Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Weeks 4-5

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 time, I am playing catch-up, which of course meant twice as much reading as usual, but I can’t say it hasn’t been a pleasant way to spend a lazy Sunday while recovering (I hope) from a mild virus. Poetry bloggers have been in fine form over the past two weeks.

Incidentally, for those craving a poem-a-day exercise this month, it’s not too late to join NaHaiWriMo or Post-It Note Poetry — or both!


I discovered wordpools in Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge’s Poemcrazy. “I collect…hats, coins, cougars, old Studebakers,” she writes. “That is, I collect the words. Pith helmet, fragment, Frigidaire, quarrel, love seat, lily. I call gathering words this way creating a wordpool. This process helps free us to follow the words and write poems.”

When I read this, I’d been writing poems a long time, but the idea of collecting words to spark creativity was new to me. That a poem might be lurking in some random words—surge, hit, new, kiss, overallfork, innocence, bumblebee, fingers—was exhilarating.

Around this time, the late 1990s, Magnetic Poetry kits appeared. I received many as gifts. They came in sheets, requiring the recipient to detach the words from each other. I’ve lost count of how many kits I processed this way, only to find the words I’d carefully separated uninspiring. Staring at a refrigerator covered with words that someone else selected did little for my creativity.

Erica Goss, Dive Into the Wordpool

public library
the little girl skips
to the door

Bill Waters, Public library

Funny how, once a character is on the page, the author loses control.

Sometimes I stumble on my own writing – an old poem, or a bit of a journal entry – and it is completely foreign to me.

I wrote a draft of a novel once.
And realized that I am a poet: fragmented.

Shattered.

Ren Powell, Being Seen and the Value of Journaling

Maggie Smith talked about embracing brokenness and error in poems.  She talked about the kintsugi method of ceramics, where cracks and even broken pieces are filled in with metallic lacquer.  She talked about ways to use this technique in poetry through the things we mistype, the spelling errors, the things we hear wrong, and all the other ways we should embrace our mistakes.  If we’re open to our imperfections, the poems may take us to surprising places that a rigid poet would never discover.

My favorite quote of hers:  “I don’t got to poetry for comfort, as a reader or a writer, but to be changed.”

Her craft lecture was paired with Adrian Matejka, who talked about persona poetry and issues of history, culture and appropriation.  I wasn’t familiar with his work, but he was a dynamic, engaging speaker, and I enjoyed the topic.  How interesting to be talking about these issues during a week when the nation has been talking about these issues in the latest Oprah book pick, American Dirt.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Craft Talks at the Palm Beach Poetry Festival

Days like these, it’s hard to tell up from down. Days like these, when the flow and deluge of the cosmos rubs up against our flesh, the universe hymning and howling the joys and sorrows for which we struggle to find words.

Days when our hearts strain against the unknown until the pain becomes a part of us.

Days like these, when all we can do is put our shoulder to the wheel. Lean into love.

Rich Ferguson, Days Like These

And, of course, there are always the ‘let’s-all-spread-across-the-sidewalk-and-take-up-as-much-room-as-we-can’ walkers. And dog walkers. And a woman who must have splashed through the ocean’s shallows, standing one-legged at her open trunk wiping sand from her feet. And a man wandering the boardwalk with a phone in his hand, who could be waiting for someone. Or even for himself.

And here’s me, trying to remember to keep right not left but forgetting when I run back to the beach, and spit some water onto the rocks, which way the wind is blowing.

sunrise
all of us
in this
together

Lynne Rees, Deerfield Mile

I forget how much I enjoy the camaraderie of other writers, especially foreign writers here in Finland. We’re a good mix of nations, last night there were British, American, Hungarian, Romanian and Jamaican writers attending. We usually have a Finn or two as well. We went out for a drink afterwards, to talk shop, politics and just generally blether. We may not agree on everything politically and I was grateful the conversation did not turn to Brexit, but I feel we can actually debate and break open subjects that touch on writing, teaching, literature and being immigrants.

Though the other writers and I are on different paths in our writing careers, there are few poets in the group, it’s nice to have a small community to share worries, successes and struggles. If someone asks, how do you decide when a piece is finished, there are lots of different points of view and stories shared, poems that get rehashed to death, stories that never get finished. They understand. I’m so glad I’ve managed to find this in a place where I can’t properly engage with the local literature because my language skills just aren’t up to it. Even if I can’t make it every week, I know it’s there when I have time. 

Gerry Stewart, A Bright Light on a Dark Brexit Day

I often like to think that the paid employment I do on week-days gets in the way of my true vocation. Yes, I know that sounds pretentious, but how I envy those who can set aside time when they are fresh and alert to do some writing. Like many others, I mostly make do with writing on evenings and weekends when all I really want to do is slouch; and doing so is knackering. Lately, though, I seem to have snatched some decent writing time on bus journeys, from Hampton Court or Kingston to Twickenham, which has been a boon. My wife’s mantra is, “It’s later than you think” – wise words made wiser recently by news of the deaths of three friends and acquaintances of my age. So I’ve been trying to make the most of my time with a mantra of my own: “Get running, get writing, get the fuck on with it.”

Matthew Paul, Writing time

I like to write, but boy, do I have trouble at times settling down.  I love to write, even, but the other pole – the love of motion – makes it rough to sit at that desk.  I’ve got to keep moving.  I’m not the kind of writer to dictate into an IPhone as I’m walking, or as I’m doing spins on the dancefloor; so I do need my desk.  Once I re-discover my desk as a long-lost love, I start to wander in my head.  

I’ve paired up with a compatible subject for a poetry sequence — home/homelessness. It troubles the idea of home and explores the commonality of homelessness. Is it something about me, my tribe? Wandering Jews are well-known entity, starting with God ordering Abraham and Sarah to leave their home and get moving into the unknown.  In the current cyclical readings of Torah, we are in Exodus, wandering in the desert. 

My tribe as human?  Metaphorically we might now feel that we are all wandering in the desert.  The first thing my IPhone showed me this morning was a suggestion on the Home Screen: “It’s true that nothing makes sense.” What the —? 

Jill Pearlman, The New Vertigo

THIS is the best thing about this week: a stunning cover for my forthcoming poetry book, featuring a painting called “Censer” by Ida Floreak and designed by Nikkita Colhoon. Nikkita’s work was one of the draws, for me, in working with Tinderbox Editions–all her covers stop you in your tracks. I feel really lucky. I owe thanks, too, to Clover Archer for bringing Ida’s art to Staniar Gallery on campus, and to Kevin Remington for getting a high-quality photograph of the work. I went to Ida’s talk just as I was puzzling over possible covers, so there was something magical about the convergence.

Like Ida’s other work, “Censer” has a meditative quality I love. She’s arranged a shrine out of natural objects, highlighting their grace–and the cracking egg suggests rebirth (when am I being reborn again? I’m ready!). Ida says she’s influenced both by botanical drawings and religious art, and this book is full of plants, creatures, and spirit-questions. I had wondered what colors Nikkita would choose for the words on the cover; the pink is both surprising and right. The poems reference pink constantly, from pussy hats to magnolia blossoms to rose-tinted medicines. And somehow the pink lettering makes the shadows more striking, which feels appropriate to this collection, too. Yes, I know I’m close-reading my own cover at length, but I’m excited, dammit.

Lesley Wheeler, She’s in a state, all right

I’ve parked the hedgerow
where the bees might be

can’t find the way into my book
I don’t know where it will take me
it’s quite fugitive

oak-gall ink
copper pomegranate and avocado
I’ve never wanted to do this

the Red Dress is coming next weekend
a kitten is arriving on March 1st
I can’t stop drawing trees

Ama Bolton, ABCD: January 2020

[Colleen Anderson:] What is it about dark (speculative) poetry that you think attracts people to read it?

[Jeannine Hall Gailey:] I think that definitely the mood of our current age is one of apocalypse–there’s a reason there are so many disaster movies and superhero movies. We look to the mythological and the epic to try to make our own stories make more sense.

What projects (publications) are you working on or have coming up?

I have two book manuscripts in circulation to publishers and I have a speculative poem coming up in the latest issue of Ploughshares called “Irradiate” and an upcoming poem in Poetry called “Calamity.”

Is there anything else you would like to say about horror and speculative poetry and fiction?

I am really glad the horror and speculative communities exist and I’ve made friends within the SFPA (The Science Fiction and Fantasy Poetry Association) and the HWA (Horror Writers Association) that are really important to me. Often, we can be treated as “outsiders” in the literary world, but we aren’t really outsiders–I guarantee there are more poetry fans of speculative and horror work than people think.

Colleen Anderson, Women in Horror: Jeannine Hall Gailey

Alice Oswald, who is definitely “the great Alice Oswald” and is also now the first woman Oxford Professor of Poetry (though not the first to be elected – that was Ruth Padel), performed at Kings Place on 17 January with live music by Ansuman Biswas. Oswald does specifically “perform” rather than “recite” or “read” – even her more conventional appearances involve her almost chanting her poems off by heart, unforgettable performances unlike anyone else’s. I have written about seeing her a couple of times before, and this was one of the less conventional appearances. It started with a “sound calendar” or seascape by Chris Watson, and the actual performance was mostly in total darkness, although there was partial lighting for sections of it.

Oswald was performing Nobody, her most recent book, based on stories of water, humans and gods from Greek mythology. I’m only superficially knowledgeable about the Odyssey and related works, so I appreciated Nobody more from a sea-perspective, but the tales that washed in and out sometimes had an odd familiarity. Ansuman Biswas performed on the aquaphone, which reminded me of sea sounds washing into a cave, and also an enormous gong, which was overwhelming to the point of being almost distressing at certain points. The whole performance was mesmerising, thrilling and absolutely haunting.

Clarissa Aykroyd, Alice Oswald’s Nobody at Kings Place, and Anselm Kiefer at White Cube

Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised, but reading Sharon Olds’s Arias has released something in me, and I’ve been writing a lot of new poems! Olds writes about anything–troubled family relationships, her mother who beat her, sex, death, childbirth, the intense love of one’s children, scattering ashes, how California got made tectonically, etc.–so she probably gives me “permission” to write about anything, too! Or sing (in the shower, arias) about anything!! And I have to say I like the coincidence of how the black-and-white book cover matches that of Hope in the Dark!

Kathleen Kirk, Arias

We’re taken  through a series of good and bad days, self-obsession and tortured thoughts. The world through this person’s eyes is full of squirming creatures, human and otherwise, destined for the slaughterhouse, the dustbin, ‘squelching late-night screenings’, or just dead, fossilised, taken, ‘yawning for air in their anxious hell.’ The narrator saves his harshest criticism for himself, who he sees behaving badly in some scenarios, and victimised in others.  Catching the reflection of his face as he tortures a fish out of boredom ‘I hate myself, / loathing whatever thing is watching me.’ (‘Siamese Fighting Fish’). A game of pool is going well, and then: ‘He’s back, that version of me, / the choker who doesn’t deserve it. So I choke again’.

I found myself compelled onward through the sequence and really enjoyed the form – each poem just two stanzas of four lines each – there’s a loose narrative arc driving it and the sheer exuberance and creativity is wonderfully gripping. Not so much a romp as a yomp – there’s no missing the real anguish here, but it’s worked through with such wit and originality. Sin Cycle succeeds in being luscious, gruesome, poignant and hilarious somehow all at once.

Robin Houghton, Sin Cycle, a new poetry sequence from Peter Kenny

In Almost Famous, the fourth chapbook by the consummate literary citizen, Trish Hopkinson, we find powerful and painful coming-of-age stories crafted as poems. The book starts with a vivid depiction of her own birth, written from her perspective, and it carries forward into the childhood and teen years, and every poem packs a potent gut-punch. While there were parts of my own life that diverged widely from the childhood Hopkinson describes, there was enough here that was familiar and shared.

For me, the strongest parts of the book were the first and last poems. The first, “Third Day, Third Month, 1972,” describes Hopkinson’s birth, which included the use of forceps:
 
                 A doctor,
or a man rather, pressed
a tool inside her, like the back

of a soup spoon reaching in
to a bowl of cold grits,
fished around for my tender

skull, and excised me for comfort.


