-haunted Maine villages (my stay in Salem’s Lot was unpleasant for a variety of reasons); plague-ridden Derbyshire mining country in Geraldine Brooks’ Year of Wonders (I loved that one); a prissy Ohio suburb in Celeste Ng’s justly-celebrated Little Fires Everywhere; the island horrors of Emily St. John Mandel’s The Glass Hotel and Lucy Foley’s The Guest List. Is that because I’ve been on a mystery-thriller kick, trying desperately to get out my own head? Do those plots work best in little bubbles? This spring, able to concentrate only in short spurts, my reading was mostly poetry that felt quite different, conjuring cosmopolitan places or a sense of global connectedness, as 21st-century poetry tends to.

The brand-new poetry collection I just finished, though, is local without ever being small–and illuminates Kiki Petrosino’s relation to a place she can neither love nor leave behind. In White Blood: A Lyric of Virginia, three long poems are based on the results of a DNA ancestry test; one section, titled “Albemarle,” eviscerates Jefferson’s celebrators in breathtaking ways; and another sequence locates itself in Louisa County, where some of Petrosino’s ancestors resided. Petrosino herself seems to have departed the region after earning a B.A. at the University of Virginia, and is now back as a professor there, drinking tiny glasses of bourbon at gastropubs while researching and receiving dream-messages from her dead kin. As Terrance Hayes writes, this book is “wonderfully irreducible” to tweets and slogans, plus so honed and gorgeous that it reminds me that poetry has special ways of helping people struggle with intractable problems; I think it will strike others that way, too, and be on short-lists for many prizes. I’m on sabbatical for a while but I’d love to teach it one day, in whatever still-messed-up America we land in a year from now.

Lesley Wheeler, “I live in language on land they left”

What’s in the poem: How my fascination with ghazals and my fascination with South Texas Spanglish work together. How my co-worker Ramon had a clouded eye.

What’s left out: How Ramon’s clouded eye wasn’t glass because taking it out would have caused more overall damage. How Ramon’s thumbs were permanently purple from hammering and missing and hitting his hand. How when we worked side by side at Billy Pugh co. making equipment for oil rigs I felt both honored and intimidated. How the more I wrote into this poem the more I left Ramon’s voice behind. How the biggest breakthrough in writing the poem was having this meta-Ramon ask the question “You have nothing else?” then declare flat out “You have nothing else.” How this meta-Ramon is really me still guilty years later worried I don’t do enough on the page or in my life to honor the people who have helped me survive. How this species of interrogation is never done with, because it is how I honor those who have helped me survive.

José Angel Araguz, new essay published: excerpt

Loosely, I think that I will be done writing this kind of grief poem in November, to mark the year of having lost her, though of course I’d never hold myself to a deadline like that. I think that is naturally where it will fall, and then poems about other things will begin to surface more often.

Like I said previously, this book is a lament. It is wailing on the front yard with my head shaved and ashes smeared on my face. You can’t rush that sort of thing.

Renee Emerson, The BabyWritingMoon Retreat

Let us name them
and if not, then

their play places:
Atlanta; Avon, Indiana;
Chicago; Columbia,
Missouri; Galivants
Ferry, South Carolina;

Hoover, Alabama;
Philadelphia;
San Francisco
Washington, D.C.

Lives taken now
noted, new numbers
added to archives
to help us remember

they died by gun
on our July 4 weekend

their fatal celebration
lost among the sounds
of bursting rockets

the sparklers held
in their tight little fists
raised against the red glare

Maureen Doallas, Fatal Celebration (July 3-5)

liars are in charge of the truth
lurking in the garden at night
an elephant hawk-moth

Ama Bolton, ABCD July 2020

This book is fierce! It’s a reading that dwells on the living through endings and upon closer examination, some beginnings, as well. Skaja’s word choice is superb, fresh, wild. From “How to Mend a Faucet Dripping Thread”

Every morning, a spider webs over my door, but I don’t do omens.

I will not hang all the maids, for example; it’s antifeminist.

But I will lie here with my face annexing the floor. Penelope, neat.

Pouring out a little whiskey for the sirens & swine.

Did I mention my love for the hat tip to older, timeless stories?

Kersten Christianson, Brute, Emily Skaja

on to the coarse fish perch and pike
on the tennant canal in the giant reeds
near the dock piers where the sea fish flow
pouting blin and whiting and flatties
from the west pier where the night rats run
under the moon stones at full tide
down along the dock lights shivering
with a fist of rag worm
well wrapped in sand and cloth
i’ve caught them all in my time

Jim Young, and ran – i did

I had a run of luck with poetry competitions a few years back. I thought, for a while, it might be possible to give up the day job and make a living out of writing. However, I started to notice that the quality of my work was suffering. Subliminally, I think I was trying to write the ‘prizewinning poem’ (whatever that is), rather than being true to myself and my work. After that, I spent a lot of time experimenting, producing work that only appealed to the very fringes of the poetry scene, the avant-garde if you like. I had work taken by the likes of Streetcake and 3 am magazine, online journals that take risks, that are constantly seeking to challenge our notions of what poetry is and what it can do or be.  Since then, I’ve never thought about payment. I write to satisfy my creative impulse, and to somehow translate my experience of the world into art. Payment is wonderful when it happens, but I never expect it. Writing for money doesn’t motivate me, because writing gives a sort of value to my time that can’t be quantified in monetary terms. I gain a great deal of satisfaction from that – in the areas I’m working in, writing can’t be ‘bought’.

I am influenced. I create. I edit. I send work out (in every sense I submit). For me, the process has its own rewards. I hope at least some of you feel the same.

Julie Mellor, Mr Sheen

I’m working on one of my poems-that-start-as-long-blathers. I started it some weeks ago, let it sit, worked on it, let it sit. Now when I go back I am confused about what I thought I was up to.

Some of that confusion is the lack of logic in the poem’s thinking. But I’m finding as I’m clarifying that, I’m losing something. I’m making changes based on logic, but I’m losing something that was special and beyond logic. I’m finding I need to go back to the self who first blathered and ask what? what?

Unfortunately, that self is gone with the passage of time, and this other, confused self must sit with it all.

It’s interesting, as a process. A tad annoying as well. I was sure I was onto something back then. Now I can’t remember what.

I have found in my work as a copyeditor and my brief stint teaching a course that not-great writing comes out of not-great thinking. The authors and students who couldn’t quite think through something couldn’t write through it either. That being said, overthinking can kill a piece of writing as surely as underthinking.

Marilyn McCabe, Like breathing in and breathing out; or, On Poetic Clarity

Lately, I confess, my crankiness has diminished my capacity for giving everyone the benefit of the doubt.

Let me be gracious to myself. Let me remember all that I am getting done, in this time that no one prepared me for in terms of schooling and training. I need to repeat this mantra at work especially.

In terms of my creative life, let me also be gentle with myself. While I’m not writing traditional poems, the way I once did, I am doing interesting work, especially with the intersection of poetry, parable, and theology–in a video format, which is new for me and exciting. While my novel languishes, I do think about it here and there.

I know that in the past I’ve had times when I’m not putting words on paper, a creative burst is just up ahead, if I don’t give up, if I’m patient with myself.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Making Good Progress–a Brief Progress Report

In between the other stuff, I’m taking a free online course at FutureLearn called Explore Animation.  During the lockdown, I started experimenting with my phone, making collages and a poetry film and I’m curious to learn basic animation to see if I can extend my skills and perhaps combine poetry and storytelling with animation.  I am completely out of my comfort zone with both my drawing skills and my tech skills but it’s kind of interesting and fun.

I’m not the only person who’s been looking into new ways of working recently. In the lockdown, poet Hilaire worked in collaboration with artist Stephen J Graham observing what she saw from her second-floor window in Battersea, London.  They live only a  few streets from each other but a world apart during lockdown when they communicated via text in order to compile a series of poems and illustrations which they’ve made into an A5 book called Indoors Looking Out: A Creative Exchange in Constrained Circumstances which I absolutely love. Hilaire has written about their collaboration in this blog post.

Have you tried something new recently or during lockdown?

Josephine Corcoran, Not just poems

Yesterday, as I played with the film editing software and finished the book trailer for the new book, I realized how much I enjoyed it–almost a more motion-oriented collage, so I will definitely be creating more–if not trailers, then little poem videos involving public domain films, that are really fun to cut up and splice. I even made a sort of preliminary home for them on Youtube, so watch for those. I also plan on making some exclusive content for Paper Boat subscribers over the next few months. (so join in on the fun here…it’s free and I promise to only bother your inbox once a month)  With a little video experience I am a little closer to my dream of one day animating paper collages, so here’s hoping. 

During quarantine and its aftermath (however temporary or permanent that may be), visual work has been what has suffered most. Perhaps because, maybe even more than writing, creating it seems comparatively frivolous in the world.  Or maybe just that what I seem to create is frivolous in the world.  While writing was spurred on by the capitalist concerns of The Shining project and now the timely concerns of bloom, less so the collages and landscape/botanical paintings that usually fill my arsenal. While I did manage that batch of watercolor landscapes, as well some acrylics for my kitchen, the only thing that seemed at all related to the world outside was my silly crypto posters.

Kristy Bowen, poetry films, art, & artivism

I haven’t exactly gone dry when it comes to poetry, but I did stop posting a poem a day on a little chalkboard in June. As the poem states, I was “out of chalk” from the start, writing with little stubs I found in the kids’ art supply boxes and kept in the lid of a jar.

Just the other day, my husband found in the garage a bucket full of colored sidewalk chalk that I’d been looking for in the basement. So there’s that for the next public art project that might arise from the ongoing circumstances. And I ordered and received a little box of slim white chalkboard chalk for the next round of daily poems, possibly in September. For now, I’m writing in my various journals, intermittently.

As I’ve been writing here, I’ve been hearing thunder! And, look, it’s raining out my window! …And now I’ve come back from stepping outside to smell the rain, the needed rain, the gentle rain. It’s falling on my prairie flowers, my single tomato plant, my little pots of hibiscus tea, my gradual attempts at a very local permaculture. I forgot to plant a little packet of California poppy seeds, but I have plans for it. I have more to tell you, but not right now.

Kathleen Kirk, My Dry July

While under the weather for a day or two this week with a stomach bug, I finally sat down and read the whole novel from Lesley Wheeler, Unbecoming, about an out-of-sorts academic woman who loses a best friend, suspects her replacement of being a malevolent faerie, and suspects herself of starting to wield strange powers,while dealing with a fractious dean and truculent teens. It had hints of faerie and kitsune mythology, and also talked about how women gain magic powers with age. It really was a page-turner! I recommend it. It was also a good read while I weathered – besides the stomach bug – a couple of regular rejections, a couple of finalist notices for my book manuscript (and one “close but no”), well, what still felt like a lot of no from the universe. I also think about using magic to protect us from coronavirus. Protection spells often involve the moon. Did you know there was a patron saint of pandemics, St. Corona? Look it up!

At 47, I’m only a few years away from fifty now, the magical age of menopause or invisibility, when we move from lost girl in the forest to wicked witch. Wouldn’t it be nice if I could acquire magic powers though? Anyone want to grant me three wishes? I would even take one!

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Anniversaries, Rose Moon Eclipses, New Moons and New Life, and Reading Report on Women, Magic, and Menopause

It takes some time to learn to live with death. It doesn’t happen overnight. Death can be a horrible neighbor, a demanding housemate. Death moves into your house and never leaves again. Three years have passed since my son left this life and death moved in with us. To stay. This house is still a home, true, but it seems a little darker now, even though I can still hear the echo of my son’s huge laugh. 

James Lee Jobe, It takes some time to learn to live with death.

One finally
comes to

accept
the silence

before, after,
between

the words, the
stanzas,

the poems.
This is when

you begin
to understand.

Tom Montag, ONE FINALLY

A saucerful of warmed coconut oil, green
eucalyptus leaves steeped in bath water:

threshold you have to pass, stepping out
of the country of illness and back into

the ordinary world. Before that, the looped,
confusing paths of fever delirium. Hours

during which the parched throat can only
utter the sounds of one terrible syllable.

Luisa A. Igloria, Resurgence

Society’s unseen still make a sound—

at times, it’s a finespun hum, soft as a child’s made-up song about flower buds and pebbles resembling insect pillows.

Other times, the sound of the unseen is more like silence with its sobriety chip of sunlight, sweating out the hours until it falls off the wagon into another evening of sirens and explosions.

Rich Ferguson, Sounds of the Unseen

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 27

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week, poets had trouble sleeping and trouble waking up, trouble celebrating and trouble mourning, trouble writing and trouble not writing, while all around us flowers unfurled and swelled into fruit.


