Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote,
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licóur
Of which vertú engendred is the flour
Although, of course,
April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Quite. Or as Dickinson says,
Pink — small — and punctual —
Aromatic — low —
Covert — in April —
Candid — in May —
Since Luisa and I each write (at least) a poem a day year-round, Na/GloPoWriMo isn’t as big a deal here as it might be elsewhere. But I thought it worth mentioning some other poetic dailiness that I don’t think we mean to be covert about. Via Negativa readers might want to follow along with Luisa’s daily curation of poems by Virginia poets on Norfolk’s Slover Library website.
As for me, I suppose it’s worth mentioning that I revived my micropoetry blog Woodrat photohaiku at the beginning of the year, with a new photo haiga almost every day. There’s a form in the sidebar there that you can fill out to get new posts in your inbox (though the quality of the emailed photos isn’t as high as on the site), and/or you can simply follow me on Instagram or Facebook and see the photos there. I’ve taken to adding a few additional thoughts or process notes on the blog.
Here’s today’s offering, followed by a couple of other favorites. Click on the photos to read the original posts.
This week a lot of poets were musing on time, both sacred and quotidian, and gearing up for (Inter-) National Poetry Month. I’m starting the month with a bit of a head cold but in high spirits because I’ve just gotten married (my first marriage, at the age of 52), and because spring feels as if it’s come to this Pennsylvania mountaintop at last: the wood frogs have begun their annual orgy in our vernal ponds. Cue the Stravinksy!
How do you participate? It’s simple:
— Anyone with a blog can give away two books of poetry.
— Anyone can enter any or all of the giveaways.
Andrea Blythe, Big Poetry Giveaway 2018: Guidelines
I can’t believe a year has past since the last NaPoWriMo! Once again I’m pep-talking myself, trying to juice up for the challenge of 30 poems in 30 days. Realistically, I know I probably won’t hit each and every day but I’m ok with it. No pressure, no pain, I just want to enjoy the challenge and look forward to reading my brother and sister participants. Are you joining the effort? Here’s where you can sign up!
Charlotte Hamrick, Gearing Up for NaPoWriMo 2018
It’s not too late to make a plan for poetry month! Whether you want to sign up to write a poem a day or unofficially just plan to crank out some poetry in April, there are plenty of prompts and resources to keep you going strong all month. And that’s not all that’s going on either.
Tess Taylor just gave a great reading here, and either there or during my class afterwards, she described poetry as “a dance with absence.” I know what she means–all that white space, evocation, closing in on loss and other big subjects through image and fragment–but when I’m finding my way towards a poem I tend to feel, instead, like I’m dancing with presence. There are stories written everywhere. I’m just not very skilled at reading them. […]
So I begin another National Poetry Month with my head full of names and histories, partial as they are. I wish life were all walks in the woods then, afterwards, shaping fragments into poems. It won’t be! But I will be spending some time on poetry each day: writing new work, revising poems or expanding notes jotted this winter, working on submissions. Early spring, for me, is poetry season.
Lesley Wheeler, Poetry and presence
I headed southward on a recent trip to visit a friend and to see if I could find spring, since my Pennsylvania valley has been extensively clobbered by late-winter/early spring snow storms. In southeastern North Carolina, the air was cool but the plants were blooming. Spring at last! May it head northward soon. […]
I like to read poems while traveling. On the one hand, it proves difficult to keep from being distracted by crowds, announcements, and departure times–which can make it hard to focus on the challenges a poem presents to its readers. On the other hand, poems tend to be brief enough that the inevitable interruptions do not completely disrupt the flow or content of the page; for that reason, I tend to struggle to read fiction while traveling. The brevity lends itself to gesture, so I can pick up on mood and tone and the sound of the poem (in my head–I don’t read aloud in airport terminal lounges). Later, when I am home again, I re-read the poems. That gives me a different perspective on the work.
Ann E. Michael, Blooms, books, buddies
But then, what with going after a Ph.D. in literary studies, with getting a tenure-line job, oh, and marriage and the baby thing, I would have these extended interludes of not writing. What’s odd is that is didn’t involve anxiety. I knew I would get back to writing poems, that I might be initially rusty, but it would wear off quickly. Typical for me was to go through a torrid two- or three-month round of writing a lot of poetry, drafting, drafting, drafting, and then I would go through a six-month period of not writing, not worrying about it–just doing the work of occasional editing, and even then, it was a bit hit or miss.
