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

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 33

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.

It’s the season of molting and early migration in the northern hemisphere, so it seemed fitting this week that so many poets were blogging about change, healing, transformation and flux. And most people seem to be back from vacations, so this is a very full digest. Enjoy.


David Bowie famously invites us–or exhorts us–to turn and face the strange. Necessary, especially during times people are wishing things were as they used to be. Change seems a stranger. We don’t want it at our door.

Facing change presents challenges and requires confronting fears. No wonder people resist; yet change is all there is. Without it, not even death (which is all about change). Just stasis. Not-life instead of no-life; un-life.

For now, a break from blogging, from submitting poems to journals, from sending out my latest attempt at a manuscript, from attending readings and conferences and workshops. I might say “it’s all too much” under current circumstances, but the reasons are more complicated and center around transitions of the not-writing kind.

In time, knowing the way my writing process occurs, these transitions will lead to more writing. More poems. Lots of process.

Meanwhile. I’m in the woods. I’m in the garden. I’m even (I think) going to be in the classroom. But it will all look different.

Ann E. Michael, Break/change

For someone who loves the countryside and nature as much as I do, staying in the city this summer has been a real stretch. Usually we would go to the U.S. to visit my father and spend time at the lake, but the border is closed to non-essential travel, and even if we did it, such a trip would mean a month of strict quarantine – two weeks on either side. Staying in hotels or B&Bs seems risky, so overnights away haven’t really been considered. I’ve never been so grateful to live near a large city park, or to have a fairly private terrace that I could fill with plants.

For several weeks, we’ve been working very hard to clean our studio of everything we’re not going to need. This has meant sorting through possessions, tools, supplies, equipment, and the work of our whole professional and creative lifetimes. It’s a huge, heavy, and sometimes emotional task that felt almost overwhelming at the beginning, but after steadily putting in several hours a day, day after day, we’re getting there. We’ve sold or given away a lot, recycled or thrown out the rest, and are gradually getting down to the core of what we want and need to keep for the next period of our lives. As you can perhaps imagine, doing this in the middle of a pandemic, very hot weather, and the current worldwide political and social crises has contributed to a roller-coaster of moods, from frustration to encouragement, that we’ve managed with as much equanimity as we could. However, we’ve really needed some breaks, and those are coming now in the form of day trips out of the city.

Beth Adams, Hermit Diary 36: Out of the City

These unplanned detours – which often seem to occur to me in August – derail my writing, my meager (during the plague, especially) life plans. But today I talked to a poet friend, my little brother, and caught up with my parents – a nice way to re-enter the human world, not the suspended animation of the medical care world. The dream (or nightmare) world of IVs and fever, of blood work and doctor exams.

Like going to and fro from the underworld, we need companions to help us re-arrive in the land of the living in one piece, recovering our spirits and reviving our bodies. […]

Have you been watching the falling stars each night at midnight? I’ve been standing on my back porch, drawn to the red glow of Mars on the horizon, once in a while catching the quick winking of a falling star, wishing and wondering if I should even bother wishing. Is it naïve or child-like for me to even make wishes?

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Detours – a Week In and Out of the Hospital, Dahlias, and Feeling a Little Down While Wishing on Stars

Sometimes what we want to happen
doesn’t happen: fruit doesn’t ripen,
the ferns unexpectedly die,
what we see in front of us looks
nothing like we imagined it would.
We expect to heal. We don’t.
We go back over what was said,
what was done to us, what
we lost or gave away. We cry,
Where is the justice in the world?
Listen. In the small hours just as
dark gives way to dawn, a single
bird we have never heard before,
may never hear again, and in that
one rare moment we are saved.

Lynne Rees, Poem: Listen

I am now a person who burns incense. According to many, this makes me some kind of hippy. According to the product packaging, I’m opening up to warmth and sensuality (patchouli), wealth and riches (red ginger) and sanctuary (French lavender). My own sense of what’s happening is that I’ve been craving ritual, the idea of transforming ordinary moments into sacred spaces and the practice of envisioning — and honoring — what I want my life to look like.

I’ve considered trying it for years, but some old voices (parental? patriarchal?) held me back. Even though I burn candles most days, incense seemed a step too far. Whatever that means. Is it even a big deal? It’s not. It just had baggage for me — spiritual connotations I had no right to, stereotypes that didn’t apply, a self-consciousness that plagues me about so many things, other people’s ideas about who I am and what I do and don’t do.

But here’s to letting all that, and more, go.

Because for as long as the fragrance hangs in the air, I find my breath, which is something my Very Good Therapist keeps trying to help me do.

That breath — intentional, slow, deep — allows me to sit with things that I’d otherwise rush past to avoid feeling. Other times, it helps me pause when I’m feeling things too much and may be at risk of spinning out. Either way, it restores a kind of balance that so often evades me and helps to erase (even briefly) the micro-traumas that arise on any given day. Instead of white knuckling anxieties, I try to imagine safety, peace, abundance, expansiveness. I try to mother myself: Here, right now, you’re OK. You are capable. You have the wisdom and strength you need.

Carolee Bennett, august, green & undeserved

I came across this poem one evening noodling on the internet when I had nothing better to do.

I was having one of my periodic bouts of Poetry Exhaustion. I was convinced I would never again come across a poem that would move me and that my entire library of poetry was worthless. I may even have persuaded myself that my twenty-five-year-plus dedication to poetry had been worthless and that a career change was in order, banking say.

Like so many of my Lifesaving Poems I heard the poem before I read it, on this occasion via a YouTube clip of August Kleinzahler reading it at a prize-giving ceremony.