I’m writing this post while sitting on a bench by the side of the canal in Bradford-on-Avon.  I’m writing in a small sparkly notebook and I’ll type up these notes later when I return home.  It’s nearly 3pm on Friday, 3rd July, 2020.  I left home just after 2pm to catch the train here, just one stop from where I live.  The journey took six minutes.  It was the first time I’ve used public transport since the lockdown started in March.  I wore a face mask and I sanitised my hands with gel once I’d got off at my stop.  These are items that I always carry now, in the small rucksack bag I wear on my back.  Most other passengers were also wearing masks, but not everyone.  My carriage was about one third full.  I bought my ticket from the machine at the start of my journey using contactless payment – I tried to book online using my phone but those tickets were unavailable on my app.  There were no staff on board the train checking tickets or face mask-wearing.

Today I feel I’m rejoining the world again, in my own way.  Using public transport is important to me although I realise it’s riskier than driving a car, in terms of being exposed to Covid-19 and other germs.  But I’d started to make a concerted effort to reduce my carbon footprint before lockdown, and I want to return to that lifestyle.  I also felt an urge to get out of the house and to be alone.

My household’s lockdown began with all four of us watching The Tiger King on Netflix.  It’s coming to an end with each of us involved with a BBC iPlayer series I May Destroy You: Andrew and I watching together on the telly in the front room; our daughter watching in her own time somewhere in the house on her laptop; our son not yet watching but listening in to conversations about the series when we meet in our kitchen.  Perhaps we survived this enforced time together without major arguments because we’ve circulated around each other in our lives, giving each other space.  Some of us would probably appreciate more space than others.

Josephine Corcoran, With lockdown hair and a face mask, I rejoin the world

A hot night, no sleep
to cool down thoughts and doubts.
Then the light, the birds,

a cup of coffee,
as one must declare defeat.
A win is this dawn,

yellow and rosy,
the earth, a sweet funfair candy.
Fine, I’ll stay awake,

dream of lilac dawns*.

*dusks

Magda Kapa, Isolation Time – Throwback June

ruby is my birthstone the gem of July Ruby was my grandmother’s name this moon is a jack moon a jack knife moon a Jack and the Beanstalk moon a jackoff moon a high noon moon a Jack Torrance moon a screw you moon a moaning moon a moon of betrayal and butter knives this moon leaves suicide notes in cookbooks then makes dinner this moon shoots a gun on black and white television this moon dangles over the Aurora Bridge in the middle of the day but it’s a strong swimmer this moon shakes up history this moon is a tourist a sham a mark a shill a Shaklee salesman needing a drink of water a used car salesman with a cigar

Rebecca Loudon, 100% full

In the wee, small hours of the morning, once again, I couldn’t sleep. I was having one of those dark night of the soul kinds of night, where I couldn’t quiet my brain and go back to sleep. I decided to get up and do some offline journaling.

I ended this way, “So many roads circling back to a question: what am I going to do with the rest of my life? How can I plan now that this pandemic has changed everything? Or has it changed everything?”

I did some sorting. My spouse has an idea for a shelving project; I am fighting despair as the plan has gotten ever more complicated. All I wanted was a place to put my books! Books that have been packed away for 2 years now. Insert a heavy sigh here.

I came across some map fragments.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Fragments of a Map to an Unknown Future

I made this box for you

I filled it with fragments, beachcombed
sea glass, wisps of snagged wool.
I wanted you to know
the random loveliness of being alive,
to know it in your bones and blood.

I put in :

snow, to remember draughts
and rooms with cold corners;

a black handled knife, sharp as silk,
in a grey-vaulted market, the scent
of cut flowers to show that fathers
give like the gods; a bicycle stammering
through stems of barley, willowherb,
to understand that gravity may be defied;

the humped glass of a brown river,
black branches snagged on the weir’s rim;

these bundled letters in different hands
and inks to show how words fall short of love.

John Foggin, Our David’s Birthday

The language of illness is, as Woolf puts it, “primitive, subtle, sensual, obscene.” It is urgent, terrifying, and sacred. These are qualities found in poetry.

Later in the same essay, Woolf writes, “There is, let us confess it (and illness is the great confessional) a childish outspokenness in illness; things are said, truths blurted out, which the cautious respectability of health conceals.” 

The part about “the cautious respectability of health” implies that when we are ill, we can blurt out truths we wouldn’t dream of when well.

This is the time for honesty and fresh, raw language. This is the time for poetry.

Erica Goss, Plague Poetry

In the Google search bar, I type “how do you know when it’s time” and the first autofill response that comes up is “to put your dog down.”

Followed by: to break up, to leave your church, to dig up potatoes, to move on, to retire.

I don’t go to church and I haven’t planted any potatoes, so Google’s powers of divination are limited. But I was seeking information about how to know when it’s time to let go of my dog, and I hate that Google’s algorithms correctly anticipated that.

I wish I were searching for some of the other “how do you know when” topics; many are about food and their harvesting or cooking: salmon, mangoes, pineapple, garlic. I wish I cared about food more, the way I used to.

I try “how do you know when it’s too late” and I get both “to get your ex back” and “to have a root canal.” I’ve never had a root canal, but from everything I’ve heard about them, those two things might have more in common than one would think.

I trim the inquiry back to “how do you know” and the stakes are suddenly much higher: if you’re pregnant, if you love someone, if you have anxiety, if you have depression, if you have coronavirus.

“should I” yields a mix of results that speak to the absurdity of these times, of our lives: refinance my mortgage, get a covid test, get bangs, stay or should I go. Or, maybe just of my life. I suppose Google knows that I’m of an age where lyrics by The Clash might be what I’m searching for.

It’s only when I click on the lyrics to that song and read them–rather than listen to them through a haze of alcohol and hormones and unresolved childhood trauma (hell, completely unrecognized childhood trauma)–that I understand I’ve misunderstood them for my whole life.

Rita Ott Ramstad, A day in the life

The weight of other people’s suffering can be palpable, whether someone weeping in the next room or someone in agony across the globe. How do we go about our own lives knowing others are in anguish at the same moment? This question has haunted me, especially in my growing up years. I suspect such questions weigh more on children than we imagine.

By the time I was eight or nine years old, my parents had cancelled their subscriptions to news magazines because they couldn’t deal with repeated questions like, “Why is that village burning? Who hurt that man? Why isn’t someone helping that baby?” Even the most well-intentioned adult would rather not think about such questions, let alone answer them. Try to explain war to a child. No matter how you skew it, the answer comes down to whoever destroys more property and kills more people, wins. Try explaining poverty or prejudice to a child. It’s impossible to morally justify the indifference and greed that helps to prop up “normal” life in the face of truly open, honest questions.

Laura Grace Weldon, Compassion By Design

America,
we can shine and scrub your floors
without a Hoover or a Roomba, then punch
holes in the bottoms of fruit
cocktail cans so we can grow bird
chillies and tomatoes on the veranda.
We let a dentist in our old hometown pull
out all our teeth so you wouldn’t get
the chance to do it and charge us
triple. There is a fish we like to eat
whose belly is soft and sweet and full
of fat; but every bone in its body
is a tree that bristles with more than
a dozen spears. Like you, America—
if we’re not careful, we could choke
on even the smallest mouthful.

Luisa A. Igloria, America

The Unafraid is deeply moving in parts, as it portrays quite well not just the multi-generational struggle to create a better future in America, especially but not only in the Deep South, but also what forces those with no money, no education, and no papers to leave their countries for the United States. The sacrifices made are tremendous, and what it means for families to risk everything to come here is wholly unappreciated by policymakers who would rather erect walls than uphold the values this country is supposed to represent. Our cluelessness robs human beings no different from ourselves of so much, from the most basic rights and services we born here take for granted, to the opportunities to realize better lives for our children, opportunities slow in coming, if at all, to the undocumented.In addition to showing us the truths about forced migration and its life-changing consequences, the documentary also sharply reveals the racism endemic throughout this country. To be brown means having a life that doesn’t matter, if you want to go to college, if you want to make a living that lifts you out of poverty. To be brown means not having the right to believe in the “American dream”. To be brown means, in the argot of the film, to be “very afraid” until you become one of “the unafraid” who finds the strength to risk opening a closed door. That any one of us might watch this film and not see the wrongs we perpetuate in our government and socioeconomic and cultural policies, as well as through our myth-making, is to be deliberately obtuse and tragically indifferent to the riches that immigrants, undocumented people, asylees, refugees, and DACA recipients offer us.

Maureen Doallas, Musings in a Time of Crisis XXXI

Independence Day (or Interdependence Day, as I’ve heard it called): The country has been thrust back on me.   I’d left it countless times, then straddled between two countries, then made a life of motion.  But circumstances being what they are, I am simply facing it, America…  

posthumous, finished, junked, done — or part of the process of rising and passing that covid-19 has made us so aware of?   A “Finale for America” as clever wits have referred to rogue fireworks that have been exploding nightly?  In recent weeks and months I have agreed.  But the 4th gave me — what — freedom of stuckness.  I looked kindly on things; it wasn’t forced, it just happened.  

I thought about the Declaration of Independence and read, along with many, Frederick Douglass’ bracing famous 4th of July address: “You may rejoice.  I must mourn.”  The polyvocalism of these declarations of values – that we are living in the polyvocalism – unstuck me from singularity.  The truth and reconciliation process we’ve so long needed might be here.  I listened to the very best of American song — the sinuous pairing of elegant contrast, Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald duets.  In a flight from nihilism, there are ways to combine the large and small. 

Look how beautiful the day after – peony petals against a pile of oyster shells. They are dissociated from their meaning — yet in this time of appreciating passage, the wisdom songs of covid as well as garbage day, here they are.  The flowers had been flush and full, the oysters a marvel. The energy of passage keeps us from getting stuck.  The poet Alice Oswald talks about this in her new Oxford lecture, “An Interview with Water.” Poetry, dance, rhythm and water all keep us moving. Then there’s the leaping between odd things – country, trash and renewal – that keeps the mind buzzing.

Jill Pearlman, Of Oysters, the 4th and the Surreality of it all

& awaken cranium of geraniums, awakeness will make your thought gardens grow brighter.

& awaken all relatives of relativity, awakeness will travel you at the speed of light.

& awaken evil-faced clocks snuffing out lives with every tick, awakeness will allow you to more carefully consider each moment of every day.

& awaken those whose blues are blacker and bluer than the blues, awakeness can allow you to sing above the pain.

Rich Ferguson, & awaken

Despite saying I probably needed a certain amount of distance to write about the current state of events, and in fact a 2-3 month span of being unable to write at ALL really, I find myself mid-project on a series called BLOOM–named so because of the ways illness (actual, metaphorical) blooms in the body, in society, in the world. Also the way nature this spring, despite humans and their stupid diseases, continued to bloom while we were still dying. While people were being killed by the virus, by the government, by the police. But even still, I usually need more distance, and who knows how much time there is for any of us.

Kristy Bowen, bloom

On my walk home from Launcherley yesterday I made a note of the wildflowers I saw: Sweet Woodruff, Meadowsweet, Agrimony, Camomile, Pineapple weed, Yarrow (both white and pink varieties), Creeping Cinquefoil, Yellow Trefoil, Spear Thistle, Hawkweed, Common Mallow, Field Convolvulus (both the white and the pink-and-white varieties), White Deadnettle, Sowthistle, Herb Bennet, Herb Robert, Willowherb, Ragwort, various docks and sorrels, Water Hemlock, Spurge, Redleg, Fat Hen, Wild White Clover, Field Scabious, Burdock, Teasel, Marjoram, Hedge-mustard, and a Mullein when I was almost home. […]

My family moved from London to an isolated cottage in a rural part of Surrey when I was ten. It was the beginning of the summer holidays and, not knowing anyone locally, I spent my days happily wandering alone looking for wild flowers. My aunt in the Isle of Skye, a keen amateur botanist, sent me Collins Pocket Guide to Wild Flowers, newly-published, far too big and heavy for any normal pocket, but just what I needed. I learnt a lot of names that summer.

Ama Bolton, As I was out walking, part 2

Standing in my yard just after sunrise I picked a ripe peach from my tree and ate it right there. The fine and soft part of a morning in summer. Not far off, the sounds of birds.

James Lee Jobe, Standing in my yard just after sunrise I picked a ripe peach

So I’m contemplating memento mori with all my soul of late. Maybe if we all contemplated the theme memento mori we’d be a little kinder, a little more mindful. We’re here so briefly, so beautifully. And self-portraiture, I know it might get confused with the influencer culture when posted on Instagram, but they are two different things. Though interestingly, and I adore this, when I posted a picture there, I had a lot of comments on my sunglasses. (Which are from Simon’s btw — not a paid product placement, but interesting that that’s where we go in our minds, and I’m no different).

