Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 40

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week, a journey from oneness to war zones, Parkinson’s, purity laws, reasons to live, living in the moment, being around other poets, UK National Poetry Day, The Frogmore Papers, Elizabeth Bishop, adventures with keyboards, temporary skin, counter-propaganda, a salty love letter, German Unity Day, patterns of breakage, haunted houses, a poet dispossessed by the Manhattan Project, wastelands, nighthawks, mentors, eggs and awakenings.


After the festival, the laundry.
After the festival, exhaustion
and punch-drunk laughter.

Collapsing into the armchair
and absently petting the cat.
After the festival, silence rings.

There’s so much to do — building
and repair, a new name for God,
making all our promises real.

But not today. Today, gratitude
for the washing machine, swirling
my Yom Kippur whites clean.

Rachel Barenblat, After the festival

there is a thing about the universe i love   and that is   that i am an integral part of it   i have come in contact with many great holy thinkers   they all have one thing in common   and that is the oneness of everything   even the electric impulses of our thoughts are part of it    and so there is no one who cannot be my friend   no application to fill out    boxes to check    or gifts to leave at my feet    some of the best gifts i have received    were from artists philosophers religious teachers of all faiths and musicians playing just the right notes in just the right moment    on September 24, 2022 the great sax player and composer Pharoah Sanders left his body   and still   he is with me right now…   when i die i will go nowhere and remain with him    and with you    enjoy this poem

clouds
shape into faces
do you see mine…

Michael Rehling, Haibun 214: journey into one

Under the falling leaves
I touch your footprints,
when hearing the news,
I hear your sighs
and when others speak,
I know what you’re saying.

Magda Kapa, Say

I suppose, this morning, as I see a photo of children lighting candles in a shelter in Dnipro and another of people lying dead in a road somewhere in the middle of this latest war zone, what follows is, in its tiny way, a personal manifesto.

For me at least, writing is not an escape route, it’s a method of confronting the chaos.

I’m not about to tell anyone else what to do or criticise them for seeing things differently. This is about my own sense of responsibility and nothing more.

I have always seen writing as primarily a political act. Yes, of course, there must be light amongst the shade, of course there must be a time to do something just plain daft or laugh with the general absurdities of how we cope with living alongside each other, but even this is in the context of a response to the general madness of the world. If I seek peace in some poems, it is a quest, an act of running towards not an act of running away.

Bob Mee, THE PRIMARY JOB OF A POET IS TO CONFRONT THE CHAOS

When a friend tells me
about her father, his Parkinson’s,
his dementia, his shuffling feet,
we are no longer

two separate women
two separate men
but a small congregation
of daughters and fathers.

Daughters whose hearts ache
for the dads who were rocks
and heroes. Fathers who worry
over losses they cannot name.

What can we do but listen
to each other and say, thank you.
Remember when our little hands
felt safe inside our dads’? The warmth.

Lynne Rees, Poem ~ Daughters, Fathers

6 – Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?

Prevailing concerns I have are: What do we hear in the silence? And how do the words live off the page?

Some of the questions I worked to answer in Qorbanot were: What does it mean to “offer”? How do I translate the ancient practice of sacrificial offering into my life in the 21st century? How can a poem be an offering, or a book an altar upon which I place what I have to give? What does it mean to write one’s own sacred texts? What is it about giving up something that makes it a meaningful act of worship? Why the obsession with purity laws in Judaism, and how has this affected the way we relate to animal bodies and our own bodies? How do we reconcile these ancient, fleshly, violent rituals with Judaism and, more broadly, Western religion today? Do humans have an inherent tendency toward violence? Can we find parallels to sacrifice in recent history, such as war, politics or environmental issues?

The main question currently occupying my writer’s mind is: How can we find more language around suicide to better express its nuances, complexities, and diverse motivations? I’ve also been contemplating the relationship between depression and anger. And I’ve been grappling with how to share my story in a way that serves as a resource for others and, at the same time, protects my own vulnerability.

7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Do they even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?

I don’t think the writer has one role. There are so many different kinds of writers with different roles they can take on. A writer can serve as a lighthouse illuminating the moment in which we are living. The writer can be a dreamer, a prophet. The writer can be a court jester. The writer can offer medicine. And some writers have a role for themselves alone, to which the rest of the world is not privy.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Alisha Kaplan

I’m at a Claire Benn surface design workshop at the Crow Timber Barn in Ohio. This first week we are in ‘free fall,’ which means we are to have no intentions but simply follow the guidelines Claire gives us. The idea is to explore our tools and media and work in a kind of “call and response” way. We respond to whatever mark we make on the canvas. We are working with acrylic, a medium I have rarely used, so that we can work quickly and not worry about batching.

We were asked to pick three images or a piece of writing that resonated with us. We then spent time journaling words and phrases that the image or writing evoked in us. We were provided with a 10 foot by about 3 foot scroll of muslin that had been pre-primed with a 1-1 solution of liquid gel medium and water. We were asked to pick a six-color palette plus black and white.

I started with an image of a banana flower, an angel’s trumpet, and a poem, “Reasons to Live: the Color Red.”

Sheryl St. Germain, Acrylic, Acrylic and more Acrylic

         Of turmeric and ginger and the deep-tinted 

hearts of beet, the tight-curled fists of iris— I want 
         to know how they can trust so completely in that 

idea of return, even as animals turn fields into stubble 
         and bees begin their clustered pulsing to give their heat 

to the hive. Here, where we feed each other to keep alive, 
        I am wary and always watching for any sign you might slip  

away without me into that room soundproofed with loam, un-
         windowed: for how would I break its walls without breaking?  

Luisa A. Igloria, Perennate

When you’re helpless in a hospital bed, scanned, hooked up to monitors, not allowed to get up without assistance, you might be locked into a scary emotional place. I was. To escape my fear, I decided to move outward, and use my curiosity and writer brain. I began to observe people and activities instead of worrying about myself. What would a writer do? I interviewed people, asking each nurse and technician to tell me their story. How did they come to be in this field, to work in this hospital, and where did they come from? People are endlessly full of stories. Many of my nurses were from other parts of the world. Some were seasoned nurses, some brand-new. One night nurse was worried she wasn’t appreciated. She asked if I could nominate her for a nursing award. I did. We talked about books and reading, other hospitals and healthcare. […]

My writerly adventure included asking everyone who came to my room if they read fiction. That started a whole new conversation. Almost every one of them was a reader. My day nurse turned out to be a big reader! We compared notes about helping aging parents through illnesses. She gave me ideas for a sequel to The Invisibles when she told me how she and her siblings rotate taking in and caring for their mom.

Rachel Dacus, A Writerly Adventure in the Hospital

Another Monday after an uneventful weekend. The days slide by in a gray wash lately. I can’t seem to get enough sleep. When I walk Leonard, sometimes my head is full of words that disappear before I reach home. I suppose it makes no difference really. I thought the thoughts, which in some ways is no different than writing them. It is just a question of time really until anything will disappear. Or become so warped by translations of language and culture that it isn’t what it was anyway. It makes the entire idea of authorship immediate, and maybe irrelevant except for that tiny shove of influence that a bit of dust has on the air current in a closed room.

Again it comes back to living in the moment – the moment containing the past and future, morphing continuously. There is a phrase at the edge of my memory about… and I’ve lost it.

It’s odd how sometimes these things will circle back and enter my consciousness more defined. In a sunbeam.

Saturday the sky held a rainbow the entire time we drove into town. My sense of direction is so poor that I couldn’t be sure if it were moving, or if we were winding over the landscape. I should look at maps more often.

Ren Powell, Not Regret

The Skagit Poetry Festival was this weekend and it was really fun to sort of dip my toe back into social literary events again. I got to see a lot of old friends, picked up some books, stopped by some of my favorite places – Roozengaarde Flower Farm and Museum of Northwest Art in La Conner, WA. And we had terrible air in Woodinville, so fleeing to La Conner for better air was a good bet. I’m looking forward to tonight’s reading and will have more pictures next week, I swear.

It was wonderful and therapeutic to be outside without worrying about asthma or burning eyes, especially with all the flowers. It was also wonderful and therapeutic to be around writers and book again, in a somewhat-almost normal setting. Some friends I hadn’t seen in over a year at least. And just being around poets gives you a feeling of…not being so alone in being a poet.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Skagit Poetry Festival and a Trip to La Conner, A Visit with my Brother and Bathing Hummingbirds, and Socializing Again While Trying to Dodge the Smoke

David and I have just returned from a wonderfully sunny day on the beach at Aldeburgh, where we joined other members of Suffolk Poetry Society (SPS) for the traditional National Poetry Day reading at the South Lookout, thanks to our Patron and host, Caroline Wiseman, and to members of the SPS committee who had organised the event.

We took the #NationalPoetryDay theme of the environment, which gave rise to a variety of largely serious poems on subjects as diverse as the ocean (and the devastation caused by plastic, oil slicks and pollution), a field where there had once been hedges with birds, and a beach with fossils. While acknowledging the gravitas of the Climate Crisis, we appreciated the occasional moments of wry humour which added to the sense of light and shade.

I read ‘Puffin’s Assembly’* from my poetry collection, Driftwood by Starlight, published last year by The Seventh Quarry Press (and available here for £6.99/$10).

The chip shop was still open at the end of the readings, and proved more than some of us could resist! 

Caroline Gill, National Poetry Day 2022 on Aldeburgh Beach

Last week I was in Lewes for the launch of The Frogmore Papers‘ 100th issue, an amazing feat, and under the editorship of Jeremy Page the whole time. We heard readings from some of the contributors and from co-founder Andre Evans on how it all began in a cafe in Folkestone. It’s a lovely story, and having heard it a few times it’s now taken on almost mythic status, up there with Aeneas crossing the Mediterranean to found the city of Rome, or Phil Knight making rubber outsoles on his mum’s waffle machine for the first Nike trainers. Anyway, having read the edition from cover to cover I can confirm it’s a fine book – and let’s face it, some of our ‘little magazines’ coming in at 90 pages or more deserve to be called books.  On that subject, I can also recommend Prole 33 which recently arrived, weighing in at 140 pages (although about half of it is short stories.)

The Lewes event was also the launch of Clare Best‘s new collection, End of Season (Fine di Stagione), published by the Frogmore Press, in which the poems are presented in both English and Italian. It was lovely to hear both Clare and Jeremy reading the poems in both languages – very evocative. I’m enjoying the book especially as it is about a beautiful place on Lake Maggiore called Cannero where Nick and I stayed for a week back in 2019 (on Clare’s recommendation).

Robin Houghton, National Poetry Day (week of)

The Frogmore Papers is one of my favourite poetry magazines. In fact, it’s accompanied me pretty much throughout my poetic life. Looking back through my records before writing this blog post, I noticed I first had a poem in its pages in Issue 57 back in 2001. That was followed by another in Issue 68 (2006), a third in Issue 76 (2010) and two more in Issue 81 (2013).

Jeremy Page, as well as being the journal’s founder and long-time editor, is also an excellent poet, so it’s a privilege whenever he chooses my work for publication. As a consequence, I’m especially pleased to have a further two poems in the brand-new commemorative 100th issue alongside the likes of Simon Armitage.

Matthew Stewart, The Frogmore Papers’ 100th Issue

Having savoured Colm Tóibín’s book On Elizabeth Bishop, I then re-read words on Bishop by another great Irish writer, Eavan Boland: the chapter ‘Elizabeth Bishop: an unromantic American’ in her wonderful book A Journey with Two Maps (Carcanet, 2011), available here.

The focus of that book is on Boland’s own poetic journey and how women poets helped her shape her ideas about how she could relate in poems her own experience as a woman, wife, and mother; therefore, her thoughts on Bishop are somewhat subsumed to that purpose. Nonetheless, Boland’s discussion of Bishop’s ‘tone’, as distinct from her ‘voice’, is illuminating. As is her dissection of ‘At the Fishhouses’, from Cold Spring (1955), available to read here: rightly, she notes that, in amongst Bishop’s usual litany of precise visual perceptions, there lurks a “superb meditation on water as an emblem of tragic knowledge”, interrupted by the lighthearted, cameo appearance of a seal: ‘He was curious about me. He was interested in music; / like me a believer in total immersion, / so I used to sing him Baptist hymns’.

While Tóibín highlights Bishop’s paradoxical observation, ‘as if the water were a transmutation of fire’, Boland’s commentary stops short of addressing the last 19 lines of the poem, in which Bishop’s description of the sea reaches a tidal crescendo, culminating in the poem’s brilliant, six-line final sentence:

It is like what we imagine knowledge to be:
dark, salt, clear, moving, utterly free,
drawn from the cold hard mouth
of the world, derived from the rocky breasts
forever, flowing and drawn, and since
our knowledge is historical, flowing, and flown.

If a poet took lines like these to a workshop nowadays, the response would no doubt be that the poet should axe at least half the adjectives.

Matthew Paul, On (Eavan Boland and Colm Tóibín, again, on) Elizabeth Bishop

Yesterday I went to a harvest festival event on campus–it was primarily for those of us living here, and I did have a chance to meet and talk to some students I had only seen from a distance, plus there was lunch.  Over a never-ending bowl of kale harvest salad, I answered questions, like why I chose a Methodist seminary over a Lutheran one.

I answered that this seminary is one of few that has a track in Theology and the Arts, and one student asked what kind of art I do.  I said, “I’m a poet, and I do visual arts and fiber arts.”

She asked, “What kind of poems do you write?”

I tried to keep my answer simple, but I fumbled a bit at first.  “Well, I don’t write formal poems.  I’m not concerned about iambs.”  Then I shifted:  “I want to write a poem about an autumn leaf that will make you look at autumn leaves in a new way, that you’ll think about this new way of looking at a leaf any time in the future that you see one.”

And then I asked questions about them, the way I have been trained to do.  But I continued to think about my answer.  The mean voice in my brain broke in periodically to remind me of how long it’s been since I’ve written a poem and how dare I even think of myself as a poet.  

This morning, I resolved to finish a draft I started in the last week.  I have been continuing to work with abandoned lines, and last week, I wrote a few lines to go with one that I took from my master list.  And this morning, that draft is gone.  I had a computer issue earlier this week where the computer stopped saving my written work–at least, I think that’s what happened.  I had done a Save As for several documents, and those got saved as the earlier document.  This morning, I discovered the empty page instead of the rough draft of my poem.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Self-Definitions: the Poet Edition

The shift to a screen, a keyboard remains a critical transition. On screen, or on a phone, typed lines acquire an inertial resistance to being changed. On screen, I find my eye starts to narrow down to look at the poem’s physical shape and appearance on a would-be page. Such aspects are important in the long run, but they can prematurely cool the fluidity of the molten drafting process if they dominate too early. Beware the linearity of the screen!

But once it’s there, now I’m thinking ‘economy’. A linguistic cosmetic surgeon, I cut off verbal flab, repetition, redundancy. Crossing out is my most familiar activity. The American poet, Louise Gluck, says that a writer’s only real exercise of will “is negative: we have toward what we write the power of veto”. One of the keys to this is reading aloud. I go the whole hog: standing as if to deliver to an audience. Loud. And. Clear. This helps me listen to rhythm and line breaks. Actually, for any writer of poetry, prose, essays for your course, reading aloud highlights stumbling blocks of all kinds. My sense of the ebb and flow of a poem is always clarified because I distract myself in the physical act of standing and speaking. I experience my words more objectively, more as my potential reader would. Try it. It’s a revelation!

Martyn Crucefix, ‘How I Write’ – a second brief Royal Literary Fund talk

How much waste
do you want to

generate
to get a good one

the old monk asked
the poet.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (328)

I have wonderful news! My new poetry collection “Temporary Skin” (my first one in English!) was accepted for publication by Glass Lyre Press. I couldn’t be happier and more excited about working with the Glass Lyre team. I love the authors they publish, the high quality of their books, their amazing covers! I know my manuscript is in good hands. I wish my mom were here to see this miracle in progress. She would have given me tips on how to deal with this overwhelming joy swirling inside me, making my fingertips tingle. I’m going to have a book, y’all!

Romana Iorga, Her Dark Materials

Karlo Sevilla of Quezon City, Philippines is the author of the full-length poetry book Metro Manila Mammal (Soma Publishing, 2018) and the smaller collections You (Origami Poems Project, 2017) and Outsourced! . . . (Revolt Magazine, 2021). In 2018, his work was recognized among that year’s Best of Kitaab, won runner-up in the Submittable-Centric Poetry Contest, and placed third in Tanggol Wika’s DALITEXT poetry contest. In 2021, his poem made it to the shortlist of the annual Oxford Brookes International Poetry Competition. His poems appear in Philippines Graphic, Philippines Free Press, DIAGRAM, Protean, Better Than Starbucks, and elsewhere. He is currently a student in the Associate in Arts program of the University of the Philippines Open University.

What are you working on?

I have just submitted almost 70 of my previously published poems (in several literary magazines and other platforms) for a website that will be put up exclusively for them. The website is a side project of a group of undergraduate university students who major in Multimedia Arts. It will serve as accompaniment to their final thesis: a short animated film inspired by my other poems. In short, both their final thesis and its side project are all about my poetry. These students are risking their college graduation by choosing my poetry as main source material for their thesis, haha! Seriously, I’m grateful to these young people for reaching out to me from out of the blue with their emailed proposal, and now they’re halfway done with their short film.

At first, I was ambivalent because I have long considered gathering my poems in a manuscript again for consideration for print publication as my second full-length poetry collection.  But I ultimately favored this student project and have a third of my previously published poems freely accessible in one website. I opted for the latter because I feel the urgency to make available online more texts that heighten awareness of human rights violations and social injustices in the Philippines that remain unresolved from the infamous Marcos dictatorship to the likewise murderous Duterte administration. Under our current president who happens to be the son and namesake of the late dictator, the administration has been lying and denying that such atrocities happened during his father’s reign. Worse, the son claims that the years under his father’s iron rule that was also marked by economic crisis was the Golden Age of our country. 

The poems I selected are invariably political propaganda pieces – on “different levels.” Collectively, they are a small voice/counter-propaganda, among others that give the lie to the government’s false narratives. (I’m also glad for this project because it gives me the chance to share my poems again, with needed revisions in some of them.)

Thomas Whyte, Karlo Sevilla : part one

Rakhshan Rizwan was originally from Pakistan and has lived in Germany and the Netherlands before moving to the USA. The poems explore what it’s like not to belong, to be politely received but not fully welcomed and the imprint Europe has had on the writer. […]

Rizwan deploys humour rather than ranting or complaining. She doesn’t name racism, but it’s clear that’s the source of the disconnections. “Europe Love Me Back” is a salty love letter, not entirely unrequited, but from a lover who didn’t feel seen. From a lover who felt they made all the right connections, sent the right signals, searched for commonalities, links, threads but attempted to hook-up with someone who only saw differences, reasons not to continue the affair.

Emma Lee, “Europe, Love Me Back” Rakhshan Rizwan (The Emma Press) – book review

Monday was German Unity Day, and it was also the day the Berlin Lit launched their first issue with poems for a range of poets, some who are new to me, and some I recognise like Alice Miller, and John Glenday. And me with my poem, The Long Game. My thanks to Matthew McDonald for accepting it. Having recently read and loved John Glenday’s Selected Poems, it feels quite surreal to be in the same place as him, but I’ll absolutely take it.

It’s always nice to be in on the ground floor of these things (as it was with TFP…NB just realised today that I have to choose between shortening The Friday Poem or The Frogmore Papers to TFP), especially with a poem that has had a very long gestation period.

I started it when the article that inspired it was published in 2013, so to be here 9 years later with a published poem feels like dedication has been needed (much like the game that inspired it). I should have tried to work in the line about “burning magnesium in a pumpkin”.

I shared the poem with the three mates that I dedicated it to and one replied, “That’s nice, mate. I don’t get it, but that’s poetry”. Or words to that effect, the language he chose was different. It certainly helps keep your feet on the ground.

Mat Riches, Impossible Germany

Things break in predictable ways. The shard, the
jagged edge and the dust cloud follow a rule, a
pattern, a story. The way day breaks over and
over again without complaint, the way a promise

is broken without a sigh, without ceremony,
the way silence breaks without a word, without
a sob. The way we broke without ever being
whole.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Part 16

As I was putting the final touches on AUTOMAGIC last night, it is so fraught with ghosts…the fortune tellers in the strange victorian futurist landscape of the ordinary planet poems. The haunted sisters in unusual creatures. The Eleanor series and the more violent, sinister underpinnings of the bird artist and the HH Holmes stuff. More than any other recent book, this is a predominantly fictional, narrative world without much involvement from me. And at that, like GIRL SHOW, one set entirely in the past.  I, as a speaker, as a character, am absent from this book. But then again, not absent at all. It seemed fitting last night to be rounding things out as the wind howled and heavy, cold drops of rain hit the windows. I am running the space heater daily until they turn on the radiators, which management has dutifully promised this weekend. In this weather, I am sleeping well–too well–a dead-to-the-world slumber that makes my arms ache from remaining too much in the same position wound amidst my pillows (I am a side and stomach sleeper–never my back) I also have the same chronological impairment every change in seasons brings, never quite understanding internally what time it is–the light being so different from summer.

Kristy Bowen, poetry as haunted house

before the house sale was agreed
buyers demanded the ghosts be removed
so contractors were appointed

the workers arrived to divest the property
loading reluctant spectres into sealed skips
driving them away to wherever unwanted memories languish

that ambushing taste on the tongue
a face half glimpsed in the crowd
the 4am telephone that rings and rings and rings

Paul Tobin, A FACE HALF GLIMPSED

My article on the early poetry of Peggy Pond Church is coming out soon.  She was a central figure in the Santa Fe and Taos arts scene from the 1920s on, appearing in Alice Corbin Henderson’s influential modernist anthology The Turquoise Trail (1928), and the experience of reading her poetry is, as they say, something else.  My essay concentrates on Church’s first two collections, Foretaste (1933) and Familiar Journey (1936).  Though I touch on her third collection, Ultimatum for Man (1946), toward the end of the essay, it comes in as kind of a coda to the wild stuff that is happening in her first two.

But there’s plenty more that could be said about Ultimatum, much of which veers into the sociopolitical and, given its subject matter, remains relevant today (I’m thinking here of the prospect of nuclear war that a power-mad despot is currently threatening Ukraine with, but there’s wider application of course, e.g. to issues of climate change and environmental degradation, beyond the fact of the stunning experience of reading Church’s poetry as an aesthetic undertaking).  Without duplicating what I’ve written in my forthcoming article, I will say that there I analyze poems in her first two collections through the lens of what Timothy Morton has termed “dark ecology” (with a nod to the scholar Sarah Daw, who has analyzed Church’s letters and diaries in this manner before me).  Far from whatever stereotypes we may have about “nature poetry,” I argue that Church’s poetry of the 1930s is much closer to what we would think of today as ecocritical and material-feminist.

During the Second World War, until early 1943, Church lived at the Los Alamos school (in New Mexico) where her husband was the principal; they were dispossessed of their home to make way for the Manhattan Project, which commandeered the site in order to build the atomic bomb.  Church reacted with scathing poems in Ultimatum for Man, such as the collection’s title poem, along with “The Nuclear Physicists,” “Epitaph for Man,” “Newsreel: Dead Enemy,” “For a Son in High School A.D. 1940,” “Lines Written after a Political Argument,” “Comment on a Troubled Era,” and “Jeremiad” (from the latter: “This fury called man, / this fungus / gnawing the polished and hemispheric surface / of our bright earth…”).  In the introduction to Church’s New and Selected Poems (1976), T. M. Pearce characterizes Ultimatum as a “turn for Mrs. Church, a turn not away from the landscape line, but an adjustment to a new point of view in which the poet sees individuals as units in a social group” (iii), while Shelley Armitage writes in the introduction to Bones Incandescent: The Pajarito Journals of Peggy Pond Church (2001), “Whereas the lyrical Foretaste and Familiar Journey address a woman’s attempt to balance relationships, her own creative and independent personality, and her desire to develop spiritual bonds with nature, Ultimatum for Man sharply links the personal and creative quests to the meaning of the atomic age, war, and human responsibility” (6).  The furor and anger with which Church imbues many of these poems is striking, and she does so in ways that are not merely jeremiadic, but as powerful poems that now more than ever should be revisited.

Michael S. Begnal, On Peggy Pond Church’s Ultimatum for Man (1946)

I take the Waste Land as a day-to-day thing.  When a dismal, cold slate gray rain falls from a slate gray sky, when it looks like wartime London, need we say more — T.S. Eliot’s 1922 poem, celebrating its centennial, rules.  A wasteland is a wasteland is a wasteland.  The prophetic voice of the poem sets the stage, as it is dramatic, for the habitation of our current dark times.

Then the tail of the hurricane clears the way for a gleam of sun to make shoot through treetops of an elm treetops — oh fickle reader, I put catastrophe further back on the horizon, leave the charred landscape for another day.

As things change, there is one thing I know — the poem of the Wasteland, a gorgeous collage of urban, literary and mythical remixings — has many voices, many ways to see the flux.  Etymologically, the word Catastrophe, in ancient Greek, fuses “down, against” and “I turn” to signify “I overturn.”  

The current conversation about environment, the Anthropocene & impending disaster is different ways to turn our vision.  For me, it is the project of expanding and broadening the ways of beauty.  Poetry with its poking and prodding stick probably says it better, making forays into territories that were once forbidding but where with imagination and stillness we now can go.  Into wastelands as rich wild places, places of possible regeneration.  Or fascination, empty spaces that make poets from divergent times contemporaneous.

Jill Pearlman, The Waste Land is a Wasteland is a wasteland

Within this darkness—the white space between all the barely uttered emotions.

Here, you’ll discover a plague of grace, the duende of blackbirds transforming midnight’s ash into song.

Nighthawks murmuring a million and one names for a moon that offers itself as a loving mirror.

So beautiful every soul that wanders these desperate evening streets.

Rich Ferguson, Night’s White Space

Three mentors–none of them “famous,” all of them crucial to my development as a poet: they took my work, and my person, seriously. They listened critically and spoke to me encouragingly and listened. I think that’s what makes a person mentor material.

In later years, there have certainly been others who have been guides, coaches, teachers, mentors, friends-in-poetry…some of them better-known than Ariel, David, or Chris. But these three, all of whom are no longer walking about on the earthly plane, gave me so much more than I ever thanked them for. Which is why I’m doing so now.

Ann E. Michael, Poetry mentor: Chris Peditto

it’s a poem
about eggs

what’s inside?
eggs

outside?
eggs

it’s a poem
about eggs

Gary Barwin, POEM ABOUT EGGS

Truly, there is nothing quite like the sharp, earthy scent of the tomato plants when I go out in the morning to pick some for our breakfast. […]

I’m not saying anything new here, even to myself. But I’m knowing something in a different way–the way we know things from living them rather than from reading about them.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Traffic Jam

when do the dead break into light

when did our poems cease writing the sea

how many abandoned awakenings
sleep inside a seed

Grant Hackett [no title]

speeding
up a one way street
a sparrow hawk

Jim Young [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 39

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week: mushrooms, ellipses, precarious trees, the inestimable unknowable, tiny people on a tiny screen, and more—so much more. Enjoy.


I am trying to focus on the good in the days. What hope survives the hurricane and what small joys it misses entirely: the bones that are surprisingly strong, and the seemingly fragile, tiny wings of things that hide and hold on. Maybe in a world that is so arbitrary, the real good is to walk behind a storm and gather the good. Willfully accepting.

The students are playing in the park this weekend. While they pin themselves, and spirit gum themselves into their costumes to rehearse, I photograph the white mushrooms growing on a tree stump. White, marshmallow ears.

Ren Powell, The Dead are Listening

Each memory—
                 a shattered 
puzzle. 
      It could be raining 

on the inside
      of this skin.

Romana Iorga, Forecast

Experience collects, filling my cracked cup. I hold it tight
between my finger bones. It is all that I know.

Charlotte Hamrick, All the Days Come ‘Round

But back to basics. An A. A W. An ampersand. The Hebrew letter Shin (ש). Ellipses, those no-see-um markers which represent what isn’t there. […] If one wants to edit out the ellipses, one needs to put them back in in order to signal that they are gone.  

A door is a door but it is also the Hebrew letter Dalet (ד). Why am I telling you this? I don’t even speak or write Hebrew. But that’s why. As a child, I sat in synagogue and marvelled at the books filled with knurls that were letters. Scrolls filled with them, lung-sized rectangles of close-inked text on sewn-together pages of parchment; letters, crowned exoskeletons both etymological and entomological. Scrolls crowned in literal silver crowns, wrapped in velvet, kept in a gold-lit ark. […] The sounds of chanting, the cantor with a silver pointer in the shape of a pointing finger. And the marvel that these letterforms, these mouthshapes, were unintelligible to me except as script or music. The calligraphic maze. An amazement. The shapes of letters as tactile, aesthetic, their meaning not in their meaning but in their form, the inky music of looking, the region of the brain, evolving with these letters, the calligraphic region, the frontal majuscule, cerebral longhand, the amygdalet (ד), the homunculus not holding a pen but made of language, of letters. […]

Gary Barwin, Language2 or the square root of minus language. [ellipses in original]

It always strikes me, when I finish a sketchbook, how much like a diary it actually is. During this journey through a little more than a year — a year that’s seen a lot of upheaval and emotion and change — the images and the choices recall exactly where I was and what I was thinking, while to the viewer, they probably look like innocuous still lives, landscapes and skyscapes. In some ways, this visual diary is more personal and secret and coded than written words could ever be.

