A few quotes + links (please click through!) from the Poet Bloggers Revival Tour, plus occasional other poetry bloggers in my feed reader. If you’ve missed earlier editions of the digest, here’s the archive.
It’s high summer in the northern hemisphere, and for many poets this week, that seems to have triggered reflections on productivity, perhaps because for most of us, poetry writing is something we look forward to doing on vacation. I guess that’s good, because it implies that we think of it in part as a leisure pursuit, an avocation as much as a vocation. Summer’s also the time for poetry festivals, writing retreats, and of course, extra reading. I’ll admit, I don’t always find hot, humid weather conducive to good writing myself, in part because it’s so damn hard to sleep…
Head-exploding insomniac connections firing: Athena and Penelope
incarnations of each other, all a plot device, see, and Pan, there’s always Pan—
(Get it? Get it?) What, she thinks suddenly, is even happening
to my arms, whose flesh is this, so loom-muscled, weaving water itself
into story, into a new body with which kingdoms shall be run
by guile, yes, by wile, epithets carefully-chosen; Penelope and Odysseus
incarnations of each other too, and Circe, let’s not even pretend
she’s different from the rest of us, I could turn you all to pigs
and you’d be cleaner, ya Trump-voting motherfuckers, Circe said…
JJS, July 7, 2018: Penelope as Lady of the Lake
I’ve bitten off way more than I can chew this summer and that’s just fine with me. I have work to do: a thesis adviser who needs to see ten new poems in the fall, a chapbook to assemble and send out to the masses, a bunch of poems on audio to edit, a podcast to create, 17 more hours of film to screen for the Austin Film Festival, a few graphic narrative poems to illustrate, four or five drafts of poetry blog posts started but not finished, and two essays to complete and send off for hopeful publication in a litmag. I’m in sweet, heavenly, artmaking bliss.
I really am. I love all this creation happening inside and all around me. It’s exciting and makes me happy. And ain’t nobody making me do this. It’s my own, wonderful, glorious work (sure wish I’d get paid for it, though). The only things getting in my way are a full-time job doing none of this stuff during prime “I feel creative” time, and the other full-time job of raising three precious children and taking care of my family, my home, myself.
This is not a sob story. You, dear poetry reader, may know just how I feel. Maybe not now but possibly at a different time in your life. I have learned to juggle and forgive myself and finally to just start, dammit, stop putting it off. That’s how the art gets made. That’s how the words are put on the page and the paint stays wet. Just trudging on.
Lorena Parker Matejowsky, 1000 words + two sylvias = making art
Though I keep my poetry writing time consistent—not long, but everyday, with reading and notes—I find that my creativity and actual-finishing-of-poems varies, depending on what is going on in life. And, as cliche as it is, I suppose suffering does beget poetry.
I don’t want to go into detail, but I will say of all the problems we could have, ours is not a Dire one (it doesn’t threaten those I love in a permanent way) but it is a problem and a cause of Stress, though it is so romanticized (only in such wealthy societies can it be looked at as romantic to be an orphan or very poor). We have our health and each other.
But it is a sizeable problem with no easy solution and so I supposed that all my poetry writing would come to a complete stop as we wonder and pray and wonder. However, I’ve written more poetry in this month than I had in the earlier half of the entire year.
Renee Emerson, When Between a Poem and a Hard Place…
I got back from teaching and had two days to unpack my suitcase. Then I re-packed it for the Berkshires. We made the seven-hour drive and I co-hosted a poetry symposium in a quirky new hotel space, TOURISTS; a reimagined motor lodge in North Adams, Massachusetts, thanks to the vision of Scott Stedman and Jeff Gordinier. There was hugs with Beth Ann Fennelly and Erika Meitner and January Gill O’Neil and finally meeting Rachel Zucker, new friends, poem-toasts, an oddly tasty spread of pork and Calabrian chiles on seed bread thanks to Cortney Burns, wandering through the woods to the chime chapel, more poems around an open fire, Jeff & company’s late arrival from the Esquire thing, touring Mass MOCA (Louise Bourgeois & James Turrell & Anselm Kiefer), lunch at Bright Ideas Brewing, a p*cha k*cha talk, broccoli rabe with wood-ear mushrooms, beet salad, more reciting of poems, live music from Sean Rowe (whose foraging expedition I’d missed earlier in the day while on the hunt for a digital projector), following Jan’s lead to talk about fostering inclusivity in the literary scene, finally meeting Laurie’s brother (which made me miss Mississippi), more beet salad, introducing some folks to Tommy Pico’s Nature Poem, learning one of my co-conspirators had been Tommy’s classmate, getting up to the top of Mount Greylock, and stopping off for a Sam Gilliam glimpse and dinner in Troy on the way home.