The thing about posting photos of yourself through time, is that you really begin seeing yourself, and seeing yourself differently. You see angles, you get to know your best side, your wrinkly neck, your flaws and your beauty, and your ridiculousness. One does begin to accept certain aspects of oneself. And also, because it’s not just one session per year or every second year for an author photo or work photo, it’s less important. There will be another moment.

The best thing though, is that you don’t seem to change as much, it’s much more about the slow process of living, aging, being. It’s all okay. Yes, I’m still picky and I’m choosing how I’m presented, portrayed, touched up in Lightroom, but that’s part of the art of it. I’m sure these photos say things about me that I’m completely unaware of.

Shawna Lemay, Contemplating My Themes

I have never considered myself a person who had any power; and yet I now recognize that just as I have privilege I never earned, I have power I never earned–and that I have indeed been using that power (as I have unwittingly benefited from privilege) and can do more with it. For educators possess power.

So do poets.

The past three months, as spring has bloomed into summer, poems of protest and poems that inform society have likewise bloomed. Poets of color, marginalized poets, poets who are disabled or queer or immigrant or for other reasons yearning to be heard are all over social media–which is not unusual in itself (the voices, the poems, have been online for decades)–but the difference lately comes through retweets and viral videos and shared posts at a higher rate than previously. These poems, and the prose and interviews that often accompany them, create discourse. Badly needed discussions. Confrontations that cannot be shoved away as easily as they were. I’ve been reading and observing, hoping a change is gonna come.

Ann E. Michael, Top ten, discourse, power

I’ve been advised enough times not to do it, you’d think I’d stop trying. But here we are again. The royal “we,” I mean, possibly, or the group of us who do such a thing, as opposed, I guess to the “they” who do not; that is: use the first person plural pronoun (we) in poems. Why do I keep trying to make it work?

It interests me to write poems from the perspective of this identity: a member of the human species. From this perspective I can think about the so-called “human experience,” not as “in opposition to the nonhuman,” but as a part of a, let’s face it, pretty significant force on the planet, and as a representative of a species that is able to think about itself and go “Hmm…really?” A member of a species that is aware of, possibly obsessed with, death, and, therefore?, a bit obsessed with life and its meaning.

But the use of “we,” or MY use of “we,” shall I say, has caused people to become argumentative (“you do not speak for me,” they say, or sometimes just “oh yeah?”) or to be otherwise put off by the lack of immediacy and intimacy (“hm, what are you distancing yourself from,” they ask). I don’t know, though. Do I not have the — what: right? capacity of imagination? proper hubris? — to speak out of that human stance?

Marilyn McCabe, We shall be released; or, On the First Person Plural in Poems

have you ever wanted to be that man
the one with the stick
you know – the one with the metal pole
who listens to your stopcock
out in the road
with his ear to the shiny wooden cup
at the end of his decision

or the man with his hands on the handles
of the surging tube that goes up and down
up and splurging down in the storm drain
that keeps the kids enthralled

or the man with the shiny wooden pole
with the pig’s tail hook that darns
the coupling links between the trucks
with such deft luck that barely at moment
between the buffers shine bouncing the
chains tight in a juddering offwego

Jim Young, have you ever wanted to be

Here’s a few of the poetry books I read during lockdown. Some took longer to arrive than others, but I liked the wait, the feeling of anticipation when something new is on its way. The Penguin Book of Haiku was one I felt I should have read a while ago. Here’s a lovely haiku from it, by Socho:

in the riverbreeze
a cluster of willowtrees
spring revealed

And then there’s the wild imperfection of Kerouac, and a haiku that sums up those days during lockdown where I waited for the books to arrive, and felt fully imersed in both my reading and my writing:

Big books packaged
from Japan –
Ritz crackers

I tend to nibble on oat cakes, not Ritz crackers, but I identified with the sense that really all you need are some good poems and a few snacks to keep you going.

It’s hard to pick a single poem from any of the collections I read, especially from Haiku in English: The First Hundred Years, which is a gem. I’ll quote this one by Max Verhart for now:

out of the haze
the dog brings back
the wrong stick

Isn’t it wonderful? Precise, evocative, profound.

Julie Mellor, Lockdown reading

Rob Taylor: In “Talking with Ancestors After the Show” you write “if there is a moment this is it / know better than to beg a minute’s sojourn // reminder to the artist: this is it.” I can imagine so vividly that line being delivered in a spoken word performance, and how it might resonate differently (and, in some ways, similarly) in that context. That Venn diagram between the “stage” moment and the “page” moment — their audiences, their performative spaces, their “voices,” their ephemerality.

As a writer whose background is in spoken word, how have you found the experience of putting your words, often first meant for public performance, onto the page? What have you been able to bring over with you, and what have you had to leave behind? What new opportunities has writing for the page granted you?

Jillian Christmas: I love that you frame them as opportunities. When I first approached the challenge it seemed to present itself as a fear of what would be lost, what eye contact or small facial expression would be missed and what emotional information would go with it. But your framing is absolutely correct, somewhere along the process, I discovered that it was in fact a great joy, almost a game, to figure out what choices I could make on the page that uplift the poem to a similar effect as I would have on the stage. In some places I learned that the voice of the page poem would be different, more concerned with shape, spacing, or a leaning, possibly tumbling word. In some places a more direct translation would occur, a long slender diving presentation, where my voice might have dipped or swayed (as in “But Have You Tried”). In the end I decided that there were no limits to my choices, allowing each poem to have as many lives as it needs, perhaps one for the page, a longer more lyrical or repetitive version for the stage reading, perhaps a third snappy edit for tucking inside the nest of the perfect song. A multitude of mechanisms to coax every bit of connective tissue from any given piece.

Rob Taylor, Playfulness and Gravitas: An Interview with Jillian Christmas

Mr Hoyes was no ordinary English teacher. He’d already had an extremely youthful Matthew Sweeney as his Poet in Residence at the College for a year, while numerous workshops with Ian McMillan were still in the future. I suppose I fell between those two stools, but I didn’t have an inkling of that at the time. Instead, all I knew was homework turned into writing stuff of my own accord, turned into staying behind after class to show it to him, turned into him gifting me copies of literary magazines such as Iron, where Peter Mortimer had published his short stories.

This sharing of his own work, treating me as an equal, was just one example of Mr Hoyes’ generosity, as was his gentle prodding of me in new creative directions. His support meant that I suddenly stopped feeling alone and different from everyone else. As such, he was crucial in my becoming the poet I am today.

However, things developed even further once I left for university. On my first trip back, I visited all my old teachers at the college and showed him some of my more recent poetry. He suggested looking at it together over a pint at the Hop Blossom the following Friday. Thus, Mr Hoyes became Richard, and our friendship began, involving London Prides over more than two decades, all combined with swapping our latest work. He’d bring short stories, articles he’d written for the TES and extracts from his regular column in the local paper, and I’d contribute my drafts of poems.

Matthew Stewart, A tribute to Richard Hoyes

I suppose I want to believe there is always
a way out and a way through. Because

what else can I do? Collapse into whatever
strangeness and fear I encounter and weep?

How quickly the cat shifts from panic
to acceptance. Look at her rolling

in the dusty earth, as if this place
is what she has always known it to be.

Lynne Rees, Poem: No Through Road

Death is an
unbroken horse.
All the wind

is wild. The
sun is risen
and we move

on, chasing.
Some day we
will catch it.

Tom Montag, DEATH IS

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 23

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts.

This week felt possibly pivotal in American politics; time will tell. Some poetry bloggers did write about other things, but most of those posts sat uneasily with the uprising- and COVID-related content, and in the end I took them out. I do want to acknowledge two extraordinary texts emerging this week that are (sadly) not blog posts but Google docs: the Letter to the Poetry Foundation from Fellows + Programmatic Partners and, a few hours ago, Phillip B. Williams’ Letter of Apology from a Ruth Lilly Fellow. Both were sparked by the Poetry Foundation’s “A Message to Our Community & Contributors“—just the sort of vapid, substance-free message of support for #BlackLivesMatter that Maureen Doallas calls out below.

News broke as I was assembling this digest that a veto-proof majority of the Minneapolis City Council has pledged to disband its police department, just over a week after protesters burned down a precinct building there. So be careful before you join the mob… of comfortable liberals and conservatives whitesplaining protest tactics to the oppressed.


When people murmur in a mildly moralising way about peaceful protest, maybe they should stop and think about Emily Wilding Davison.

A militant suffragette, she was repeatedly arrested and imprisoned for breaking windows, setting fire to mail boxes, and on one occasion for attempting to horsewhip a clergyman who she mistook for Lloyd George.

She undertook repeated hunger strikes in prison, was forcibly fed 49 times, and attempted to kill herself in Holloway by leaping off a landing. She said after that she thought that her death might cause people to pay attention to the cause of women’s suffrage. On June 4 2013, Emily Wilding Davison travelled to Epsom, went to the racecourse on Derby Day, waited behind the railings at the bend to the final straight, and as the horses came round the bend, ducked under the rail, and walked in front of the king’s horse. On and off for 30 years I tried to find a way to write about it.

I think about images that have, one way or another, changed how we see the world, and maybe changed the world itself. The terrified villagers of My Lai in Vietnam, and the small girl stripped naked by napalm, her mouth a silent scream; a Buddhist monk in flames; a student holding up his arm against a tank. A white policeman kneeling on the neck of a black man until he dies.

I was staggered when I learned that the death of Emily Davison was filmed live by a Pathe news camera, and duly appeared in British cinemas. I had thought the stills I had seen were remarkably in-focus single camera shots. I could not understand their clarity.

John Foggin, A grating roar

tomorrow my son is going to photograph a protest in Snohomish a small town no one had heard of until it became patient zero for the corona virus Snohomish where I attend the county fair every summer Snohomish where a handful of peaceful protesters were greeted by a sidewalk full of white american proudboys standing with spread legs holding automatic weapons snickering among themselves not only their stances but their faces threatening and ugly

the american president’s boys with a long tradition of  hate

my son quoted Shakespeare to me this morning

The blood of the citizens of Verona makes the hands of the citizens both bloody and uncivilized; that is, not polite, and possibly murderous.

then he quoted some of the lyrics to Billie Holiday’s Strange Fruit and he said that George Floyd was lynched I think so too deliberately horribly and in the open

my son believes we’re at the beginning of true worldwide revolution that the protests are not going to stop that they have just begun that the citizens of the world have been oppressed long enough they are rising up as one body to demand change and they will not stop until change is brought forth he tells me he sees children in the street some high school age young people finally finding their voices their rallying cry

Rebecca Loudon, What our sons say

What could be more dispiriting than a biological enemy, an invisible enemy, an enemy that has turned the morality schema upside down?  Yesterday’s bad guys — alienation and isolation  — are today’s heroes of good health.  Those heroes of isolation are also conditions for authoritarianism, which makes them still count as bad guys.  No wonder we’ve felt so lost and confused.

No wonder the police murder of George Floyd has changed the moral landscape.  In its horror and shame, in its immorality, it prompted the massive outpouring of public grief and collective protest.  It has a clear-cut narrative, with victims and perpetrators.  The unequivocal police brutality has no moral ambiguity. It liberated us from our own cells. Our listless selves had been told that this narrow narcissistic world was heroic – perhaps with limited horizons, we didn’t trust it. 

Walking on a summer afternoon to the RI State House, I refound my “we.” We were some 10,000. To hear the roar of thousands who respond in unity to the call of a leader – to feel the vibration in our bones, as my daughter said – began to restore a self in relation to others.  Collective, actively scooping up a sense of purpose. Rebellious. Called to look into our selves where moral ambiguities will most obviously arise. That has to be part of the pact. We can still do that while dissenting injustice, abuse of cops and our homegrown tyrant crossing new red lines at every turn.   This is not bad news wrapped in a protein. 

Coronavirus is still a threat, as we’ll always remark when we look at photos, in the future, of protesters in masks in photos.  As a young friend said, “History looks back at the past.  We’re in the middle of history.  But we don’t know what it looks like — we’re living it.”  He wasn’t comfortable with not knowing.  He shrugged: he knows he doesn’t have a choice.

Jill Pearlman, The Protests: Sprung from Moral Uncertainty

Since the murder of George Floyd and the ensuing protests, I have read and viewed countless news articles, op-eds, solidarity statements, video webinars, social media posts, tweets, and photo albums related to Black Lives Matter (BLM) in the Pacific Islands and our diaspora. 