Beth Adams, A Visual Diary

When I first read The Artist’s Way, I didn’t grasp its connection to the modern recovery movement. Each chapter starts with the words “Recovering a Sense of.” Laid out in a twelve-week plan (I later learned that Cameron is a recovering alcoholic) the chapter titles end in positive, affirming words: “safety,” “identity,” “power,” “integrity,” “possibility,” “abundance,” “connection,” “strength,” “compassion,” “self-protection,” “autonomy,” and, finally, “faith.” My favorite parts of the book, however, were the sidebar quotes. From M. C. Richard: “Poetry often enters through the window of irrelevance;” from Jean Houston: “at the height of laughter, the universe is flung into a kaleidoscope of new possibilities.” Read in order, these flashes of insight created their own text.

So how well does The Artist’s Way, and other books in this genre, hold up after thirty years? They are still worth reading, as long as readers understand that there is much more to an artist’s life than what they present. One of the glaring omissions in these books, which strikes me as odd since they’re mostly written by women, is a frank discussion of the obstacles that women face when they attempt to carve out some time for themselves in order to practice their art. Cameron touches on it in Chapter 5, but she muddies the water by toggling between hypotheticals: a man with an interest in photography vs. a woman who wants to take a pottery class. These are not equal entities, but Cameron treats them as such.

As we all know, wives, mothers, sisters, female servants, etc., traditionally did the domestic work, including raising children. This mostly unpaid labor provided male artists with the time and solitude they needed to be creative. As Toni Morrison states, as quoted in Chapter 5 of The Artist’s Way: “We are traditionally rather proud of ourselves for having slipped creative work in there between the domestic chores and obligations. I’m not sure we deserve such a big A-plus for that.”

Gradually, I outgrew The Artist’s Way, and its exhortation to unblock my creative potential. I’ve come to realize that Cameron’s book, as well as Goldberg’s and many others in the creativity genre, are as much autobiography as they are instructional manual. They tell a compelling story of recovery from a variety of things, whether substance abuse, low self-esteem, or a lack of faith; for that alone, they have value. 

Erica Goss, The Artist’s Way, Thirty Years Later

I don’t even know where they are
the precarious trees
colour-coded

she’s taken up rowing
tinkering on the piano
in the darkroom

Ama Bolton, A day at the Dove

I remember being overwhelmed with tears in Venice, thinking, wow, it looks just like its pictures, but it’s REAL and I’m HERE. The same with the Alps. Standing practically nose to glacier, or what’s left of them anyway, or to feel, through that strange clarity and distortion of light and perspective, that I could bend across the balcony railing and the deep valley that separated me from the mountain, that I could like it like an ice cream cone. Or even just visiting the next town over when I haven’t been there for a while. Wow, when did this building go up? Hey, I never noticed that garden before. That big tree is gone but look there’s a woodpecker poking around in the stump.

I rarely write in the moment. You won’t often find me scribbling at some foreign cafe, although I like the idea of it. Travel is the time of intake, of slurp.

Only later will time distill all that I took in and leave the vivid traces of travel. That’s what I may write about. Or use as imagery as I write about something else entirely. Those moments or experiences that have stuck to my skin, have wrinkled into my brain are what I can put to use in the building of a poem, visceral, lively. Or at the very least, travel nudges me to recall in my daily life that sense of being alert and perpetually interested.

Marilyn McCabe, Baby baby baby, baby baby baby; or, On Travel and Writing Poetry

Each day oscillates between what shrinks
and what expands, what I once could do

and what I can, sweet jazz and pounding,
a clock that crumbles into dry ash
or measuring cups overflowing

with uncooked rice and broken nut bars.

PF Anderson, NINES

Is imagism really the goal?  It doesn’t have to be, though there is something to be said for the principles that H.D., Aldington, and Pound formulated in 1912, in regard to direct, sensory, concrete description that avoids metaphor, simile, personification, or apostrophe.  And it’s a lot harder to do than it initially seems.  But there’s also something static about the image, even if ideally it embeds within itself a whole “complex” —  and H.D.’s “Evening” demonstrates how to graph movement imagistically (rather than staying stuck in the “instant”).  We can also think of the directions in which William Carlos Williams took the thing, the ways in which Lorine Niedecker makes imagism kinetic, or how imagism shows up in the work of a contemporary poet like Harryette Mullen (e.g., in her tankas).

Once learned (true imagism), who wants to stay static, but it is still a poetic skill worth learning.  It connects us to the world, to the environment, to non-human animals, to plant life, or even to the concrete concrete of a city.  Connecting us to the world, it breaks us out of ego, out of our own heads and feelings, which is sometimes a good thing to do.  It is a mode we can return to and maybe interlayer with other poetic modes as our deepening compositional experience enables.  Okay, poetics class over — now go do whatever you want.

Michael S. Begnal, A Few Thoughts on Imagism per se

Where do I start? With a winter solstice poetry reading in Brooklyn, in a dark room on a dark night; his poem evoking a Di Chirico painting made my head explode, the work was so much more interesting than anyone else’s. But we didn’t speak that night. I met David before the equinox the following year, at a critique workshop run by the people who had set up the solstice reading: Merle Molofsky and Les von Losberg.

David didn’t have a presence; he was a presence. He read in a growl, with a slight lisp and a Brooklyn accent, and he could quiet a room. The poems were not lyrical or narrative, nor formal, nor confessional–they were jazz-like, full of strange images that sounded like surrealism and yet were not. He wrote prose poems and free verse and tiny little aphoristic pieces that sometimes made me laugh and sometimes broke my heart. He was not famous. He had not studied with well-known poets. But he had much to teach me, I thought, from the first time we sat around a table and read our work to one another.

Ann E. Michael, Poetry mentors: david dunn

“Worrying about the lorikeets” appears to be about another unsuitable marriage between two people who are polar opposites, “He opts for Def Leppard to her Bach,” when they come across a dead bird,

“She saw in his upturned eyes the weight
Of its dumb pain—then it was that she
Remembered what she’d always known.”

His sorrow for the bird reminds his wife why she married him.

“Anamnesis” is a subtle, thought-provoking collection that explores memory both in terms of what’s remembered but also inherited memories and how memories accumulate. The poems are gentle but multi-layered, inviting readers to return and re-read.

Emma Lee, “Anamnesis” Denise O’Hagan (Recent Work Press) – book review

A woman is moved on for holding up a sign.
A man is warned he will be arrested
if he writes on a blank piece of paper.

In the pavilion of continuing hypnosis,
the gentlemen in striped blazers applaud.

An army crosses a river. A bridge not blown up.
The dry season. Hurry, before the rains come.

The morality police murder a woman
because her hair was visible
as she walked in the street.

The wind whips stones into shapes
that say what we need to hear.
When we place stones in a circle
do we shut ourselves in or out?

Bob Mee, THEY WILL FIND A THOUSAND GRAVES

My personal poetry highlight of the summer was listening to Roger Robinson read and be in conversation with Pádraig Ó Tuama at the Greenbelt arts festival.

It was a performance of great generosity, humour, anger, humility and power. You get to a stage in your poetry-going/reading life when you can tell when people are phoning it in. There is no more dispiriting a spectacle. This was the opposite of that. The more I’ve thought about it, the more it reminded me of a remark by the conductor Benjamin Zander, when he said that a maestro achieves their power not by making a sound, but by releasing those around them to be the musicians they are meant to be as they interact with the score.

Prompted by the twinkling Pádraig (‘It’s on page 51’), Robinson treated us to a several poems from A Portable Paradise as well as many more from his earlier volumes, some of which are now out of print. Introducing ‘The Job of Paradise’, he spoke of how it was inspired by the sight of a hearse slowly turning the corner of his road in London. He removed his hat, he said, and stood in respect as the hearse passed by. But it made him think. Here was the driver of that hearse, doing his job, suit and shirt pressed, his gaze steady, his pace stately. And here was the hearse doing its job, just by being a hearse, a long, shiny black car unlike all the others in the flow of traffic. And from there he made the point that it is the job of each poet and poem to ‘remind us how to live our days’ by showing readers the ‘paradise’ that is all around them.

Anthony Wilson, Lifesaving Lines: The Job of Paradise, by Roger Robinson

In the last breath of September, it was my pleasure to attend and celebrate Gary Glauber’s new collection of poems, Inside Outrage (Sheila-Na-Gig Editions, 2022).  He read beautifully via Zoom.  His selected poems touched upon an array of topics:  Love, Mr. Rogers, teaching, poetry, civil justice at Starbucks.  It was the perfect antidote to the drumming of the atmospheric river and wind pummeling the windows outside, allowing me to disappear inside, into words for an hour that passed too quickly this afternoon.

With a shelved and bespectacled Homer Simpson over one shoulder and a guitar over the other, Glauber began his reading with his poem, “Blocked,” one he explains celebrates a lifetime of poetry.  The poet reminds readers, “Let us celebrate the infinity / of our limited mortality…” It is also one that considers time and the travel of the “…inestimable unknowable” that is “much like a poem.”

Kersten Christianson, Gary Glauber’s Collection of Poems, Inside Outrage

In ancient times, spiderwebs were used as bandages.

Rats laugh when you tickle them.

A dentist invented the electric chair.

It rains diamonds on other planets.

Bumblebees can fly higher than Mount Everest.

Men are more likely to be colorblind than women.

There are a million rivers all around me, but only one of you flowing through my life.

Rich Ferguson, A Matter of Fact

You want to believe it
and you can’t —
that’s the miracle,
the old monk said.

Tom Montag, TEN OLD MONK POEMS (87)

What would we like others to know about our experiences these last years? If you could tell folks in the future in a sentence or two, for example. When I was in a very. dark. space. at one point, I couldn’t articulate it, more because I knew that if I did things would get darker for me personally. But I learned some things in that dark place I’ll never forget. The line by Nicole Brossard is one that has popped into my head a lot the last couple of years: “You have to be insane to confide the essential to anyone anywhere except in a poem.”

Shawna Lemay, Taking the Light into the Dark

After lunch and cake with friends, I spent several hours of my 53rd birthday sequencing Wonder & Wreckage. My goal is to have the manuscript complete by Christmas. 

Collin Kelley, Self-portrait at 53

Selected by Aimee Nezhukumatathil as the winner of the A. Poulin, Jr. Poetry Prize is the full-length poetry debut Two Brown Dots: Poems (Rochester NY: BOA Editions, 2022) by “Kentuckian, a mom, a knitter, and an Affrilachian Poet” Danni Quintos. Her first-person explorations and recollections write around and through a self-determination and self-creation, seeking answers to a space she requires to singularly establish; illuminating lyrics around memory and being, offering answers as best as she is able, in due course, due time. Set in three sections—“Girlhood,” “Motherhood” and “Folklore”—Quintos writes across the length and breadth of lived experience, from watching her father from a distance, summers and childhood crushes and living as an awkward youth, to the experiences of pregnancy and eventual motherhood. She offers stories of her connections to the Philippines, writing of a familial background she simultaneously holds and can’t help but carry, offering, as part of the poem “Possible Reasons My Dad Won’t Return to the Philippines,” “What if he remembers everything [.]” A few lines further, as the poem ends: “[…] the little boy in him left / here with all the cousins, no one / to call nanay or tatay, alone, / the shape of him on a mattress / the version of him that stayed.” She writes of differences, from the ways in which most (if not all) teenagers feel as outsiders, to the consequences of racism, reacting to boundary-making micro-aggressions offered for no reason other than the colour of her skin. “I didn’t yet / understand. And every summer after,” the poem “Brown Girls” ends, “a whirring // reminder that I didn’t belong here, a little song / sung at me by the bodies that slept for years // underground. How we couldn’t see what he saw: / two brown girls under a white couple’s roof.” In certain ways, Two Brown Dots is a collection of poems entirely centred around the body, and how those bodies are experienced, both from outside and within, offering physical responses through the lyric, from adolescence to the fact of living in a predominantly Caucasian space. Her poems are sly and smart, curious and rife with detailed narrative.

rob mclennan, Danni Quintos, Two Brown Dots

I’ve been proofing chaps and reading manuscripts and thinking about October happenings. I have also been proofing the final version of automagic and getting it ready for my first galley in a week or so. I feel when I get back from being gone, there are a couple days of finding my rhythm again. 

But yes, here we are on the cusp of October.  I not only made chicken soup I’d intended for the weekend, but have had the space heater on since yesterday, but mostly gazing longingly at the shut windows and wishing I could open them again.

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 9/30/2022

Last night at the Library of Congress, Ada Limon gave her inaugural reading as the nation’s poet laureate. A few weeks ago, when I realized that my canceled Thursday night class was the same night, I applied for a free ticket.  I got one, but in the end, I decided not to go.

I got an e-mail on Wednesday that advised that we would be required to wear masks, and I would have been wearing one anyway, but I did start to think about the wisdom of this kind of indoor event when a pandemic is ongoing.  I did get a booster shot on Friday, but I’m not in a hurry to test that protection.

I don’t know why I didn’t think about the potential of crowds when I requested a free ticket.  I’m not used to sell out crowds at poetry events, and the Wed. e-mail advised that we would be at full capacity.  The line to get in for the 7:00 p.m. reading would start to assemble at 5:00 p.m., and we’d be let in to get seats, if we were far enough in the front of the line, at 6:30.  There would be overflow seating in a hall where we could watch on a screen.  […]

So, what did I do instead?  I went to the American University library to get my Wesley ID activated to be able to use the AU library.  I came home and made myself a dinner of roasted brussels sprouts and a baked sweet potato, which was much tastier than it sounds.

I was feeling oddly exhausted, so I was even more glad that I didn’t go downtown.  I was asleep by 8.  But before that, I tucked myself into bed.  My bed faces west, so I had a great view of a glorious sunset, as I read Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall.  It wasn’t the cultural/literary even that I had planned, but it was the one that I needed.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Laureate Thursday, Literary Thursday

               I learned my first prayers there,

waiting for the butcher’s hand to emerge
               from out of the pocket slit in the throat

of a thrashing animal. You said if I closed 
               my eyes, sound would be more 

terrible than sight. My reward: small 
               specks of a sweet inside red-taped 

pitogo shells, unburied with a bamboo sliver. 
              I wake sometimes with the sense of a footprint 

small as a snail’s, pilgrim feeling for a path
              to everything we’ve always wanted to say.

Luisa A. Igloria, In dreams you walk through wetmarket aisles with me again

Has your consideration of poetry changed since you began?

Yes. Many times. I thought for a long time that the “I” in a poem should be taken out, obscured, muddied, that the worst kind of poem was a deeply personal poem. My first book (Little Prayers, Blue Light Press, 2018) is filled with fantastical leaps and it takes a kind of sideways look at my personal experience. In 2017, when I started work on the manuscript I’m sending out now, I surprised myself by writing intensely raw and revealing poems about my experience with motherhood and my struggles with infertility, including the life-threatening miscarriage I suffered in 2013. I had to shut off a voice telling me that this kind of writing was bad. It’s been very freeing to write about this stuff, though the challenge, always, is to find some way of moving beyond the myopically personal into more universal territory, and I’m always looking for models. Franz Wright did this beautifully in his writing about addiction, God, and mental illness.

Thomas Whyte, Susie Meserve : part two

tiny people on a tiny screen
even through headphones
I can hear the rain

Jason Crane, haiku: 1 October 2022

I’ve just finished reading Cal Flyn’s Islands of Abandonment. It is an extraordinary book, beautifully written. It’s one of those books that you can sink into, and carry around with you, exploring the themes and questions and points of view in your mind. It came at just the right time, as I feel I have been exploring my own, metaphorical islands, some of them abandoned, some of them not so much. Cal Flyn’s islands are real places in which human intervention has stripped and scorched them, the interest is in the psychological attachment to them, and the physical response from nature. My metaphorical islands are grief, writing, friendships. Last week I sent the new poetry collection to the publisher. I know they’re waiting on ACE funding, like so many indie publishers, so I’m really just waiting to see what happens before I can release any details. One nice thing about it was the way that my editor shortened the title of the collection in her response email. Something about that made it feel familiar, wanted, warmed to, and that made me happy. The collection has passed through that strange place, has gone from being a Schrödinger’s collection that exists only when I perceive it to be a collection, and is now a manuscript on a desk in a publisher’s office with a title that is solid and firm, a title that can hold the weight of being shortened for ease of communication. Put simply: It exists as a complete thing, it is created.

And so I bed into the non fiction book. I’ve started getting out and immersing myself in the physical places on which the non fiction book is based. It’s been wonderful. These places are islands of time in which I can almost touch the people who came before me, who lived on this land.

Wendy Pratt, Exploring the Islands

Every part of the country has things everyone knows if you live there, but comes as a surprise to outsiders. Like White Sands in southern New Mexico. I had been to Seattle several times but had no idea that Spokane was known as the Lilac City. If I hadn’t read Talley’s chapbook, I still wouldn’t know that. But you don’t need to know that to read this book; all is soon explained. And the poems here do many good things besides giving information.

Postcards from the Lilac City begins with stories of growing up in a certain place, Spokane, Washington, with change over time: a carousel taken down and later restored, bike riding before helmets were worn, the time when bikes are replaced by a brother’s old car.  Already there is good language and some experiment in form; in the later sections the experiments are bolder.  In the middle section, “Spokane Postcards,” a stanza of description is followed by a letter from the author to someone from back home – never mind that many of these missives have too many words to fit on a typical postcard.  The last section, “After Vietnam” does not return to a historical approach, as one might expect, but presents various moments in a variety of forms from an adult perspective.  The whole makes a satisfying read, sharing specifics of experience in poems carefully crafted.

Ellen Roberts Young, Recommendation: Postcards from the Lilac City by Mary Ellen Talley

There’s a good case to be made for October being the loveliest month, in England at any rate; though only really when the sun shines and the plentiful golden yellows are at their best, like Samuel Palmer landscapes before your eyes.

It’s also a month of melancholy, too, which suits me just fine. The ideal time to get stuck into some serious reading, which, in turn, will feed into writing. Over the years, early autumn has traditionally been a time when I will make a concentrated study of a favourite poet’s oeuvre, to see how the quality of their output, and the clarity of their thinking, deepened over time. Poets who, either by choice or premature death (yes, I realise that most deaths are premature in some respect), published in a disciplined and selective manner are ideal for this, Elizabeth Bishop for one.

Like everyone and anyone who loves poetry, I’ve long liked Bishop’s poems. Curiously, though, real, devoted love for them has been awakened in me through an apparently unlikely source, Colm Tóibín. His book On Elizabeth Bishop, published by Princeton University Press, is as fine a critical reader’s study of another writer as any I’ve ever read. I find it interesting that it should be a writer known until recently solely for his novels, albeit wonderful ones at that, who has really opened my eyes.

Matthew Paul, On (Colm Tóibín on) Elizabeth Bishop

This weekend feels a bit like the last hurrah. University starts soon and I know any free time I have will be focussed on that. The weather is beautifully autumnal, leaves glowing with sunlight as if it’s putting all their energy into one last show. It’s infusing the poems I’m trying to write. And I’m writing which hasn’t happened much lately. 

This weekend is Zineton, a 48-hour challenge to create a zine. Helsinki Writers are having their second go at it. I’ve discovered a fun AI art site Wombo which is making it even more interesting as I really don’t have any talent for visual art. So I’m writing a couple of poems for that and waiting for the other writers to send me their work. Then the rush to put everything together begins. 

Gerry Stewart, Zineton and Scotstober 2022

The cover for Flare, Corona was chosen this week (reveal soon!), and I started thinking about mailing lists, updated business cards, and scheduling readings. Oh yes, and Seattle AWP next March. My PR for Poets book recommends starting six months ahead of time laying the groundwork for the book launch, and that suddenly hit me.

Also, this month is full of literary activity: the book club I host is meeting on Oct 19th, the Skagit Poetry Festival is happening next weekend, and I’m working on an interview and a spooky poetry podcast. Plus, I’ve got poet dates—getting back into social life is gradual for me—because, let’s face it, in Seattle most of us start hibernating in November and don’t come out until March.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Welcome to October: Upcoming Book Launch Planning, Upcoming Book Club, Poetry Festivals, and Podcasts

Pumpkins are all right (in pies, not in lattes, thanks)–but what the suddenly cool, rainy weather makes me want to do is read. It’s also nourishing to be read. Hurrah for the thoughtful attention Sarah Stockton gives Poetry’s Possible Worlds in the Staff Favorites section of River Mouth Review. I love the Octoberish timing AND that it coincides with the second printing appearing at the distributor. This means you can order it again directly through SPD or your favorite indie bookstore. It’ll soon show up on other places you order books, too. A small press book tends to spider along–think of silk threads thrown out, wafting in a breeze, and finally sticking somewhere. It’s both a stroke of luck when it does, and a result of arachnid effort and patience. The first push on this Poetry’s Possible Worlds is done, I think, but I’ll keep spinning.

The small press book I’m reading right now is Allison Adelle Hedge Coke’s Look at This Blue. I hadn’t realized before I picked it up that it’s a long poem–she calls it an “assemblage”–although the thinking she does about epidemic violence, ecological damage, and inequity is a through-line in all her work. I need and want to read it slowly and not when I’m tired in the evening, which has been my time for page-turning fiction.

Lesley Wheeler, Book season (hours of ellipsis)

who breeds the flowers that hurt so much

whose wound mourns the gun

shall we grow weary of searching when we’ve buried the sun

Grant Hackett [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 29

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week, summer reading season was in full swing (especially since heat waves kept so many indoors). Big life changes were underway for some; for others, it was simply a time to reassess. And to craft plans and write new poems, despite everything.


Flowers blooming, garden growing– summer in full swing. Earlier this week, we had a long soaking rain, from 3 in the morning until 3 in the afternoon. This rain has been the necessary elixir– everything benefits from steady gentle rain. Now we are entering our third day of steamy heat. Trying to get outside chores done before it gets too hot. It’s hard to believe that two months have sailed by since the end of the Spring semester. Looking forward, the Fall semester will begin in approximately 5 weeks. So much to do in the next five weeks. I’m still trying to write every day. So far, I have been successful with a fistful of poems and 100-word stories. Earlier this week, I began a working list of prompts that trigger memories for me. I am currently reading Joy Hargo’s memoir Poet Warrior. It’s a gorgeous narrative, braiding poetry and prose. Reading it has made me feel connected to this life. Harjo’s storytelling captured my attention immediately. I literally devoured 100 pages in under three hours. A voice kept telling me to slow down, but I couldn’t. It’s breath-taking.

M. J. Iuppa, Last Days of July

This year a dead zone out at sea: bronze fields like hammered shields
and each dint pried by the sea-sun yields
algae red as spattered blood
algae read as battered mud.
Lift me up
and carry me out to see the sea.

Dale Favier, Closed for the Season

When I went back for a second session she asked me if I had learned anything from our first time in the water, and I said, “Well, I wanted to write about it, but I just didn’t have the energy.”

She asked me if I had seen any spiders recently, and I said, yes, I had found one in the bathtub. She said that writing is the medicine of spiders because they spin webs, and that maybe I should heed the sign. She also told me about Aunt Ninny, the nagging voice inside all of us that holds us back from creating or expressing ourselves.

I saw a spider yesterday on my bed, and I wrapped it in tissue and let it go in the bushes. Aunt Ninny is having her iced tea on the front porch, and I’m on the back porch, writing a wee bit, making my way back to wholeness.

Christine Swint, The Healing Medicine of Water

UXO- Unexploded Ordnance. The way wars from the past still continue to kill and maim. The UXO centre is like a slash of dark reality, away from the busy hub where cafes and temples sit cheek by jowl, where the brown Mekong slithers against the mountains, where the night market opens like a magic box with its bright lights and exotic aromas, where saffron-robed monks walk impervious to curious glances, where you are reminded that it is possible, somehow, to have a parallel reality without ordnance, without unexploded ordnance, without wars that don’t end, without wars, without a little girl picking up one of those deadly bombies in a paddy field.

for the cat
for the pigeon
more than enough sunshine

Rajani Radhakrishnan, What the heart knows

As I look out over the city from this high place, the clouds have risen and thinned, and lights begin to flicker on and shine in the deepening blue distance. I feel my solitude keenly and comfortably tonight, and I know that this is a quality I carry with me wherever I am, along with a natural desire for making connections, and an ease in doing so. There’s relief in recognizing that it doesn’t matter so much where I am, physically, because I’ll always be myself — a child who grew up loving and being consoled by the solitude of nature, books, art, and music, and also learned sociability and a love of people from her father and others in a rural society that valued family, and caring about each other, above everything else.

Those qualities saved me when I left my small town and went off to find my own way in a large university, and I see them now in my father as he navigates the incredibly difficult transition from independence to a nursing home, impaired by deafness and mobility issues that would doom many people to isolation and despair. But several staff people told me how much they liked him, and I could see his efforts to connect with people, to find ways of communicating his identity and his sense of humor in spite of his frustration at his body’s failings, at finding himself stuck in that place, his grief at the loss of his partner, and all the other challenges of extreme old age.

At first I thought, “This is terrible, how difficult this is for him,” but now that I’ve thought through this last visit more deeply, it actually gives me hope that even in extreme circumstances, one’s humanity and love of others can still be expressed, and consolation found in recognized places of solace. “I can’t sing anymore,” my father said to me as he listened to a woman play the guitar and sing familiar songs — but I saw his toe tapping, and watched his hand beat time to the rhythm — and he had found his way to the circle of residents at the appointed time for the musical event that week. Whatever is deepest in us remains, I think, and we must not give up on it — not now, not ever.

Beth Adams, What Lasts, What Sustains

Every Friday night I cup
my hands around twin flames.
Millennia of ancestors stand
behind me. Their hope still burns.
I mean clear-eyed awareness
of just how broken this world is
and refusal to let that be
the last word. Yes, everything’s
shattered, our mystics told us that.
They also knew beneath every shard
is a holy spark nothing can ever quench.

Rachel Barenblat, Not the First

Shadow blessing, shadow curse,
shadow, my dance partner
until the sun’s at rest
and they turn out the light.

Dick Jones, MY DANCE PARTNER

And now that the poetry collection is at the finishing stage, I can spend the next few months immersing myself in the non fiction book. I am looking forward to research, and walking and writing with the window open and listening to the trees in the breeze. I’ve just finished reading Nan Shepherd’s The Living Mountain. I’m surprised I’ve not read it before. It’s been on my reading pile for a while. What a book. What a woman! I felt connected to her through her sense of place. She doesn’t just describe the flora and fauna of the mountain, she describes her place in it, her presence next to the presence of the mountain. My favourite parts were the parts in which she describes wild sleeping. As a child I loved sleeping outside. Odd thing that I was, I would take myself away to a field or some overgrown wasteland and curl up to sleep on the ground. When Nan Shepherd describes the mountain, she is doing it from the viewpoint of someone who has had this place as background to her life, as someone who connects to the small details of this background. When she talks about the mountain she talks in terms of avoiding the desire to conquer nature, and instead embracing the experience of that place. That’s one of the most important parts of my own sense of belonging, and is really what I’m trying to capture in my own book: the experience of being within and exploring a place that you know like the back of your hand and still finding nature that surprises and engages, nature that reflects your own self. It is important to connect to your own nature, and that doesn’t necessarily mean climbing Everest, it could just as easily be about noticing the small details on an early morning walk, smaller still : it could just as easily be noticing and experiencing the nature in your own garden. We are not tourists to nature, we are a part of nature whether we like it or not, whether we see it or not. I find that, for most people, the more they recognise the importance of nature and place as a part of them, the more joy they are able to take in the world, despite the horrors.

Wendy Pratt, Avoiding the Urge to Conquer: Nature as Experience

In the middle of last week, my very last two BRILLIANT poetry students gave their colloquia and graduate readings. I knew it was going to break my heart, but I didn’t know how much. When I say that each student is a gift, it may sound like a platitude, but it isn’t. I learn so much from each of my students, and I know that my heart grows to encompass them. I am filled to the brim with tenderness and pride for Hollis Mickey and Ray Ball. I know that their poetry will make the world a much more interesting and full place. And just as they sail forth with their newly minted Masters of Fine Arts, I feel a great well of sadness that they are the last poets of the program. The last poets that will stand at the podium in Recital Hall, pinned in a pool of light, sharing their words with other students trying to become the best possible writers.

It’s going to take a little time for me to feel at peace with this.

