Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 18

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive, subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader, or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack. This week: trees, book tours, literary envy, in defense of reading fees, and much more. Enjoy.


I watched the coronation of King Charles yesterday with my parents. My father remembers watching Queen Elizabeth’s coronation as a child in South Africa. What if we crowned a leaf? Made trees our king? Or better, leaves as our elected representative, a river as the head of state. What if winter made legislation, or springtime was the judiciary? Let’s make butterflies our police force, an army out of photosynthesis.

Gary Barwin, THE NEW KING

We broke that word. We let it fall, let
it shatter into infinite sounds. When
a word is destroyed, a tree grows
from every whisper, bearing
poisonous fruit. When a world
is destroyed.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Part 45

Let the trees give the valedictory
and the billows confer their tasselled caps.

Let the noon heat gild the heads of those
who’ve labored bravely, even with no prior

guarantee of reward. Let the procession
of bodies shimmer like a promise

that kindness and comradeship will keep
rising up like wildflowers in the fields.

Luisa A. Igloria, Commencement Day

I wrote 30 poems in 30 days again this April. As my writing partner, Heather, can attest–it was tough. There were some days I doubled-up, after missing the deadline the day before. There were some days where what I sent her was less poetic than some texts. At the end of the month though, I have 30 poems.

I’ve only just now started sifting through them. I had set out with the idea of writing a group of poems about You’ve Got Mail (the movie). I have already written 3 or 4 in that vein, and I wanted to explore it further. Instead, it looks like I mostly wrote about angels, scars, and birds. Ok. Who ever knows what will pop up when one is writing every single day?

Renee Emerson, NaPoWriMo Wrap Up

I am looking forward to writing full-time for a while now. Weeks or months, I’m not sure yet. I am literally compartmentalizing my time. I’ve started a new blog to write about how I am handling cancer treatment. And I’m continuing in this space (and there, too – and in so many others) with what makes me honestly feel happy and alive in the moments as they come. I once wrote a poem that said it was absurd to say that imagination is a good thing. But it really can be. It can be a source of good things.

Ren Powell, Rumors

May is much like the interior of my email inbox right now; varied and eclectic. It bridges this spring with its publication notices, publication opportunities to come, and the business of the day that needs tending.

I published “Of Paper Moons, Glimmered Words” in the Spring 2023 issue of October Hill Magazine. I’m happy to publish with them again. They assemble a sweet journal, and it was three years ago that I not only published in their winter journal, but was invited to read my work at an online reading. It was a cozy assembly and the kindness of editors during Covid is certainly an event and aspect that lingers even today. A wonderfully warm reading all the way around.

I have shared gratitude for the editors at Cosmic Daffodil Journal who published three of my short poems: “Untitled,” “Early Spring,” and “This Pot” in their Buds & Blooms issue.

My advice to you? Write on through all the delights this month will bring. Summer is all too short. Find all the ways necessary to collect, savor, and share those words.

Kersten Christianson, May and All

Spring creeps in a little further each day, raising my mood even if it’s still a little too chilly to have the windows open for long. I have been devoting some time to submissions and collages and procrastinating on final edits on the home improvements series of poems I worked on earlier this year (thankfully the NAPOWRIMO ones only require minor modifications but I have no idea what sloppiness I was victim to earlier in the year.) I’ve been finalizing the cover design for the next book and making fun little reels about inspos and aesthetics. I’ve been researching Mesopotamian bloody baby-eating goddesses and writing about Celtic Queens and cupboard doors and bathroom towels that won’t make you hate your life. In other words, much the usual.

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 5/6/2023

I am listening to “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” which I only usually do “when the skies of November turn gloomy” (to borrow a phrase from the song).  But Gordon Lightfoot has died, and it’s a gloomy May day, so the song fits my mood.

Of course, Lightfoot was 84 years old, and from what I can tell from the various news stories, he seemed to have lived a good life.  He wrote amazing songs and had a good run as a performer.  Lots of people will be reflecting on his life and appreciating him today, and plenty of us have been doing this for over 50 years.

His music is the background of my childhood, along with Neil Diamond, Simon and Garfunkle, and John Denver.  Yesterday on my drive back to my seminary apartment, I heard John Denver’s live version of “Thank God I’m a Country Boy”–what a great song.

He also wrote songs that other people made more famous, like “Early Morning Rain.”  I’ve been listening to some of those songs this morning.  At some point, when I don’t have seminary papers to finish, I might do more reflecting on how this folk music formed my perception of what it would be like to be an adult–not because I listened to it as a child, but because I continued to listen to it in adolescence.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Gloomy Skies: Goodbye to Gordon Lightfoot

There are many blossoming trees in this glen – it started with blackthorn and plum, and is just about to hit its peak with gean and bird cherry, pear and apple. The celandines are coming to an end, but the yellow on the gorse is thickening up, there are wild violets on the Cairn footpath, and I am watching a clump of wild arum which is just about to open. It isn’t a rare plant, but I’ve never seen in elsewhere in Scotland, and judging by my instagram feed, it seems to be having a moment just now. The trees are in the first flush of bright green opening leaves, and the birds are louder each day. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many goldfinches in my life! The rain has brought on the garden enormously in the last three days, and I’ve been planting and sowing tomatoes, courgettes, chillis, dill and coriander. […]

A big part of my poetry practice is connecting with the territory, and though I mostly concentrate on the plants wildlife and weather, I have become very interested in the history and the engagement of the community here, which seems much livelier than in the Forth Valley. Every spare bit of ground that lies unoccupied for more than a few months seems to have trees planted, and as I get to know the area, I am becoming aware of a lot of organisations dedicated to keeping the urban sprawl much greener than you might expect, such as the Friends of Holmhills Wood Community Park, or the Friends of the Calder. There is an active ramblers’s group, and plenty of walking routes, from the Clyde Walkway to the Rotten Calder path, which I mentioned in a recent post, and a lot of interest in the landscape and archaeology of the area. […]

I am writing more thoughts about poetry than actual poetry just now, as there seems to be some activity around Ceasing Never, which I hope to share over the next week or so, and a revised edition of my translation of The Charm of Nine Herbs is going to happen at some point, but after a much longer lull than I was expecting, new poetry is finally happening – look out for moon and fire poems, and some weird mythology.

Elizabeth Rimmer, Blossom Time

If there is anyone still out there who reads my stuff on here, thank you. I’ve been through many stages of hell the last few years and am slowly starting to get myself to a place, a new place that is more about creativity and shaking out the demons from my bones.

I’d love to start a newsletter as well as have you subscribe to my substack (which I plan on updating soon as well). […]

I want my work in your hands, eyes, teeth.

To me, it’s not so much about surviving to create. It’s creating to survive. I am here to be creative, and to share with others so that they know they’re not alone.

Jennifer E. Hudgens, I Don’t Know Where I’m Going.

After I’d spent time at my desk, tinkering with poems, writing a bio and acknowledgements, collating blurbs, giving feedback on a possible cover, I was happy to press ‘send’ and email everything to Helen Eastman at Live Canon.

“Thanks for giving me time and space this weekend,” I said to my husband, Andrew. “I’m pleased with my work and I’m sending everything off to Helen.” “You don’t want to sleep on it and send it tomorrow?” “No, I’ve done loads of work on this, it’s all done, I’m sending it off.”

Then time for some gardening after being deskbound for hours, stretching my limbs and planting sunflower, nasturtium and cornflower seeds saved from last year’s plants, plus some new seeds, basil, gypsophlia, sweetpea, cosmos, salvia. Who knows what will grow. The garden’s ready for No Mow May, my semi-wild flower beds are already bursting with forget-me-nots, dandelions, honesty, daisies, celandines and (I think) borage, herb robert and other not yet identified species.

Then, a good night’s sleep a little interrupted by doubts arriving in the night. What about that lockdown poem you haven’t managed to publish anywhere yet? Wouldn’t this be the perfect opportunity to include it? Could you swap out a couple of those small ‘seen-while-walking’ poems and replace them with this two page poem? Is this really the best order for these poems? Is that really the best poem to end the collection? Back to my desk and my manuscript for some rearranging. A hasty note to Helen to disregard my first email. Andrew’s saying nothing. Note to self: always sleep on it.

Josephine Corcoran, ‘Love and Stones’ my new chapbook coming soon

I’m once again a featured poet at the Gaithersburg Book Festival, an absolutely wonderful festival that is FREE and open to the public and has a wonderful list of authors who will be reading and discussing and taking questions. […]

On Sunday, 21 May at 5:30pm I’m reading with Reston Readings, a local reading series that is always delightful.

And last but definitely not least is my official book launch party at the end of the month!! […]

May is going to be wildly busy but I’m so very excited about it and hope to see you at one of these events!

Courtney LeBlanc, Book Tour: May

Hereverent has been thoroughly and lovingly launched!

My poetry & jazz book launch was fantastic on April 20 at PLNU. We had poetry, music, drinks, and dessert in this little parlor that makes me feel like a wealthy great aunt has invited me to tea. :) I’m so grateful to Brenda Martin for her gorgeous music and her fun improv collaborations! (And thanks to Emma McCoy for the photo!)

Then my virtual book launch for Hereverent on April 21 was also lovely. What a gift to hear poets I adore read my poems alongside theirs. I’m so grateful to Agape Editions for publishing and celebrating my book! […]

Finally in this countdown to launch, 15 of my favorite local poets read with me in my church’s sanctuary this past Saturday night, and I brought my favorite brownies (a recipe from my beloved dissertation advisor, Marthe Reed), and many more dear friends and delightful people came to celebrate my new book too.

Katie Manning, Hereverent Launches!

Yes, all the waiting is over – if you pre-ordered the book, or were waiting for the book to be available from BOA or Amazon or you wanted to review it on Amazon, the 9th is the day! That’s tomorrow!

In celebration, I’ll be taking over BOA Edition’s feed on Instagram May 9th, 10th, and 11th so keep your eyes out for that! I’ll talk about inspirations, making cocktails, playlists, and more. I’m a little bit nervous because I’m not the world’s most confident Instagram user, but hopefully I have respectable posts and stories. Isn’t it funny that now Instagram videos are part of promoting a book? That wasn’t true the last time one of my books came out. Ah, how things change!

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Ready for Launch? Flare, Corona’s Official Pub Date Arrives, an Upcoming Open Books Reading with Martha Silano, Instagram Takeovers, Plus More Pics of Tulips and Parties

Here’s the truth about envy, judgement, and comparisons: the other person feels none of the bitterness, defeat, and ire you feel. You—exclusively you—feel the discomfort, and it’s a slow poison you mix with your own particular brand of injustice and insecurity, then self-administer.

At various misguided moments, we can come to believe that envy is a motivator. If that were true, feeling it just once would do the trick to skyrocket us into productivity and success. More often what happens is this: we feel discouraged, then immediately seek to buffer the feeling. Judgement, Netflix, potato chips: all effective buffers. None of these, however, is a catalyst for growth, development, or change. None is half as powerful as reading a book, sitting with a draft, or going for a walk.

You alone can make a conscious effort to ease yourself of these unnecessary feelings in 2023. How? By noticing them and calling them what they are. Then, by diffusing them by focusing on yourself. What is my envy/comparison/jealousy telling me about what I want? And how can I take the step towards what I want, instead of sitting here paralyzed by indignation, elbow deep in a bag of Fiesta Doritos?

Maya C. Popa, Progress Report: Literary Resolutions

Many agendas may drive the urge to bash particular writers or their works, among these envy, attention, pride, status, self-preservation, righteous indignation, or a sense that one needs to scramble to make space for oneself in an already small environment (“the literary world”). Even, dare I say, ignorance. I could speculate on reasons for unkindness until the proverbial cows come dawdling home, but I suppose it can be attributed to a kind of social Darwinism. People can be mean-spirited when threatened. Though exactly how the writing of poetry poses a threat to other poets remains a mystery to me.

Maybe I am a Pollyanna (entirely possible), but although I can recall some incidents and critiques that have stung me, there have been far more instances of generosity from fellow writers. While contemplating writing this post I sat back and decided to count how many fellow writers have extended courtesy, respect, useful advice, helpful criticism, networking and publication leads, encouragement, and the sense that I’ve “been seen”–acknowledgment as a writer–and I found the list was long. I considered listing names, but there are so many…and I was afraid I’d inadvertently overlook someone. I consider this an excellent “problem” to have.

Granted, some stings have been…memorable. However, I’ve been writing and publishing poetry and related prose since the early 1980s, so there have been many years during which I’ve had the joy of connecting with other writers in generous ways. Writing is both a large community and a small one, depending upon where I am in my own life: local at times, semi-isolated other times, and then–thanks to social media platforms, with which I have love/hate relationships–national and international!

As I get ready to pull back a bit from my work in the realm of higher education, I hope that the lessons I have learned about being generous to my students, gently encouraging while pointing out areas to keep working on, will stay with me. My feeling about poetry is that there’s certainly room for more of it in a world which can be harsh, and that acknowledging other humans’ urge to express their awe, fear, grief, passion, love, anger, and perspective won’t actually harm many of us.

Ann E. Michael, Generosity

Publishers aren’t charity operations (though it often feels that way), despite the enduring myth that there is something noble and good about the literary industry. It’s still a business, and it’s still operating under the same suffocating tenets of capitalism that writers are. Lumpenproletariat or not.

Alas, the writer’s personality consists of the yin and yang qualities of self-hatred and self-aggrandizement. It is the latter quality that so often comes into play when they submit a piece. They think their writing is special or “god’s gift” and that it should therefore not only be immediately accepted, but that the publisher should waive any fees for the sheer pleasure of reading their work. But newsflash: reading submissions is not a pleasure. About five percent of the pool will actually be enjoyable. It’s that five percent that keeps the publisher going. Fighting the fucking windmills while the schlock in The New Yorker is touted as some sort of literary high standard.

Genna Rivieccio, On Submission Fees and the Belief that Publishers Are Pirates

This particular advert, however, seemed seriously weird. It wanted an exceptional poet and tutor to be a part of a happy and successful team. Happy kept cropping up. The school, it said, is a happy place. It provides a happy environment.

The candidate it said would be an established member of the literary world (so one of the boys and girls, then) with an excellent academic background, a PhD in English or Creative Writing (naturally, what else would you expect?), and experience of teaching at graduate level. Blah-de-blah. Highly skilled. Blah-de-blah. Supportive, Understanding. Blah-de-Blah.

Ok, fair enough, I wouldn’t get in. I’m not qualified. I don’t mean academically, though that’s true. My ancient BA Hons is nowhere near good enough, even if I knew where the proof of it was. No, it’s the happy bit I couldn’t do. I doubt I could even do it at the interview (not that I’d get one).

I grew up in journalism, grew middle-aged and grew old in journalism. We knew what happy was, especially when we’d had a drink or four. We knew what angry, passionate, bad-tempered and noisy was too. When we wrote, we wrote alone. We wrote in doubt, asking ourselves questions, trying to get what we wanted to say down as best we could and as truthfully as we could. We were alive. Are these people in that supportive, understanding, positive, constructive, happy world really alive?

Bob Mee, THE POETRY ACADEMICS vs JOHN STEINBECK

Back in August of 2022, I wrote the blog post, Browsing the Archive on a Summer Afternoon, in which I talk about my pleasure at revisiting my collection of journals that have published my work over the years. I realize that I neglected to point out something very important: writers should read all of the contributor’s copies they receive.

I do mean all. If you primarily write poetry, then of course you should read all of the poetry, but don’t stop there. If the journal includes fiction, reviews, and essays, read all of them too. If you write prose, read the poetry! As Virginia Woolf wrote, “The impact of poetry is so hard and direct that for the moment there is no other sensation except that of the poem itself.” Woolf wrote prose, but she definitely “got” poetry. Poets dream of readers who appreciate their craft with such deep understanding.

Reading every page of your contributor’s copy, whether in a physical journal or online, connects you to a community of writers, because each journal is its own community. I sometimes imagine the other writers who sent their work to a particular publication at the same moment as I did. What were they doing just before they hit “send” or “submit?” It’s entirely possible that some of us sent work simultaneously, our words traveling through the ether and arriving at the magazine’s inbox at the exact same moment. There’s a kind of mystery about this process that’s always intrigued me.

Erica Goss, You Should Read Every Page of Your Contributor’s Copy

I will be reading next week at Shelton Timberland Library with poet friends Cathy Warner, Gary E. Bullock, and Dan Coffman (and maybe a few other Washington poets if it works out!). Cathy Warner and I have been friends since 2012 when we both found ourselves new to Bainbridge Island. While she and I have both moved about since then, our poetry friendship has stayed intact. Gary and Dan are new poetry friends who I met in a workshop class with poet Gary Copeland Lilley and whom I have not met in person due to COVID, but will now be able to meet in person! It is not hyperbole to say all my poet friends and connections are what got me through those long three years of isolation. Come and hear us read. Come celebrate our connection to poetry and each other.

Carey Taylor, Upcoming Reading!!

It’s not just the practical blocks – lack of time, being interrupted etc – it’s the psychological blocks, and the societal blocks that prevent people, particularly older women, from writing. There is a prejudice in society that says that older women are, at best dull, at worst invisible. When I searched the stock photo database, pexels, for a header photo for this post, I searched ‘older woman writing’ and found virtually nothing. When I searched ‘older man writing’ I found plenty. When I searched ‘writer’ I found plenty of young women with beautiful nails holding pastel notebooks, and lots of older men at gnarly wooden desks grumpily screwing up pieces of paper. I use this as an example because these stock photos are the pictures that the media uses as an example of what is present in society: as examples of products, as examples of aesthetic lifestyles to strive for, as examples of, you might even say, what is the acceptable face, or the seen face, or the most associated-with face, of a product, a person, a genre, a section of society.

We know older women writers exist. Just looking at my own over filled bookcases I can see them everywhere – Hilary Mantel (God, I miss Hilary Mantel so much) Margaret Atwood, Maggie O’Farrel… but somehow the perception still seems to be that older women at the beginning of their careers, those not established yet, do not exist.

Wendy Pratt, How to Give Yourself Permission to Write

But the important part here is the student loans, because those things literally made it possible for me to go to and stay in college. See, that full-time job paid maybe $10 an hour, which was okay money for working in Hammond, Louisiana in 1995 but not enough money to support a family and pay tuition, and really wasn’t enough money to support myself as a newly-single person, pay tuition and pay child support.

So I took out loans, every one I could get, and for the next four years as an undergrad, I would start my semester in line to pay my tuition, get two checks for the balance over what my tuition was, and immediately sign one of those checks over to my ex-wife. Pretty much the same for my grad school experience.

So now it’s 2005. I’ve got my MFA, I’ve just done two years at Stanford as a Stegner Fellow and I have my first full-time university teaching job. I’m a lecturer at Florida Atlantic University teaching a 4/4 and making $30,000 or so a year, which is more than I’ve ever made per year in my life at the time, and which is not enough to live in south Florida, not really, so I go into economic hardship deferral until that time runs out and then forbearance and at some point in there, there’s a program that allows you to pay based on your income and also we move to Iowa because Amy gets the job she has now at Drake University. I’m making payments, but they’re not large enough to even cover the interest and if this part of the story sounds familiar that’s because there are a lot of people in similar boats.

Brian Spears, A little personal news

What appears to be a simple poem covers so much ground…Masculinity, memory—both positive and the (I think) implicit nod to poverty at the end in ‘the hungry roots beneath’. It’s an entirely different poem, but it puts me in mind of Paul Farley’s poem about Treacle. I love the musicality of the poem, particularly in the first stanza, and I raise a pint of Kingfisher (NB I mean cup of tea—it’s now 7.30am) to the internal rhymes of ‘furnaces’ and ‘curry houses’. We’ll also give ‘curve and ‘trove’ and ‘pucker’ and ‘nutter’, a respectful nod too.

I bought this book from Andy via Facebook a year or so ago, so my apologies it’s taken me this long, but I was hooked in by him saying it was pretty much his last copy. Take note: I’m an absolute sucker for that so, so make sure you use the scarcity bias[.]

Mat Riches, High and (Mar)mighty…aka A Toast To Marmite aka Boys For the Black Stuff

M Archive: After the End of the World by Alexis Pauline Gumbs is a stunning collection of poetry. Inspired by M. Jacqui Alexander’s Pedagogies of Crossing: Meditations on Feminism, Sexual Politics, Memory, and the Sacred, a transnational black feminist text, Gumbs envisions humanity at the end of the world. While there is struggle, this is not the typical depiction of humanity as viciously and violently struggling for survival, but a vision of humanity as transformational. As the environment and world shifts (due to human causes), humanity takes to the dirt, sky, fire, and sea, creating new communities and ways of being. It’s a beautiful, compelling and hopeful depiction.

Andrea Blythe, Culture Consumption: April 2023

‘Snow’ does all the right poemy things. The sounds match the sense. The world is busy, busier than we realise and so is a phrase like ‘soundlessly collateral and incompatible’. Then there’s that tangerine. The words come down to single, propulsive syllables, so that you almost have to spit to say ‘spit the pips and feel’. But there is a deliberate unpoeticness to ‘Snow’, too, an awkwardness of phrasing and language, and this is one of the things I like most about it. (That and the refusal to explain: why is there more than glass between the snow and the roses?)

Jeremy Wikeley, incorrigibly Plural

This poem began in my car with my kids sitting together in the backseat. As we sat at a traffic light, watching some workers cut the limbs off a tree, my daughter said the body of this poem in almost these words exactly. I don’t recall if I wrote it down (or typed it into the notes app on my phone) right away, or if I remembered what she said and wrote it down later, but the process involved paring down the description to its essentials, looking carefully at line breaks and opportunities for music, and maintaining her voice the best I could (“the sky’s like finally” is one of those moments, but I also love the long I assonance in that phrase). I think the pauses after “branch” and “blue” are doing a lot in the poem. Those line breaks slow down the pace and give the reader time to reflect. I see the break between “branch” and “hits the ground” as enacting the branch’s fall and landing.

I found this idea comforting when my marriage ended: When something is gone, it makes space for something else. In this case, the tree losing its limbs made space for the sky. The view changed. My perspective changed with it.

Maggie Smith, Behind-the-Scenes Look: Two Related Poems

This is observational humour at its best: the humour of recognition. Waldron catches those unguarded moments that betray our weaknesses; he observes and reports the embarrassing that we would rather not admit to; he exposes those frailties that make us human. For example, The Sweet Smell of Failure is a cautionary tale which shows the romantic consequences of not changing one’s underpants regularly;  Digging in my Archives explores a life of pretensions; Valentines Day tells of a major romantic failure; and Shop (lift) Local exposes the limitations of our moral compass when we’re offered a bargain. There is something of us all in these poems. In his drop-in Waldron describes the imagined persona narrating the poems as a ‘37-year-old man’. Yet there is something universal about these poems. When we laugh at him, we are laughing at ourselves, man, or woman. In fact, there is something of ‘Everyman’ about these poems, but without the moral imperative!