The first thing to note is that there is widespread support for BLM amongst Pacific Islanders (PI). There have been numerous solidarity events in Hawaiʻi (where I currently live), Aotearoa, Fiji, Samoa, Papua New Guinea, West Papua, Australia, the Marshall Islands, the Northern Mariana Islands, and my homeland of Guåhan (Guam). There have also been Pacific-organized events in California, Washington, and Utah, and I have seen PI participate in protests from Kentucky to New York to where it all began: Minnesota. At least one PI was arrested/detained, and there are perhaps more. BLM solidarity in the Pacific is not new (many events that occurred in after the murders of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown) but it is definitely more expansive today. […]

The most wonderful part of all this is that so many PI have interpreted this history to mean that we have a “debt” to the Black community because of all they have done to empower us, directly and indirectly. In Pacific cultures, “debt” is not a capitalist phenomenon. It is much deeper and refers to ideas about gift-giving, social reciprocity, interdependence, kinship, obligation, support, and mutual aid. Chamorros call this “chenchule’” and it is one of our most cherished values and practices.  […]

Within U.S. settler colonialism in Guam and Hawaiʻi, I have noticed that there are some politicians and individuals (who are White, Asian, or POC) who are vocal in their support of BLM and even for police abolition. However, I have seen these same people stand AGAINST Chamorro and Hawaiian sovereignty and self-determination. This to me points to how some settlers in the Pacific support liberal and progressive reforms, but they don’t support decolonization, which would completely unsettle their power here. This also speaks to a divide between civil rights and indigenous rights.  

Craig Santos Perez, Black Lives Matter in the Pacific, 2020

These days, I put an ear to America’s chest to make sure democracy’s heart is still beating.

I share my breath with others ‘cause the air is so choked with tear gas and political propaganda.

I rearrange our collective spirit into a beatbox offering solid, uplifting rhythms as we witness secret police wandering the streets, bashing bruise tattoos into the flesh of peaceful protestors.

In my higher conscience, I’ve started an Etsy store selling necklaces made from the words and songs of Gandhi, MLK, and Billie Holiday.

I’ve created see-through face masks where we can witness one another’s lips as we speak words like, “Peace,” “Love,” and “ Dream.”

Rich Ferguson, Beating, Not Beating

Official Wear Orange Day was Friday, June 5. June 5 is also Breonna Taylor’s birthday. She was killed by guns in a terrible police mistake. But Wear Orange Day was created by friends of Hadiya Pendleton, dead at 15 by gun violence, back in 2013. My poem for that is hard, quick, and blunt. You understand why. 

Today I Wear Orange

to honor the dead girl
killed by a gun. Orange
like a hunting vest,
meant to say:
I’m not prey.

Hadiya had just been in the parade for President Obama’s second inauguration and was dead a week later. […]

I don’t like to jump on any bandwagons, but I do wish to stand in solidarity with all our nonviolent protestors today. At a distance, masked, I attended our local NAACP/Not In My Town rally to see, feel, and be part of the local support. I came late and left early, not wanting to mingle with any crowds. Couldn’t hear or see the presenters, but felt the solidarity. My peripheral vision made me turn at the right time to see potential danger, a young white man wearing a bandana on his forehead riding a motorcycle on Front Street. My gut said, Trouble. Later, he drove through the crowd and injured people; he’s been arrested. I listen to my gut now, having ignored it sometimes in the past. After seeing him, I scanned the crowd, as well. I was looking at the young white guys, I have to confess. There’s my current bias and tendency to profile. I apologize for the past, the present, and the future. I’ll do what I can, which doesn’t seem like much, but I do vote and help get out the vote, via a tiny elected office.

And my tiny poems will continue, at least through June. If I can remember what day it is. And who I am.

Kathleen Kirk, Wearing Orange

Small bamboo stakes with tiny flags on them were placed six feet apart, all along the north side of route two, from First Congregational Church to Thompson Memorial Chapel.

We gathered with our signs, each person or household to a flag. Most of the signs were homemade, made on posterboard or on cardboard recycled from boxes.

“Black Lives Matter.”

“Stop systemic racism.”

“Covid + racism = mourning in America.”

“Lord have mercy.”

“Seeking justice.”

“Black lives matter.”

“We stand with you.”

The church bells tolled. When they were done, a bagpiper stood on the steps of First Congregational and played somber songs.

As cars drove by, from one side or the other, we turned so our signs would face them, like sunflowers moving with the sun.

Most cars honked in support as they drove by. A few big rigs drove by and honked as they passed us. One bicyclist pedaled slowly by, reading each sign in turn.

A light rain fell. We stood in quiet solidarity with the victims of SARS-CoV-2 and the victims of systemic racism around our nation. When the clock tower rang for 5:30, we quietly went home with our grief.

Rachel Barenblat, Vigil

I marched at the parade with my daughter, surrounded by people her age. I thought about the world I thought I was bringing her into–what I thought I was giving her–and I wondered what the parents of all the others there had thought they were giving their children. I want to tell you how it broke my heart a little, to see these people taking action to try to make the world be more like the one I (wrongly) thought we once had, to see their anger and frustration and courage and hope. But my broken heart is not the important thing here, and my tiny heartbreak is nothing in comparison to those of the parents who have lost their children at the hands (or knees or bullets) of police, or those who worry that they will.

Last week a journalist claimed that America is a tinderbox. Last night, in a peaceful protest in a town known for its liberalism, I could feel it–people brittle as leaves and sticks on the forest floor after a summer of drought. Our youth–all of our youth, not just those privileged by social class and race–need real hope for something like the kind of future I took for granted when I was their age, and they need it in the form of action, not empty words and gestures without substance. They need more than police taking a knee one minute and then rising up to throw teargas and shoot rubber bullets the next. They need relief from corrupt leaders, inept government, gross income inequality, a trashed economy, crushing debt, racist systems, and a dying planet.

We all need that for them, too. As activist Lilla Watson once said,

“If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. If you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”

A lit fire can be hard to contain, and people who feel they have little or nothing to lose are going to be quick to reach for matches.

We all have more to lose than we realize, I think.

Rita Ott Ramstad, No justice, no peace

June—not even rounding the cusp of summer; yet heat
pours out as if from a cauldron on every surface.

And the heat of bodies building as a fire
in every city, refusing to be staunched.

These last few months, we raised our windows
at sundown to salute those among us whose work

takes them closest to the edge of the fire.
Each night we hear the distant sound of choppers

circling overhead, and see the arcs thrown by
their beams. Only in the fitful pause of sleep

does the day’s sadness distill into a sort of quiet
blue egg. Every wing in it, every breakable bone.

Luisa A. Igloria, Domus

It’s been a week. You can tell because a giant Russian oil spill and asteroid hurtling towards earth didn’t even make the top five news headlines. Coronavirus, levels of which are still rising in the US, has been knocked out of people’s minds by gigantic protests and riots across the country – and even across the world – about police violence against unarmed, innocent African Americans. Police violence isn’t a new problem in the US, and it’s been remarkably persistent, so we need to think about how reform can makes things better, from sending in social workers and therapists to de-escalate with domestic violence and mental illness and wellness checks instead of police to eliminating the budget for police altogether. It’s clear that what we’ve done before hasn’t gotten rid of police corruption, racism, and abuse, so we need to look at new ways to address the issue.

This is a really important time to register to vote, because not only do we vote (hopefully, out) our president in November – which seems crucial to fixing some of America’s problems – but local elections like sheriffs and mayors are coming up. We the people have more power in voting than we think, and I hope we use it.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A Week of Turmoil, A Poem and Photo in 805 Lit + Art, and reading at the St. Martin Bookfair Saturday Night

My email has filled and refilled with messages from various publications, nonprofits, and other organizations and companies, all stating, in white type against black background, that  they stand with protesters to demand justice and are donating money, sometimes huge sums of money, to various race-related causes or foundations because #Black Lives Matter.

Although these actions can be regarded as good things to do, are they meaningful? Because I want to ask, What else? […]

What does the word “justice” mean to you? “Freedom”? How do you define “fair treatment” and “equal opportunity”? Or are those just sound-good words for your public relations announcements?

What specific actions do you pledge to take when your white CEO commits an EEO violation? Or your HR director turns a cheek to managers’ failure to meet diversity objectives? 

What are you going to do in the communities where you’re based to ensure the history we teach our children includes the true stories of our crimes and African Americans’ many accomplishments? Will you send your children to the same public schools that black children attend? 

Which of you in fact will “stand with” Black Americans and link arms and march the next time a black man out for a run is stalked, beaten up, or killed by white supremacists? What are you going to do to help ensure every Black American has the right to vote? Or prevent a political party from killing legislation to right our wrongs against? Or help rid this nation of food and housing insecurity? Are you going to stop supporting political campaigns that keep in office white men and women who take an oath to uphold our Constitution but are owned by lobbyists and do their bidding, no matter that bidding wrongly discriminates? 

Will you invite your African American neighbors to dinner, or allow your child to have a playdate with his or her black peers?

Whose story are you willing to listen to and defend if one is black and the other white?

Will you support and engage in a national, state, or local race-reconciliation initiative to acknowledge publicly our racism so that all of together can begin to heal and transform our society and culture?

Maureen Doallas, Musings in a Time of Crisis XXVI

–Yesterday, my niece, who goes to grad school in South Florida, asked if any of us had any information about protests or marches. I was a bit abashed to realize that I didn’t. In grad school, I was connected to all sorts of peace and justice groups, both local and national. I was much more plugged in, even though we didn’t have e-mail or social media, or we had a different kind of social media.

But I did know some folks who knew some information, so that’s a plus.

–I have become the kind of person I despised when I was 19, the middle aged person who does support work of social justice by writing out a check. But let me remember the pastor of the inner city Lutheran church in Washington D.C. who educated me by telling me that suburban people and their checkbooks were what made the inner city ministry possible. He did it in the kindest way possible, and I will be forever grateful to know that the work of social justice takes many forms.

–I have always assumed that I was the kind of person who would be the first shipped to the radioactive Colonies in an Atwood dystopia. But I’m thinking I may have flattered myself.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Marching and Writing Checks for Justice

So much has happened since you wrote to me. There are little fires burning everywhere. I don’t think any of us were made to take in all this hurt. I feel the edge of apathy tempting me like a daemon hovering off the edge of a cliff, while beasts and bleeding bodies are rushing toward me in a nightmare. Well, not toward me, but toward us all. I am coincidental.

Are all individuals coincidental?

What can I do but sit on the ground where I am, and breathe? I am irrelevant in the bigger picture of things. And yet integral to all of it.

I am not on the front lines of anything, as you say. I’m not tending to the ill, not protesting in the streets of my homeland. I don’t speak for the suffering, or the dead.

There has to be a way to accept the fact of one’s own helplessness- or uselessness -and not give into likegyldighet. I’m drawn toward the word in my second language because the unfamiliarity seems to put the word’s meaning in relief. The literal translation of the word: the same-validity. Two equally legitimate realities. Facts. It is not a matter of “alternate facts”, but conflicting facts. True phenomenon that coexist necessarily in a state of conflict.

Facts. Disconnected from desires. Desires are interpretations, and there is nothing solid about them.

The fact is we are human. The fact is humans desire. The fact is little good comes from automatic writing.

You are on a font line, Richard. Your day job. It is tending to the vulnerable. It is working towards a kind of justice.

Ren Powell, The Front Line

In the time of COVID we washed our hands with the spittle in the air and prayed for death. We touched our eyes and waited for death or a ventilator, whichever came first. We counted the number of deaths but not the names of those who died.

The names of the dead were written somewhere with invisible ink, but no one knows where. If someone does have that knowledge, they have never admitted to it, and who could read invisible ink anyway?

In truth, a few people prayed for life, but we also failed to record their names, and there was no god to answer such prayers. Death was everywhere.

In the time of COVID the televisions worked just fine, and computers streamed concerts and videos. You could get anything delivered to your home except cheer. We ate pizza and cut our own hair and stared at social media until it invaded our dreams.

Many of us now distrust social media as much as we distrust the spittle for its infection, as much as we distrust the fools who lead us. Indeed, is there any leader worthy of trust? Spit for me and I will wash my hands again.

In the time of COVID we shaved off our body hair and covered ourselves with oil. Naked, we rubbed against each other until we screamed and our house pets screamed along with us, not understanding.

Or perhaps I am wrong, and house pets understand more than they let on. Perhaps they find the sounds of human orgasm to be funny.

In the time of COVID the police continued to murder Blacks until riots overtook our cities and dumpster fires lit the night, the sound of police sirens was a symphony of horror, a symphony of fear.

Even now we can hear the music starting all over again. Even now it is the time of COVID.