Erin Coughlin Hollowell, This end of something. This start of something.

across the yard
a blackbird drags a black fig
into the sunshine

Jim Young [no title]

Let me jump on the Matthew Olzmann bandwagon. I kept reading his name in poetry articles of one sort or another, or seeing it on poetry world social media, and I confess, for some time I confused him with Matthew Dickman. So when I saw his book on the new and notable shelf in the library I shrugged and scooped it up. (I’ll go back and get a Matthew Dickman collection soon, I promise.) (And turns out Olzmann is married to another poet I’ve been meaning to read for a while, Vievee Francis. But my library doesn’t have anything by her. Guess I’ll have to muscle some acquisitions librarians.)(Anyway:) Wow. I’m loving it. Droll and poignant, imaginative and grounded, seriously silly and the other way around. I was moved to almost-tears several times. This book has been genuinely good company for some lazy afternoons.

Marilyn McCabe, You made me leave my happy home; or, On Matthew Olzamnn’s Constellation Route

Katerina Canyon’s poems are hard-hitting and direct. “Surviving Home” explores how a place that’s supposed to be safe can be dangerous. How domestic violence affects not just the immediate victims but the children forced to witness it, no matter how much the parents believe they have hidden it from the children. It also has an impact that lasts beyond childhood. The poems also shift to investigate racism and how it restricts talent and expression. Underneath all the poems is a muscular strengthen, a champion for survivors.

Emma Lee, “Surviving Home” Katerina Canyon (Kelsay Books) – book review

When I first came across Ruth Beddow’s poetry on Wild Court, I was especially struck by the natural flow of its language, a quality that makes her work immediately stand out among her contemporaries (Beddow is still in her twenties). I was thus keen to get hold of a copy of her first pamphlet, The Thought Sits With Me (Nine Pens, 2022), and a close reading confirmed my initial impression, as in the closing stanza to ‘Birmingham Central Library, 1973’:

…and later, a year since I had left the place
for good – a decade after my parents
dismantled our home – the rubble piled high
on Paradise and said, as I stood watching,
there’s a grace in being forgotten.
The above extract demonstrates an acute sense of the delicate, tense relationship between line and sentence, employing enjambment judiciously, harnessing language to musical effect without ever falling into the trap of artificial fireworks. And then there’s Beddow’s ability to root her poems in the everyday as a point of departure before lifting them into their own world far beyond mere anecdote. In this case, that transformation takes off as soon as the reader realises the rubble is speaking.

Moreover, in thematic terms, this poem is a perfect example of Beddow’s deeply felt awareness of the passing of time. Her invocation of changing generations, also referenced in other poems in this pamphlet, implicitly invites us to think about our own personal histories.

Matthew Stewart, Ploughing its own furrow, Ruth Beddow’s The Thought Sits With Me

I’m fascinated by the unfurling prose-lyrics of Florida poet, essayist and memoirist Heather Sellers, having discovered her work only recently, through her latest poetry collection Field Notes from the Flood Zone (Rochester NY: BOA Editions, 2022). I’m even more disappointed that I hadn’t heard of her work before, given how delightful the titles of her three previous poetry collections sound: Drinking Girls and Their Dresses (Ahsahta Press, 2002), The Boys I Borrow (New Issues, 2007) and The Present State of the Garden (Lynx House Press, 2021). There is something of her sentences reminiscent of the poems of Anne Carson, or even Sarah Manguso, offering narrative curls that hold multiple layers beneath. “My editor listed what she liked,” she writes, as part of “Careful, Unfurling,” “what she didn’t understand, what made / her cry at her desk, and I took notes.” Writing of climate and chaos, extreme storms and the pull of an ordinary life, Sellers invokes her Florida landscape of family, childhood, determination and shoreline, all of which collaborate into a kind of lyric photo montage that shimmers in and out of focus, not unlike memory. “When it begins to rain,” she writes, to open the poem “Rain,” “it rains every afternoon, or all day, and some / nights are made more of water than darkness. // Raindrops the size of grapes, the size of asteroids. There is sweet rain, / greasy rain, new rain. Rain pools, settles in: the city is a glittering marsh.” Set in three sections of prose poems, her lines stretch across the length and breadth of a meditative rhythm and diaristic landscape, accomplishing poems that strike with the power and sure force of lightning.

rob mclennan, Heather Sellers, Field Notes from the Flood Zone

How does a poem begin?

A poem begins in earnest ignorance. Or in beauty that overwhelms. Or often in a sense of the texture of time altering, and requiring some elaboration of consciousness. 

Thomas Whyte, Vasiliki Katsarou : part four

These latest offerings from [Paul] Vogel are two self-contained long-ish poems (5-6 pp. each) in chapbook form (from an adjunct of Adjunct Press, Associate Adjunct Press), both in a way of a piece with each other in regard to style and intent.  The first, Ecology Center, opens with lush imagery and the imperatives to “hear” and “smell,” suggesting for a brief moment that this will be a rather standard celebration of oneness with nature, “Let it permeate the skin.”  Vogel’s poetry, most saliently in the earlier stanzas, makes deft use of internal rhyme (“surface inversion,” “observe”), assonance (“quackgrass / inaccessible”), and alliteration.

Very quickly, however, after being lured in by the seemingly straight if gorgeous description of the natural world, we are given to know that not everything is what it seems.  It is an Ecology Center, after all; there are “viewin’ windows,” and the turtles have silly names.  By p. 3, we learn that the point is “to inspire STEM curiosity,” and from there the nightmarish situation of late capitalism becomes inescapable.  Even the “ecoacoustics” are “harmonized,” while the Visitor Center museum features bizarre things like “fossilized labia” and an axe-throwing bar.

Vogel renders the exaggerated artificiality of the place effectively, with curated activities and an ironic reference to UWM faculty poet John Koethe.  The reader is caught in a horrific celebration of “Armed Forces Day” (which is actually a real, official holiday, which makes it all the more conspicuous, i.e. didn’t we already have Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day to commemorate the military?) near an “RV Dump Station.”  Finally, the nature images iterated at the beginning of the poem return to engulf all: “A solitary wave over the spine of the peninsula / brings an annulus of spray.”  What peninsula?  Does Lake Michigan have such giant waves?  Yes it does, and, in any case, it is a commentary; the poet wishes all of this could be washed away.  What is “this”?  A situation where even nature is cynically invoked in the project of cognitive, psychological, and political regulation.  It is a cuttingly satirical form of ecopoetics, which Vogel handles strikingly.

He does something similar in Art Museum, where once again the setting is a self-contained institution that purports to give us something beyond capitalist use-value but, as it turns out, is nothing but further exploitation. 

Michael S. Begnal, Paul Vogel, Ecology Center (2021) & Art Museum (2022)

It has been a somewhat quiet period for the press this summer, and this has been perfectly fine with me. Since the pre-order and release of the first three chapbooks on April 4th of this year, the only real development at the press has been the release of digital editions of these three original books. Releasing these during the summer, when people are out enjoying life instead of trapped in the data mines of social media, kept sales relatively slow. However, during this time we still managed to raise $106 for New Leaf New Life, an amount I am matching in a donation to the Hoosier Abortion Fund. […]

In coming months, I plan to release at least one new set of poems (late summer or early fall). I am also working on a variety of other projects and plans for future releases including more poems, translations of public domain poetry (Rilke, Brecht, Rimbaud, and Tzara are on my mind), cut-up poetry, and more essays. I am very excited about these projects!

Additionally, I have been in contact with a handful of other poets about publishing their work, and intend to widen my search in coming months. This is still a learning process, but I’m getting there, and I am confident that the press can fulfill both goals of raising funds as well as paying writers for their work. As mentioned before, the press will offer a 50/50 split on sales with writers, and then the press will only keep 40% of its portion — the rest will be donated. This means others’ books will cost a bit more, but will still be reasonably priced (approx. $12).

R.M. Haines, Dead Mall Press: Update and Receipts (7.19.22)

Crazy storms blew in overnight, most of which I was awake for while watching the new Persuasion, but another burst around dawn had me scrambling to close some windows to stop the deluge from soaking my windowsills.  The cooler air was nice, and I slept the rest of the morning away after a couple fitful overly-warm nights. There are summers that seem rather stormless, but then again, maybe it was storming all along when I was trapped in the library’s depths where I couldn’t see outside. This summer has proven to have quite a few that send the tree in the courtyard between buildings bending sideways.  This same tree that was once just a sapling 6 or 7 feet in the small overgrown garden of the polish couple now tops out at the 4th floor. A few more years and I imagine it will be wide enough to skim my windows. I’ve always wondered how it even grows at all in the north-facing shadow of this mammoth 17-story building, but at certain parts of the day, small slivers of sun hit it between the other buildings and that must be enough. It loses its leaves later in the fall, well into November, and takes a long time to come back in late May, but always does. […]

Creative-wise, there are a slew of new chaps ready to be released after a couple of weeks working solely on author copies and more submissions to read.  For my work, more videopoems, edits on early pieces of granata, and a cover design for the forthcoming book due out October–automagic, my spooky little book full of victorian spiritualism and serial killers. I did give a sneak peek of the design in my latest TinyLetter, so subscribe if you want some early looks at things, including one of the Persephone poems, none of which have seen the light of day just yet. Also, general newsiness all in one place that’s usually scattered across social media and here all tidy, folded, and placed in your inbox.

Other than that, I’ve spent different parts of my week decorating my freelance notebooks like junior high (they all were the same and I got tired of searching out the right one), listening to a lot of 80’s rock, and rewatching both seasons of Emily in Paris, which is totally soapy, but has pretty clothes, hot French men, and endless Parisian views, what more could you want?

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 7/23/2022

Remember “Q” magazine. There was a time in the 90’s when I couldn’t be without it. And then I couldn’t be bothered with it any more. It was always the ‘next big thing’, the next ne plus ultra. It was all summed up by the page after page of reviews of releases by bands who I’d never heard of, and were all amazing and unmissable. There wasn’t enough time in the world to find if the reviews were true. We were drowning in a plethora of latest things. So I gave up. I couldn’t keep up any more. It’s like reading James Ellroy (American Tabloid et al)..you know that the characters are genuinely interesting, that the plot is pacy and complex, but the prose in all its telegrammatic density is utterly exhausting. It’s like being bludgeoned.  Here’s another parallel. I’ve recently been reading ..or trying to keep up with…Nicholas Crane’s The making of the British landscape. It’s genuinely interesting but it’s also the prose equivalent of timelapse film. Continents slide, icecaps rise and fall like meringues, a huge chunk of Norway slides into the abysmal deeps beyond the shelf and a tsunami takes out Doggerland. Forests multiply like bacteria and shrink as suddenly. You’re conscious of convulsive change but the timescale becomes incomprehensible. It’s all too much.

And, that, gentle reader, is just how the contemporary world of poetry seems to me. It’s a full time job to keep track of it, and for much of the time (as with those groups of the 90s that never went anywhere) it doesn’t feel as though it’s worth the effort. In a dark mood I’m inclined to agree with Clive James’ view that there’s never been a time when there’s been so much Poetry about and so few real poems. Social media is dense with folk announcing that they’re ‘working on their new collection’ five minutes after the last one came out, or folk posting pictures of their recently arrived books fresh from the printer. I should know. I’m one of them. I also know (and I’m not surprised) that my second collection came out in May and vanished without trace. As far as I know, it’s not been reviewed. Why should it be? I’m not getting to poetryt events where it can be heard. There’s a tsunami of new pamphlets and chapbooks and you’re either surfing the wave or you’re overwhelmed. It is what it is. But I really do want to stand back and reconsider where to go next, if at all. I want to clear my head. I want a rest.

John Foggin, Time Out

It’s not so much
listening to yourself

as listening,
this poetry,

the old monk said.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (261)

So I’m meeting with a winery person tonight to talk about starting a book club that will meet there on a regular basis – along with a quarterly open mike. (I’m thinking: literary/art-oriented mystery, speculative novel, poetry book, open mike as the rotation.) I have been lamenting the lack of literary culture in Woodinville, so maybe this is at least a part of what I’ve been looking for – and a way to ease into socialization (again, in real life – I never stopped talking to folks on the phone or on Zoom) again.

I had a writer’s group I attended on Bainbridge Island for over a dozen years – which was wonderful for my writing and that feeling of isolation you can get as a writer – and I’ve missed it since it dissolved a few years before the pandemic. I know there must be other book people on the East side – or even beyond – that would enjoy talking about books and trying out writer-and-book themed wines and an occasional open mike reading.

I’m also thinking about looking for work again – I don’t know health-wise how much I can take on, so I’ve been trying some freelance and volunteer projects to gauge how I do with deadlines these days.

You can tell that I’m taking baby steps towards post-pandemic normalcy, though our covid numbers here are high and I’m still hyper-aware of the risks as an immune-suppressed person. (Had my first PCR test in a while right after the poetry reading, just being extra careful.) Just like the hot air balloons that have suddenly started appearing in our skies again, I’m trying out things – poetry readings, the symphony last week, and making in-person dates with friends – that hopefully herald better times ahead. Maybe things are finally looking up?

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Hugo House Reading Report, Starting a Book Club in Woodinville Wine Country, Inching Towards Normalcy

alone in the park
between rain showers
ants collaborate in the grass

Jason Crane, haiku: 18 July 2022

Okay, I’ve had some setbacks in the area of publishing recently. But–another chapbook is in the works, and here is the cover reveal, a graphic throwback to the early 1980s when photocopied zines were abundant and eccentric, which suits the eccentricity of the collection.

Many thanks to the folks at Moonstone Press in Philadelphia, especially to Larry Robin, who has been the resident angel of poetry events, books, and publishing in Philadelphia for decades (and I do mean decades). I almost referred to him as a poetry maven, but he’s more of a guide and stalwart in many ways. (However, I love this definition from Vocabulary.com’s dictionary: The word maven comes from the Yiddish meyvn, meaning “one who understands.” But to be a maven you have to more than just understand a topic, you have to know its ins and outs… You don’t become a maven overnight. That kind of expertise comes with an accumulation of knowledge over the years.) At any rate, after closing Robin’s Bookstore–an indie-publishing-supportive bookstore he operated for many years–Larry started the Moonstone Poetry reading series, the Moonstone Arts Center, and has been behind many other benefits to the poetry-loving community, including virtual and in-person readings and a press that publishes anthologies and single-author collections.

More about the publication date, where to reserve copies, readings, and about the book’s theme and histories will come later. In the meantime, excitement and gratitude.

Ann E. Michael, Forthcoming

I suspect that this will end up being one of those “before and after” moments in my life, a line of demarcation between one way of being and another. I’ve known for some time that I need to live differently in order to be healthy. I’ve taken steps toward that; I retired (earlier than planned), I began skating (regular exercise), I’ve made some dietary changes. With arthritis (as with migraine and fibromyalgia, two other diagnoses I’ve been given), there is only management, no cure. Stress, sleep, and diet are all factors in managing the condition. I’m pretty sure I’m going to need to bump my efforts up exponentially.

As I lay in bed unable to find a pain-free position, unable to roll over without using my hands to support my hips, not knowing what was happening or how long I might be in such a state, I could not stop thinking about how fortunate I am. I have access to healthcare, imperfect as it is. I’m not missing work and don’t have to worry about getting back to work. I don’t have young children I need to care for. I have family who have been able to care for me. (I’ve been told I’m not terribly good at receiving care, but I’m working on it.) Don’t get me wrong: This situation is bad and scary, but in different circumstances, it would be catastrophic. I’m grateful it’s not worse.

I don’t know if I’ve even begun to really process this, but it’s shaken me. It’s challenging my sense of self. It’s humbling. It’s filling me with gratitude and questions. Pain is a beast. I suspect that taming it is going to be my new full-time job.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Wake up call

I am a lesson in deconstructed anatomy:
brain in throat, teeth in the abdomen,
kidneys in the head; ears in the legs,
filaments for taste in the feet. Once,
I grew to a length of almost five feet—
how easy it would have been to be
eater rather than the eaten.

Luisa A. Igloria, Self-Portrait as Lobster in Supermarket Aquarium

It happens to me most obtrusively when writing Flash. It starts when I add call-backs – allusions to earlier in the story. Then I notice emerging themes – old vs young, here vs there, etc – and accentuate them. Before long I have a net of connections and intersecting leit-motifs. Even if the narrative survives the re-writes, the readers’ attention is bound to be distracted, bouncing back and forwards through the text.

Not all the connections are psychologically significant. Some are irrelevant to the plot, working independently of it – gratuitous coincidences, one might say.

Maybe a film equivalent is Peter Greenaway’s Drowning by Numbers where, amongst many other patterns and allusions, the integers from 1 to 100 are shown (on the backs of sports shirts, etc) or spoken.

Pointing out to detractors that these come as a bonus doesn’t often help, which is why during rewrites I sometimes remove the patterns that I’ve so carefully constructed. I’ve even deformalized poetry to suit current tastes. But fashions come and go, so I keep old versions.

Tim Love, Narrative or pattern?

PP: What have you read lately that lit you up? Add a why or how for the shoutout.

LAM: Recently, I have poured over these four courageous books.

– Don Mee Choi’s DMZ Colony (Wave Books, 2020) is daring not only for its content but for its complex integration of art/artifacts—some historical, some constructed.

– Sarah Mangold’s Her Wilderness Will Be Her Manners drives me to the page: her “wreading” experiments results in stunningly innovative forms.

– Dazzling sonic play in Brandi Katherine Herrera’s Mother Is A Body (Fonograf Editions, 2021) immerses me in word paintings; each section teaches something new about serial work.

– Jane Ann Fuller’s unflinching refusal to fly away from trauma in Half-Life (Sheila-Na-Gig Editions, 2021) harrows me to the bone.

I like reading all these books at once. Today, I begin with “Sky Translation” in DMZ Colony. Chant the “…return … return…return …” refrain as I watch typographical sparrows flock-n-migration across multiple pages. Then, I open Half-Life to hover mid-page “… We wait/ by the window and wait for the first / birds of June to unfasten your wings.” I reread her first line: “When you chose to die, you chose.” Who choses death in the DMZ Colony? I return to that book to listen to Orphan Kim Seong-rye’s: “I saw countless charred bodies. I saw rows and rows of corpses.” I flee. To feel desire again, to move potential, I read the sequence of erasures entitled “Baby” that conclude Mother Is A Body. Flowing in an out of the fullness of these books, I return to Half-Life for “Where solace is cast./ Where you wait at dusk/” in the poem “Where Nothing You Do Needs To Be Explained.” I meditate on it all via the open field in Her Manners Will Be Her Manner: “gesture/ of remembrance/ perishing the keeper/ footless birds/ of paradise.”

What I am trying to say is that I cannot put any of these books down. It as if they were made to weave into each other.

Pearl Pirie, Checking In: Lori Anderson Moseman

It’s remarkable how things melt.

Consider the design of a deer.

The world is our gallery.

We’ve made a world of tiny Mona Lisas and our brains are galleries.

Adorno said, “During climate collapse to make a gallery is barbaric.”

Or, we’ve made a world of tiny brains and the world is Mona Lisa.

Climate collapse is a gallery.

No wonder Mona Lisa is smiling.

Consider coral reefs.

It’s not so much Climate Collapse but a sparkling apocalypse.

Every time an iceberg is born, another passerine loses its wings.

I’m beginning to think of our brains as icebergs.

My heart was and always will be a songbird, no matter how broken.

Let me sing a slow goodbye.

Gary Barwin, The Gallery and Tom Thomson Lungs

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 15

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. With major religious holidays this weekend, Poetry Month just past the midway point, and spring well underway in some places, many poets this week struck a playful or celebratory note, even as serious issues still needed to be wrestled with and poems needed to be written or pored over. Enjoy.


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

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

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

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

Lynne Rees, Poem ~ So much

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

Kristy Bowen, napowrimo #15

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

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

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

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

set fair the pop of the dubbin tin

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

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

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

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

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

Matthew Paul, On a haiku by Simon Chard

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

Jee Leong Koh, When I Go Home with Someone

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

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

Marion McCready [no title]

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rajani Radhakrishnan, When rain is no longer rain

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

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

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Last Look Back at Quilt Camp

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

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

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

Jim Young [no title]

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

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

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

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

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

Watching a Coral Reef on YouTube

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

Charlotte Hamrick, NaPoWriMo 2022 day 15

I am wound up. But bound.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ren Powell, Weekends are for sextains?

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

PF Anderson, Falling

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

ADD PICKLES

now we’ll never know

Rebecca Loudon, Pig and farm report

Parsons Marsh
homelessness comes with
no destination

Jason Crane, haiku: 11 April 2022

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

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

Rita Ott Ramstad, On taking flight

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

a lighthouse
white-washed buildings
low stone walls enclosing green

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

Ama Bolton, View from Fjara

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rachel Barenblat, New prayer-poems for the Omer journey

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

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

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

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

Lesley Wheeler, Ashes to bluebells

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

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

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

Courtney LeBlanc, Overwhelmed by Poetry

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

Gary Barwin, EXECUTOR SHRIKES. A little poetic funk

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

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

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

Romana Iorga, NaPoWriMo Day 13, 2022

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

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (172)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dale Favier, Easter Moon

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

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

Jill Pearlman, Cascading Seder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

just like the presence of a perfect-circle kiss.

Rich Ferguson, The Formula of a Kiss

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

Sharon Bryan, Poems that Grab You and Never Let Go

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

Anthony Wilson, Lifesaving Lines: Edge, by Sylvia Plath

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

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

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

Bethany Reid, Elizabeth Austen, The Girl Who Goes Alone

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

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

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

Ann E. Michael, Process parallels

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

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

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

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

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

Erin Coughlin Hollowell, Resurrection

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

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

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

Wendy Pratt, Travelling Without Moving

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 10

Poetry Blogging Network

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

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


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

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

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

Rajani Radhakrishnan, They said

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

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

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

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

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

Ren Powell, What We Take Into Account

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

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

Beth Adams, Day by Day

Palm trees in El Paso
are haloed in snow

rarer in mid-March
than the Russian tanks

bombarding a Mariupol shoe
factory, the psychiatric

hospital, a maternity ward,
apartments emptying to

missiles. A hotel sauna,
a subway — deep space

underground — targeted
humanitarian corridors

hemmed with smoking autos,
plastic bags and rolling

luggage left behind.

Maureen Doallas, Late Winter (Poem)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matt Merritt, I’m back (again)

s l o w l y
lowering the volume
thick snow

Jason Crane, haiku: 10 March 2022

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

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

Shawna Lemay, Even an Angel Needs Rest

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

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

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

Rachel Barenblat, Marvin Wolfe Barenblat z”l

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

Ann E. Michael, Synthesis

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

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

Dale Favier, Sweet and Low

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

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

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

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

Courtney LeBlanc, AWP 2022

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

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

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

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

Gerry Stewart, A Way to Help Ukraine: Poetry Anthology

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

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

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

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

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Food Pantry Portents

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

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

Luisa A. Igloria, War Stories

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

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

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

Matthew Stewart, Writing out of who we are

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

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

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

Carolee Bennett, “luckily for margaret”

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

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

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

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

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

James Lee Jobe, the inescapable ‘I’ poems

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

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

Lesley Wheeler, Fairy monster godmother gets the chair

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

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

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

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

Michael S. Begnal, On Kerouac’s Centennial

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

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

If my nerves were sturdier,

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

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

if I didn’t like to kick off my boots

and the Ultimate Fight weren’t your morning caffeine,

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

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

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

Jill Pearlman, Armageddon Blues

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kristy Bowen, hermit life and abroad

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

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

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

Paul Tobin, A VAST CITY INSIDE YOUR HEAD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rich Ferguson, On the War of the Week Channel

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

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

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

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

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

Scot Slaby, Wagging news doggerel

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

Ama Bolton, Lines from my Twitter feed #2

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

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

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

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

Laura Grace Weldon, Peace In Action

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

Tom Montag, TEN OLD MONK POEMS (57)

baffled
along the long groynes
the sea’s roar

Jim Young [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Weeks 37-38

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. I’ve spent all afternoon and evening catching up on two weeks’ worth of poetry blogs — an embarrassment of riches. I found posts about the changing seasons, poetry and music, diversity and the immigrant experience, and much more.


Last night I dreamt myself into a poetry reading
before an audience of hundreds – outdoors,
sunshine, cheers and applause before
I’d read a single word and a quickening
around my heart that carried both
anxiety and excitement as I leafed through
the books in my hands trying to find
the marked pages, the poems I’d already chosen
but knowing at the same time all that mattered
now would be the choices I’d make in that moment
and the next. And I looked up. I smiled. I spoke.

Lynne Rees, Poem ~ All that matters

It’s an effect that’s easiest to see on a wet winter night, with a streetlight shining through a tangle of bare tree twigs: the surfaces that most directly reflect the streetlight to the observer form a circle around it, a halo of streaks. Each streak is itself more or less straight, but they’re arranged in a circle, a sort of crown of thorns. It moves as you do, tracking with the light.

You don’t usually see it with the sun, I think because the sun is just too bright: if you’re looking that directly towards it you’re too dazzled to see anything else.

The week of the fall equinox, though, the rising sun lines up with the east-west streets, and if you happen to be walking east on a tree-lined street at exactly sunrise, and the trees are wet from the recent rains, you can see the sun’s version of it: a brilliant circle of golden fire. A doorway into a world of unbearable light.

You can’t look at it for long, of course, and when you turn away and close your eyes, the negative image turns with you, in bruise purple and dark green. Within seconds, what you saw is replaced by what you wish you had seen; with fragments of Dante, with words for light. The golden apples of the sun. Mithraic altars built by homesick legionaries in godforsaken, rainswept Britain; Byzantine mosaics in candlelight. What did you really see? What door did you fail to open?

Dale Favier, Equinox

This week I gave my students an assignment to read the academic standards to which we will all be held accountable. “What is a ‘grade level band of text complexity’?” they asked, their tongues tripping over familiar stones arranged into an unfamiliar pattern. 

I laid the system of my classroom bare and invited them to choose how they will operate within it. “What does it mean to you, to do well in school?” I asked. They live in a viral world of devious licks and Likes, but also one in which a person might grow their own food. 

Later, after the sky lightens, I let the dog into the backyard and pick pears from our tree. Fruit fallen onto the sun-scorched grass is half-eaten, and I wonder what kind of animal we are feeding. When I wash my lunch dishes at the sink, warm water running over my hands, I think of a woman I once worked with who always washed her dishes with cold. “Hot water is too expensive,” she told me. I was in college, and it had never occurred to me that a person could wash with anything other than warm or that heat could cost too much. I remember her as happy, in love with her children.

What does it mean to live well? I type later, sitting in a chair at a table in front of a window, in the middle of a day in which I could choose to do anything, or nothing.  

The closer I get to the end, the more I find answers in memory, in poetry, in tomatoes.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Fall Equinox

Six months have passed in a frozen moment that was something like a swift slap to the side of an television set to stop the vertical roll. But the world is never frozen entirely. Things shift imperceptibly until they are perceptible. You step back and find yourself in the middle of a new program.

I know that is an archaic metaphor. I know that. And I wonder what all these technological changes in the world have done to people like me, who’ve straddled a revolution that seems like magic. That encourages magical thinking?

I think about those years of my slowly-twisting fingers on knobs. These still slowly-twisting fingers that make me self-conscious. Age-conscious, which is nothing more than death-conscious. I think about the last six months, and what has happened along the edges of the bones in my left shoulder. The build-up of minerals within my body. I try to make sense of competing metaphors. My turning to stone, my falling to dust.

Tomorrow I head back to the physiotherapist who will press a bit of metal against my bruised shoulder and send invisible shockwaves through the skin to shatter the build-up of calcium that is biting into my tendon every time I lift my arms into a sun salutation.

Ren Powell, Acknowledging Medusa

Another birthday. This is my first photo post surgery. Good lighting and a strategically placed hand do wonders to hide the scar and effects the cancer surgery has had on my face. I’m feeling stronger, but some days I still feel like absolute hell. 

Over on social media, my dear friends and fellow poets Julie E. Bloemeke and Steven Reigns started a Go Fund Me account to help pay off my astronomical medical bills. While I have good insurance, it never pays everything. Between the fundraiser and private donations, the $15,000 goal has almost been met.  I am – as the Brits say – gobsmacked by the generosity of friends and even folks I don’t even know. Thank you, thank you, thank you! 

I’ve started writing again. Five new poems in various stages. After more than six months,  I finally cracked open the file on the new & selected collection. Slowly but surely. 

Collin Kelley, Self-portrait at 52

I am sitting deep in a garden after the sun has moved on; surrounded by trees thick with leaves, I feel like I’m in a well of grass. The atmosphere is swimming with filtered light, blue green, yellow green. The trees are budded, bonded, arabesqued, with fir needles and cypress needles, massive oak and holly. I look up from the bottom of their shadow ocean, as ripples of light toy with things, as shadows fall from forms onto grass. They spend their time leaping and teasing, suggesting that if you try to catch them, it will be a dizzying game.

Jill Pearlman, Games of Shadow and Being

all morning
the shadow of a birdcage
moves across the wall

Jim Young [no title]

This is the story about a woman who has so far made it through the pandemic relatively unscathed but who has been changed by now in more ways than she will be able to set down in a simple blog post on the internet. Perhaps you are also this woman. This is a woman who was wont to say before the pandemic, I believe in stories and fundamental goodness and that understanding is worth working for, and that beauty might not be exactly the secret to the universe, but maybe it’s near it or beside it. This is the story of a woman who now regularly says, I’m not so sure. I’m not so sure that I believe in this or that any more. I want to but I’m not sure.