In the down time, then, was both time to recover, to reflect, to live, and all that, but it was also a time to become a little suspicious of just what the poetry thing was all about for me. I didn’t burn the way I had in my youth. I didn’t discipline myself the way my peers did with their writing. I suspected laziness on my part. But ultimately I realized it was just the way for me, and I liked the casualness of it, of maybe writing or not writing for a while, knowing I would get back to it when it mattered.
I think it’s April’s demand that I do poetry is what is so irksome to me about the month, a chore, an obligation. Oh, I will still get giddy, getting the updates of what cool thing is seriously happening on South Beach, the nervous students sharing their work out loud, the improbability of this small, narrow, and unproductive enterprise, something private and inconsequential and necessary, strange, strange, little fugitive fugue.
Jim Brock, Not Quite Yet the Cruelest Month
Rattling off a post before March ends. I’ve worked hard on my poetry manuscript since I last mentioned it on this blog. Now for the final stages of editing, tweaking, rearranging lines, titles, and order with my editor, Jane Commane at Nine Arches Press. What have I learned from writing a full collection of poetry? Mostly, how much I don’t know about how to write poetry. Now I feel that I might be just about ready to start. If only I had a time machine to hand so that I could write it all again without missing my deadline. No chance of that, so I will have to make it as good as I can at this time and think about what to do for my second book.
I had a similar feeling when I’d finished my MA in Creative Writing at UEA in 1997. I remember saying to one of my lecturers that I felt I hardly knew anything. She said something like “Good, then you’ve learned something.” I’m trying to convince myself that it is better to feel like this than to have the feeling I know everything (nobody likes a know-it-all, right??).
Josephine Corcoran, End of the month blog
I recently wrote my first abecedarian poem, and while I enjoyed the process, I nearly stalled out when I got to the letter X. Hardly any useful words begin with X. My crumbling, 1965 edition of Webster’s Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary contains just one page of X words.
Although the less common X words (xeric, xylophagous, xylotomy) intrigued me, none of them worked in my poem. Neither did the more common (x-axis, X chromosome, xenophobia, Xmas, X-ray). I wasn’t successful with using the letter by itself, as in “X marks the spot” or “x’d out.”
Just for fun, I took a look at my German dictionary and found exactly thirteen words that started with X, including “X-Beine” (knock-kneed) and “x-mal” (any number of times). The Spanish dictionary had forty-five, including “xocoyote,” (the first son; Mexican term) and “xeca” (the head of a person; Guatemalan term). Interesting, but still not useful.
In order to write a line that made sense in the poem, I did what a lot of other poets have done: cheat. Instead of using a word that starts with X, I used a word that sounded like it starts with X: “ecstasy.” Most words that start with X – i.e., xenophobe, Xerox, xylophone – sound like they start with Z. Therefore, is using an X word that doesn’t sound like it starts with X also cheating? Or is it more authentic to use a word that sounds like it starts with X, even if it doesn’t?
Erica Goss, What About X? Writing the Abecedarian
[Sylvia Plath] liked Elizabeth Bishop but not Auden (she described his poems as “grinding metal”), thought the New Yorker published a lot of trite poems about birds, took classes from CS Lewis, liked Tolkein, and thought Ted Hughes would make a great children’s book author whose work would be acquired by Disney. She studied a lot about Chaucer (obv. liked the Wife of Bath) and Paul’s letters (problematic in terms of his attitudes towards women and sex, she thought – and I agree!) Lots to think about. Still an inspiration. Though she disparages Edna Millay all over the place in these letters she had a lot in common with her – did you know Edna got famous for an early poem about suicide? And was notoriously egotistical and famously sexual? Kind of a mean person, sort of like Sylvia. I like both poets, although I’m pretty sure I would have been afraid to be friends with either.