James Lee Jobe, In the time of COVID we washed our hands with the spittle in the air

I’ve spent a good portion of the weekend watching the Epstein docuseries on Netflix (of which I think the web of corruption is only the very tip of the iceberg among powerful men) , and last night & finishing later, the Hunger Games movies, of which I have only seen the first two.  (I love the books, but I just never have gotten the chance to get to the two final ones.) They are a strangely appropriate thing to be watching at this very moment and I was hoping they didn’t just spike my anxiety higher, but so far I think I’m okay.  I am back to focusing no further than the end of the day. Especially as my anxieties & fear about going back to work are beginning to creep up on me.  There is so much we don’t know and so much I feel people are paying attention to  (notably that we are not expecting a second wave, and only that the first wave is still very much still happening, only that the news, understandably, is focusing on other things. )  I feel no safer out there than I did in late March. I feel esp. helpless about the decreased seriousness of people out there who seem to either be misinformed or just defiant that they need to wear masks and be careful. I actually feel like the mass protests actually look pretty safe and masked up, but the people in bars and on beaches not so much.

Inside, I am better able to focus on writing-related things than I was a few weeks ago. I have a new book, after all, and want to figure out ways to celebrate and promote it as much as I can. There are also a couple new series–one devoted to Weekly World News headlines and another that just might tangentially be  about the virus, but also about intimacy and connection.  Also just the notion of “viral” and things hi-jacking the body from a scientific standpoint. I feel like I need to tread carefully…I’m not particularly keen on most current events type writing since I think it tends to fall into cliche and hyperbole very easily.  The lit journals are filled with mediocre coronapoems right now. I think I, myself, need a little more distance. 

Kristy Bowen, notes & things : June 7, 2020

there’s massive evil going on
and I study the grasses
oh god I’ve retired

I lit a fire
it was like putting down a pet
I cried

Ama Bolton, ABCD: June 2020

This intense week, I’m featuring a new collection by activist-editor-poet Sonia Greenfield (check out Rise Up Review sometime, too, for brilliant poems of resistance).

Letdown consists of 64 numbered prose poems about pregnancy, birth, raising a special needs child, miscarriage, grief, and recovery. No poems can be assembled into tidy chronologies–they slip and blur, associate and meditate–but the book has a strong emotional arc, through an underworld of pain, to emergence into love and compassion. I love that the book ends in empathy for other parents, but that’s enabled by Greenfield’s own difficult rebirth: “Though I am better now, sometimes I can feel a kite string tied inside cut through me when what I want yanks.”

Maggie Smith gets it right, too, when she calls Greenfield “a master of the prose poem.” Each has a boiled-down lyric intensity. Many investigate the meanings of words, putting the lie to the literary-critical truism that pain short-circuits expression. Poems about diagnostic language, the tone-deaf consolations and blame friends offer, and her sons words are very powerful. Her son is on the autism spectrum and the recurrent description of his “weird energy” could describe the book, too. This collection channels a strong charge of loss and love. As she says, “It takes a while to strip expectations away, to peel off the layers until we’re holding our child’s happiness in the palm of our hand, as pure as the simplest silicate mineral, and say it is enough.” This is a testament to celebrate.

Lesley Wheeler, Virtual Salon #13 with Sonia Greenfield

“The apocalypse…is not when the world ends; it’s when one single person is killed. The entire universe becomes deformed when one single person is tortured.”

—Raúl Zurita, trans. Borzutzky

“The death toll is always one, plus one, plus one. The death toll is always one” —Teju Cole

…we are each other’s
harvest:
we are each other’s
business: we are each other’s
magnitude and bond.

—Gwendolyn Brooks

Beauty will be here for us, but this time, this time. We have to be here for it. We have to end this. Because one unnecessary death is intolerable. Evil is intolerable. Racism is intolerable. Inequality is intolerable. Hatred is intolerable. The disparities are intolerable. Violence against Black people, and Indigenous people and all BIPOC is intolerable.

I’m honestly just a gutted horrible mess over this. I haven’t cried over Covid-19. I’ve cried over this. I read Twitter most of the day, various news sites. And then we had a family Zoom call and that was lovely. What a privilege to know that all your loved ones are safe. And then a big cocktail while listening to Jason Isbell’s song, Be Afraid, repeatedly. Most of us don’t even know what real fear is. I know I don’t.

The line by Teju Cole just keeps repeating in my head, the death toll is always one. It guts me.

Shawna Lemay, Try to Say Something; Also: Shut-Up

Imagine as fully as possible that a crowd of desperate people are at your door. Their eyes and lungs are burning, they are afraid, angry, out of options. You have seconds to decide. Imagine you open the door and now your home is filled with these strangers, every available space taken up. They need food, water, aid. Can you do it?

Now imagine this. You are on the other side of a stranger’s door. You’re the one in pain, afraid and desperate. Will the door open for you?

Laura Grace Weldon, Hospitality To Strangers

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 22

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts.

The poetry blogosphere was relatively quiet this week; I think U.S. poets are worn out or simply stunned by what’s unfolding on the streets. Today, as Erica Goss reminds us, was Walt Whitman’s birthday. Come back, Walt, we need you! Oh well, I guess we’ll have to look for him under our combat boot-soles…


The dark threw its patches down upon me also, Walt Whitman wrote in “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry.” Nearly as often as he reflects on his own tingling senses, Whitman, it turns out, writes about distance and solitude, sometimes expressing pain about it and reaching for touch across impossible gaps. “It avails not, time nor place–distance avails not,” he insists. We can be together, apart. This violent week has proven again that in my country, unity is a fiction. Some U.S. citizens are protected by police; in overlapping territory, other U.S. citizens are murdered by police. I admire Whitman’s desire to heal damage and division, but I can’t love my country the way he did.

Yet the fellowship of writers in other places, even other times, helps my heart. I wrote last week about feeling rested by the kind intelligence of Ned Balbo’s new book The Cylburn Touch-Me-Nots, and before that the pleasure of revisiting Martha Silano’s Gravity Assist.

Lesley Wheeler, It is not upon you alone the dark patches fall

I struggle to find words right now.

The virus has stolen life and breath from so many. Systemic racism has stolen life and breath from so many more.

What words could be equal to the murder of George Floyd? To the unthinkable horror of a police officer kneeling on a man’s neck until the life leaves him?

And we know that the pandemic disproportionately kills people of color because of the same systemic racism that causes police to arrest, and to kill, people of color in disproportionate numbers. It’s injustice heaped on injustice.

Rachel Barenblat, I don’t have words.

Say anything over and over,
word you love or word you loathe
it reduces to sound,
to nonsense.
As a meditation,
this nudges us
closer to edges,
toward wilder realms rarely visited.

But be wary of ideas
ranted over and over.
They lose something too,
lose the softness of grass on bare feet,
of hand touching hand. They become
strictures against the way rain speaks,
barriers to what nourishes
the ground we are.

Laura Grace Weldon, Now, Reality Is Surreal

I spent a fair amount of time yesterday writing a post I’m not going to share.

Writing is my way of processing what’s happening, and it served that purpose, but even I am just not all that interested in my perspective on what’s happening in my country–so I’m not going to share it here.

I am weary of so many people I know pontificating on social media when, frankly, they don’t know what the fuck they are talking about. And, sorry(notsorry), their opinions (and mine) just aren’t as important as those of others who know more than we do. I’m thinking I don’t need to join the cacophany of white noise any more than I already have.

I think the best thing I can do as a white person is shut the hell up and listen.

Here are a few voices that need amplification far more than mine:

A Timeline of Events That Led to the 2020 ‘Fed-Up’-rising (from The Root)

George Floyd, Minneapolis Protests, Ahmaud Arbery & Amy Cooper | The Daily Social Distancing Show (Trevor Noah)

Remember, No One Is Coming to Save Us (Roxanne Gay)

Rita Ott Ramstad, The best thing I can do

If he’s been working hard,
his skin glints
as if lacquered with gold
and if you’re lucky enough
to behold it, my nephew’s
contagious smile
will lighten your burdens
for a while,
despite his dark skin.

So when you ask me why
I’m outraged
ask yourself why
to white policemen
&
to white supremacists
&
to whites who say they
don’t see color,
my nephew’s skin
is the color of fear,
the color of hatred,
the color of oppression,
the color of lynching
in broad, bright daylight.

Lana Hechtman Ayers, The Color of Racism

Here in Canada, I’ve observed the Truth and Reconciliation process with the indigenous community. Although America has perpetrated even more injustices, including genocide, against its native people, this did not feel like “my” issue when I moved here; because of the time when I grew up, I was more concerned, more familiar, and more invested in the struggles for civil rights, women’s rights, peace and nuclear disarmament, gender equality, and the rights of immigrants and religious and ethnic minorities — all of which had been major issues in the United States during my lifetime.  But I have seen the painful steps toward truth-telling and reconciliation here, as well as in South Africa, and I believe that this is the ONLY way to begin to redress the wrongs that have been done, and to bring a society into greater understanding.

Yet in Canada, in spite of believing that we’re better than our neighbors to the south, we have our share of racism and hatred, especially directed against Muslims and Jews. Just this week, in one of the worst attacks in recent memory, a synagogue here in Montreal was violently ransacked, its religious objects desecrated — a Torah had been cut up and stuffed into a toilet — the floors covered in red paint, and the walls with antisemitic graffiti.

Meanwhile, the poor, and people of color and of ethnic minorities are dying at higher rates of COVID-19, while they fill a greater number of poorly-paid service and health care jobs. The same Quebec government which recently threw out three years of immigrant applications just had the gall to start a new fast-track program for immigrants who are willing to come here and work in the deplorable care homes for the elderly, where the virus has spread like wildfire, resulting in 80% of the deaths in the province. The message is clear: we didn’t want you before, but now we need you to take care of us, so we’ll make you a deal.

We white people of conscience have no choice: we have to stand for justice and against racism in all of its forms, against violence, against oppression, and for equality for all people regardless of race, religion, gender, or sexual preference. And you know what? It is not the job of black people, or Muslims, or Jewish people, Asians, Arabs, or any other minority group, to educate us about why their lives matter, and what needs to be done. It’s our job, and we had damn well better get on with it.

Beth Adams, Hermit Diary 27: A Summer Already Ablaze

This week, we hit a different grim milestone:  100,000 dead in the U.S. of COVID-19.  It’s a number that’s hard for me to get my head around, so earlier this week I looked up #s of deaths in past wars.  The number that we heard this week is that we now have more COVID-19 dead than in all the wars since Korea.  Daily we lose the number of U.S. citizens that we did on September 11, 2001. […]

In this week of deaths of all sorts, I was sobered by the loss of AIDS activist Larry Kramer, especially since I had just seen archival footage of him in How to Survive a Plague, footage that reminded me of how powerful and effective (and irritating) he was.  But Robb Forman Dew also died.  This obituary in The Washington Post noted that she emerged at the same time as Louise Erdrich and Ann Tyler, and that’s how I remember her, as part of a group of important women writers who came a generation before me.  Barbara Sher also died this week–in the mid-90’s, I read all her books, and I particularly remember Wishcraft as the type of book that told us to train our brains to think about what we wanted to achieve, not on our fears.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Milestones and Hinges

Benjamin and Kathryn, husband and wife, died three days apart.

Anne Mae, 82, known for sweet potato pies, and daughter Connie, 64
days after her mother.

Jaimala, 65, designer of saris and tapestries.

Dianne, Stella, and Maria, the three sisters, dying within a month of
each other.

Mike, over 60, called a “heart survivor.”

“Miss Minnie,” no symptoms.

Motoko, 92, the last of the surviving “Monuments Women.”

Newborn Baby Girl, no chance to be named.

Maureen Doallas, Musings in a Time of Crisis XXII

The events of the world
enter my house via cable lines
and satellite.

Family fabric frays,
children fledge. I free a robin
tangled in fence wire,

harvest spinach,
prepare a meal no one
stays home to eat.

Ann E. Michael, Events in the world

The manic dust of my friends is with me at all times, a different kind of grief and yet part of it, a grief I need to answer to, one I only answer with my own.

As I roam through the wreckage I am overcome by a new thing, is it anger, this man who did what, who said what, who dares to go on living without knowing about my grief?

The next chapter in my book of transformations is already here. What shall I call it? Shall I go back to my life and live it, even as I grieve?

Anthony Wilson, Living in the layers

I have a strange desire to lug something heavy on my back so that I can put it down at the end of the day. I want to see something besides the yard and the same 4 kilometre stretch of trail along the lake.

Until then – until the grades have been logged and the students sent off –  I’m starting a garden. When I say “I”, I mean E. is sawing down the overgrown thuja to make room for the tiny greenhouses.  I’ll try to grow chilies and tomatoes.

Basil, mint, parsley, cilantro.

There is a space he is clearing along the southern side of the house where I’m going to plant raspberry bushes and apple trees.

It upsets me a little to consider that the trees might not take root.

I have a desire to do something that matters. Like growing things. I have a fear that even on this tiny scale, I won’t be able to do it right.

So I am procrastinating and blaming the weather. I’m blaming the weather for the melancholy, too.

For some reason I keep thinking about the Italians – months ago now – who spontaneously sang together from their balconies. Not for each other, but with each other.