One of my favourite essays is by Leslie Jamison and it begins, “This is the story of a layover. Who tells the story? I’m telling it to you right now.” I love her writing because it’s big hearted, but it’s dogged and not sentimental and she never lets herself off the hook. I love the way her mind works, and the way she works to get to know her subject, and gets to know herself, and say something larger in doing so. About strangers, she says, “Sometimes I feel I owe a stranger nothing, and then I feel I owe him everything; because he fought and I didn’t, because I dismissed him or misunderstood him, because I forgot, for a moment, that his life — like everyone else’s — holds more than I could ever possibly see.”

From time to time during the pandemic, I’ve started to write a document that I always call, “Impact Statement.” And then I end up deleting it, because a lot of the things that have impacted me have impacted others with much more force. I delete it because it’s full of things that are confidential or because the story of my impact would reflect badly on someone else. I delete my impact statement because who really cares? I delete my impact statement because some of it is embarrassing. I delete it because at first I weathered the storm quite well, and then I did not for a while, but I pretended quite convincingly to some people (though not all) that everything was fine. I delete the Impact Statement because I really want to put it behind me. I deleted my Impact Statement Document because at the end of it I’m always alive and in reasonably good health, and right now that seems to be a huge blessing. I delete my ISD every time because I don’t want any of those people who participate in the fuckery of the world to think that they’ve got anything over me.

Shawna Lemay, This is the Story

I’m planning to recharge my batteries. That’s the priority. Chemo knocked me for six; I wasn’t prepared for that. But I’ve started going for walks again. The first one was a shock to the system inasmuch as I only managed a mile of easy walking; but in the last couple of weeks, egged on by my partner, it’s getting to be 4 or 5 Km, and the target is to be doing it every day until it’s no longer painful.

And this brings me to stocking fillers. I’ve been posting on Facebook about being introduced to the remarkable variety of field paths that start pretty well at my front door, and which I was almost totally unaware of until a couple of weeks ago.

There’s one that starts when the road I live on becomes a bridle path, and then a field path that eventually links to a path that leads you over the River Calder, under a railway line, and finally to the canal, beside which you can (if you want) walk for miles and miles. I’m no fan of towpath walks, mainly because no matter how far you walk you still seem to be in the same place. But I knew the path…and thought that it was the only one. It’s a popular path, part of the Kirklees Footpaths system, and for 30+ years I’ve been aware of groups of walkers passing our front window. To my shame I wrote a stocking-filler  about what I thought was their being kitted out as if for hard walking in the Cairngorms, as opposed to having just come a quarter of a mile from the town centre. I poked fun at their Goretex, the OS maps slung in pastic wallets dangling round their necks, their Brasher boots, their air of being on a risky expedition.

Today I went for a walk in the sun, and I had boots on. And I had two walking poles. I beg absolution.

John Foggin, Stocking fillers [8] On prohibitions

I’ve just been editing an interview I did with the wonderful Kim Addonizio recently, for Planet Poetry. I’m a huge fan of Kim’s and in my keenness not to sound like a goofy fangirl I’m slightly worried I wasn’t complimentary enough or warm enough. Which is probably silly. But there was something very reassuring about hearing her say (when asked what are you working on now) ‘I’m just trying to write the next poem’.

The other day I queried a magazine about a submission I made in March, only to be told the poems had been rejected months ago but for some reason I never got the memo – they were extremely apologetic, which makes it worse in that I couldn’t feel annoyed with them! So that led me back to my submissions record, and the realisation that I’ve had 31 poems rejected by magazines this year so far and only two accepted. In my defence, I’m not sending as many poems out as I used to, because I’m writing more of what I think of as ‘collection’ poems, which don’t necessarily stand alone. I know that placing poems gets harder all the time as the sheer number of poets submitting to mags keeps increasing (and hey! I’ve done my bit to help that! I must be mad!) but I also know that good (enough) quality will out. It’s just hitting that good enough sweet spot is all. And all a poet can do is just try to write the next damn poem.

Anyway, all this takes me back to poets like Kim – both her poetry and her wise words on the craft. Her Ordinary Genius is never far from my desk. When I find snippets that really speak to me I collect them and stick them on the wall: ‘the language we reach for first is the language we know’ (not a good thing, in case that wasn’t clear!)…’if a poem goes nowhere it’s dead’ …. ‘write colder’… And then there are her witty, eye-opening, multi-layered, highly original poems with all their many, many ‘I wish I’d written that’ moments.

Do subscribe to Planet Poetry if you’re interested in hearing the interview (and interviews with tons of other great poets). Look for it wherever you get your podcasts.

Robin Houghton, Trying to write the next poem

Besides the changing temperatures and sudden deluge of rain, there’s change in the air metaphorically as well as physically. I am losing a lot of my mainstay doctors (another one quit – so much burnout in the industry, which I understand) and so I’m rethinking how I manage my health.  I’m also considering applying for more things – not just grants, but jobs and residencies that I might have thought before were too hard for me – energy and health-wise. Have I been setting myself too many boundaries, I wonder? Shutting down my own horizons? During the pandemic, I’ve had repeated dreams about traveling to Paris. I don’t know exactly what this symbolizes but I think I should pay attention since it keeps coming up. Paris could represent art, literature, a life of the mind, maybe?

Rita Dove just announced she was diagnosed in the late nineties with multiple sclerosis, which made me feel more hopeful about my own future – after all, she was the United States Poet Laureate and still does public readings. I just got ahold of her Playlist for the Apocalypse and am looking forward to reading it. Rita Dove has been one of my favorite poets since I first read “Parsley” in a Norton anthology when I was 19. She is an inspiration.

I’m also reading a fascinating book about women in an experimental program for middle-aged “gifted” women in the sixties called The Equivalents by Maggie Doherty. The book focuses on how friendship, camaraderie and institutional support made a huge difference in the lives of five midlife women: Anne Sexton, Maxine Kumin, Barbara Swan, Marianna Pineda, and Tillie Olsen – in the 1960s. (They called themselves “The Equivalents” because the program required a PhD or “equivalent” artistic achievement.)

What do women need to succeed as artists now? Well, things haven’t changed all that much – we still struggle to get institutional support, to get paid and respected, to get our work reviewed and in the public eye – and to make friends with women who can inspire, support, and push us forward. I know a lot of men my age with fewer books/accomplishments than me who walked into tenure-track jobs without much effort. A lot of the people doing the hiring, the grant-giving, and the publishing are still men. How can we midlife women put change in the air in the literary and art worlds? Definitely something to think about.

Anyway, change isn’t always a bad thing.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Fall Arrives Early: A Failed Surgery, Visiting with my Nephew, and Applying for a Big Grant

if you were a star
you’d resent it too. that bright
existence at a distance from loss.
so much freedom and nothing
to wish for. how you’d welcome
a comet as a sign of imminent death.
an asteroid the size of a bus as the child
you’ll never have. how you’d open
the pit of your stomach to swallow
the waste of the universe. how
you’d liquify it into light.

Romana Iorga, astronomy 101

I was an avid letter-writer once, a great correspondent, a reliable pen pal. In return, I received long, descriptive letters from far-flung friends and relished every trip to my mailbox to discover what had arrived that day. A letter from a friend? A poem rejection? A poem acceptance? A postcard from a family member off traveling? Critique and feedback from a poetry-colleague on a series of poems? Junk mail, bills…

These days, my mailbox mostly disgorges junk mail and bills. The few friends who write lengthy correspondence usually do so by email (which I do, truly do, appreciate). My keen interest in other people’s thinking, and my opportunity to acquire perspective into their lives, must now be satisfied by other means. That’s why I follow blogs and other “long-form social media.” (I thought I had coined that term, but apparently it has been in the lexicon awhile.)

Is a letter just a blog written for an audience of one? Is a blog a diary written for an imagined public, or is it a letter to the world? What purpose do private journals serve for those of us who keep them? And what’s behind the urge to keep old correspondence? The discovery of a cache of letters features in many novels and in a host of memoirs and histories, so there’s some kind of human-interest frisson resonating there. Perhaps the simple fact that such writings were intended to be private–that audience of one–piques curiosity.

For me the hardest aspect of letting go of past correspondence is that so many of the people to whom I wrote letters have died. In my attic, there are boxes of letters from these departed friends…suggesting a different meaning for the phrase “dead letter.” In a similar vein, there certainly exist blogs by now-dead writers that remain in the cloud, hanging stuck in the interwebs. Are these memorial pages, or are they digital ghosts, and to whom do they belong?

Ann E. Michael, Why don’t you write?

If you called would I go back? Of course. But that call is never coming, no matter how many state lines I cross. “I think I’m getting over it,” I told my sister. As if it ever goes away. We add each tragedy to our nervous system like an organ transplant. The body never rejects these phantoms. It’s only too happy to pump blood into the past. There’s a trail of red in my rearview mirror.

Jason Crane, phantoms

Are we there yet, asks the speaking donkey.
Evidently not, if animation extends only to a 3D screen.
Meaning after the statues have come down
there are still dark, haunted histories.
Meaning we are in the throat of a moment
that hasn’t completely spat us out yet.
We’re working as hard as we can.
We can be as rust-colored fishbones,
as calcium stones, a mouthful of marbles
refusing to translate their brilliance.

Luisa A. Igloria, Post-

Excited to say that our book is now available at Stinkweeds Record Store if you’re ever in Downtown Phoenix. This is especially cool because back in high school, I used to drive out to Kimber Lanning’s original shops in Mesa and Tempe to buy import bootleg CDs. I’ve also seen in-store performances by folks like Jello Biafra and Lou Barlow’s Folk Implosion over the years.

Since Jia’s photos and my poems were heavily influenced by some of our beloved Phoenix bands, we’re proud to have this book available in that same iconic record store for less than it would cost from Amaz*n (in keeping with Kimber’s local indie-first ethos localfirstaz.com).

Shawnte Orion, Stinkweeds Record Store and the Academy Of American Poets

In an average week, I guess I read two poetry collections (and/or journals), but I rarely get so engaged with any of them that I read them straight through again immediately after. That happened to me last week, though, when I read Country Music by Will Burns, published by Offord Road Books. It wasn’t that (m)any of the poems were so individually brilliant that they jumped out at me; rather it was their cumulative power, how they are beautifully crafted to cohere with one another and form a whole. At their best, they have that quality which Michael Donaghy’s poems had, of seeming both impeccably honed and effortlessly natural. Like Donaghy, Burns is a bit of a muso (the Chilton of the Chilterns perhaps?) as attested by the title of his collection, his collaborations with Hannah Peel, and his appearances on the eclectic bills of Caught By the River shows. His poems make reference to the late great Townes Van Zandt, Chet Baker, Warren Zevon, Merle Haggard (twice) and Elvis. I especially enjoyed a trio of sonnets – ‘Bastard Service’, ‘True Service’ and ‘Wild Service’ – which convey an unexpectedly edgy edgelands feel to (presumably) Buckinghamshire. Above all, there’s just a simpatico, warmly melancholic tone about his poems which makes me enjoy them so much.

Matthew Paul, Autumn almanac

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

Poetry got into my mouth. The simple physical pulsations and clicks of it. My mother says that as a small child whilst on the back seat of the car I’d natter to myself and chunner along. Just the feel of vowels flowing through the rub of consonants. I do love a good story, and I love film … and I do actually make fiction. But it’s the scraping of one word against another, or indeed the cracking open or snapping of words, without knowing how many sparks or what colours they will be or where or how far they will fly … that is what really makes me want to make. It is the picking up of sound and … handling it! But it is also the translations, and transformations of sound into marks & patterns ona page … and the materiality of the alphabet and how it can be manipulated withinthe frame of a page, or through the space (place) of a page … or of course, across a carefully placed series of pages … […]

Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?

I am a maker who speaks, as well as writes, in various ways. Making the sound of poetry is essential for me. And so is intercreativity – seeing others listening and then feeling them pick up those sounds and also make with them as I speak is … well, one of the most satisfying and thrilling things in my life.

Unfortunately (and indirectly related to Covid-19) my hearing in my right ear is now impaired, in that certain frequencies and levels of sound are unpleasant. It is improving, and I hope it improves enough for me to be able to speak out loud again to an audience, and also perhaps for me to begin again making field-recordings and sound-enhanced poems … something that has been a vital part of my practice.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Mark Goodwin

Yesterday, I recorded a new autumn poem with my writers group, Helsinki Writers this weekend as part of a Superwood Festival project a local university has organised. It’s one of a series of poems my group is providing as audio for a forest walk. I was nervous about professionally recording. It’s almost ok in my quiet house with no one watching, but reading in front of my friends and a handful of students was a bit nerve-wracking. But it’s a well-paid gig, so I jumped at the chance. It was a lot of fun to work with the other writers and come up with separate poems on a similar theme that worked with each other. I’m excited to hear the final project. 

Even though it was a bit strange to hear my voice played back to me, they made it sound pretty good, even in the raw form. And the experience wasn’t that scary. My poem was one of the longer ones, but I managed to get through it twice and had one small mistake early on for each of those versions, so it wasn’t too bad. They managed to take one line out of one version that was said with better emphasis and put it in the other take which was better overall. So I’m happy with my end.

It was interesting to write a poem that I knew would primarily exist in audio form, to think about what I could say easily and what could be understood from sound alone rather than the words on the page. I made a lot of changes once I started to practice reading it aloud, words and phrases that became tongue-twisters next to each other, images that would be lost unless given space to breathe. Hopefully, it will work, but it’s hard to know until hear the poems next to each other, cleaned up. 

Gerry Stewart, Take One: Recording Poetry

While walking in the park with my daughter yesterday, she wore a sweet voice-knitted melody on her lips.

It came to her naturally as breathing.

It wasn’t a song I’d ever heard before; she was making it up on the spot.

It poured softly from her being, the sonic manifestation of her at that moment.

As she grows older, I hope she builds an inner song garden that can withstand the darkest moments.

I hope she has anti-gravity running through her veins, so falling doesn’t hurt as much.

My daughter continues singing.

Inside the song, outside the song, she wears her melody perfectly.

Rich Ferguson, At the store of perpetual optimism

Then the silence
then the silence
then the silence
the old monk said,
pounding the beat.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (10)

Within the constraints of the format of a blog, it’s difficult to do justice to the complex simplicity of M.R. Peacocke’s poetry. As a consequence, rather than offering up a condensed review of her excellent new collection, The Long Habit of Living (HappenStancePress, 2021), today’s post attempts an in-depth analysis of an individual poem from the book in question. Peacocke’s work very much lends itself to such close attention, rewarding the peeling-off of her delicately applied layers of potential sense.

The poem in question, titled ‘The Path through the Wood’, feels especially significant because it comes to represent something of an Ars Poetica and, by extension, a vision of life itself. The opening lines of ‘The Path through the Wood’ immediately set out the co-existence of opposites. This is achieved via their juxtaposition:

Through the little gate. A breath in, a breath out
measured the interim between is and is not…

‘In’ and ‘out’, ‘is’ and ‘is not’: both these opposites are interconnected by inhabiting the ends of consecutive lines. And then there’s the use of the word interim instead of interval, which might at first glance seem more natural. Peacocke’s choice underlines the provisional rather than the inevitable, the relative rather than the absolute.

As the narrator of the poem progresses through the wood, so conventional vision has to be put to one side:

…One sense became another: sigh of an odour,
taste of the darkness, fragrance of touch. My eyes found rest…

In other words, the absence of sight means that other senses have to work overtime. The consequence is transcendence via unexpected perspectives and sensations. Is the poet referring to a fresh understanding of the world around us or to a creative process whereby experience and anecdote are turned into poetry? Or to both?

Matthew Stewart, A close reading of M.R. Peacocke’s The Path through the Wood

Rob Taylor: Early in eat salt | gaze at the ocean you wonder “how to write about zombies: / when you’re a generation / removed from the soil”. Your parents immigrated to Canada from Haiti, and you were born in Montreal. Did writing this book bring you closer to your Haitian culture? In writing and publishing this book, what insights have you learned about writing about a home you weren’t born in?

Junie Désil: I can’t say that writing this book brought me closer necessarily. I think the fact is I will always be removed from “home” and “culture.” There are ways of being and knowing that I can attribute to my culture and upbringing, but at the end of the day there is a sense of loss at the interruption, whether it’s my parents immigrating to these territories as a result of the political atmosphere in Haiti, or the larger interruption of the collective “Black” history. Certainly, that not-home/un-home feeling informs my writing and, in particular, this collection. I think it’s something you’ll note in many of the Caribbean diaspora writers.

Haiti is there whether I speak to it or not. I suppose it’s like loss, you don’t get over it, it’s always there, it imparts a gauze on your lens, and you either make peace or not. For myself, I found it organized my thoughts and feelings on the subject. It forced me to confront the things not talked about in my family. As a result of who I am, where I was born, the choices my parents made, the choices I’ve made and continue to make, there will always be unknowns and the unresolved. I suppose then that the insight is just that writing about “home” will always be an unfillable hole.

RT: Let’s move from “home” to the other half of that quote: zombies. “How to write about zombies” speaks not only to your distance from Haiti, but also the trickiness of writing about zombies within a Canadian/American cultural context (earlier in the same poem, you list zombie movies you’ve watched: I Am Legend, World War Z, Shaun of the Dead, etc.). Was it daunting to write about Haitian zombies through the fog of American media representations? Do you think the gap between Haitian traditions and pop culture is bridgeable, and if so, was it important for you to try to bridge it?

JD: It certainly was fascinating (appealing to the nerd part of me) and daunting for a number of reasons. The information and the directions I could go with zombies were so vast; I felt inclined to write a dissertation of sorts! I think what was overwhelming was realizing how much heavy lifting the zombie imagery does. For a moment it left me bereft. I know this sounds dramatic, but hear me out. The zombie is a metaphor for the condition of slavery, and here this very metaphor is still “working” across the screen, across various narratives, to be what we need it to be. It’s seeing how this symbol in Haitian culture has become American culture. That even in death/undeath Haitians can’t catch a break. 

Anyway, it was more important to share what zombies mean and that zombies aren’t what we’ve grown up knowing; that zombies have been misrepresented. There was also the thrill of understanding and re-discovering what zombies meant to Haitians, and more so the thrill of discovering that Zora Neal Hurston, a writer whose fiction, essay and anthropological work I long have admired, was also interested in Haitian folk tales, zombies, etc. She really put her whole self into the study of zombies and Haitian spiritual and cultural life.

Rob Taylor, I’m Not Supposed to Be Here: An Interview with Junie Désil

Moving away from such eminently valid individual attestations of the importance of poetry, two particular texts come to me that further articulate the power that poetry can have.  One is Audre Lorde’s essay “Poetry Is Not a Luxury” (1977), which I return to frequently.  While I realize that I am not Lorde’s primary audience in that essay, with my own position(ality) in mind I am nonetheless always struck when she writes,

Poetry is not only dream and vision; it is the skeleton architecture of our lives.  It lays the foundations for a future of change, a bridge across our fears of what has never been before.
 …
The white fathers told us: I think, therefore I am.  The Black mother within each of us — the poet — whispers in our dreams: I feel, therefore I can be free.  Poetry coins the language to express and charter this revolutionary demand, the implementation of that freedom.
(38)

Here, not only does Lorde delineate the power of poetry as personal, political, and beyond, she also critiques those very same Enlightenment values that the Western chauvinists invoke in their quest to uphold white supremacy — the notion that “logical” debate is an inherently positive value (i.e. rather than one that historically tends to benefit white, male, privileged property-holders).  Actually, while Lorde skillfully exposes the tyranny of rationality (here expressed in the Cartesian mind/body split of “white father” thinking), she goes on to identify the fusion of thought and feeling as the best framework for approaching both poetry and political action, and her essay is one of the best I can think of that expresses why, as her title argues, poetry is not a luxury but a necessity in the lives of many.  (Even Auden, in his poem, went on to assert that poetry is “a way of happening, a mouth.”)

The other text is Gary Snyder’s The Real Work: Interviews & Talks, 1964-79 (1980).  In a 1977 interview, Snyder responds to the Auden line by pointing out that poets “are out at the very edge of the unraveling cause-and-effect network of a society in time” (71).  For Snyder, poets do have a social and political function (and what is “power” if not the function of politics?), though it might be out of the mainstream discourse and thus unrecognized as powerful.  Snyder goes on to elaborate that poets are also

tuned into other voices than simply the social or human voice.  So they are like an early warning system that hears the trees and the air and the clouds and the watersheds beginning to groan and complain a little bit. . . . They also can hear stresses and the fault block slippage creaking in the social batholith and also begin to give out warnings. . . . Poetry effects change by fiddling with the archetypes and getting at people’s dreams about a century before it actually effects historical change.  A poet would be, in terms of the ecology of symbols, noting the main structural connections and seeing which parts of the symbol system are no longer useful or applicable, though everyone is giving them credence. (71)

For Synder, poets are (or can be) a kind of advance platoon (even a century in advance) of cultural experimenters who critique existing certainties and in their work register the limitations of dominant narratives.  Both Snyder and Lorde see poetry as existing at least partly in the realm of the dream, and thus point to non-Cartesian, non-rational means of making meaning and even making arguments.

In a way, this is the true sense of the term “avant-garde” — to make that new meaning through new forms of art and modes of living (rather than avant-garde in the mere sense of now-recognized stylistic departures) — Lorde’s “dream and vision” and “skeleton architecture.”  What is becoming increasingly clear, wherever you stand in the recent Rose/Barren-related exchanges (and again, I don’t think it’s an either/or situation), is that political systems and social values, no matter how much “everyone [supposedly] is giving them credence” (per Snyder), which privilege a dominant class and thus inherently oppress others (whether classes of people or even non-human animals and nature), should no longer be given such credence — in poetry or elsewhere in the social discourse.

Michael S. Begnal, Poetry Controversy, “Free Speech” Debates, and the Power of Poetry

Obviously, if you go through the effort of doing the mostly unpaid labor of curating a literary project, you can publish whoever you damn want.  This may be why we do it.   Our own collection of poets like rare birds. Like stones in the hand.  And obviously I too have published people I know, mostly because in knowing them–the reason I know them usually–is BECAUSE I am interested in their work. However, do this too much and it seems a little circle-jerkish, no?    I’m not saying the task of the editor is to be impartial, or front that the quality of the work, or THEIR judgement of it, is objective.  I obviously publish things I like.  Things that excite me for some reason (and those reasons vary from project to project.) I make no claims otherwise, no gestures of superiority as a gatekeeper. Publishing is not The Hunger Games (though some people act like it is.)  

But I also think we have, as gatekeepers, and obligation to promote new voices.  More diverse voices–to seek the out. Voices that aren’t getting published everywhere at once. I’ve been thinking of this tonight as I dig further into the summer dgp submissions for next year.  What I am looking for.  What I am particularly excited by.  And while I spotted a half dozen past authors amongst the offerings (who I will always make room for if I like their project–because I like supporting the authors who support me), I was most excited by the people I had never seen work from before. Some of them writing for decades.  Some of them still in undergrad and just beginning to send out work.I want to see these manuscripts, even if they are not for dgp, because I want to know who to look out for next. If something doesn’t appeal to me but is promising, I will ask them to submit again next period. I would never want to be the press that just keeps publishing the same coterie of poets over and over again.   You will  of course, find some familiar faces next year, but I try to publish a much larger ratio of poets I know nothing about. Who have somehow found this little press and think their work might have a home and harbor here. Judging by what I have read and earmarked for second reading, next year will be amazing and contain quite a few surprises and new authors.  I can’t wait to share them.

Kristy Bowen, notes from the submission wilds

I know there are issues with the reviewing world, that the review tend to lean towards white men writing about white men (yes, yes, not all reviews, etc, but the balance is still far from being even close to right, despite the amazing work being done by the likes of the Ledbury Poetry Critics).

However, whoever they are written about or by, if reviews don’t help sell then it’s hard not to think Well, what is the fucking point of them then? I know they are helpful for the writer of the review—well, they are to me. They help me to engage more. I suspect there is a massive difference in impact (whatever that is) between reviews in the national press (as column inches dwindle there). I know there’s an argument that reviewers pull punches these days, every book gets a prize like it’s some sort of primary school sports day….this article by Dorian Lynskey was an interesting read (and I am a big fan of Ted Lasso). I’m guilty myself of writing some puff, but it’s done trying to find something positive in everything….

I wonder who the audience is for reviews these days, in most types of art I suspect it’s largely fans and the like, but I suspect most poetry reviews are read by poets…I have no idea, it would be nice to think it’s non-poets as well, and that they are all likely to buy the books they read reviews of.

I hope so, this came into stark reality this week when a review I wrote of Patrick Cotter‘s Sonic White Poise was published this week in The High Window (I think I mentioned this a few months ago). Obvs go and read the others too, and the excellent poems in this latest release. However, I emailed Patrick to tell him the review was up and he replied to say thank you—which is lovely to hear, but that it’s only the second review the book has had. That’s quite scary and I guess true of so many books. This reminds me of this article I saw linked to this week, where an author talks about his book getting lost in the pandemic..Again, this must be true of so many authors/writers/artists, etc (and not just during the pandemic).

It’s almost enough to make you wonder why we bother, any of us. Thankfully we all know why. I’d love to hear about the books (or anything else) you’ve bought off the back of a review.

Mat Riches, Review, review…electric blue

The words like warm blankets, “human rights” and “discrimination” should have been keys to open border locks and offer safe passage. Instead the locks resist and become gatekeepers. How do you produce evidence when you only have what you could carry? What can you do to guide or speed bureaucratic processes that will creak along at their own speed when you need shelter and food and trying to speak in a rapidly-learnt language that is still unfamiliar?

The legacy of what was left behind, doesn’t stay behind. After stories of her grandmother’s fear of never opening the door, the poem “Knock Knock” includes,

“here I stand,
one side of the locked door,
noticing how my heart
is racing to open the latch
while my head is pounding
leave me alone,”

“Here I stand” roots the speaker by the locked door. Even though she’s not lived her grandmother’s stories, she still shares that experience of the fear of the knock. She’s caught between the need to open and welcome whoever’s outside while knowing that the outsider could bring danger. It’s not a reaction that can be shaken off. […]

“An Embroidery of Old Maps and New” explores the liminal space between inherited culture, language and traditions and life in a new country where those inheritances are woven into the fabric of a new traditions and cultures. Angela Costi’s poems are a quiet celebration of small, but important steps taken, while not shying away from the reasons that prompted this new life. Readers get to see both the intricacy and delicacy of the top stitches as well as the thumb pricks and calloused hands that made them.

Emma Lee, “An Embroidery of Old Maps and New” Angela Costi (Spinifex Press) – book review

My review of My Mother’s Language/La langue de ma mère by Abdellatif Laâbi, translated and introduced by André Naffis-Sahely (Poetry Translation Centre, 2021), is online at MPT magazine.

This is a generous selection of poems (in a neat, pocket-sized French/English edition – perfect to carry with me on a recent train journey) from a poet widely acknowledged to be one of Morocco’s leading writers, published by the Poetry Translation Centre’s World Poet Series.

I wasn’t familiar with the poet’s work so I was glad of a succinct introduction by André Naffis-Sahely, and an afterword by Yousif M. Qasmiyeh, to provide contextual background. The poems are from across Laâbi’s fifty-year writing career, so a wonderful introduction. The English translation is directly opposite each page of poetry in French, line by line translation, so this is also an ideal book for anyone interested in poetry translating, or, indeed, in general translating from French to English. My French is reasonably good, having lived there for three years, although I am mostly self-taught with regard to grammar. It was often fascinating to read André Naffis-Sahely’s word choices, and made me appreciate the creative work of poetry translation. There is, of course, no need to have any understanding or familiarity with the French language in order to read and appreciate these poems.

In addition to poems that witness Laâbi’s incarceration and torture as a political prisoner in the 1970s, there is a long extract from Casablanca Spleen, published in the late nineties, a poem of fragments, diary entries, notes and observations made when Laâbi returned, as a visitor from exile in France, to the country of his birth.

Josephine Corcoran, My review of a new selection of poems by Abdellatif Laâbi

Two poems per month.

Like I like to say when I’m running, “That is just as fast as I go.”

Writing lately has been in what I like to think of as my “plodding along” pace.

It feels especially slow compared to the breakneck novel-writing marathon I did this summer, or when I’ve really hit a vein of inspiration (whether that is research I’m excited about, or heart-wrenching grief that makes me want to die).

I’ve also been journaling more, reading more, touching up my manuscript Church Ladies (forthcoming next spring!) and my middle grade novel (WSMMLTRAB for short. Maybe needs some title work…)(also forthcoming!).

The truth is life is really busy right now. I used to worry that I would give up on writing during times like this–that it would just drop off the to-do list and never claw it’s way back on. But I know now that it is too much of a part of me to drop away, even when I’ve thrown it to the ground and tried to shatter it.

So, two poems a month.

Better than none.

Renee Emerson, slow & steady

I’ve been thinking about external validation, that siren, that false friend, that bastard. I was in one of my usual and cyclical can’t-get-a-g’d-thing-published-why-do-I-suck writhings. I knew it and was just sort of standing around waiting for myself to be done with it. In the meantime, I finished a project I had developed with both myself in mind, but also some others, including and especially one audience member, for whom I created one specific aspect, thinking that person would love it. The response was tepid. That on top of my see-above-phase devastated me. Which gave me pause.