The image here — forceps in a birth canal as a spoon in cold grits — casts the birth scene into an otherworldly sphere, I think mainly because the grits are cold. What kind of birth is this? It’s such a small touch, but a smart poetic decision because of its perfect not-quite-rightness.

Karen Craigo, Poem366: “Almost Famous”­­ by Trish Hopkinson

I was captivated by the intersection of motherhood, self, and humanity—including the monsters. Remember when I was connecting not living on earth with death in the first poem? Shortly past the halfway point, the book embarks on a long poem called “Starship.” When I say long, I mean fifty pages—a book within a book. Each page consists of two poems, or scenes, that lead the reader on a journey through relationships, time travel, and the stars. [Sarah] Blake’s style in this collection is narrative—a stance I admire because I think it’s hard to do without drifting into prose. And “Starship” is narrative at its epic best, its story line opening questions of desire, abandonment, choice. To avoid spoilers, I won’t say anything about the last line–but if you read the book, let me know and we’ll talk!

Joannie Stangeland, Saturday Poetry Pick: Let’s Not Live on Earth

Though it is not stated (it doesn’t need to be), the farmer in his wrangle with the earth ultimately produces food.  The poet of course produces poetry, and as a poet himself, Williams suggests poetry is on the level of food.  For Williams, poetry is just as much a necessary product of his artistic labor as edible crops are of a farmer’s sowing.  In this sense, “The Farmer” can be seen to anticipate WCW’s own more famous lines in the much later “Asphodel, That Greeny Flower” (1955): “It is difficult / to get the news from poems / yet men die miserably every day / for lack / of what is found there.”

Mike Begnal, William Carlos Williams’s “The Farmer”

Speaking of memory and observation, how much I wish that I had trained mine more. How I wish I had employed that excellent method of looking at an object, going into another room to draw it, returning to refresh my memory, and so on, until that drawing was completed without it and the object ever having met, as it were. What a training for an artist interested primarily in character, who sees for a minute a face which, if he cannot draw from memory, he will never draw at all!

I believe I am right in saying that, ages before such a thing as photography was even guessed at, this was the method by which Chinese artists were taught … So developed did their powers of observation and memory become by this training that by shutting their eyes, opening them for the fraction of a second, and shutting them again, they could keep in their minds the visual image of what they saw long enough to be able to transfer that visual image to paper. It was in this manner that they were enabled to draw insects and birds in flight, and it is an indubitable fact that, when the camera was invented and ‘instantaneous’ pictures were produced, it was proved by comparison that these artists’ memorisations were perfectly accurate.

Ann E. Michael, Observation, memory, & art

During my first semester of my MFA program, Karen Volkman, who was a visiting writer teaching a craft class I’ve forgotten the name of,  took us specifically to see the Cornell boxes at the Art Institute and I was hooked. I started writing about them, sneaking over to see them occasionally on my writing days (ie the days I had only classes and no library shifts).  It was a time when the museum allowed pay what you can, and since I usually was there in the afternoon, I felt confident paying a couple bucks and wandering through the museum’s wings, but mostly hanging out around the Cornell boxes. Years later, the Institute built a monolithic modern wing and shoved all the boxes in a big glass case all together and basically ruined everything, but at the time, they were strung through a series of small rooms, which allowed you to encounter each one singularly. To sit down in front of the tabled ones. I spent a lot of time there, working over the next few years on what would become at the hotel andromeda.

It was while working on those pieces that I filed away my encounter with Dali’s Invention of the Monsters, which was hung in a room I had to pass through to reach the Cornells and had a bench upon which I often sat to jot down notes.  While Cornell was icy blue and haunted, Dali was all wild and in flames, and just really weird in a way I appreciated.  It took me years to return to that painting as subject matter., and when I did, it turned into a sort of meditation on the ghostly little blue dog in the corner and Dali’s own wife, who occupies the painting with him.

Kristy Bowen, ekphrastic desires

Lately I’ve been exploring my emotional response to rocks.

Does that say something unfortunate about me? Shouldn’t I be exploring my relationship to my long-dead father, or my inner fears, or why I hate my neighbors, or my notions of gods and the spirit?

Or is it all the same thing? Am I on some spiritual trip, a connection with the ineffable, that thing we humans can’t seem to resist, finding something bigger than ourselves? And in my case at the moment, LITERALLY bigger than myself — this glacial erratic my forest trail has led me to.

This giant boulder takes up space, it has a relationship to time, albeit far different than mine. It is a natural history of which I am a moment, one hand on the cool side of the rock, a sinew in the grand continuity of matter and energy, as far as we know. We are briefly together, erratic and I.

Marilyn McCabe, Like a Southbound Train; or, Writing out of the Animated World

seeing the stream
i throw a stone
into the sky

Jim Young [no title]

These letters, kite-string
or umbilicus: do they
tether you? When I
stop writing will you
dissolve, a water droplet
rejoining the flowing stream?

Rachel Barenblat, Tether

I am learning to navigate the dreaded Disneyland of CostCo. First I park a billion miles away so I won’t get hit by a car or one of those huge fucking baskets careening wildly out of control. Once inside I keep to the left of the store so I won’t get lost in the labyrinth of cheese and meat and bread and cleaning products and screaming children and goats and booze and bales of hay and coffins. Then I get what I need which is usually cheese and butter and cleaning supplies and while I’m doing this I smile at everyone. Smiling at people in CostCo freaks them out. Bad. Seriously bad. They look at me like I’m going to steal their purses or rip their lungs out with my enormous teeth. When I get to the 15 mile long checkout line I lean my arms on my basket and continue to smile. Today my checker’s name was Falcon. I told him it was a beautiful name and asked if he knew the Robert Duncan poem My Mother Would Be A Falconress one of my most beloved poems of all time. The first time I read this poem I almost fell down. I worship this poem. I memorized it right after I read it which is an old fashioned thing I still do. The poem makes my head burn like a church on fire. The checker Falcon had not read or heard of the poem so I wrote Robert Duncanthen My Mother Would Be A Falconress on a slip of paper and told him to Google it when he got home. So I held up the line for almost an entire minute. Sometimes you have to do it.

Rebecca Loudon, Outing

I called to God in the night.
I knelt, I rose, I answered, I sang.
Beneath my shirt I hid my vow.
No one can say I didn’t try to keep it.

Jason Crane, POEM: Imbolc

In this cone of silence just
before the dawn, the shadow
world is palpable: gods

and monsters glide and crawl
by my garden gate. Half-dreams,
uncertain memories, dust devils rolling.

Here and now, I sense, is the pagan
junction where all things meet:
skeletons into flesh, ghosts

into plasma, rumours, fears, the whole
arcana hard wired into the dark.

Dick Jones, Insomnia.

I was sleeping in the recliner chair like my Uncle Richard used to do. I slept heavily and dreamed of words that were made from solid objects of various shapes and sizes, and of many different materials. Words built from metal, wood, concrete, plastic, and so on. I was using tools to assemble these words into poems; a hammer and nails, a handsaw, a drill, nuts and bolts, a sander, and wrenches. The poems I built were as large as a man and crazy looking, but they read beautifully. The poems I built were better than any I ever wrote, but that isn’t saying much.

James Lee Jobe, I was sleeping in the recliner chair like my Uncle Richard

Anyway, yay, I survived, and even though I was a weirdo dental patient  – a little out of the ordinary, the endodontist had to use a special filling, my root was shaped unusually, and all that no Novocain thing – everything was just fine. The funny thing was, they tell you not to sign any contracts or shop while you’re on the sedation drug, called Versed – but I submitted three book manuscripts that night, which I don’t remember, and bought two lipsticks and a shampoo – I guess it could have been worse! And a couple of days later, mostly sleeping I stumbled out into the rain…and found deer in the yard! They had munched on a bit of our camellias, but I guess that’s all right. And I’ve been trying to take advantage of all the sunbreaks and rainbows I can.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Sunbreaks in the Rain, Surviving My First Root Canal, Finding Flowers in Our Darkest Winter Month

Who never tires of me?
This hermitage, my desk.

Tom Montag, Who Never

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 1

Poetry Blogging Network

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

Speaking of the Poetry Blogging Network, just as in previous years (including 2018’s Poetry Blog Revival Tour), the new year brings with it a renewed opportunity to join the blog roll, hosted this year again by Kelli Russell Agodon. Kelli is currently off traveling, but told me that she’d be happy to add new people after she gets home on January 15. Leave a comment below her post with your blog URL.

This digest is my own labor of love and has no official connection with the network, which itself is obviously an informal grouping with no guiding committee or anything like that; it’s up to Kelli whether your blog qualifies or not. (And I don’t think frequency of posting is a condition for being listed, so even if you’re a once-in-a-blue-moon blogger, don’t be shy.) I do want to stress that I am not competitive about this, and would be frankly delighted if someone else decided to follow my lead and start their own weekly or monthly digest! I worry about my own biases, especially my preference for personal over informational blogging, exerting an influence over how people decide to blog. Regardless, please remember that the web is a community built and strengthened by links, so if you read a post by someone else in the Poetry Blogging Network that really resonates with you, consider linking to it from your own blog and not simply sharing the link on social media (though that’s important, too).


The freeze comes. We are buried in ice. An inescapable hardening takes
each one before we are ready: the fire of want our only remedy.

Dream: I worried about you on the roads, generously. Dream: you received it
with want, and gave it back. You knew what it meant. Why it mattered.

JJS, Travel Advisory

Something kind of magical is underway in my dining room. My husband, Michael Czyzniejewski, is putting the finishing touches on the first installment in the 2020 incarnation of Story366, the leap year blog where he reviews a different book of short stories every single day.

It was a big commitment when I witnessed it in 2016. Sometimes our family travel was interrupted by the need to stop at McDonald’s, with its reliable, password-free WiFi, and sit around eating ice cream while he finished a day’s installment. It was a whole-family commitment, and we are all proud of the fact that he never missed a day.

This year I thought I might try joining him with “Poem366”—not a blog of its own, but a feature within my existing blog. I don’t know if I’ll make it every day, and honestly, I don’t have quite as many recent poetry collections to choose from (feel free to send me an ARC for a recent poetry title—within 18 months—if you’d like to be considered, to karen.craigo@gmail.com). But as a sign of solidarity for Mike’s truly wonderful project, I’m going to give it a whirl.

One thing: I’m not aiming to do reviews. My plan is to offer appreciations—acknowledgements of what poets are doing well. I’d be dishonest if I didn’t own up to my sideways goal of finding some inspiration for my own work in the concerns and formal choices and imagery offered by other writers, so I’m looking for aspects of their work to love, rather than focusing on problems.

With all of that being said, here I go, but from the family room. You can hear a lot of tap-tap-tapping in my house right now, and since the younger kid is now able to amuse himself for an hour with a videogame, there’s a good bit of pew-pew-pewing as well.

Karen Craigo, Poem366: Bulletproof by Matthew Murrey

Happy New Year’s Day 2020! I decided to make a list of things I’d like to accomplish in my writing life this year. I’ll revisit the list in December and see how I did.

Erica’s 2020 New Year’s Resolutions:
[…]

4. Improve my vocabulary. I recently reviewed Michael Kriesel’s wonderful book of abecedarian poems, Zen Amen. This book introduced me to many strange and intriguing words, i.e., “Xenogenesis,” “apperception,” “tetragrammaton,” and “zygomancy.” I’m not sure any of these will work themselves into a poem of mine, but just reading them stimulated my brain. I’m glad I encountered them.
5. Explore poetic forms. I’ve written a few ghazals, one or two sestinas, many pantoums, a villanelle or two, even an abecedarian. I’m always gratified with how the limitation of forms increases creativity. Forms I’d like to try: the golden shovel, gnomic verse, and contrapuntal poems.
6. Explore essay forms. I greatly enjoyed Vivian Wagner’s article about the “hermit crab essay,” which, to quote from the article, “takes the form of something un-essay-like—such as a recipe, how-to manual, or marriage license—and use this form to tell a story or explore a topic.” […]

Erica Goss, New Year’s Resolutions

I am about to say farewell – for six months at least, and probably twelve if I have the courage – to my Facebook account. It’s been a blast, and I’ve enjoyed the playtime with y’all and at its best, it’s provided the much-enjoyed warmth and wit of human contact, but I’ve noticed that the habit of reading I’ve developed in the past couple of years is, well, excessively casual. I want to get back to it: to get further in to sustained reading.