Is there a really good word for this feeling it brings up in me? I know other people felt it. Because they tried so hard to repeat it.

This is a kind of grasping, isn’t it?

Ren Powell, Clearing the Way for Summer

Days of letdowns, feeling unseen vs. those getting on up, getting back on the scene.

Days of walking crowded or well-distanced streets, forging the depths of fake news vs. real news.

Undercounting death tolls and high-stakes elections. Encountering those politically unmasked vs. others respectfully protected.

Unrest, unemployment, and racism thrive while too many black men die.

Days when innocence seems rarer than cynicism, when the clock turns slowly and Minneapolis burns,

when the only thing we seem to have in common is what keeps us awake at night.

Rich Ferguson, What Diseases Whisper to Us While We Sleep?

I met Lucille Clifton the first time, I think, in 1991 when she came to the University of Washington to read for our Watermark series. Her larger-than-life personality and her brash honesty about being black, about being female, swept me away. I was in the MFA program and I thought I had something to say. But I was too young, too sheltered, too inexperienced to have written the poems she had written: “homage to my hips,” or “lumpectomy eve,” or “in the meantime” (“the Lord of loaves and fishes / frowns as the children of / Haiti Somalia Bosnia Rwanda Everyhere / float onto the boats of their bellies / and die”). There seemed no subject that was so controversial she wouldn’t take a crack at it, and I was in awe of her.

At the reception after the reading, another young poet started telling Clifton all about herself. I knew it was nerves, but it was still a little stunning to see her binge-talk through the entire conversation. When she walked away, Clifton said, laughing, “Does she ever listen? How does she ever learn anything?”

As a member of the Watermark committee I was gifted with the opportunity to drive her to the airport the next morning. She said, “Oh, drop me at the curb,” but I refused. Over breakfast, I told her a little about the “verse-writing” class that had recently been assigned to me. My professor and long-time mentor, Colleen McElroy, had advised that I teach them “one thing,” a thing that she would not divulge. I asked Lucille Clifton what she emphasized in her classes, and she began expounding. Listening and learning–not just from teachers, from everything–was the general theme. “And never stop,” she said.

Bethany Reid, Lucille Clifton (1936-2010)

This labor is simple: Pull.
Your back is a pinion of flames. Pull
Through the strain of this toil. Pull.
The waters are heaving. Pull.
You will rise on this swell. Pull
In your staggering grief. Pull
In this fevered forgetting. Pull
Withthe will of the holy. Pull
For this scaffold of sinew. Pull
With your castle of bone.

Kristen McHenry, Still Life with Rowing Machine

Spring is really just starting where I live, and the birdsong is wild, the frogs are loud, and the traffic sounds from the nearby highway are quieter. I feel as though we’re forgetting how to talk to people, and we’re becoming a bit subdued. I worry a lot about my daughter, alone in her apartment across the country. I know she’s fine, but I love her so I worry. We’re all missing a lot of things and trying not to dwell. It does no good to miss the idea of going to Rome, or missing the dog we haven’t had for years. We have to all just go on trusting in our hearts and pausing for those delicately made things, for those shocks of surprising beauty. Might we use them as stepping stones to get over this river?

There are so many bruising and devastating moments which I know you’ve all read about or watched the video just this week (you know the one I’m talking about I’m sure) and the horrible thing is we know there will be more ugliness ahead. That’s a given. I wish it weren’t. And I can’t look away. I can minimize my exposure but I’m not going to ignore these inhuman acts.

I’m a broken record for beauty. I’m a broken record for the open heart. If we keep these with us, they’ll help steer us. As much as we’re learning about what and who is inhumane, we’re also learning about who is beautiful, who understands what is good and delicate and true.

If we’re going to record what’s happening in our ordinary lives, along with the view from where we sit on the ills of the world, and I think we ought to be, we have to remember, too, to get down the moments of pure joy, the moments of respite, solace, and when things are so beautiful they make us break down and cry.

Shawna Lemay, Ordinary Life, Continued

Today has been a grey, rainy day. Seattle is not only under coronavirus-related lockdown but roads have been shut down and a 5 PM curfew has been announced. Trains and ferries have been stopped. The news is full of ugly images.

This morning I attended a two hour online master class from A Public Space on editing creative-non-fiction and fiction. As you probably know if you’re here, I’m mainly a poet, but I occasionally experiment with other forms, and I’d never rule out a short story or a memoir someday, so it’s good to learn about the tools. Check out A Public Space which is also offering free online book clubs.

I then fell asleep for two hours. Zoom still wears me out. I’m not sure if this is an MS thing or what. Does this happen to you guys, or is because of my damaged neurology? Or could it be the massive unrest across the country, the accumulated anxiety of months of lockdown coming to an uneasy end, that makes it hard to have energy for appreciating the good things, like this towhee and orange roses?

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A New Poem in the Atlanta Review, Trying to Say Something about America Right Now, and a Grey End of May

yesterday we had such a huge thunderstorm that it shook the bones of my house and I was scared for the first time ever in a thunderstorm it lasted for one or two hours after I scouted for split trees but found none

my son drove me to town to find Maria Sanchez who runs the little Lopez Family Farm fruit stand on the corner next to the sad furniture store I was so excited and happy to see her that I bought an entire flat of strawberries thinking about ruby red jam I washed the berries then put them in the fridge I truly don’t know if I have the energy to make jam right now I am exhausted with frustration and anger and worry I’ll probably make a small batch of no pectin jam today then freeze the rest for smoothies and try again later

I argued with my son last night which made me sad he wanted to go to Seattle to photograph the mayhem which after all is his life’s work but I told him if he went he would have to stay there at his girlfriend’s house for two weeks to make sure he doesn’t pick up the virus from being in a huge body of people when the plague is still alive and well and waking back up as cities begin to ease restrictions maybe you think I’m being unreasonable it is clear my son thought so but my self preservation instinct is very strong I have not survived abuse and and addiction and poverty and mental illness and 40 years of back breaking factory work to be brought down by a virus fuck that noise as we used to say back in the day fuck. that. noise.

Rebecca Loudon, Pig and farm report

Oh how good we feel on those straight lines, so sure of our path, running parallel to the turning world, convinced of our own deservingness, the justice of it all, we are so right, righteous even, and able to see where everyone else is going wrong, what they should be saying, doing, who they should be doing it for.

And what about the crooks and fissures in the road behind us when we stamped and grumbled, the times we ran back from fear and not toward, the fences we kicked in, the gates we refused to walk through when someone opened them for us, when we refused to move on and blamed the road we had made and chosen?

Here they come again, more clefts and fractures, and that bend ahead just willing us to refuse it.

forgiveness
someone else’s footsteps
hardened in the dry earth

Lynne Rees, straight lines ~ a haibun

so i ran with the hare, and soared with the lark,
hill-high and be-blued above the heather.
those alone moments with a rod or a gun
and the neighbour’s dog. bonzo.
i remember bonzo, i do. he was a fun dog,
a company across the fields sort of dog.
a marsh harrier of rats in the rubbish tips
long-walked upon the marsh.

these marble memories rattle now, around and
around they rattle my brain – as that song said.
where shall i lay them, and when is the time?
here upon a few lines of ink think? or shall i
take them to the graveside of childhood and
knock the door and run away? but, hey,
they are homing dreams, like the pigeons in baskets
at release of somewhere, somewhere.

look, i’ll put them just here. OK?
Look after them for me;
i won’t be long.

Jim Young, i’ll put them just here

He was going
to brush his teeth, gargle with mouthwash,
spit with effort: all movements slower now
that the rest of him was testing the currents
of this new sea his doctors referred to as
The Gradual Decline. Pills in the morning,
at noon, and again at night for the faltering
heart, the heart that skipped a beat like the old
record he used to play. Begin, it sang; and
beguine—that little fancy, a passing infatuation
with the idea of time not yet knighted
by sadness. I held still, afraid if I blinked,
the future would lose no time unseating us from
the surface where we tried to hold our ground.

Luisa A. Igloria, Portrait of My Father From a Second Floor Window Four Months Before His Death

Some poets evolve by venturing into new subjects, new narratives, new locations. Others, meanwhile, burrow further and further into their core concerns, casting different perspectives on similar themes, grappling with them in fresh ways, layering them, building their nuances and ramifications.

Abegail Morley’s recent development, from her previous collection, The Skin Diary (Nine Arches Press, 2016) to her new book, The Unmapped Woman (Nine Arches Press, 2020), shows that she clearly belongs to the latter group. Her focus on loss, already a pivotal element, has now expanded its reach, its depth and its power to move the reader.

One clear example occurs in the opening pages to The Unmapped Woman, in the first lines of a poem titled Gravid. They can, of course, be read as the portrayal of a moment, of an incident. However, they can also be read as a declaration of poetic intent for the collection as a whole. They announce an exploration of the relationship between language and loss:

Not until after the front door slams shut
and absence sucks air from its cheeks,
do the words in her head, packed tight
as if on postcards, unhook their ink…

Matthew Stewart, Absence that disorientates, Abegail Morley’s The Unmapped Woman

I love when I’m reading someone else’s poem and find it’s inspired me such that I have to put it down and run over to my own notebook to write something. Usually when I go back to the triggering poem by the other poet, I can’t for the life of me figure out how I got to what their poem said to what I felt compelled to run to write down. But hooray for the whole enterprise. So I turned with relish to the pile of books of poetry that has been growing at my elbow, and will today share some of the choice lines from them.

So thanks to some trade deals, I have three wonderful little handsewn books from Ethel Zine & Micro Press:

– From Joanna Penn Cooper’s When We Were Fearsome, from “The Keening”:   “…That scene in The Shining that terrifies/a child, the beautiful woman falling old./Now when I see it I think, It’s just a woman./His whole big horror was just embracing/the woman’s changing body.”

And this from her “Existential Kink”: “…My whole life has been one long/creative exercise, a Life Prompt, if you will. Try it. Go/from something kind of funny to something kind of sad/and back again. Repeat. Keep repeating….”

– From Annmarie O’Connell’s Hellraiser, from “Tonight I’m sitting in the front room”: “Im telling you/that a story can remember me/hunt me down/and sooner or later/knock me dead into the past/with its invisible/arms.”

And this from “This is a road.”: “Suddenly inside we are better people/miraculous/with the undertow of failing.”

– From Barbara Ungar’s Edge, from “Madascan Moon Moth”: “To distract bats, he spins his extravagant/and expendable long red tail./They aim for that/and miss him as he burns through the dark,/improbably and fleeting, the Comet Moth.”

And from “April Journal, 2018”: “Though living in the end days/with thirteen kinds of crazy/still the birds return one by one.”

Marilyn McCabe, Prepare ye the way; or, On Poetry I’m Reading, and Possibly Stealing From

Risa Denenberg: Your books incorporate the term “survivor.” How has your identity as an AIDS survivor impacted your vision as a poet? Have you written about your journey as an AIDS survivor? How did you incorporate that impact on the person who walks through the woods and oceans and seasons in these poems?

Marjorie Moorhead: Being a survivor of AIDS (from a time when there was no viable treatment) has shaped my vision as a poet because I learned, during many, many hours and years “alone” with myself, traveling through grief to self-discovery, to SEE things, “in the moment”. If you travel around with death in your lap, ready to take over at any moment, each moment seems indeed a gift and full of rich detail. Each breath becomes a full and wonder-full moment; the in, and then the out. I spent at least five years learning to meditate, and practice tai chi ch’uan. My goal in those years (as, of course it should be for everybody all the time…but gets lost so easily once Life is “easy”), was to live in a state of Grace in each moment. I had to figure out what that meant for myself. It’s a very personal interpretation of the word “Grace,” as I was not brought up with religious practice or dogma except for very general overlying morality (which I am grateful for!). So, the person walking through woods, oceans, seasons in these poems is one who is noticing, processing, and feeling a part of where she is. […]

RD: Finally, I hope you are safe and well. Can you talk a bit about how you are faring during the pandemic?

MM: At the start of this pandemic, I was very aware of the link back in time to the AIDS epidemic. I started writing “Coronavirus Diary” poems (to date, I think there are 12 of them!), and also responded, in April, to the call from Indolent Books’ HIV Here & Now “Na(HIV)PoWriMo” project for poems about HIV/AIDS.  I have since moved on to writing a series of poems inspired by the Bluejays who built a nest outside within view of our window. Watching their daily journey, while in “lockdown”, has been a way to expand out into the world and I’ve attempted writing a few poems where the “I” is a nesting bird. I also try to get out for a daily walk, just breathing and moving and noticing what’s around me…same as I have been doing for thirty years or more.

Risa Denenberg, Survival in Two Volumes

Now the earth tastes of flowers, perhaps irises, and these flowers bless our lives. I reject the abuses of my mother and my father just as I reject all flags and leaders. The earth and the flowers, the irises, are my family. There is no value to the memory of abuse, and there is no value in a flag. Life is for passion, love, kindness, and the beauty of things growing on the earth. Damn every last leader anywhere.