As I say, I was in the doldrums at the time, with no hope or expectation of anything resembling a poem ever coming into my life again.

Then bam, the tired, weary, slightly let’s-get-to-the-bar-already voice of August Kleinzahler reading a poem about a Toronto Twilight by a woman I had never heard of, began to still my breathing. Then stop it altogether.

I am sure there was something about the combination of the tiredness I was feeling and the exhaustion in Kleinzahler’s delivery that made me take notice. That, and the deceptively simple opening line: ‘Three minutes ago it was almost dark.’ Something about those short, declarative sentences, the way they innocently purport to paint a picture whilst carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders: ‘But the sky itself has become mauve./ Yet it is raining./ The trees rustle and tap with rain.’

Anthony Wilson, Lifesaving Poems: Margaret Avison’s ‘Twilight’

The idea of poetry as healing is one that is easily romanticized. This romanticizing comes often with an air of distance: poetry as balm after the fact of hurt. However, there is another facet to healing, one rawer and more immediate, that poetry can tap into. Poetry as stitches being sewn; as open wound learning to close and scar. Through the dynamic lyricism found throughout Laura Cesarco Eglin’s latest collection, Life, One Not Attached to Conditionals (Thirty West Publishing House, 2020), we come across a poetic sensibility reaching for this latter intersection between the poetic act and healing.

When the speaker of “Melanoma Lines,” for example, shares with the reader “I know / how to listen to what’s not ready,” it is a statement that brings the reader closer to her experience. To know how to “listen” is to know what to listen for, to forge, in this case by necessity, an awareness. Later, in the same poem, the speaker gives an idea of the cost of this knowing:

I smelled myself being burned.
Cauterized, they said, as if I
didn’t know how to detect euphemisms

José Angel Araguz, microreview & interview: Life, One Not Attached to Conditionals by Laura Cesarco Eglin

I’m puzzling over a poem and indeed it feels like a puzzle. Jigsaw maybe, as I try pushing pieces against each other and they resist or yield. Or remember Tangrams? You got a set of shapes and were challenged to fit them together to make different forms.

In this poem, the last line was bothering me. It felt thumpy, like, “OKAY HERE IS WHAT THIS POEM IS ABOUT.”

And yet it seemed important in its own way, so it occurred to me to repurpose it as the title instead of the last line.

Okay, but that left the former second to last line just dangling there, insufficient. So I started shifting groups of lines around, swapping sections, turning sentences around, flip-flopping the images and ideas of the poem, starting in the middle, starting toward the end, restarting from the beginning I had started with.

I know the incredible satisfaction of occasionally getting all the pieces to fit together: suddenly, snap, you have the shape you’ve been trying to make. But I must ask of the poem: Is there a piece missing?

This is the challenge of the poem versus the Tangram, I guess. It’s possible I’ll never be able to make the desired shape because a crucial piece is missing, and it’s not as easy as getting on my hands and knees and checking under the couch. I need to identify the gap and write into it.

So at the moment, for all my shifting and switching, the poem looks — instead of like a good solid square or a kitty or bunny — like a gappy rhombus in a hat.

Marilyn McCabe, Broken bicycles; or, More on Revision

Sometimes,
naturally,
the rhymes

come lovely
as a snail’s
trail,

slick with
mucus.
Our eyes

see
the chime
of language

as a wet
marker
left for us

on a dry
land, the way
our ears

hear
the echo
echo.

Tom Montag, Sometimes

Brian Sonia-Wallace was a writer-in-residence for Amtrak and the Mall of America and has his own small business called RENT Poet, and, you guessed it, he writes poetry for strangers on a typewriter! His book, The Poetry of Strangers: What I Learned Traveling America With a Typewriter (Harper Perennial, 2020) was, I have to say it, a great ride. It’s got lots of poems in it, including translations, so I was going to count it toward the #SealeyChallenge, but I also read another Debra Kaufman book, Delicate Thefts (Jacar Press, 2015), and there are tiny stolen things in both books, both concrete and abstract.

Like me, Brian is an actor, too. Unlike me, he approaches his poetry writing, as well as his reading aloud, as performance. Like me, he connects poetry with attention and listening.* He actually composes poems after listening to his customers’ stories, writing the poems they need. Vending his poems across the country, he has worked with all kinds of interesting performers, including clowns and witches, and has appeared at big corporate events, malls, music festival, and, interestingly, a detention center to document (in poems) the undocumented.

*Debra Kaufman dedicates Delicate Thefts “to listeners everywhere.” I sense she’s done her share of the kind of listening that results in poems, too. In “The Receiver” she’s listening at a bar: “When I…look straight / into a stranger’s eyes, / always he will tell me his story.”

Brian Sonia-Wallace experiences that intimacy, too, in talking to strangers. They will tell the deepest things. Back to Kaufman’s poem: “Two drinks in I have taken / the gift of his loneliness.” Here, the loneliness was a gift, not a theft, but the stolen things in Kaufman’s book include a locket, a wallet, stolen innocence, pride, self-image. All, yes, with a delicate touch.

Stolen lives. In “At Duke Gardens, After Another School Shooting,” there is nothing to do but seek solace, remembrance, and “peonies you can wash your face in.” In “Trying to Find a Way,” sometimes the heart is too full, with “no room for another’s story.” 