Something about Facebook appeases my preference for the quick fix rather than the long haul. It’s like (how can I put it?) going for a milkshake rather than taking time out to cook the perfect risotto.

I want to get back into some sustained writing too, and I received the perfect gifts for this purpose at Christmas:

A. A long, warm cardigan
B. A book writing kit: [image]

Liz Lefroy, I Deactivate My Facebook Account

It’s 2020, and time for a New Year’s post, a post from Vienna where the sun has been shining and the air has been crisp and cold. As I wait here in the Vienna airport, I’m reflecting on the year ahead, specifically on my writing, which has faltered for the past few years while I’ve been living and working in Shanghai, China. I could say that the demands of the job at my highly selective private school keep me from writing, and there may be some small truth in that, but the reality is that to write so is an excuse.

And making excuses about not writing reminds of Elizabeth Cooper, a wonderful former Johns Hopkins instructor of mine who gave all of her students a parting gift — mine was a book — Sonnets edited by William Baer — and she inscribed it with “Just do it!” making it clear to me that she was sick of my excuses about how busy I was teaching, rearing children, etc. I think of that gift now while waiting here, having just learned that several days ago, our family drove right by the summer home of Auden without even knowing it.

Time. Not enough of it. Never enough of it.

Scot Slaby, A New Year’s 2020 Post from Vienna

The really beautiful things in life might be discovered only when we allow our focus to drift  – from what we thought we were here for.

Improvisation is saying yes. And then looking for the openings, escapes, alternatives out of the corners of our eyes. There is so much to be said for deviating from one’s own “yes” with a “this, too”. Doing it with ease – without an awkward pinch of panic –  takes practice.

In 2020 I wish to be immersed in my own life. And have the wisdom to recognize its potential as more than a curriculum vitae: My life’s work is not my life’s art. And, well, if work is for others, it would follow it would be for others to define from their own perspectives.

I ran an art gallery for a while and found that the work I liked immediately, was the work I quickly grew bored with. It was the work that sparked ambivalence in me that would fascinate me. Unresolved experiences provide a unique kind of satisfaction. It requires participation and a kind of dialogue with the bigger world.

So today, the beginning of an arbitrarily-defined new year, a new decade, I am fine.

Ren Powell, The Overview of Burning Hearts 2020

2019 was a good year for books but a weird year for reading. For pleasure, work, and mood-medicine, I read constantly, but it’s been different lately: my poetry rate is typical, but fiction and I have had some problems. I couldn’t finish things, or I read multiple books in alternating fragments, concentration flickering. I received less solace from them.

What worked best for me were predictable genres: mysteries, fantasy, historical fiction. I’ve heard others say that they’re overworking and sad about politics, so the more escapist a book turned out to be, the better. That’s true for me, too, but personal stresses have diluted my attention even further. On the happy side, reading Shenandoah subs takes time and energy I used to devote to reviewing. I’m also launching my fifth poetry collection and my debut novel next year, and an essay collection in 2021. Good LORD did I reread and revise those mss, over and over, and when you’re reading your own pages you have less time for others’.

I still read and admired lots of poetry collections–many of those listed in “best of 2019” articles, and also small-press volumes by Erin Hoover, January O’Neil, Kyle Dargan, Martha Silano, Amy Lemmon, Ann Fisher-Wirth, Ned Balbo, Jeanne Larsen, Niall Campbell, Hai-Dang Phan, Paisley Rekdal, and Oliver de la Paz. I reviewed Franny Choi’s Soft Sciencefor Strange Horizons.

Lesley Wheeler, Reading by the glow of a year on fire

As ever, I wish I had more to say for myself. I didn’t publish much in 2019, and submitting is time consuming so rather neglected. I read fewer books and few deeply impressed me. It could be the quality of my attention. More about that in a day or two (since I still have about 28 hours to add a book to my tally). Mostly I was working, or traveling or cleaning birdshit off my balcony.

Creatively, the biggest accomplishment of the year was finishing my book, Hotel Almighty, which is due next summer. I had a July deadline to have all the pieces finished so I had some intense months making or redoing poems. Nothing left but to be nervous about publication. […]

Now that I don’t have an overarching project in front of me, I want to be free to experiment with poetry, collage and embroidery and not feel like it all has to end up as some kind of Meisterwerk. My resolution is to get on with it and not be precious about things. Sometimes I won’t use an image in a collage because I’m ‘saving’ it for something stupendous! But when the stupendous thing is going to happen. . .

Sarah J Sloat, Where I was

The trick is
to let slip
the ladder

that brought you
climbing to this
point. Unknot it,

let it fall away.
Then reach up
through the half-

dark and flick
the latch and let
the shutter fall.

Dick Jones, The Trick

So, I did it. I retired at the end of November. I will turn 70 in February and would have waited until then, but I had a higher calling; I traveled to New York to spend a month with my niece who delivered a sweet baby boy on 12/5/19. I returned and worked 4 days last week, so retirement is somewhat of a misnomer. I have let go of my panel of patients but will still be working in the clinic from time to time as a per diem staff. If you’ve ever had a provider (I’m a nurse practitioner) leave you, think about it in reverse. It was hard, people. Hard, but it was time. Also, I got a haircut.

My writing life was active throughout 2019. I continued working as an editor of Headmistress Press; published poetry book reviews at The Rumpus and other venues; started a website for publishing reviews of poetry chapbooks; had a few poems published, and the usual amount of rejections. In January I took a workshop with Aracelis Girmay at the West Palm Beach Poetry Festival; took a workshop with Carl Phillips in July at the Port Townsend Writers Conference; and spent a weekend with friends at Poets on the Coast. I have a manuscript that I am shopping around.

Upon retirement, I immediately thought about publishing an anthology of work by retired women. Poetry and short prose. Will need a snappy name for that, if you have any suggestions. Tentatively, I’ve got: Tired and Retired: An anthology of writings by women over 65. I’m looking for a publisher.

Risa Denenberg, Sunday Morning Muse Checking In

I guess this was a success, since I’m already planning how to get more rejections in 2020. But as always, I was surprised during this year of rejections by the way some of them broke my heart and others rolled right off me. In general, the 100-rejections practice helped take the sting out of them; when collecting them was a goal, it changed my feelings about them a little. (“Rejection? Great! Put it on the list!”) That said, it didn’t mean I enjoyed getting rejecting any more than usual. This system is not a magic antidote; it’s more like desensitization. But, as I always tell young writers when I do presentations for them, this kind of desensitization is your friend. If you’re the kind who wants to rip up every rejection letter and mail it back to the editor in a Sharpie-scrawled envelope, you’re going to get very tired of doing that when they’re coming in at this rate. You log them in and move on and send out more, and that’s what takes up a lot of time in a writer’s daily life.

Which brings up the question: When do you have time to write when you’re beating your brains out sending out all those submissions? I didn’t actually find that to be a problem; I continued my usual practice of doing two month-long writing marathons in April and August, and I sent out fewer submissions during those months because I was concentrating on a lot of writing. Through the rest of the year, I wrote about the same number of poems as usual, as well as some essays. So I guess the answer is that the writing still takes first priority; the submitting time, for me, ended up pushing something else out of the way, like Netflix or yard work. Which reminds me, please steer clear of my yard. While I was sending out submissions, I think skunks moved in there.

Amy Miller, 100 Rejections: Pain or Gain?

I think it’s incumbent on all of us in any sort of leadership position to confront, understand, and manage our own anxiety, or we cannot be effective leaders for positive change, so that is one place to start. We need to form groups, both informal and formal, for discussion and action toward positive change in our institutions and communities — the places where we can make a difference. When we are actually doing something, instead feeling helpless, isolated, and afraid, life begins again, creativity begins again, renewal happens, hope is created, and people are attracted to join us.

And surely, there is a lot that urgently needs to be done and can be done by ordinary people, without the aid or interference of governments.

When I was traveling in Greece, I kept overhearing people at ancient sites saying things like, “Well, my friend likes this, but to me, it’s just a pile of rocks,” while others were avidly exploring and trying to understand what they were seeing. Life is always like that, I think. We can look out at the ancient agora — real or metaphoric — and see ruins built by dead people that are a mere backdrop for yet another selfie, or we can use our imaginations and see beauty, lessons from the past, and potential for the future, which is — I am quite certain — the desired legacy of the thinkers and creative people of previous, equally fraught times, who were human beings very much like ourselves.

What inspires you? What fills you with awe? What do you want to see preserved for the future? Where can you give hope, or lend a hand? Where do you need hope and encouragement yourself? How can we help each other in the coming year?

Beth Adams, Thoughts for the New Year

Russell Hoban changed the way I think about the world. It started when I met him at a NATE Conference some time in the 1970s. Breakfast. He was smoking roll-ups, Old Holborn, and eating All-Bran, was Mr Hoban. He was fulminating about the teachers in his writers workshop who had asked if they could have a coffee break. “What do they think writing’s about…a leisure pursuit?”…I’m paraphrasing. He was wonderful company.  […]

After I met him, I discovered The Mouse and his Child. I’ve read it dozens of times, often when life feels unbearably bleak. It never fails to relight your faith in the human condition and the power of hope combined with love and endurance. It’s a story of a quest for self-winding, undertaken by a clockwork mouse and his child. You’d think it would be twee and sentimental. It isn’t. It’s profound, layered. Magic realism doesn’t do it justice. It sits very comfortably (or uncomfortably) alongside Angela Carter’s The magic toyshop. Saved by a tramp from the dustbin (where they’ve been thrown after being broken by a cat) they’re sort-of-mended and wound up, set down on the road and left to find their destiny. Just buy it and read it. Your life will be better.

You may even find yourself, as we did, collecting wind-up toys and bringing them out every Christmas. You might even find yourself making special boxes for them. And writing poems. So here we are, taking down the Christmas tree and the angels and lights and tinsels, and maybe lighting a candle for Russell Hoban and for the Mouse and his Child. Happy New Year

John Foggin, Last post…..for a bit

yesterday the beginning of 2020 the power flickered on and off (54 mph winds most of the day) and I listened to the racket (and my house being pummeled and thumped by pine cones and tree branches)  (at one point an actual crack! signaling a large limb had broken off somewhere in my woods) and I wrote (a. poem.) and read (Dana Levin’s brutal and gorgeous Sky Burial) and showered (quickly) and ran the washing machine (also quickly) and ate (red beans dirty rice cornbread) and watched a series that came out in 2014 that I had downloaded onto my computer (The Leftovers and holy shit) I did not go outside (flying debris) and the wind continued into nightfall (bringing a thunderstorm to round things out) but I slept through until morning (with weirdo dreams) and today I made it to the beach to consider the destruction (and raw power and beauty) and now I am going out into the actual known world (mockingbird wish me luck)

Rebecca Loudon, The new

People say that Jesus is coming back,
But they don’t know when.
An owl lives in the stand of pines
Across the street from my house;
I hear her, but I never see her.
She blends in nicely.
If Jesus doesn’t tell anyone,
How will they know he is back?

James Lee Jobe, People say that Jesus is coming back

By 2019, I began to figure out that I just needed to pull back and to do so purposefully (i.e. let myself off the hook for all the things I wasn’t doing). And so I did. I managed, for almost a full year, to have nearly zero expectations for my creative life.

But as anyone who goes through these cycles knows, eventually some shiny object grabs your attention and warms you back up to the idea of jumping back in. For me, it was the 100-book poetry reading project I kicked off in late August. I told myself if I couldn’t (or didn’t want to) write, I could at least read. I wrote a little bit about how that began to open me back up here. I can also say it inspired me to return to blogging, which has always been part of my creative process.