I refuse to be ashamed at seeking external validation, which popular psychology has given a bad name. As with all things: moderation. One of the things insidious about external validation and what has given it a bad name is that essentially it cedes control to someone other than yourself with regard to your perceived worth or the worth of your work. Whatever worth means. So the trick is to not allow anyone’s opinion to exert that much control over you. To seek external as the central strategy of life is a losing game. To seek it as part of the ongoing, layered, multifaceted, mutli-faced, multi-pie-in-the-faced, many-armed slapstick that is life, well, who can’t?

We all need a “good on yer” to come our way, early and often. And as much as I have a horror of feeling disappointed, have made elaborate mental games to avoid feeding the hopes that disappointment can smithereenize, I think maybe I’m old enough now to learn how to feel disappointment, give it too a little nod of validation, and move through.

Marilyn McCabe, Want you to want me; or, On Validation and Creative Work

This week I have done almost zero writing. Instead, I have been focussing on getting ready to run the courses I have planned for October – two with the York Centre for Lifelong Learning and one under my own ‘brand’. One of my York classes is accredited, and it will be the first time, except as a day retreat tutor, that I have taught an accredited course. I’m a bit nervous about it, but also very excited.

I did all of my degrees part time, two of them distance learning. I was a mature student when I studied for, and obtained, my degrees. I worked full time around my degrees. I come from a working class background and this isn’t an unusual thing. I found my way into poetry and literature through the fantastic Open University and I did my Masters distance learning at Manchester Met. I think it is important that high quality learning opportunities are available for people who work full time and/or are coming to literature, poetry in this case, later on in life. Part time learning shouldn’t be any less quality than full time education and I try to keep that in mind when I am putting course content together. It sometimes means working more hours for less money, because freelancers in teaching tend to be paid fairly crap wages. And that’s possibly why the literary arts and teaching are not areas with strong working class representation, but that’s a soap box for another day. Teaching and workshop facilitating take a lot of time and preparation, so this was a week I was happy to give over to that work, in the hope that when I start teaching again next week I’ll be prepared enough that I can carry on writing on a morning and working in the afternoons. Ha! Famous last words.

Wendy Pratt, A Teaching Prep Week

My first full week of teaching was exhausting, full of positive feelings about my students but inflected by pandemic fears, too. Cases are rising fast here. We’re in person, masked, but students are having tons of unmasked encounters–let’s call them encounters–in residence and dining halls and, I presume, at parties. Prepping for and teaching 6 90-minute classes is as hard as I remembered, even before the grading starts; things are high-powered here, with smart students chewing through material fast, something that’s both lucky and sometimes a major challenge to keep up with. And there are all the extras like advising, reference letters, department meetings and consultations, university-wide meetings and events, etc etc. I’m beat.

Yet I’m having fun, too. I’m prepping Sedgwick’s essay for a senior seminar called “Taking Literature Personally”; during that session we’ll try some paranoid and reparative reading of Frank O’Hara’s poetry (no spoilers, but my lesson plan involves crayons). For yesterday’s class, we read the poem “Philomela” and the essay “Nightingale” by Paisley Rekdal as well as the Ovid tale for background, which is infinitely darker material though just as powerful. Whatever the literature at hand, the flow experiences of rereading then planning discussions feels really good. I wish I had more time to linger in it, but I’m being strict with myself about stopping work when I’m tired. I’m an introvert who HAS to recharge and a grown-up person who HAS to rest and sleep. I’m doing okay at it for now.

Lesley Wheeler, Rereading Sedgwick, or, Oh Yeah, I Like Teaching

Friday night, my step-mom-in-law asked, “What do y’all do for fun on a Saturday?”

I tried to remember.  It’s been awhile since we felt like we had an empty Saturday that we could fill with fun.  We’ve been in the process of life changes, as we’ve been in a downsizing project, downsizing our housing expenses if not our space.  We’ve spent the summer season sorting and packing and moving to a condo we’ll be renting for the next 2 years.  We then pivoted to getting the house ready to go on the market, which it now is.  And now, we’ve been pivoting to the paperwork phase of the project.

But I have hopes that we’ll be in a position to have fun soon.  Will I remember what that looks like?  What is more likely is that about the time the house sale closes, my spouse’s additional classes will start, and we won’t have huge expanses of time to have fun.  

I am recognizing a pattern.  I am also remembering what many a creativity consultant has advised:  don’t wait until you have huge swathes of free time before you do your creative work.  You’ll be waiting forever.  Similarly, I should probably plan for fun in smaller units.  We are unlikely to have a fully free Saturday any time soon.

When I think of what would be fun, I think of pumpkin patches and apple orchards, which I can’t do easily down here.  I need to adjust my thinking to a smaller scale, both in terms of having fun and in terms of creativity.  I’ve been feeling like I’m not writing poems regularly enough.  I worry that in gaining seminary, I’m losing poetry.

Let me remember an idea I had for a poem:  Noah’s wife sells the house.  I’ve been using the Bible story of Noah to explore modern ideas of climate change.

And let me remember that I don’t need a huge chunk of time to write a poem.  Let me do that more often. 

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Free Time and Fun

I am still reading Ursula K. Le Guin’s Words Are My Matter an essay each week or so — and I just came across “The Beast in the Book.” She got me thinking about animals and how we share the world with them, not very politely, and how rich children’s literature is with animals. As Le Guin puts it:

The general purpose of a myth is to tell us who we are — who we are as a people. Mythic narrative affirms our community and our responsibilities, and is told in the form of teaching-stories both to children and adults.

Le Guin doesn’t find it at all curious that children learn to read by sounding out the words in “Peter Rabbit,” or that they weep over Black Beauty. She finds it a shame that as we grow older we lose our facility to identify with animals. I loved this paragraph, about T. H. White’s The Sword in the Stone:

Merlyn undertakes Arthur’s education, which consists mostly of being turned into animals. Here we meet the great mythic theme of Transformation, which is a central act of shamanism, though Merlyn doesn’t make any fuss about it. The boy becomes a fish, a hawk, a snake, an owl, and a badger. He participates, at thirty years per minute, in the sentience of trees, and then, at two million years per second, in the sentience of stones. All these scenes of participation in nonhuman being are funny, vivid, startling, and wise.

I think it’s that “sentience of trees” that really made that paragraph stick for me, as I’ve also been reading Peter  Wohlleben’s The Hidden Life of Trees

Bethany Reid, The Autumn Equinox

Sitting in my sukkah this year, I’ve been thinking a lot about what endures. That might seem counterintuitive: after all, a sukkah is the opposite of that. It’s temporary structure. Its roof is made from organic matter, casting some shade but also letting in the raindrops and the light of the full harvest moon. A sukkah begins falling apart almost as soon as it is built. And yet…

And yet the sukkah will be rebuilt, next year. And the year after. The practice is perennial. When I sit in my sukkah on my mirpesset, drinking coffee and lifting my etrog to my face to inhale its scent, I remember every year I have ever sat in a sukkah. I think of generations before me who built sukkot. I imagine the generations after me who will do the same. […]

One morning in the sukkah this year our conversation veered into American politics.  I used to believe that the structures of democracy would protect us from demagogues. I thought it was generally accepted that government’s function is to serve everyone, to protect the vulnerable, to ensure and uphold human rights and dignity. That structure feels fragile now.

The American experiment is only a few centuries old — an eyeblink in the span of human history. It may prove to be temporary. Some argue that it’s already over, that our constitutional crisis is already here and democracy as we have known it is already falling to gerrymandering, insurrection, cult of personality, and the terrible persistence of the Big Lie.

I think of the later stories in Ursula K. Le Guin’s Orsinian tales, where her fictional European country has become an Eastern Bloc nation. In those stories the government can’t be trusted. Privations are the norm. And yet people continue to live and love, even when multiple families share a single apartment, even under surveillance. Isn’t that what human beings do?

Rachel Barenblat, What endures

drinking coffee black and reading
the poems of osip mandelstam
the ground quivers and shakes
is it an earthquake
or just fine poetry?
now the coffee is finished
and the morning sky is blue
like my grandmother’s eyes

James Lee Jobe, just fine poetry?

Walking night woods, noticing: tired. This one spot smells so strongly of cedar it might be perfume this rotting tree casts into my face. My back hurts, from lack of daily water. I ate too much chicken and rice. Fatigue beyond poor sleep. Uncertainty beyond circumstances. I do not have to settle, I have to root. There must be fertile ground: there are many fertile grounds. Choices of paths.

In the powerline cut, a raptor cry.

In the dark trail, scatters of imminent fall. The awake time.

I plan another lake swim, before it is too cold. A life, too. I wait for enough information. An owl calls.

The compass needle slows, after years of spinning, but I cannot yet read north.

JJS, attendance

will the poem i am buried in :: be the weave of my last words

Grant Hackett [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 20

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 found me in an odd mood, a bit disoriented by the sudden onset of summer here, and so in compiling this edition I found myself drawn to the odd sentence, the strange story, the unexpected efflorescence of the unsayable.


So this is all to say that in the absence of Things to Look Forward To just landing in my lap, I’m trying to create Things to Look Forward To all on my own, and when I write Things to Look Forward To, I mostly mean Things That Will Distract Me from Thinking About the Things I Don’t Want to Think About Anymore.

And if you’re a writer and reading this, you’ll know that’s a laughable goal, because if I write anything I’ll probably be Writing About Something I Think is Completely Unrelated to Things I Don’t Want to Think About Anymore But is Actually a Loose Metaphor or Allegory for Things I Don’t Want to Think About Anymore.

Sarah Kain Gutowski, Once More Into the Fray: I Revive the Blog and Once Again Accost the Internet with Nonsense I Can’t Just Keep in My Damn Fool Head

Good morning from the West where we are but blood under the earth’s talons

Rebecca Loudon, Pig and farm report

Cold enough still to sharpen the lungs to hitch and hurry, to be glad of the fullsuit even with lats and shoulders complaining of restriction; above, that cloudscape reflected, below, that cloudscape reflected; her skin in the palms of my hands patting her wave-greeting, a braille of lake-language, of where ya been babe, hi!, and a pouring of bliss immersed in her copper taste, her silky texture, the smell of her unique among all the lakes, as every beloved is unique; freshening wind enough to make real push at times, coasting in still sky others, fast, slow, hit by arctic blasts of springs from below, sun baking neoprene from above; breathing into cold joy; cruising slowly, going strong, coasting again to better listen to the dialogue, the poetry, the lovesong being sung by us both; power returning to my body and brought home to home ground, so many hundreds upon hundreds of miles in this water; alive–

JJS, Open!

I’m really pleased to be writing about Mike Farren’s Smithereens for all sorts of reasons that will become clear as we go along. But I have to say that the first one was its title, which is, I think, only the second use of the word in a poem since Tony Harrison’s Bookends in the 70s. The poet and his father are sitting in a morose silence, either side of the gas fire, sitting out the night of the day Harrison’s mother dropped dead. It’s one of many poems that explores the business of articulacy, of education, the way they separate families that should be close, make them inarticulate and awkward in each other’s company. Like Dylan says we never did too much talking anyway, but as he didn’t say, it’s not all right. Not at all.

A night you need my company to pass
and she not here to tell us we’re alike!
.
Your life’s all shattered into smithereens
.
Back in our silences and sullen looks
for all the Scotch we drink, what’s still between’s
not the thirty or so years, but books, books, books
.
It’s not just the title ‘Smithereens’ that resonates but the obduracy.. the stupidity, if you like.. of the men and their silence. As Harrison says in the poem, his mother’s not there to break it.

John Foggin, Catching up: Mike Farren’s “Smithereens”

The word flower thrives in every language, says Kate Farrell, and Julia Fiedorczuk tells her poem, “bloom, bear fruit / come to life.” Galway Kinnell reminds us that “everything flowers, / from within, of self-blessing; / though sometimes it is necessary / to reteach a thing its loveliness.”

Shawna Lemay, 10 Poems about Flowers

Like the protagonist of Jorge Luis Borges’s story “The Circular Ruins,” who seeks to dream into existence a man “with minute integrity,” Goodby dreams these poems onto the page only to reveal that we are all part of the dream, reader and poet alike.  As he writes in “The Ars” (the title poem), at first “he cannot imagine yet / ripped space”; finally, however, “his dream inscrutably feeds / on itself wrings pain bodies dry.”  The body “dry,” the table-soccer player of The Ars’s cover photo (taken by the author himself), a simulacrum, the seam of the mold visible from the crown of the head on down.  As the concluding poem, “Llu” (meaning “power” in Welsh), reminds, “To happen is finished and about to.”  That is, it is “finished” by fashioning hands, or in the case of the figure in the photo, not so finished; indeed, these poems are always about to be, but never quite, and in this manner, are.

Mike Begnal, John Goodby’s The Ars

listen to the illusive will o’ the wisp lisp
of voices beyond choices
extra-cranial in their introspection
the prolapse of a mind in depth defined
and all thought proscribed by thought

Jim Young, noise

Again last night I thought about something I wanted to explore this morning on the page. Well: screen. And I thought to make a note on my phone, but then figured it was so obvious that I would remember.

Obviously, I did not remember. I bet it was profound, though. And would have lead to a book auction for the small creature taking form from my navel-gazing and ethical brooding. There went that opportunity.

Instead, I sit here on a flat Thursday thinking my glasses really need cleaning. Glancing over at Leonard and feeling guilty again because he is more overweight than I am. Then wondering if he wants some peanut butter. Because I do.

Ren Powell, RL and The News

As many evenings as possible, I get out my work bag full of scraps of text from the librarian’s packet, and I begin to search for poems.

Christine Swint, Erasure Poems and the Pandemic

Even in my dreams
coyote sings.

Tom Montag, EVEN

Things that shouldn’t exist
in the same world: the scent
of lilacs in bloom and the stench
of the “skunk water” I read about
on Facebook this morning.

I sit on my mirpesset, surrounded
by green: trees in leaf, willows
trailing graceful fringes, pots
of oregano, rosemary, mint.
So tranquil I could forget

global pandemic still rages,
India’s cremation sites burning
around the clock. I could forget
bombs, rockets, mortar shells,
bereaved parents and orphaned children.

Rachel Barenblat, Bereaved

in love’s one tear

filling the whole flesh

hear me

Grant Hackett [no title]

I could imagine reversing this looking back. The new moon in all its newness with a long tail, the tail of all its memories and associations reaching behind it into the future. My future now. I live forwards but remember backwards. O ) ) ) ) ) )) A crenelating ripple through time, a wrinkling of the brain.

Gary Barwin, On Garage Doors: Do I feel like I am 16 now that I am 57?

I’m trying to avoid getting too carried away with what/how the poet is saying things as I found myself having to “have a word with myself” a couple of weeks ago in relation to a review that’s due out soon as part of a new thing. I can’t talk about the “new thing” yet, but it is exciting to be in “on the ground floor”. However, in writing a review I was really pleased with myself for seeing that the poet in question had changed a word in a poem when moving it from their pamphlet to their full collection.

The change was subtle, one letter, but it was a shift that made me wax lyrical about the poet’s intentions for a few sentences, exploring the reasons behind the change and what it might be saying about a poet’s voice becoming stronger with experience, etc. However, that was quickly deflated when the editor for “new thing” said (and I hope they don’t mind me quoting) that it was more the “proofreaders that preferred the more modern version (carcass) so I don’t think we can read anything much into that“.

A potent reminder that sometimes a change is just a change is just a change.

Mat Riches, The Flattened Calf and a (anti-)Matador

It’s late May, which means the garden is changing. My own roses aren’t blooming (dang deer ate the tops of every rose, even the ones in “deer proof” cages) but the peonies are about to go, the pink clematis, rhododendrons, and azaleas are blooming, and the birds are singing loudly every morning. I find myself sitting outside on the deck more and more each day, especially the cloudy days, and the birds are getting more comfortable with me.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A Week of Reintegration – Family Visits, Haircuts, and Roses – and Rejections

Clearly
the world is always changing, not even mildly

inclined to take your sensibility into account.
Before you know it, it’s high summer again

and the trees are filled with the high humming
of cicadas. They’ve awakened from a long

pause, an interlude. Should their bodies become
spore-infested so parts fall away, they won’t even

notice.

Luisa A. Igloria, Extravagance

I don’t know if this was inspired by Planet Zoo or not, but I had a terrifying nightmare a few days ago in which I was being eaten alive by a giant cobra. He had his jaws solidly around my leg and was making rapid progress on swallowing his meal whole. One of my hospital volunteers was attempting to rescue me and he kept telling me to be very, very still. I listened closely to his instructions, all of the time convinced I was going to die and devastated because I didn’t want to shed my mortal coil in the jaws of a giant cobra. In the end I was saved, but I woke up in a cold sweat and awash in adrenaline. I made the mistake of Googling “eaten by snake dream symbolic meaning of” and none of it’s good. I find it very unfair that a cobra was aggressively trying to eat me. I have always been very snake-positive and have stood up for snakes in the midst of wide-spread cultural fear and loathing of them. And this how they thank me. Sheesh.

Kristen McHenry, Grid-Blindness, Slow Creativity, When Cobras Attack

you chased the hare
a golden zigzag
covering the roots
and hollows
as if born amongst
bracken and moss
we waited
locked in time
i whistled and called
and you came
spinning in from
the wrong direction
hope intact
joy undiminished

Dick Jones, Dog Sutras §47

The odd thing is, mostly we did not talk about cancer. I told her my particular story, of course: the unusual way I presented; my misdiagnosis of relapse; my prolonged treatment ‘just to make sure.’ But that wasn’t what we talked about. We talked about my family, about language, about what she called ‘spiralling’, that sudden swirl of thoughts, like a gust of wind round the corner of a building, that can knock you off your feet from nowhere. Mostly we talked about that. And about relapse prevention. Not cancer relapse (there is no safety net there), but spiral-relapse.

Which, years later, is what I am still learning now. Or re-learning, with some new words and ideas thrown in. It’s good. I like learning languages, the names for things. I’m not good at them, but I have always liked the process. This is a chair. I sit in the chair. This is the door. I come through the door. I am happy to sit in the chair. I sit in the chair and we talk. We talk.

Anthony Wilson, On Being Chipper

It’s been strange to be on campus in the mornings and not be taking temperatures of everyone who arrives.  I had gotten used to it as a way to greet people.  I know that I can still greet them, of course.  I also laugh at myself, because I remember a weeping moment in the late summer of 2020 when I said, “I’m just so tired of taking temperatures.”

And now, it’s strange to retire that equipment.

On Thursday our internet went out, and I called the new IT people who asked me to go to the server room to tell them if I saw any lights blinking that shouldn’t be blinking.  When I told them that no one on this campus was ever allowed to have the code, I could tell they were just dumbfounded.  Within a few hours, the campus had internet restored, and I had the code to the server room (those 2 events are not causally related).  I made this Facebook post: “Because we have a new IT director, I have been given the code to the server room, a code which previously, no one but the few IT folks were allowed to have (much to the fire inspector’s puzzlement). I have used the code to go into the server room. I expected to find a great treasure. I found old equipment, including an ancient fax machine.”

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Retired Equipment

For some time, I mistook intuition for a door-to-door salesperson peddling snake-oil pleasures rather than recognizing those moments of elusive clarity as an otherworldly awareness far keener than rationality.

Still, there are times when logic learns to muzzle itself, and perception is allowed to freely surf the electromagnetic spectrum of consciousness,

follow psychological and physiological footprints until discovering that mysterious inner creature roaming around like Bigfoot

singing the well-tuned song of self.

Rich Ferguson, Gut Feelings and Bigfoot

This lurching is exhausting. But at the same time, we are also recording sensitive changes to our emotional body. Major concepts that are supposed to have held us are weak. Our relations in every encounter, human and nonhuman, create worlds. What is true in the morning might be overwritten by what is true in the evening. Come to it gently.

Jill Pearlman, Shock of the (Post-Covid) New

You know how I’m a bit of a sucker for interesting poetry formats? Well, I’ve often wondered what The A3 Review was all about – a paean to the London to Portsmouth road, perhaps? Or a massive mag that won’t go through your letterbox? I bought a copy of issue #13 to find it’s neither of those. As the website says, it’s ‘a magazine that behaves like a map’ – it comes folded into A6 size, but opens out to reveal its contents.

In it I found poems by a number of international writers who I wasn’t familiar with, plus a pocket-sized Q & A with Roger Robinson (top tip: ‘read & write more, publish less’) and some quirky graphics. It was really interesting to see the poems spread out, so you get a visual sense of how they sit together as well as how they ‘talk’ to each other.

Robin Houghton, On poetry magazines: The A3 Review

As a reader, I’m especially keen on poets who show a knack for trapping and then heightening the natural ebbs and flows of language. Of course, many don’t even want to. However, their forced and artificial turns of phrase tend to leave me cold despite their popularity with certain editors and judges. I seek an apparent simplicity in a poem, accompanied by an almost imperceptible tightening of its cadences and layering of its potential ramifications. This is difficult to achieve and notoriously undervalued, but it moves me far more than linguistic fireworks that don’t earn their corn. 

In the above context, I was especially drawn to Ruth Beddow’s two poems on Wild Court last week (you can read them yourself via this link). Their connection to experience is clear, while their capacity to reach way beyond mere anecdote is also startling. In other words, I thoroughly recommend them and I’ll be keeping an eye out for more work from this excellent poet whose name is new to me. Yet another example of the role of a fine editorial eye at a poetry journal: spotting talent and bringing it to readers…

Matthew Stewart, The natural flow of language, Ruth Beddow’s poems on Wild Court

The poems of Late Human explore, in unusual twists of perspective and thinking, the questions between the unanswerable, and around certain questions that have long been answered. “Having sopped up the mess,” [Jean] Day writes, to end the eighth section of the ten-part sequence “WHERE THE BOYS ARE,” “Or stopped a door with a thud from closing / So the Children of Corn may sow their seed / absolutely certain / That the longer a person remains unsexed / The older he or she will live // To apostrophize [.]” These poems are quite remarkable for not only what they achive, but what they achieve so quietly, and with such ease. Day’s poems play off sound, meaning and rhythm, offering sequences of thoughts pulled apart and strewn together in a delightful and almost deadpan linearity that makes sense even as one knows it possibly shouldn’t.

rob mclennan, Jean Day, Late Human

Raymond Carver’s story continues. The poet gets a ladder, climbs up to the first floor. Then, finds himself face to face with his own room, with his desk:

This is not like downstairs, I thought.
This is something else.

Why? I think it’s because this is where he normally writes: that inner life – room – he’s built for himself. (He repeats ‘desk’ a number of times: showing this is the pivotal spot.)

There is an intensity to this strange, and touching perspective, as well as something overwhelming: ‘I don’t even think I can talk about it.’ 

I’m reminded of the Winnicottian idea of finding room inside yourself, somewhere robust you can work and play.

Charlotte Gann, ROOM IN MY HOUSE

I’ve been reading Diane Seuss’s Frank: Sonnets, which has got me thinking about cracker sandwiches. She mentions them a couple of times in the poems. I have never had a cracker sandwich, but the idea really sent me into a deep recollection of peanut butter crackers. Saltines, of course. The way the peanut butter eases up through the holes like little brown worms.

I’m pretty sure it was my sister who showed me you could put jelly on there too. Jelly! The purple not easing but full-on squooching up through the holes. Plooping out the sides if you weren’t careful.

It was best to stuff the whole thing in the mouth at once. The dry cracker on the tongue, its salt, how it melted quickly on the tongue to merge with the peanut butter but for the edges that caught on the teeth, still brittle and crunchy to the bite down. The jelly, grape, sweet, soft, cool on the roof of the mouth.

Marilyn McCabe, Blue dress blue dress; or, Writing the Lived Experience

On the project front, this week I hope to finish the website edits I started last week and get a finalized draft for dark country.  I also need to create my Patreon postcards for May, and I’m obsessed with watercolors and trees, so that’s what I’m thinking. I’m getting the last batch of dgp 2020 titles production ready, so look for a whole batch of them to drop soon as I get their pages up. A couple 2021 titles have also been hitting the site. It’s also the end of May, which means next week, we’ll be opening for submissions for next year, and this seems wholly impossible.  I think I blinked and entire year went by, but also it dragged heavy, especially through November and beyond. I am still getting used to not being afraid as much moving about in the world, and it opens up so many doors in my mind that have been shut for so long.  

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 5/23/2021

Tree branches flailing in the wind.
Crows claiming territory.
The river when it’s in a hurry.
The sky thundering about a coming storm.
The earth when she shakes.
Leather shoes dancing over a hardwood floor.
The automobile horn under an angry hand.
The chattering squirrel.
The orca lowing in the deep.
Things and beings speak.
Ssh.
Listen.

James Lee Jobe, Crows, leather shoes, inner strength.

Poetry Blog Digest 2020/21, Week 0

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 split between two years found bloggers writing year-in-review posts and welcome-to-2021 posts; I’ve tried to include a mix of both, plus favorite books lists, in memoriam posts, and more. January is of course a month when long-neglected blogs often come back to life, so it’s a safe bet that these digests will be on the lengthy side for a little while. But why not? The nights are long, in the northern hemisphere at least, and how much damn Netflix can you watch?

By the way, if you missed Via Negativa’s own New Year’s post, featuring a collaborative videopoem full of brand new words set to a funky, glitchy beat, do have a look.


I will just start by saying: All through the shitshow of 2020, the writing world remained an inspiration for me. I don’t know quite how we did it, but writers kept on writing. Poets figured out how to do readings online. Everybody learned Zoom. Literary journals continued, adapted, and sometimes thrived. A few really beautiful anthologies were produced about the pandemic, the ugliest of subjects.        

Back on March 11, I wouldn’t have believed any of this. That was the day the NBA shut down, which, for some reason, was the watershed moment for me—the end of the civilization I knew. I pictured us at the end of the year, holed up in our dark bunkers reading old can labels to each other and trying to find the last station on the hand-crank radio.        

So yes, as of today, we’re still here, but I won’t say it was a good year for writers. Or for my writing. Or for anything. That would be crass, cruel, and beside the point. Still, there were times of beauty and weirdness. Here are some things that changed, and things that surprised me, and some actual good things that grew, mushroom-like, in the dark year now ending. […]

I wrote a lot about the pandemic. 

I journaled to preserve the strange, disaster-movie quality of it all: the sudden shutdowns and surreal speed of it, the news from overseas, the appalling lack of response from the U.S. government, the rumors, the social divisions. It felt important to chronicle these things. I also wrote a shit-ton of pandemic poems early on, some of which I posted on Instagram with graphics, which was an empowering, absorbing project. I published some others in journals and anthologies. Some poet friends, I know, didn’t write at all about the pandemic. I totally hear that (see the next paragraph); I just felt compelled to make bread with the dough at hand, and pandemic dough was what I had.

I wrote almost nothing about a disaster close to home.

As if the pandemic, layoffs, racial tension, and that car-crash election weren’t enough, my region got hit with another huge blow on September 8 and 9 when the Almeda fire tore through our Oregon valley, destroying more than 2,500 homes. It was epic, horrifying, unbelievable, frightening, and very, very sad. Many of my friends and co-workers lost everything. Even now, the burn zone—which starts 3 miles from my house and stretches 10 miles to the northwest—is a mind-altering, life-changing thing to see: miles and miles where homes and businesses used to be, everything now reduced to a hip-high, gray/white landscape of debris that looks uncannily like ruined tombstones. I’ve written a grand total of one poem about all that, although I did journal a lot. It was just too close; I know too many people whose lives are forever changed. To make art out of that and put it up on the internet did not feel like the right thing to me. It’s delicate, and I was not in the right mental space to do it.       

This made me think a lot about poems of witness and current-events poems. I write a lot of those, and I’ve always recognized that it’s different when you’re farther from the disaster; of course it’s easier to write about it. But there’s a voyeurism to it, an inauthenticity that, paradoxically, makes it possible to take the art/poem in different directions than if you’d seen the event yourself. But when it happened to people you know, there’s a line of ethics in there. Maybe there’s always a line of ethics, and we just trample over it all the time without thinking. 

Amy Miller, The Writing Year: Get thee behind me, 2020

When the world locked down in March, I was temporarily laid off from my job at the library, on EI for the first time in my life, and the gallery Rob was represented by in Edmonton shut down. Things weren’t feeling too great at all. Maybe the library would be closed for a very long time. (It did re-open a few months later and I was lucky to be among the first called back thanks to my seniority). We reckoned that one possibility would be that no one would be buying art, paintings, for the foreseeable future. I remember talking about the fact that paintings aren’t like bread, you could make them, and they’ll keep for some unknown future, at least that. We decided that even if nothing ever sold again, if no one wanted to publish books, or buy paintings, we wanted to make them. And so for some reason we were both able to continue working, even if it was weird and hard and exhausting and futile, a little thin on the ground. The futility was in its way a release. We could do what we liked. We persisted.

Shawna Lemay, How Was It, For you?