It does make you think about the job of ego in the work of women writers. I was thinking about this is terms of Emily Dickinson too – even with lots of rejection, she kept at it. Without a pretty sizable ego, women writers in the twenties – or fifties – wouldn’t even have attempted to make a splash. Sylvia expected to be more successful than she was, which may have led to being disappointed at a more crushing level than if she’d tempered her expectations. On the other hand, who succeeds without having the expectation of succeeding? We must all retain some hope of this, even if we say we don’t. Otherwise…
Jeannine Hall Gailey, Launch for PR for Poets, Open Books Talk on PR for Poets on April 8, and Sylvia Plath Quotes
despite my misgivings with longer collections, i’ve not really ceased entirely to send out my poetry to literary magazines, which garner even less attention and less remuneration than a book or chapbook poetry might. and why? why do i still send out those poems? i think its the literary conversation. though i’m not in the traditional university setting from which most of modern american poetry springs, i still have a desire for my poems to move among and speak to what is going on in our culture and in poetry in general. i think that my poems are probably more akin to a letter to the editor than a comment in a crowded lecture hall, but the fact that i still want to throw my two cents in means something, and maybe i ought to give second thought to letting those collections out into the world, however noisy it may be.
Renee Emerson, the literary conversation
[Susan Rich]: This book is full of family secrets — from the workers in the mills up to more present day. How did you negotiate this within yourself?
[Cindy Veach]: Great question! This did take some self-negotiation and it took time. Some poems, ultimately, were left out of the manuscript and I have no regrets about those decisions. I believe that those that survived serve a purpose – to preserve something of the details of lives so they are not completely lost.
SR: Now that GLOVED AGAINST BLOOD is out in the world, has it changed how you see the work or how you see yourself as a poet?
CV: When I was deeply working on the manuscript it was difficult to see the whole. Now, that it is done and in the world, I see it from a different vantage point. One where I can see more of the inner connectedness of the poems and the progression. At the same time, I feel more distanced from it. And by that I mean it feels complete/done and I can move on.
Susan Rich, Special Interview with poet Cindy Veach – pre-event!
It’s Holy Week, and so perhaps it’s appropriate to think about olives and Palestine and the garden of Gethsemani — but also about spring, and light on silver leaves. Over the weekend I did another gouache sketch in a toned-paper sketchbook, this time of an olive orchard we drove through in Sicily, one of many we saw, in the hills near Selinunte. It was actually harvest time, and we followed a small truck, laden with many boxes of large, just-picked olives, up a long winding road to a town at the top. There we saw a huge olive-processing plant, and many tents, occupied by migrant workers, all of whom were black, and, I suspect, refugees from Africa. I won’t forget the sight of another truck we passed on the way back down, driven by a white man, but completely loaded with young black men hanging off the sides. Or the two young men walking their bicycles back up the hill toward the town – an impossible ride, because of the steepness.
But the olive orchards are sheer beauty. I fell in love with olive trees in Sicily, from the young sinuous saplings, covered with tongue-tingling, tiny, bitter fruit in every shade from grey to green to black, to the extremely old, twisted trees: noble and venerable elders that one sees, sometime in the middle of pastures or near an ancient temple, some of which have lived for centuries.
I’m familiar with the olive varieties that we buy in the markets, but have no idea what the different types look like as trees, or how they are chosen for orchards and different micro-climates, but in their great variety, shimmering in the light, they all seemed extraordinary to me and extremely beautiful. I saw for the first time, first-hand, why the precious olive became the symbol of victory and peace, and the symbol of grey-eyed Athena, always my favorite goddess and the particular patron of Athens and the Greeks.
Beth Adams, Olives
Have you been trying to figure out how to keep going? I have. It is helpful to be honest about that, in this weird stretch: the optimism of our 2018 resolutions are wearing off and yet the weather, by and large, has not yet lifted our spirits.
One of the consequences of moving is that one has to reshuffle belongings and filings. So I came across the cover of the very first Washington Post Magazine where my work appeared, in 2008, as the lead-off for the “XX Files” columns. “of a certain chromosomal persuasion.” There’s Cheryl Strayed, pre-Wild. A stock image of a girl runs, playful, across a field.