Issue 18 of Barrelhouse came out, with my essay on “Pioneers of the Digital Trail.” If you want an essay that name-checks Mavis Bacon, Carmen Sandiego, Number Muncher, The Oregon Trail, The Secret of Monkey Island, and pained teenage love affairs, this is the essay for you. You can’t find the text online–thank god–but the issue is for sale here, and they typically sell out every print run.
And somewhere in there, I wrote a 3,000-word craft essay about sestinas that is scheduled to run in American Poets.
The funny thing is that when I came here to explain my June absence, I felt nothing but a sense of failure–a silent blog, a wasted month, and a fixation on the deadlines that were missed and are still pending, rather than any of the ones met. This despite an envelope full of thank-you notes that arrived from the KIPP students. Don’t let the corrosions of the world fool you, friends. Please keep doing the good work that I know you are doing.
Sandra Beasley, June
Turns out this is a good year for blackberries. The canes are loaded with fruit and weighted with vining wild grapes and honeysuckle. The latter bloomed rather late this year and are still putting forth fragrant flowers. The marvelous scent made berry-picking quite soothing.
Soon, the catbirds and orioles and everyone else will be harvesting these berries. Despite their thorns (which didn’t deter me, either).
It has been far too hot to work in the garden, however; so I have been writing, and submitting work to literary journals, and even painting a little–something I have not done in years. Finding ways to be both creative and relaxed. Much needed.
Ann E. Michael, Berrying
What a full-on week it’s been: a glorious mix of poetry, music and family. Consequently it’s Sunday evening already and I’ve only just sat down in front of my PC to write this week’s blog post.
The poetry highlight of my week was my first visit to Ledbury Poetry Festival. This has been on my wish list (recently renamed my Life’s For Living list) for some time, so I’m pleased that, at last, I’m able to put some of my poetry plans into action.
As Ledbury is a small market town, it was quick and easy to move between venues without getting lost (I found I didn’t really use the street guide I’d picked up at the festival office). The festival is extremely well-organised and executed with a warm and friendly vibe. Add to this an uneventful return road trip on well-behaved motorways, a spot of retail therapy along The Homend and an overnight stay in a thatched country cottage B & B: just the ticket!
Jayne Stanton, Ledbury Poetry Festival
I wrote in June: I’ve been trying to juggle the availabilities of 7 guest poets against those of four or five possible venues. It’s like herding cats and knitting fog. I’m in open-mouthed admiration of anyone who manages to run a poetry festival. How are they sane afterwards? Right now I’ve not managed to book a single venue. At this rate I’ll be putting it off till September. We shall see. Well, I made all the arrangements. Lovely venues like the stunning Halifax Central Library which is stitched into the even more stunning Piece Hall, and also the splendid Hyde Park Book Club in Leeds. I bought drinks and nibbles and napkins and paper plates..all that. I ordered too many books from the printer. I had not allowed for hot weather nor for football. It was a delight to read with wonderfully talented poets…Gaia Holmes, Vicky Gatehouse, Alicia Fernandez, Tom Weir, Ian Harker. It was a shame that we almost outnumbered the audience. But gods bless the ones who came, anyway. Was it worth it? Yes. It’s always worth it. Why write, otherwise. And there’s still one launch reading to go. Fingers crossed.
There’s been furniture moving, and painting and decorating, and mixing cement and raking-out and pointing, too. Some wall mending, thrown in, and more to come. It all distracts from ‘the work’, and the less you write, the less you write, and then you get frustrated, you lose all the carefully hoarded vestiges of serenity, and you might just lose your temper and do something(s) you regret.