Nigel Kent, Review of ‘My C&A Years’ by Roger Waldron

A follow-up to the creative non-fiction and poetry title Album Rock (Portugal Cove-St. Philip’s NL: Boulder Books, 2018) is St. John’s, Newfoundland poet Matthew Hollett’s full-length poetry debut, Optic Nerve: poems (Kingston ON: Brick Books, 2023). Through an assortment of first-person poems set in a lyric simultaneously narrative and cinematic, Hollett offers a descriptively-thick and finely-honed intimate portrait of east coast space. “It took two of us to haul the river out of its box / and wrangle its segments together like vertebrae / or slabs of sidewalk. As rivers go,” he writes, to open the poem “Waters Above and Waters Below,” “this one had been / stepped in more than twice, its leisurely ripples and eddies / scuffed with footprints from small armies / of schoolkids.” Hollett works his lyric as a way of examining small moments of time, comparable to how Michael Crummey wrote contemporary and historic Newfoundland through his Passengers: Poems (Toronto ON: Anansi, 2022) [see my review of such here], or how Michael Goodfellow wrote his personal Lunenberg County, Nova Scotia through Naturalism, An Annotated Bibliography: Poems (Kentville NS: Gaspereau Press, 2022) [see my review of such here]. One could say that all three of these poets are simply following elements of Newfoundland-based poet and editor Don McKay [see my review of his 2021 collection Lurch here], and that would be entirely correct, each writing their own small perceptions through carved lyric observations. Weighed down through the dark, there is significant and even pragmatic light in these lines. “If you find yourself lost,” the poem “Coriolis Borealis” begins, “try not to walk in circles. A forest / is an aura of revolving doors, every spruce or fir is / a celestial body that wants you in its orbit. For the first / twenty-four hours, you’d be wise to stay put.” Across his densely-packed Optic Nerve, Hollett writes short moments and scenes, fully aware of the differences in seeing and perception, writing narratives many of which are centred in and around Halifax. “In Halifax it greets me like a gauntlet of bear traps.” he writes, to open the poem “Shipshape.” “Sidestepping swollen potholes on Quinpool, I pass a traffic island / with its mascara of snow, a bicycle wheel crushed into a taco, / a bird’s nest asquint with icicles.”

rob mclennan, Matthew Hollett, Optic Nerve: poems

There’s a primarily Anglo-Saxon obsession among so-called experts with attempting to turn wine into a dry, dead subject, to reduce it to exams (WSET/MW stuff) and points (Robert Parker, etc).

And then there’s the marketing ploy, often used by pubs and restaurants, of flogging wine by grape variety. This supposedly makes everything easier for the consumer to order once they’ve decided that they like, for instance, Sauvignon Blanc, in an impossible struggle to simplify things. Of course, such a strategy ignores the vagaries of soil, climate, grower and winemaker, all of which mean that there a huge gamut of Sauvignon Blancs. Many of them barely resemble each other in a comparative tasting.

Much the same could be said of poetry. It too is a slippery, incredibly complex subject that defies repeated critical and academic attempts at pigeonholing and classification. Poets are categorised but they defy those labels on a regular basis because the genre is alive and constantly shape-shifting.

In both poetry and wine, the more you know, the more you realise you know nothing. 

Matthew Stewart, Pigeonholing in wine and poetry

Sure. The whole project misconstrued or misconceived.
Thunderstorm at dawn: deep dark with lightning,
and now a morning pretending nothing ever happened,
but a gore of draggled blossom spread across the walk.

Dale Favier, Making My Heart Beat

My chalkboard poems alternate now between humor and sad nostalgia with images from the natural world, spring blooming all around, and a subtext of the long goodbye. Last night, a woman asked if I was still writing poems and if I had ever been in the New Yorker, which reminded me of a fairly recent personal rejection from the New Yorker asking to see more, and my inaction upon that. Uh oh. “I want to see you in print,” the woman said, and I realized again how few people, even those who love me, know that I am very often in print, or in online magazines, and have several chapbooks out there in the world. But I do feel loved and appreciated, especially for the chalkboard poems, which are short and connect to people’s lives. I love those people back.

Kathleen Kirk, Candy House

when there’s
no memory of
the moment of
passage and
tissue and salts
have gone to
the denizens
themselves now
gone to earth
those feathers
make a brave
show folded
still into the
intelligence
of flight as if
they might still
know the air

Dick Jones, wing.

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 17

Poetry Blogging Network

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

Welcome to a special May Day edition, with earthy celebration and worker solidarity in equal measure. But I must inject a sombre note as well: this week we learned via a post at her blog that M.J. Iuppa has died. I’ve been sharing her work since I first started doing this six years ago, and I’m sad to lose her luminous posts (see for example October 30, 2021), but cheered that they’re starting a poetry prize in her honor:

We are organizing a fund through SUNY Brockport in M.J.’s memory, the “M.J. Iuppa Poetry Prize”. It will reward young writers with a cash prize for their poetry to help continue MJ’s teaching legacy.

Click through to make a donation.


The April dusk bursts with metaphors.  Night had sowed magical rain, the day comes forth in pea green, yellow green, everything green. Pavement of scattered chartreuse pollen with tire marks.  The daffodils mesmerize me: tiny geese with pointed head and tucked wings fly arrowlike across the smooth sea.  Spellbinding.  They are both rapid and still, hovering in the folds of time. They oscillate, back and forth, in and out.  Not long ago their flowers were plush, wet and sticky.  Now its daytime hosiery has been washed out and is hanging on the line.

The nonexistent in the existent steps forward so delicately.  The familiar and worldly array of things holds worlds in its grip.  A just-dead flower as fleet bird, then cast-off sheath.  Luxuriant, terrible, ridiculous, eternal. 

Jill Pearlman, Exactly As Spring Is, Only More So

The resonance of bone –
my knuckle rapping
on the brain pan.
Loose earth blows free
as if blood was
at some point of decay
pulverised.

Dick Jones, sheep skull hollow

How can I write about spring coming to the Berkshires when so much is so profoundly broken? It feels like fiddling while Rome burns, or admiring pretty wildflowers while ignoring forest fires. 

Then again, how can I not write about spring? To live in this beautiful world without noticing it, without being grateful, is a dereliction of my responsibility to see with open eyes and to offer praise.

I do not help my friends and beloveds suffering oppression in red states by cutting myself off from the beauty around me. I think of these lines from Bertolt Brecht, from Svendborg Poems, 1939:

In the dark times
Will there also be singing?
Yes, there will also be singing
About the dark times.

There is still beauty, in dark times. There is springtime. There is singing. There are parents who love our children fiercely and want to support them in growing into whoever they most deeply are.

Rachel Barenblat, How can I

A rich man telling those of us who aren’t rich “accept we’re poorer than we were” may generate a few searches about his pay on Google but meanwhile the French are burning whatever’s to hand in the streets, and conversations I’m having here, in non-Europe, is why we are taking it?

Far too late, me and my women friends realise we rolled over when we were robbed of £50,000 or more, our pension age forced up to 66. The Bank of England chief economist’s official salary is beside the point, it’s his work history that tells us what we need to know, as it does about anyone. 

Looking at work history’s a bit like getting under the bed with the hoover. It’s there you find the artist with decades of highly paid corporate branding work to subsidise his art, novel, or album. It’s there you find an economist with years in investment banking that has assured he never has a shred of self-doubt. 

Financial security, wealth, money call it what you want, it’s an airbag – no counting coins in your hand, you swipe a contactless card, you don’t pull your own teeth out, you pay someone and then you get implants. 

What’s the plan then? Do we keep on taking it? I’m for asking difficult questions about entitlement and the rich forever the most numerous at the table with their mutual understanding. We could start with the arts or we could start with the banks. It almost doesn’t matter. The point is to ask awkward questions, to learn to protest. 

Jackie Wills, When the rich man tells the beggar

–Today is a good day to think about workers, workers of all sorts.  We’re having more of a national conversation these days about work, about gender, about who takes care of children and elders while people work, about the locations of work.  I look forward to seeing how it all turns out–I’m holding onto hope for positive change, even as I’m afraid we can never make the improvements that need to be made.

–If we’re one of the lucky types of workers, the ones who aren’t under threat by bosses or by globalization or by robots, we can support those who aren’t as lucky.  Send some money to organizations that work for worker’s rights. I’m impressed with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, which works to protect the migrant workers in the fields of Florida, but you certainly have plenty to choose from.

–Can’t afford to make a donation? Write letters on behalf of the unemployed, the underemployed, everyone who needs a better job or better working conditions. Write to your representatives to advocate for them. What are you advocating? A higher minimum wage? Safer worksites? Job security? Work-life balance?

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Solidarity Forever! Happy May Day

we could lift into the air & become
part of the indistinguishable wave of laughing gulls above
a lover’s hand composes the body it touches –
Love, like water!
How it gives and gives

Charlotte Hamrick, Wrapped in Salty Air from The Gulf: A Cento

Away from my personal life, April was a chance to attend the online and in-person launch of The Big Calls by Glyn Maxwell. I’ve never bought a book so fast after hearing readings from it. In his latest collection, Maxwell takes well-known poems from the English canon and ‘shadows’ them, maintaining each poem’s structure and poetic metre, to write about recent significant historic events. So issues such as the Johnson government’s response to the pandemic, the Grenfell Tower fire, the handling of the evacuation from Afghanistan, the tabloid hacking scandal, the Metropolitan Police, deaths of migrants at sea, and more, are transposed into poems shadowing writing by Kipling, Oscar Wilde, Tennyson, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Gerard Manley Hopkins and other famous poets. If you’re at all interested in the craft of poetry writing, or poetry in general, and you want to read succinct and insightful political commentary, I urge you to seek out this book. It’s available direct from small press Live Canon and the Poetry Book Society, and all usual venues. Also, check out Live Canon’s YouTube channel where you can see films of Glyn Maxwell reading poems from his book.

Josephine Corcoran, April News

I’m blue like old potato sky. I was afraid of penny-farthings and of men with tall cylinder hats. My own hands are on a photo, making a gift of a miniature penny-farthing to my parents, an anniversary party.

Fokkina McDonnell, Before 11am I am not human

I’ve read lots of poetry, but the book which has haunted me most of late is one which I’ve been wanting to read for years: John Berger and Jean Mohr’s collaboration A Fortunate Man. It contains so many insightful passages about the human condition that it would be invidious to single any out here. Suffice it to say that it’s up there with the Into Their labours trilogy and Bento’s Sketchbook as my favourite of Berger’s many beautiful books. What an extraordinary writer he was. Incidentally, he was an early champion of Fullard.

In my most recent poems I’ve been trying to be more ‘in the moment’, like I am in haiku, rather than dwelling on, and in, the past – albeit, of course, that every second of time contains the past and the future as well as the here and now.

Matthew Paul, May Day mayday

Subtle associations, the nature aesthetic, the sublime
moment of awareness: I was grappling with Haiku.
There was no starting point. Not here, in the morass of
the city. To even acknowledge the want of the rain is
to know smog-blackened dreams, the wretched lust
of the mundane inside an unrequited morning, human
refuse, refused humans, stained sky, bubbling sores, lies
leading to lies, streets leading to streets leading fucking
nowhere. There was little to exalt. Little that could exalt.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Part 44

Writing is a necessary madness but is participating in publishing and paid memberships? Some people opt out or self-publish, which misses the benefits of mentorship and editing sometimes.

You may as well own the means of production and enjoy the process instead of feeding yourselves to the cogs of commerce. You don’t get your money back commensurate for time in writing a poem or a book anyway, rates for publication having been stagnant since about 1930.

Doesn’t it add insult to pay to be considered? Write a poem for a month, get paid $50 if lucky, but probably paid in copies. Write a book for a few years, and get $500 advance against copies. You may never work off your advance with sales. I’m nearly earned out with one book after over a decade. I soon might be given $50.

Being a part time continuing ed. teacher without contract for decades, that seems like a lot of income. I haven’t worked regular hours in the cash economy since 2001. I do contracts here and there, editing or data entry. I have the luxury of a partner who has marketable skills.

Income from writing compared to say, $160 an hour, even if listening in on a conference call, in high tech, it’s sad.

Pearl Pirie, Economics

In the open green part of the park
a solo garlic mustard stood tall.
I considered it, its cheerful leaves,
imagining a crop-worthy crowd
of them, enough for pesto pasta.
I considered my neighbor’s passion
for eradicating invasive
species of all kinds, sighed, & turned back.
Plucked up by the roots, I was surprised
how clean they were — white, thick, sturdy, strong,
not a crumb of dirt that stuck or fell.

PF Anderson, WEEDS #NaPoWriMo

Friday was one of my favorite days of the year: Power-washing day. Every spring there is a day when we bring the power-washer out to clean the backyard patio and sidewalk, and this year it was Friday, the third day in a row of morning gardening.

For some reason, this year, before I began, I told myself that maybe the patio didn’t even need washing. It didn’t look very dirty. Maybe just in a few spots. Then I began, and I could see how wrong I’d been.

This is the thing I love about white space: How it helps us see. It’s only when I create white space on the patio that I can fully appreciate the story winter has written on our home. As I twirled the water nozzle over the concrete canvas, making designs, I thought about all the things for which white space is essential: poems, graphic design, architecture. A garden, a marriage, a life. I thought about how, sometimes, I love white space for what it reveals, for what it shines a light on, and other times I love it for itself. There are times when the clear blank space–not the dark matter it weaves itself through–is the thing of beauty, is the art, is the point of it all.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Spring gleanings

I think it’s like sex: you can’t really tell if the other person’s heart is in it or if it’s just an athletic activity for them. I am not sure we will be able to tell the difference with AI generated works, either. But I think – maybe in theater, especially, it being such a collaborative art that it craves a personal physical presence for the full experience – some of us purists will be looking for fingerprints. We will want to know that we are working with other living, breathing humans. Maybe we’ll better appreciate the wabi sabi aspect of art?

I think that the angry discussions are actually about money.

There was a time when dishes were made by artisans. Then at some point, factories could spit them out cheaper and faster and satisfy everyone with their ubiquitous, utilitarian presence. I think the same thing will happen with stories. We will find ways to pass the time, if that is what we want. There is money to be made!

Our lines of who is an artisan, who is an artist, who is a hobbyist will come into question yet again. And at some point, maybe we will learn not to give a shit and focus on the doing of art?

Who gets to make a living at it has always been arbitrary. Are you in good with a Duke, or a Pope?

Ren Powell, Progress

If my poet colleagues think of themselves as artists, I respect that and will not argue. Perspectives, right? Not the same as pretensions, although I will admit that in my opinion, there are some people who write poems, and other things, a bit pretentiously. I have been guilty of the same, especially when I was young and getting the practice underway. Pretentiousness may even be a kind of motivation. We learn humility as we practice our missteps.

Contemporary Western society casts a great deal of gravitas and status on the word “artist.” So to answer my spouse, I replied that well…I do consider myself a writer and a poet, but I seldom think of myself as an artist. However, if you think poets are artists, I am an artist. Because I do indeed think of myself as a poet. I cannot get away from that urgent need to observe, imagine, interpret, restate, turn into metaphor, reflect, create into form, and otherwise do the making (Poiesis) of word play.

Ann E. Michael, Artistry, art

boy, it’s hot, says the man to his wife,
rubs his face with the sleeve of his shirt
and we know it may not be sweat on
his forehead
but the days
the weeks
the years
pouring out of all of us
as we come back time after time
to sit like this
and wait for the gods to begin again
with the same old stories
the same old moves

Bob Mee, THREE OLDER POEMS

Adrienne Rich (1929 – 2012) started a relationship with Michelle Cliff, Jamaican-born novelist and editor, in 1976. The following year Rich published a pamphlet, “Twenty-One Love Poems” and her later poems and socio-political essays, notably “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence”, explored her sexuality. Like the poems in Rich’s pamphlet, [Julie] Weiss’s poems are numbered rather than titled and kept short (Rich’s were around 12 to 16 lines, Weiss keeps hers in 10 line couplets). […]

Weiss left America for Spain and the second poem asks questions of language, “Who needs translation when our bodies/ speak a thousand different languages,// all of them born of the same tongue?”.

Emma Lee, “The Jolt: Twenty-one Love Poems in Homage to Adrienne Rich” Julie Weiss (Bottlecap Press) – book review

I meant to write about another poet today, and their 2023 book of poems, but for some reason this morning I took down Eva-Mary and opened it to the first poem, “The Apple Tree,” dedicated to the poet’s mother. “Oh, yes,” I thought. “I remember this book.”

I was misremembering it.

Yes to blossoms, yes to family kitchens, yes to horses, yes to Irish ballads. But also yes to women raped with rifle barrels, to incest, to judges ordering women home to abusive husbands, priests ordering bruised daughters, “Mind your father.” The time-line stretches into adulthood, into divorce and custody battles. Even so, Eva-Mary is beautifully wrought, the winner of the Terrence Des Pres Prize for Poetry, a finalist for the National Book Award, in its 3rd printing by the time it came to me. I read every page (as if I’d opened a dystopian novella, I couldn’t pry my eyes away), and even so I can’t seem to offer this review without a trigger warning.

One reads this book, from the second poem (“To Judge Faolain, Dead Long Enough: A Summons”) onward knowing exactly what the subject matter is, so I’m not giving away the content. And, on the chance that one of my readers needs permission to write her or his own devastating truth, I am happy to recommend this book. McCarriston does it brilliantly. (You could take nothing away but the metaphors and be redeemed.)

Bethany Reid, Linda McCarriston, Eva-Mary

The trainer at the gym hands you a 25-lb. weight
for what’s called the one-hand suitcase carry—

weight of a sack of rice, weight of a squirming
toddler, weight of three gallons of water

like the ones you somehow carried from
the busted main in the park, days after

the earthquake in your city. How did you do it,
how does anyone manage a new hardship

that arrives without warning, without
instructions or any period of training,

that simply drops at your feet so you
have no choice but to learn by carrying?

Luisa A. Igloria, One-Hand Suitcase Carry

This intimacy with the small things of the world [in Tre Paesi & Other Poems by Peter Makin] leads almost inevitably to ecological concerns. In ‘Cumbria’ we see the interaction of the human and the natural via the 19th century mining and railway building industries, now being reabsorbed by nature:


out of the cutting
you could
see from the moon
is now a rabbit-home:
galleried and interconnected
rabbit-home,
wormed and tunneled like old cowshit,
under a crust likewise thin


Rabbits come to represent this human/nature interaction throughout the sequence, with another flip in the balance of control occurring in ‘Lincolnshire’:


My Myxomatosis
Rabbit, with
shrunken skull and fat eyes
you are your own universe, all hell,
and nothing to wait for.


In the concluding, conclusion, section, the rabbits regain their rabbithood […]

Billy Mills, Recent Reading April 2023: A Review

The fourth full-length collection by Buffalo, New York “poet, critic and junk bookmaker” Joe Hall, following Pigafetta Is My Wife (Boston MA/Chicago IL: Black Ocean, 2010), The Devotional Poems (Black Ocean, 2013) and Someone’s Utopia (Black Ocean, 2018) is Fugue and Strike: Poems by Joe Hall (Black Ocean, 2023). Fugue and Strike is constructed out of six poem-sections—“From People Finder Buffalo,” “From Fugue & Strike,” “Garbage Strike,” “I Hate That You Died,” “The Wound” and “Polymer Meteor”—ranging from suites of shorter poems to section-length single, extended lyrics. Hall’s poems are playful, savage and critical, composed as a book of lyric and archival fragments, cutting observations, testaments and testimonials. “[…] to become a poet / is to kill a poet,” he writes, as part of the poem “FUGUE 6 | JACKED DADS OF CORNELL,” “cling to a poet / in the last hour, before slipping into the drift / atoms of talk bounce in cylinders down Green St, predictive tongue / in the aleatory frame stream of vaticides […].”

Throughout the first section, Hall offers fifty pages of lyric lullabies and mantras towards a clarity, writing of sleep and machines, fugues and their possibilities. “each poem / an easter egg,” he writes, as part of “FUGUE 40 | DEBT AFTER DEBT,” “w/ absence inside and inside absence / you are hunger, breathing this time and value / particularized into mist, you are there, at the end / of another shift […].” The second section, “Garbage Strike,” subtitled “BUFFALO & ITHICA, NY, USA / JAN-MAY 2019,” responds to, obviously, a worker’s strike that the author witnessed, and one examined through a collage of lyric and archival materials from the time. Echoing numerous poets over the years that have responded to issues of labour—including Philadelphia poet ryan eckes, Winnipeg poet Colin Brown, Vancouver poet Rob Manery and the early KSW work poets including Tom Wayman and Kate Braid—Hall’s explorations sit somewhere between the straight line and the experimental lyric, attempting to articulate a kind of overview via the collage of lyric, prose and archival materials. There is something of the public thinker to Hall’s work, one that attempts to better understand the point at which capitalism meets social movements and action, all of which attempts to get to the root of how it is we should live responsibly in the world. There’s some hefty contemplation that sits at the foundation of Hall’s writing.

rob mclennan, Joe Hall, Fugue and Strike

Every year I desperately wait to be out of the Finnish winter and into spring. Every year Finnish Mother Nature slaps me in the face with my birch allergy. If you’ve ever been to Finland, you’ll know this is a totally unfair allergy. The snow is finally gone, the sun is shining and I can’t work on my allotment, my garden, go for a walk or enjoy a Vappu (May Day) picnic without suffering. I was working our annual Finnish Scottish Society ceilidh yesterday and even though I didn’t drink I’m suffering because we left a lot of windows open to keep the place cool during all the cooking and dancing. So today is a good day for couch writing with cats and a quick review of my April Poetry Month GLOPOWRIMO – Global Poetry Writing Month.

As expected I didn’t write or post every day, but I think I only missed a few days. Some days were token writing exercises as I just couldn’t find a prompt to inspire me, other days I wrote a whole poem. There are bits that might be expanded into a poem, some that just aren’t worth it. It was nice to have a kickstart into writing regularly again. I especially enjoyed @toddedillard‘s prompts as they were unexpected, sometimes surreal but always very original and fun. He has several years’ worth of prompts linked there, so I think I will continue to dip into them for inspiration. 

I also used the https://www.napowrimo.net/ site and was introduced to the Finnish poet Olli Heikkonen. He’s the first Finnish poet I really could connect with and I could almost understand all the Finnish. It was great to hear him read it on the Poetry International website. It was really inspiring and I’ve written two poems from that prompt. It also led to some interesting discussions in my writing group about the difference between moose and elk and whether I can use them interchangeably as the Finnish word is the same.

Gerry Stewart, A Rough Spring Start and GLOPOWRIMO

Replace pancreas with Prince, liver with Franz Liszt. Substitute Maryland for one lung, a postage stamp for the other. Kidneys: rivers, spine: Rod Stewart. What about the Fortran programming language, mollusks and a square-headed screwdriver? Adrenal gland, urethra, heart. Stomach as an amateur choir. Black rhino as bladder. Someone left a surgical cloth. It’s Beethoven. Extract gallbladder, insert Andromeda Galaxy. Lymph nodes: an AK-15. Bill when done, empty-headed sky, dovecote, wingbeat, penchant for Bronx cheers during coitus, tiny movements of fingers during burial of the young.

Gary Barwin, CHANGE THINGS

Years later, I discovered the local poetry scene. Many were poets who wrote about things that were familiar to me – steel works, pits and Thatcher –  and they inspired me to write more and share my poems. I had a few poems published in the late 1980s and early 1990s. […]

My poetry is about celebrating the ordinary things in our lives. The settings are familiar and recognisable – supermarkets, laundrettes, cafes and people’s kitchens. I picture my reader as someone who hasn’t got a great deal of time to read poetry and so I give them enough to think about while they are stood at the bus stop. My poems aren’t going to make anyone scratch their head, elbow or arse.

Drop-in by Roger Waldron (Nigel Kent)

In the living room that is
also the kitchen, a man hunches
over the keyboard.

Two robins play tag
on the front lawn; a single
bluebird alights on its box.

Soon there will be washing-up
to do, and then the long hours
until sleep.

(After 20 minutes on hold,
the music cuts out and
the call is disconnected.)