Kathleen Kirk, The Poetry of Strangers + Delicate Thefts

[Ralph Vaughn Williams] was of that generation which saw perhaps the greatest amount of change and technological advancement of any lifetimes – aged 13 when Benz’s first motor car was driven, 31 when the Wright Brothers took to the air, 56 when the first television broadcast was made, 73 when the first atomic bomb was dropped. . . In his long career he produced a remarkable range and quantity of work: nine symphonies; four concertos, each for a different instrument; chamber pieces (none finer than Five Variants of Dives and Lazarus); choral works; operettas; ballet scores; and many wonderful songs, notably settings of Blake, Swinburne and, above all, Housman

All of which brings me to John Greening. Those who have read any of his collections will know that not only is he a very fine poet, but he also has a deep love of classical music, as demonstrated by his last, beautiful collection The Silence, about Sibelius. Greening’s recent Poetry Salzburg pamphlet Moments Musicaux collects 34 previously uncollected music poems which, Greening says, “hadn’t quite fitted into individual volumes”. Two of the 34 relate to Vaughan Williams, ‘RVW’ and ‘A Sea Symphony’, named after Vaughan Williams’ first symphony, though the latter is not about the composer but somebody else.

‘RVW’, four rhymed quatrains dedicated to the contemporary composer and occasional poet Philip Lancaster, depicts its subject as, ‘An old man/ standing up by the Folly’ – Leith Hill Tower – ‘His back towards London Town’, contemplating a ‘fallen poplar’:

They lie there, unmastered, the nine branches,
  And numberless carolling shoots.
He kicks at the crown’s now silent ocean.
  He probes a fantasia of roots.

It’s difficult to write biographical poems which don’t resort to cliché. In the poem’s ending, Greening gently refers to the deafness which afflicted Vaughan Williams in his last few years but which, like Beethoven before him, didn’t prevent him composing:

The old man sitting up by the Folly,
  Not hearing the aspen’s riposte:
There’s more to be sung than it ever dared whisper,
  And pastoral may not mean past.

It’s a haunting image, with a message which is as ungraspable as the wind is strong, up there at the highest point in south-east England.

Matthew Paul, On Vaughan Williams and John Greening

Every poet I’ve ever translated has taught me something. One of the perils of poetry is to be trapped in the skin of your own imagination and to remain there all your life. Translation lets you crack your own skin and enter the skin of another. You identify with somebody else’s imagination and rhythm, and that makes it possible for you to become other. It’s an opening towards transformation and renewal. I wish I could translate from all the languages. If I could live forever, I’d do that.

– Stanley Kunitz, from his Paris Review interview (Spring 1982). I originally found the quote in The Other 23 & a Half Hours by Catherine Owen, which is chock-full of poetry goodness.

Rob Taylor, trapped in the skin of your imagination

Today I read one of my favorite books by far for the Sealey Challenge, a volume of selected poems by Rainer Maria Rilke. It’s a slim and elderly hardback from the famous (in Germany) publishing house Insel. I inherited it from my husband, who winnows his library by offering unwanted books to me. This pretty much never results in books being thrown out. And never if they are from Insel.

Rilke in German is marvelous. Many beautiful and resonant poems. One of my favorite lines of poetry comes from Rilke’s poem “Im Saal,” or “In the Drawing Room.”

. . . . . They wished to bloom
and to bloom is to be beautiful; but we want to ripen
and that means growing dark and taking care.

. . . . . Sie wollten blühn,
und blühn ist schön sein; doch wir wollen reifen,
und das heißt dunkel sein und sich bemühn.

In German it rhymes, and it is a great rhyme. I’ve surprised myself. I love contemporary free verse (in English).

Another excellent poem –“Archaïscher Torso Apollos” (Archaic Torso of Apollo)– ends with the famous line “You much change your life.” But the line flows more naturally in German and seems less abrupt, if only slightly.  And of course it is its abruptness that makes you catch your breath. I hear the line echoed in many English poems, such as:

1) James Wright’s “Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota,” which ends “I have wasted my life.”

2) Mark Doty’s “Messiah (Christmas Portions),” which ends “Still time. / Still time to change.”

Rilke talks about how the sculpted stone seems to burst from itself “like a star,” and its power leaves the viewer totally exposed.

Sarah J Sloat, you must change your life

This Friday, I’m moderating the first panel at the Outer Dark Symposium 2020 (virtually): “Weird Metamorphosis or Life Change.” Moderating panels doesn’t especially scare me. It’s basically leading a class discussion, except with very smart people who love to talk. I’m always nervous about Zoom, though; I’m no technological wizard, plus catching all the undercurrents in a virtual conversation is hard. To make things eerier, I have to tune in from my extremely haunted office, because I’d be competing for bandwidth at home. I usually clear out of Payne Hall when darkness falls.

I’m also thinking about fear because it’s an inescapable part of transformation stories in Weird fiction and film. Some of the panelists are especially interested in body horror, which involves violence or violation to the body, as in “The Button Bin” by Mike Allen or “Anatomy Lessens” by Edward Austin Hall. Some, in our pre-panel discussion, expressed fascination with what puts people emotionally onto that uncomfortable-to-terrified continuum. They explore it in awesome ways, thinking about race, gender, sexuality, disability, and their intersections.

I’m involved in this panel because my new novel involves the deeply weird transition of menopause. As I wrote and revised Unbecoming, though, the feeling I focused on was not fear but desire. The uncanny power growing in the main character, Cyn, lies in wishing for change, both through small rescues and major redirections. Desire is key to making characters interesting and complicated, so it’s probably central to all fiction. I had a list taped to my wall as I composed, listing what each major character thought they wanted plus what they REALLY wanted (which is often the opposite of what they thought they wanted), and sometimes what they really, really, really wanted in their secret hearts. The push-and-pull among those impulses can make a character–really a bunch of words–come to life in your imagination. Like magic.