John Foggin, The tigers of wrath, and an (un)discovered gem: David Spencer
Usually the summertime brings a flurry of activity to my part of the country, people desperate to get outdoors and in the brief season of sun, and usually also unofficially doesn’t start until the day after July 4 – and this kind of weather is why. By next weekend we’re supposed to be back in the sunny seventies, and I hope I’m over this cold/MS double-hit by then! I’m not a sun-lover – MS folks are supposed to avoid sun and heat, and I was allergic to the sun since I was a kid (hence my lovely vampire-esque complexion, LOL.) But the long string of grey days gave me time to think about how I’m spending my time, how much time I should give to political activism vs arguing politics on social media, to dealing with insurance/prescription/medical-related nonsense (it could literally take over my entire life if I let it, but it’s dangerous to ignore it) and writing new work vs revision vs manuscript shaping vs submitting vs writing. How much time I can afford to spend alone in nature, which seems to me to be restorative both health-wise and spiritually. I’m usually a go-go-go type of girl, but MS has taken a bit of that out of me, and being a bit slower and more deliberate hasn’t actually really made my life worse, though I often feel frustrated by not “getting enough done.” I have to quit judging my life by the amount I get done, and start appreciating the good things that happen without a deadline, outside of time.
Jeannine Hall Gailey, Poems in Tinderbox, a New Review of PR for Poets, a new Poetry Star, and Summer Downtime
Time to lounge under lamplight
or a fan, at least, in this solemn sweatbox town,
sin city, hidden city, dark city. What kind
of city is it? The kind where “They say it’s your
birthday” gets bellowed out on Facebook, and Facebook
denizens bellow back (not at all concerned with
the shadow behind the curtain, the sooty shoes
poking out from under the bed). It’s never time,
never the right time.
PF Anderson, Black Birthday
I’m getting a perfectly respectable amount of work done for an empty-nest academic in the summer, but so far, no holy miracle of ramped-up sentence success. I spent June enacting deep revisions to my novel manuscript, responding to very good advice I received from a small press, and we’ll see where that goes. I enjoyed concentrating on it, at any rate, and it’s definitely a way better book now. And I’m a better writer for having undertaken the challenge.
I’ve also been reading in all genres, working on submissions, and writing a few poems, although I find tuning my brain to fiction-writing makes poetry harder. I’m now revising a couple of essays and finishing research for a third–I’m visiting an archive near Richmond on Tuesday, so Chris and I will stay overnight and share a fancy dinner, maybe visit a museum. I really don’t know yet how much I’ll finish by the time September hits in all its frantic glory. I’m trying not to worry too much about that, either, although being zen about the passage of summers and outcome of my labors–well, it hasn’t been my specialty. Working on it.
Lesley Wheeler, Prove or disprove and salvage if possible
I had been working on a multipart essay when I wondered if it was really a sectioned poem. So I spent days and days easing, tapping, tweaking, clipping each segment into lineation, attention to rhythm, structures, and all the various things that poetic forms allow/require of us. And now I’m not sure it works. But the process has been interesting.
On the one hand, the poeming process helped me make the language and sentences more taut and efficient, catch repetitions, reorder thoughts. Creating lines allowed me to inject additional suggestions into the ideas, or even with a line break subvert what I was saying, or at least question it.
But too often, the lines gave gravitas to places I didn’t really want emphasized. It made some ideas too weighty, too self-important. Some ideas I wanted to slip in with more subtlety, subtlety that demands of lineation did not seem to allow.
So I’m going to take the newly taut language and spread it back out, give some good fat back to some of the sentences, allow a more languid pace.
Marilyn McCabe, Formtion, Functiorm; or On Navigating Form and Function
E-grazing to Eureka
Mindlessly scrolling through Facebook, Twitter etc. is one classic way most of us procrastinate, right? Let us turn this ‘e-grazing’ to account. When you see something that you want to comment on or share – a meme, a line in a message, a snippet, a poem or a quote – do that, but also screen-shot it and save it. That word or line that made you go ‘wow, cool!’, ‘lol, that’s hilarious’, ‘that’s so me/us’, ‘ugh, what an idiot!’, etc. – it made you think and feel, however fleetingly. A few hours or days later, go over these fragments that found echoes within you, and you may just see new poems taking shape from and around them.
Poetry in Foreign Languages
One way to reconnect with the form and sound of language is to listen to a poem or a folk song in a language you do not know, or one you know just a little, so you can connect to its rhythms but block out the meaning at will. You can go for a softly chanted poem, like biya o josh e tamanna, where you can immerse yourself in the melody, but in one’s more restless humours a faster tempo can also be welcome ex. Laila O Laila. Free-write to the song on infinite loop, just listen to it and brainstorm, or write your own ‘imaginary translation’, etc.