Jason Crane, POEM: Please Wait

Releasing a new book means having lots of conversations. I feel like “podcast guest” has been a part-time job for me since the end of last year. I love chatting with other writers and artists about creativity and the creative process, maybe more than I like talking about anything else on earth, but this particular conversation with Andy Pizza on the Creative Pep Talk podcast was maybe the best I’ve ever had on the subject.

Andy and I talked a lot about “showing your thinking,” finding your “secret sauce” and bringing that to your work, living as a poet or artist vs. making a living that way, trying to make poetry more accessible and less intimidating, and so much more. It was such a good talk—fun and wide-ranging and nourishing. We got deep, but we also laughed. A lot.I came away feeling so energized and ready to hit the ground running creatively, and I hope you’ll take the time to listen, because I think you’ll come away energized, too.

Maggie Smith, Pep Talk

One of the downsides to last week’s hangover was that I didn’t get to say thank you to Robin Houghton (of Robin Houghton and/or Planet Poetry fame) for her call back to my last post about writing workshops. I was very happy to see Robin refer to this as “a writer’s blog”. I get very uncomfortable about saying I’m a writer, but just as I’m learning to stand up straight and tall to help with my knee injury, I’m learning to stand up straight and call myself a writer/poet. Robin’s words came at the right time and were/are still a welcome boost.

I think the standing tall and accepting of what I/we do as writing has been on my mind forever, but it was catalysed while listening to the audiobook of You Could Make This Place Beautiful by the American poet, Maggie Smith. The book has loosely been called a ‘Divorce Memoir’, and it is, but to me it’s also a meditation about roles, ownership and permissions. As you will no doubt be aware, Smith gained some prominence in early 2020 with her poem, Good Bones. How many poets get their work read out in dramas (this was read in an episode of Madam President?) And whatever you may think of the poem (I like it), it’s another landmark achievement for poetry.

However, the blessings also became a curse. As Smith was growing in popularity, and in demand, it had a severe impact on her marriage. Her husband began resenting her travels and for not being around to perform the unpaid labour of parenting. He is unnamed in the book, and doesn’t come across well at all (and Smith doesn’t spare herself either), but the book raises questions and revived guilts I find myself feeling when I take time away from my family to write.

I’m certainly not comparing my situation to that of Smith, but should I be more involved, do more…there are always chores to be done, etc…Sometimes the dishes can just fucking wait!!! Sometimes the dishes are a way to out off the hard work of writing, and it is hard work. I will, however, urge you to read YCMTPB. And to sign up to her newsletter? I’m working my way though Goldenrod at present and finding lots to love.

Mat Riches, Oh Captain, my Captain Barnacles…

Maybe love makes us stupid. Careless. Casting our nets wide in the sky. Maybe love makes us terrible people. Keeping secrets and telling lies we think are true. Love, the only weapon to yield sometimes. The brick through the window. The knife through the cake. We’d fake it if we could. Wrap our limbs around it and call it ours. But love makes us scavengers. Searching the yard for mint or poison. Putting it in our tea.

Kristy Bowen, napowrimo #30

The Home Child feels like an attempt to right the wrongs of historical forced immigration, or at the least to acknowledge those historical wrongs. At the same time, it doesn’t feel like any sort of political statement on the rights and wrongs of child immigration, it feels like a very personal story. What were your intentions when you set out to write the book, did you find this aspect challenging?

That’s such an interesting question! When I first began writing the poems that became The Home Child, I don’t think I had any clear or definite intention, only a feeling that I wanted to honour Eliza’s life in some way and not allow it to disappear into the darkness of the past unmarked. I knew her story was a sad one so I made myself look for moments of light and tenderness, so we can feel Eliza’s humanity. Twelve-year-old girls are full of curiosity and wonder, defiance and spark, and I wanted the reader to feel that.

Through the book’s factual introduction and my use of archive-based material, I hope I give readers the information they need to make up their own minds about the Child Migration schemes. One of the most interesting parts of my journey with The Home Child has been chatting to others about it and hearing their opinions. It’s surprising and often troubling how relevant the issues in the book feel. […]

How does the writing of The Home Child compare to your other works of poetry?

I like to imagine there’s a thread that runs through all my books and allows my reader to travel along with me from poem to poem, project to project, even though the subjects might be very different. One of those threads is Black Country dialect but there are others too.

However, this book did feel different to write. I began by working poem to poem, as I always do, but as the collection grew and began to form a narrative I had to consciously think about how to structure it, what to tell and what to leave out, pace, character, moments of light and shade etc. My editor at Chatto is also a fiction editor and so was helpful but at points I felt very challenged and out of my depth! To help myself move forwards, I did two things. Firstly, I asked the poets of Twitter for their advice about writing a long poetic narrative. People were wonderfully generous with their responses and gave me book recommendations, tips, essays to read… Completely invaluable! Secondly, I asked a few poets I know and admire for their advice. I approached people who were very different from each other but who all had the skill of telling stories through their poems. I think you should never be afraid to ask for help or to be a learner again as there’s so much to be gained.

Wendy Pratt, Liz Berry Answers Questions on The Home Child

I’m okay, financially and otherwise. I have a few keepsakes from my mother and, in her stories, riches. I know poetry always comes back. But I’m sad as well as tired, even as I wonder whether April will always bring some version of these feelings now.

The poems I’ve published recently about my mother are about her dying, but here’s a much earlier one, “Dressing Down, 1962” as it first appeared in Poetry (the poem was later collected in Heterotopia). It’s written in her voice and based on what she told me about the first big adventure of her life: how, as a provincial twenty-two-year-old from Liverpool, England, she boarded one of the first transatlantic jets and was gobsmacked by the cultural differences she encountered.

My mother called her first U.S. jobs “home nursing,” but her high school education ended at 16, followed only by something like a nursing internship. As far as I can tell, she was more of an au pair–an underpaid immigrant living with rich families in New York and taking care either of their children or elderly dependents or both. It was a giant leap from a Liverpool tenement to the Anthonys’ estate on Fishers Island, where even their summer house had eight sets of china… both liberating and, in other ways, shocking, because she had never expected her English accent becoming someone else’s status symbol. I tried to write a poem about my mother’s early work life once but it didn’t quite fly. Maybe I should try again? Her voice has never quite left my ear. In my latest dream about my mother, she told me, “Your brother is a turkey,” pronouncing “turkey” in that British way that always made us laugh.

Lesley Wheeler, Working unpoetically

春宵の母にも妻にもあらぬ刻 西村和子

shunshô no haha nimo tsuma nimo aranu toki

            spring evening

            the time when I am not

            a wife or a mother

                                                            Kazuko Nishimura

from Haiku Shiki (Haiku Four Seasons), February 2023 Issue, Tokyo Shiki Shuppan, Tokyo

Fay Aoyagi, Today’s Haiku (April 24, 2023)

Yesterday was my 50th birthday, and wow, I was so excited to be celebrating with friends of 20 years from all over (including across the water!) and my family (including my parents who flew out from Ohio to be here. We had the celebration at J. Bookwalter’s Winery in Woodinville, there were wines and cupcakes and a poetry reading (I mean, should all birthday parties have poetry?) and Glenn did a toast and Kelli read an old poem I wrote that made me cry and I read poems from Flare, Corona. People brought beautiful flowers, my whole book club was there, and we stayed way past closing time celebrating. Having MS means today I’ll pretty much just rest but it was so worth it – we threw open the doors and windows at the winery and it (almost) felt like the last three pandemic years of isolation were over. Someone (John Campos, who is also J. Bookwalter’s Woodinville manager) gave me a beautiful painting rendition of my book cover (I love to be friends with artists!) and I just felt so much love and support. I didn’t get a ton of pics (even Glenn was too busy to take pics) but here are a few including my family pre-party, the editors of Two Sylvias Press, Kelli Russell Agodon and Annette Spaulding-Convy, and my friend poet Ronda who just had her own book come out, Chaos Theory for Beginners.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, 50th Birthday Celebrations with Wine, Cupcakes, Books and Paintings, Poems in American Poetry Review, Feature at DMQ Review’s Virtual Salon, A Visit to the Tulip Festival, a Parental Visit – It’s Been a Week!

In 2019, poet Howard Debs contacted me and asked if I would like to contribute to an anthology he was putting together. The title would be New Voices: Contemporary Writers Confronting the Holocaust.

Rather than have writers submit whatever they wanted, each writer was assigned a specific time period and subject within that time period. From the book description:

The editors selected 58 images from noted collections consisting of vintage photography, propaganda posters, newsreel stills, etc. matching each to a poet, short story writer, plus features by essayists…The book includes four parts: Part I covers the rise of Nazism and heightening antisemitism…Part II revolves around forced labor, ghettos, and extermination, dealing with such topics as death squads, the “final solution,” and collaborators. Part III is all about escape, rescue, and resistance…Part IV deals with the aftermath, the liberation of concentration camp prisoners, the refugee crisis, and the Nuremberg trials.

I was assigned to write something for Part III: Escape, Rescue and Resistance.

In particular, I was assigned to write about The Sobibor Uprising of 1943, and to tell the story of Chaim and Selma Engel.

Are you familiar with The Sobibor Uprising? It is a fascinating part of history. I’m ashamed to say that I had never heard of it. My paternal grandparents were Jews who fled Germany (and went to Shanghai, China). I’ve heard many stories about their lives. I had never heard of The Sobibor Uprising.

The assignment led me to various articles, books and movies on the subject, all of which I would highly recommend. My work of flash fiction, featured here, is written from the point of view of Selma Engel. She and Chaim were two of the few who organized the revolt, escaped and survived. They went on to marry, have children and live into old age.

This is a long introduction to this month’s Lit Mag Brag, I know. But I find this history to be fascinating and the people whose stories are featured here so inspiring. Plus, after four years, this anthology is finally out in the world!

Becky Tuch, April lit mag brag!

The thing about writing and being influenced and living in this world and trying to get some of its weirdness down, is that we’re going to be coming at it from both similar and dissimilar angles from those attempting same. We all get to do it in our own way. And if you’re trying to get it down in your own way, please know that there is room for all of it. Just pour it down out of your paint can and drip it onto the canvas like Jackson Pollock. Or you know, just throw the paint at the canvas or also try just small brushes and many details. But do keep pouring it out of yourself. That’s the best advice I have for right now. Don’t worry if anyone will read it or publish it. Just create your weirdness and keep creating more.

Shawna Lemay, What Makes You Do It Then?

When they saw each other, arms reached out,
and I was forgotten in their greeting. They didn’t hug,

but held the other’s face gentle in their hands,
tears in their eyes. There would be time for memories,

photos of children and grandchildren, husbands now dead.
But for now, they stood close, reading lifetimes in lines

and furrows—refuge, intimacy, secrets and confessions,
first kisses and heartbreak. I searched my mind for a friend

like that, someone so close we’d need no words if we
should meet again. Then I headed toward baggage claim.

Sarah Russell, Friends

spring fog
weathered snow fence
sagging in a field

Bill Waters, Hopewell Valley Neighbors magazine: April ’23

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Weeks 13-14

Poetry Blogging Network

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

After two weeks away, I’ve had to be a bit more selective than usual to keep the digest to a reasonable length, though I’m not sure I’ve quite succeeded in that! Na/GloPoWriMo, Easter/Passover, and the generally fucked-up state of the world have given poets a lot to blog about. Enjoy.


April is National Poetry Writing month, and I’m writing a poem a day to celebrate. I have a string of poems based on a movie I’d like to write on, and I’ve been interested in working through my Handbook of Poetic Forms to challenge myself to write form poems. To be honest, I’m not sure if either of those veins of writing will produce anything book or chapbook worthy at the end, but I think there is much to be said for simply practicing your craft in a steady way. So that is why I participate in NaPoWriMo just about every year.

Renee Emerson, NaPoWriMo

So excited to embark on this journey once more! Outside my window, April is in full bloom and pouring buckets of rain, but I find the rain soothing; it can’t dampen my joy. This year, NaPoWriMo is celebrating its 20th anniversary and I’m beyond happy to have joined its cohort of intrepid travelers in 2017! Many thanks to Maureen Thorson for launching NaPoWriMo in 2003. A whole flock of baby poems I wrote during the month of April in the past six years were subsequently published in journals and will appear in my two upcoming books. I’m so grateful for this unique experience that once upon a time pulled me out of the I-can’t-write-worth-a-damn fog and set me firmly on my writing path. There’s some kind of magic that happens when time is short, when you have a juicy prompt, and, most of all, when there’s a whole community spurring you along and cheering you on. It’s a race against yourself, really. The bad habits you’ve worked so hard to develop the rest of the year simply don’t stand a chance. I’m glad and honored to be part of something so nourishing.

Romana Iorga, NaPoWriMo 2023

Week 1 of GloPoWriMo, the Global Poetry Writing Month, and I’ve managed something every day. Sometimes a whole poem comes, sometimes just notes. Some of the notes have been used in other poems. some will just decay as compost. I’ve used a mixture of the NaPoWriMo website’s daily prompts and ideas from other places. One poem was inspired by a 6th-grade maths lesson I was in. I hope I didn’t look like I was fangirling while taking notes. 

Today I have an online write-along booked with Jen Hadfield. It seems strange to write silently with other writers on a Zoom call. We don’t interact except at the check-ins at the beginning and end. We don’t share what we’ve written, and many turn off their camera and mic while writing. It’s the booking time with other writers, with the muse to write and the shared activity. Others are with me, struggling to put words on the page, finding the gentle pressure to produce. It does inspire me somehow. 

Gerry Stewart, GloPoWriMo and Spring Cleaning

all the poems
I saved up
to write
later are
dissolving
out of me

all the stones
I saved up
as markers
or fossils
dissolved
in water

all the bones,
well, the bones
just dissolve
as they do
you know, like
memory

PF Anderson, LEFTOVER BITS #NaPoWriMo

It’s been weird having a desire of late to write in the blog but also having very little time for the blog. During my sabbatical last fall, I had time to write in the blog but little desire. I didn’t want to take time away from my project to write about the project, so I didn’t.

I suspect that because I’m no longer engaged in being a writer full-time, the impulse to record in the blog has come back because it will make me feel, well, more like a writer. Nothing has really changed, though — time I use to write in the blog is still time I could use to work on my project (my play, but like anyone needs reminding of THAT).

I’m intuiting, however, that my need to write in the blog is about laying my thoughts out about the process, keeping a record of my ups and downs, marking the history of the play’s creation — something that didn’t feel necessary last fall when I had the days and weeks open to me.

That openness, and that silence, actually, is what I needed most in order to move forward with the play, and I think that was also why I didn’t write in the blog quite so much. It felt more like an interruption, then.

Now, as I try to work on the play while also writing reviews of poetry collections and teaching classes and grading (I am always, always behind in grading), I need the blog as a way of remembering where I am. Where I stood the day before, or the week before, or the month before. So much is lost if I don’t write it down.

Sarah Kain Gutowski, Blogging vs. Not Blogging vs. The Word Blogging is So Strange and Not Really a Word

I’m not as concerned about whether or not kids learn cursive handwriting in schools from a motor-skills viewpoint — after all, no one can argue that there’s not major dexterity involved in typing on a phone with both thumbs at high speed, and most young people seem amazingly good at that. The brain’s ability to form ideas and thoughts and transform them into words is probably not hugely different when the end result is written with a pen than when it’s typed – although, let’s admit it — there’s a big difference between texting and writing a long, thoughtful letter to a friend. 

But because the development of writing, as symbols made by hand, was such a critical part of human development itself, I do suspect that some sort of evolutionary neural pathway is no longer being used when we do not use our hands in this way. Maybe another question to ask is, “What Else Died when We Killed Off Penmanship?” I’m being somewhat facetious: plenty of people, like my left-handed husband, never learned cursive handwriting, and that fact didn’t interfere with either his dexterity or creativity. It’s not cursive that’s at issue: it’s what happens when we write words and thoughts down by hand. It’s a slower process, related to drawing, that requires us to think carefully — there’s no delete button — and use fine-motor coordination, as our brains navigate a complex communication pathway between mind, eye, and hand — and from there to the intended recipient of whatever we wanted to record or communicate.

What specialized and complex tasks DO we actually use that mind-eye-hand pathway for, anymore? We brush our teeth and dress ourselves, we might prepare some food; some of us play sports; we certainly type. But fewer and fewer people play instruments, learn to draw, learn to write beautifully, know how to do needlework or woodworking, make a really good meal from scratch without taking all night, throw a clay pot, know how to fix their own cars or a leaking faucet — the list goes on. Cars are a good example — even if someone might want to learn how to service their own car, most vehicles have become so complex, with computer-controlled systems, that it’s not even possible. In this sort of world, where the knowledge, desire, and need to do such things are disappearing, I wonder if the human being isn’t becoming something quite different from what we were in all the preceding centuries. How are our brains changing in the process?

Beth Adams, Can We Reprogram our Brains?

Most writers have some kind of degree in something…..Creative Writing, English, Fine Arts, other subjects I can’t even name. As a self-taught writer, I have none of those things. The reasons I don’t are varied and, honestly, inconsequential to who I am now. Since I don’t have a formal education in subjects helpful (essential?) to writers, I’m constantly “discovering” writers, essayists, poets that everyone else has already read. For me, this is exciting because, at the age of 60-something, I am still learning. I often become aware of writerly things because of the online writer community, my community of writer friends. I am indebted to them. (You know who you are, tweeps.)

For a while, at first, I was very insecure about my lack of literary education. No, actually I wasn’t insecure for a few years because I was clueless about literary things. I was working, living my life, writing without a support system at all. When I began noticing people’s bio’s attached to published pieces I went through a period of insecurity. But I was being published myself regularly so I decided, What the hell? I’ll keep doing what I’m doing. If a litmag needs writers with degrees to accept a piece, it’s not the litmag for me. And that’s easy enough to figure out.

I was deep in the What the hell phase when I applied for Creative Nonfiction Editor at Citron Review. During the Zoom interview I told them up front that I didn’t have a degree, that I understood if that was an accomplishment they preferred their Editors possessed. I was assured it didn’t matter and, yep, they took me on. I’ve been with Citron for two years now and I can’t say enough about the welcoming, encouraging, supportive culture there.

Charlotte Hamrick, Coming Clean

Rooms: Women, Writing, Woolf by Sina Queyras came out in 2022 and I bought it then, read the first 50 pages and and set it aside. I was going through my blue period, tilting into darkness, and nothing I was reading was sticking. I picked it up yesterday and read the rest of it in one sitting. I think about Woolf a lot, and women and rooms, and yet Queyras had me thinking again about all of these things in new ways. I won’t say a ton, because it’s so fresh in my brain, but I’ll venture to say that this is a necessary volume. They say, “I am a flawed, working-class, queer writer, and also a flawed queer. I was never even gay in the right way. Always out of step.” And then, “I ask myself constantly….why do you return again and agin to Woolf? It is because the text made me!” And isn’t that a moment of joy for us all, to be in the presence of such a wonderful engagement with a text.

They talk about the intertwining nature of life and work, and “the wisdom of one’s work being throughly, beautifully, productively, ethically entwined in one’s life” They ask, “What have I longed for? Not for prizes, or fame, or bestseller lists, but for an authentic intellectual and creative practice. Time and money enough for work.”

Queyras also voices this: “One of the great questions is, how do we show up for each other? How do we appreciate the writers we love? Also, how do we manage the relationship to our own room and the access of those we love to rooms of their own, too?”

They point out, “in our society, a room comes generally at the expense of someone else not having one.” As I sit here in my reasonably instagrammable room I type out that sentence and I feel it. For a decade and a half I’ve worked for the most part in public libraries where I’ve taken a special interest in connecting houseless and other folks to the services they need. Through the pandemic and now it’s been especially harrowing work. The job has been other things and more than that but also that. And I admit that I come home to my pretty study space after hearing trauma-laced stories, and it feels just very wrong, you know? The brutal disparity.

Shawna Lemay, Recommended Reading: Ghosts, Rooms, Blue

It had never occurred to me before that evening that a famous poet would care whether or not his words mattered to an awkward young woman. And that woman wasn’t me but my friend who summoned everything she had in her to crash the party and speak to the poet who meant so much to her.

My words fail me here. This remembrance isn’t about Merwin’s stellar and important work. It’s not about all the times I saw him read after that night, or how the evening shaped me as a poet. It’s about that one small gesture: to answer my friend with kindness, to see her as a fellow poet, and to honor that connection.

Decades later, a friend gave me a copy of this poem, “To the Book” as my book The Alchemist’s Kitchen came into the word and now, this past February, this poem opens the book Demystifying the Manuscript which I have co-edited with my friend Kelli Russell Agodon. This is how poetry enters our world: threading its way through gate crashing parties and via kind friends.

Susan Rich, Crashing the party, then speaking to the guest of honor: W.S. Merwin

In Haggards I wrote about the world as ‘a web of speaking beings’, and, though The Well of the Moon is a more personal book than that, it built on and developed that concept. It’s one I got from Julia Kristeva, who used it to help children with mental health difficulties, particularly victims of abuse. She stressed the importance, to a person in difficulty, of being able to speak your truth, and know you are heard, and, through my own experience and that of members of my family, I have come to value this very much. But The Well of the Moon is also about something else. I believe a human person is not only a ‘speaking being’, but a ‘listening being’ – a being in dialogue.

Elizabeth Rimmer, The Well of the Moon Live Launch

I’ve had the pleasure of participating in three readings from Let Me Say This: A Dolly Parton Poetry Anthology, including one just the other day at University of Wolverhampton in the UK. There’s another virtual reading coming up with the Wild & Precious Life Series on Wednesday, April 12, at 7:30 p.m. 

On Feb. 2, I read in-person at the Let Me Say This Anthology launch hosted by Georgia Center for the Book. This was my first reading in front of an audience in three years and since my cancer surgery. I was incredibly self-conscious  about my droopy face, but I made it through (thanks to Karen Head for the photo above). We had an incredible turnout, so hats off to editors Julie Bloemeke and Dustin Brookshire for making it happen. 

In May, I’ll be celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Modern Confessional blog with a special post. Twenty years?!?

Collin Kelley, A Spring Update

Q: What happens when a poet attempts to write a full-length book of prose?

A: She learns to count words.

On January 2, 2023, I started writing my first memoir. I’d spent October, November and December going over notebooks, journals, photo albums, and emails from the last ten years, recovering memories, reconstructing scenes, and asking myself how I would shape this book. I also read a dozen books of memoir, as well as books about writing memoir, and every other resource I could find regarding the subject. I watched films based on memoirs and biographies. I took Marion Roach’s memoir class. I drilled my family on their recollections. I asked myself, over and over, what is this book about? No, what’s it really about?

Erica Goss, Thousands of Words

Big news arrived this week: Wednesday morning, I talked by phone with Jeffrey Levine, who told me that Diane Seuss had named my next poetry book, Mycocosmic, runner-up for the Dorset Prize, and they want to publish it with a $1000 honorarium, likely in winter 2025. I said yes. I’m still stunned. My adoration for Seuss and her work–I’ve never met her, but I’ve been a fan for years of her poems and her literary generosity–makes the honor especially wonderful. And Tupelo will be the largest indie I’ve ever published poetry with, so it’s a lucky break.

I’ve been working toward Mycocosmic for some years, although it kept mutating. The “cosmic” in the title evokes the spell-poems, blessings, curses, and prayers I’ve been writing for a while, after gathering more my overtly political and historical poems in The State She’s In (although there are a few spell-poems in that book, too). In the late twenty-teens, I started to consider other ways poems might make change, particularly through lyric entrancement (repetition, rhyme, meter) and petitions to other-than-human powers. In a 2019 panel at the C.D. Wright Conference I called this mode “Uncanny Activism,” a title I redeployed for a Copper Nickel essay that became a chapter in Poetry’s Possible Worlds (in the book, called “Magic”), and I will use the phrase again for a panel gathering at the New Orleans Poetry Festival in a couple of weeks. For a Shenandoah portfolio of spell-poems, I used a different title, “A Grimoire: Poems in Pursuit of Transformation.” Same idea; long thinking.