James Lee Jobe, Now the earth tastes of flowers, perhaps irises

Thinking of our lives as art or as prayer reminds us that we are the raw material from which art arises, whatever the outcome, whether painting, sculpture, music, or literature. Each person is a moving, breathing, work of art, one that is ever-changing; to paraphrase Whitman, we all contain that beautiful truth.

Early in Leaves of Grass, he writes:

            There was never any more inception than there is now,

            Nor any more youth or age than there is now,

            And will never be any more perfection than there is now,

            Nor any more heaven or hell than there is now.

In this time when our environments have shrunk, when we are doing everything from home, we need big thinkers like Walt Whitman, who reminds us that no matter where we are, no matter our age, ability, or belief system, we are individual works of art.

Sunday, May 31st is Walt Whitman’s 201st birthday. If you’re able, go outdoors, and, as he advises,

            Loafe with me on the grass…loose the stop from your throat.

Erica Goss, You Are a Work of Art

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 21

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week included some searing posts on death and illness and several thought-provoking posts about the vocation and political economy of writing. Plus many other wonders.


What’s there to fear
of the old men on Rikers

condemned to die —
not for their crimes

but for living long
enough to pick up

the lethal virus from
their concrete beds.

No visitors allowed.
The men on the island

can’t speak of how
spring pushes up

not daisies not miracle
cures but takes away

their little breath left
the crown of the virus

colonizing their lungs
robbing their hearts

of energy enough
to beat bad odds.

Bio-containment rules
rule out the six feet

of physical distancing
but not the six feet

down where the trench-
diggers go, where

the bodies, their own,
come to rest four deep.

Maureen E. Doallas, Musings in a Time of Crisis XIX

Everyone who knows me knows this story. How does it become more than just another story of someone losing someone they love? Especially now, when there’s a whole new category of how to lose a loved one? Maybe recognizing cycles and honoring them is a story we all need.

Yesterday morning I had a committee meeting of the land trust board I’m on and I did the Zoom call on my porch. Other people on the call could hear the birds in my yard and there were texts about the birds, asking what they were. I know I have robins, sparrows, chickadees, mourning doves, bluebirds, mockingbirds and bob-o-links in the pastures across the street.

But when I was asked what the song was punctuating the call, I didn’t know. I pay attention to the birds in my yard, but I’m not sure I want to be able to name the ones that mark the descent into illness for Eric.

Grace Mattern, Birdsong Yahrzeit

I know what’s coming. At the same time, I have no idea at all. It will be terrible, it will be beautiful, it will not be what I expected. It will live with me every day. It is already living in me.

As we say, the memories ‘come flooding back’. Whoever first said this has a lot to answer for. Sometimes they drip drip drip away at me, in the dark, not a flood at all. Other days (nights) it is a torrent.

The sound of her laughter. The smell of onions frying. Her lack of solemnity. That time the car broke down on the way back from school, the steam, the searing heat that day.

The sheer look of joy on her face in this photo, unguarded, not posed. That’s a rare thing to encounter in this life. And I am grateful.

But still I want her back. And it hasn’t really started yet. This is just the beginning.

Anthony Wilson, On the Edge

Over the weekend, my body finally succumbed to months of stress and I got sick with some sort of illness that had me deliriously wondering why miscreant elves were appearing in my stomach and stabbing me from the inside at unpredictable intervals. Hence the very late post this week. I’m on the mend now—still a bit weak, shaky and wrung out, but climbing out of it. It wasn’t the ‘Rhona. I know because I got tested, which was a weird experience involving people in space suits at multiple confusing checkpoints and about fifteen seconds of deep unpleasantness while an alien tentacle molested my nostril. The world has become a very strange place.

Kristen McHenry, Down for the Count, I Got Tested, Bitchy Reviews

Does it start with that viral Unseen Photos Of Frida Kahlo at the End of Her Life! photo essay?

COVID means the world reduced to Facebook, to what is viral.

She was softened, later. And toughened, too. The strongest leather thong; her face my jess.

I wrote: fire is a praxis of leave-taking.

[…]

Equivalent, the falsehood, the heart rate, the oxygen, the glue. My spine screams. Hypoxia makes it vague, and impossible:

this body:

a false equivalence

between love

and death.

JJS, to shapeshift impossible leave-taking: an essay in embodied quarantine

I shivered when I took them off,
those masks of forty years —
goodgirlgooddaughtergoodstudentgoodwifegoodmothergoodgoodgood.
I stood naked in a new day.
Who was left?
Could I find her?
Would I love her?
Would anyone?
I set out to build a woman
without masks.

Sarah Russell, Unmasked by Sarah Russell (WEARING A MASK Series)

When we believe fate’s deck is stacked against us. When kindness, science, and common sense play a zero-sum game against the government.

When we carry ourselves like a forlorn flower heading to the gallows. When perpetual anthems of inner rain dull our spirit to rust.

When, during these rootless and ruthless days, our calendar minds are stripped of their pages—

may we call upon instinct’s North Star to guide us home.

May we rely upon muscle memory to recall our most cherished embrace.

To say these things, it is not my wish for us to walk on water. Instead, to rise from it should we feel like we’re drowning.

Rich Ferguson, Humming This Song Until I Discover a Better One

While a wild wind blows
and changes the weather like
a light switch: on, off,

on, off, we listen
to mixed tapes dedicated
to teenagers’ dreams.

We remember those
days in our rooms, in ourselves
well now, as we try

to figure out this.

Magda Kapa, Isolation Time – May so far

I write smoking a cigarette 
blindfolded extinct among the scribes 
does my spirit without fleshy gravity 
rise or is this then an angel 
in the stupid theory of angels
we ate thanksgiving in May 
it felt like dying a little
I am an angel arm stretched 
to catch a pink star on a pole
that never stops swinging

Rebecca Loudon, corona 20.

The second blackbird to come was bold. He drank five beaks-full, stretching down to fill his lower beak, then tipping his head back to swallow. All this within two metres of me. Well, within two metres of my head. My feet were considerably closer. […]

Over lunch, I chatted to my son about the meaning of social distance. He pointed out that his head is socially distanced from his feet, unless he’s engaged in yoga. A reason to stop doing yoga, if you were looking for one, I said.

This confusion seems to be widespread – why else would some people veer into hedges or oncoming traffic when another person approaches, and others keep doggedly moving forward, passing by, bringing our heads no more than two feet apart.

The blackbird was at just the right distance from me for me to appreciate his bold glory. We both kept safe. He left after his drink to sit on a nearby branch. His song stretched from there to here, causing soundwaves to vibrate my maleus, incus and stapes – reaching right inside of me.

Liz Lefroy, I Socially Distance

Female bees will also burrow
deep inside the shade of a squash
flower: the closer to the source
of nectar, the warmer and more
quilt-like the air. In the cool
hours of morning, look closely
for the slight but tell-tale
trembling in each flower cup:
there, a body dropped mid-flight,
mid-thought. How we all retreat
behind some folded screen as work
or the world presses in too
soon, too close, too much.

Luisa A. Igloria, Ode to Tired Bumblebees Who Fall Asleep Inside Flowers with Pollen on their Butts

The kids in Finland went back to school on the 14th for about two weeks before the summer and I started subbing yesterday for 4 of the last 7 days. I’m not going to get into the wisdom of that decision as I’m not sure where I stand on it, but regardless, we’re all looking forward to a break from this new normal.  

On the days I’m not working, I have plenty of things to keep me busy with my course, my writing and other things on my To Do List. They’re opening the libraries to pick up reserved books, so that’s something to look forward to. As I’ve said before I’m used to social isolation, it’s the strain of home-schooling 3 kids on my own that’s been getting to me. 

My focus has changed, so I’ve struggled to keep up with this blog. I’m back on my course work, trying to get my allotment sorted before my birch allergy gets so bad I can’t go outside and I’ve finished painting my stairs, so I can focus on the kitchen cabinets next, if I’m not going back to work. I’m still trying to write my poem a day, but usually late at night, so I barely remember what I wrote in the morning and it feels like a new poem. 

Gerry Stewart, Corona Virus: Week Nine: Back to Semi-Normal

It’s the end of the third week of May, and while many states are opening up, my area in Washington State is still mostly in lockdown. This really doesn’t change anything for the likes of me, someone who’s high-risk and immune-compromised, honestly, but I can feel others getting impatient. We still don’t have enough: tests, PPEs, viable treatments. If you feel stressed, remember we’re living through something unfamiliar, unprecedented in either ours or our parents’ time. It’s like the Great Depression plus tuberculosis, with a number of dead in such a short time it rivals a fairly big war. People say, “When are we going back to normal?” and I think to myself, the answer is maybe never. Maybe we won’t go back to crowded concerts or lots of packed-in-sardine-can planes, maybe the sky and water will be cleaner, maybe we won’t shake hands anymore or ever dole out casual hugs to people we don’t know well. Maybe more companies will let their employees work from home and voters will decide universal health is maybe kind of important. Maybe hospitals and retirement homes will be redesigned with more privacy, better ventilation, more sunlight. And we went from “normal” to isolated and scared, dealing with scarcity in all kinds of things (thermometers? vitamin C?) in a matter of days and weeks. We lost 100,000 people, just in America, in about three months. Of course you don’t feel normal, of course you feel scared and stressed. It would be remarkable if you did not. Don’t worry. I’ve got bird and flower pictures, as well as recommended reading for grim times, farther down the post.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A New Poem in Baltimore Review, Field Guide on a Grim Times Reading List, More Pink Typewriters and Birds, and Weathering May Gloom

Has anyone else been struck by how elegant, how almost attractive, some of the images for the coronavirus are on television?

Image Problem

All those flower-like
protrusions as if marketing
designed a logo for it, as if
it were not ugly—and
too small to see.

Are these trumpets signaling
attack, mouths to gobble
the good microbes, suction
cups structured to latch
onto surfaces or cells?

Ellen Roberts Young, Image Problem, In Reverse

There with the native plants, and aggressively overtaking the undergrowth, are amur honeysucke, asiatic rose, barberries, wintercreeper, japanese knotweed, mugwort, ragweed, burdock, thistle, garlic mustard, and whole hosts of plantains and creeper vines. One part of me abhors them. But I admire their tenacity and their ability to adapt to new circumstances. They’ll probably be thriving long after humankind has departed the planet.

As, perhaps, will the whitetail deer–a century ago, become scarce in the wilderness, considered almost “hunted out”–they managed to recover their numbers through adaptation to suburbia, where they are now “pests.” They graze on front lawns, nibble at ornamentals, gobble the leaves and bark of decorative trees, and gather at street-side puddles to drink, leaving heart-shaped prints in the mud and grass. But on my walk yesterday, I observed a doe lying amid the brambles; and she observed me. With the eyes of the wild, darkly liquid, meeting my gaze with her own. I did not move. Nor did she. I made no sound. We watched one another until, with a fluid motion and almost soundlessly, she leapt to her feet, twisted in the air, and fled in an instant. A brief rustle of trampled branches in her wake.

Ann E. Michael, Wild places

It is a rainy Sunday morning, but not the flooding kind of rain. I woke up thinking, is that rain hitting the windows or the tiny feet of a creature in the attic? Hoorah! It was rain.

I spent much of yesterday looking for rain, as threatening clouds came and went and then settled in for the evening. It was sunny early in the day, and we had a great time outside, reading by the pool and then getting in the pool. I hadn’t gone on my walk, so I spent 45 minutes swimming back and forth.

And then, fighter jets appeared out of nowhere, out of the south, flying north. My first thought: I hope they’re ours. My old habits kicked in: listening for explosions, keeping an eye open for a mushroom cloud, wondering if I should go inside to be safe from blast burns or the stuff exploding away from a blast site.

None of that happened, and come to find out, it was an Air Force squadron flying over to say thank you to various hospital workers. I still find it a curious way to say thank you.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, So Normal, So Not

We are defeated. From over the ocean the warplanes return like dragonflies flying over a fishpond. The stars above them hum and whisper in diamond light. The world is a whirlpool of churning thought. We are defeated, indeed, both sides are defeated. No one really wins a war. The graves of the innocent villagers are shallow and hard. The broken arm of the night will not mend, and the soldiers know this. Some of the soldiers sleep in sleek caskets. We should bury them together, two to a grave. One American, one Afghani. They could rest forever in each others arms.

James Lee Jobe, We are defeated.