Seven Selcouth Sources of Poetic Inspiration – guest blog post by Hibah Shabkhez (Trish Hopkinson’s blog)
As I walked, I paid attention to the trash that I saw. It will all be picked up by later today, but for now, random pieces of trash lined the Broadwalk. I was most struck by the debris that once we would have hauled home: coolers, umbrellas, a variety of clothes.
In a history class long ago, our teacher reminded us that most of what archaeologists discover comes from digging in the garbage dumps of former societies. I often wonder what future archaeologists will make of our trash. Certainly they will comment on the huge amount of plastic.
This morning, I looked at all the trash, both the collective version and the individual pieces, and I thought about the symbolism. What could we learn if we use this trash as a symbol?
I plan to write a poem on this very topic. What will you write as the week winds down?
Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Poetry Prompt: The Morning After the Day Before
Once back at camp and we’d traded our hiking shoes for flip-flops, we gathered in a loose circle, drinks and snacks within reaching distance. Suddenly, Jonathan said, “Uhhh, guys?…” and pointed to the road that ran through the campground. There was a snake, crossing the road.
Of course we all popped up to investigate and that’s when we heard the telltale rattle of its tail. Yup, a rattlesnake. Eventually the rattler made its way to the woods — away from our tents, thankfully — and we carried on talking. But the image of the snake, its beautifully slinking body, stayed with me.
Once home on Sunday I perused Twitter and came across Mary Oliver’s poem, The Black Snake. I knew then I needed to write a poem about the snake that appeared at our campsite.
The poem is still a work in progress but I’m excited about nature inspiring a poem. What are your favorite nature poems?
Courtney LeBlanc, A Week of Work
Your latest book is New and Selected Poems. What will readers find inside? Obviously new work but also poems culled from your previous two collections? Tell us more.
This book was born out of a drunken love affair between myself and my editor at a Manhattan dive bar. I was originally going to release a third collection called Human Algorithm that fused my twenty years in the tech industry with trying to find sex and love with strangers on the smartphone apps. But since I’ve decided to focus on fiction and autobiography for the next few years, New and Selected has become a magnum opus for me. The poems I originally planned for the third collection are in here, plus work from the previous volumes and other unreleased poems from early in my writing career.
You, like many other artists these days, operate outside the mainstream – using micro/small presses or self-publishing to get your work to readers. That method was once frowned upon, but has now become commonplace. Any regrets?
I know it was once frowned upon, but times have changed. I read Rupi Kaur’s collection, Milk and Honey, last year and it’s brilliant. She began her career by posting poems on social media. You do whatever you can to make your voice heard. Unless someone’s going to give me a million-dollar book deal, my poetry and graphic novel publications will remain 100 percent in my control. I had a nasty experience with a publisher with my first collection and it left a bad taste in my mouth. So, I figured out how to do it on my own and it’s been great.
You seem to have written a lot of work, but aren’t in a rush to publish it. Most authors are burning up to get their work out there.
Yes, I have a backlog and it’s wild. I’ve written eight children’s books and I also have another graphic novel called The Philadelphia War, which should be out in 2019. I’ve started an autobiography and I’m deep into writing a dangerous, fucked up novel set on Wall Street. That book actually is my main focus right now. I also have a novella called Midnight that I wrote for five years and it’s just sitting there.
Collin Kelley, He’ll Take Manhattan: An interview with poet, writer & photographer Montgomery Maxton
Francesca Bell caught a lot of attention with her poem I Long to Hold The Poetry Editor’s Penis in My Hand. I mean it’s hard to overlook a good penis poem. Bell, however, holds a special place in this poet’s heart because her talent has come without a formal writing education background. Reading her work you would never know it. She has carved out a very successful non-traditional road on her poet journey. Her publication credits are lengthy and include River Styx, North American Review, Rattle, Prairie Schooner, and Crab Creek Review to name a few. She has had at 6 Pushcart Prize nominations and been a finalist in several notable poetry awards.
In December of 2014 Bell had five poems published in Pank that are riveting. They touch on the delicate subject of children sexually abused by priests. These poems underscore something about Bell that I especially appreciate in a poet, a fearlessness in writing. I want to write as fearlessly as Bell does. Who wouldn’t, but it is not easy. In her poem Regrets, she talks about undressing every emotion and how silence is a too-tight dress I can’t wait to escape. She is genuine. Her writing has a depth that can be peeled back like layers of an archaeological excavation, or she can turn one her humor on the page and entertain you.