“Myco” means fungal, a motif that crept up on me as I wrote and revised.

Lesley Wheeler, Mycocosmic and plutonic

There is a small flame inside each writer that becomes a little brighter when a reader takes the time to respond to their work. I was lucky enough this week to have my new book Corvus and Crater reviewed in Terrain.org by the talented writer Renata Golden. I am so profoundly grateful for Renata’s close reading and the conversation she opens up about my book. She saw that it is not just a book about grief or landscape, but also about fighting to be a whole person in a culture that tells women they need to be less.

Erin Coughlin Hollowell, Corvus and Crater begins her debut

Bookspines, uncracked, accrue
in tomblike rows, stone caveats
a daily reproach. Each inscribed box
looses doubt, poisoner of wells—
too obvious to mention Pandora here?
the one gift always unread.

How dull it is to die
while still alive.
How effortful.

How the mystic
is baffled
by striving.

Meanwhile, in the cemetery, groundbees
emerge drunk on light and heat.

JJS, Ekstasis

I’m old and I shall die soon. This much is true. For much of the time nowadays such anguished queries as to what manner of ‘soon’? whose ‘soon’? when does ‘soon’ transmute into pretty much now? go unspoken. The day is shopping, bed-making, emptying the dishwasher, walking the dog. I have a beer with friends; I talk, I argue, I laugh with my family. So that ‘soon’ simply ticks over as a managed sense of diminishing future, an intellectual awareness rather than a red-light imminence. And it goes without saying, of course, that throughout all the sturm und drang of childhood, youth and middle age, the immortality diode through which all experience was filtered performed its function admirably and my existential voltage flowed unimpeded forwards, always forwards.

Then 13 years ago I was diagnosed with prostate cancer. After surgery and with treatment I live with it now and am assured by my oncologist that it’s not going to carry me off. But that door to the mortality ante-room was opened with the urologist’s words of diagnosis and with the passing of the years since that day the darkness within it impinges increasingly on that voltage flow.

Dick Jones, HOW IT IS.

The sky is luminous yellow and we’re all at the table with potatoes and wine. Everyone’s arguing and why won’t Jesus overthrow the state?—we don’t need heaven on earth but better civil society. I kissed Him and an otter entered into me and is doing flips. It’s like an orgasm 24/7 in there. This is the secret. There’s an otter inside everyone and it makes them come 24/7 just like the sun and the moon, the stars and all those unexpected holy rivers.

Gary Barwin, THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO JUDAS

Jesus on the cross is Good Friday‘s most “popular” image. And it’s not far away from what many people go through somewhere, not always far away, actually never far away, from us.

The war in Ukraine, the bombings in Israel and the never ending conflict at the occupied Palestinian territories, the civilian pain and hunger in Afghanistan, the many forgotten wars, ecological disasters in the so-called Global South, the bloody borders of the so-called Western World, deathly traps for refugees, for people who run away from all catastrophes mentioned. Crossed people, crossed nature and closed crossings, on land, on water, and often, in our minds.

Magda Kapa, Switzerland

This is the season for pruning
trees, folding winter clothes,
cleaning the clotted dust

from window frames,
listening for tiny signals
for help. Glass panes

shatter from schoolroom doors;
and watercolored sunflowers dry
above the heads of children

cowering under tables.

Luisa A. Igloria, Ecclesiastes

Here we are, Maundy Thursday again.  I am in a house that I didn’t own last year.  Last year, Maundy Thursday was the day before I broke my wrist.  This year, I am hearing all the broken body parts of our liturgy differently.

Diana Butler Bass has already written the perfect Maundy Thursday essay, the type of essay where I almost decide I don’t need to bother to write anything further.  She writes “Christians mostly think of Maundy Thursday as the run-up to the real show on Friday.”  And then she writes a whole essay to address this idea:  “What if we’ve gotten the week’s emphasis wrong?”  She writes a whole essay to expand on the idea that the table, the meal, should be the main point, not the cross.

On this day, I’m thinking of Anselm and his ideas of atonement.  On this day, I’m wondering what would have happened if Christianity had emphasized something different, if the cross could have been a different kind of symbol.  More on that tomorrow.

On this day, I’m thinking of those earliest Christians, sharing all they had, not calling themselves Christians yet, just a group of people who had experienced something shattering.  They gathered to try to understand what had happened and how to move forward.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Maundy Thursday: Back to the Table

Here is Buxton Spa, Easter, green hills.
Not a credit card between us.

Good intentions: it’s the year of the Pig.

We’ve been to China, lugged back
soldiers from Xian, wrapped in towels.

Now they’re resting under the Red Cross.

For our next birthdays, we say,
we just want Prosecco, book tokens, no bric-a-brac,

but our hands are restless,
our fingers flick through a tray of rings.

Fokkina McDonnell, Easter Monday

Happy Easter and Passover to those who celebrate. I always loved Easter as a kid, mainly because our family celebrated by watching “Jesus Christ Superstar” and we got chocolate bunnies. It’s also a time of rebirth, of celebrating spring, of renewal – even in the cold rain today, you can feel the flowers and the green leaves happening.

What happened to April? It started with a few early book launch events (the book is officially out May 8th,) nothing crazy, and then I started getting e-mails and now every week is packed with classes, lectures, and readings, culminating in a reading at J. Bookwalter’s Winery on my 50th birthday on the last day of poetry month! Take a look at the events of the right side of the screen and come to some of the in-person or virtual readings and get a copy of Flare, Corona.

I guess this is no surprise, since this is National Poetry Month and all! And I’m actually looking forward to being a little bit busy after a few years of the only “busy times” were dental work and blood draws. And being in person with people is such a great experience as a writer – it takes you out of the isolation of writing, editing, submitting and into a community of writers, readers, that it’s not just you and your words, that you and the words are out in the world.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Happy Easter and Passover, An Avalanche of Poetry Events in April, Spring Sylvia and Katie Farris’ New Book, Cherry Blossom Fest

Words, world making. The whole
shifts in parts, the bottom glitters,
we teeter in freedom
white flowers in a night garden.

Jill Pearlman, In Our Cups of Seder Freedom

I’m not 100% sure a blurb will sell the book—eg it’s not the thing that gets someone over the line, but as with all last click attribution models, that thinking ignores the contribution of other things in the sales funnel, so I’m going to work on the grounds that a well-written and intentioned blurb is not just what I am calling Hyblurbole (has that been coined before? Probably), but it should be something that helps get onto people’s radars (along with all the other stuff I need to do to sell the book).

You know what I mean by hyblurbole…it’s the sort of film flam written on the back of books that says stuff like this absolutely destroyed me or one of the greatest books of all time or OMG, like who is this not written for?

Mat Riches, Hyblurbole and getting an (anth)ology

Not for the first time, I’m indebted to Mat Riches’s ever-excellent blog – and in this case, an especially brilliant and poignant post, here – for alerting me to something which I may otherwise have overlooked: Peter Kenny’s interview with Robert Hamberger in the latest edition of the Planet Poetry podcast, available here. I’m a big fan of Robert’s poetry, so it was a sheer delight to listen to the interview, not only because of his insights but also because it was interspersed by him reading poems from his latest (2019) collection Blue Wallpaper – available to buy here – which I reviewed for The North, here, and absolutely loved.

Robert aired so many quotable reflections on poetic practice that I had to keep pausing the podcast to write them down. His poetry is often concerned with the past and how it interacts with the present, and I nodded furiously in agreement with his conviction that, “I am preserving experiences or people I loved, or even the person I was at that particular point in my history.” The gist of that is a common enough motivation, but it’s the careful choice of the word ‘preserving’ which is particularly noteworthy; that the poet is as much of an archivist as – if not more than – someone who digitises old photographs or curates items in a museum.

Matthew Paul, On Robert Hamberger

Jon Stone was the speaker at last night’s hybrid Cambridge Writers meeting. He told us about the kind of poetry that interested him, and read out a manifesto. He’s interested in dissolving boundaries – between writer and reader, between authors (hence collaborations), between genres, and between games and poetry. He pointed out that poetry’s more suited to games than prose is, because it already has rules, it has units (lines, stanzas) that can be recombined, it already has an audience prepared to put work in, and there’s little marketing pressure. He saw himself working in a niche within the niche of poetry, both as a participant and a publisher.

Tim Love, Jon Stone at Cambridge Writers

This post is a document of links to resources I’ve used in recent ecopoetry and nature poetry workshops and for my own writing. I’ve found these short films and poems helpful in classrooms, and elsewhere, in developing conversations and creative responses to the climate crisis. Some of the resources I mention were also included in a post I wrote in 2019 ‘Poetry responding to climate change’.

I brought this short film Rise: From One Island to Another into a Year 9 workshop (young people aged 14 – 15). The film is a poetic conversation between two islanders, one from the Marshall Islands and one from Kalaallit Nunaat (Greenland), connecting their realities of melting glaciers and rising sea levels. Other helpful resources have been the Climate Change and the Anthropocene issues of Magma poetry magazine, and the Ecojustice issue of Poetry magazine.

The poem ‘The loss of birds’ by Nan Craig (published in the Climate Change issue of Magma) – which imagines a conversation between an adult and a child who has never known birds – has been particularly good at prompting poems that consider what we are in danger of losing because of the climate crisis.

Josephine Corcoran, Ecopoetry in the classroom and beyond – some resources and ideas

Poetry keeps pouring out of me, onto a chalkboard and a computer screen and into a composition notebook. (Meanwhile, rejections.) I’ve been doing both poetry and prose in a Lenten workshop online that’s about to end, and I provide prompts and poems for another online workshop every April. There’s a great sense of camaraderie in both these workshops, for which I am grateful. Now my kids are coming home for Easter, so 1) some of the poetry may pause 2) I must not eat all the jelly beans!!

Kathleen Kirk, Being Human

I’m going for a 30/30 this month for National Poetry Month. I’m using this form calendar [image] from Taylor Byas and Sofia Fey as a way to get me started each day. You can follow them on Twitter to get the information about the workshops.

Carolee Bennett has also posted 30 prompts for the month at her blog Good Universe Next Door. Be sure to check them out any time for some writing inspiration. She provides a prompt and a sample poem to get you inspired. […]

I am diligently working on the project that has grown out of my obsession with Billy Budd mentioned earlier this year. It has taken on a life of its own, and it is much more experimental in nature than anything I’ve tried to do before, making it at turns exhilarating and frustrating. I am waiting to hear about a wonderful residency opportunity that is HUGE longshot, and I have two different chapbook manuscripts out at two different contests. Hoping that the universe comes through on at least one of those opportunities.

Donna Vorreyer, Is It Any Wonder I Gave Up Blogging?

Just grabbing a few minutes on Easter Saturday to write this. There’s only so much gardening you can do before needing a break. So, now I’ve tackled the wayward honeysuckle…

Last week, Peter Kenny and I treated ourselves to an informal ‘works do’ by going along to the prize giving for the National Poetry Competition on the South Bank in London.  We were  armed with a handful of home-made business cards for Planet Poetry, just in case, I and even gave a couple out, but we didn’t do any ‘roving mic’ interviews or anything, as I’m not sure we’re organised enough for that. But we enjoyed hearing the winning poems and (naturally) dissecting everything on the train home.

We talked about it on the podcast, so I won’t repeat myself here. The winner was Lee Stockdale, an American poet who we heard had entered the competition many times before before nailing the jackpot. Of course, hearing each poem read, just once, wasn’t nearly enough time to appreciate any of them properly. Certainly, there were poems (including the winner) which left me a bit nonplussed by on the night, but I warmed to them subsequently after reading them in the Winners’ Anthology.

Poetry competitions are a bit nuts, aren’t they? But lovely if you win, of course, and even a ‘commended’ or a ‘longlisting’ in the National can be a boost. But to keep entering all the competitions and never win anything I guess you need to have a thick skin and healthy self-belief.

Robin Houghton, National Poetry Competition and a Finished Creatures launch

It’s April, and having been asleep since January – at which time the only new CBe title on the horizon was Patrick McGuinness’s essays, carried over from last year – I wake up to find there are now eight, or maybe nine, new books in preparation for publication later this year and early next.

For starters, a reissue of J.O. Morgan’s first book, Natural Mechanical, first published by CBe in 2009: winner of the Aldeburgh First Collection Prize, Forward-shortlisted, all that kind of stuff and more. His more recent fiction and poetry have been published by Cape. The reissue is in A-format size, part of the little gang that started coming together last year: photo above. Available from the website now. For the first orders (I’ll stop when I start to get worried) I’ll add in copies of Morgan’s At Maldon and a Poetry Archive CD of his reading that (from memory: an hour) for free.

Charles Boyle, A New Season

Today launched my NAPOWRIMO adventures and I’m liking the first poem so far. I may move off the technogrotesque project later in the month and on to something else. I may stick it out and make it a chapbook. I may abandon daily poems entirely. April is always an unpredictable month, but also I feel so much less ragged than I used to when usually, the library would be hitting full stride in terms of programming stuff and just general work, at least before the pandemic anyway. The absence of academic rhythms is still something I am getting used to, after an entire life subject to its ebb and flow. 

I am still sometimes finding the rhythms of my days to myself, and it also changes seasonally and by mindset.  This week, I wrote about Virginia Woolf and A Clockwork Orange and coyotes in Native American myth. About ceiling medallions and slow design and substitutions for corn starch. This too is an enjoyable rhythm–the research, the drafting, the polishing. The later afternoon is about editing and designing, steadily moving through the chaps delayed from late last year, of which there were many (and thankfully, I pushed everything new this year to the end since I suspected this would be the case.) I sometimes write poems when I first get up, sometimes later at night. Used to be, the mornings were key since the rest of the day would leave me with little to work with, but it’s far better now. Even after a full day of other kinds of writing and editing, there are still words left shaking around at the bottom that can maybe be made into poems.

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 4/1/2023

I find this hour of the day 7-8 the most productive; not in terms of getting lots of words down, but in terms of the space to think. Writing is not always about pushing and pushing and forcing yourself into a routine, sometime it is about creating the space for the work to come and settle. Consistency is the key, I think, coupled with the understanding that it doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be.

In the summer I start my routine even earlier; starting the day with a walk down the lane early, early doors, before it gets warm. This too, is a magical place, to walk where no person has yet been and see the dew prints of the Roe deer, the fox, the rabbit, to watch the owl hunt over the meadow and along the railway tracks, to see the sun rising rich and orange over the lip of the valley. This is like an act of prayer, for me, an act of enchantment, of seeking beauty, of placing myself before nature and to feel a part of it. This is where I come to the altar of the world and set down my whole self; finding, instead of the world’s worries, the intuitive act of creation. Then, back to the desk to net that elusive, magical thing and bring it to the page before life – washing, working, cooking, cleaning – crowds in and that space is lost.

I feel like I might be over romanticising the act of early morning writing, of writing in general, but I also think we don’t acknowledge enough that writing isn’t just about bashing words out onto a page, it isn’t just about learning how to edit successfully, there really is something quite magical about it, about capturing those snapping neurons and building the structure of words around them.

Wendy Pratt, Early Morning Writing Time

Rebecca Elson, whose book A Responsibility to Awe I just finished reading, keenly reminds me of how fascinating the study of the universe can be and how little we know of it. Each decade the science and the theories take immense leaps in measurement and exploration, and each leap reveals how many more questions we have yet to ask, let alone answer. Not just inquiries into the galaxies, but also biological and ecological worlds to explore: salmon, eels, oceans, mountains, our own histories and our own mortality. Elson’s area of study centered on galaxy formation–the chemical evolution of stars, and globular clusters. But she started out collecting rocks with her geologist father who was doing fieldwork in Canada, then studied biology. It wasn’t easy to be a young woman studying the sciences in the 1970s, and she felt she was drifting a bit; writing, however, she felt more sure of. In the essay that ends this collection, she states that the atmosphere at Princeton during her post-doctoral study was “a stronghold not just of men, but of theoreticians” who looked down on work which involved “mere” observation, which is what she had painstakingly been doing in her research in Australia and Cambridge. At Princeton, though, she met a group of poets who encouraged her work and who made her stay at the university more comfortable. Good observation skills make a terrific foundation for poets.

If the ocean is like the universe
Then waves are stars.

If space is like the ocean
Then matter is the waves
Dictating the rise and fall
of floating things…

from “Some Thoughts about the Ocean and the Universe”

She was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma when she was 29, died ten years later, and this book is the only example I’ve been able to find of her poetry. But it is revelatory what Elson does with simple language and deep, theoretical concepts as metaphor, topic, or theme.

Ann E. Michael, Astronomy

What we also see here is the characteristic movement of Harwood’s thought in his poems, as we move from scene to apparently unrelated scene with an underlying cohesion which is a function of the linguistic surfaces of the poems. In their very useful introduction, Corcoran and Sheppard discuss this aspect of the work in terms of Harwood’s use of collage, which derives from his early reading of Pound and Tzara. It is, however, important to note that unlike in the case of, say, Pound, knowing Harwood’s sources would not enrich the reading of the poems. In this, he shares much in common with an early admirer of his work, John Ashbery, like Ashbery, Harwood’s work demands our full attention precisely because everything we need to understand (not the right word) his poems is there on the page, in the words he has chosen to present to us and the order he presents them in. His obscurities, such as they are, are the obscurities of the human mind at work in the world.

Billy Mills, Lee Harwood New Collected Poems: A Review

“Xanax Cowboy” is a book length sequence of poems, each of which could stand alone, but the cumulative impact of reading as a whole strengthens each individual part. None of the sections have titles and horseshoes are used as separators to underline the theme. Xanax is a drug used to treat anxiety and panic disorders which often occur alongside depression. “Xanax Cowboy” is a sort of alter ego created by the sequence’s narrator as a way of exploring and dealing with her issues and hopefully bridge the gap between where she is now and where she wants to be.

Emma Lee, “Xanax Cowboy” Hannah Green (House of Anansi) – Book review

Jacksonville, Florida-based poet and editor Jessica Q. Stark’s second full-length poetry collection, following Savage Pageant (Birds LLC, 2020) [see my review of such here], is Buffalo Girl (Rochester NY: BOA Editions, 2023). As the press release offers, Buffalo Girl writes the author’s “mother’s fraught immigration to the United States from Vietnam at the end of the war through the lens of the Little Red Riding Hood fairy tale.” As Stark offers at the offset of the poem “Phylogenetics,” “When it began isn’t clear, but isn’t it obvious that             we always had a knack / for stories about little girls in danger?” Stark examines, through collages of text and image, an articulate layerings of breaks and tears, intermissions and deflections; examining how and why stories work so hard to remove female agency. “In this body is my mother’s body,” she writes, as part of the extended “On Passing,” “who paid the fantastic price in / fairy tales written mostly by men.” She offers elements of her mother, including pictures of her mother repeatedly on a scooter, providing a curious echo of Hoa Nguyen’s A Thousand Times You Lose Your Treasure (Wave Books, 2021) [see my review of such here], a collection that explored her own mother’s time spent as part of a stunt motorcycle troupe in Vietnam. “You can paint a woman // by the river     bank,” Stark writes, to open the poem “Con Cào Cào,” “but // you can’t ever imitate // a sound, fully. This story is // not simple.”

rob mclennan, Jessica Q. Stark, Buffalo Girl

I suppose it’s something of a responsibility to be selected as a new poetry press’ first pamphlet, particularly in today’s unhelpful economic climate. Though Flight of the Dragonfly Press had published a magazine earlier in 2022, it selected Niki Strange as the author of their debut pamphlet. I’m pleased to be able to say that this turned out to be an excellent decision. Body Talk (Flight of the Dragonfly Press, 2022)is a fine debut, featuring authentic poems of courage, resilience, and optimism, which test the boundaries of form in imaginative and appropriate ways.

The pamphlet begins with the profoundly moving prose poem, Float. It is written in the first-person, making it close and personal, as if we are inside the narrator’s head. The syntax is fragmented, the rhythm broken, erratic, capturing the life-changing effect of cancer diagnosis and treatment: ‘Bedtime stories. Swings and roundabouts, And sandpits. Go again. Two lines. Oh yes. Oh gone. Holiday or running away. Stage 1 melanoma. I see the robin every day as I lie in bed. Skin grafted from thigh to shin.’ Strange refers to daily domestic tasks, such as caring for her child, driving the car, arranging flowers, baking bread. Yet the account of each routine activity is never developed or sustained; it is punctuated by specific moments in the treatment of her illness. The effect is to convey the shattering nature of this potentially fatal disease. It wrecks normality, disables concentration, fills every waking hour. No wonder the poem ends with the lines, ‘Run. Run across the sh-sh-shingle into the amniotic waves. And float.’

Nigel Kent, Review of ‘Body Talk’ by Niki Strange

This week I bought more books than I should have. Because of Bethany Reid’s review, I bought Linda Pastan’s Almost an Elegy: New and Selected Later Poems. My purchase was prompted because of this poem (continuing to speak of generations and cusps) that Bethany shared:

The Last Uncle

The last uncle is pushing off
in his funeral skiff (the usual
black limo) having locked
the doors behind him
on a whole generation.

And look, we are the elders now
with our torn scraps
of history, alone
on the mapless shore
of this raw new century.

—Linda Pastan

I’m not the elder generation in my family yet, but many people my age are in theirs. In a conversation this week about whether we are at the beginning or in the middle of what’s happening to our country, I could see how I was gathering my own “torn scraps/of history,” and Pastan is a good person to provide guideposts into the later stages of life. (Any stage of life, really.) I also bought Kate Baer’s What Kind of Woman, because Bethany’s post reminded me of how much I like a certain kind of plain-spoken poetry (Ted Kooser is a favorite in that vein), and I saw it in the bookstore one day after skating. I decided it was time I got over not wanting to buy a book by a popular, best-selling poet. Her writing fits into the plain-spoken category, and I’ve liked some of her poems that I’ve encountered via social media, so why wouldn’t I buy her book? (I’m not going to delve into what my aversion is about or where it comes from. Probably more social programming from my youth that involved responses to Rod McKuen.)

Rita Ott Ramstad, On cusps

I have the same kind of fear of a gun as I did of the forklifts I used to drive when I worked in a grocery warehouse. This thing can kill you or someone else, so respect it. Don’t be flippant when you have control of it.

I don’t fear the gun as rhetorical tool so much. I don’t even really fear the people who use it that way, who try to push back their feelings of powerlessness or loss or their own fear by loudly possessing guns. I say loudly for a reason. I’m talking about the “Come and take them” types who open carry because they like the way they think people look at them in public. I treat them warily and am cautious around them, but I don’t fear them because there’s no point in it. The people who worship guns and the power they think their guns project are in it for themselves. They don’t care how everyone else really feels because they have a fantasy of how everyone else sees them.

Many of those kinds of people make appearances in the book that I’m pulling the poem I’m talking about from, which is Matt Donovan’s The Dug-Up Gun Museum from BOA Editions last year. I think this is the first work I’ve read from Matt Donovan, who I’ve never met that I know of, but it’s his third poetry collection and I will certainly be looking for those other collections based on this one.

Brian Spears, When the first thought isn’t always the best thought

When the news broke, we danced.
I danced beneath an alien sky.

Plants bloomed: I tasted guavas
firm and sharp upon my tongue.

Marian Christie, When the news broke

I’ve still been spending time with Lear this weekend. With Shakespeare’s language and the rich stories. And I am chastising myself for the arrogance in wondering… why is so much left unsaid?