Into the sudden sunlight
springs the lilac

under an iron sky
sleek as hematite

and the air is a prickling
sharp as cold ashes

blown past velvet houses
where light recedes

into the settled darkness
beyond the earth’s shoulder

Clarissa Aykroyd, Previously unpublished poem: ‘Breath’

The worst part about the current crisis for me personally, other than intense sadness about the loss of life worldwide, has been the loss of making music with others through singing. Added to that is the growing awareness that, because singing is one of the most dangerous activities, it may be a very long time before we can return to it. I was already fearing that I might be getting toward the end of my time as a choir singer, though I waffle back and forth about that. Now, in my worst moments, I wonder if I will ever return to it, after a lifetime of being in church and cathedral choirs.

However, our choir has just produced their first virtual-choir video, and we’re working on two more which I’ll share with you here when they’re completed. It’s a bizarre and quite self-conscious process, where you  record your own part, solo, while listening to a backing track on headphones. The tracks were then assembled by our music director, Jonathan White, and the resulting video recording sounded remarkably like us — the way our own particular voices blend and sound together. This video was played during the cathedral’s Zoom service last Sunday morning, and a number of parishioners told me they were very moved to hear and see the choir again.

Beth Adams, Hermit Diary 24: Remembering Patrick Wedd

It’s been a long time since I’ve put fingers to keyboard in service of creative writing. Too long and I don’t really know what to write here. I write for work, and while challenging, and creative in problem solving and working on teams, it doesn’t really provide an outlet for making something new.

I’ve collected some various prompts and images in the last few years. Kids were born, bought a house. Life continued, which should provide plenty of material to generat-icise new poems.

I even have the start to a chapbook that I haven’t looked at in… at least two years.

One line I have written down is

This poem will piss you off.

I think it’s supposed to be in the voice of the president. But I can’t even see through my own anger to start writing it. I have no distance.

I have pictures of various atrocities. But again, I have no distance.

There is a way in which my jaw has not unclenched in almost four years. Longer than that, I guess.

There’s a need to pull it out of the gut like gutting a fish it should be messy and a little gross and inelegant. Righteous hellfire wrath were faith still important. Though it’s all some people have they’ve swallowed the hook. There is not a pretty way to exorcise that barbed point.

Eric M. R. Webb, Need to write

I’ve been thinking a bit about the speed at which things spin past us wildly. About social media, especially in a world where our attentions are split in 100 different directions. The things I followed once on the regular, blogs, you-tubers, litzines, get lost in the rubble of horrible news articles and general mental scatteredness of living in crazy world where we may have never had control of it, but even the illusion that we did seems to be unraveling. I’ve been thinking about my own writing and art and how I feel like even when I am creating it, I am disconnected from the audience. Or from even the idea of audience that I used to feel. […]

Probably from about 2005-2009, blogs were the center of my online lit community, full of comments and interactions (good and bad) that dwindled once writers began to move to facebook for such things. I joined Facebook in 2009 and that soon became the way you connected with other writers, while the blogs sort of dwindled down to the folks, like me, who still loved long-form content too much to give it up. But probably now and for the past decade, the blog feels like someone playing a record in space. You know it’s making music and broadcasting, but aren’t quite sure if it’s reaching anyone’s ears. And maybe it just feels that way because we’re now trained to expect more interaction when we post things..a like or comment or a heart. Proof that someone at least heard us.

But then again, writing might be a little like this itself. You write a book, you publish a poem, and it blasts off into the universe, and only occasionally an echo comes back. Someone writes a review or says a kind something that makes your heart soar, You click with an editor or a something goes over really well at a reading. For poetry, it stills feels like there is a lot more silence than there is echo. But then of course, how can it be any other way?

Kristy Bowen, space music and paper boats

The other meaning of the word “career” got me thinking about my “career” and my life’s career, and about how much I love double-entendre and the tricksiness of words. So as I careered (derived from horse riding) and careened (derived from ship repair), from one kind of life to another, little remained that looks like a career (derived from wheeled vehicle).

In fact I cleaved from path after path, quitting this, trying and quitting that, cleaving to a desire to be true to myself, whoever she was at any given time.

I buckled up in each trajectory’s car, buckled down to the work, but inevitably buckled from the pressure to sit.

I overlooked clues to what make me satisfied, overly concerned with some imagined authority who overlooked my choices.

Okay, maybe I’ve pushed the game too far. But I love that these are known as “Janus words,” that old two-faced bloke. But truly, I have careered, and cannot claim to have had a career, a definition that includes the notion of durability, of a devotion of time.

And the only thing I can say I have been devoted to across time is words. I have also loved silence. And there we have poetry.

Marilyn McCabe, And you always show up late; or, On Words (and Life) That Go Forward and Backward

I’ve been ashamed for twenty-two years now to be a teacher. This was supposed to be a stepping stone to being able to call myself something else. But it is what I have chosen to do to be able to afford the doing.

The price and the prize. Somewhere between them is the doing. I guess I found the price I couldn’t pay to call myself a writer was not the studying, but the salesmanship – networking, presentations. And what I thought as a kid would be the prize: fame, respect – wasn’t really what I was after.  I thought those things would raise me above the trolls in the world. Ha!

I’m fine fighting my trolls in the dark, anonymous corners…

and sometimes I get a quiet notice that someone read my work – not just my bio with an eye toward networking.

I’m not exactly off grid – but looking for a middle way. And I’m beginning to wonder if teaching isn’t really the oldest – and most indispensable – profession any way?

Ren Powell, What  We Do for a Living

Much of my adult life has been shaped by the literary-academic system. I have both an MFA and a PhD, and I could go on about these things at length. But I want to focus on the more recent events leading up to my decision to self-publish my collection of poems, A Dark Address. It first took shape in 2016 as part of my dissertation. Between then and now, it shed its skin multiple times, many new poems were added, and it is mostly unrecognizable from that earlier draft. Also in the intervening years, I submitted the manuscript to book contests and many of its individual poems to journals. However, going through this submission process in a rigorous way for the first time (I made some very clueless efforts with a previous, jettisoned book around 2008), I soon began to question whether or not I wanted my work to reach the world in the way this system makes possible. All along, the process of submitting felt exploitative and increasingly unrewarding. Fees kept adding up. While I could find exceptions for journal fees without much problem (though it cut down my options by about 50%), avoiding book submission fees severely narrowed my possibilities. Too many books are attached to contests, and these very rarely cost less than $25, with a few bucks tacked on to cover Submittable fees. Even open reading periods at many presses run $25 or more. I explored various very small presses, many of whom I greatly admire, but many of these focused on chapbooks or micro-chapbooks, or they simply did not seem like a good fit for my work. I felt stuck.

The thing is, even my successes felt hollow. I managed to land some “prestigious” acceptances of individual poems from the manuscript, but I had no idea if the poems were even being read. It went like this: finish a poem, submit incessantly, receive acceptance after three or more months (amid multiple rejections and some very long waits, and some submissions just falling off the radar, apparently), and then wait six months to a year or more before it appears in the world to little or no notice (except in the very rare case where a journal had a strong social media presence). Sometimes I got paid, sometimes not. In sum, it all felt a bit hollow. I mean, I wasn’t expecting a parade; I know it takes patience and that one can never really know what their work is doing out there in the world, or what it might do years later (and perhaps only for one individual you will never meet). And I also know that, ideally, this is a form of participation in something larger than I am. And yet it seemed less and less like participation in anything, really, besides paying fees and waiting to read form letters from anonymous readers and editors. Increasingly, I realized I was adhering to a process that I intensely disliked — and which cost a lot of money — all in order to perpetuate…what, exactly? Why was I doing this?

R.M. Haines, Poets Should Be Socialists

I have thought a lot about how to be a writer, a woman writer, over the years. I have spent my entire adult life contriving to find time and energy, the energy! to write. I have looked closely at the lives of women’s writers trying to find the secrets to apply to my own life. I have asked, how can I do the work I want to do, the work I’m able to do, and what is the work I am “allowed” to do, what is the work I will be hindered from, the work I will be given credit for and the work I will be erased from having done, what is the work that I will be thwarted from, and who will thwart me? and given all those variables, how will I refuse to be thwarted, and how will I manage to work in spite of, because of, because of. How will I continue, how will I contrive my own particular set of circumstances so I can say what I want to say, however small?

It’s the strangest thing of all about this Covid-isolation. I have been basically given my dream life on a platter, my hermit writing life, and it turns out it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. (Mainly because of the worry….). But that’s fine. Imagine Jane Austen writing, and having all her worries about where she would next be living, who she would be reliant upon, what obligations she need fulfill.

We just want to work. I in my room, you in yours. I don’t want to be in competition with you, but to send my good wishes to you so that you can send yours to me.

This is what I learned from reading Eavan Boland. How to wonder about you, the importance of that wondering, and to remember that you are wondering about me.

The terrible regret I have is that I might have told her, I might have written her, and did not. And now it is too late, and I hate that. I hate that.

Shawna Lemay, The Hour of Change – Thinking About Eavan Boland

When all this is over, said the phrenologist,
I shall spend my days at Walden Pond
where white rocks line the far shore
like so many discarded skulls.

I will hoe the yellow loam and plant rows of beans,
walk to Concord in my own company
to buy a bag of rye or Indian meal, forget
the rag-stoppered bottle of yeast
spilling in my pocket.

Julie Mellor, P is for …

Reading Ned Balbo’s sixth collection is a powerful and eerie experience right now because of its mix of isolation and intimacy. The Cylburn Touch-Me-Nots, winner of The New Criterion Poetry Prize and published in December 2019, takes its title from a poem about plants at the Cylburn Arboretum. A companion shows the speaker how leaves recoil at human touch. After they walk away, he wonders about “green fronds unfolding till/ the surface of their sea is calm again”–as if ease can be restored after an interval of shocked separation. Balbo’s title phrase recurs in a poem called “With Magdalene, near Daybreak,” when a resurrected god tells Magdalene, Touch me not. Balbo wonders why Jesus would return only to “order her away” and how she would have felt: “she who’d grieved already,/ shocked, stopped where she stood,/ the world strange, unsteady// though he was radiant…” This book, written well before the novel coronavirus, is about social distance.

Lesley Wheeler, Virtual Salon #12 with Ned Balbo

Simply put: this is an extraordinary book of leave taking and home coming. 

The lyric poems are collaged into a moving narrative of one family’s journey. And while Bone Road documents the story of Geraldine Mills’ great grandparents leaving the north of Ireland in 1882-84 with assistance of the Tuke Fund, this also can’t help but echo peoples around the globe who are forced to leave home due to famine, war, and poverty. 

The twist in this history is that the family returns to Ireland. The faux gold of New England does not hold the family. They return to Ireland just as impoverished as when they left. What is that pull called home?  Untumble the walls of the house / Uprise its lintel from the overgrowth /…Unbreak the heart. 

Susan Rich, Recommended for Everyone! Bone Road by Geraldine Mills and Asking the Form by Hilary Salick

As a reader and as a writer, I’m fascinated by the way [Rick] Barot pulls together, for example, in “Cascades 501,” an overheard story of heart surgery and the view from the train window of “Punky little woods,” “The bogs that must have been left / by retreating glaciers” (which expands the poem into prehistory), “the summer backyard with the orange soccer ball,” and “the pickup truck / parked askew in the back lot,” noting “Each thing looks new / even when it is old and broken down.” Then the poem moves again, but I’m not going to spoil the ending.

Joannie Stangeland, Saturday Poetry Pick: The Galleons

Raw with shared pain, these are not angry poems. They are cries of hope and compassion, demanding change/not the promise of change/not a panel to study change/not a worthless piece of paper

Full of questions, they do not offer slick answers; how much light asks the poet, does each falling body take with it as it hits the groundhow many days does one have to wake up with less dignity … how many years can you look for the one who is still missing … I want to open every fist they put around your heart/and listen as you tell me again how close liberty is to where you are standing.

Ama Bolton, Letters to Iraq: “listen to the hope and beauty”

it frightens me – sometimes.
how the words seem to come from a spirit
just behind the edge of hindsight,
beyond the dusk at the back of my mind.

is there a hole in space-time leading to where
the poets rail that their words must be heard,
must be still the font of all of their times;
and am i chosen as this conduit?
a vent in the dam of the damned words!

Jim Young, ‘how he wrote the flow of our pouring’

Moments of creative flight can be fleeting. Just as quickly as creativity floats into view, it can drift away again. I’m attempting to seize the moment and engage with the work as much as possible while this spark is present in my life.

As I’m in abundance, I send this blessing out to you, friends. May your creativity spark with new life, may it thrive and grow, may it cultivate and bear fruit. May your art, your words, your craft, your cooking, your endeavors gather and linger in your days and fill you with joy.

Andrea Blythe, The Vibrant Effusive Creative Spark

The earth stretches
into morning mist.

Happiness is not the exact
word, but it’s close.

So says the red-tail hawk.
So says the dove.

Tom Montag, THE EARTH STRETCHES