Ten years later (and in between), I am again in the Washington Post Magazine. This time I’m talking about “The politics of poetry in the era of Trump,” following my trip to Cyprus–an opportunity that would have been unimaginable ten years ago. The image is of a woman’s calves, decisive, “stepping up” a constructed and patriotic height.
Sandra Beasley, A Ten-Year Glance Back
Exhausted by the move (we’d transported all our possessions to and fro the mile-and-a-half lashed onto a single bicycle), we’d had a couple of beers and retired early. I was jerked out of a deep and dreamless sleep in the small hours by the sound of music. It wasn’t the usual dull, bass-heavy thump of unidentifiable music heard through walls; it was a masonry-shaking, pile driving immanence of sound driven by a lurching, rollocking rhythm with the emphasis on the offbeat. I sat up in bed transfixed. The immediate sensation was of being locked in the engine room of an ocean liner, a foot or two away from the driving pistons. But the secondary sensation on rising into wakelfulness was one of delight: what was this extraordinary noise that sounded so familiar and yet so exotic at the same time? It continued for about an hour, melody and tempo varying, but that loping beat a constant. And then suddenly it ceased, leaving in its wake the echo of rattling drums, bubbling bass, a guitar played on the upstroke, creaky, slightly off-key sax and brass and, riding on top, impassioned but largely incomprehensible lyrics.
The following day Byron, emerging from his flat to buy a paper, found me sitting on the stairs, my arms clasped around my knees, rocking back and forth like a child in pain, the skipping and churning having minutes before fired up again. Mistaking my hunched state for acute discomfort, he apologised profusely and turning back towards his door, he promised immediate silence. When hastily I put him right, he grinned, pushed a hand through his unruly hair and invited me in. I was introduced to the family, a cup of tea was brewed and we spent the rest of the morning (on a day dedicated to last-minute exam coaching at the college) going through stacked boxes of Trojan, Island and Blue Beat singles.
Dick Jones, FIRST TRAIN TO SKAVILLE!
I am reading the essays of biologist Lynn Margulis and her son Dorion Sagan. As a biologist and peerer at the microcosmic, Margulis sees the world as divided basically into bacteria and everything else, and basically regards humankind as a big vehicle for the wily adventures of bacteria over time.
At the same time I’m reading the poems of Paul Pines, Jungian, fisherman, seaman, flaneur of NYC jazz clubs, Bourbon Street, the beaches of Belize, and the ideas of ancient philosophers and gods.
The juxtaposition is mind-whirling.
Margulis’s essays contain sentences such as: “Whether we are discussing the disappearing membranes of endosymbiotic bacteria on their way to becoming organelles or the breakdown within the global human socius of the Berlin Wall, we must revise this rectilinear notion of the self, of the bounded I.”
I could spend an entire day navigating the links Maria Popova includes in her articles on Brain Pickings.
In this one, a letter Frida Khalo wrote to Georgia O’Keefe, Popova extolls the virtues of creating community through letter writing and sharing. She praises the compassion Khalo and O’Keefe showed each other when one of them was suffering, and uses their correspondence as evidence that artists don’t work in complete solitude. We thrive on support and love.
She links to Brian Eno’s concept of “scenius,” a play on the word “genius,” meaning a collective of ideas, an ecology of artists and thinkers who respond to each other and the world, which she found in the book Show Your Work! by Austin Kleon.
Reading these two articles has inspired me to get back to a practice of sharing my creative process rather than storing it privately until I’m ready to publish (even though I am, in fact, publishing it here).
The poem I’ll be sharing is raw, unfinished writing that I do as a ludic exercise. I may or may not come back to it. Perhaps I’ll cull a line or two from this writing. Or maybe I’ll like the finished result!
Christine Swint, Getting Ready For April and National Poetry Month
This will be my 10th year of participating in NaPoMo. I’m joining the group I’ve published daily poems with in April for the past few years. Like most participants, I doubt if I will write a new poem each of the next 30 days, but I will try my best. My plan has always been to do it first thing in the morning. If possible, I write a couple of poem-starts, to use as ‘leftovers’ for days when nothing is forthcoming, or I don’t have the 30 minutes to write.