An example: Edgar – as Poor Tom – meets Gloucester and hears his father say that if he could just touch Edgar’s face again it would be as though he had his sight again. So why doesn’t Edgar reveal himself?

The Tragedy of King Lear wasn’t written as a closet play, and I wonder then if the audience – groundlings or otherwise – were able to get under all the psychological machinations in Edgar’s head to make sense of this moment, in the moment, as the lines were spoken, passing quickly over the heads of the orange-sellers and the old women bitching about their sore feet? Did anyone care? Or am I just thicker than the average Elisabethan?

I’m not interested in the question of authorship that has been recently staged in a “court of law” in London. I think it’s funny that we should care so much. And that maybe it is more about a projection of our very real personal fears of insignificance, than an actual interest in whether a single person wrote the work.

There’s never been a serious question of the originality of the stories. Of any story, if you want to take it that far. And as for the language, I very much love the idea that it began with a sketch of a script that morphed naturally in the mouth of a performer, and then again in memory before it was recorded in text. Maybe adapting Shakespeare isn’t sacrilege at all, but the best way to keep communication between us and “them” alive.

But the question remains. Are we all just thicker now?

Ren Powell, The Mysticism of Shakespeare

I find I am rather late to the party, in terms of appreciating John Freeman. His bio notes include… well, so much (follow the links to see), and Dave Eggers called him, in a Los Angeles Times review, “one of the preeminent book people of our time.” Freeman’s previous books of poetry are Maps (2017) and The Park (2020). I found traces of him all over the web, and you’ll find a couple more links at the bottom of this post.

But my goal here is to write about Freeman’s exquisite third book of poems, Wind, Trees, and perhaps tempt you to take a look for yourself.

This short poem I include simply because it blew my mind (and I have a thing for pianos). It is in the wind section of the poems, by the way, and it beautifully chimes with the book’s epigraph from Jack Gilbert: “We are a shape the wind makes in these leaves / as it passes through. We are not the wood / any more than the fire, but the heat which is a marriage / between the two.”

Bethany Reid, John Freeman’s Wind, Trees

Here’s a link to the text and the poet’s reading of James Fenton’s superb short poem ‘Wind’ on the Poetry Archive: https://poetryarchive.org/poem/wind/

It’s a poem that brings tears to my eyes when I read it. Paradoxically, I think it does so at least partly by the serene beauty of its composition and the lightness with which it touches its matter. This lightness is reflected in the poet’s reading, which is thoughtful and tinged with sadness but never heavily emotive.

Despite its being so short, I would call it a great poem. Its point of view, its subject matter, is epic, dealing with the movement of peoples, with sweeps of space and time and processes of cultural change as vast as those in Saint-John Perse’s Anabase.

Edmund Prestwich, James Fenton, ‘Wind’

Dead flowers mix with the soil and
become other things: fruits, different
flowers, a bird. Ephemeral things. When
love runs out, it becomes a poem. A
forever being. A trellis of quiet words
peering into the water. Like tree rings, a

poem cut open can tell you its age.
Meaning grows inside it in concentric
circles. Each measuring the growing
distance between poem and poet. Poet
and love. What if we had another hour?
Another month? Another way?

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Part 41

Anyone visiting the New Jersey Botanical Garden in April will see signs of spring — and signs with spring poems on them, too! :- )

A poem of mine is on one of them:

junipers
and the scent
of junipers

Bill Waters, New Jersey Botanical Garden haiku installation 2023

It’s the nickname for people who rushed west
in search of gold but really fleeing
from the horror that all the days to come
would be like all the days behind,
hoping instead that the rivers ran with possibility
that could be dragged glittering into the sun.

Jason Crane, POEM: The Age I Am Now

plum blossom time
the painting goes visiting
the tree outside

Jim Young [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 12

Poetry Blogging Network

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

This week saw the 20th anniversary of the US-led invasion of Iraq, as well as the spring equinox and World Poetry Day. Somewhat to my surprise, the former didn’t get much explicit attention in the poetry blogs, but the outbreak of war was the impetus for Phoenicia Publishing founder/editor Beth Adams to start her blog the Cassandra Pages—I think the longest-running literary blog I follow. And the war was certainly also an impetus for me and many of my fellow bloggers back in 2003, so it’s an anniversary with some consequence here. Instead this week I saw a lot of what Rachel Dacus calls a “heading-into-spring burst of vitality.” Enjoy!

NB: There will be no digest next Sunday. I know, I know, it’s Poetry Month, but I need to see the ocean. When the digest returns, it will probably be on a weekday; I haven’t decided which one.


The pristine snow,
abandoned, sinks —

a sooty skin.

Broken objects
rise up. An arm, 
stairs, cardboard
boxes shocked
by fetid air,

my head 

pushes from the
mud […]

Jill Pearlman, Flux, March

It’s World Poetry Day, and tonight I will be going to a Josephine Hart Poetry Hour event at the British Library, about WB Yeats. 

By my reckoning, Yeats has been in my life for about 30 years. I was a young teenager, as with so many of the artistic influences which ran into my bloodstream and stayed there forever. I was thinking tonight that the records I listened to between about 12-16 are part of who I am — they are me — and the records I listened to between about 17-22 are time machines, which is actually something quite different. Yeats is part of who I am and thus, part of what led me first from Canada and then to Ireland and then to London. And certainly to being a poet, as far as it goes. (A small thing, but mine own.) 

The poem that came to mind tonight, in another year of global turmoil, was Yeats’s ‘The Stare’s Nest By My Window’, part of the sequence ‘Meditations in Time of Civil War’. It weaves together the extreme focus on the personal, the immediate and the close-by, with the broader crises and concerns which put the poet in that place of absolute focus in the first place. It grasps at what can be seen and held, and also hoped for, amidst profound uncertainty. This is, in varying degrees, the story of the world in recent years (and in less recent years). And it was written a little over a century ago.

Clarissa Aykroyd, World Poetry Day: ‘The Stare’s Nest By My Window’ by WB Yeats

This week on my local Nextdoor, someone wrote about a man at a busy intersection who, for the second day in a row, was walking around naked from the waist down. Lengthy threads–about obscenity laws (or lack of them), police responses (or lack of them), mentally ill support services (or lack of them), penalties (or lack of them)–ensued. In the midst of one thread, a woman shared that she wants to kill herself. Four people responded to the woman, but more than 30 (I stopped counting) continued yammering on at each other about laws, police, services, et cetera et cetera ad infinitum ad nauseum.

There’s more than one way to be naked in the street. Most people aren’t going to stop their cars to help. I closed my laptop and cleaned my oven, which made me think of Sylvia Plath. We don’t do what we can’t.

Last week I got a rejection that was so encouraging it almost felt like an acceptance: “We admired your essay, but we’re going to have to pass this time. “Resistance” reached the final round of our decision-making process. We would love to read more of your work, and we hope you will submit to XXX in the future.”

It’s the only writing I’ve submitted anywhere in the last year. Speaking of not doing what we can’t. It was a micro-essay about mass shootings. And ice skating.

I want to write about that class. I want to write about these people–us people–who gather in virtual rooms at the end of days that look ordinary to everyone else and unzip our normalcy suits to let the alien life we carry inside us breathe a little freely for a few hours. I don’t know how to write about that, any more than I know how to help the half-naked man or the woman who wondered if she should burn herself up in the house her grandmother and mother once lived in.

Rita Ott Ramstad, The week that was

I’ve forgotten to count the atmospheric rivers that have gushed across the San Francisco Bay Area, but the incredible deluge seems to have sparked a lot of literary ideas for me. When the 50 mph winds are bending trees sideways and sinkholes are appearing in the roads, it’s a subtle hint that you have nowhere better to go than your writing desk. I’ve cradled my laptop many of these dark, rainy mornings. I’m feeling a low rumble of energy, the heading-into-spring burst of vitality that soon will pop leaves out of the soil and bare branches.

Rachel Dacus, Creating Characters in Springtime

Today this blog celebrates its twentieth anniversary. I almost forgot, because I was focused on it being the first day of spring: an event we’re eagerly anticipating up here but about which there’s been precious little evidence, other than the maple sap running, and brighter, longer days. However, I’ll post these grape hyacinths in the hope that we’ll be seeing real ones — in about a month.

The craziness of living in, and enduring, such a northern climate may be matched by the craziness of having blogged here for twenty years. Or perhaps I’m just stubborn. Social media was supposed to be the death of blogging, and it did do-in most of the blogs that started when mine did. Other platforms were touted as the next best thing, but I think most bloggers just got fatigued. Keeping up a blog, trying not to repeat yourself, and finding something personal to say is hard enough over years and years, but when the readers and commenters start to go away, it’s even harder to remember why you began it in the first place.

But I do remember: I was a journal writer and determined letter-writer, with a well-established practice, and blogging fit me to a T, not only because it satisfied those same urges, but because it also added the possibility of a visual component. The latter, of course, became the raison d’être for Instagram, and I have loved being part of a community of artists and photographers there. But for those who want to write regularly and seriously, nothing has really worked as well as blogs, and for someone like me who’s a visual artist as well, and wants to own her own website rather than be data-harvested at every click of the mouse and keyboard, blogging has continued to be the best choice. I guess stubborn perseverance has just kept me at it, because first of all I write and make a record of my art for myself — I’d do this anyway — but how much better it is to share it with you, communicate with you, and get to know each other.

The doubts I was having about blogging a few years ago have mostly disappeared. It’s clear to me that this is where I belong, and that it works for me.

Beth Adams, Cassandra at Twenty

I ran into one of my blog readers last night in person at the theatre. What a joy, and I am so touched! He said he has read some books based on my blog accounts, and he also enjoys my chalkboard poems. This just warms my heart! And I needed warming up, as it’s been cold and gloomy for a few days, but yesterday the sun came out, and there was a clear sky with stars and a fingernail moon last night!

Kathleen Kirk, Hello Beautiful

It’s been a weird week here in Seattle, with the first days of spring bringing bright blue skies, 60-degree weather and cherry blossoms, and ending with surprise snow and an equally surprising bobcat visit.

Today I have two videos for you—one of a bobcat walking by my back door, and one from my offsite reading at AWP with BOA at the Seattle Library. I’m not an expert at YouTube yet, so forgive me for any problems. I even (at my little brother’s urging) finally made myself a channel, so you can like and follow me there, and you’ll get a mix of readings plus bobcats. And silliness.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A Weird First Week of Spring – Starting with Bright Blue Skies and Blossoms and Ending with Snow and a Bobcat Visit, A Video from my AWP Offsite Reading and Last Picture

I wandered over to Facebook, where I saw a post by Daisy Fried, who introduced her students to Robert Hayden’s “Middle Passage.”  Along with reading the poem, they listened to this podcast that contains a discussion of the poem–great stuff!  After the podcast, I read this article that talks about the history of how this poem has been received by larger communities (the poetry community, the black community, new generations of activists).

Eventually, I shifted to seminary writing.  I like to think that my seminary writing was deeper and richer because I began my morning with poetry.  I know that my life is richer each day when I begin my day with poetry.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Beginning My Day with Poetry

Late last night someone sent me a wonderful goat video. I wanted to read a poem about a goat, but the only one I could think of was “Song” by Brigit Pegeen Kelly, and I wasn’t in the mood for that.

I started thinking about the perennial conversation E. and I have about art. He doesn’t use the term with a capital A, ever. He sees art as a form of escapism, not as a portal to a shared experience about what it is to be human. He doesn’t want to spend his evenings looking at the hard things. He says he gets enough of hard things. And isn’t that true of all of us.

And I can respect that. Though I find it inexplicable why we would have such differing attitudes about beauty and awe. Such differing approaches to acknowledging what it is to be human.

But then, I have seen his whole body express awe while overlooking valleys from mountain tops. Maybe that is enough for him. Everything. You can die on the mountainside. At any point of the journey. He doesn’t put it into words, or squeeze it into symbols. He has this, and maybe it is enough?

I would talk to him about this. Ask him. But I don’t think he wants to think about it. It just is and doesn’t need to be teased apart and put together again. If I brought it up, I think he’d just suggest a hike.

I like watching goats. Their pronking moves me emotionally in ways that I can’t keep up with physically or even intellectually. I envy them their in-the-moment joy. At least that’s what it looks like. But I will admit that there is something about their eyes. The gut-hooked association to Christian symbolism that I carry with me from childhood. The dangerous wildness.

So for me, the pronking kids will always have the darkness of Kelly’s “Song”.

Because this all this is true. And I am still learning to hold the paradox lightly and enjoy the flow.

Ren Powell, The Hard Things

Hard to believe it was over ten years ago that I first stumbled on (or rather out of) The Betsey Trotwood pub in London’s Clerkenwell with my long-suffering willing-to-be-taken-to-poetry-readings friend Lucy.  It’s certainly a stalwart of the poetry scene.

A week or so ago I was there to hear readings from students on the Poetry School Writing Poetry MA. Friends and fellow Hastings Stanza members Judith and Oenone are both on the course – Judith about to complete her final year, Oenone her first. They both gave fine readings, as did many others, and the whole event was a huge love-in for the tutors Glyn Maxwell and Tammy Yoseloff.

I do love the atmosphere at ‘The Betsey’ – an achetypical Victorian London pub with an upstairs function, these days entirely smoke-free of course, but just a few decades ago it would have been eye-stingingly fuggy. (It was pointed out to me however that the room was not accessible. This is of course a problem with all the old pubs – they just weren’t built with accessibility in mind. I’m not sure what the answer is.)

The pub used to be called The Butcher’s Arms apparently, and perhaps the renaming (taking the name of a character in Dickens’s David Copperfield) was symbolic of its friendliness to the poor poets and writers of Owd Lahndon Tahn. Many a book launch happens there. In fact, the latest edition of Finished Creatures launches there on Tuesday 4th April. Do come if you can.

Robin Houghton, Poetry at the Betsey

If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to party in the city with a hot young lit mag, you might enjoy Bindu Bansinath’s Dispatch From The Drift’s Latest Party. Writes Bansinath, “Their parties have become a media frenzy of their own, providing endless Twitter fodder…but a friend of mine described the whole evening best when she said, ‘They’re a gathering of nerds who want to drink and shit-talk The New Yorker.’”

[…]

Finally, in response to the overwhelming enthusiasm to his article, Rattle Editor Tim Green has begun a list of lit mags that have updated their guidelines from “unpublished work only” to “uncurated work only.” You can view the list here. We hope to continue to see it grow!

Becky Tuch, Lit Mags to the Left of Me, Jokers to the Right!

Stanza by stanza, line by line, word by word, comma by comma, a good editor enables a poet to understand their own method, makes them question and/or justify their choices, helps them spot their own weaknesses, encourages them to raise their game a notch. Such close editing places a draining demand on the person who does it, requiring a high level of engagement. It takes so much out of the editor that they often struggle to sustain their own writing at the same time. And this sacrifice is another reason why editing is generous.

Helena Nelson at HappenStance Press is the editor I know best, and her example is the point of departure for this post. Few publishers work as closely with their poets. What’s more, her graft on others’ behalf is definitely detrimental to her own terrific poetry. I’d suggest that U.K. Poetry could do with a few more Nells, though she’s a one-off. In fact, you could do far worse than get hold of her latest top-notch collection, Pearls, which hasn’t received the attention that it so richly deserves. It’s available to purchase here.

Matthew Stewart, A celebration of poetry editors

I saw an interesting twitter discussion the other day about what font to use when submitting writing to journals/presses. In my undergrad classes, the poet professor I most admire would say Times New Roman was really the only professional font to use, if you want to be taken seriously (which of course my 19 year old self did!).

There’s some common sense here–Comic Sans is obviously wrong, as is Typewriter font. I feel like the font should not distract from the actual writing (and those two examples do).

The font in question in the discussion was Garamond, which is the font most commonly used for published books–the idea being that if you submit your poems in Garamond, they LOOK like they should be published.

Renee Emerson, would a poem in any other font smell as sweet?

Think of a safe place, they said in mindfulness class. Think of a compassionate friend, one who is wise and supportive. I became safe in the red chair by the fire, covered by a blanket knit by my grandmother. Friends, grandparents, spiritual figures, mentors—who would offer compassion, energy, illumination. A huge letter A, tall as a ten-year-old, Times New Roman, black, sat down in the chair on the other side of the fire. Anything is possible, it said. Did light shine like wings around it as if it were a medieval saint—“outer glow” in Photoshop? No, it was crisp as if letterpressed into air. Anything is possible, it repeated and I understood that this A was the beginning, that language meant that I could explore, that it opened the world to possibility as if I could see the bones under the flesh of the world.

Gary Barwin, A by Fire

Recently I’ve  been reading SuperInfinite, Katherine Rundell’s excellent biography of John Donne, and this in turn has led me to revisit Donne’s poetry. I recall vividly the thrill of discovery when I first read him as a teenager, delighting in his clever conceits and his command of metre, rhyme and form, as I sought to understand his meanings.

This is what excites us as readers and learners – coming across something new that stimulates our intellectual curiosity, challenges our perceptions but also appeals, at some deep level, to our imaginations and our being. We can experience this sense of wonder and delight not only through literature, but also through music, mathematics, art, sport, gardening, or even through intriguing blends of different forms.

Lori Wike’s Jump Search, a recent release from Penteract Press, is just such a novel blend of two different forms. A jump search, Wike explains in the Introduction, ‘is a new type of puzzle in which a word is concealed within a maze grid of letters and numbers. It is a synthesis of a word search and a number maze’. 

Marian Christie, Review: Jump Search by Lori Wike

That was the time I went as a dominatrix.
I wore my jodhpurs, riding boots,
carried a whip. I had my Cleopatra eyes,
and black bra under a side-less top.

Rebecca, my boss, had dyed her bob orange.
Tony, always modest, in dinner jacket,
bow tie, trainers, and baseball cap.
Black lace gloves for the HR woman in the wheelchair.

Fokkina McDonnell, Abolition

For a while now, Brooklyn poet Jordan Davis has been producing chapbook-length volumes of selected poems, one of the latest is by Brooklyn-based American poet Nada Gordon, her The Swing of Things (Subpress, 2022). This is the first of Gordon’s works I’ve encountered, so I’m unaware of the larger scope or scale of her work, so this “remix” is a curious introduction, and one reminiscent of how Phil Hall reworked selected scraps to assemble his own critical “selected poem,” Guthrie Clothing: The Poetry of Phil Hall, a Selected Collage (Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2015) [see my write-up on such here]. The chapbook-length poem “The Swing of Things” is structured through untitled sections (as well as an array of photographs, some of which suggest their own collage-works), short bursts that exist across each page; some of which group, or even cluster, allowing for its own kind of collage-work possibility. Her visuals and text both suggest the familiar but one that is twisted, turned and shaped into what is unerringly new, and some of which is just enough to unsettle, question or even simply wonder. Gordon’s poems hold a delightful heft, subtle in its play and dark corners, writing from both the shadow and the sudden light.

rob mclennan, Ongoing notes: late March, 2023: Amanda Earl + Nada Gordon

A few weeks ago, I visited Lee Martin’s creative nonfiction MFA workshop at The Ohio State University to talk about “Ghost Story,” which they’d read for class, and we talked about the amount of poetry in the prose, both at the sentence level and the structure level. For example, I used white space to slow down the pacing as I do in poems, here employing short paragraphs—sometimes only a single sentence—and section dividers. White space acts as literal “breathing room” on the page, regardless of genre, so these are spaces where the reader is invited to pause and reflect before moving on.

I also wanted to work lyrical and imagistic repetition into the piece, as I like to do with poems. In the opening paragraph, the laundry floated….the dishes floated….I floated” feels to me like a litany. There is also anaphora—a poetic technique in which successive phrases or lines begin with the same words—in the words “no idea” repeated, and in the three spoiler alerts. Ghostlike images carry through the piece as well—images of transparency, invisibility, helplessness. The chains in section one return in section four.

I shared with Lee and his students that “Ghost Story” also appears in my forthcoming memoir, You Could Make This Place Beautiful, though not as a single piece. I have broken it into its smaller sections (where the asterisks are in the original essay) and threaded them through the book, and I’ve added a new final section. This is something I also do in my poetry collections: I like to spread a series of poems over the course of a book rather than compartmentalizing them in one section. These then work to pattern the collection and create multiple moments of recognition for the reader.

Maggie Smith, Behind-the-Scenes Look: “Ghost Story”

After Sunday, when frost is forecast, the hardy annual herbs – chervil, parsley, dill – will go into the garden, as well as annual flowers for cutting. And then the real adventure will start, as I sow new perennial herbs. My aim is to get the overall structure of the garden in place this year, and try to attract as many pollinators and butterflies as I can, but I know I am already distracted by the thoughts of vegetables I can sneak into the gaps.

In the house there is the same sense of burgeoning chaos. Editing slipped a bit during StAnza, but I’m almost finished one book, and getting started on three more. There will be a LIVE launch for The Well of the Moon – among many others which came out in lockdown, at a Red Squirrel Press showcase in April – watch out for more about this next week – and the Ceasing Never website went live. There are three articles up now, and it has attracted a lot of interest, and some very favourable comments. The collective includes eleven exciting poets, so there should be a lot to read and think about over the next few months.

Elizabeth Rimmer, The Second Year in the Garden

Betty Drevniok was “a major early influence of the shape of haiku” in English Canada by making space for a community to grow. How did she get to haiku before haiku was a thing in Canada? Terry Ann Carter related in “A History of Haiku in Canada” that Drevniok moved from sumi-e to haiku in the 1960s. 

In 1977, Betty Drevniok, George Swede, and Eric Amann founded the Haiku Society of Canada. Rod Wilmot recalls several Haiku Canada weekends in the 1980s hosted at her wooded cottages in Combermere in Northern Ontario. From 1979-82 she was President of the Society.

Michael Dudley remembers her as “an exceptionally kind, considerate being, who generously shared her ideas and insights by conversation, correspondence, presentation, and publication”.  […]

In her haiku primer, Aware, Drevniok said, “Be aware of things around you. Let those things reach out and touch you.”

Janick Beaulieu in her history of ‘Haiku Women Pioneers from Sea to Sea‘ says this book Aware: A Haiku Primer is Drevniok’s best legacy. You can read Janick’s essay and Drevniok’s 108-page book Aware as a digital book at the Haiku Foundation Digital Library. It was a book that led to a eureka by  Jane Reichhold.

Pearl Pirie, Betty Drevniok

Lola Ridge’s life was, in many ways, a tale of her times. Born Rose Emily Ridge in Dolphin’s Barn in Dublin, she and her mother emigrated to New Zealand as a child after the death of her father. She acquired a stepfather with a taste for Shakespeare and drink, married in her early 20s, lost a child, had a child, started publishing poetry in local newspapers and magazines. When she was 30, her marriage broke up and she moved with her son to Australia, where she studied art and submitted a collection of poems, Verses, to a local publisher AG Stephens, literary editor of the Sydney Bulletin in which much of her Australian work appeared, in 1905. The book never appeared.

In 1907, after the death of her mother, Ridge sailed to San Francisco with her son. She left him in an orphanage there and moved to New York, where she became Lola, knocked 10 years off her age, and immersed herself in the literary and anarcho-socialist life of the city that was to be her home for the rest of her life. […]

The Ghetto and Other Poems shows that Ridge had, in her new home in New York, absorbed the lessons of Whitman, Imagism and other avant garde poetry movements that she came across in the small magazines of the day, and forged her own distinctive voice from these influences. The title sequence, which opens the book, is an exploration of the everyday life of the poet and her neighbours in the Bowery district of New York.