Carolee Bennett, poetry goals for 2020

I think I always include that I want to blog more, but this past year, I actually hit this one out of the park.  I had upward of 250 posts–a high not seen since 2007 (and given, in those years, I used the blog much like I do social media now, this year’s crop are definitely more full-bodied content). I’d like to aim for blogging daily.  It’s probably not that tenable given general life things.  But it’s a noble endeavor.  It might be as simple as being a little more intentional in my content-planning and having a ready list of things to write about so that when I have time, it’s just a go.

Kristy Bowen, hello 2020 | writing goals

He [James Schuyler] had me at ‘Empathy’. That is my wish for 2020.

I went on a course about it, once. All I can remember is what they said at the beginning. Empathy costs a lot of time, but will save you so much more.

So that is my wish for myself, for 2020, that I can learn better to show it to others; for the managerial and political class of this country, that they might learn to listen better to the concerns of people’s lives and desist from othering those who are already vulnerable and marginalised; and to the barista where I buy my coffee I want to say thank you -because you are a living model to us all of what empathy is, daily, hidden in plain sight beneath your wonderful smile. I know it costs you. But I have noticed it.

Anthony Wilson, Empathy and New Year

On New Year Day, I always pick my favorite things to do, as a guarantee that I will do them all year long.  I was busy: revising, sending out manuscripts, eating healthy food choices; drinking 6-9 glasses of water per day;  received my first rejection; but, also 4  of my new 100 word stories were accepted; reading; watching a new TV shows, which will fall to the wayside as soon as the semester begins.  But Flirty Dancing was fun to watch.  Although, I did feel badly for the dance partners that didn’t get picked for a second date; and happened upon another show called Almost Family.  It’s complicated, nearly finished the scarf I have been knitting, using all leftover yarns from previous made scarves.  It’s fun and very warm, and I may keep it for myself. I did dishes and put things away, and took a warm shower. Tried to go see Little Women but the theater was sold out. I really want to see this film.  Maybe today, or tomorrow.

M. J. Iuppa, In the year 2020 . . .

new year
the wren as busy as ever
gone in an instant

Jim Young [no title]

There is a phrase I toyed with in French many years ago: “le ciel, c’est assis sur mes sourcils.” The sky is sitting on my brows. That famous gray Paris sky was hovering close to my head during winters when we lived there. I bemoaned the lack of sun which only appeared at the sunset in a slant flash at horizon’s edge.

The phrase sounds fine in English too, with a gentle tweak: “the sky is sitting on my eyelids.” The disillusion, the dark atmosphere of the US last year felt by far more oppressive than it did under the zinc roofs in Paris. The toxicity of news and social media made me want to retreat; the isolation made me wonder how to go out. The trapped feeling, the negative voice seeps into the bones.

Early 2020 extended its hand, asking to put me on its dance card. Mais oui! I danced like a fool, dipping, spinning and getting breathless with fancy footwork. Instead of gravity, more light! So here’s to releasing Dionysian energies. To staying in touch with the body, clearing the mind and welcoming whatever passes, bright, dark and otherwise. Here’s to sanity, my friends, and here’s to equal doses of delirium, to love, to dwelling in the crazy ether of being together.

Jill Pearlman, Dionysian 2020

Don’t be mislead by the cover – Swimming Home isn’t the ‘holiday read’ those yellow umbrellas might seem to imply. It’s a beautifully episodic book, placing a great deal of emphasis on imagery to build up an unsettling drama where so much of what’s going on is glimpsed below the surface. In the afterword, Tom McCarthy says: ‘her fiction seemed less concerned about the stories it narrated than about the interzone (to borrow Burroughs’s term) it set up in which desire and speculation, fantasy and symbols circulated’.

I think it’s fair to say the interzone is where a lot of poetry dwells too, which is perhaps why I was so taken with this novel. And that other interzone, of being abroad, in a half-familiar city, in a different frame of mind to the one I usually have when I’m in the 9-5 routine of work, that surely impacted on my reading of it as well. So, here’s to the interzone, and the hope that I can visit again soon.

Julie Mellor, Books and Bagels

Constructing stories of our days and lives is something we humans seem to do innately. It seems to be how we make sense of life and the passage of time, and how we connect to each other, each of us tumbling around in the tempests of our own teacups.

But we can also be stuck in a story. It’s fashionable nowadays to talk about a “narrative” and “changing the narrative,” and in many ways, it’s a wise realization — that what we believe transcribes what is possible. If our story of our own situation is limiting, it seems entirely possible that we are limiting our situation and story, that if we edited our story, we might shift our understanding, we might open up possibilities.

Marilyn McCabe, Sing it sing it; or, Telling the Daily Story

I tend to start off each year with high hopes for what I’ll be able to achieve — and 2019 was no different. But looking back, the first half of the year was a struggle for me. Having set myself a single goal for the year, I was pushing and punishing myself to finish a novel that wasn’t connecting for me. That frustration overshadowed a lot of my work and my perception of my value as a writer.

When people asked me what I was up to, I often answered that I was hermiting — which sounds like a purposeful withdrawal from word in order to delve into self reflection. However, in reality, I was hiding, too timid to come out of my shell.

But recent months have been more positive. Letting go of the need to finish the novel was the wisest decision I made, providing a huge sense of relief. Subsequently participating in National Novel Writing Month and allowing myself space to dive into a new story and just enjoy the process of writing was a giant boon for me. The work was no less difficult, but the joy of writing was more present.

Andrea Blythe, Reflecting on My Work in 2019

The session was a 90 minute combination of yoga, guided meditation and journaling exercises designed to lead each of us to what would become a personal guiding word for 2020. The logic was that we can easily shed a resolution by screwing up and then feeling we have failed move on leaving it behind.

Out of my session, there were a series of words that flowed out of my journaling and meditation and the more meaningful ones came down to fulfillment, focus, vision, and authentic.  I have not as of this moment centered in on one word. Kristin, our instructor said some people actually use a couple or three words to carry with them throughout the year. I would like to minimize this as much as possible. 

Michael Allyn Wells, 2020 BLUEPRINT

When I started the butterfly garden, I fully expected the plants to be dead by August.  I think of myself as not being good at keeping plants or any living things flourishing.  I need to change that inner narrative.  When I arrived at work yesterday, all the milkweed plants were in full bloom.  Some of the other plants are scraggly, but they may make a comeback.  Yesterday, a monarch butterfly flitted across the plants.

The butterfly garden has given me joy every day.  Setting out bread and treats for students has given me joy most days.  I love creating events and book displays for the library and bulletin boards.  The days when the writing goes well–sheer joy.  Sketching–also joy.  Having bread in the oven and coffee brewing makes me happy–as does a cup of tea at work when the work coast is calm.  Let me keep remembering these delights.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, 2019:  A Look Back

My Twitter feed usually has very little politics, a range of writing news and announcements, nature pictures, and definitely no hellscapes, but this week has been different. I must have a lot of friends in New Zealand and Australia, because pictures of Hell-colored red air and smoke have been prominent on my timeline, along with fights about Iran and war. I’ve been writing about apocalypses for a while (see: Field Guide to the End of the World) but it’s always surprising to see how fast the apocalypses might be approaching on the horizon.

So what do you write when WWIII is trending? It’s not wise to get your news solely from social media, so I’ve been avoiding social media for things like reading and I’ve been checking in with my mom and dad back in Ohio to. I’m tackling my reading stack from the books I got for the holidays. I’ve been writing poems that try to make sense of the chaos.  Which is impossible, of course.

I went back to some older books, books by older authors like Stella Gibbons and Karen Blixen, which helped me remember that in the 1920s, there was irrational exuberance in the stock market, decadence and flappers and a wonderful proliferation in the art and writing world, and they were about to face World War II and the Great Depression. I went back to some of the books that helped me become the writer I am today, fairy tale and mythology writings that talk about how we tell stories, and why they’re important. 

As writers, we can do one thing: we can document the world, our world, the specifics – the moods, the visuals, the attitudes. We can try to capture the moment, whatever that moment entails. That doesn’t mean we contain or control it – but at least we can offer perspective, a point-of-view, an account from the ground, so to speak.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Wishing for a Better 2020: a Death in the Family, What to Write When WWIII is Trending, and Speculative Poetry Reading This Saturday

For Oppen, as he continues in this poem, poetry begins “neither in word / nor meaning but the small / selves haunting // us in the stones…”  It is nothing more than that, but “is less / always than that…”  This “less” seems to deliberately undercut the mystique of the poetic process – it is not the grandiose, hieratic conception of the “Poet” put forth by the Romantics.  Poetry is something enacted within human society.  At the same time, there is certainly a relationship between man and the natural world, which we get in the ensuing words: “help me I am / of that people the grass // blades touch…”  Here there is a sense of the fragility of human life in the face of uncivilized nature, but also of a connection in that touching of the grass blades.  For Oppen, there is a dynamism in this relationship, a vitality important not only for life itself but which can also be a catalyst for poetry.  The conclusion of this piece – “and touch in their small // distances the poem / begins” – again implies this connection however “distant.”

Michael S. Begnal, George Oppen’s “if it all went up in smoke”

In these last few minutes of the first day of 2020, I took Ken’s suggestion to try magnetic poetry. It’s quite interesting what emerged. [image]

Here Together

I am luscious
like pink soaring seas
light as honey
drunk from raw language
frantic in sweet milk

Charlotte Hamrick, Magnetic Poem

May we raise parade floats of truth above the white noise.

Construct monuments to being and belief, reason and relief.

Build phone booths with a direct connection to introspection.

Press all the buttons on the elevator of presence, stop at every floor of enlightenment.

Elevation before degradation, solutions before contusions.

Joyously pulse the blood of song through our beings. And just like that: 1-2-3-4.

Make breath a beat, make breath a beat.

Happy New Year, everyone. 

Rich Ferguson, When Ringing in 2020

Evening. The moon
hovers. The blinds

are drawn. Still
the fallen petals,

their lingering
scent, this moment

to be kept.

Tom Montag, AFTER THE CHINESE MASTERS

Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 50

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week: disasters natural and political, lights in the darkness, holiday rituals, and the year-in-review ritual.


I tend not to put much personal stuff on the blog – my rule is stick to the writing. However, in my early twenties I lived in Messina, Sicily, and then on a volcanic island off the coast of Milazzo, which is where the above photographs were taken. Legendary home of Hephaestos, it was a place where the sea boiled, where the rocks reared up like monsters, where there were pools of sulphurous mud you could bathe in to cure all sorts of ailments.  Wild and dramatic, yet oddly, I’ve never been able to capture much of it in my poetry. I also remember flying to Catania while Etna was erupting, looking out of the aeroplane’s window and seeing the lava running down the side of the volcano, then after a hair-raising landing, having to wade through ash (it really does fall like black snow) to get to the airport building. All this might seem adventurous and romantic, but the hard truth is that volcanoes are incredibly unpredictable. Hearing about White Island made me feel very humble to have had such fabulous experiences and come away unscathed. My heart really does go out to the people whose lives have been devastated by this terrible event.

And now, here’s the poem. I wrote it a few years ago, but it’s never been published, mainly I think, because I’ve never settled on a final version I was happy enough with. Even today I was tinkering with the order of the lines. I realise, though, that sometimes you have to let go of a poem, even if it’s not quite what you’d envisaged when you started writing it.

Etna

after August Kleinzahler

Black snow is falling in the Straits of Messina,
brittle as cinders, sooting the prow of the Georgione,
falling like burnt crumbs on the crow’s nests of tuna boats.

Ash is blocking the sun, drifting against doorways
in the suburbs of Pace and Contemplazione.
It settles on the windscreens of Fiat Unos, grits the runners
of the Hotel Sant’ Elia’s revolving door,
where businessmen drink grappa and meet women
who are not their wives.
[Poem continues at the link.]