I’m not going to try and rehash 2020. It’s over, it wasn’t good, it wasn’t too bad for me, but I’m tired. I’m struggling to keep an even keel emotionally with all the stress the holidays usually bring, my Gran’s recent death of Covid and just being so isolated here. The thought of starting anything new seems overwhelming.

I’m trying to not put too much pressure or expectation onto 2021. Crossing over its threshold doesn’t make everything new, bright or easier. I have small goals I’m aiming for, but I just want to keep moving forward and see what happens. 

Gerry Stewart, I’m Still Here – 2020 Review

Happy New Year and big thanks to such an incredible online community of poets, writers, and supporters! I started actively posting and promoting my web site in October 2014, and have seen a constant increase in traffic, likes, and followers. I’ve met some amazing and talented people along the way.

This site really started out as an experiment, to just share the things I learn and research when I originally began actively submitting my poems and other writing to different markets. It does seem there is a need for clear, concise, and quick ways to stay updated on calls for submissions, contests, writing tips, especially those with a focus on poetry. I’d love to hear from my readers if they have suggestions for information I can share or other resources they find helpful in their quest to publish poetry. 

Trish Hopkinson, Happy New Year and Thank You! – My Publication & Site Stats, 300K+ views in 2020!

Before I start, I want to say that this is not about stats. This is not about stats. What this is about is connection and emotion and wanting to put something out into the void that can help make everything a little bit, just a little bit more bearable. That is the point of this. Not stats.

Having said that, this is also absolutely about stats. The stats of one poem, one blog post, that have gone off the scale this year, beyond wild imaginings, just like everything else in 2020.

I am talking about a poem which I posted on this blog in October 2012, Derek Mahon’s Everything is Going to be All Right. I first encountered the poem as an undergraduate English student, reading off piste all the contemporary poetry I could get hold of. As you do when you fall in love, I didn’t need to ask too many questions about the poem. All the things that apply to all the poems I love were in play immediately. I got it. It hit me. I felt as though it had been written for me.

So after I had finished my treatment for cancer and began copying poems into a notebook that became this blog that became a book, I absolutely knew Everything is Going to be All Right was one of the first I wanted to include. Chemobrain (may you never experience it) is a thing. It means you forget everything, including the sentence you have just read. This included poetry.

Just as I reached for poetry once my concentration had returned, people have reached for it in this year of pandemic and grief. In their thousands. I know this because of my stats. It started in late March. A secondary school in Ireland included a link to it, in their end of term newsletter to parents just as lockdown was getting under way. Boom went the stats. A fluke, I thought. By next month they will have tired of it.

But April was off the scale, too. May even more so. Things calmed down a bit over the summer (they always do), but once the second wave materialised, boom went the stats once more. October (the month of Mahon’s passing) was even busier than May. It has not really slowed down much since.

I am glad that a poem has been of such use to people. Though I would not have wished this year on anyone, it has reaffirmed my reasons for writing it, writing about it, talking about it. Here is a poem. I think you might like it. Let’s talk about it. Really? I hadn’t noticed that. That’s amazing. I saw it completely differently. But I still love it. I’m glad you do too. Everything is going to be all right.

Anthony Wilson, Poem of the year?

I was given to lying prone on the living room carpet, pencil in hand, contemplating my topic sentence. It was a strange luxury: the blank page and a sentence-to-be. In my mind’s eye, I knew it had to be multiple. There couldn’t be just one angle, one point of view or concept to explore on a sixth grade paper. It was a good thing I had a stack of paper handy.

Skipping ahead, how many voices, or topic sentences would we need to write about 2020? The mind splits under the pressure. It’s been a behemoth of a year, and any rational attempt at “making sense” is a slippery, doomed adventure without a concept of multiplicity.

Better to imagine the year as a screaming, overstuffed, opera, exhausting in its sheer number of plot lines and tonal shifts. You didn’t want to cry but there you were crying at something sentimental that now rang true. There was sacrifice, there was love against all odds. Death always in the background, or on the other side of the flimsy stage door. That’s what made the singing so moving, the sorrow, even in love longs, so poignant.

Jill Pearlman, 2020: Opera Extraordinaire

Inside each other’s dazed and anxious radiance,
nothing rings or beckons. Dull, comforting expanse,
the sound turned low, our eyes not straining to adjust.
We must try, we say, to move with intention into
if not through the workaday world. We wait too
long to dress ourselves, pour more coffee than a body
ought to have. We say, there will be other opportunities
to run errands, speak with neighbors, email friends
we miss. It’s been months since we ventured anywhere
and we resent the brightest days the most.

Sheila Squillante, It’s been months since we ventured anywhere/ and we resent the brightest days the most.

My heart rate hasn’t gone below 100 in two weeks again. But that’s a great improvement from where it was, and it also hasn’t gone above 108. Yes, given what I do it should be 50 or 60 unless someone has really righteously pissed me off or I’ve just woken from one of these nightmares. I note it, I pay attention, if it feels actually bad I stop, but if it hurts, or feels mildly alarming? When does it not? I wake at 100bpm, at the apparently completely random intervals long covid dictates, or not. For a few days, or a few weeks, or not. When does more than one system not hurt? Inflammatory insanity is attacking my spinal hardware and scar tissue, my once-broken elbow, my face, my hands, my bad disc at T12, all the time, every day, to varying degrees.

I bike two hours watching Tiny Pretty Things and freaking out about my visceral memory of formative years in a Royal Academy of Ballet studio all too like this show. We fill our shoes with blood to give you this beauty, yes. The body is instrument. The body is pain. The body is strength and coordination and power and we make it look easy. Proprioception is as basic as breathing; interoception as basic as gravity. Is it a healthy culture? Hell no. Is it actively psychotic, in fact, as culture? Hell yes. Is dance still extraordinary, and the dancer’s mastery of their body one of the greatest astonishments of beauty and dedication this world can provide, and does dedication and mastery require blood, and is it worth it for the dancer, if they can escape the culture and remember to simply dance? Hell yes.

I do the core workout, sometimes through cement, sometimes with no trouble at all, practiced now, for almost four years post-surgery.

I mountain hike, taking the sharp hills on purpose; the only way out is through. I no longer have to stop on the steep inclines most of the time, my legs no longer cramp viciously from lack of o2 transfer. I am still slow. It is hard to breathe. Fine. Where I started this rehab in July, I could not walk to the mailbox, I still oxygen-crashed from the steam in the shower.

JJS, “Pain is the signal to stop” and other complicated lies

First poem of the new year:

My new coffee cup
said rise and shine, wake up!

I woke up lazily
and smelled the sovereignty. 

Bitter as stewed tea,
it sickened me.

I rose not, neither did I shine 
till well past nine.

In other news, I’ve been pursuing the “100 rejections in a year” mirage. In 2020 I sent off 103 individual poems and 11 collections or sequences. Seventy rejections so far, and 33 still waiting for a result, so in my mind I’ve already ticked the box.

Two collections were short-listed. Six poems were published or are forthcoming in print, two appeared online and one was awarded a £50 h/comm prize.
I need a change of direction this year. No goals. Just write for the pleasure of it, and occasionally make beautiful small editions for family and friends. These, after all, are the kind of books I most like to buy.

What I’ve missed most in 2020 has been dancing. I’ve walked much more than usual, and it has certainly lifted my spirits, but not in the way that dancing does. Of the dozen or so folk-dance clubs we used to go to, I wonder how many will survive.

Ama Bolton, 1st January 2021

There has been no snow,
the cold has stayed in our hearts,
preserving our souls

through the long winter
that has started in a spring.
We’re not who we were,

we talk less, plan less,
certainty has left for good
our dictionaries,

a call for writers.

Magda Kapa, December 2020

the dawn of New Year’s Day —
yesterday
how far off!

Ichiku

This wistful haiku appears on the back cover of The British Museum Haiku edited by the late David Cobb (British Museum Press, 2002). I’ve only scratched the surface of this genre in 2020 – there’s so much to read, so much to listen to, so much to learn. If I have anything like a resolution this year, it is simply to remain a novice and learn, not only from fantastic practitioners, past and present, but also from the practice itself.

As I write this, the snow is thawing in the back garden and unseen birds, sparrows I suspect, are making their chatter. The dwarf bamboo in the terracotta pot has bounced back after being weighed down with snow for the last couple of days, although the bird bath still has a pile of slush in the middle. Inside, we have the heating on full (a feeling of unease creeps over me when I think about the bill) and the dog is sleeping off his long walk which we did yesterday afternoon (photos below, taken from Hartcliffe, Penistone). As I have done throughout the pandemic, I count my blessings.

Julie Mellor, New Year’s Day

I’m writing this not feeling great on the last day of the year to be posted on the first day of the year. Feels like I should have something grand to say but I don’t. 2020 had me heart-sick for most of it. Here’s to 2021, may you deserve us. Enjoy some life sketches by Shiki Masaoka. May you sketch out newness from the old you bring with you.

life sketches by Shiki Masaoka

in the evening glow
as they range in a vast sky,
these huge pillared clouds,
each radiant on one radiant side,
all crumbling, all dissolving
together
[…]
(trans. Sanford Goldstein & Seishi Shinoda)

José Angel Araguz, ending & starting: shiki masaoka

I can’t say I feel exactly happy as the year begins, though like most of us, I’m hopeful for the long run while mourning what we’ve lost, and remaining keenly aware of the suffering of so many. For a while, 2020 is going to feel like a continuation of 2021, and here, where cases are rising and the hospitals becoming overcrowded, it’s difficult not to be deeply discouraged about the government doing too little, too late, and people not following the necessary precautionary measures. Now the city is in semi-lockdown, and I’m hoping that schools and non-essential businesses won’t reopen on the 11th as planned, but we shall see.

Doing something creative is my way of insisting that life continues to more forward, and I didn’t want to let today go by without making an attempt. Setting up my palette and water, mixing the colors, and watching a brush stroke on plain paper become a tree, a branch, or a person, are parts of a process that I love, and which grounds me, even when I’m struggling with pictures that present a lot of problems or aren’t working out very well.

Before starting this painting, I wanted to wet the paper on the watercolor block, and so I reached into my desk drawer where I knew I’d put a couple of sea sponges. The one that my hand found was very dry, and when I wet it under the kitchen tap, and rubbed the little dried cells as they expanded, I felt grit inside it, which turned out to be tiny pink shells. This was a sponge I had found on a rocky shore near Palermo, Sicily, as we were on our way to the airport to fly home, and I had never used it before for painting. Today, when I had soaked it and squeezed it out, I raised the little sponge to my nose — and it smelled of the sea. All the better to help create the wetness of dark tree bark, and an expanse of northern snow.

Beth Adams, Hermit Diary 52. A New Year Begins

When everything that was 2020 descended upon us, I was already of the attitude of “of course, everything is truly wretched” — 2019 had broken me down so much that why should I expect a year to be good? and even with everything that was scary, lonely and sad this year, we have baby B, who brings us such joy.

I’m going to be honest – I don’t expect that globally or nationally 2021 will be better than 2020; but I plan to find sweetness and joy in this year anyway, no matter what it brings. I’ve already got a hold on some hope, and I’m holding on tight.

Renee Emerson, 2021 resolutions

We must learn to become chaos-competent. When the pandemic ends, there will still be chaos and unknowns in the world and in our lives. Being able to stand grounded within it is what matters.

Healthcare innovation tends to move at a turtle’s pace, but this year has shown us that we can in fact mobilize at lightning speed when it’s demanded. Telehealth and research goals that were slated for years in the future were reached in a matter of weeks. There is no reason why healthcare needs to lag behind other industries.

The smallest expressions of appreciation have meant everything to people during this time. People are starving for it. A hand-written card, a little gift, a simple thank you, have been received like gold.

I am grateful to those who have taken the time to ask after me when my stress was at its peak it and was clear that something was off, as much as I tried to hide it. I have been surprised at the number of people who care about me. This surprise is something that bears deeper scrutiny.

Humans can become deeply selfish when in fear, but we also have an innate desire to serve. I was amazed at the number of people who e-mailed me wanting to volunteer during the height of the pandemic. And there were so many donated meals being delivered to our hospital that it became a logistical issue.

For a while, every night at 8:00 p.m., there was a minute of shouting, pot-banging and whooping in thanks to the health care workers. I dreaded this every night, because it filled me with guilt that I was not doing direct patient care and didn’t “deserve” it. Now I would feel okay about it. My role counts, too, and so does everyone else’s.

Kristen McHenry, Lessons I Learned from 2020

Plenty of people who publish annual best-of lists know perfectly well that what they really mean is “what I liked most among the books that presses sent me or I heard publicity for or came across randomly.” Their newspaper or magazine editors just won’t allow such an egregious headline. Still, these lists bug me, even though, probably hypocritically, I would be quite happy to see one of my books appear on almost any of them. I’m more than delighted when something I wrote delights anyone, and a media boost is awesome. I just don’t like this annual critical abandonment of knowing better.

So here are some 2020 poetry books I like that didn’t appear, to my knowledge, on any best-of-year list or major postpublication prize longlist (I also liked a lot of books that are critical faves, but I’m putting them aside for the moment). The beauties in the picture happened to be in my home office this week (I had already toted others to my work office). Among those shelved across town, special praise to Kaveh Bassiri, 99 Names of Exile; Tess Taylor, Last West; Jessica Guzman’s Adelante; and all the books I had the pleasure of featuring in my spring-summer Virtual Salon (which I’d be happy to reboot if you contact me with a newish book–just message me). There are many, many other exciting collections I haven’t read yet, and everything I found rewarding enough to finish in 2020 is listed below the photo. An asterisk doesn’t mean it’s “better,” just that it was published during the year before I read it. I notice I read a ton of poetry this year but much less prose than usual–that has to do with fragmented concentration–although there are many new books in those categories I also loved.

Best wishes to all of us for a good new year full of good-for-something literature, good-enough health, and please-be-better government. On the reading side, nourish yourself with books, buy from indies when you can, give love to small presses without publicity machines, and like what you like no matter what the critics or professors say!

Lesley Wheeler, A Very Good Anti-Best List

book-lover’s bedtime —
I mark my place
with a smaller book

*

Published in the inaugural issue of Bloo Outlier Journal, 12/23/20.

Bill Waters, Book-lover’s bedtime

I was enormously pleased when my poetry publisher, Broken Sleep Books, won the Publishers’ Award at the Michael Marks Awards a few weeks ago. The Michael Marks Awards are specifically dedicated to poetry pamphlets (rather than full-length collections) and they are run by the British Library, The Wordsworth Trust, Harvard University and The TLS. Winning a Michael Marks Award is really a wonderful honour and even being shortlisted was cause for great excitement. As my pamphlet Island of Towers was published within the required dates for the 2020 awards, I played a small role as my pamphlet was part of the overall submission. I’m just as proud of all my fellow Broken Sleep Books poets. And I’m even more proud of the whole Broken Sleep team (which expanded this year, or was it last year now?) and above all of Aaron Kent, who runs the press. Aaron was extremely ill earlier this year and thankfully has made a good recovery. I’m so happy that he was able to end 2020 in such a positive way and that we all played a part, because we needed that.

Clarissa Aykroyd, A Few Nice Things To End Horrible, Nasty 2020

New Year’s Eve saw the publication, by Snapshot Press, of Thomas Powell’s debut collection of haiku, Clay Moon. I was fortunate to read the book in manuscript and honoured to be invited to write an endorsement. I’ve watched Powell develop into a haiku poet of distinction and skill, who in particular writes beautiful nature haiku. I’m certain that Clay Moon won’t be bettered by any other haiku collection this year,

As the title of his collection hints, he’s a potter. A few years ago, when I edited the ‘expositions’ – i.e. essays, features and interviews – section of the online journal A Hundred Gourds – I commissioned Powell to write an essay about the interplay and similarities between the craftsmanship of his day job and that of his haiku writing. It’s an engaging read still.

Of late, he’s taken to writing in his native Welsh as well as English, which is doubly interesting in that he doesn’t live in Wales, but in the North of Ireland. One of his haiku in the latest issue (#68) of Presence attracted me through its implicit use of colour. I can’t be alone in seeing a reddish-brownness in each of the concrete nouns:

peat-tinted river
the squirrel’s reflection
eating a mushroom

Haiku concerning reflections in water (especially ponds and puddles) were done to death in classical Japanese haiku let alone English-language haiku of the last half-century, so it’s difficult to do so with any real originality, but Powell achieves that here by a careful attentiveness: that it isn’t the squirrel itself which he – and the reader – sees eating the mushroom but ‘the squirrel’s reflection’. Ordinarily, ‘peat’ might be unnatural, a poeticism; here, though, it looks and, crucially, sounds fine. In fact, the whole haiku is mellifluous on the ear, without being unnecessarily flowery. The rhyme between ‘peat’ and ‘eat’ is unobtrusively helpful. Clay Moon is full of haiku as good as, and better than, this one.

Matthew Paul, On the haiku of Thomas Powell

Though Welsh-language poetry falls outside of the scope of The Edge of Necessary, a number of recent poets mix English and Welsh in their work, occasionally creating a kind of macaronic language that floats back and forth between the two (e.g. Rhys Trimble) or transliterates the phonemes of Welsh into some new version of sound poetry (shades of Zukofsky’s transliterations of Catullus, perhaps).  In the latter mode is Steven Hitchins, whose “Gododdin Versions” go in more for sound than literal sense, while Rhea Seren Phillips utilizes Welsh prosodic forms and metres for her English-language poems, resulting in for example such evocative cyhydedd-naw-ban-style lines as, “muttering the language in shadows, / psycheswept in its vitriolic storm / of British patriotism-bird / cage of the clover, the daffodil” (317).  David Annwn’s “Bela Fawr’s Cabaret” is a Joycean (Wakean) wordscape that mixes languages (including Welsh) and personae in order to (among other things) analogize native Welsh and Native American histories.  “I see you in that mirror out of me / far out dancing in your druid shirt” (183), Annwn concludes.

Also radical in their own way are some of the more recent poets, like Chris Paul, whose bio points out that he is “a believer in Welsh independence for socialist reasons” and who has stood for election as a Plaid Cymru candidate (290).  Paul’s work is seemingly Language Poetry-influenced and plays around with typography to produce poetic comment on commodity culture and the commodification of human relationships.  Nerys Williams is something of a personal favorite (I’ve read and written about her 2017 collection Cabaret), and including her “Capel Celyn Telyneg” (among others) was a good choice.  That poem takes up the deliberate destruction of the Welsh-speaking village Capel Celyn and surrounding area of Bala in 1965 to create a reservoir which supplied industry in the English city of Liverpool.  “Is language here?” Williams asks, “In the water? / Under the bridge? // Does it seep through space?” (270).

Michael S. Begnal, Review: The Edge of Necessary: An Anthology of Welsh Innovative Poetry, 1966-2018

Ottawa poet and reviewer Michael Dennis has died, following an extended illness.

Michael Dennis was one of the first published poets I encountered during my early explorations of Ottawa literature, circa 1990. I scoured bookstores and used bookstores and library shelves, discovering copies of his chapbook wayne gretzky in the house of the sleeping beauties (Lowlife Publishing, 1987), and poems for jessica-flynn (Not One Cent of Subsidy Press, 1986). My copy of Fade to Blue (Pulp Press, 1988) still includes a receipt from Byward Market’s late-lamented Food for Thought Books (a long-established bookstore run by Michael’s friend, Paul King), dated February 26, 1991. By the time I met Michael back in early 1993 (at Food for Thought Books, no less), I’d been carrying poems for jessica-flynn around with me for months, reveling in these straight-shooting poems on his immediate local; poems on writing, reading, sex and visual art; poems about drinking Toby and The Royal Oak Pub, an activity I replicated in his honour, wondering if I might even catch a glimpse of the man. It was during these years, as well, that anyone might wander into a used bookstore in Ottawa and catch one of three names handwritten in the flyleaf of a small press publication: John Newlove, John Metcalf or Michael Dennis. He was known for going through an incredible amount of books, but managed to keep, I would think, far more than he unloaded.

As I wrote of as part of one of my 2018 Arc Walks [see the text of such here], poems for jessica-flynn was composed in the window of the long-shuttered Avenue Bookshop, a store that sat at 815 ½ Bank Street, from January 7 to February 7, 1986. The resulting collection of poems was published by the proprietor of the store, Rhys Knott, although by the time I saw copies, they held a whole shelf at Food for Thought Books. Michael’s month in the window was part of a much larger project that allowed artists to install whatever they wished for a month-long display, curated by Dennis himself, and the series also included Ottawa artists Richard Negro, Daniel Sharp, Bruce Deachman, Dennis Tourbin and Dana Wardrop. Michael’s month writing poems was the final of the twelve month series. Influenced by his project, I did my own version, sitting a month in the window of Octopus Books when it still lived at 798 Bank Street, writing banker’s hours throughout the month of June 1996. My own project was far less successful than his.

rob mclennan, Michael Dennis (September 1, 1956-December 31, 2020)

Talking of ‘minor precisions’ the first draft said ‘fine precisions’ which is ironic since, following the syllabic pattern, it is precisely that line that is one syllable short. Why should that matter? Hardly at all except that adopting a particular form is a kind of vow to stay with it, a personal thing between you and your promise, one that a reader is unlikely to notice. So ‘fine precisions’ became ‘minor precisions’. That kept the high ‘i’ sound but it lost the assonance with the following ‘find’. Then I remembered that when I wrote this, in bed as last thing, the phrase that flitted by me was ‘fine particulars’ which would have fitted the syllable count precisely. So I could change it to that now but I have used that phrase before in a poem, having picked it up, unconsciously at the time, from the American poet Anthony Hecht. The issue seems, well, ‘minor’ to the reader, but it is nevertheless a matter of ‘fine’ judgment to the poet. I still can’t quite make up my mind.

But then this is ‘precisely’ what poets deal with, sometimes slowly and thoughtfully, sometimes fast and instinctively. I am generally of the second disposition at the time of writing. Not necessarily in redrafting. I think Mangalesh would understand and sympathise with such quibbles. The quibble is dedicated to the living self I met in person and to the living ghost of his poems.

George Szirtes, The Death of Poets

This year proved to be unlike any other year in SO MANY WAYS. Many of which I would rather not repeat. But it was an excellent year for reading for me. I read 332 books this year, far exceeding the 266 books I read last year. Here were my favorites of the year:

Poetry

~ Fat Dreams by Nicole Steinberg: Poems chronicling one woman’s battle with weight – gaining it, losing it, dealing with society. (Now sold out but available as a free PDF from Barrelhouse!)

~ Ways We Vanish by Todd Dillard: Poems that focus on family – the death of parents and the birth of a child. The aging of parents and the wonderment of a young child.

~ If They Come For Us by Fatimah Ashgar: A collection of poems that weave identity, family, loss, immigration and religion together. Many poems focus on the Partition of India and Pakistan and the long term effects this had on people.

~ This Apiary by Allie Marini: A chapbook of poems that love, religion, nature, and the everyday horror of life.

~ Boat Burned by Kelly Grace Thomas: A collection of poems that focus on womanhood, relationships, family, the trauma that is living in America under Tr*mp, and the female body.

~ Green by Melissa Fite Johnson: A collection of poems that take you on a journey from loss and sexual violence, to hope and happiness.

Courtney LeBlanc, Best Books Read in 2020

Something you need to know is that I am not a baker. I have no idea why the idea of being a Person Who Makes Scones was so appealing. Except that, obviously, she was a person who would gift friends with baked goods. She’d show up. She’d do things like brunch. She’d get up early to write. She’d have her shit together. I have no idea where these notions came from, but I was sure I’d feel a whole lot more optimistic about life if I made some scones. I believed everything would fall into place.

But things did not fall into place.

By the end of that week, having seen news reports out of Japan and Australia of a rapidly spreading, deadly virus, lockdowns and empty grocery store shelves, I started preparing. Now, months later, the end of 2020 nears. But the pandemic continues.

Lots of people on Twitter are sharing lists of what they managed to accomplish this year “despite.” Here’s mine: I baked some fucking scones. It turned out to be a one-off, but I’m still kind of in love with the idea of myself as Carolee Who Makes the Most Amazing Scones… even though she’s no longer under the impression that the scones will save her.

We can never really know what we’re up against.

Carolee Bennett, i’d hoped scones might save me: a strange retrospective for a strange year

I’ve heard from so many friends and family members that, due to the stress of 2020, their creativity stalled. Their feelings run the gamut from guilt to a kind of astonished frustration. 

I think of how nonchalantly I wrote my 2020 list, and, with so many of us suffering, how silly a list like that seems now. I’ll make my list for 2021 with a whole new appreciation for how quickly things can change.

May the writing flow, and if it doesn’t, may we learn to understand, if not appreciate, these fallow periods.

Erica Goss, Review of my 2020 New Year’s Resolutions

Hello, my friends! If you’re reading this, you’ve made it safely into 2021, a year which I hope will give us more health, hope, peace, and comfort than 2020 did. Welcome!

We’ve had crazy weather here in the Seattle area, so mostly I’ve been staying inside, writing poems,  trying to read several books at a time, and looking at online classes for creative non-fiction and fiction. I made a list of the books I read last year and wanted to start out the new year getting reading (and writing) in during these days that force us to hibernate with flooding rains, high winds, and generally unpleasant to venture out into weather.

Here’s a list of the books I’m starting out with: The Last Neanderthal – Claire Cameron (with my mom), She Should Have Known – Jean Hanff Korelitz, The Red Comet – Heather Clark , The Colossus and Other Poems – Sylvia Plath (I’ve read her collected, but wanted to see how she put this book together),  and Margaret Atwood’s Dearly. A mix of genre fiction, poetry, and biography). Last year I started with a lot of Virginia Woolf and Joan Didion, so I’m taking a little easier this year (with the exception of the thousand-page Plath bio). (Here’s an article with a little bit about what I read last year during quarantine for Salon.)

We also got a new printer after our old one (20 years old!) finally conked out, and I immediately printed out the two manuscripts I’ve been circulating. I also realized when I printed out my Excel spreadsheet of poems that I had written a ton of new work last year, so I’m thinking of incorporating some of it into the two manuscripts or starting a new one entirely.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Happy 2021! Off to a rainy, windy, book-filled beginning..

I’ve always said I would much rather be cozy at home than out at parties and crowded bars with a whole lot of amateurs, but this year feels different.  Like the lack of festivities isn’t by introvert choice and more like something is being stolen, much as the whole year was. Suddenly I am pausing, mouse hovering over the gold shiny party dress that I would love to wear to some crowded party where the drinks are endless and the music way too loud to have a conversation. It would be too cold, slick with ice, climbing in an out of cabs and ubers. I would be mostly awkward all night, then much less awkward, but a little too drunk.  Then just sort of sleepy. I would hate it and long for home. Confirm uncategorically I should have stayed in.  But when it isn’t an option–the sparkle and champagne– I miss it. It makes no sense.  It makes all the sense in the world.

Yesterday, when I was writing my recap of the year, I scrolled back through other years just for fun and realize that while the bones of the year are here–commuting, work, my weekends at home–there is a lot less texture–outings, movies, short trips. This is why, I suspect the entire year feels like one really long day in which nothing all that exciting happened and in which we were just short of anxious all the time. March became May became July.  I celebrated a birthday in April and I suppose got another year older, but it doesn’t feel like it counts.

Kristy Bowen, the same auld lang syne

i want to sleep now like an old dog
may i do that please
just this one time
for am i not an old dog now
and is this afternoon not endless
and dark with clouds
already this afternoon has gone on
for ten months
and i want to sleep like an old dog
just be quiet for once

James Lee Jobe, you might need a better poet

It’s not obligatory to write an end of year post, but it would feel strange to me not to pass comment on this strangest of years. My 2020 began with a week in the English Lake District, near Brotherswater, staying at Thomas Grove House and Cottage in Hartsop. I was with Jane Commane, publisher and poet, and five other writers published or soon to be published by Nine Arches Press. I’ve been working on a new poetry manuscript ever since my first collection was published by Nine Arches in 2018, so the week was a chance for Jane to read and comment on my work in progress. There was also plenty of time to walk in the achingly beautiful hills and paths around our temporary home, share discussions, ideas, meals and jokes with a lovely bunch of people, and to generally enjoy reading, writing, thinking and living somewhere dramatically different from my current home of west Wiltshire.

How little did we all know what lay ahead for us as we lounged together on sofas, huddled round the table, hugged our hellos, goodbyes, and so-glad-you-get-me exchanges. […]

At the year’s end, I find I’ve somehow accumulated more writing than I thought I had but not as much as I would’ve liked. Everything needs more work although I feel my poetry collection is nearly there. In November, I opened up submissions to And Other Poems, my poetry site, after a break of twenty months. I wrote about that here. I also wrote about some of my new poems I’ve had accepted for publication, here. More than once, I’ve had the sobering thought that I might be a better poetry editor (or curator) than poet. Maybe I should take that thought more seriously in 2021.

Josephine Corcoran, End of *That* Year

Word-to-Action, the poetry retreat on climate change that Kelli [Russell Agodon] participated in via Zoom in October, will sponsor a zoom call for all poets and creatives to write a collective 2021 Resolution. 