Billy Mills, To the Many: Collected Early Works, Lola Ridge

If you delete every email that begins I Hope You Are Well And Having A Lovely Week So Far
If you play Masters Of War through amplifiers outside a government building
If you stand in the street and wave a plain piece of paper
If you sit on a bench in a park and throw paper planes at a cardboard cut-out of the King
If you drink coffee for too long in the red cafe
If you write for too long in the blue cafe
If you glue yourself to the past, chain yourself to the future
If you wear solid well-dubbined walking boots to bed and buy a dog
If you repeat the story of fourteen workers killed by an avalanche of potatoes
If you are caught singing the old song I Shall Be Released
If you enjoy silence, your own company, books on Pond Life and Freshwater Fishes
If you like sitting beneath trees and listening to rain

They will stamp your file with the words Specific Threat
They will stamp your file with the words Guilty Of Malicious Disobedience
They will accuse you of stealing thoughts from the needy
They will force you to download a self-care app and accept a free gift of a plastic penguin
They will accuse you of illegal use of the senses
They will accuse you of sending ice and light out of the country

Of talking to the girl who sells bracelets in the street
Of not wanting to get up in the morning
Of memorising the poetry of a prisoner of conscience
Of taking a public footpath to a secret mountain and eating a bun from a Tupperware tub
Of swimming in a sewage-infested sea dressed as a clown

Your sentence will never be revealed

There will be no right of appeal

You will die of unnatural causes

Bob Mee, NO RIGHT OF APPEAL

In the past two weeks, I’ve read two contemporary poetry collections that I didn’t, er…love…or perhaps what I mean is I did not respond to them the way I enjoy responding to poems (and no, I will not be naming titles, though I will be giving these books away). While that is a let-down of sorts, I also started reading naturalist Marcia Bonta‘s Appalachian Autumn–which I do love. The book takes an environmental-diary approach that I have enjoyed in other naturalist writers’ work and which, no doubt, I relate to partly because I am also a near-daily diarist of my own backyard; Bonta has much to teach me, because she has a naturalist’s education and long experience. This is one of four Appalachian Seasons books she’s authored, and maybe I should have started with Spring, since that equinox has just passed. I found myself interested in the story this book tells of her family’s legal struggles with local lumbermen and absentee landlords, however. It’s an experience with which, sadly, my beloveds and I are familiar.

And I also began reading a book of poetry I have found exceptionally compelling–Rebecca Elson’s A Responsibility to Awe. Perhaps more on that in a future post. So books continue to enrich my life. I hope that is always the case, but I’ve seen how changes in human neuroplasticity can affect even the most bookish among us. More reason never to take the joys of reading for granted–and to keep my library card current.

Ann E. Michael, Bookish decisions

This week has been a good work week. I’m back into my writing routine. In fact I have upgraded my routine to include a pre work early morning walk. I think the bit of sunshine we’ve had of late has done me good. Like a flower I’m turning my face to Spring. I’m up at six for a brisk walk, then into the office for an hour of writing, then breakfast, a slow dog walk with the elderly dog, then back to the desk until lunch. After lunch – another couple of hours at my desk, then I finish early to read. At five I end my day with another slow walk with the elderly dog. I’ve decided to incorporate reading into my work day, rather than trying to fit it in around other jobs. It’s too important to be crammed in. It feels like luxury, like a hobby, like something I certainly should NOT be doing in work hours, but the reality is that I need to keep up with poetry collections in order to run decent poetry workshops, writing challenges and courses (see below for the lates writing challenge). I need to find books for the book club too, and I think of reading as a kind of ‘CPD’ – Continued Professional Development – something that I remember from my days as a microbiologist – the importance of keeping up to date with new research, new developments in the field.

Wendy Pratt, Come Write the Watery World With Me

Finishing the Phaedrus. Finally, I have a definition of dialectic, a word that has bedeviled me since college. (Probably because I first met it in Marx and Hegel, who both put it to strenuous and unaccustomed work.) For Plato, it’s the art of collection and division: “seeing together things that are scattered about everywhere and collecting them into one kind,” on the one hand, and being “able to cut up each kind according to its species along its natural joints, and try not to splinter any part, as a bad butcher might do,” on the other. Note that this is not seen as imposing categories or distinctions, but as recognizing them. (Phaedrus 265d)

274c & following, is Socrates’ denunciation of depending on the written word: reading encourages you to think you know things, when you don’t; relying on texts leads to a feeble memory; writing fails to fit the message to its audience; texts are frozen and can’t answer questions. Writing is an amusement and an aide-memoire – not serious philosophy.

And now, on to the Parmenides.

If it didn’t mean wishing away the parable of the cave, I might wish Plato had never written The Republic: such an ugly book, full of Socrates at his worst: it put me off Plato, and in fact philosophy, for decades. I’m glad that I have lived long enough to meet this Socrates who prays to Pan by the riverside: asking for his daily bread, and to be made beautiful inside. A different man entirely.

Dale Favier, Dialectic

What should I call it? What should I call
the reading of the last word of the poem and the
inability to go back to the beginning, to go anywhere

because that devastating silence that follows, is the poem.
And that is the reading, that being rooted in the debris
for as long as it takes for the universe to stop shuddering?

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Part 39

This poem was originally conceived as a response to my frustration at how having cancer had impacted on my life (spoiler alert – it ended up somewhere quite different!) Specifically, at how having a melanoma skin cancer in 2018 meant that I could no longer think about being out in the sunshine, of having the warmth of sunlight on my skin, without immediately feeling anxiety – did I have sun screen on, where’s my hat, cross the road to walk in shadow and so on.

What I was mourning here was the loss of a sense of spontaneity and freedom to bask in lightness. The poem became a meditation on how writing enables us to place ourselves in spaces and states of being that may no longer be possible in everyday life – where facts have no consequence and instead ‘all is shadowless velocity’ where I am ‘lit up, let loose’. I liked the sense that with each letter written on the page one can transport the ‘matter’ of myself to experience new or lost sensations, emotions and places.

In the repetition of ‘I can write myself’ I also played with the idea of ‘right-ing’ myself through this process – I’m very interested in writing for wellbeing. Following my second cancer diagnosis a year after my first – this time with breast cancer in 2019 – I won Arts Council funding for a residency at Macmillan’s Horizon Centre in Brighton, devising and delivering 16 poetry workshops for people affected by cancer.  I saw not just through my own experience but through running these workshops the power of poetry to support health and wellbeing. 

So in this poem I wanted to echo the sense of ‘writing oneself’ and its connection with ‘right-ing’ oneself, both mentally but also physically because I talk about the ‘lost nodes, radiated breast, sleeved right arm’ being parts of a ‘new entirety’ that is balanced and restored through a new way of being in the world.

Drop-in by Niki Strange (Nigel Kent)

Even the whales were invited

to the inauguration of the machine.

One of them said, I am tired of sorrowing

with my own voice, with my own blue heart

wanting to beach on the strand. I am tired

of making recordings that no one translates

with any accuracy, or at the very least into

flowers.

Luisa A. Igloria, Deus Ex Machina

Poetry and Music have been documented as being helpful for elderly people, including those living with dementia, the after effects of a stroke, and even physical disability. Often it is the familiar poems learned by heart at school that has the most noticeable effect. I have read several times for Northwich Stroke Club, and seen these effects for myself: memories suddenly become vivid, audience reciting as I read, smiles and animation, or the closing of eyes and relaxation from lulling words.

This world poetry day (21 March), I was invited to read at a private care home, where the residents have a poetry club to share favourite poems. In a two hour slot (with a tea break in the middle), I read them some of my favourite poems, and they contributed a few of theirs. Only two people were brave enough to read, but both read beautifully. In the second half, I read them a few of my own poems, choosing ones that I felt might resonate with them but avoiding anything too sad. Not everyone stayed till the end, which was fine. It was a relaxed and chatty session, and we all sat round in a circle together, so it was very friendly. […]

I worry for today’s generation of school students, and the generation before them, that they will have no loved poems to take forward into their old age. The way poetry is taught in some schools these days, and secondary schools are the most guilty, takes the pleasure out of the poem. Schoolchildren are told that they can’t understand poetry, without the teacher ‘translating’ for them; that poetry is hard and full of secret meanings that need to be decoded. This is a dishonest and wrong approach. Rather than forcing pupils to make heavy dictated annotations, they should be encouraged to ‘feel’ the poem first, not simply label the parts as if it were an engine or a dissected animal. Colleagues were always amazed that my classes got such great results ‘despite’ my allowing them to interpret the poem for themselves, using the skill set I had given them. Poems belong to the reader, and don’t need mediation. Allowing the pupils to ‘own’ the poem helps them understand on a deeper level what that poem is doing and how it is doing it. This is how I taught poetry myself in my 16 years in secondary school, and stint in FE prior to that.

Angela Topping, The Power of Poetry

At seven, I couldn’t close my ohs.
Amazement sloshed out of me;
each ache spilled a constellation.
Winter nights, I etched snow angels
and lay back in their wings to drink the sky,
but every time my heart rushed up
and I’d hurl helpless towards stars.

Kristen McHenry, At Seven

I didn’t get to write a post last week (like that matters) as I was knackered after a long weekend in Norfolk. I went back to see my friend John Rance. John is the dad of my two closest friends, but I have always thought of him as a friend too. He’s always treated me the same way- certainly since we’ve all be old enough to buy him a pint…(I jest, mostly). John has been ill since a series of strokes starting back in September last year, and it was made clear to his family a couple of weeks ago that he wasn’t going to recover—despite there having been some positive signs at the start of the year.

I’m glad I went and spoke with John and said my goodbyes, as the message I was dreading came on Tuesday afternoon to say that John had passed away. It had been utterly devastating to to see a man that had been so full of life reduced to the shell he was in the Norfolk and Norwich hospital. John had lived so many lives as a parent to five children, husband to two wives (not at the same time), travelling across Europe as a young man, living in New Zealand while in the army, working as a salesman, a landlord for a working man’s club, a pub, becoming the artist he’d always wanted to be in later life. He was the first to help start an occasion and often the last to leave, the first to say something wise, the first to see the silly side of something, an inveterate creator of myths and legends (apparently West Ham won us the World Cup). His laugh filled a room, his determination to play jazz sometimes cleared it. A friend of mine recently wrote that John introduced him to so much in the way of art, music and film that he could never fully say how grateful he was, and that seems a fair assessment. And also nowhere near enough to describe the man. John’s art hangs in my kitchen. John’s light and shadow (he’d appreciate the art of that, I hope) will hang over my life forever.

If it was devastating to see him reduced in life, then it was a billion times worse to get that call on Tuesday. I was at work at time, and the moment the message landed I gathered my things and set off for home. The world of media research seemed exactly trivial after that.

I stood on the platform in a daze and decided to blot things out with a podcast—music didn’t seem right at the time, and I played the latest Planet Poetry episode. It featured an interview with Robert Hamberger. Robert is a poet I knew of, but hadn’t yet explored his work, so I listened with interest as he talked about his life, his work, his work within form and how it’s less of a straitjacket and more of a way of finding freedom to let the poem say what it wants to say. I nodded along (inwardly, making a loose mental note to finally push the button on buying Robert’s books…and knowing I would, eventually, but probably not straight away). I think he’d read a poem before this, but then he read a poem called ‘Moments’ and I came close to utterly disintegrating on the Circle line to Victoria station.

Mat Riches, Altering the colour of words

Phone, shut up about the news.
War in Ukraine, assault on trans rights,

a perp walk and its possibilities —
even the very Facebook where people

will find this poem: none of them help me.
Alert me to pay a different attention.

Listen: the red-winged blackbirds are back.
Forsythia blooms across the muddy lawn.

Rachel Barenblat, Notice

Maybe it’s not such a bad thing not to have anything named after you. There’s a quiet beauty to wandering this life, one’s name kept only to themselves and those closest to them.

Sometimes when it’s stormy, I offer my name to a random raindrop falling from the sky.

I say it quick before the drop crashes to earth and rushes off with all the others.

Rich Ferguson, No things are named after me

So today, I think about time and projects and seizing the day. Today, I make blueberry muffins from a box mix and drink coffee and sort through print jobs I picked up earlier in the week like these great little collage posties soon to be in the shop. I think about the next book, collapsologies, and its overall concept and visual ideas for covers and such.  Yesterday, I scanned some analog artwork I’ve had in mind since the beginning that’s been sitting on my shelves for over three years, basically since the book was conceived during the strange summer of lockdown, though the poems took a little longer to finish. I’ve been working digitally entirely lately, which always feels more polished, so it’s always strange to look at paper pieces cobbled together from stacks of vintage magazines. Their imperfections.  Glue spots and ragged paper. But then again, the greater limitations of working with what you have vs. what you can find and manipulate are two very different kinds of creating sometimes.  Sort of like a game with defined pieces vs. a scavenger hunt.

So that book needs to be finalized in April or May, and maybe, just maybe, will be ready for the world in June or July. Meanwhile, I am closing in on the end of the short series of poems about houses I’ve been working on.  They are still very rough and need some serious clean-up time after I’m done, but at the moment, I am liking them very much.  I have found over time that my relationship to my own work is fewer highs and lows and more of an even keel.  I feel like I am writing better than ever, but I also feel like people care less and less. Or less than before. Which is of course, a folly to judge oneself by, and is totally my own fault at spending too much time on social media platforms, whose exodus and algorithms are always affecting internet attention spans.  The danger of embedding your creative life in something where everyone is jostling for space, which is true of the publishing world and less true on the internet, but still kind of works the same. 

So I try not to think too much about [it] and go on endlessly appreciating the people who I know are interested in reading my work. Or maybe reading it and I don’t even know it. And more that I should just look to satisfy myself anyway, to make sure I am happy with what I am putting out there in the world. To take pleasure in the experience of writing and its rewards and maybe a few little connections it makes with other people in this short amount of time I, or anyone, is plodding along on this planet. 

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 3/26/2023

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 11

Poetry Blogging Network

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

This week: flowers and the dead. Plus more on AWP, thoughts on publishing and blogging, poetry in schools, which poets were our gateway drugs, and much more. Enjoy.


I’m about half way through reading Heather Clark’s magnificent biography of Sylvia Plath, Red Comet. […]

Plath was one of the first poets I discovered on my own terms, without instruction. I was in my mid twenties and completely lost in my own life, not knowing who I was or what I wanted. In the high ceilinged calm of the local library, down on the bottom shelf of the poetry and plays section, I picked up Ariel, and opened it at ‘The Hanging Man’ with no previous knowledge of Plath, her life, her myth, the story of her complex personality, her intense light.

By the roots of my hair some god got hold of me.

I sizzled in his blue volts like a desert prophet.

I’d never read anything like it. Something like an incantation, so bold, so big, those metaphors! Those similes! Along with a few other poets found in my local library, among them Ted Hughes, she was my gateway drug to reading and writing poetry. Because I’d read these poems I began exploring how to think about myself, my own life, my own complexities in creative writing, and I discovered how poetry is a transformative device, how pain can be described in beauty.

I had a migraine last week that took some recovering from. I took a rare day off work and simply went to bed. Like a child, I stayed in my PJs and ate the chocolates I’d got for my birthday the week before, drank tea and read the book, all day, without doing anything else. It was wonderful, even if I was feeling rotten, to have a day with Sylvia. I’ve read a few biographies of her, and her letters and journals, some of them skewed towards the myth of Plath and the demonisation of Hughes as a scapegoat for all things wrong in the fifties and sixties when Plath grew up in the claustrophobia of pure, undiluted cultural misogyny. When Hughes was able to simply be – be a poet, be an intellectual, be big and powerful, be a bit of a womaniser, be a bit brutal – but Plath had to fight, fight, fight to be a writer and not be forced into the sausage making machine of wife and mother.

Wendy Pratt, There is a voice within me/That will not be still

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

Fiction was there too, back in grade school, but fell away, partly because I suck at linear time and thus narrativity, also because I was fascinated by the sounds of words, their materiality in the mouth and in the ear, and poetry offered more of that, even though the only early examples I had were my lavender-covered Best Loved Poems of the American People, the Bible, and before that, Goodnight Moon, which (the latter) was also where I first connected words to emotions, which is to say that as a lifelong insomniac, Goodnight Moon was a horror story: wtf an old rabbit lady whispering hush

I do remember a top-of-the-head-blown-off moment in grade school from a line in The Best Loved Poems, though. There’s a volta in John McCrae’s “In Flanders Fields” (which I still have memorized and can recite when intoxicated) that stopped me in my tracks—it’s after the first stanza when the collective first person shifts to the simple, devastating declarative—

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
    That mark our place; and in the sky
    The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
    Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
        In Flanders fields.

I didn’t know what WWI was, really, that nine million soldiers died, didn’t know that at 51yo I’d be sitting here in Boise worried about my brother in Tbilisi being reached by potential nuclear fallout over the Black Sea because failed and incalculably traumatized empires die hard—none of that; I just realized that in a poem, dead people can say “We are the dead.” How astonishing. How terrifying. How magical. 

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Kerri Webster (rob mclennan)

When I got home, I also didn’t work, meaning do any housework, making it a Slattern Day in the blog. As usual it is also a Poetry Someday, as I wrote two morning poems, one on my chalkboard, to a mouse I found dead in a trap this morning by the refrigerator (sorry, Mouse!) and one in a Lenten online workshop where lately I have been doing mostly prose, so a poem was a nice surprise. I did catch up on some computer work. Sigh… Tough week of hospital visits for my dad, so I was staying with my mom, therefore. Lost a little sleep. For escape…and because we saw the season finale of The Last of Us, I am reading World War Z. I am hoping the mouse does not reanimate.

Kathleen Kirk, Tiny…Dead Things

“Demi-Sonnet for the Dead” is just that, a half sonnet that reveals not the living, but the burying of those made victims of war. The speaker has a preference for pine-box or ash-urn burials, but never ditch or pit, and that burial, when done properly, requires “…one sifted fistful at a time, / dirt mixed with tears.  Sometimes blood.”  The collection’s concluding poem is “Ghazal for the Trees,” a fitting end that offers some hope that war is like seasons, that as it comes it also goes.  This ghazal hints of peace, of the song to be sung to trees.

Poet Dick Westheimer reminds us that while the war may not physically be outside our door, we nonetheless bear witness to these events and the stories that emerge. Overall, A Sword in Both Hands is a superb collection, and one to add to the shelf of keepers.

Kersten Christianson, Reading the Open Wound of War:  A Review of Westheimer’s, A Sword in Both Hands

Roll the unconscious swimmer onto their back and hook their arms to the buoy so you can swim them to safety. Calm the angry panic of the swimmer who is shapeshifting, terror activated into flailing: keep them calm so they don’t take you down, too. If they start to take you down, hold on, but sink: they do not want to go down, they want to go up, they will let go of you and you can pull them to safety once they stop struggling. Watch out for the heavy forms, guard your face from their fists and fingernails, keep an eye on their breathing as they struggle and flail.

Do not let go, Menelaus, no matter what he does.

You need his prophecy:

will you make it home?

And where are all those you love whom you have lost?

JJS, Proteus

Several years ago, aided and abetted by Literary Twitter, I started gathering poems with joy in mind. It was 2017, and I needed more joy, and so did you. We all still need it. So here is a slightly updated and revised compilation of those poems shared by readers and writers in a very long thread. I’ve linked to some; others you’ll have to hunt down yourself online and in print. Feel free to share your own suggestions in the comments, and we’ll keep this work-in-progress going.

Because Mary Oliver was right: “Joy is not made to be a crumb.”

Maggie Smith, Poems that make you glad to be alive

Last year, for several months, I actually read for joy. Then I tried to twist it into something useful. That will kill anything that needs to breathe. My relationship with poetry has been one of continual deaths and resurrections. There is no good reason for that now.

I walked Leonard this evening and took a photo of a small tree stump. The bark is pulling from the wood, and there is a thin, nearly texture-less layer of moss covering the wound. I wrote Afterlife on the Instagram note. (No hashtag. I am trying to wean myself from all of that.)

Scanning the bookshelves for an entry point, I see Albert Goldbarth’s 2015 collection Selfish. Seems like a good place to begin. With the teacher who simultaneously drew me in and pushed me away from poetry. The poet who had a way with poetry, and a way with unwritten words. Looking back I suppose I could find new perspectives from which to view that semester. Maybe knowing that is enough not to have to.

This evening I heard the phrase fluid perception in connection with memory.

Auden said, “Poetry might be defined as the clear expression of mixed feelings.” I have so many mixed feelings. Mixed perspectives.

I flip through the book to see if I had even gotten to it whenever I bought it. No.

But my eye lands on a word in a poem: Afterlife.

“[…] I’ve witnessed that come-hither prestidigitorial trick / ten thousand times. An afterlife – is there an afterlife […]”

The title of the poem is “The Disappearance of the Nature Poem into the Nature Poem”. So, yes. This seems a good place to begin.

Ren Powell, Where to begin again?

Plants that are normally regenerating by now are doing nothing, the apple trees showing no buds. I’m trying to establish a new herb patch, so I’ve moved feverfew and lemon balm, pulled up grass and transplanted oxeye daisies, dug up all the leeks because a couple of years ago allium leaf miner appeared on my plot. It’s a fly, maggot and pupae and it shreds the plants, attacking garlic, onions and chives too. So Bridget’s taking a break from leeks and I’m wondering what it’ll do to the chives in the herb patches. I’ll miss leeks, chives and onions. What’s an allotment without them? My diet’s built on them. 

As I think about the old gardeners – what they knew and recorded, the books I’ve found with the gardening year illustrated in woodcuts, I realise I’m an old gardener too – two years off 70. It’s an odd time, acknowledging an absence of self in the world because age does that to a woman.  Gardening is a way to respond to the feeling of loss. If nothing else, to note this March is cold, the plants are late and holding back. Around me people are struggling. The ground is all we have. We walk on it, grow on it, eat from it. Keep remembering this, I tell myself, think of Jamaica Kincaid, always interesting, always with something new to say about gardening. Let March be what it is. Be grateful for being here. 

Jackie Wills, To be here and gardening

      In Virginia Beach, 4 dead humpback whales 

have washed up on the shore since
      the beginning of the year— you could say 

they are also a kind of lesson that hasn’t 
      been learned. Necropsies show injuries

consistent with vessel strikes in waters
      thick with ship traffic. If the world is ending,

each cetacean body that perishes on sand
      is a falling leaf, a wound bled open in the middle

of a horizon of false starts. We keep saying 
      there’s time, the window’s still open. Until it’s not. 

Luisa A. Igloria, Ode to the Never-ending

I have a file on my computer titled “abandoned drafts” where poems go to die. I don’t look in there all to often, but today I did, and was shocked to see I have 84 poems in my abandoned drafts. 84?! And these are the ones that made it out of my notebook (my first drafts are hand-written) and to the computer–not all of them make it to Word.

Once I heard that Sharon Olds does not revise any of her poems. At the time I thought “Liar!” but now I get what she means. I rarely revise (though I’m no Sharon Olds!) because either a poem works or it does not. Either it has that something that is worth going with, or it is merely a writing exercise.

The poems that don’t make it–the writing exercises–are still worthwhile. I can look through these abandoned drafts and sometimes see an idea, image, or turn of phrase that I explore better in a later poem. It’s good to allow oneself to make mistakes, experiment, see what sticks.

Renee Emerson, abandoned drafts

I hesitate to let that last paragraph stand. To share any of this post, if I’m being honest. I have struggled to write it. I have struggled to find words that are neither sentimental nor simplistic, to convey truths more complicated than our usual narratives about long unions tend to be. I have struggled to find words that are both kind and true. Because the truth is: My childhood was hard. My parents suffered. My brother suffered. I suffered. My children have suffered as a result of the ways in which my suffering formed me. These words feel unkind, and how do I explain that even in the face of these truths, I wouldn’t go back and tell those young, dumb kids not to do it? It’s not just because, like [Sharon] Olds, I want to live. (Though I do. I want to live.) It’s because I want us to get to where we are now.