Julie Mellor, Black snow

I’ve got 14,532 steps on my Fitbit today & not one of them
landed me anywhere good.
Beige. Everything is beige.
I love stories about the sea because at sea
you can look out to the horizon and it’s infinite.
You can’t do that with beige.
I’m making money for the Big Boss.
All things being equal, I’d rather put him on a rocket
& set the controls for the heart of the sun.

Jason Crane, POEM: Careful With That Gene, You Ax

I think we are in rats’ alley
Where the dead men lost their bones
[…]

Contrary to Theresa May’s mantra of Brexit Means Brexit, my contention is that Brexit has never meant Brexit. It has not meant any particular attitude to Europe either economically or politically. Brexit has meant all your grievances bundled into a single package that caters to your pride and insecurity. Europe has very little to do with it.

That pride and insecurity can only be intensified through presenting any case of potential revision as betrayal (a very popular rhetorical trope for Brexiters.) So not only have you been betrayed by an external Them (though any Them would do) but are now being betrayed all over again by an internal Them.

In this case the internal Them were the Labour Party and the liberal-minded as well as radically-minded educated class (which includes most artists.)

The issue extends far deeper than being a member of the EU. It is an existential issue of honour and anger.

George Szirtes, REFLECTIONS AND APPREHENSIONS / On the General Election 2019

“Part of the Forest,” from Oppen’s 1962 collection The Materials, offers a particular vision of masculinity.  It is a negative kind of masculinity, however, which Oppen portrays as both alienating to the individuals it affects and damaging to what he sees as the important communal values of human society – love and family.  Furthermore, it is a way of being that diminishes one’s very humanity.  The male figure in the poem has not only lost his ability to use language, but as a denizen of the forest (as in the poem’s title) he becomes something more akin to an animal than a man.  In presenting this vision of maleness, Oppen is inherently critiquing the America from which it springs.  Its expression – the beer-drinking, car-driving loner – can be seen to echo the image of the cowboy, for example, the rugged frontiersman who seemingly has little need for human fellowship, an image central to the American myth.  For Oppen in “Part of the Forest,” however, this is an image which is ultimately destructive both to the sense of community which any society requires in order to thrive, as well as to the individuals within that society.

Michael S. Begnal, On George Oppen’s “Part of the Forest”

tomorrow 
i will vote then i will swim
the tides will turn

Jim Young [no title]

A promise is always an open-ended story. Holding on to one puts us in a space of negative capability.  

Women used to put lights in the windows to help fisherman find their way home.

We’ve always signaled one another with light, haven’t we?

Signaled our vulnerability.

Wood burning in the fireplace used to evoke the experience of the physical exertion of splitting wood. A wool sock is the hours put into shearing and carding, spinning and knitting, haunted by the rhythm of the fingers that looped and tugged in quiet meditation.

Someone’s grandmother’s sighs are in each row.

We live half-lives often. Or at least I do. There is something missing, something meaningful in what we have worked so hard to avoid.

The lights are in the window, but there’s so much work still to be done.

Ren Powell, In the Coming

What do we mean by “comfort zone”? People use it frequently, especially in self-improvement and creativity-related writing. Has it become an empty phrase? It’s so subjective–which is entirely the point, I suppose. If we can manage to agree on what the idea means, we still must confront the continuum of such a zone. I reflect on my tolerance for aesthetic discomfort often, especially when I am reading or observing creative work. For example, I like listening to jazz; some jazz soothes, some excites, and some takes effort to hear–I have to be in the mood for confrontational experiments with sound such as performances by The Art Ensemble of Chicago. […]

Poems practically cry out to enter such territory. Often I find that even poems that contain in their lines and imagery moments of hope or great love and comfort simultaneously discomfit me. It fascinates me; how does the poet first compose, then revisit and revise, the poem that must surely be even more uncomfortable to write–to confront? (Search for any anthology on a difficult topic and therein will be many such poems.) Most of us prefer to avoid pain zones, so we stay within our comfort zones.

Ann E. Michael, Comfort zones redux

It was half past night-blooming jasmine time when the beautiful dead rose from their graves. They had experienced so much more than us: had seen the cosmos and beyond; had played rock, paper, scissors with God. There’s only so much we can offer you, we said—human things like loving words, laughter, and tears. That is enough, the beautiful dead said as they stepped into our arms. We could only hold them for so long before they slipped back into the air. That empty space in our arms hurt us to the bone. But we knew the price we’d have to pay when we first got on this ride. The cost of love is the loss.

Rich Ferguson, The Price to Get On This Ride

You’re sick, but
still offering opinions
on which cut of trousers

best suits me. You promise
a pair of new boots, stylish
as yours, before you go.

Then you’re dead, and
I roam your closet
(Narnia-sized, infinite)

with empty hands. But look:
on a countertop, the boots
you promised, in my size.

I wake laughing.
You’re nine months buried
and still giving to me.

Rachel Barenblat, In this place

Through the years, the stable attracted
the odds and ends of our childhood toys:
a plastic soldier, his rifle chewed and mangled,
migrated from the war zone;
a horse, which once helped herd
plastic animals, now riderless and alone;
a Magic 8 ball with murky
water, the answers to our questions, obscured […]

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Poetry Tuesday: “Nativity Scene”

Raspberry leaves go lemon pale,
the monumental pipework
of courgettes collapses soft and sour,
and
like opening a door at the end
like a spill of light, like a new day,
the last small pale green tomatoes.
Perfect spheres. You can see 
your way clear and inevitable.
Crisp white cauliflower,
green peppers, mustard, cloves,
white vinegar, brown sugar,
peppercorns, ginger, turmeric;
scalding out the jars.
This is the end of summer.
They call it piccalilli.

John Foggin, The week before Christmas

My hard copy of Abridged: Kassandra has arrived and it’s more beautiful than the virtual copy, each image really accentuates its accompanying poem and the paper quality really feels good in my hands. It’s a pleasure to flip through and read the poetry selected. Definitely worth supporting this venture. 

And this week I’ve read Melissa Fu’s Falling Outside Eden by Hedgehog Press. It’s a lovely, gentle collection, a conversation sometimes urgent, sometimes full of acceptance or regret at untenable situations. I found myself totally lost in those moments, in small beauties of eating watermelon or watching snow fall, the deeper well of watching a relationship fail. The collection allows us to enter Eden, knowing from the beginning it will eventually fall apart. Subtly crafted and weighty with beautiful language, another smashing collection from the Hedgehog.

The last week before Christmas, so much to do and no energy to accomplish most of it. I hope this time of year is not being too tough on you. 

Gerry Stewart, Getting Through the December Slog

Aiieee! Cowflop! This is 100-proof bogus nonsense. What writers want for Christmas or the holiday of their preference is for you to read one (or more!) of their books (preferably after buying, as numbers help them sell the next book to a publisher) and then to ramble around in their created worlds. Also, they want dratted Amazon etc. reviews because those things are helpful to the book, and writers are all about serving the book. What they do not want are things like mugs, literary insult charts, literary temporary tattoos, and storytelling card games. Well, maybe they want a nice fountain pen…

Marly Youmans, What writers do and do not want for Christmas etc.

Day 1
Get drunk make a baby bark like a dog.

Day 2
Absorb your neighbor’s lunatic desire.

 Day 3
Read a book about new girls and old girls.

Day 4
You will never be either.

Day 5
Give thanks with your mouth.

Day 6
Grow tentacles and a tail.

Rebecca Loudon, An advent calendar plus Christmas

This week also had me taking a hard look at my two manuscripts. One seems pretty finished, the other one is still in process, and so I printed it out again and sorted it out on the table. I’d missed that I had taken out a pretty important couple of poems in the last round of edits, and I added in some new ones, which means I need to edit a few others out. Then the harder work of targeting publishers – the ones that will take a chance on me. I also updated my acknowledgments pages with my recent acceptances, which was fun!

The tricky part of messing with poetry manuscripts – especially two at a time – is keeping in mind the themes, avoiding unnecessary repetition, and making sure the book is fun to read, even if the subject matter might be deemed “depressing.” You want a certain amount of momentum in your first ten and last ten pages, for instance. You don’t want to bury your best poems in the middle of the book, which is easy to do. You don’t want it to be too long (which is probably around 70 pages) or to feel too slight. You have to think of targeting the right presses for each book – and unless you have a “home” publisher, that means doing your research and checking out new presses, older presses that have changed direction, that sort of thing. Then, make sure your TOC is updated, you don’t have any obvious typos, that kind of thing.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Copper Canyon Holiday Book Party, Early Family Christmas Dinner, and Working on Poetry Manuscripts (Again)

I am trying, now that things have settle down a bit, to get back to my daily writing.  I’ve been picking away at some poems meant to accompany my series of collages, eleanor and the tiny machines, and they are going well, but at the same time, I also have no idea where they are actually going, like what I’m actually doing, what story I am trying to tell.  Often I can fake it until I make it–when the thread that ties everything together becomes apparent enough that I can take hold of it and pull it together. There are only a dozen or so and I am still adrift a bit, and looking for the thread, but I suppose it’s important to keep going until I have it.

I have not been overall as productive in 2019 as I was last year, when I finished the year with a big stack of poems and the better part of two book manuscripts.  This year, I worked unsteadily through the sping and early summer on various smaller things (including the summer house and licorice, laudanunm), then dig in on the extinction event series for a few months.  By then it was October and life was much in the way of chaos, so only in the last month, have I gotten back to even trying to write daily.  I am pretty much okay with that, but getting back into the habit always seems harder after you stray.  Especially since there are so many things that seem to need more attention than writing–like work and the press, which involve commitments to the college and to other people vs writing, which mostly benefits no one but me.

Even still my output for the year, when taken as a whole, is not too shabby.  Even my 100 submissions fail garnered me more acceptances than I might have had without it. After the new year, I hope to have a bunch of more recent stuff ready to submit, so we’ll try again, if not for 100, then for a much smaller number (I don’t do simultaneous subs for logistical reasons, so I actually don’t think I have enough to submit to make that happen in a span of a year.)

Kristy Bowen, daily writing successes and fails

I had the thrill of riding a bike past blooming fields of redolent hyacinth. I had the unforgettable and awful experience of watching in person Notre Dame burn; but, not to appropriate a tragedy, but I must say there was a strange grace in being able to be among Parisians and tourists sharing the grief on the bridges surrounding the cathedral.

And I have a whole new swath of poems that I’m in the in-love with stage about. (That won’t last long, but I’m trying to enjoy it while I can.)

I think it’s important, this year-in-review ritual — and I usually combine it with going to a fawncy cafe in my town for a once-a-year cappuccino and the best croissant in the world. I don’t do it often enough, and often fear counting my blessings aloud, as I’m superstitious and generally walk around feeling like there are several large shoes over my head waiting to drop (or am I thinking of Damocletian swords?), and worry that too much reveling will…well…I don’t want to talk about it.

Anyway, a pause like this helps me to live that kind of life worth living: the examined kind. And to ring my own personal bells that still can ring, and let some light in. And I share it here mostly to remind you too to ring a bell.

Marilyn McCabe, Ring the bells; or, On Successishness

The year is fleeting  like the air from a balloon with a pinhole. I like the thought of taking the Mac Book into the new year. Over the weekend I was thinking about the coming year. All the projects that I want to do, to start or the ones I need to push to the finish line. I realized that 2020 needs to stand for perfect vision. What I want, what I need to do, requires me to see 2020. This is a year in which my vision needs to lead me. The irony of having just come off of cataract surgery this fall was perhaps what brought 2020 into my mind as being a year for perfect vision. This time next year I hope to have a lot of proof to show for the combination of vision and work.

Michael Allyn Wells, 2020 A Year of Perfect Vision

‘To write poems is to sit inside of the burning bush.’ Li-Young Lee said that. The bush is no god, but it continues to burn and to make commands nonetheless. James said that. Climb inside with me. Bring pen and paper with you. There is much yet to do.

James Lee Jobe, ‘To write poems is to sit inside of the burning bush.’ Li-Young Lee said that.

Poetry Blog Digest 2019: 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, lamentation and celebration—like every week, I suppose, only thrown into sharper relief by current events. But mostly the joy of reading and writing poems.