Lesley Wheeler, The other side of fear

Yesterday, for The Sealey Challenge I read Lesley Wheeler’s The State She’s In.  I ordered this book just after I returned from the AWP conference, and by the time it arrived, the world was in full pandemic panic mode.  I flipped through it, read a few poems mainly from the end of the book, and thought that I just didn’t have the concentration to read the whole thing.

If I had started from the beginning, I might have devoured the book back when it first arrived.  Or maybe my brain was just too frazzled. But as I read the book yesterday, I did realize that I liked the first part of the book best. 

As I was trying to think about a photograph, I realized that part of the volume revolves around the state of Virginia, one of the “states she’s in” (the other states are metaphorical states).  I thought about Florida, the state I’m in.  I thought about how both states will always feel both like home to me and like places where I feel I’m an alien dropped in for a visit.  I thought about a beloved Colonial Williamsburg mug that was living on borrowed time, as I noticed the crack in the handle–and this week, the borrowed time came to a crashing halt. […]

I love how Wheeler explores gender in intriguing ways, especially gender issues as they impact women who are no longer in their 20’s and 30’s, but she’s also fascinating when she dissects history–and of course, there are intersections where the two come together, and it also gives her the opportunity to braid together an analysis of class and race. It’s an amazing work.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Lessons from a Challenge Month

Covid-19 is reminding us in no uncertain terms that human lives are uncertain. In The Unmapped Woman (Nine Arches Press, 2020), which is Abegail Morley’s latest poetry collection, things have changed in ways the speakers can not have foreseen — they lose people, they don’t know how to go on, how to deal with memories. They are left with holes and absences.  I’ve been mulling over Abegail’s ability to “do” Big Issues (birth, love, change, uncertainty, loss, death )  using the small scale of intimate relationships. Emotions are created for us — they are born and flow through the words she chooses: the unexpected imageries, the narrative arcs, the music of word-sounds and rhythms. Her technical skills are exemplary. 

An example of how she combines the above to create feelings of wonder are the first lines of the first poem of the book. “Egg”

I breathe into the lonely snow-lines on the scan,
Tell you how to grow safely, how to throw
and catch a ball …


[…] Abegail describes many, many kinds of loss and relationships. There is pain and grief and the unanswerable. In “The Library of Broken People”, there is a startling variety of injuries described. These “lost souls”, feel like damaged books to me. One of them says that “life’s an unworkable toy”. The speaker “survives amongst them, wear[s] a long jumper, drag[s] sleeves down wrists.”

E.E. Nobbs, The Unmapped Woman – Abegail Morley

What a thrill to hold this book in my hands! I first met Paul Marshall at Everett Community College 25 years ago, and we’ve been writing together since we put together a teaching lab around writing in 2009. This past March, he decided to dedicate some time to assembling a book of poems, and he asked me to help. To quote from the back cover:

The poems in Stealing Foundation Stones share the journey of a blue collar, small town, hot-rod loving kid who grew up to go to Vietnam, returned home to the radical turmoil of the 70s, became a psychology professor and an award-winning community college educator, then, after a major loss, rebuilt his life, remarrying and morphing (yet again) into a ukulele-playing grandpa and woodworker and writer. It is a trip you don’t want to miss.

I hardly know what to excerpt here, as I love all these poems. They’re familiar to me as old friends and as welcoming.

Zen Handyman

Cursing saw torn flesh
dripping red blood mars heartwood
my grandfather’s laugh

In these poems, cars rev their engines and bears growl. Blackbirds hoard trinkets the way the poet hoards memories while he lets go of detritus, including old books that (like the bears) growl back: “Their cat haired, dust bunnied pages / fall open as they gasp out their reason to be saved. // I’m a first edition. / I’m an autographed copy.” (“Don’t Leave It for the Children”)

Bethany Reid, Paul Marshall at Chuckanut Sandstone Open Mic

It’s that time of year – the Edinburgh Fringe has been cancelled, but my mind is still drifting northwards and backwards. 2013. Threesome’s first appearance on 10th August – we’d hardly written the script by 9th August, the same day I met Ms Beeton for the first time. It’s LJay’s birthday today, so that has added to my nostalgia. […]

The show was in 3 parts – I was the opener (or ‘delicious entree’, as described in one of our two 4 star reviews) with a piece based on the Seven Ages of Man speech from As You Like ItThe Seven Rages of Woman is a poetic romp around … well, some of the rage I felt about a restrictive evangelical upbringing and some of the rage I felt about the lack of representation of women in film, and several other rages,: approximately seven of them in fact. Listening to a sermon about women and submission yesterday, some of this rage was momentarily reignited.

Since this photo was taken, there have been new happenings: a beautiful baby for Ms B, glasses to correct my eyesight, a new suit and tie for LJay, and suchlike. But when I look at it, I enjoy the feeling I felt then, right then, at the moment Peter took the shot. It comes flooding back, the camaraderie, adrenaline, freedom, the reckless pleasure of the name of our troupe. And, as Ms Beeton might have said of her microwavable chocolate sponge cake (whose making was the pinnacle, piece de resistance, of the show), the feeling is marvellous, darling!