I’m always excited about NaPoMo because some of my best poems have been started during this lovely parallel-play with other poets. It’s also a time to encourage and support others, a time to look for the best words or the most startling line in a draft, that line that later will be the edifice for a mature poem. It’s a time to flex the poetry-writing muscles, to do the reps.
Risa Denenberg, Sunday Morning Muse with NaPoMo on My Mind
As I read this hefty pack of poems, I kept asking myself what I was looking for, what would make one poem rise above the others. In the end (and partly because of the sheer quantity of poems that I read), I went for impact. What did I remember? What drew me in and made me want to come back for another read.
I’ve been told, even by a therapist who works with troubled children and teens, that poetry is a “thing.” Something he never gave much thought to in the past. I would guess that 40% or more of the poems were written by girls (ostensibly as it was a blind reading) who wrote about the trials and disappointments of relationships. The word DEPRESSION came up in way more poems than I would have liked. Of course, poetry is the vehicle of emotion, but it was troubling to see just how many students reflected feelings that many adults struggle with their entire lives. There were abused children, neglected children, children of divorce or alcoholics trying to recover already from things that have shaped them in the first dozen years of their lives. Sad. Disconcerting. Troubling.
When I read about and watch the teens who swarmed D.C. and hear the eloquence and the heart of what they have to say, I have hope. Emily Dickinson wrote: Hope is the thing with feathers -That perches in the soul. I wonder what else there is if there is not hope. These young people post Parkland, these poets writing from their chests, are living breathing HOPE. They have to navigate the same alleyways and secret gardens, and plastic-riddled oceans as the rest of us.
Gail Goepfert, March Madness and What Makes a Good Poem
So now, I’m back at home. Back watching the pine siskins skein through the bare alder trees. Back talking mostly to the dog. And I’m tired. I’ve been pulling back on social media like many people have. I’m a little tired of the continual upheaval and drama on Facebook and Twitter, the soft-focus photos on Instagram. Connection fatigue.
I’m still beating the sun up every morning, though that will only be for a few more weeks. I’ve been sitting at my desk reconnecting with what’s inside me. Letting all those words filter down. Reading the poetry books that I picked up at the conference. The poems are bubbling up again. They need both connection and disconnection – planting, growing, harvesting, lying fallow.
I don’t want to withdraw from all social media. I would miss seeing the new books, reading the essays, admiring the puppies and kittens. But if you reach out to me and I don’t respond right away, I might be disconnected. Just for a little while – I’ll be back, I’m just watching the alders consider budding or listening to the owls stake their claims to a corner of the woods.
Erin Coughlin Hollowell, Connection Fatigue
A few people have expressed disappointment that I’m not reading and reviewing a book a day for National Poetry Month this year, as I’ve done the last couple of years. Well, what can I say? My days aren’t as long as they used to be. Plus, I’m not convinced that that was really the best way to demonstrate appreciation for poetry. I just did it as a response to NaPoWriMo, which I continue to have mixed feelings about — even as I now find myself writing (at least) one poem a day as well as sharing this blog with a seemingly indefatigable poem-a-day virtuoso, Luisa Igloria. Writing a poem a day can become as necessary and natural as a daily physical exercise regime, and Luisa has stated that, as an already over-worked person,
I get very grumpy and whiny when I cannot get to my writing, or when I cannot get to do any of those things that feed the deep inner parts related to writing. And then it becomes a struggle to write, which in turn puts a serious crimp on writing process, which should be spontaneous and generative and more like… play.
What I’ve come to do in this daily poem ‘discipline’ is actually a lot of playing. One of the most important lessons I learn from doing this may sound over-simple but I find oftentimes it’s the hardest thing to do: letting go.
I think I’m a far less disciplined person than Luisa, and I don’t believe my poetry practice is as healthy as hers — often I write because I am procrastinating on something else. But I couldn’t agree more about the importance of being playful and letting go, something I’ve learned from blogging in general. Before I took up blogging, I was a compulsive polisher, believe it or not, acutely embarrassed if someone read a poem of mine that I didn’t feel was absolutely perfect, or as close as I could get to perfect. Letting it all hang out here has been a great exercise in writerly humility — although it must be said that one has to be a bit of an egotist to inflict one’s poems on the world in the first place.