The German virologist, who rang the Corona alarm bells back in January 2020, said recently that some of our habits need to stay in place to prepare for a changing world: namely no hugging. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that. Let’s write and stick to a resolution that will make the world a better, more caring, place forever. Let’s make a resolution that students and loved ones everywhere want to sign on to. Will you join us in a Resolution Revolution?

Cathy Wittmeyer, Word to Action Sponsors a Resolution Revolution on 20 January 2021

It would make more sense to me to begin a new year with a solstice or an equinox. Even a full moon would have been nice this year.

And with that sentence: my first resolution of the year is to stop fantasizing that things could be different from what they are in any given moment. I find myself using a bizarre amount of energy on things that aren’t even important to me. An odd kind of diversion and procrastination – that is also a practice in dissatisfaction. I have no need to practice this. I’m already much better at it than I want to be.

It’s not likely I will change the things I can change if my focus is on irrelevant details. When I choose to begin again is irrelevant. I just need to choose. To live consciously.

Camus said it is our human condition, and what is worthwhile. Imagine Sisyphus happy knowing there is no winning. Imagine Sisyphus content.

Hell, even choosing not to choose is living consciously when you acknowledge what you’re doing. I figure, even if it is all one big illusion, it’s the illusion that makes us human.

Ren Powell, Arbitrary Beginnings

A year ago, in the wake of the loss of a writing mentor, publisher, and friend, I set an intention to write regularly here–not in order to be A Writer, but simply because doing so brings me joy. My friend Robert had devoted his life to poetry, which I had abandoned with his full approval. “You don’t owe anyone anything,” he told me the last time we talked. “You have given your life to serving others. Now do what makes you happy and healthy, even if that means not writing another poem for the rest of your life.” He also encouraged me to live in a smaller, more self-sufficient way, in community with like-minded others. “It’s all falling apart, you know,” he said to me long before the pandemic, at least five years ago. “It needs to,” he added. Those conversations unsettled me; I’d tell myself his conclusions were wrong, even as I acknowledged both the truth of his observations and my fear that he was right. I needed the world to work as it always had in the same way I’d once needed my car to–because I didn’t know what I’d need to know to operate differently. (How I have longed to be able to talk with him this last year, to see what sense he might help me make of all that’s fallen and falling.)

I cannot know what the coming year will bring, but I’m under no illusion that 2020 was some anomaly or blip. It was a year that had been decades in the making, and the forces that created it will not be undone by a single election or vaccine. I understand in new ways that my luck–like the gas in my old Corona–can run out. I think we all need to rely sometimes on the kindness of strangers, but I’d like to build a life in which I’m less likely to be walking alone on a real or metaphorical freeway at night, vulnerable to those who might mow me down on a whim. I am also, after this year of death on such a massive scale, acutely aware that life is short and that if we can follow our interests and passions we’d best do so sooner than later.

Last January, I assigned myself no topic for this blog and I imposed upon myself no purposes or limitations. This January, as I am able, my intention is to follow my whimsy deep into the place that is sacred for me and to write about it here. It is to give myself the permission my friend always wished I would to make a smaller, more self-sufficient life. It is to become a grown-up in ways that I previously have not.

Let’s see where that might lead.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Long drive home

2021 is learning how to practice self-worth and non-attachment with 2020.

It’s setting itself free from how last year spent far too many crazed nights alone, drunk-dialing 1-900-USELESS. 2021 doesn’t wanna end up with those kinda maladaptive issues.

So it’s building more self-compassion. It studies itself in the mirror, likes its hopeful eyes, its lips turned into an easy grin, adores how its first day fell on a Friday.

2021 is practicing loving-kindness. It’s already learned a couple new tricks—how to turn a knife into an orchid and a hammer into a hummingbird.

It refuses to wrap the gift of each new day in crime-scene tape. Doesn’t steal father time’s keys to take the new year out for a reckless joyride.

And on New Year’s Eve, 2021 was even pretty good about grabbing a broom just after midnight and sweeping up all the broken bottles and stray confetti.

Rich Ferguson, Self-Help Guide for 2021

Death walks among
the raised flower boxes, green
watering-can in one hand. Death
clears weeds and brushes away
aphids from under the leaves.
No one tells you death doesn’t
come to reap you in your prime
nor release you from earthly
suffering. You arrive any time
of day or night, not expecting
to be fed or watered. You look
up as death’s face bends over
yours, at the hollows that used
to be eyes. Is it relief, even kind-
ness, compared to the hate and
hubris, the violence you heard
preached from every podium,
on the way here?

Luisa A. Igloria, Garden

I look back on this year and see a planet saying, “Time’s up.”  Although we didn’t have much storm damage in south Florida this year, it was a hurricane season that broke all sorts of records.  I see category 4 storms in November to be a particularly ominous sign.

And it wasn’t just hurricane season–we’ve had a year of ferocious fires across the globe.  We’ve had a year of record breaking warmth at the poles.  There are probably other climate stories that floated right by me, but will loom large in later years as we look back.

And so here we sit, at the edge of the continent, hospice chaplains to a house with a quiet determination to sink into the sea.  This past year provoked many conversations about moving–the national conversation focused on people moving to get out of cities and/or to be closer to family members.  Many of my friends in South Florida saw house prices rising along with sea levels and wondered if now might be the time to sell.

I am wondering if we will look back and see 2020 as a time of migration similar to the Great Migration of the 20th century, when so many black people left the rural south for northern cities.  I also see this as a year that could begin a mass migration in terms of jobs.  If one had been contemplating a career in health care, would this past year change one’s thinking?  I could see asking similar questions about a number of career fields.

And I see a whole slew of less profound work questions.  Will we travel for business?  Will we return to offices?  How will we take care of children as we move into this new time?

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, A Last Look at 2020

on the dunes of the year
the fences slip
the sand drifts
what we did is blown everywhere
for all to see
what we did
has exposed the long roots of
the marram grass that ends
on what everyone else
may think
and we never know do we
what they are thinking i mean
how their tides flow
how the long light falls
all we know is that everything changes
the fences are secondary pickets
for at the end
our days are numbered thus

Jim Young, on the dunes of the year

This week I’m reading recipes for black eyed peas. I grew up in the South; we always ate black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day, for good luck. Michael Twitty writes beautifully about that custom. I like the idea that they symbolize the eye of God, always watching over us. Black-eyed peas and greens: I learned them as a kind of kitchen magic, a symbol of prosperity, calling abundance into the coming year. We always ate tamales on New Year’s Day, too. I don’t have the capacity to make those. 

I daydream briefly about making redred (Ghanaian black-eyed pea stew) with kelewele (fried plantains) on New Year’s Day, though I’m not sure I trust the produce shopper to choose suitably overripe plantains for frying up gingery and sweet. Evidently that’s the place where my mother’s produce section pickiness shines through in me. Pick me a head of lettuce, sure. Choose a cucumber or a box of strawberries or a bunch of broccolini, no big deal. But when it comes to plantains, I’m dubious.

I will stay home and fill my kitchen with whatever spices’ fragrance I can, this New Year’s Day which will darken into the first Shabbat of 2021. It is going to be a long, solitary, quiet winter. Quiet is good: hospitals are not quiet, ventilators are not quiet. Boredom and loneliness are better than the alternative. I will curl up with a bowl of black eyed peas in my little nest on New Year’s Day, and dream about how good it will be when, vaccinated, we can embrace in the gentle breeze of longed-for spring.

Rachel Barenblat, End of December

The old man
dances on gravel,

smoothing it
where flooding

washed out
the driveway.

He doesn’t
know anyone

is watching.
His dancing

settles the world
anyway.

Tom Montag, THE OLD MAN

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 41

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 the poetry blogosphere was a bit quieter that it had been the preceding week, but Louise Glück’s selection for the Nobel Prize certainly created a stir. I’ve scattered reactions to her win throughout what I’d hoped might seem a rather miscellaneous gathering, trying for once just to post things at random and not impose too much order. Of course I failed miserably.


where will they scatter the blue dust of earth

Grant Hackett [no title]

These days I’ve no interest in writing memoir. I have kept a journal since I was ten years old, and that constitutes enough self-indulgent scribbling on its own. I treasure, however, the practice all that writing gave me: practice in constructing sentences, employing vocabulary words, creating metaphors, using punctuation in various ways, expressing abstract ideas and describing concrete objects. Writing, learning to write, critique, and revision have been immensely valuable to me.

I’m not sure who I would be if I hadn’t been constantly writing (and reading). Maybe I’d have been a contemplative.

~~

All of which is to report to my readers, who may be experiencing their own obstacles to their art, that –yes– the writing continues in the face of loss and grief, anxiety, and the work of the body in the world, in the mundane spaces of daily grind and in the wakeful hours, and in the containers of dreamwork and consciousness. Right now, the writing is not “good,” not crafted, aware of itself, ready to speak to others than the self. It is, at present, more akin to what the Buddhists call practice.

Ann E. Michael, Practicing

Gluck was something from the past, and definitely an influence on the work I was writing then and probably for the next four years.   It was unfashionable to say, particularly in my program, that you loved Gluck, and yet, I regularly found poets out in the wild who professed their love for her work and would continue to. I feel like, stylistics aside, the experimental poetry world (i.e. the male poetry world if we’re getting specific) has a particular vitriol toward Gluck, which I never really understood, and now, as the news spreads of the Nobel, are rustling restlessly with their keyboards.  Admittedly, I was surprised they’d chosen a poet so very white in the current world where everyone else is making strides in recognizing POC, but I don’t think that’s the angle these criticisms stem from.  I once heard a male poet dismiss Gluck as a “flower poet” and fumed for days. My chief criticism is the poems are a little too tidy and heavy handed.  Constantly moving the reader toward epiphany tied neatly with a bow. She wields this more adeptly than other poets of her generation (particularly male) but she still wields it. 

I do not write those sorts of poems–not anymore–but I can see the value in work–the strands that are still woven in how I learned to make poems.  

Kristy Bowen, not the moon | gluck and poetic foremothers

squirrels in the roof
sloe gin in my cupboard
the most terrible quarrels

a cull of the poets
we are drowning
in the quagmire of online art

Ama Bolton, ABCD October 2020

My new chapbook, Tropospheric Clouds is now out from Adjunct Press, of Milwaukee (who have done a wonderful job of it).

Info: Tropospheric Clouds gives fragmented images that seem to be dispatched from a larger and elaborate narrative world. The poet is a multiplied character separated from the world. Rather than being presented in the Romantic cringe mysticism, here the separation of the poet is seen as a cloistering or perhaps a sense of imprisonment by vocation. The poet-as-seer image is cut again when the legitimacy-creating obscurity is saved only by publication. Tropospheric Clouds uses the unseen narrative to show the idea of the poet vocation within the reality of profession.

Michael Begnal, New Chapbook: Tropospheric Clouds

I go further and further into it, broken and silent, ‘struggling to keep hold’ of memories, words, phrases from the funeral. Did we do a good job, did I do a good job? Was she pleased with what I said?

The new term hurtles on. Already we have finished week 3, week 4 comes crashing towards us like a train. Where is the breathing space? Where can I find a moment to sit and just be?

My desk looks like a bomb site. There are at least four important letters I need to reply to. I sit down to make a list of what needs remembering for the but my mind just blinks at the page.

No one warned me that grief would be like this, its lonely lack of focus. Its unmemory. I think ‘How can a body withstand this?’ I cup her face between my hands. Her laughter. Her smile. I will love again.

Anthony Wilson, The Thing Is

The calendar I picked for 2020 offers beautiful tree-themed art for each month. And like everyone else’s calendar, it lies. I no longer even cross off what’s cancelled. Why bother, when there’s nothing to add in its place? Looking at it I imagine another me, in a parallel universe, doing those scheduled things. My other self doesn’t appreciate them nearly enough. She complains about being rushed, about traffic, about long lines. She vows to slow down and appreciate the moment. When she does she notices new things while stuck in traffic, enjoys the faces of people standing in line, savors more fully the pleasure of a porch chair after a long day. But she’s not always so mindful.

None of us could have imagined the year we’re in. Time takes on a different dimension when so many people have died and so many are suffering. We can’t help but sink more deeply into these hours of ours.

My calendar hangs by my desk, beautiful and useless. Time’s measure no longer fits on its pages. 

Laura Grace Weldon, Empty Calendar

conflagration 
the promises of summer
in falling leaves

Jim Young [no title]

I was up at 5:30 this morning, fretting about the political scene, finally getting out of bed and stumbling to my writing desk.

I finished the review I’ve been trying to write for months, revised a poem, and queried one more agent, regarding my mystery novel. I was typing today’s date, 10.8.20, when I remembered that today is my mother’s birthday. Or, as we say when someone has passed, today is the anniversary of her birth.

Since Mom’s death, on October 12, 2018, I’ve written a lot of poems that seem to be about her. Even this week, writing about two great blue herons on a dock, I was drawing from the memory of a walk I took after visiting Mom at her skilled-nursing facility. The poem felt shot-through with her presence.

Mom and I had a lot of differences. Setting up her apartment after she moved from the farmhouse, I would set out her knick knacks and pictures so they were asymmetrical. I like triangles, staggered lines, angles. She would come behind me and straighten everything to be evenly balanced and straight across.

Mom was proud of  me, I think, but she didn’t understand my choice to become educated and we could never talk about it. She thought being a teacher was a good thing. But I had overdone it, getting a Ph.D. in literature. It seemed like a waste of money to her that we were saving for our daughters’ higher education. “College has ruined your mind,” she said to me once.

Bethany Reid, Happy Birthday, Mom

–We had a debate with vice presidential candidates, a debate which was better than the presidential debate, but many of us will most remember that fly on Mike Pence’s head.  I will remember Kamala Harris saying variations of this phrase, “Mr. Vice President, I’m speaking.”  It made me want to assemble a directory of womanist separatist communes–or maybe start such a commune.  And you might think it’s abnormal for a woman happily married to a man to feel that way, but I am fairly sure it isn’t.

–When I create my ideal womanist/feminist separatist commune, will I allow men?  Perhaps.  I’m using separatist fairly generally–I want to separate from many things in our patriarchal culture.  But that’s a subject for another day.

–It’s been a week of good news when it comes to recognizing women.  The Nobel Prizes went to women:  for Chemistry, for Physics, for Literature.  The MacArthur Fellows were announced, and I was so happy to see Tressie McMillan Cottom, N. K. Jemisin, and Jacqueline Woodson on the list.  You can “meet” all the Fellows here.

–I’ve also been happy to see attention given to Maggie Smith’s new book Keep Moving (see NPR radio interview here and Slate article here).  I keep expecting to feel jealous, but I don’t.  On the contrary, I’m happy to see a poet like her succeed.  I am also not jealous of Louise Gluck, our newest Nobel Laureate.  Both women have been more focused than I have of late.  Both women write poetry I love–so I’m happy to see them get success.  And even if Maggie Smith is getting publicity for her newest book, which is not a poetry book, I’m happy.  I like to see the many ways we could succeed as writers.  I like the reminder that all is not lost.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, A Week of Womanist/Feminist Challenges and Triumphs

I was interested to read Jonathan Jones’s Guardian review of the Artemisia Gentileschi exhibition at the National Gallery. It’s an important show, which rightly seeks to claim Gentileschi’s ‘greatness’, as Jones calls it, as a woman artist among the traditional pantheon of almost exclusively male painters.

The physicality of her painting of ‘Judith Beheading Holofernes’ reminds me of another rendering of the same story, by another great artist, the poet Vicki Feaver: her Forward-Prize-winning poem ‘Judith’, from her essential 1994 collection The Handless Maiden, which strikes a perfect balance between the sensuality and calculated violence of this tale from the Apocrypha.

As a poet, Feaver has the advantage of including a back-story of motive for the murder; Gentileschi, of course, is unable to do that, but her own motivation, outlined by Jones, clearly informs the unflinching manner of her depiction. Ultimately, the result is more-or-less the same: Gentileschi shows us blood dripping from Holofernes’s neck and a look of terror on his face, and Feaver likewise ends her poem, in an half-rhymed couplet, with the brutal truth:

                      And I bring my blade
down on his neck – and it’s easy
like slicing through fish.
And I bring it down again,
cleaving the bone.

Matthew Paul, Judith

I can’t leave Montreal, at least until the end of the month, because a new lockdown was imposed on October 1, so there is no question of driving out into the country to see the fall foliage, visiting a natural area, or going apple picking, let alone visiting Vermont or the Adirondacks. I’m fortunate to be able to see trees and fall color from my window, and to have begonias, geraniums, nasturtiums and sweet peas blooming on our terrace, but I still have a persistent sense of being trapped — as so many of us do.

It helps to turn to images of places I love. A couple of weeks ago I re-explored a garden we visited at the Ex Convento del Carmen (former Carmelite convent) in the Mexico City suburb of San Angel, and made a few drawings and watercolor sketches. […]

As you can probably see, these watercolors are getting looser, less realistic, and more expressive — but often I still do a fairly realistic black-and-white drawing first to work out the shapes and compositional relationships — plus, I just like to draw. There are few activities that feel more absorbing, and even though I’ve done it all my life, it always feels like magic to start with a blank sheet of paper and end up with a representation of something observed and a record of that particular time and place and state of mind.

Drawing, more than any other art activity, also connects me to all the artists who’ve filled sketchbooks and made drawings. I feel my eyes travel from the object to the paper and back again, without much conscious thinking, as my hand somehow — I don’t pretend to understand it — translates that seeing into lines and forms. Even when the drawing doesn’t come out particularly well, it still seems like a little quiet miracle that human beings try to do this, and have always done it: “I sat here, I was still, I looked, I used my hands and eyes and made this.” Maybe there’s some hope for us after all.

Beth Adams, Hermit Diary 41. Searching the Landscape

I think my cat was perplexed. He has grown accustomed to me leading services from the dining room table: the laptop, my microphone, perhaps a pair of Shabbat or festival candles lit on the table beside me, lots of singing.

These days when I daven from the table, he looks up briefly from his favorite perch on the cat tree and then returns to napping. But he has never seen me dance around the room holding a big metal-bound Tanakh encrusted with gems. 

I don’t have a Torah scroll at home, so I danced with the big metal-bound Tanakh that used to belong to my parents. I waltzed with it; I spun around in circles with it; I danced with it in a circumnambulation of the room; I cradled it like a baby in my arms. 

Seven songs, seven poems, seven hakafot. Evoking the seven days of the first week, and the seven “lower sefirot” or qualities that we share with our Creator from lovingkindness to boundaries and strength all the way to presence and Shechinah.

I thrilled to the secret heart revealed when we go from the end of Torah directly to her beginning, from loss to starting over, from lamed to bet. I opened my Tanakh to a random word and from that word I gave myself a blessing.

And then I went to bed, and I slept the sleep of the overtired rabbi and elementary school parent who could finally relax into knowing that the work of this long, challenging (and this year, pandemic-unprecedented) holy season was done.

Rachel Barenblat, A Simchat Torah like no other

I have an uneasy relationship with prompts. I can’t trust the whole set-up, because sometimes they work: I drop into some strange space of utterance and up bubbles things strange and fantastic; and sometimes they don’t, and I’m clutching my pen and strangling the empty page with grabby fingers of text.

It has something to do with breathing. No. It has something to do with attention. No. Is it in the set of my jaw? Should I squint my eyes? The whole enterprise seems impossible. Except when it’s glorious.

If the effort toward writing from a prompt seems too effort-full, the only thing to do is walk away. Go yank weeds or walk or lately I’ve been taking objects and slathering them with blue paint and dragging them across paper. A bottle cap. The red mesh that onions come in. A stick. Good fun.

Marilyn McCabe, All the noise noise noise; or, On Writing from Prompts

There is an interview on On Being with Jericho Brown where he says, “Poems have to make our lives clear. Poems have to make our lives real on the page. And nobody’s living an easy life. Nobody’s living a life that is anything other than complex. And there are things about our lives that TV’s not going to give us, that movies, even, are not going to give us. And poems are where I go for that. That’s where I go for the complexity, the thing in us that we don’t really understand.” What I want is the complexity and powerful possibilities that a poem or poetic language can give us. What we know right now is as Brown says, “Nobody’s living a life that is anything other than complex.” So I want to give thanks for that thought, and acknowledge how complex life is for so many people. And I also want to give thanks for the space of a poem, how full it can be, even when it seems thinned out, spare, careful. How wild a poem can be in and of itself, and how it can surprise us and delight us and guide us to a wholeness in ourselves.

It’s Thanksgiving weekend in Canada, and it feels more important than ever to acknowledge the complicated history of the holiday. A lot of us have cancelled get-togethers due to Covid-19 concerns which feels like a small sacrifice. I’m asking myself, what do I have to share, who can I donate to, since we won’t be spending money making a big meal. So that’s one place to start on a day where we give thanks.

Shawna Lemay, Poems for Giving Thanks, Praise, and Comfort

Los Angeles poet Tanya Holtland’s stunning full-length poetry debut is Requisite (England: Platypus Press, 2020), a lyric suite constructed as a quartet on, as she writes in her preface, “spiritual ecology,” and the ways in which we are interconnected to the physical and natural world. There is a meditative precision to Holtland’s lyrics, finely-honed with the ease of a quick sketch, but one that also knows how to pull apart the minutae of an idea, to stretch it across an expansive canvas. There are elements of Holtland’s ability to accumulate poems into sections and sections into a full-length whole that provide comparisons to the work of her partner, the poet Hailey Higdon. In Holtland’s 2019 essay for “my (small press) writing day,” she hinted at such a cross-influence between the two, a pair of writers occupying similar physical and emotional space: “To say that we influence each other as writers is understated only by what we influence in the larger field of each other’s lives.” Whereas I’ve long understood Higdon’s poems to exist in groupings that slowly reveal their interconnectedness (such as through the publication of her 2019 debut full-length collection Hard Some [see my review of such here]), Holtland’s work through this collection, as well, exists as a detailed suite of individual poems that, together, pattern to reveal their larger coherence. […]

Holtland’s ecopoetic exists in start contrast to many other examples I’ve seen in the same vein: there is a reverence, but her lyric exists simultaneously at the level of the sequence, the fragment, the word. Even the smallest unit contains the whole in a way that is reminiscent of, say, Fanny Howe or Sylvia Legris. Her poems fragment and fractal, and accumulate in a singular direction. “If the impulse to expand comes to fight a hard rain,” she writes, as part of “Fated,” “remember // the curve of the earth / comes to meet you, / to the smallest / portion of the soul.” 

There is such a wonderful, careful complexity to Holtland’s lyric meditations, setting pause against pause. She holds, she halts, she slowly pieces together. For Holtland, place is not simply being or landscape but an all-encompassing entity of which we are an important part, and even moreso, given the incredible amount of damage we have inflicted upon it. Holtland holds her distances against ours, and our distances against the ether.

rob mclennan, Tanya Holtland, Requisite

I was pleased to hear that Louise Glück has won the Nobel Prize, as the championing of her work can only encourage non-readers of contemporary poetry to realise that the genre offers multiple interpretations beyond their preconceived expectations. However, I was struck by a quote from Anders Olsson, chair of the Nobel committee, which read as follows:

Even if her autobiographical background is significant in her works, she is not to be regarded as a confessional poet. She seeks universality…

The above statement is unfortunate, to say the least. It perpetuates numerous fallacies. For a start, no poem can ever be fully defined as autobiographical or confessional, even if the poet in question were to claim such a status or label. This is because role playing always becomes a factor once the creative process is set in motion.

And then there’s the absurd implication (beyond reference to Glück herself) that a poet is somehow barred from universal appeal if their poetry is also partly autobiographical or confessional in its point of departure. How many of the greats would that rule out? Such a claim would definitely cast aspersions over certain previous winners of the same award!

All in all, Glúck’s win is excellent news, but its annoucement was couched in terms that could at the very least be interpreted as critical shortcuts. Her poetry and the genre in general both deserve a more nuanced understanding of the role of autobiography in any and every poem.

Matthew Stewart, Universality (on Louise Glück and the Nobel Prize)

The pure clarity of certain dreams, how they drive us across night’s dark distances, change fury into feathers, the unbloomed into overbrimming wonder.

Myrrh, melody, wings, waterwheels.

Those dreams carousel and uncrush, motor and unmurder.

They crystallize doubt into diamond, leave our fingerprints on the wind as we drift down highways of after-midnight sleep.

Rich Ferguson, When Hitchhiking Dream’s Highway

The pine smelled so sweet and sharp this morning. Somewhere near my solar plexus I felt a heaviness like guilt. I know it must smell this pronounced because the trees have been freshly cut. It’s not the smell of death – but of wounds. I’ve had wounds myself before that have wept, clear and sticky. I should have enough compassion for the trees not to be drawn to this smell. But I inhaled so deeply I had to stop running.

I exhale melancholy.

Someone had raked together all the long, dead branches and placed them around the bases of individual trees. E. told me that it’s a kind of slow fertilizing process. But I think the trees look as vulnerable as martyrs waiting for the flames.

I exhale anxiety.

My mind wanders on these forest runs and it isn’t always easy to sort what to take, and what to leave in the forest. Today I took home four fallen leaves home to make paste paper for chapbook covers. I took home a photo of an abandoned boot someone placed on a tree stump. I took home the reminder that this body is aging and mortal, that each day is made more precious with that knowledge.

I wonder what I leave after these runs? Footprints, certainly. Carbon dioxide.

I wonder if we shed dark matter in our wake, just as we shed bits of DNA.

I wonder if the blackbirds that overwinter here are disturbed by my having been present with them.

*

We talk about breath being life: inhaling, exhaling. But the pauses between – the effortless moments of waiting – without a glottal stop – are as integral to the flow of life, as death. Or is death, rather, is the hum of existence beyond this constellation of atoms.

These breathless, lifeless pauses are where we touch the dark matter of the universe – these are what is expressed in the leaps in our poetry.

Ren Powell, What You Find in the Forest

Don’t think I don’t
see you, trees,

talking with the stars
all night, the stars

telling you how to
say steady

against this
sadness. The wind

has nothing
it wishes to add.

Tom Montag, DON’T THINK I DON’T

I never put my hoses away, lazy man,
They lay wherever I drop them.
I never bother to remember where either.
I have spent my life walking around
Looking for the far end of hoses.
I imagine finches watching me, or raccoons,
All of them thinking me a fool —
Stupid man! He should put the hoses away!
Well, to hell with them all.
I don’t have feathers or fur,
And I don’t go around judging people
With poems on their minds.

James Lee Jobe, Looking for the far end of hoses.

Only the 16th woman EVER to win the Nobel in Literature, and an American Poet at that, this can be nothing but good news for American Poetry. Of course, I’ve been a fan every since I saw her read in my twenties in Cincinnati from Meadowlands. I took my little brother, then 17, and a few of his scruffier friends to the reading, and to my surprise, they all enjoyed it. My little brother went up to her after the reading and complimented her shoes. She must have been about the age I am now, 47, at the time, and she just lit up.

Also, think of this what you will, but Louise Glück taught me, along with Margaret Atwood and Lucille Clifton, what it meant to write the villainess. I will always owe them a debt, in my writing and my life.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Good News: A Poem in Boulevard, Louise Glück Wins the Nobel Prize, Our Book Giveaway Winner, and an October of Uncertainty

Before she dies, her offerings
slip into pockets called galls.
When it’s time,

these pods will release
her children so they can start
the cycle all over again: the males,
wingless and blind, will mate with
their sisters before carving for them

a path out of the garden. Most males
die before they themselves reach the gate.
But the females who make it out follow
the wind’s warm scent, tracking down
the next tree with fruit

that must be nudged to full ripeness
by these small offerings of death.

Luisa A. Igloria, The Apple May Not Have Been the Forbidden Fruit

I’ve been learning that grieving can be a long time coming. Or maybe that it’s a thing that’s never really done.

I have a recurring dream in which I’ve lost a season. It’s usually a spring dream, and–somehow, impossibly–it’s the end of summer. But, wait, I’ll think in the dream. It can’t be time to go back to school. Where did the summer go? I’ll think of all the things I wanted and didn’t get to do, and I feel panicky and cheated. Then I’ll realize I’m dreaming, and that I have not, in fact, lost the summer, and relief washes over me. One day in Grace’s last week here, I got disoriented about where I was in time, the way I do in the dream. For a moment, I lost what season we are in. Something made me feel like it was still summer, and I had to tell myself: No, it’s October. It’s not summer any more. But then it felt like it couldn’t be October, because I hadn’t really had summer, just like in the dream.

I understand my confusion. The whole summer felt like a bubble in which we were all suspended in some time out of time. Having my daughter back in the ways I did, after having earlier let her go, while we both prepared ourselves for what’s coming next, felt like simultaneously living in the past, present, and future. Where were we in time? Who were we? Everywhere and nowhere. Everyone we’ve ever been and no one we’ve ever been and everyone we’ll someday be.

The day she left was unseasonably warm. After returning from the airport, I pulled spent tomato plants from their box and filled the compost bin with cedar branches Cane had trimmed from the tree that overhangs my shed, sweating in the sun. That evening, I sat on a front porch with friends and we talked how we might continue to safely meet when the nights turn cold. It felt like a summer night.