Liz Lefroy, I Enjoy The Memories

When I last posted about the goings-on in Stardew Valley, I was patiently waiting for Harvey to ask me to have a baby, and sure enough, he finally did. After a brief gestational period of fourteen game days, a tiny pixelated baby appeared in the nursery crib. We named her Lily. She was very boring in the beginning. All she did was sleep. Now that she’s a toddler, she’s still not very interesting. She just crawls around randomly and occasionally plays with a toy ball that I did not give her, so God knows where she found it. I don’t mean to be sexist, but it’s obvious that the game was created by a young man who did not at any time think through practical issues such as house child-proofing, feeding, diapering, and day care. Harvey works long hours at the clinic and those crops don’t harvest themselves, so the kids knocks around the house completely unattended all day. Oftentimes I don’t even know what room she is in and I worry that she’s pulled a lamp over onto herself. Hopefully little Lily has an independent streak, because that child will be fending for herself. Good. It will make her a tough farmer some day.

Kristen McHenry, Gym Return, Trainer Two-Timing, Boring Baby

disease vector
a mom hugs her kid
after school

K. Brobeck [no title]

On the day I take my daughter to the airport, I have to get out of my house filled with absence. I drive up to the mountain, to the river where I raised my children for the first half of their lives. It is not that I want to go back in time; that mountain, that river, was a place I once needed to leave, too. But sometimes, we need to go back to figure out how to move forward. I want to get grounded, literally. I want to dig my toes in the river’s sand, to let its water cool my feet. I need to see water flowing past me.

I spread a blanket in some shade, doze to the sound of children playing in the water with their mother. I sit on land one of my children once named Dogarnia, and another called The Forest of Enchanted Wieners. Rule of this kingdom was hotly contested. When I close my eyes, I can see them climbing in the trees, our tiny Dachshunds kicking up sand as they run in circles around us.

I want to call across the water to that other mother. I want to tell her: Imprint this day in your memory. Don’t worry about what you’re going to make for dinner or how you’re not getting the house clean before starting another work week. Soak yourself in these moments, right now, so that later you can remember this sun-drenched summer day when all of you were golden. But I don’t. I don’t know her life, and I don’t want to impose my reality and regrets on hers. Also, no one in the thick of it wants to hear this kind of thing from some stranger whose time has passed.

On the afternoon of the day I take my daughter to the airport, I understand another thing: My attempts to keep my house of cards intact, to keep her unexpected stay from coming in and blowing down my hard-won peace was futile and stupid. I’ve let anticipatory grief rob me of embracing all that she–and this terrible, unexpected, wonderful chance to mend and grow and be together–brings. She, like all children, was born to make and remake me, to strip me to my foundations, to give me reasons to build (and build again). I see now that I cannot protect my heart by clinging to what I constructed the first time she left. It served me well enough, I suppose, but now I need something strong enough to stand, open, both when she comes and when she goes. Because I have to let her go; that is what I was born to do.

Rita Ott Ramstad, On the day I take my daughter to the airport

a house
falling into the sea

becomes sand

the egg timer turns over

a crying child is suckled

Jim Young [no title]

The heartwood browned with age holds
the secret of her progeny. Stewing the sap
into the folds of the skin, she births a calf
who sleeps in the ooze of milk.

Uma Gowrishankar, In her land, it rains every tenth day

I read a few poems every night before bed, the one time I can be sure I have time. I have turned back to Fiona Benson’s Vertigo and Ghost which I started last year. This is one of those collections I wish I had written, but not lived. Such beautiful writing that tears me apart emotionally. Even the more gentle ones about parenthood and the poet’s fears connected with raising girls in this difficult world when other mothers are leading their children through unimaginable dangers in the hope of finding safety and shelter dig into all my tender places. But Part One which considers the mythology of Zeus in modern terms, as a serial rapist is more of a punch to the throat. Benson plays with the words on the page, mixing modern language with ancient stories and uses a kind of interview format to give voices to the victims, Io, Callisto and others, as well as bragging, bravado-puffed Zeus. It goes much further than Yeats’ ‘Leda and the Swan’. Difficult to read as it doesn’t shy from blunt emotion and descriptions, it is an important voice in these times when ‘Me Too’ is not a thing you wish to say, but it needs to be heard. 

Gerry Stewart, Gearing up and Down Sizing

Waking up from a thick sleep, I see that I am a passenger on a ghost train. For long hours through the night we rattle along rails long unused, but we never stop at any stations. Along the aisle, little ghost children play; the same as living children, they are tired of being penned up. In the dining car, fashionable ghosts are sitting down for dinner, served by ghost waiters in white waistcoats. A ghost porter hurries by, carrying empty suitcases back to the sleeping car, which also is haunted. We enter a long tunnel, and I look at the window; the only reflection is me, and then I fade away, too. 

James Lee Jobe, Waking up from a thick sleep, I see that I am a passenger on a ghost train.

There are other *big* ideas here.  In “Panning,” there is the notion of debate and argument and its futility: “in the heat where you pile the arguments for / a to one side & b to another / . . . beliefs without bases solidly founded beliefs. . . .”  Finally, [Maurice] Scully questions the efficacy of logic itself as a means of knowing the world or arriving at truth/reality: “compare the flying pieces of the jigsaw / that each claims to be The One True Picture.”  But that is not actually the end of the poem.  Having dispensed with the tyranny of logic, of Enlightenment values, Scully counterpoints a radically different second section, a vision of the sap system of trees, their “conducting / vessels” — but almost bizarrely imagined through “x-ray eyes / a forest without its / supporting timber. . . / a colony of glinting ghosts / each tree a spectral sheath / of rising liquid in countless / millions of slim threads.”  And it goes on.  It’s an amazing image that combines lyricism and biology, both art and materialism, into a whole other kind of epistemology.