America is now a map of lies, a map of bigotry. Perhaps it always was, and I just didn’t see it. It is easier to buy a gun than it is to find a safe place to live. If you hate the right people, the bulk of the population will love you; your hatred will be admirable, like an achievement. If you hate the right people, the brown ones, the map of lies will unfold at your feet. At last you will have a place to go where hate is love, where servitude is equality. The collective hatred and bigotry will take on the shape of hot air balloon to lift the true believers up to their make-believe heaven.

James Lee Jobe, prose poem – ‘America is now a map of lies’

I’ve curated a new prayer for Tisha b’Av that interweaves quotes from Lamentations with quotes from migrants and refugees on the United States’ southern border today. In reading the prayer aloud, we put the words of refugees — parents separated from their children; children separated from their parents; human beings suffering in atrocious conditions — into our own mouths. May hearing ourselves speak these words galvanize us to action.

Here’s a taste:

They told me, ‘you don’t have any rights here,
and you don’t have any rights to stay with your son.’

I died at that moment. They ripped my heart out of me.
For me, it would have been better if I had dropped dead.

For me, the world ended at that point.
How can a mother not have the right to be with her son?…

The prayer is online (and also available as a downloadable PDF) at Bayit‘s Builders Blog, and you can find it here: Lamentations (Then and Now).

Rachel Barenblat, A new prayer for Tisha b’Av

This poem [“Your Body” by Ann Gray] confronts and unnerves because, unlike the Victorians, we have removed ourselves from physical contact with the dead. Some of their customs persisted into the 1950s. As a child I was shocked when a classmate of mine in Primary School, Geoffrey Brooke, died of meningitis (none of us knew what that was; just that it was frightening, that it could visit any of us). More shocked when his mother invited us, his 8 and 9 year old classmates, to come and see him laid out in his coffin in the single downstairs room of their terrace house. When it came to it, I stayed outside. Some of my friends went in, and when they came out they would say nothing about it. Not then, and not later.

When my dad died, and years later, my mother, they were whisked away before I could see them. They vanished.

I wonder what I ever made of Sassoon’s line from The Dugout
You are too young to fall asleep forever;
And when you sleep you remind me of the dead.

It was just an idea, a notion. I think we too often persuade ourselves we understand. Unlike Hamlet, we are happy to conflate sleep and death and leave it there.

Which is why I need poems like Your body. One of my sons committed suicide by jumping from a high rise block of flats. The police told me that I wouldn’t want to see him, and I was too stunned to argue. I have no idea who identified him, or how, but it wasn’t his mother, or me. We couldn’t have a funeral until a long-postponed inquest was over, and his body was released. In his coffin, only his face was visible. His face was like the death mask of a beautiful stranger. It was unmarked, and he really did seem unnaturally asleep. I kissed him, but he didn’t wake.

Years later I had to go with my partner to identify the body of her ex-husband in the morgue in Wakefield. It was so bizarre, so unreal, like a piece of theatrical still life. I thought I would never find words for it and maybe I shouldn’t try. Now I know I was wrong in that, as in so many things, because of this lovely, tender, terrible, astonishing poem. 

John Foggin, Poetry that really matters: Ann Gray [Part One]

We text. She sends me Poké gifts,
and I say thank you. She says for what, and I flash
my phone so she can see we’re both in the same app.
We roll our eyes at the same time. We drip. We drift.
We cheered the drag queens, hot sun on glitter and sequins.
Drag queens still dance, music pounds, but us? We are done.

PF Anderson, After Performing at Pride

There are so many magazine and literary journals out there, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and to not know where to start. For me, Twitter is a great place to discover new poems, poets, and journals I want to follow. Here are a few poems I read recently and loved. And yes, I discovered all of them via Twitter.

“People call her Bride of. The Bride of. Of this broken man
who made a broken man from parts of broken men.”
~ from The Bride of Frankenstein Considers Her Options by Meghan Phillips, published by Strange Horizons

” —& so i am learning to call unpleasant histories by their real names—such as what i demand of love—and that i used to be a boy—to think that if this body was a prison what happened when i escaped”
~ from If the Body is a Prison-House Where is the Warden I Have Some Complaints About the Plumbing by Danielle Rose, published by Third Point Press

” In other news, this is the top. Weep for what little things
would make them jealous. I publish a poem”
~ from In Which I Am Accused of Sleeping My Way to the Top by Jill McDonough, published by The Threepenny Review

Courtney LeBlanc, A Few More Poems I Love

Away from my normal routines for ten days in Portugal, I looked at Twitter occasionally and kept seeing references to “that essay” by poet Bob Hicok. I’ll scout it out later, I thought, first busy with the MLA International Symposium in Lisbon; then laid up in my hotel room with a stomach bug; and finally traipsing around Porto, making up for lost time and calories. I arrived home late this Thursday, and catching up with other people and tasks seemed more important. Scrolling through social media Saturday morning, though, I saw a smart set of questions Paisley Rekdal had posted in response to the piece, along with a link to the essay itself (which had been a little hard to find–people clearly don’t want to promote it). Okay, okay, FINE, I grumbled, brewed another pot of chai, and read it.

The essay isn’t good, no matter what you think of the argument. It belabors its point, which is basically that Hicok is “dying as a poet” (meaning, apparently, not attracting as many readers as he used to), and while it’s good, he concedes, that writers who are not “straight white men” like him are now getting attention, and he’s grateful to have had a good run, he’s sad to lose the limelight. If a writer-friend had told me this privately, over drinks, I would have felt embarrassed for him–listen to yourself, dude! Literature is not a zero-sum game, and nobody has taken your micro-celebrity away from you! I suppose it’s useful, though, that someone has voiced all this in print. I know other people think similarly: I’ve heard the asides, and seen the facial expressions, by white writers of various ages and genders, although whenever I’ve sensed a lament like this emerging in my company, I’ve either cut it short or walked away. […]

It is certainly true that while there are more presses and contests than ever before, there’s now a larger pool of people competing for them, as well as a real hunger from readers for stories and poems from less-familiar perspectives. I’m one of those readers, and I’m very glad publishing is more inclusive than it used to be–I hope the trend continues, and as poetry editor of Shenandoah, I try to help it along. Such richness benefits everyone who cares about literature. It’s also true that I’m striving, meanwhile, for my own foothold in the scene, and I get sad about the difficulty of that sometimes. What I keep coming back to: the only way to stay sane is to make sure your writing is urgent, well-crafted stuff, and to use whatever space and advantages you have to help others do good work, too, and feel some love for it. Then, whether or not you earn a lucky spot on the stage yourself one day, you’ll feel okay about how you’ve spent your hours.

Lesley Wheeler, Sharing space in poetry (“that essay”)

So, I posted a couple of observations on that Utne reader Bob Hicok essay on Facebook (if you are interested, you can read the threads here) and thought I might develop further here. This is not just to pile on to Bob’s racist/sexist/privilege issues but to discuss other issues his essay brings up. I think he’s missing a few larger issues in publishing, book sales, and mindset.

  • Bob has won two (!!) NEA fellowships and a Guggenheim, as well as a pretty cushy teaching gig, and has published ten books. I just, sorry, don’t feel like weeping for him because I (and most of my friends) have never had any of those things. Never been in Poetry or the New Yorker either. So, you know, he needs to check his privilege before he gets whine-y. Lots of poets have never been the flavor of the month, but Bob has had a lot of time in the sun. So it was an insensitive essay in more than one way.
  • My friend Kelli is always talking about “scarcity mentality” in poetry – the feeling that because someone else gets something, you get less. She points out that it is not true, even if it feels true, and not only that, it’s destructive. I wrote a little last week about poets cheering on other poets and how important that is. It definitely makes being the poetry world more rewarding. Helping others – by mentoring or reviewing or publishing – will increase your happiness, I guarantee. Everyone feels hurt when their book doesn’t sell or get reviewed or their book or grant gets rejected – but that hurt can be mitigated.
  • What Bob is lamenting – that his books sell less, that he gets fewer reviews – has nothing to do with poets of color, LGBTQ writers, or women getting more air time. It has to do with the landscape of publishing. The print book market is very fragmented, and I’d bet that most poets are selling fewer books and getting fewer reviews because there are so many books out there now. Gen Z have their own book buying tastes and habits – very different than his generation. Instagram poets, for instance. It’s not bad, just different, than it used to be. I’m sure, say, Billy Collins is still doing fine. Book publishing in general is changing. Book reviewing is in flux, too.
  • Also, it seems strange to talk about how all these troublesome non-white-male poets are taking up space when most of the prestige poetry presses and journals ARE STILL RUN BY WHITE MEN. I was trying to name the poetry presses run by women and people of color – can you help me? Are they the ones most poets want to be published by with, or get good distribution? (People have mentioned: University of Akron Press, Mayapple Press, Alice James Books, Sundress, Two Sylvias Press. as presses led by women..I’d love to hear more (especially presses run by people of color?)
  • Most tenure track teaching jobs are still given to men. In academia in general, women have much less chance of being offered tenure, and I’m sure poets of color and poets with disabilities could talk more about their experience with this. You’ve already lucked out if you’re an older poet with a tenured teaching job.
  • I don’t know about other reviewers, but there’s a reason I like to shine a spotlight when I do reviews of poets of color, women, LGBTQ poets, and poets with disabilities. In general, these poets are more vulnerable to prejudice, so I think it’s more important that their voices are heard above the crowd.
  • What am I missing? Anything else to add to the discussion?
Jeannine Hall Gailey, Taking the Fall, A Few Thoughts on that Utne Poetry Essay, and Poetry Reviews, Sales, and Empowerment

Ammons’s poetry is a poetry of open-endedness, rather than of closed forms.  In line 121 [of “Corson’s Inlet’], he eschews the “easy victory” of traditional formal poetry (identified in the “narrow orders, limited tightness” of line 120), knowing that the deeper nature of the world is anything other than such “narrowness” of form might imply.

In some sense, poetry, of course, is inescapably form.  So Ammons admits in his conclusion to “Corson’s Inlet” that he has no choice but to try
     to fasten into order enlarging grasps of disorder, widening
scope, but enjoying the freedom that
Scope eludes my grasp, that there is no finality of vision,
that I have perceived nothing completely,
     that tomorrow a new walk is a new walk.

This statement suggests that, at least in Ammons’ view, a new poem must also create poetry itself anew, that a poet cannot simply rely on the predictable patterns of form but must allow the poem to find its own form in response to nature and the changing world it grapples with.  Ammons asserts that that world is necessarily disordered and in a state of ongoing change and that, therefore, instead of trying to show one’s poetic mastery by imposing a predetermined form over it, the poet must listen to nature, must listen to language itself, and allow him- or herself to “go with the flow” of that flux: “I have perceived nothing completely” — a nor can one ever, for all is mediated by the particular dynamics of the mind.

It is interesting to compare this poem with another Ammons piece, which is overtly an ars poetica, being titled “Poetics” (pp. 26-27).  It does very similar things.  Where, in “Corson’s Inlet,” the poem runs “like a stream,” here it is “spiralling from a center” (line 3).  Ammons opens himself to “the shape / things will take to come forth in” (4-5), yet when they do, as the birch tree in lines 6-10, it is merely or even “totally its apparent self.”  The poem, for Ammons, is not only the shape of the poem as written down, “but the / uninterfering means on paper” (17-18) — and more important is that the poet be
     available
to any shape that may be
summoning itself
through me
from the self not mine but ours. (20-24)

In other words, it is not about the individual poet, the supposedly autonomous individual artist (as “great,” or what have you) but in fact more about forgetting the self, the ego, and opening up outwardly to — let’s call it the “cosmos,” at the risk of sounding over-serious and for lack of a less grandiose word.

Mike Begnal, On A. R. Ammons, “Corson’s Inlet” & “Poetics”

The last few months, I’ve been working on a more meta project, spawned by some less coherent thoughts I had when I was working on my actual artist statement. How to convey a whole world–a whole aesthetic framework, without delving into something a little more creative when it feels like you are supposed to be more expository somehow.  What wound up resulting was a lot of fun.  How to write about the endeavor of writing poems (and I use “poetry” loosely since most of my stuff takes the form of prose lately).