So how can I possibly have a quibble with NaPoWriMo? Well, to the extent that it gives serious poets a good workout and leads them to take risks or break out of a dry spell, I’m all for it. But for not-so-serious poets — by which I mean, simply, those who love the idea of being poets but not necessarily the idea of reading other poets — I am not sure it’s the best way to spend a month dedicated to poetry. I’ve heard it said that if everyone who writes poetry (which is a lot of people, actually) were each to purchase one new book of poems a year, poetry publishing in America would be in fine shape.
More than that, I worry that those of us publicly writing a poem a day are bolstering the capitalist, industrial mindset that puts a premium on productivity at the expense of living and playfulness. As I said to someone on Twitter the other day, the system and the culture pressure artists in so many ways to brand ourselves, to self-commodify. And even in such economically marginal arts as poetry, we’re made to feel we must keep producing at an industrial rate or risk obscurity and irrelevance. Thus, many major American poets get in one groove and stay there for book after book, with rarely more than three or four years passing between books (which are almost always the same length and almost never include illustrations, admixtures of prose, accompanying DVDs, or other enlivening features).
Then again, by arguing against this tendency, it’s possible I’m just making excuses for my own inability to stick to one predominant style and mood, which to be honest I sometimes wish I could do. Ah, well.
Can anyone recommend some good audiobooks or audio chapbooks of work by contemporary poets (or contemporary translations of poetry)? Once again this April I’m going to try to blog about a different collection of poetry every day, but this time I’d like to expand the definition of “book” a little bit. If I’m reading, I still prefer paper to a screen, but I am also interested in multimedia collections of poetry, so I want to make room for a few in the line-up. (I’ll be making a greater effort to read out loud the regular books I blog about, too. More than ever, my emphasis will be on slow reading.)
On March 2, I announced plans to again read and blog a book or chapbook of poetry a day throughout April. Many thanks to all who sent review copies (and if I promised a copy of Odes to Tools in return, I’m planning a trip to the post office soon!).
A number of people expressed interest in my regimen, but understandably, only a couple indicated they might be following suit. Today I want to invite y’all to join me and Kristin Berkey-Abbott in a somewhat more modest undertaking: to read and discuss just four books of poetry next month, one a week. Here’s what we’ll be reading:
We welcome participation in any form, but we encourage you to borrow or purchase all four books and read them at your leisure. Kristin and I will both be blogging our responses (which may or may not resemble traditional reviews), and if you’re a blogger, we encourage you to do the same, and let us know about it so we can interlink. Discussion can take place in multiple blog comment threads. Critical responses are welcome as long as they are constructive, not snide or dismissive.
Kristin and I will also be interviewing each of the four poets by phone for the Woodrat Podcast, insh’allah. If you are able to read the books in advance of our phone calls, we’d welcome suggestions of what to ask and which poems to have them read on the podcast. So here’s when we’ll be doing that: April 9, Diane Lockward; April 13, Luisa A. Igloria; April 23, Ren Powell; and April 25, William Trowbridge. Also, I could be persuaded to include one more person in those conference calls, so let me know (bontasaurus[at]yahoo[dot]com) if you want in on any of them.
A word on how we selected these four. I emailed Kristin the complete list (as of a couple weeks ago) of books I was planning to read next month, and we went back and forth about it. Obviously we are both guilty of bias in favor of friends and poets who are active online. Some friends didn’t get considered because we didn’t learn about their new books soon enough. But I will be looking for podcast guests long after April… including, I hope, my co-conspirator in this, who is a wonderful blogger, poet, and theologian, and seems remarkably sane for a Floridian.
Finally, for those of you who can actually contemplate parting with favorite poetry books, I want to echo Kristin and put in a plug for a Poetry Month-related initiative by Kelli Russell Agodon which I strongly support in theory if not in practice: the Big Poetry Giveaway 2011.
Basically, bloggers give away 2 books of poems at the end of April. The first can be your own book, and the second is to be a FAVORITE book of poems of your choosing.
People will come to your blog and leave a comment saying they’d like to win your book and at the end of the month, you randomly choose two winners and mail them out the books.