More than one piece is titled “Poetry” (NB: all titles begin with ‘P’), and it is the poetry itself that strikes me here and the more I read Scully.  Yes, his work is rich with philosophical questioning, and/or focused on the seemingly mundane details of life (which with Scully are never mundane) — but the more I read him the more and more I become amazed at his use of language, the ebb and flow of a long poem, its sudden turns and veers in thought, its delight.

Mike Begnal, Review of Maurice Scully, ‘Play Book’ (Coracle, 2019)

It was a release from the everyday order, a time for chance and an outside world I didn’t know to break in. I got to renew the language of fish and fishermen that I use in languages I barely speak – international fishmonger lingo.  All those crusty lobstermen, dipping their catch in salt to make bait for the lobster catch.  Tiny islands that look like the heads of seals as they appear and disappear.  The light was equally teasing – there, barely there, so thin and transparent it made everything within its reach slightly magical.  Light itself is invisible, though we tried to capture the zinc gleam on the mudflats at dusk, the streaky pink, glimmer of oyster shell in the sky at sunset.  

The Zoom I prefer: going so far out of yourself you become part of that thin, invisible light, then settling back into a slightly different self. 

Cervantes wrote, “Where one door closes, another opens.”  The LED signage on the white clapboard Baptist Church in Damariscotta, glowing under a dark starry night, read, “Change is inevitable, but growth is up to you.”  Voilà!

Jill Pearlman, Strange Rerun: the American Vacation

Let’s really give this metaphor a kicking shall we. If the prep work is the research and possibly the notes for a first draft, then the painting is the actual graft of writing the poem. The walls are the first and second drafts, the cutting in and ceiling (assuming it’s two colours) are the nth draft and then getting closer to a finished product. You’ve covered all the big ground, you’ve got your form and message working in unison.

If, and it’s a big if on an extension pole, we are prepared to accept any of that (and I can’t say I blame you if you choose not to), then this weekend was the final stages: the gloss work. I have spent the weekend taping up and then glossing a lot of woodwork.

I’m going to liken this phases to the putting the final touches to a poem (or story, etc). This is where small words and changes matter, where you change from the roller to the brush, then a smaller brush still (do write in if my technique sounds off) for eg the tops of skirting boards, corners etc. Words come in, words come out. A line is removed here, a stanza is tightened up, a comma comes in, an em dash replaces a semi-colon and then the semi-colon goes back. Until finally, you’ve covered everything.

You dip your brushes in White Spirit, you crack open a beer (other options are available) and tidy away the kit/press ctrl+P. You let things dry. How long you choose to let it dry is up to you. For the avoidance of doubt, I’m saying don’t send the writing out straight away. It always does it well to sit for a while.

And when the paint is dry, or the ink has settled, you remove the masking tape to see what you have and if all is still well.

If there are no drips, no missed bits then you re-hang the pictures, put the coat rail back up, put things back, etc.

This is where you send your poem, etc out into the world.

Christ, I’d love to find myself getting the rollers out soon. And I do mean work on a poem. I’m not picking up the actual rollers again for at least another month. That said, there’s still work to do on the gloss front..and sadly that does mean actual painting.

Mat Riches, Working in broad brushstrokes: let me tell you how, man

Dear Henry,

how does it feel how does it feel to get old like summer in Chewelah like sugar pie an unmanageable stain a kind of hoarding I abandoned my clothes Hugh Hefner wore a suit in public enough already with the stained smoking jacket and coiffed hair tug your sweater across your stomach dear or sit with a pillow on your lap watch the bone gaunted mules pull cart across Wyoming I gave you my hung my pedicure my airplane hangar everything in aspic how many evenings you wasted soaking your foot in a bowl of hot water and Epsom salts it’s time to stage a fake suicide scatter your final notes everywhere including the Aurora Bridge and the mighty Mississip swallow whatever Jesus puts in your mouth choose another child an empty prize bent toward the shack where they gut fish where we gutted ourselves the artist who created Superman had a gig on the side drawing for an S and M fetish mag knew it wasn’t ripe but he kept eating guttural momentum would it make a difference to the sperm splurging split that morning I bought steaks and a GI Joe doll roasted the hairpin that hid your surgical coin folded it into the secret girl book this morning I’m looking for you not one bit shy buster not one bit plague or earwig in your egg drop soup I am hammer toed I am a hammerhead shark waking up God

Rebecca Loudon [no title]

In the end, then, even
          devotion
ashes in the mouth, choking
          and inconsequential.

[image]

Throat-closing keen: so much
          now is air
sucked out

JJS, swallows

Nouns drop from their perches,
seeking a less
hate-driven sentence,
aiming for purpose or purchase
or mere acceptance.

Freedom gives way to cages.
Fewer of us hide
secret urges—many more
exalt them in churches.
What’s next? Pogroms and purges?
More shootings? More dirges?

Romana Iorga, Déjà vu

These days, I write
but don’t necessarily feel unburdened.
Too many dead, too many dying;
and this heart of moss wanting to be
a sail filling up with wind:
not a scroll with all the names
of everyone it has lost.

Luisa A. Igloria, Is it still permitted to talk about the heart?

I’ve gotten to the point I think where the news is so horrifying that new terrible things barely phase me. This weekend, mad amounts of looting in the Loop & Mag Mile that left windows smashed and closed up downtown.  A crazy storm that apparently spawned a tornado (or at least a funnel cloud/water spout) a few blocks north in Roger’s Park. I am waiting for plagues of frogs and locusts and would not be the least surprised to find them in my headlines tomorrow morning.