The subject matter of the pieces take a lot from my experience writing as a woman, of subject matter, of the academic-poetry complex.  Of desire and sex and writing.  The closest thing I can compare it to in my past writings would be this poem, which opens major characters in minor films, which touches on some of the similar ideas, but in a less specific way. Some of the artist statement pieces are coming soon in an issue of TYPEHOUSE, so watch for that to get a sampling. 

Kristy Bowen, artist statements

So I have some news. It’s kind of stellar and I just can’t stop smiling. It’s been almost a week and the effect hasn’t worn off yet. I am beyond thrilled and mega excited to announce that my book, GALLERY of POSTCARDS and MAPS: NEW and SELECTED, will be published by Salmon Press of Ireland (with US distribution). This makes this getting older thing not so hard to take. 

Over the past 20 years I’ve published four books of poetry starting with THE CARTOGRAPHER’S TONGUE / POEMS of the WORLD which focused on my time in the Peace Corps in West Africa, my Fulbright in South Africa and the death of both my parents. This book won both the PEN USA Award and the Peace Corps Writers Award. Next was CURES INCLUDE TRAVEL and then THE ALCHEMIST’s KITCHEN and CLOUD PHARMACY, all published by White Pine Press. You might notice they all seem to be on sale at the moment!

There are so many people to thank for helping make this book and its publication a reality (well, it’s not going to be out for a little while) but let me start with the main inspirations: Ilya Kaminsky, Geraldine Mills, Sandy Yaonne, and of course, the amazing Jessie Lendennie.  Sometimes the stars really do align. Or as my dear friend, the poet Kelli Russell Agodon says, maybe it was the chipmunk that came out of nowhere to stare at me for a good long while on a summer morning.

Susan Rich, Announcing a Forthcoming Miracle from Salmon Press: GALLERY OF POSTCARDS AND MAPS

One of my favorite poems in the collection – since I also mine pop culture for images and inspiration – is “Mission Dolores.” That’s the church in Vertigo where Jimmy Stewart follows Kim Novak when she leaves flowers on the grave of Carlotta Valdez. The poem not only summons up Hitchcock and Novak, but Dusty Springfield, Pet Shop Boys and Bridget Bardot, while noting that the 80s have become reminiscent of the 50s for the fearmongering and dread. Let’s not forget that it was nearly a  decade into the plague before President Reagan even uttered the word AIDS.

The mythology derived from the symbol might be an illusion
but not the reality in the fact that Thank God and thank you
General Motors Cadillacs are getting bigger again
so that this dreadful era becomes reminiscent of the ’50s
as if escape were indeed possible
as I walk by the Mission’s garden and all at once a stiff breeze
affects even my pompadour stiff with pomade 
and from out of the fog a long black Cadillac passes me by
and I needn’t wonder if inside the body is still alive. 


That poem was written on my birthday, Sept. 17, in 1989. It’s just another incident of synchronicity and a sign from the other side as I begin compiling my next manuscript, which focuses on my late uncle, Terry Graves, his time in San Francisco and his death from AIDS just a year before Karl. Terry and Karl were in San Francisco at the same time, and I can’t help but wonder if they encountered each other. Maybe in a poem they will.

I have a love//hate relationship with San Francisco, but I’ve been feeling the need to return. Urgently. And Karl’s poems only solidified that. It’s amazing when poetry can move and motivate you enough to want to travel across a continent. That’s what Karl Tierney’s will do for you.

Thank you, Sibling Rivarly, for bringing this book [Have You Seen This Man? The Castro Poems of Karl Tierney] into the world and making Karl Tierney immortal.

Collin Kelley, In the Castro with Karl Tierney

I love breaking words apart, especially words in foreign languages, and learning their etymology and usage. The idea of having a word warehouse in my head feels like the perfect analogy. The words all stored in various boxes and filing cabinents. I’m sure the organisation is an absolute mess, like most of my real-life storage. Items organised by need, use and more random connections rather than some systematic method. When I lived with my parents I kept my library card in a laundry basket in the basement. If someone moved it, I could never think where it should sensibly be, but I could always find it with my way. Our own systems work.

So when I look for the word ‘door’ in Finnish, I know I’d be shuffling through files of Scottish Gaelic to find it. I was just watching a video of the Scottish Poet Laureate Jackie Kay reciting her poem ‘Threshold’ to the opening of the Scottish Parliament in 2016. She mentioned that in Gaelic they say ‘dùin an doras‘ for ‘shut the door’ and that took me back to learning Gaelic in Glasgow, so many years ago. ‘Don’t shut the door’ was also one of the first phrases I learned in Finnish when my son shouted it over and over at nursery when it was time for me leave. These memories pile up on top of the word ‘door’ in a wonderful scrapbook.

It’s also how my writing works, I start with a prompt, specific or more general and I just follow it where it leads me, jumping from one image or connection to the next. I might look at crafting a poem from the idea of shutting the door in several languages just from writing that paragraph. My poems have begun to cross over into Finnish and other languages more and more as I shuffle through the collected images and memories in my brain while I write. 

Gerry Stewart, Scattershot

And then the door swung wide
and the music bloomed like a tin flower:
John McCormack singing The Rose of Tralee.
And a four-square farmer’s wife came stepping
high over the tussocks, scarved and booted,
ringing a bucket like a broken bell.

And she’s singing too, singing in a wild
soprano, keen as the edge of a spinning
slate, plaiting her voice around McCormack’s
skinny tenor, scattering the gulls and lifting
a fishing heron out of the shallows
and into the all-accommodating sky.

Dick Jones, Looking for U2…

Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 4

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. And if you’re a blogger who regularly shares poems or writes about poetry, please consider joining the network.

This week saw poetry bloggers continuing to write about Mary Oliver, as well as reacting to current and celestial events. There were posts about creativity and overcoming writer’s block, reviews, philosophical reflections… the whole mix. I should mention that I am slowly becoming more selective as I continue to add more blogs to my feed. It’s a good thing most people don’t post every day, as Luisa and I do here at Via Negativa! That would be nuts. Anyway, Enjoy.


Those of us who are still here: we are still, always arriving.  We’re not in the Promised Land, that’s for sure.  All we can really do, is to be in the becoming.  Still, always arriving.  We’ve been still, always arriving since we left the ennui of Paradise. We throw questions, try to dominate, cure. We try to stare down the enemy though, as if in a mirror, we’ll see our own face in its acts of aggression.  Learning to love the questions themselves, rather than the answers relaxes the drive to conquer. As King said, mental freedom, illumination can move things. 

Today also on the Jewish calendar: Tu B’Shevat, festival of the trees. Today trees are sheathed in ice in New England. The sap is there, held in tension, in suspense, waiting, always arriving.

Jill Pearlman, MLK, Always Arriving

I don’t know about you, but I process confusion by getting my ass into a chair and my pencil onto a page. So when the video of the young man staring down the Native elder surfaced, I watched it and paid close attention to the emotions that rose to the surface in my body. I didn’t respond on social media. In fact, it didn’t take too long for me to stop looking at social media altogether on the issue. I wrote about it in my notebook. […]

When I taught high school, I spent a lot of time choosing novels that I hoped would expand my students’ empathy, help them walk in another’s life for awhile, break down some of the barriers. That’s what literature and poetry does best, it shows us how it is to be another person. I remember how hard it was for my students in a small town in Alaska to really put themselves into the place of Ishmeal Beah in A Long Way Gone or Amir in The Kite Runner. But when they succeeded, the transformation was permanent. They could not go back to their own small lives without carrying some of the lives of other people who were different than them…. and the same as them.

When I write, I try to offer my reader that same chance to step into the poem. “Did you lose someone to Alzheimer’s? Was it like this?” I offered in Every Atom. “Are you lost and looking for the way some god might be all around you? Does it feel this way?” I wondered in Boundaries.

Recently, I look at my new poems and think I am asking, “Do you love the world? Are you open to the way the crow flies across the cold sand? Are you willing to listen for the soft compression of wings on air?”

“Are you ready to have faith that what you call other is only you on a different day?”

Erin Coughlin Hollowell, On a different day

So I am up and out the door. But the blood moon has rolled over and pulled the thin blanket of clouds with it. The sky reflects a sickly orange spill from the green houses in Bore.

I feel that I’ve written that sentence before. I’ve written about how we impose on the world.

But still, this morning was once in a lifetime.

Sporadic hail through the tree branches.
The dog tugging the lead,
still unlearning to hunt. 

Ren Powell, January 21st, 2019

In the end, all that mattered was blood
relations, forgiveness, love. In hospice, I left him alone
the night before he died. Still thought he’d walk

out of that place. The nurse said he was afraid on his own
in the dark. Even with opiates, he couldn’t find a way to sleep.
He asked for me. I drove right over. He stopped breathing that day.

There was a blood moon, auger of end times, in the days
before his death, a lone orb pointing the way,
an opening of sorts, a door for him to slip through, quite easily, on his own.

Christine Swint, Driving My Father Through the End Times, a Sestina

After her tea she gets
the big pot and scrubs vegetables for soup.
Her knife is rhythmic against the cutting board,
her felt slippers scuffing from counter to stove
and back again. I see her mouth move sometimes
as she sways, mincing, mincing her life.

Sarah Russell, Mornings after breakfast

Ever since my daughter planted cover crops in the fall of 2016, I’ve been fascinated by winter rye. How tall and glorious it grows. The subtle colors of its ears. The Catcher in the Rye, and the delicious homophone with wry.

Although it’s almost February, I finally ordered the seeds, and this morning went out to plant. […]

And while I’m out in the dirt, I have time to think about writing, think about how messiness gives the eye and the mind nooks and crannies to explore. How it feels to dig in and turn over, to break the blockages apart, to weed through the words. How the rake finds new roots and clumps get rid of. Sometimes I get an idea for a poem.

This morning, I thought about how I’ve been working on a poem that complains about those people who say home-baked bread can’t be “from scratch” if you don’t grow your own wheat–and here I was planting rye! And I thought about how it’s better to experiment–and risk failure–in a poem, just as this rye patch may fail. This might be the shortest diary ever. We’ll see.

Joannie Strangeland, The rye diary

It’s been two snow & ice storms, four poems submitted to one venue, plane tickets to AWP19 bought,  more presidential candidates announcing than I can remember, lots of reading and lots of writing since my last confession. […]

Going through another of those writing funks where I am not happy with much of what I put on a page. Of course, this is not the first time this has happened and I confess that I am well aware that it will happen again. I’m writing a lot trying to push through it. It’s the only way I know to get back on track. Still, it is frustrating when this happens and you wonder if you will ever put another poem on a page that you are happy with.

Michael Allyn Wells, Confession Tuesday – Federal Workers on My Mind

We can get so hung up on not writing that it makes us anxious and can block us. In a recent issue of Mslexia, poet Tara Bergin says that to combat the terrible fear of starting a poem, instead of saying “You’re going to write a poem tomorrow”, she leaves post- it notes for herself that say things like, “Read such and such an article and take notes” and other notes reminding her to read different things. This means she’s always got something to do and is not failing because she isn’t compiling an actual poem. I did something like this on the long haul towards my PhD – lots of notes to self on my desk, in books and on my phone.

My insomnia is a thing I don’t necessarily like but have come to accept. so in the particularly fevered early hours of PhD days, I made it a thousand times worse by making visual Insomniascapes on my phone -tiny images of me placed in surreal landscapes, or just the landscapes themselves. These were places I knew and ran or walked around to clear my head or to think more but the various apps made them nightmarish. This was possibly a useful kind of displacement. I’ll never really know. Maybe I ought to write poems to accompany them. Even though I wasn’t writing words there but I was still “writing”. The practice was connected with certain emotional and psychological states and was undoubtedly a creative one which was linked with writing.