Another remarkable thing about Francesca Bell is her translation. She translated the book A Love That Hovers Like a Bedeviling Mosquito by the Palestinian poet Shatha Abu Hnaish along with Noor Nader Al A’bed. This book is a collection of largely tender verse that I often go to and reread parts of each night before I go to sleep.
Michael Allyn Wells, My 2018 Poets Crush 6 Pack
When we first read the poems, students talked about how and why the poets had used or not used punctuation, spacing, keyboard functions (crossing through text in Chan’s poem). They suggested that Rebecca Perry had used this spacing to perhaps replicate the to and fro conversation that was taking place between a father and an adult child in a car (they worked out the ‘child’ was driving so must be at least 17 or 18 years old). They thought that perhaps someone had died, perhaps one of the father’s parents, and they were driving to or from the funeral.
Then they discussed times that they had had conversations with a parent or grandparent, and had a go at writing their own poems using the same lay out as the Perry poem if they wished. They could also borrow some of the poet’s phrases if they got stuck. This gave students the space to write about reflective, intimate conversations they’d had with an adult they trusted and were close to. One student wrote about chatting with their grandmother while shopping, another wrote about gardening with their Mum, another about walking with their Dad. Students shared snippets of advice adults had given them (as Perry does “remember, if you get married, to pick a ring bigger than your finger, because your fingers, like your mother’s, swell slightly in the heat”.) Often these poems were tender and moving, and even if the conversations were stilted and awkward, humour and love shone through.
Josephine Corcoran, Poems that find a way to say what isn’t said #writerinschool
At the publication of Empty Clip, this is how Emilia Phillips introduced it on her twitter feed:
This is my “book of fears”
It is true there is much fear in these poems–molestation, animal murder, hotel fights, campus shooters, prior tenant on the lam, suicide, self-inflicted gunshot wounds, and on and on, poem after poem of frightful situations and the poet’s responses captured in pristine time capsules. So stomach up, because the rewards here are large. Phillips has developed, in this book, the uncanny ability to put the reader right into the scene of the poem, through exposing meticulous authentic details accompanied by pinpoint emotional responses. You feel these poems as much as read them.
While reading, I highlighted a number of phrases–way too many to share here– that struck me as prophetic. A warning. What can happen. What does happen. What has happened. What might happen again at any moment.
said the grass to the sky.
stiff casualness of someone
pretending they’re not on guard
another girl in the class said, “Girls
get raped all the time here I don’t know why
this time was so special.”
back when I was looking down the barrel
of days of grief
how the bullet grooved clean into the skin below
her clavicle. A button hole
a baby’s mouth.
So yes, there is pain, distress, frightful memories. You already know about that, even if you haven’t been as close to the barrel of a gun as Phillips has. This happened. Face it with me. Feel it with me. And so, make it bearable or at least help me to resist.
But. Then. There is the lyricism– the translation of facts into emotions into lyrics, a skill Phillips is expert at. This is the balm of language that demonstrates how horrifying experiences can be digested, how poetic sense can be made of of terror.
Risa Denenberg, What I’m Reading: Empty Clip
Q~Who was your poetry first love?
A~My first poetry love was Nikki Giovanni. Her work is so practical, honest and revolutionary. When I tumbled across her poetry in a college library during my first years of undergrad, I had never heard a black woman so self-assured and intelligent. Her poetry not only showed me how to better use my words, but it helped me mature as a black woman and writer. Ms. Giovanni’s work taught me confidence, sincerity, and how to be relatable.
Q~Who are you reading now?
A~I just picked up Ocean Vuong’s Night Sky with Exit Wounds and cannot put it down. I was also just reading Charles Simic’s Scribbled in the Dark. I like contemporary poetry, but I really appreciate classics, too. I am also looking forward to reading Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi’s Americanah before summer ends.
Q~What’s one piece of advice you want to share?
A~The poem will never be perfect. I often hear people say that they have never submitted a piece of work to a publisher because they have been editing it for a year. I’m like, “let go and give it to someone who needs it.” We write not only for ourselves but because there is someone who needs to hear it. I think as writers we tend to get obsessed with our work. If you can take a deep breath, close your eyes, and feel calm after editing your work a few times, let it go.
Bekah Steimel, Maybe / an interview with poet Kay Bell