As for the looting. I’m less concerned about plundering of bougie high end merchandise than the general level of chaos and the way things like this are used to put down Chicago as this crazy crime-addled shithole (which it in no way is, even the rougher more dangerous, under-resourced parts of the city.) Gangs & drug trade are a problem,  but I feel safer in Chicago when it comes to random crimes, like someone mugging you in the Walmart parking lot or breaking into your house.  Also that people are looking out for each other, ie wearing masks and conducting themselves appropriately in public, which may be the result of being such a tightly constructed community.  When the quarantine hit, one of the first things that happened was someone organized a mailing list/discussion board in my apartment building to keep people informed, publicize rent assistance, help elderly people get what they needed.  There are neighbors I’ve lived amongst for two decades and never spoken to.  Also an endless train of Loyola-ans who stay for 1-2 years and bounce. Some families in the bigger units.  The key to living close enough to people to hear them through the wall is to not really know them (as apposed to the burbs where I would feel like people would be up in my business. )   The woman across the hall has lived here as long as I have.  We smile and nod and sat hello on our rare encounters. I feel like there is a general feeling we are in this together, but separately in our own little introvert bubbles and this is good. The couple neighbors I have talked to are the more extroverted ones I’ve encountered frequently on the bus, but they all live higher in the building. 

As for the storm, I figured I was safe enough herding the cats into the bedroom with the option to dive into my closet, the most interior space, if things got crazy.  I’m on a lower floor in he L-shaped crook of a solid brick building the back of which took all the wind, so on the rare occasions of storms like this, feel pretty safe. .Usually, I’ve been in the library or the studio when storms like this hit and the most terrifying years ago found me in the with giant 9th Floor windows that were shaking in their frames and no way to easily get downstairs. I would have to choose between the elevator or stairwells with giant skylights–yikes!  I wound up hiding in the bathroom across the hall, whose windows were at least sheltered by the courtyard..  It did get really dark and the wind was giving quite a lashing to the one tree I can see from that window, and it was raining sideways at one point, paper and trash flying through the air, but nothing alarmingly large or heavy.   I though maybe I felt my ears pop, and this may have been evidence of the suspected funnel a few blocks away.   Today, so many trees and limbs down in the cross streets and in the park along LSD. I think it might have messed up construction sites and knocked out some power, but the trees took the brunt of it. 

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 8/12/20

The other thing that keeps me interested right now is thinking about how our stories have shifted and changed and keep evolving. This is true for yourself and true for probably every single person you encounter. And isn’t that wildly interesting? It’s not always comfortable, it’s not always splendid. But it’s pretty much always interesting.

Think about this from Anne Bogart:

“We are telling stories all of the time. Our body tells a story. Our posture, our smile, our liveliness or fatigue, our stomach, our blank stare, our fitness, all speak, all tell a story. Howe we walk into a room tells a story. Our actions relate multiple stories. We invest our own energy into stories. Deprived of energy, stories die.

”It is natural to adopt other people’s stories to her create our identities and to fill in gaps in our experience or intelligence. This can be helpful up to a point but it is easy to get stuck in other people’s narrative structures. Stories become easily cemented and rendered inflexible, developing into assumptions upon which a life is lived. Without vigilance, stories become documented history and form, and their origins ar forgotten. Rather than mechanically allowing other people’s stories to guide our lives, it is possible to get involved and narrate from a state of passionate participation.”

I repeat, get involved from a state of passionate participation!

Wow, hey?

How do you want to tell your story? In what ways do you want to be alive? What energy do you wish to bring into a room or a space, even if that space is an online space. What is your story now? Bogart also says that “all of our thoughts and actions become, in due course, public.” She uses the example of how the impact of even a telephone call conversation reverberates. “The conversation travels.” Perhaps it is overheard, or conveyed to another person, and so on. We have no idea how far a simple exchange will ripple out.

Bogart wrote, What’s the Story well before the pandemic, but for me it feels even more relevant. She quotes Erich Heller who says, “Be careful how you interpret the world; it’s like that.”

There are a lot of strands to the story, some we don’t even quite know about, or some that are just out of our reach or realm. But I remind myself that it’s up to me how I enter a room, enter the day. I want to be a good interpreter of the world. Aspirationally, and with the full knowledge that this will not always be possible and that I will often fail miserably, I want to participate in this story we are all currently in the thick of, from a place of good energy, delight, and with a soul aligned with joy.

Shawna Lemay, Be Not Soul-Dampened

Birds burble new melodies. Traffic flows differently.

Past clouds shaped like a T-Rex and a car wreck, now a candelabra and a castle.

Kisses aren’t kissed the same way. Old ones tasted of relentless rains; today’s are love-covered honey in its first burning.

Bullets, now breezes. Yesterday’s serial killer, now a savior. Republics of rust rediscovered by amazement.

Rich Ferguson, Morning Sheds Its Yesterday Skin

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Weeks 4-5

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This time, I am playing catch-up, which of course meant twice as much reading as usual, but I can’t say it hasn’t been a pleasant way to spend a lazy Sunday while recovering (I hope) from a mild virus. Poetry bloggers have been in fine form over the past two weeks.

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


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

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

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

Erica Goss, Dive Into the Wordpool

public library
the little girl skips
to the door

Bill Waters, Public library

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

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

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

Shattered.