Pam Thompson, “Writing” Towards Writing

It’s been really helpful to read these posts by poets writing about how they find their way into poems:  Writing” Towards Writing by Pam Thompson and fearless creating by Julie Mellor.  As well as containing useful and practical advice, the posts are a comforting reminder that I’m not alone in finding writing hard going at times.  I have a poem that’s been kicking around for months.  It’s there because I realised that another poem I was writing was really two poems.  So I managed to finish poem one but had these scraps of ideas, lines and words for the second poem.  I suppose it’s something like knitting a jumper and finding there’s some good wool left over that it would be a shame to waste.  Or realising you bought too much expensive wool and that it would be plain wrong to leave it lying around going to ruin.  Do you understand the kind of nagging feeling I’m left with?  All January it’s been going on and January hasn’t been the best of months to begin with!

Josephine Corcoran, Finding your way into a poem

I’ve been experimenting with combining sketching and poetry writing, and last night, I took a larger leap.  I had been looking at an old manuscript, and I was intrigued by some of the images (not all of them mine–I can trace at least two of them back to this poem by Luisa Igloria).  I started with those images and wrote the words of the poem.  Then I sketched a bit.  […]

These new creative directions come with questions.  Do the poems work without the image?  Is there a market for these poem-like things with images?  As I continue to do them, will a narrative arc emerge?  As images continue to make an appearance, should I read anything into them?

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, When Sketches Meet Poems

Day Three: Thursday, Jan. 24:  This day began later than the others thanks to a dentist appointment. (Apparently, after 40 everything falls apart, even if you’ve been taking relatively good care of your teeth.) I could still sip coffee with half my jaw shot up with Novocaine, so I trekked to Starbucks despite the late start.

Sure, it’s totally a cliche to be a writer working in any coffeehouse, let alone Starbucks, but cut this working mom of three some slack, okay? At $6 a day for coffee and a bottle of water (+ tip), with free WiFi and a corner seat next to an outlet, plus the ability to focus for three solid hours without the distractions of home or the office, it’s probably the most convenient and cheapest residency a poet-mom can get.

And even — or maybe because — I’d arrived later in the day, I stayed later too, (the Starbucks baristas must love my loitering ass) and finished a solid draft of the review. I concentrated on the beginning and writing about all of the parts of Esperanza and Hope that make it worth reading and found quotes to demonstrate and by the end of the day I was over-caffeinated, under-fed, and more than a little grumpy as a result, but very satisfied that I finished the week with a completed piece of work.

Sarah Kain Gutowski, Micro-Sabbatical 2019

Delighted to receive my copy of “Mary Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom,” a new short story published by Faber & Faber that Sylvia Plath wrote when she was 20 years old, and Mademoiselle rejected. She didn’t work on the story again for two years, and when she did, she diminished the mystery and darkness of it. A reminder that we, as writers, often let editors guide what and how we write way too often – and just because something is rejected, doesn’t mean it isn’t good. She was just way ahead of her time. This story seems today, Murakami-esque, in the school of magical realism or symbolism – some resemblances to the story of Snowpiercer, in fact – at the time, it must have been very surprising reading indeed. I wish she had been encouraged to write more short fiction – this piece shows she had a real talent for it. One more lesson from Sylvia: don’t let editors discourage you from writing something different, or something people haven’t seen before. Or, in modern parlance, F&ck the haters.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Midwinter Sun, Four New Poems up at Live Encounters, Spy Animals, and Plath’s New Book

One thing that is interesting about reading some of the lesser-known or recently translated Tang poets (e.g. Meng Chiao, Li He, Li Shangyin) is the realization that, beyond the Li Po–Tu Fu–Wang Wei axis, not all of the Chinese poets were as focused on the clarity of the image the way these (and some others) often were.  From the standpoint of English-language poetics, we tend to see Li Po, through Ezra Pound’s translations, as the avatar of imagism, though he also wrote poems of mystic journeys that veer into the surreal and dreamlike.  […]  But the emphasis on the imagist “thing” has until recently tended to leave a lot of other Tang-era poets out of picture.  A. C. Graham began to remedy that somewhat in his Poems of the Late T’ang (1965), and in recent years, further translations of individual poets have been more frequently published.

The latest of these is the work of Li Shangyin (813-858), translated by Chloe Garcia Roberts (New York Review Books, 2018).  This volume includes not only Roberts’s translation of approximately 50 pages of Li’s poetry (with facing original Chinese), but also the versions by Graham and some by Lucas Klein (most of which are duplicate poems, making for interesting comparisons).  Li’s style is at times naturalistic and imagistic, but more often allusive, metaphorical, and, like Li He’s, surreal.  His work has historically been considered extremely obscure or, as Roberts puts it in her introduction, “unknowable and elusive . . . almost baroque, opulently layered with distinct mythological, historical, personal, and symbolist imagery” (xi).  This, of course, makes him difficult to translate. […]

Perhaps of use is an ars poetica, which begins,

At dawn, use clouds
To conceive the lines.
In winter, hold snow
To divine the poem. (33)

Mike Begnal, On Li Shangyin

I’m thinking of the whole complicated continuum from Pastoral poetry to the current imbroglio of ‘eco/environmental poetry’. I’ve been wrestling with this ever since I read Yvonne Reddick’s tour de force of exegesis in Ted Hughes: environmentalists and eco poet. I think I lost my way in the second chapter in which she summarises the sects and subsects of ecopoetry criticism: the topological, the tropological, the entropological and the ethnological. There are probably more by now, but they didn’t help me to entangle what I think of as ‘nature’, living as we do in a land where every metre has been named, walked, farmed, exploited, fenced, walled, built on, abandoned and reclaimed. All I know is that is if we continue degrade the ecological balances of the world it will die. The earth will get over that. It doesn’t care. It’s already gone through four major extinctions, not least being the one caused by the emergence of oxygen in the free atmosphere. It doesn’t care for us. But it seems obvious that we need to care for it if we care anything for ourselves.

When it comes to poetry that concerns itself with the natural world (and I’ll strenuously avoid that capitalised cliche Nature) I guess my first big eye-opener was Raymond Williams’ The country and the city which was my introduction to the idea that words like that are culturally constructed, and go on being deconstructed and reconstructed. Very little of the poetry we were given at school concerned itself with the city and the urban. It was pastoral, nostalgic and often sentimental . Poems like ‘The deserted village’. Poems like ‘Daffodils’. It took me a long time to work out why I distrusted ‘Daffodils’ but the clue’s in the first line:

I wandered lonely as a cloud

The first word; I. It’s not about daffodils, is it? It’s about the poet and what the daffodils can do for him as he wanders (ie purposelessly) and lonely (ie in self-elected solitariness) as a cloud (ie diffuse and without responsibility). It’s what I thought of when I heard Gormley’s phrase ‘ a pre-narcissistic art’. He did a revolutionary thing, Wordsworth. It’s a shame this poem is what he’s chiefly remembered for by folk who aren’t that interested in poetry. He opened our eyes to a power and loveliness beyond the bounds of a predominantly urban and urbane culture.

John Foggin, Green thoughts, and a Polished Gem: Alison Lock

“Nature poets” can be fierce, asserting the need for stewardship of our blue planet; poets who write happiness well understand–and convey–that pain and sorrow remain our companions in life. That does not mean a focus-on-the-positive Pollyanna attitude. No–to compose poems that show us we have every reason to love what we encounter takes bravery, because we so often fear what the world offers. To do so takes deep acknowledgment of suffering, not just a glancing nod, but compassion. The poet may not “behave well” in his or her own life but has the practiced gift of observation and enough craft to show the reader difficult perspectives.

Sometimes, gladness and optimism and beauty get obscured by experience and griefs. Next time that happens, maybe turn to poems?

Ann E. Michael, Remembering joy, redux

I just finished listening to the podcast “On Being with Krista Tippet” where Tippet interviews Mary Oliver. I am still in the glow of Ms. Oliver’s voice, her words, her generosity. It originally aired in October 2015 and so was conducted in the last years of her life when she had left Provincetown, Massachusetts after the death of her longterm partner, Molly Malone Cook.

One of the many things that I jotted down while listening to Oliver is:  “Poetry wishes for a community.” She also spoke about “the writer’s courtship” and the importance of creating time and space in one’s life to write — preferably while being outdoors. […]

Here is what I know: poetry needs community; it thrives when poets come together to write, to share ideas, to acknowledge the poetic voice in one another. These retreats always leave me feeling nourished. I do not know what I would do alone in a garret unless I had my poetry community to gather with in early autumn and late winter.

Susan Rich, Poetry Wishes for a Community — Mary Oliver, Poets on the Coast, and Groundhog Day Writing Retreat.

I’ve been reading about the art of wood carving in David Esterly’s fascinating The Lost Carving: A Journey to the Heart of Making. The author said several things of interest to me as a writer.

Here’s one that echoes Rilke’s idea of “being only eye,” that is, looking at something so intimately that “self” consciousness falls away but something of the deeper self rises up. Esterly writes:

“Once I gave lessons in foliage carving. I proposed to the students that we reject the idea that carving should be a means for self-expression…The assignment would be to carve a laurel leaf, a leaf of extreme simplicity. I asked the students to throw themselves entirely into the leaf, seek its essence and express only that, putting aside their personalities and carving only with hands and eyes…At the end of the day? There were eight individual leaves, some more compelling than others, but each distinct from all the rest…Trying to express the leaf, the carvers inadvertently had expressed themselves. But it was…a self-expression…from a union with their subject.”

I talk about this a bit when I lead writing workshops at an area art museum. I ask people to give themselves over to looking, and then, by challenging them to write constantly in a timed session, invite the inadvertent utterance onto the page. In this way we give ourselves the chance to surprise ourselves.

Marilyn McCabe, Whittle While You Work; or, Considering Wood Carving and Writing

The passing of Mary Oliver, and the subsequent news articles and social media messages about her, made me realize something about contemporary poetry. There’s so little joy in much of it.

The range of emotions and experience available for poets is limitless, yet the predominant themes in journals and books makes it seem like poets choose to spend more of their energy on the darker side of the spectrum. Now there’s a lot to be depressed about today and a lot to be upset about. Clearly social and political issues influence, and sometimes dominate many poets’ work. And there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. Good writing, whether it concerns tragedy, anger, sorrow or grief, is still good writing. And as I said in a previous post, pain lends a poem a kind of emotional energy that’s useful for a poem. In fact, I think negative emotions are easier to drive than positive ones. But that doesn’t mean that every poem has to feel like a gut punch.

Grant Clauser, It’s Not All Misery: What Mary Oliver Taught Us About Joy

When the moon turned red, so many more stars appears and everything had that crisp look which is hard to explain but the night sky felt as if someone had used the “sharpen” tool in Photoshop, making sure each pinprick of light was detailed and perfectly placed.

As the eclipse went on, I thought–I should be writing. I have this weird superstition about monumental moments–New Year’s Eve, lunar eclipse, birthdays, solstice, Day of the Dead, etc–that I should be writing on these days because it’s a nod to the universe that yes, this is my passion and if you see me writing on these days, it means it’s what I should be doing with my life (and hey universe, if you see this, send me some good luck and inspiration too). 

I realize this doesn’t really make any sense, but it’s a strange belief I’ve carried since I was younger. On New Year’s, let me start the year by reading a poem or writing one, on my birthday, let me be laughing so it carries on through the year.

But during the lunar eclipse, I realized that even though I wasn’t physically writing a poem, I was experience one. I was in the middle of a poem looking out. Insert shooting star. Insert the moment you hear your neighbors laugh because they are out on their patio with a drink watching as well. Insert telescope zooming on a crater. 

I now want to write the poem to create the feeling I had on Sunday. I want to be lost in a poem and not know it’s a poem. Maybe that’s life. Maybe it’s when we’re mindful. Maybe this is something I need to think about more when the reader is reading my poem, is she lost in the poem and looking out, shooting star filled, or is she just lost? 

Who knows if we are the poet or our life is the poem? Who cares to find out?

Kelli Russell Agodon, During the Super Blood Wolf Moon Lunar Eclipse, I Find Myself in a Poem