But, the next morning I woke to rain and dark skies. The patio furniture was soaked when I put the dogs out to pee, and they stepped gingerly on the wet pavement. The power flickered off and then on again, while I worked on these words, and just like that, the season had undeniably changed.

I hated to let it go. I knew I had no choice.

Rita Ott Ramstad, A rambling meditation on time, grief, impermanence, children, love, etc.

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 36

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 brought the beginning of meteorological autumn for many of us, as well as a full moon and the usual insanity in the news. Reading the poetry blogs, I’m finding it harder and harder to distinguish mourning from celebration. Perhaps we are all slowly learning what Rita Ott Ramstad calls “radical acceptance of the world we are living in now.”


end of summer…
cobwebs tie the trowel
to the shelf

Bill Waters, End of summer

Some people spent months planning their Sealey Challenge–in fact, that’s how I found out about it, by people posting photos of their stacks of books that were ready for August.  I did worry that I wouldn’t have enough to read, since many of my books are still packed away.  Happily, I can still get books from the public library, although the process is much more laborious.  

I did a short post each day, giving a micro review of each book.  Here’s an example:  “The Sealey Challenge, Day 29: Richard Blanco’s “How to Love a Country.” We are all exiles now, longing for a country that may never love us back. Or will it? Blanco says, “to know a country takes all we know of love” (p. 70), and sometimes we’re rewarded. Moving poems exploring the terrain of exile and immigration and love of all sorts.”

I also posted a photo of each book, a photo which said something about the book.  This process took on a life of its own–I’ll write a separate blog post about that process later on this week.

So what did I learn?  The most important thing:  I have more time than I think that I do.  It’s not a new lesson for me, but it’s important to revisit it periodically.  I realized how much time I usually spend in somewhat mindless scrolling and internet zipping.  Why is it so hard for me to avoid those traps?

I also learned that my poetry stands up against the poetry I’ve been reading.  I’ve got some manuscripts which are publishable.  I didn’t really have doubts, but it’s interesting to read a lot of recently published work and to see how my manuscript would fit in.

I chose to read only female writers and the male writers that I included were people of color. I’ve spent plenty of time reading white male writers.  Most of the authors I chose were familiar to me, in part because I didn’t spend the month of July planning to explore new authors.  But I was happy with my choices.  Even when I read books I had already read, it was a treat to revisit them.

For the most part, I read each book in one fell swoop.  Most of them took me about an hour of concentrated reading.  I often planned to pick up the book when I wasn’t likely to be interrupted.  It wasn’t the kind of deep reading I might ordinarily do, but it was rewarding in itself.

I learned that the perfect page # for a book of poems is 65-80 pages.  I read a few volumes that were over 120 pages–that’s a bit too much for most readers to sustain the focus.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, What I Learned from the Sealey Challenge

This crazy August, when no one could concentrate on anything, turned out to be the very first time I completed The Sealey Challenge, instituted by Nicole Sealey in 2017. I’m not sure when I’ll be able to be so diligent again. I’m on sabbatical right now, and in other years August can feel frantic. My annual poetry binge is typically In December and January, when I slow down and look around for the books that have been gathering buzz.

But I’ve learned some from trying. The most important result was just getting acquainted with some fabulous work. Like a lot of people, I put Sealey’s own Ordinary Beast on my August reading list, and it’s amazing–it’s a crime against poetry that I hadn’t read it before. There are several other terrific poets on the list below whose work I hadn’t read in book form yet, including Tiana Clark, Rosebud Ben-Oni, and first-book author Leila Chatti whose urgent Deluge I still can’t get out of my head. (I chose it, by the way, because it kept popping up in other Challenge posts–another benefit of the project–and the same thing happened with today’s pick from John Murillo, also a knockout.) Mostly I had no fixed idea about which book I’d pick up next, although I began with Kyrie because it’s about the 1918 pandemic. Other reasons for reading: I looked for recent collections by Shenandoah authors like Jessica Guzman and Armen Davoudian, although I’ve by no means snagged them all, and I caught up with authors whose books I always look for, out of fandom and friendship. I did purchase some books some at the beginning of the month, in part because I would have anyway but also to make sure my list would be inclusive in various ways. I wasn’t enough of a planner to be fully stocked in advance for 31 entries, but there was something felicitous about that. I dug into some pretty dusty to-be-read piles; grabbed poetry comics and image-texts from my spouse’s collection (those books by Eve Ewing and Jessy Randall are amazing!); and downloaded a few free digital chapbooks. I liked how this resulted in in unexpected diversities in style and medium. I found books I’ll teach in future and others I’ll give as gifts. Others I’m just really glad to know about and to help celebrate.

It WAS hard to keep up the pace, though. I devoured books at the start of the month, often reading over breakfast or lunch (I take actual lunch breaks on the porch now–it’s the bomb). I wisely began reading at the end of July to give myself a head-start and likewise worked ahead before the middle weekend of August, when I had an intense 48-hour virtual conference. Sometimes, though, when my own writing was going gangbusters, I’d delay the book of the day until late afternoon or evening, and then I just didn’t feel excited to read something challenging–although I never regretted it once I got going. At this point, I’m a little fried, so there’s no way I’ll manage many entries under the #septwomenpoets hashtag. […]

A last word on my cheat book of the month (lyric essays by a poet, so it’s Sealey Challenge adjacent!). I strongly recommend the brand-new World of Wonders by Aimee Nezhukumatathil. The subtitle is “In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks, and Other Astonishments,” and it’s definitely eco-writing with a deep investment in and fascination with the more-than-human world. I’m most in love, though, with how the essays interweave research with compelling personal stories about moving around as a child and young adult, often feeling out of place as the only brown person in her mostly-white classes, until she found a sense of belonging in Mississippi. This book is often joyous and funny, but predation is a recurrent theme, and that spoke to me. I think it would teach beautifully–I admire its craft–but I also just really appreciated how it urges readers to care. In an unexpected way, it resonated with the Tiana Clark collection I’d read the day before, I Can’t Talk About the Trees Without the Blood: both of those authors eloquently argue that environmental justice should be inseparable from social justice, both in literature and in the world.

Lesley Wheeler, Wonders, discoveries, & #thesealeychallenge2020

What a month, what a challenge, and what a joy: to read a book of poems a day in August. Here they are! [Click through for photo.] A big thank you to poet Nicole Sealey, who dreamed up this challenge to make sure people made time to read poetry! I’m glad to have made the time, and it was fascinating to see the connections I felt to the poems and poets, and the connections between the poems in the books. 

Today I met again fire, tornado, television, and elegy in Fimbul-Winter, by Debra Allbery (Four Way Books, 2020). Holy moly, do I know how to pick them or what? I put this one on the pile back in the super-hot days, thinking winter images might give me a little relief from the heat. But the weather changed, and it’s gorgeous. And now I realized I’ve ended with Fimbul-Winter, aka Fimbulvetr of Norse mythology, “the harsh winter that precedes the end of the world and puts an end to all life on Earth.” Just what we need.*

This was a cold book. It wasn’t always winter in the book, but it always felt cold–and mysterious and haunted. “Chronic Town” describes “that icebound city” where:

     In the library, the homeless slept upright
     at long tables, gripping their open books.”

Of course, I watched some short training videos at work today on the homeless in the library. I worry about them this winter, if libraries have to close again, or have severely limited hours due to Covid. A Fimbulvetr, indeed.

Kathleen Kirk, Sealey Challenge, Day 31

A hot night. Silence,
the dogs won’t bark, not even
at a daring cat.

The wind’s tongue softens
the streets, dries kissed lips or tears,
things keep happening

while we try to fall
asleep for the next day’s sake.
But at night we hear

all the world at once.

Magda Kapa, August 2020

Our household of four is gathering its belongings together to make new plans in the Covid19 world. We can’t really say post-covid yet, can we, since the virus is still circulating? I am writing less poetry and more prose, writing and typing, one word at at a time. As I loop ink around printed out drafts, my family circulates around me, less hostile than an infectious virus. […]

In August we’ve visited places near to us in outside settings. A trail around a mostly tourist-free Bath visiting some of Jane Austen’s old haunts. Clifftop strolls in Clevedon on the Severn estuary. Walks around Figsbury Ring including a flight on a tree-swing.

We’ve grown pears, roses, courgettes, potatoes, herbs and an avocado plant.

My hair has grown. A lot!

And I’ve been to Mass, twice. I’ve found a quieter, less busy time – not a Sunday Mass and not a full service – twenty-five minutes which is the longest time, so far, I’ve spent in a mask. Forgive me but I so enjoy not speaking much to anyone and focusing on the readings, the language, my own thoughts and prayers.

Josephine Corcoran, August Postcards

Just to make sure I didn’t go in, they padlocked my workplace but that didn’t stop me working full time, more or less. I’ve been cycling around to avoid cabin fever. I started taking photos of village signs, ending up doing trips just to take photos. Some of the signs have stories behind them, with Saturn V rockets, radio telescopes and DNA featuring among the more common windmills, ponds, Romans and Vikings.

I’ve seen parts of the area I should have visited long ago. […] And at last I’ve visited Aldeburgh. I found the shell sculpture that I’ve seen many photos of. I’ve still not attended the poetry festival. My writing hasn’t suffered though the mood has narrowed. When I’ve had little bursts of creativity I’ve been free to take immediate advantage of them. I’ve radically rewritten some old pieces, merging them when I can. I thought I’d get more acceptances than I’ve actually received. I expected to do more reading. I’m still working through my book list. I’ve belatedly discovered audio books.

Tim Love, What I did during lockdown

there’s a half of a half of a half
of a degree of sadness
in the cooling of a warm breeze
of a september afternoon in a
garden forgetting the time of year
for how can the cat roll on the warmth
of a day like any other summer day
except for half of a half of a half
of a degree of sadness
not for the fat spider eggshell colour
spinning the caught day
under the garden table or
the grass cut short and still
some runner beans on the pole or
some tomatoes in their salad sun
and apples falling with the pears
the daisies yellow red and yellow or
the sedum lunching with the bees

Jim Young, stay – don’t go

The grief isn’t just about schools and teaching. It’s not just about the pandemic. It’s all of it, the whole big ball of change and instability.

Friday night I watched a pre-2010 romcom, something I’ve been doing throughout this summer. These movies fill me with nostalgia for a pre-smartphone world. They fill me with nostalgia for a time when I took for granted things I didn’t even know I had, that I now know the contours of through the spaces made by their absence. I see many of those things in the subtext of these movies that are silly and unrealistic and fun and oblivious to so many, many things. (They are a lot like pre-2010 me.)

I watch them to escape. I watch them also to ground myself in what’s real now. I watch the beautiful (almost always white) actors and actresses (can we still use “actress”? probably not) who were born in the same decade I was dance their way through familiar cinematic choreography, and, in the cases when something in the plot hinges on communication that is not face-to-face, send an email or whip out a flip-phone and talk, and I cannot pretend that we are not now living in a fundamentally different time. The things that were so vitally important to them! The sources of their anguish! While watching, I usually Google the cast of the movie so I can see what they look like now. They almost all look old now in the ways I do, their beauty fading or faded. (My god, we were so beautiful! Why can’t we see, when we are young, how beautiful we are?) On my phone I see the physical manifestation of time passed, which grounds me in the truth that the era in which those movies were made and made sense is not the one in which I’m currently living.

I think the romcoms are part of my attempt to embrace radical acceptance. The opposite of radical acceptance is denial, and that’s a road I’ve followed to far more poor life choices than I’d like to admit.

Radical acceptance of the world we’re living in now is painful, but not as painful as it is to fight the world as though we’re still living in the one we once had (or thought we did).

Radical acceptance is bringing me a kind of peace and calm I’ve never experienced before.

Peace and calm does not mean I’m OK. It does not mean I’m happy. It does not mean I am without pain. (It comes with pain, but the right kind.)

It does mean I am no longer beating my head against walls that will not be moved by my brain splatter.

Radical acceptance might look like defeat, but I’m finding it brings a different kind of power that is keeping me in the fight.

On the last day of the first week of my return to school/work, I didn’t cry once. This felt like progress. Educator friends and I posted funnynotfunny comments on FB about using crying as a metric in setting our annual professional goals.

This is how we are going to get through. Community. Empathy. Humor. Truth-telling. It’s how people have always gotten through hard times, though some of us have lived such fortunate lives thus far that we haven’t had to learn that until now.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Complex radical something, in simple terms

The movie was long, engrossed me for three hours as she

shed her youth, beauty and became the old woman I knew
in the kitchen, living in the interspace of desire and memory.

She rolled the rosary and recounted stories late into the nights
her body a begging bowl that refused to ask for a day more.

Uma Gowrishankar, The Fine Art of Aging

Or tragic like Williams himself in old age beginning Book Six, typing out fragments and notes even though he was half-paralyzed by stroke — still taking upon himself the task of wrangling with language: “Words are the burden of poems, poems are made of words” (243).  Thinking of the actual effects of his prescribed medication, he writes in Book Six, “Dance, dance! loosen your limbs from that art which holds you faster than the drugs which hold you faster — dandelion on my bedroom wall” (244).  […]

So Williams dies and only then is there an end to Paterson.  But even this statement is provisional in a way.  The unfinished character of the Book Six notes creates the appearance that the poem is moving ever on, as if it is still being worked on in the very moment.  It is stopped, or suspended, in an instant of continuation (like a line enjambed, but with nothing following) — in the midst of the dance and then someone presses pause, and

Michael S. Begnal, On WCW’s Paterson, Book Six

free fall

really, even going parallel to the ground

shrinking, no one there to see the bone loss,
the frothing tears, to throw a towel over it
must be rabies and stomp the misery out

JJS, echolocation

I followed your dither through the maximum amount of Christs and a small helplessness to see how things looked after the dustup my day-glo dress yielded a razor and a couple on a sidewalk near a pub in Chicago 1947 held hands she hummed he frantically searched his pockets there were holes in the wall of his belly I insisted beyond names until the day we woke the rats and elk in the clearing startled up their flanky desire

Rebecca Loudon, All the Montanas live in me

This body is new to me.

Sometimes it is like greeting a former lover who’s been around the world, and come back smelling of strange perfume, touching you with unfamiliar gestures. There’s a slight inflection when she says your name, and you think it might be an affectation. You hope it is an affectation.

“Just knock it off, will you?”

And you wonder if you ever really knew her at all.

This week I’ve been soft with myself. Trying to will the muscles to ease in my neck and upper back. Trying not to berate myself for not having more strength, more resilience – more sense from sensation.

But my hand fell across my stomach last night.
Just as I was falling asleep.
And I thought, “So soft.”

And I exhaled
and I thought, “So beautiful”.
“This thing that moves me through the world.”
“Through this life.”

And there wasn’t a qualification of any kind.

And I wonder if I’ve ever known my own body intimately
before that moment.

Ren Powell, Before the Kiss

I am a history
of small   planes 
revving
          toward the edge
of an airport field

                    then stopping short
before a mountain gorge

Yellow flares
                appear
in the darkness
                signaling return—  

Someone waving flags
curling in the shapes of fortune
teller fish

Luisa A. Igloria, I Wish We Could be Happy for a While

To everything (turn, turn, turn)
There is a season (turn, turn, turn)
And a time to every purpose, under heaven

A time of love, a time of hate
A time of war, a time of peace
A time you may embrace, a time to refrain from embracing
[…]

Given the time of coronavirus and covid-19, “a time to refrain from embracing” seems apt, and a little painful to contemplate. For me and my beloveds, a time has come in which to mourn and weep, and to embrace, because everything (and every one among us) must reach a time to die. The sweet-natured, intelligent man who took us to a Pete Seeger concert when we were children and told us where to find the lyrics in Ecclesiastes, among many other things, has moved from physical existence to existence in our consciousness–the strange loop of human “being” that none of us understands.

He would have called it soul.

Ann E. Michael, Turn, turn, turn

I have just read the inspirational book, ‘Some kids I taught and what they taught me’ by Kate Clanchy. It’s eye-opening in many ways, and so good on poetry. One thing which really resonated was the piece about studying English at school and onwards, which includes this:

‘In English, we assess and value only that last part of the learning process: the meta-language and the critical essay.’

At school my English teachers were not inspirational, did not give me a love of reading and writing or encourage creativity. Nor did they even, at A level, succeed in helping most students get good grades. I got a good enough grade to study English Language and Literature at University, and found that, again, I was not inspired, but at least, and it probably is least, I learnt the meta-language and how to write critical essays well enough to get a 2.1. As soon as I left University I swore I would never write like that again or read something in such a way that I could write like that.

However, possibly helped by seeing ‘Educating Rita’, (that should give you some idea how long ago this was) I realised that I now had a choice. I could read and write in a way that got me good exam grades or equivalent in the wider world, or indeed because it does have a value if used well, but I could also read and write what I wanted, and respond how I wanted, for the love of it and for what it brings to me personally and in terms of knowledge and joy. I could be as creative as I wanted. (Kate Clanchy writes so well on this.)

So why did I study Eng Lit to A level and degree? Almost certainly because I did have a good teacher – at home – my Dad – and he kept me going. My love of reading and writing, especially poetry, comes from him. He was a primary school teacher – a brilliant one. I am extraordinarily lucky to have had him as my Dad. Kate Clanchy shows in her book how children can be inspired and given control and power through reading and writing creatively. Her students, I think, were lucky to have known her. So many do not have that luck. Lockdown and the lack of access to learning has highlighted how disadvantaged people, in particular, miss out, as has the exam fiasco, but they miss out in so many ways, and we all will if we don’t value all aspects of a person’s life and potential and creativity.

Sue Ibrahim, Eng Lit, poetry and creativity

When I started to blog around ten years ago, on Posterous, I had no idea what I was doing (I still don’t). I had this vague notion that I should be blogging about the intersection of poetry and education, because that is what I have spent the best part of my professional life researching.

I remember one particularly tired blog post, after a long day of teaching, about the phonics debate in England at the time. From nowhere, two very heavyweight commenters, from opposite sides of the fence, weighed in with their views on what I had written. Very soon, below the surface of each retaliatory point, it began to get a bit ugly and personal. As one slows down to look at at motorway accident, and against my better instincts, I watched in a kind of appalled fascination. I thought, there has to be a better way of running a blog than this.

Then one day I opened up a notebook I had been keeping in which I had copied out hundreds of poems which had meant something to me over my lifetime. I had begun this as I entered remission from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a blood cancer, in 2006. During my treatment, which included both chemo and radiotherapy, the so-called double whammy, along with my hair I had lost my ability to concentrate on reading.

The notebook was a way of deliberately sending myself back to my shelves to see if the poems I had loved in Life Before Cancer still held their magic for me. Based on the system used by Seamus Heaney and Ted Hughes when they put together The Schoolbag, I restricted myself to one poem per poet.

It took a good few years to complete the project. But there, in my inky scrawl, was my own personal anthology of poetry that I could take anywhere. I called it Lifesaving Poems, because that is how I saw every single one of them.

After the phonics-blogpost-debacle I opened the book up one evening and found Fishermen by Alasdair Paterson (who I am pleased to say has since become a friend). I wrote a few lines about it, posted it on my Posterous blog, and waited.

Nothing happened.

No one wrote in to say how good it was. No one wrote in to complain.

This was exactly the reaction I needed. I felt as though the universe was giving me permission to carry on. A week later, I posted another ‘lifesaving poem’, this time with a bit more of a story attached about how I had first come across it. Again, the same reaction. No one appeared to be interested. Undettered, I wrote another. And another. And on. And on.

All the time I was learning what a blog post could be and how to say what I wanted to say. I also knew that I had discovered, after a false start, what I really wanted to blog about.

Anthony Wilson, The most popular lifesaving poems

One of my favorite projects, and one of the first times I was breaking out of my comfort zone in writing in the early 2000’s was this little chap. It was initially created for a class I was taking in my MFA program devoted to hybrid writing and genres, and what it became was a series of poems in the form of, well, things that were not poems–indices, footnotes, instruction manuals, dictionaries, outlines.  It started with the tension, particularly throughout history, as to what are considered “women’s forms” and “men’s forms.”  Around the time I was writing it, I was particularly fascinated by men’s scientific writing on women’s psychology and hysteria, so all of these things came together to form the project in the fall of 2004, and early 2005 when I finished the last segments.  

There is so much in there–latin lessons, Dewey’s lady librarian guidelines, gothic novel heroines–as well as a storyline that actually only exists in the chapbook (the elizabeth poems), that part having been weeded out when I retooled the series later for inclusion in in the bird museum, to reflect that manuscript’s concerns more directly, where it opens the book and sets a similar tone, but a different emphasis. The elizabeth poems did not make the cut, nor did some other fragments –a pantomime scene, a poem in three voices about the institutionalization of women.  A couple other smaller pieces that only exist in the chapbook form.  (which you can see in its entirety as an e-version here.)  I released the print version in late 2005, with grey cardstock and vellum endpapers, and considering it was the very first year of dgp, it’s lovely little chap, even though layout in those days was much more difficult. I’ve long forgotten the size of the edition, but it was probably around 50–most of which were traded or given away at readings. Interestingly enough, the original version I turned into Arielle Greenberg that fall was a corset bound cover that I never quite was able to reproduce in a greater number.

Kristy Bowen, constellations and other messier objects

It’s a funny thing to have someone else talk about one’s own work. I’ve had a handful of reviews of my books of poetry over the years. I always end up feeling wildly impressed with whoever it was who wrote that work being reviewed…

and often surprised. Mostly because in the moment of making, I can’t say that I have a big picture of what I’m doing, no comprehensive thesis statement. If I’ve put a collection of poetry together that seems to have a theme, it’s only because my mind in the period of time of writing has circled around the same things. And those themes don’t seem to change very much.

A friend who put together a “new and selected” collection of his poems noted his abiding themes across forty plus years of writing. But I couldn’t at any particular moment even identify the theme of my questions particularly. I just wander around thinking stuff, reading, noticing, and at some point I write stuff down. Sometimes it’s directly related to that wandering, sometimes I think I’m remembering something else.

Marilyn McCabe, Does anybody really know what time it is; or, On Being Reviewed

So I had no chance to write during the week, but I took a lot of time this weekend to focus on editing, submitting and general organising of my poems and collections. I put a joking comment on Twitter about my horror at finding an old poem that used a word three times. It wasn’t an important word or done for any particular reason, I just never noticed that I used ‘clean’ in three different ways. 

I’m sure it seems a minor issue, but my writing group knows it’s one of my pet peeves for my own work. I want my words to have some power in their use and I feel overuse weakens that. Three times shows to me that I haven’t really pushed my linguistic skills and feels redundant. Was ‘clean’ a theme of the poem I hadn’t noticed, was I trying to express something through my word choice or was I just being lazy? I decided the latter. The poems wasn’t affected when I found different ways of saying ‘clean’ in two of the three spots. 

It made me wonder how many other unintentional ‘mistakes’ I’ve missed in my proof-reading over the years. I’m aware I sometimes reuse words or images as themes throughout a set of poems, Do we, as writers, sometimes get stuck on a riff and not notice? 

A mentor I once had wrote a book with an uncommon, but not unused, word in the title. Our group spent over a year working with her, sharing our work and almost all of us somehow managed to put the word in one of our texts, often without realising it. She was hyper-aware of the word, of course, so eventually pointed it out to the class, so I’m sure most of us edited it out. I think her editor eventually changed the title, but it showed how we were sponges at her feet.

Today, I found I used the word ‘mossy’ in two poems that I would probably later consider placing together. Again, it’s no big deal until they are actually sitting in a collection together. They were written about the same time, so I wonder if I had that idea on my mind. One was a mossy carpet and one was mossy light, so different images, but with both were used to suggest overgrown abandoned areas, one from above and one from below. Not sure how or which to replace or if I need to at all, but I love this level of getting down to the nitty gritty of language when editing. 

Gerry Stewart, The Nitty Gritty

If it is not
a good poem,
if it is not

beautiful, why
must it be
abandoned?

Don’t the homely
moments still
mean something,

even when
I don’t know
how to say it?

Should the lost
souls stay lost
because I have

failed? No.
I don’t think so.
Let even

the bad poem
be good enough
for what we love.

Tom Montag, IF IT IS NOT

Who knows why (or check “all of the above”) but this weekend I have spent a bunch of hours reorganizing one of my writing spaces. On Friday afternoon, I decided to move a big file cabinet from a corner of the playroom downstairs to my “zoom room” upstairs. First, I had to empty it. I found records for my 1981 Datsun, a copy of my wedding invitation, and six months of bottle-feeding and diapering records that we kept when our twins were born — from July 12 to mid-December 1993. (Good grief, what were we thinking?)

I also found drafts of novel openings that never went anywhere, short stories I had forgotten I ever wrote, tons of old Creative Writing Program journals, and stacks and stacks (and stacks) of poetry. I had kept every program for the old Castalia reading series, and other people’s poems from four years of Professor Bentley’s workshops–four quarters per year, labeled and dated. 

From all of these, I kept copies of my poems with Nelson’s comments on them. I kept a handful of the Castalia programs and a copy of the news article about his death, at age 72, of cancer. I kept my wedding invitation.

I felt a little like Theodore Roethke in his “Elegy for Jane.” (If you don’t already have it memorized, click on the link to hear Roethke read this 22-line poem for his student.) Or, I don’t mean his experience in the poem, but the story Nelson told us: that when Roethke came across his student Jane’s poems in his office files, he gave the bundle of papers a kiss and threw it into the trash.

I threw most everything into the recycle bin. So many people I will never see again. So many poems that I thought someday I would make the time to reread. Maybe I didn’t feel like Roethke. I felt more like Jane, as though I were a ghost, “waiting like a fern, making a spiney shadow.”

But I also felt lighter. I felt a little more able to move forward. Or to imagine moving forward.

Before I finished for the day, rain began. The dark swooped in a little earlier this evening, along with that smell that is partly rain, partly chill, and partly the scent of woodsmoke. It reminded me that even in the “Time of Corona” (as another friend calls it), one season is ending and another tiptoeing into the room.

Bethany Reid, The Land of Overwhelm

Remember when everyone (understandably) overused the word “unprecedented?” And now these times are more often called “unusual” or just “our life” or “now.” We’re settling in for the long haul now. We’re in the tunnel and we believe in the light but it’s only a rumour or something we can hallucinate.

One of my Twitter contacts posted this quotation by Jean-Paul Sartre: “What I ask of [the writer] is not to ignore the reality and the fundamental problems that exist. The world’s hunger, the atomic threat, the alienation of man, I am astonished that they do not colour all our literature.”

I think that even defiantly placing a vase of flowers in the room in which you work at this time is not nothing. Everything that we write or make is going to be part of this time, but it’s true, also, that we cannot ignore reality. I say that, but my writing has been going by the wayside for various reasons. I’m not necessarily happy about it, but who does enjoy these disruptions and heartaches and the politics of the day? Still, I’m taking notes, and am able to engage in a few side projects, such as taking photos of people amid and in front of Edmonton landmarks.

Shawna Lemay, Hi

Today I was watering my garden and suddenly a hummingbird, tiny and yet vibrant with color, dropped down from above and hovered in the cool spray of water, just for a couple of seconds, then lifted and flew away, almost instantly invisible to me, and this was a brief flash of beauty and life, and I gave thanks for being alive right now.

Sheltering at home, my wife and I play card games together, chatting and joking, we share every meal together, and we say grace, light a candle, and enjoy a meal that was prepared slowly and deliberately, with love cooked into it somehow, and so we pass our days together, and still in love after many years, and I give thanks for her, and for being alive right now.

James Lee Jobe, In a few minutes the sun will set and this day will start to fade

I hadn’t read the news yet; I wanted a few more minutes of the soft light on the oxalis and spirea, the seeping red of the begonia blooms, the slightly heavy lift of coffee to lips. Better, I thought, to listen to the poet speak of humanity’s endless appetite for conflict, while he manages, genius that he is, to work in Shakespeare and the Greeks, the Russian camps, the endless clamouring for news on the way to Ballymurphy or Kenosha, and have his company this morning as I “hug my little destiny.”

Beth Adams, Hermit Diary 38. The times are out of joint: Seamus Heaney, Ballymurphy, and Kenosha

The moon the last few nights has risen orange and spooky, veiled by cloud, still bright enough to make quite an entrance. Full moons can seem to presage some kind of change. I’m hoping these changes will be for the better. I don’t know about you, but like the moon, I’ve felt veiled with a heavy layer of foreboding and depression. The news is full of horrors, including wildfires in Washington and California; I’m worried about the election, too. It’s hard to see the light.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Adventures During a Plague Year: A Full Corn Moon, First Trip to a Store (with Miyazaki), and First Visit with Family (and Unicorn)

On evenings singing low, we call down the moon so we can shine like new half dollars on parole.

So we can break free from the cold-boned prison of dead Mondays.

The moon reflects our truths and keeps our secrets.

The moon tells us if it’s ever placed before oblivion’s firing squad to not put a blindfold over its eyes.

It wants to see the bullets coming.

Then the moon uses a wishbone as a tuning fork to conjure forth the sweetest music.

There’s a moment when everything gets quiet. In the distance, we hear an angel’s needles knit a new pair of wings.

Rich Ferguson, Courage, My Love