Ren Powell, Being Seen and the Value of Journaling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rich Ferguson, Days Like These

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

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

sunrise
all of us
in this
together

Lynne Rees, Deerfield Mile

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

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

Gerry Stewart, A Bright Light on a Dark Brexit Day

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

Matthew Paul, Writing time

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

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

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

Jill Pearlman, The New Vertigo

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

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

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

I’ve parked the hedgerow
where the bees might be

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

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

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

Ama Bolton, ABCD: January 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

Colleen Anderson, Women in Horror: Jeannine Hall Gailey

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

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

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

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

Kathleen Kirk, Arias

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

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

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

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

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

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

skull, and excised me for comfort.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ann E. Michael, Observation, memory, & art

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

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

Kristy Bowen, ekphrastic desires

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

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

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

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

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

seeing the stream
i throw a stone
into the sky

Jim Young [no title]

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

Rachel Barenblat, Tether

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

Rebecca Loudon, Outing

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

Jason Crane, POEM: Imbolc

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

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

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

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

Dick Jones, Insomnia.

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

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

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

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

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

Tom Montag, Who Never

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 1

Poetry Blogging Network

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

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

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


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

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

JJS, Travel Advisory

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

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

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

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

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

Karen Craigo, Poem366: Bulletproof by Matthew Murrey

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

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

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

Erica Goss, New Year’s Resolutions

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

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

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

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

Liz Lefroy, I Deactivate My Facebook Account

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ren Powell, The Overview of Burning Hearts 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sarah J Sloat, Where I was

The trick is
to let slip
the ladder

that brought you
climbing to this
point. Unknot it,

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

dark and flick
the latch and let
the shutter fall.

Dick Jones, The Trick

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

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

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

Risa Denenberg, Sunday Morning Muse Checking In

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

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

Amy Miller, 100 Rejections: Pain or Gain?

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

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

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

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

Beth Adams, Thoughts for the New Year

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

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

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

John Foggin, Last post…..for a bit

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

Rebecca Loudon, The new

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

James Lee Jobe, People say that Jesus is coming back

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

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

Carolee Bennett, poetry goals for 2020

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

Kristy Bowen, hello 2020 | writing goals

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

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

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

Anthony Wilson, Empathy and New Year

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

M. J. Iuppa, In the year 2020 . . .

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

Jim Young [no title]

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

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

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

Jill Pearlman, Dionysian 2020

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

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

Julie Mellor, Books and Bagels

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

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

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

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

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

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

Andrea Blythe, Reflecting on My Work in 2019

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

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

Michael Allyn Wells, 2020 BLUEPRINT

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

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

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, 2019:  A Look Back

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here Together

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

Charlotte Hamrick, Magnetic Poem

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

Construct monuments to being and belief, reason and relief.

Build phone booths with a direct connection to introspection.

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

Elevation before degradation, solutions before contusions.

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

Make breath a beat, make breath a beat.

Happy New Year, everyone. 

Rich Ferguson, When Ringing in 2020

Evening. The moon
hovers. The blinds

are drawn. Still
the fallen petals,

their lingering
scent, this moment

to be kept.

Tom Montag, AFTER THE CHINESE MASTERS

Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 50

Poetry Blogging Network

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


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

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

Etna

after August Kleinzahler

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

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

Julie Mellor, Black snow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jim Young [no title]

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

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

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

Signaled our vulnerability.

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

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

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

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

Ren Powell, In the Coming

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

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

Ann E. Michael, Comfort zones redux

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

Rich Ferguson, The Price to Get On This Ride

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

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

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

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

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

Rachel Barenblat, In this place

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

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

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

John Foggin, The week before Christmas

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

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

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

Gerry Stewart, Getting Through the December Slog

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

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

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

Day 2
Absorb your neighbor’s lunatic desire.

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

Day 4
You will never be either.

Day 5
Give thanks with your mouth.

Day 6
Grow tentacles and a tail.

Rebecca Loudon, An advent calendar plus Christmas

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kristy Bowen, daily writing successes and fails

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

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

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

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

Marilyn McCabe, Ring the bells; or, On Successishness

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

Michael Allyn Wells, 2020 A Year of Perfect Vision

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

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

Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 31

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week, lamentation and celebration—like every week, I suppose, only thrown into sharper relief by current events. But mostly the joy of reading and writing poems.


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

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

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

Here’s a taste:

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

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

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

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

Rachel Barenblat, A new prayer for Tisha b’Av

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PF Anderson, After Performing at Pride

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

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

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

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

Courtney LeBlanc, A Few More Poems I Love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kristy Bowen, artist statements

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Collin Kelley, In the Castro with Karl Tierney

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

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

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

Gerry Stewart, Scattershot

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

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

Dick Jones, Looking for U2…

Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 4

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. And if you’re a blogger who regularly shares poems or writes about poetry, please consider joining the network.

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


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

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

Jill Pearlman, MLK, Always Arriving

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

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

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

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

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

Erin Coughlin Hollowell, On a different day

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

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

But still, this morning was once in a lifetime.

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

Ren Powell, January 21st, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

Sarah Russell, Mornings after breakfast

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

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

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

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

Joannie Strangeland, The rye diary

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

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

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

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

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

Pam Thompson, “Writing” Towards Writing

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

Josephine Corcoran, Finding your way into a poem

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

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

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, When Sketches Meet Poems

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

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

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

Sarah Kain Gutowski, Micro-Sabbatical 2019

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

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

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

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

Perhaps of use is an ars poetica, which begins,

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

Mike Begnal, On Li Shangyin

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

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

I wandered lonely as a cloud

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

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

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

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

Ann E. Michael, Remembering joy, redux

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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