Please don’t misunderstand. I’m not saying that all you need is love, or that eventual benefit outweighs earlier harm, or that our pain didn’t matter or wasn’t significant. It did, and it was. But our suffering is not the whole story, and while things that happened cannot change over time, our stories, like people, can. I want to get to the story I know now.

Rita Ott Ramstad, I go back to February 1963

carpe diem, life is a learning curve, what doesn’t kill me makes me stronger, time heals, be the change I want to see in the world, the exhausting relentlessness of trying to be motivated, generous, at peace, forgiving in the presence of things happening for a reason, and lemons and fucking lemonade, because sometimes I don’t care that it’s over and I just want to cry because it happened, so it’s a good thing I can throw the latch on a small door in the corner of my mind and say hello to Robert Frost and ask him to tell me, again, in three words, what he’s learned about life: it goes on, he says.

things that happen 
when I least expect 
oak saplings 

Lynne Rees, Haibun ~ clichés I keep living through

No one has yet tasted a sugarcoated bullet. Weepers and rough sleepers are still dreaming and don’t yet possess faces looking like they’ve been carved out by knives.

In these quiet moments, all you can hear is a faint ringing in early morning’s ears, a tinnitus of distant sirens.

Cemetery lawns are still dewy and green, unstained by sadness.

Soon, there’ll be car horns and alarms. A rush hour splatter of brake lights Jackson Pollock’ed across highways and boulevards.

Rich Ferguson, In these moments before dawn

How did you first engage with poetry?

I randomly found a book by e.e. cummings on the street when I was 14 years old. 100 poems. I was already a reader but this was a different species. e.e. didn’t title his poems. e.e. ignored punctuation rules. e.e. played games with the universe. I was almost as fascinated with this new world as I was with girls. Almost.

Jay Passer : part two (Thomas Whyte)

I realized the other day that I am coming up on 20 years of blogging–since 2005 here, and before that on the now defunct Xanga. […]

On one hand, I understand the need to commit to the process. To the journey. The experience of getting things out as a purging or meditative activity. I tend to use the blog as a way of thinking out loud about things mostly, but also as a record. Also to foster discussions, even if they are only just for my own ears and typing fingers.

I took rather easily to pubic blogging, and for a while, was determined to keep a print journal less for other’s eyes, but really, they wound up being similar. I decided that if there were posts I didn’t want to share, I’d just make them private, but even this I never really took advantage of.  In some ways, making my thoughts coherent enough for other eyes, for whoever may be reading this, helps me be more concise and thoughtful of what I am saying, and by extension, thinking. I am probably far more personal in my poems than I am here, so maybe that is part of it.  Private is a whole other thing when you use it as fodder for art. 

I occasionally check the back-end stats and it does seem there is traffic, more than I would have guessed, but even writing here, like social media these days, seems like shouting into a void. So in some ways, it almost is like writing for a limited number of eyes.  Possibly only mine and the few people who still read poetry blogs. But even if no one reads it, it’s still a record and a conversation. Both process and artifact.

Kristy Bowen, process and artifact

Publication means nothing. But it doesn’t mean that we’re doing nothing as publishers. For 20 years I’ve been publishing Rattle magazine, and that has value—but what specifically is that value? What service are we actually providing by editing and creating a magazine?

I’ve come to realize that what I’ve been providing for my entire career isn’t publication at all: it’s curation, from the Latin “curare,” which means to take care of. I’m not a publisher; I’m a curator. My job is to sift through thousands of submissions each week and highlight, in a respectful and meaningful way, those poems that others might enjoy reading. We have thousands of readers who appreciate the way we curate poems; they like our tastes, and know that if they open a book or click a link to the Rattle website, what they read will probably be worth their time.

In the abundance of the digital age, curation is a far more significant service than publication. More literature is being written today than at any time in history, at a scale that’s difficult to imagine. Millions of books are published each year. Millions of people are actively writing poetry and fiction right now. It would be impossible for anyone to develop any grasp of what writing is worth their time. Duotrope lists over 7,500 literary publishers—and that still isn’t enough.

The need for curation is immense. And that’s what the publishers and editors of the literary world are actually doing—building and providing access to an audience that appreciates their tastes.

But we still think of ourselves as publishers, and still demand that submissions to our magazine be “previously unpublished.” That phrase is what’s known as a term of art, something with a special meaning for a particular field or profession. And it’s become a damaging term of art.

Imagine how literature would thrive if we could share our art with our friends in the medium of the era. How much more fun would online open mics be if everyone knew they were free to share the poem they were most proud of—the one they just wrote yesterday? Rattle’s weekly podcast includes a supportive and enriching open lines segment, but most poets are hesitant to share and “spoil” their newest work. The joy of sharing what we create is one of the main things that sustains us as artists. We shouldn’t have to wait years wading through rejection letters to feel it.

Timothy Green, Uncurated: The Case for a New Term of Art

In my research (read: Googling) as I spent time with La Movida by Tatiana Luboviski-Acosta (Nightboat Books) I came across the following lines shared by more than one Tumblr account:

There’s a weapon I wish
I could wield
when I feel the vomit of your gaze
hit the side of my face.
I want an education
in remembering
and I want an education
in forgetting.
I fast until the basket is done,
throw my maidenhead into the trash,
and relish the solidarity
of absolute feminine horror.

These lines come from the poem “Men Who Cannot Love” and serve as a solid example of Luboviski-Acosta’s poetic sensibility throughout this collection. The direct engagement with metaphor juxtaposed with the pathos of the speaker’s voice here make for an immediate and visceral reading experience.

And yet, for the dynamic flex of technique, the lines–here and elsewhere in this collection–feel relatable, biting but not bitter. I would call this a bright emotional range: bright meaning joyful but also illuminating, like flame. Just the kind of thing to share across the glowing screens of social media, a glow sought out for the intimacy it promises.

José Angel Araguz, microreview: La Movida by Tatiana Luboviski-Acosta

  1. On the first morning of AWP 2023 in Seattle, I led a panel about teaching and writing risk with four amazing women who tell you the truth even when it scalds you: Jan Beatty, Destiny O. Birdsong, Erika Meitner, and Asali Solomon. Before the event began, Jan slipped me a present wrapped in purple tissue paper: a labrodorite stone to open my third eye. At the end of the panel, which had ranged over many topics and approaches, she whispered, “But we didn’t talk about It.” Then I got pulled away.
  2. Later I saw Jan in the book fair and asked her what “It” was, and she gave me a good answer, but I was already spinning other possible meanings and kept doing so all weekend. What are we not talking about?
  3. AWP always gets existential for me. Who am I to these people, the loudly famous and the incognito, the overhyped and the underrated, the shy initiates and gregarious elders?
Lesley Wheeler, Occult AWP

RM Haines: Thanks for agreeing to this interview, Amalia! I first read your work in Protean, with the poem ,“PROTECT YOUR FAMILY FROM LEAD IN YOUR HOME” — a poem I really love. That one was published in December 2021, so how do you see your work developing from there to the pieces in this new book?

Amalia Tenuta: Several pieces in this collection were written around the same time as “PROTECT…” and in that regard are similar in their engagement with the lyrical “I” in a register of radical romanticism, their commitment to a type of totality thinking (“everything there is has everything there is to look at” to quote Bernadette Mayer), and are frustrated by lyrical experientialism, “leading me to believe you should never write a poem / about what you did not do”. Here, not much has changed.

I’m disinterested in poetics beholden to an inevitable abstraction of state violence, but this is – allegedly – very difficult to do in poetry, you know: poetry is supposed to be like the hospice of sentiment, and political poetry – we are told in poetry workshops – is contingently overdetermined (derogatory). So, in practice, I kinda ditched that scene, or at least began searching for poetics outside of “poetry”.

I mean I’m not a very good poet [Editor: Don’t believe her!] Most of my work I’m interested in, or working on now is in feminist political economy, data studies, STS, etc… and I think the poets I admire the most come from, or at least tend to that torsion between poetry and “theory” or w/e (Alexis Pauline Gumbs, Andrea Abi-Karam, Jackie Wang to name just a few). But in this turn away from poetry I encountered critiques of representation, of metaphor and abstraction, of language etc… and in identifying these critiques in my practice I developed I guess what you could call an imperfect epistemic duty, right–who and what community am I accountable to and for, you know–what are the stakes here in writing this, on the ground?

R. M. Haines, Interview w/Amalia Tenuta

Partly due to the pressure of the old toad work, I’ve been in the poetry doldrums for much of this year, so it was nice to get a short piece up on The Friday Poem again, here – a 100-word response to a poem by Geoff Hattersley as one of a series of brief commentaries on ‘funny’ poems. The poem I chose is, as you’ll see, both funny and deeply serious at the same time, which is no mean feat to pull off. I could’ve chosen any number of his poems, in the same way that I could’ve chosen numerous Matthew Sweeney poems, but that thar Mat Riches got there before me, here. (I’m reminded at this point that, a week or two ago, I heard Paul Stephenson – another brilliantly funny yet serious poet, like Mat himself – read a poem entitled ‘Not Matthew’.)

Had Mat not quite rightly alighted on Sweeney, I might’ve chosen ‘Upstairs’, first published in the LRB – here – and collected in The Bridal Suite, Cape, 1997. It’s typical of Sweeney’s very quirky narrative style, moving from funny to very dark within a heartbeat. His poems and worldview were often described as ‘surreal’, but that’s a lazy label. It’s surely just a recognition that if you live life with your senses tuned to high-ish alert you will notice that it’s chocker with non sequiturs, which paradoxically make more sense than not.

Matthew Paul, On ‘funny’ poems

Sometimes in the business of reviewing you come across a collection that is so impressive in its quality and so layered and complex in meaning that it challenges one to find words to do it justice. The Keeper of Aeons (Broken Spine Arts, 2022) by Matthew M.C. Smith is one of those collections. This is a beautifully structured combination of prose and poetry that takes us through the rugged rural landscape of Wales, back through history to the Palaeolithic and Mesolithic periods and forwards through time and space to an apocalyptic future when humankind has destroyed Earth’s environment. The writing is at times reverential, as he reflects upon the lives of our distant ancestors, and at times it is deeply disquieting as he imagines the future we are heading towards. Above all, however, it is informed by a sense of awe and wonder at the magnificence of the universe which we inhabit and by his desire to find meaning within it.

It is no exaggeration to say that Smith’s descriptions of the Welsh landscape rival those of R.S. Thomas. In both their writing the landscape is not merely described, it is experienced. In Sweyne’s Howes, Smith writes: ‘My feet grip moss-frayed rocks as my walk edges lurid clusters of purple heather, the stinging brush of yellow gorse on knees and calf muscles. A lizard flickers, skittering, Sun-basked stillness. I climb a cascade of barely submerged, stones, scattered footholds up steep uneven routes, stop and turn. The ocean’s gleam of gold tide-lapped, serpentine headlands.’ The syntax gives the description a breathlessness, the breathlessness of a man climbing a steep incline, but also of a man whose breath is taken away by the magnificence of the place, captured so eloquently in the culminating image of the ‘gold tide-lapped, serpentine headlands’ and in the finely observed sensory details: ‘the lurid clusters of purple heather’, the ‘stinging brush’, the lizard ‘skittering’.

For Smith, however, the landscape is not merely a source of delight, a source of ‘serenity and majesty’ (Mynydd Drummau), it is the custodian of the past, a keep of aeons, perhaps.

Nigel Kent, Review of ‘The Keeper of Aeons’ by Matthew M.C. Smith

I went to States of Independence in Leicester today. I caught up with D.A. Prince and Roy Marshall (both as charming as ever), and went to some talks. Most interesting was one about AI and creativity.

  1. Simon Perril looked at the history of creativity, asking “Is self-expression all there is?”. He mentioned Chatterton, Dada, Oulipo, Flarf, found poetry etc. I hadn’t seen “Tree of Codes” by Jonathan Safran Foer. Curation, recycling, and re-tooling have always been part of the tradition (moreso in pre-copyright times). What happens when writers put together pre-existing phrases rather than pre-existing words?
  2. Prof Tracy Harwood followed this up by showing milestones in the progression of AI – Lovelace, Turing, Deep Blue, then concentrating on art and writing. The art examples especially impressed me. Some artists using AI describe the results as collaborations, which is fair enough.
Tim Love, States of Independence (2023)

So there we are (well, I am, and maybe you are too) in the ‘upper-second’ sector of the poetry world. There’s plenty of fluidity of course.

Scenario one: You get an email from The Rialto accepting two of your poems, or you win mid-range poetry competition, or your book is reviewed in the Guardian… HUZZAH, move up to position A on the diagram. You’re nearly there! Look how close it is to 1st!

Scenario 2: you haven’t written anything you’re happy with in months. The last six responses from magazines have been rejections. It’s been years since that competition success/big magazine acceptance/wildly successful reading you did. Go directly to position B and stay there until you pull your socks up. That Lower 2nd is beckoning you, and the bright young things are pushing in!

So that, my poet friends, is the game of snakes and ladders that we’re all playing, not necessarily knowingly, not necessarily willingly, in fact you might be thinking it’s a load of bullshit.

But for some reason I take comfort in this analogy. The open book, the invitation to read and write, and look! – the middle section is the most prominent, the most visible. That RECTO page is mighty big, with room for us all to be a little easier on ourselves I think, still with plenty of scope for ambition, some healthy competition … and the chance to be successful enough.

Robin Houghton, How to be successful…enough

Decades ago, I walked with friends along the beach at Sullivan’s Island.  One of those friends gestured towards a row of beach cottages and said, “That’s the inspiration for a thousand bad water color paintings.”  He wasn’t wrong.  

But of course, it’s also the inspiration for the kind of paintings that people want to hang on their walls, for better or worse.  It’s the view so many of us wish we had as we stare out at our surly suburbs.  It’s no wonder that so many painters try their hand at capturing it.

As I drove back to my seminary apartment yesterday, I looked out over mountain vistas and had similar thoughts about poetry.  I thought, I’m viewing the inspiration for thousands of bad poems.  But it does seem worth capturing in some format.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Clouds of Snow, Clouds of Petals

We row a boat across the head of a sunflower.
It takes a long time.
Neither of us can see anything but the sunflower and the sky.
You say Shall we stop for a while, I’m tired.
We lay the oars in the bottom of the boat.
We lay back and doze in the afternoon sun.
We feel the sunflower swaying gently under us.
You say We could just stay here, it’s so nice.
I say, Maybe we could, yes, maybe we could.
We drift in and out of sleep.
The sunflower’s stem is drying out.
Soon its petals will wither and drop.

Bob Mee, THE SUNFLOWER, THE LOST WOMAN AND AN INDEX OF POETS

I was brought up in post-war Widnes, where bombed out and demolished houses created areas of scrub land where only tough plants grew. This included rosebay willow herb, sometimes called fireweed, because it can shoot up fast even where there has been a fire; coltsfoot, those tough-leaved, tough-rooted little plants that are rarely seen these days, and sunny dandelions, with their tooth-shaped leaf edges. My mum loved flowers, and I never missed an opportunity to pick any I saw growing wild, to take home. I must have been around 5 when I picked these. Some children nearby sang that rhyme at me, but I paid little heed, as I’d been taught to reject such silly superstitions. I took them home and she was very pleased to put them in water, saying they had faces like the sun.

In later life, when she had a terminal liver disease, her hair, which was often fretted, and by then snowy white, looked exactly like the seed-clocks of the dandelions we used to blow to tell the time. Her skin was yellow from her failing liver. She had died by the time I wrote this poem. She was only 69. I approach this age myself and I still think of her every day.

Angela Topping, Dandelions for Mother’s Day

For three weeks, I was a guest: to different showers
And toilet flushes in the West, to coffee houses, to apps,
to rosemary as box shrub.  A guest to my suitcase.  
To hot tubs and skin in the garden of my tiny cottage. 
Guest to stretches of blacktop like a zip, Lily Valley Church and Rainbow Donuts.

Guest to the mirror: my daughter hosted me. 
Hit me in the gut.  Made me think of another paradigm: host/parasite.
I made a typo and wrote paradise. 

Jill Pearlman, The Guest

My mind’s been wandering a great deal lately. This at a time when focus would be quite useful, and yet–I don’t mind a little mental meandering. I think that, akin to daydreaming, a lack of focus can lead to creative thinking. Of course, the downside is that it may also lead to lollygagging and a lack of ambition.

I’ve been thinking about the way contemporary Americans use the word “engagement.” Not as in marriage proposals–that definition hasn’t changed–but in statistics, marketing, self-help, and education. My department at the university has been directed to “foster student engagement.” Our administration wants us to find ways to engage students, but it seems what’s meant by that is simply to attract their attention amid the myriad distractions and attractions of modern life. In my area of the college, where students go to get a little extra assistance in their coursework or their educational plans, we have long been aware that we can’t reach everyone who needs help and that we cannot create enthusiasm or involvement. Apparently, engagement is supposed to lead to motivation. That would be a miracle. Like many young people when I was a young person, today’s young people are often rather undirected. Wandering. […]

I’m with Walt Whitman and the loafing approach to observation and creative thinking, but that probably won’t be sufficient for a nation with a population of 336 million people.

Ann E. Michael, Wandering

Yesterday MacMillan publishers and the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education announced the result of research done on poetry in primary schools – the first of its kind since a report by Ofsted in 2007.

The conclusions make depressing, but not entirely surprising, reading: teachers don’t feel confident teaching poetry, aren’t trained to teach poetry and there aren’t many books in the classroom. In response the organisations have launched a project delivering training to thirty teachers – MacMillan also have a new book.

Reading the article I couldn’t help but think of the huge brouhaha last year over the poetry curriculum at GCSE. The argument revolved around the removal of a poem by a certain poet called Philip Larkin, who found himself collateral damage in an effort to bring in more diverse and/or contemporary poets. I say huge: I don’t know how far it ‘cut through’ but there was a period where you couldn’t move for articles in political magazines decrying the decision as, in the words of the (now disgraced) Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi, ‘cultural vandalism’.

At the time I found the whole debate frustratingly narrow, even damaging. I was no fan of the decision to remove ‘An Arundel Tomb’ itself, especially when there was still space for James Fenton’s ‘In Paris With You’ – great, sleazy fun but not the kind of poem which offers much on a second reading. Fenton, of course, is as pale and stale as Larkin by now (sorry Mr Fenton), so you wonder whether he kept his place partly made because the poem’s rollicking rhythms and repetition lend it nicely to the formulaic rubrics used in modern examinations.

Jeremy Wikeley, Other Worlds: Poetry in Schools

Hello from my post-AWP hangover. I don’t drink but that doesn’t seem to matter at AWP as it’s 3-ish days of nonstop poetry / tabling / reading / chatting / everything. I arrived home at 1am on Monday morning, exhausted from the trip, the flights, and the time change. I love AWP, I really do. It’s the biggest writing conference in the country and it’s guaranteed I’m going to see writer friends I haven’t seen since the previous year’s conference, I’m going to find and fall in love with new collections of poetry, I’m going to chat with new people and make new friends. This year was all that and more.

My newest collection of poetry, Her Whole Bright Life, published by Write Bloody, had its soft launch at the conference. The official pub date is 4 April but my publisher was able to have advance copies at the conference. And here’s the exciting news – my book SOLD OUT over the weekend! To say I was ecstatic would be an understatement. Holding my new book in my hands, doing three readings from it, signing it for people, and then learning every last copy at AWP had been snagged – well, that’s a high I won’t soon forget.

Courtney LeBlanc, Post-AWP Hangover

As my regular readers know I did not attend AWP in Seattle this year. Instead, I did the Virtual Conference.

The virtual conference for me this year was a flop. It was not worth the discounted price. 

I did this weekend receive a SWAG care package from my friend and poetry author Marianne Mersereall AKA Wild Honey Creations.  She knows how much I look forward to the swag at each conference, something that doesn’t come with the virtual Conference, I have to thank Marianne for this kind deed. Not only a selection of Conference swag but some personal notes on recommended publishers for my work as well   Thank you so much!  (((big hug))) […]

There was simply so much that was not available. I tuned into some streaming and pre-recorded conference panels. They were not the ones I wanted to see, and they were honestly not that impressive to me. Perhaps the subject matter had something to do with it, but again, I could just not get the panels I wanted.

Michael Allyn Wells, AWP 2023 From Home or SWAG in a Box

Three days after AWP, I got a head injury that landed me in the hospital (concussions and MS do not play well together), so I am literally and figuratively still in recovery, but I was able to get out in the sunshine a bit today, plant a few flowers. I’ve been trading e-mails, got a few rejections and acceptances, but generally feel behind. I’m very lucky to not have caught anything (knock on wood), although I was very nervous about catching covid (or pneumonia or strep or something) at AWP. I am so happy I met so many new people and saw so many old friends. Connection is really important to me – even though it’s hard at three-day conferences with 9000 people to really make those real connections with people – but I do my best.

I’ve also started reading through my AWP stack of lit mags and books, although not as fast as I hoped (head injury really slowed down my reading, but I did use audio books). So far, I really enjoyed Dana Levin’s essay on divination and poetry in the latest issue of American Poetry Review, listened to Sabrina Orah Mark’s book of fairy-tale theme memoir/essays, Happily, and sent two submissions to journals that asked for them at AWP.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Still Processing/Recovering from AWP (with Pictures), Spring Begins, Beginning to Read through my AWP stack, an In-Depth Review from Flare, Corona

from Taksim Square

through Istiklal street
to the Galata tower

how quickly
names and roads
become old friends

4.
returning from Konya

I buy 22 volumes
of Rumi’s Divan -i Kebir

nineteen
are still waiting
to be read

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Part 38

some nodding yes
some nodding no:
daffodils

Bill Waters, Hopewell Valley Neighbors magazine: March ’23

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 9

Poetry Blogging Network

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

This week, there’s even more of a focus on books than usual—March 2 was World Books Day. From harbingers of spring to the borders beyond breath, it’s a very full edition of the digest. Enjoy.


The days are lengthening. Harbingers of spring
pierce through resistant soil; spikes of daffodils

and early tulips mingle, tight buds sprinkle
thin syringa stems. A few oak leaves linger,

crisp-curled and dead, rasping in the flowerbed –
but death is a stranger now. Pale hellebore

blushes shyly, fern fronds prepare to unfurl.

Marian Christie, February’s Garden

I dug out an old book over the weekend – Speak To Me, Swedish-language Women Poets, edited & translated by Lennart and Sonja Bruce, published in New York in 1989. Every so often I flick through this one but in previous readings I hadn’t noticed a comment by the Swedish poet Madeleine Gustafsson. She says: “..It is poetry that discovers/ scrutinizes/ explains me.”

It set me thinking. How far does poetry explain the poet, to themselves or to others? Sure, I walk about my life, talking to people (here and there…) and am, when the mood takes, or circumstances dictate, social enough. I get unnecessarily animated while watching football, like to watch Test Match cricket, enjoy the company of my wife, children and grandchildren, talk to my hens and pigs, spend time pottering about doing jobs in our woods, pass through the world, I suppose. Life is full.

Is this what I am? Or does my poetry suggest something more that stays hidden through the habits and rituals of the days?

Bob Mee, ‘MY POETRY EXPLAINS ME’

March is here – my favorite month of the year. (And my birthday month.) Although the Spring equinox is on the 20th, the climate here in New Orleans says Spring is here now. I have garden planning and planting fever so I’ve been consulting my notes from last year as to what new things I want to experiment with in my planting. […]

I have a tiny essay in Still: The Journal called Moon Sick, which was reprinted from my Substack post in December. Many thanks to the wonderful editors at Still for believing this little piece was worthy of their wonderful journal.

It’s Saturday afternoon now and I’m going out into the backyard to cut off dead banana tree leaves and trim back my HUGE in ground Asparagus setaceus fern. And, of course, check on the Sweet Peas.

Charlotte Hamrick, I’m in Love with March

A fellow poet introduced me to the American poet Ted Kooser, now in his early 80s. His style is accomplished, yet extremely simple. My current bedtime reading is his poetry collection Winter Morning Walks: one hundred postcards to Jim Harrison (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2001).

In the late 90s Kooser developed cancer. He gave up his insurance job and writing. When he began to write again, it was to paste daily poems on postcards he sent to his friend and fellow writer Jim Harrison. In the preface, Kooser tells us ‘I began to take a two-mile walk each morning. I’d been told by my radiation oncologist to stay out of the sun for a year because of skin sensitivity, so I exercised before dawn, hiking the isolated country roads near where I live.’ These country roads are in Nebraska.

The poems cover a period from 9 November until 20 March. In the poems Kooser doesn’t directly talk about the illness. He does so through metaphor. All the poems include a brief description of the weather. The clear and precise observation gives them a haiku quality.

Fokkina McDonnell, Books, books, books…

This posthumous collection is a work of impressive artistry and depth.

It was written under the shadow of a terminal diagnosis of laryngeal cancer and after the removal of Satyamurti’s voice box and part of her tongue. Some poems refer to these things. The way in which they do so reflects one of the qualities that make Satyamurti’s writing so attractive. Whatever may have been the case for her as a person, as poet she approaches her situation in a way virtually purged of ego.

We see this in ‘Small Change’. It opens:

This must be the room of last resort,
this half-lit passage under the dripping bridge
where, on the only route to the Underground,
you pass four, sometimes more, rough sleepers
strung out at intervals against the wall,

the same, day after day, week after week.

The tone is masterly. The language is unemotive, almost prosaically plain, suggesting a pedantic concern for factual accuracy by the pausing over ‘four, sometimes more’. And yet from the first line the scene has the compelling resonance of symbolism and myth. And line 6 seems to ache with empathy, not through emotive language but because the effect of its repetitions is heightened by the stanza break. What’s involved is a very skilful use of poetic technique to make facts seem to speak for themselves. They’re made to feel immediately present (‘This must be’) and the reader is drawn into a direct confrontation with the sleepers (‘you pass’). Keeping herself out of the picture, the poet makes us face the horror without distraction. And what we see is how for these rough sleepers the real has taken on the extremity of myth.

Edmund Prestwich, Carole Satyamurti, The Hopeful Hat – review

Far Field is the final part of a trilogy Jim Carruth has been working on for the last twenty-five years, and forms a magnificent culmination to what feels, for more than one reason, like a life’s work. Like its predecessors, Black Cart and Bale Fire and the standalone poetic novel Killochries, it deals with farming life in rural Renfrewshire, but this volume is more personal than the others. It focuses on his own family life, the family farm, the handing on of skills, property, and tradition. […]

In the final section, Stepping Stones, we move out to the wider community, to the landscape, to memory, and reflections of the future, and the book closes with Planting Aspen Saplings, father handing on the tradition and the responsibility to son. Aspen is an endangered species, but an important one to the Scottish landscape:

You tell me of the tree’s offer
To gall midges, birds, hare, deer

The importance of relationships
The interconnectedness of everything

They do not thrive in shade, need light
And space to grow.

Planting aspen saplings,
Son and father.Planting Aspen Saplings

The echoes of Seamus Heaney I find in these poems do not feel derivative, but establish a connection between two poets aware of the influence of landscape and farming on their work, but each with their own different and unique perspective on it. An Irish/Scottish tradition which enriches us all.

Elizabeth Rimmer, Far Field by Jim Carruth

Last week, a long train ride and poor internet connection gave me the chance to re-read two recent Forward Prizes anthologies, properly paying attention to each poem rather than flicking through the pages which is what I’d previously done. In particular, from the 2020 book, I loved ‘Partition’ a prose poem about the complexities of identity by Fatimah Asghar from her book If They Come for Us (Corsair, 2019) which begins

you’re kashmiri until they burn your home. take your orchards. stake a different flag. until no one remembers the road that brings you back. you’re indian until they draw a border through punjab. until the british captains spit paki as they sip your chai, add so much foam you can’t taste home.

I also loved the poem ‘Argument of Situations’ by Shangyang Fang which you can hear the poet reading here (amazing what you can find on the internet!). The poem begins

I was thinking, while making love, ‘this is beautiful’ – this
fine craftsmanship of his skin, the texture of wintry river.
I pinched him, three inches above his coccyx, so that he knew
I was still here, still in an argument with Fan Kuan’s
inkwash painting, where an old man, a white-gowned literatus,
dissolves into the landscape as a plastic bag into clouds.

I liked the fact that the two people in this poem are talking about and arguing about different interpretations of a painting. This happens so often with any kind of artistic work, sometimes these conversations take place in one person’s head (they do in mine).

Josephine Corcoran, February Update

You drop into the little terrarium world of a story or poem.
There is a talking clay dinosaur in it. You look familiar, you say.
She grunts and steps over the broccoli-tufted forest. Trust
means you can be fully here, next to a citizen of Mesozoic
time, and also exist outside the glass. All I want to do sometimes
is sleep, you sigh; or read. Every now and then, the shadows
of flying pterosaurs stretch a fleeting canopy that blots out
the sun. You’re convinced the writing residency you heard
about is here, somewhere beyond the teaspoon-sized pond
ringed with moss and breadcrumbs.

Luisa A. Igloria, Retreat

13 – David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?
I think knitting has influenced my process a lot in that sometimes one must unravel an ugly or misshapen or just not right thing, despite hours of work. To acknowledge that the hours of work spent weren’t wasted but a learning process toward something better, that seems very applicable to writing, drafting, editing, and letting go of the ugly or misshapen things we write. I also love drawing and reading graphic novels, but I think because I don’t feel like my expertise is in this area there is more room to play and learn and once again, make something ugly or misshapen. I mentioned her before, but Lynda Barry is a major inspiration to me and her work helps me to embrace the weird and unknown.

14 – What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
I think returning to teachers and peers who taught me gets me really excited to make things and teach. I’ve loved reading Ross Gay’s essay collections, Ellen Hagan’s fiction and novels-in-verse, Joy Priest’s poetry and essays, Nikky Finney’s poetry and ephemera, and the debut poetry collections of my dear friends like Anni Liu (Border Vista), Su Cho (The Symmetry of Fish), Kien Lam (Extinction Theory), Jan-Henry Gray (Documents), and Marianne Chan (All Heathens). I also love to return to Ai, Lucille Clifton, Aracelis Girmay, and Ruth Stone, for teaching students and myself.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Danni Quintos

Since March is Women’s History Month, I thought I’d take some time to let readers know a few ways that the following poets have impacted my life’s journey in poetry and teaching. I’m ever grateful for their mentorship and support over the years. Please take some time read about the influence of these amazing poets and read (and buy) their work (I’ve included links to make it easier for you):

Carol Frost – Carol is first on my list. During my four years of collegiate undergraduate work in Upstate New York, Carol opened up so many opportunities for me to connect with the poetry world. Now Rollins College Professor of English and Director of Winter With the Writers, a Festival of the Literary Arts, Carol continues to write and teach and inspire. It was Carol who mentored me in my undergraduate years as both a poet and fiction writer, introducing me to Donald Justice, Brigit Pegeen Kelly, and many, many more in the late 1990s. I even visited her once at Bread Loaf, where she introduced me to one of my fiction-writer heroes, Charles Baxter. She always believed in me as a student writer, and it was through her guidance and kindness that I kept up with a writing life well after college. As far as her poems go, her imagery and syntax dazzle. Her most recent collection is Alias City (2019). Carol is an exceptional poet and teacher, says everyone in the poetry-biz, not just me.

Scot Slaby, Celebrating the Women Who Have Nurtured My Poet-Teacher Life

“Imperfect Beginnings” is an exploration of rootlessness both of refugees and adopted children. The poems ask difficult questions about security a sense of belonging when those roots are absent and whether it is actually possible to settle into or create somewhere that feels like home. Viv Fogel also touches on intergenerational trauma. She didn’t inherit her adoptive parents’ trauma but was very much aware of their experiences and how those experiences informed their behaviour towards her. The later poems look at founding a mother/daughter relationship without a role model to create one from and whether it is possible to break away from the negative patterns learnt from those who failed to provide safe environments for children to grow in.

Emma Lee, “Imperfect Beginnings” Viv Fogel (Fly on the Wall Press) – Book Review

Though Vogel’s adoptive mother was a refugee living in a new country, it is clear she had not truly escaped the Holocaust. Parts Four and Five develop the notions of escape and repair. There is a hint of what is to come in Practical un-English when the poet writes: ‘Her pain became my art and then my craft.’ The act of writing is Vogel’s way of understanding and resolving such issues. In Practical UnEnglish, though the poet does not shy away from describing her adoptive mother’s cruelty, underpinning the poem is an understanding of why she acted in this way. There is also a desire to see her in the round, to recognise her strengths and as a result, towards the end of the poem, there is even a touch of warmth towards her: ‘And yet/ she baked, her Powidltascherl and Apfelstrudel were divine.’  In this understanding there is the beginnings of forgiveness on Vogel’s part that her adoptive mother was never able to feel.

Nigel Kent, Review* of ‘Imperfect Beginnings’ by Viv Fogel

Lynne Jensen Lampe’s debut collection, Talk Smack to a Hurricane (Ice Floe Press, 2022) concerns mother-daughter relationships, mental illness, and antisemitism. Her poems appear in many journals, including THRUSH, Figure 1, and Yemassee. A finalist for the 2020 Red Wheelbarrow Poetry Prize and Best of the Net nominee, she lives with her husband and two dogs in mid-Missouri, where she edits academic research. Visit her at https://lynnejensenlampe.com; on Twitter @LJensenLampe; or IG @lynnejensenlampe

How do you know when a poem is finished?

It depends on the poem. In general, a poem is done when I read it aloud and feel the energy in my voice stay strong until the last word. Sometimes I can feel that in my body, other times I need to listen to a recording. Conversely, I know a poem needs work when I hear or sense a vocal weakness, a softness that doesn’t derive from the content. Places I stumble over words. The revision and just sitting with the poem can take months. A few times, though, I needed to write a quick draft in time for my critique group, think I have nothing like an actual poem, and they tell me to send it out. Or I submit a poem over and over, all of a sudden decide to change the last word, and the next journal accepts it.

Thomas Whyte, Lynne Jensen Lampe : part one

Clare Best’s new project, End of Season/Fine distagione (Frogmore Press, 2022), is a delicious portrayal of the tensions that run through life, yoking them to poetry so as to burrow down to the core of feelings.

To start with, as indicated by the title itself, there are linguistic tensions, each poem in English placed on the opposite page to its corresponding piece in Italian (written by Franca Mancinelli and John Taylor). Rather than translations, these feel like two independent texts that establish dialogues: views of Italy in English, then also in Italian but filtered through an English perspective. Languages, cultures and societies rub up against each other and generate further insight into how we view the world around us.

Matthew Stewart, Delicious tensions, Clare Best’s End of Season/Fine di stagione

One book I read recently and enjoyed immensely was Liz Berry’s The Home Child, a ‘novel in verse’, which is actually launched in two days’ time. I got hold of an early copy in order to prepare for interviewing Liz on Planet Poetry. We had a lovely chat about it yesterday, and the episode will go out some time in late March or early April.

I sometimes wonder if listeners think that Peter and I are awash with complimentary copies of poetry books thanks to all the poets we’ve interviewed. Well I’d like to crush that idea once and for all – I think this is the first book I’ve been sent from the publisher. I generally go out and buy a poet’s books, if I can’t get them in the local library.

I love public libraries and support them as much as I can. But the poetry offering is always minimal, and don’t get me started on trying to find novels by subject matter.

Robin Houghton, Been reading and about to read…

Even though I can get all the resources I need electronically, I occasionally cross the campus to the library.  I feel sorry for all those books, so neatly shelved, almost never checked out.  I do wonder how long the school (and schools across the country) will continue to dedicate themselves to the task of tending books that are never used.

I’m not talking about the censorship campaigns happening in parts of the country.  Those libraries that are being decimated have been in use.  I go to the physical library at my seminary, and I am almost always the only one in there who is not library staff.

A few weeks ago, I made this Facebook post:  “When I’m in the seminary library, I have to resist the temptation to check out the books that haven’t been checked out in awhile (that is to say, most of them)–in part to make the books feel loved, in part so that they won’t be culled, if the library is called upon to do such things.”

I love the smell of the library, even though I know I’m smelling the slow, slow crumbling of books turning to dust. […]

I’ve been sending out poetry submissions this morning, thinking about their passage in the world.  Will they find a place between covers in an old-fashioned book or periodical?  Why do I do this anyway?

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Publication and Preservation

My 4th manuscript has been a finalist/semi-finalist in about half of the very few places I’ve sent it, so I think it is pretty close to ready. The thing is, it’s about my daughter Kit, who died at six months old from a rare genetic condition and heart defect, and I am incredibly protective of this manuscript and reluctant to let it go.

I wrote it to be read–and to share her story and the story of our grief for her–at the same time, it is difficult to let that project be Completed and out into the world.

And then I have questions like “how could I ever manage a reading from this book?” (without dissolving into tearful Anne Sexton level dramatics)

I suppose that is a question for my future self to handle.

As it is, I can get in there and enjoy crafting the manuscript as a separate thing, an art, rather than the emotional ties I have to it (reading it aloud to people would be a whole nother matter).

Renee Emerson, visions and revisions

This is not an unboxing video, this is a post-unboxing video so I could be at least somewhat composed. You Could Make This Place Beautiful is here! I still can’t get over the touching secret hiding underneath the book jacket: my handwriting on the spine. I had no idea! I love it.

Thank you to my editor Julia Cheiffetz and the whole magic-making team at One Signal and Atria, who’ve been with me through Keep Moving, Goldenrod, Keep Moving: The Journal, and now this memoir. Special thanks to Jimmy Iacobelli for this miracle of a cover. I can’t get over it.

Maggie Smith, The book is here

By virtue of social media algorithms and clicks, I keep encountering some articles by a tik tokker who has been talking up “Bare Minimum Mondays” as a way to combat weekly burn-out, the Sunday scaries, and the general feelings of overwhelm [with] which most of us greet the week. It’s something other people I know have mentioned as a way to combat these things, starting off slow and then with a more productive push toward the middle of the week that winds down to Friday. […]

That same tik tokker also talks a lot in her reels about monotasking, which I guess I’ve never considered that word for it, but this makes such a difference for me. It was one of the best things about working the night shift even when I was at the library–very few interruptions and spans of time to actually get stuff done without interruptions and phone calls and e-mails coming in. […]

When I first branched off on my own, it took a while to find and establish the rhythms, but even with the press work, I find it helpful to devote each day to one aspect. Mondays are slower and more-admin days. Tuesdays are layouts and Weds are cover design. Thursdays are edits and finalization of galleys, while Fridays are website work and updates. Saturdays are usually just e-mails that require more in- depth responses and printing loads of author copies. Sundays are for shop orders & assembling books. This way I can cycle through the things that need to get done without feeling overwhelmed by so much and switching gears.

Kristy Bowen, the virtues of monotasking

The other thing to know and possibly do, which I have absolutely not done, but will perhaps increase my efforts — is to “spend three years” marketing the book that you wrote over the same or longer span. Makes sense right? I learned this at Writing Quietly and promptly forgot it. :) And the thing is, you can take these things in, modify them, use them for what works for you. I’m not going to mention my book every day for 3 years, but also, a book (or painting) is not a loaf of bread. It doesn’t go bad. Your followership changes, grows, and forgets. The book I wrote published two years ago, might now again resonate with someone.

With anything that I’ve done on the internet, especially blogging, which I’ve done for the longest period of time, I try to not “promote” myself per se. I try to ask myself, what do you have to give? What do you know or what have you seen that might be of interest? Sure yes I’ll succumb to the “please buy my X” formula from time to time. But primarily, I’d rather lure you in with whatever it is I might have that’s of interest, haha. Then we can go from there. If I can be a wee bit inspiring and then you want to look into my wares, so to speak, that’s cool. That said, sometimes we have to make things easy for people! Tell them the price, where to buy. Offer a link. We’re all busy, man! Make it as easy as possible! Don’t be shy about that part.

Shawna Lemay, Social Media for the Soul

I want to say something about ambition. A word derived from “go around,” that is, go around seeking votes or support. Which sounds a bit embarrassing to me. But why? What’s wrong with wandering around seeking support for your position? Is the shame I feel around it a female thing? Is it the prospect of the closing door? The closed?

I want to say something about desire, a word meaning coming down from the stars. Which sounds a bit silly to me. Wishing upon, and all. As if.

I want to say something about striving, which comes from battle, or strife. Which sounds unpleasant.

Something about success, a word meaning to go next to something that yields. Which is a funny thing, making success more a verb than a noun, but succeed more an appreciation of a yield than a gathering of it.

Marilyn McCabe, On the edge of town: or, Some Thoughts on Striving

Do we need

a witness for every moment? For every sigh? Is it
more worthy, a life lived in the sunlight? What name

do you have for things growing in the shade? Inside
a second-class compartment, lovers lie on opposite

berths, feigning sleep. Between them space, depth,
strangers, doubts.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Part 36

Mr. Shannon told me to put the pencil on the paper and then never look down again. Draw exactly what you see. He never explained himself. But I still believe sensitivity of the line is far more interesting than the perceived gesture. I think of Schiele and how he stripped his work of the ornamental influence of his teacher Klimt. I’m not considering Schiele’s narrative, mind you, but his lines which are a translation of sensation. Touch – with the eyes opened and closed at the same time. Much later, in college, a professor told me that the trouble with my drawings were that the parts didn’t work together to create a whole.

Maybe that was my unconscious goal. Parts are potentials and prompts and promise, the whole is as inescapable as a closed circle.

When I run, sometimes I close my eyes for dangerous seconds. I listen to the soft snap of twigs on the trail. How would one draw that? How would one translate the sensation that is simultaneously a drop in the pelvis and a rise in the chest? And a hatch-working of browns. And there is a smell in the foreground. Moss-greens, sticky translucent sweets.

That things can smell sweet may be the first order of synesthesia.

Yesterday, the air temperature barely above freezing, and a fat bumble bee attempted to fly. It sounded like death and I will argue that is synesthesia not simile.

There is pleasure in the unfocused life. There is discovery.

Ren Powell, Done with Genres

I wanted to expand on the voice and I also thought that I took too much time getting to the gist. My aim is always to be as concise as possible. I also think that too much frame around the poem detracts from its impact. You need to interrogate every word, does it really need to be present? What does it bring? Does the poem work without it? 

Paul Tobin, A TURN UP FOR THE BOOKS

Yesterday I attended a Zoom event featuring Alexandra Fössinger. There was discussion between poet and publishers with just a few poems, then a Q+A session. I think the format worked well.

She revealed that there was a significant backstory to her recent book, “Contrapasso”. Does knowing the backstory help with appreciating the poems? Not especially, but I was interested to know that she had felt the need to conceal details, and distance herself from the story (by writing in English, etc). She said she hadn’t realised that she’d concealed so much and had made an effort during rewrites to be less obscure, but she liked the idea of leaving areas that readers might get lost in. A difficult balance.

Whenever a poem is driven by intense emotion it must be hard for the poet to assess its effect on the reader. I don’t trust my evaluation of such poems that I write, and am wary of sending them away – justifiably in most cases, in retrospect. But achieving that objectivity can take years. Might as well let editors make earlier decisions.

Tim Love, Cephalopress Writers in Conversation: Alexandra Fössinger

Chalkboard poems continue. Reading continues. I read a sort of magical realism short novel, The Crane Husband, by Kelly Barnhill because the description reminded me of a poem I had written a couple years back where a woman marries a sandhill crane. This was darker than that, though the poem is also about a cryptid, the Mothman, who might actually be a sandhill crane. I love my life, but it is sometimes hard to explain to people who are not me. Let’s just say I used to live in Kearney, Nebraska, and also passed through there on a trip west during sandhill crane nesting season.

I think there was more I meant to tell you, but it’s Friday, it’s snowing, and I am already drinking wine (in hopes of a nap…have I mentioned my weird sleeping patterns during the pandemic?)

Kathleen Kirk, Real ID

The collection I finished reading yesterday is by Robert Wood Lynn, whose amazing work I found a couple of years ago through Shenandoah submissions. Since then, he won the Yale Younger Poets Prize for Mothman Apologia, a collection strongly rooted in Appalachia. It contains a series of poems from the perspective of Mothman, a West Virginia cryptid, which gives the book a weirdness that always appeals to me; I’m also moved by how it addresses the urgent subjects of poverty, drug crisis, and environmental damage. I’d call it lyric in mode, like [Cynthia] Hogue’s work, which to me means sound-driven and personal (even when the poems use persona). Especially for a first collection, it’s startlingly good. And it turns out he lives very near me, although he commutes to NYU as he completes his MFA.

Lesley Wheeler, Poetry reading (and readings: here comes AWP)

A lot of times writers don’t talk about the difficulties involved with the work of being a writer, which includes things like public speaking, publicity, attending conferences. If you have a disability—I use a cane for short distances, and a wheelchair for longer distances, which is obvious, but I also have problems swallowing, breathing, even things like vision and memory, which are less obvious. I also have an immune system deficiency that puts me at high risk for “bad outcomes” as the scholars write—with covid. I’m not ignoring any of that when I say I’m excited about AWP, because I am excited for a chance to see friends, to share my work, to meet my publishers, and all those good things.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Where I’ll Be at AWP, A Rhysling Nomination, Managing MS Symptoms and Anxiety Before Big Public Events: AWP Edition

In Minneapolis I arrived the day before the conference. I was six months pregnant and stiff and tired from the plane ride. I found a yoga studio nor far from where I was staying and inexpensive compared the east coast prices I was used to. The teacher was phenomenal. To this day it remains one of the best such classes I’ve ever taken.

In Chicago I spent over an hour in my room chatting with one of the hotel’s housekeepers. There was a hotel staff strike taking place down the street. This woman was more than eager to talk to me, and she gave me all the details of the strike and her job generally. It was an invaluable perspective to the space we were all gathering in and enjoying for the weekend.

All of this is to say, the best advice I can give anyone attending this conference is: Be okay with where you are. Don’t panic.

If you have a couple of good conversations, meet new people, get to know new magazines and/or presses, attend an interesting panel or two, then you’re doing great. If you pick up cool journals that you’ve never seen before and think you might like to submit to, then you’re just fine. If you come up with new ways to attempt to resolve a craft problem, good on ya.

Don’t worry about doing everything. Take breaks as you need to. Walk, rest, talk to people outside the literary world, stare into space.

Becky Tuch, What is AWP and how do we survive it?

I’m especially pleased to have this poem out in the wild; it’s one I intend to have in my pamphlet…and one that’s been accepted in what I think is its final form. Last week saw the long listing of another poem that should make it into the pamphlet, but I had to commit that cardinal sin of asking if they’d let me update the version they had. Thankfully, they said yes, but there’s a chance it may change (slightly) again before the pamphlet is out.

It’s always interesting to think of versions out there. I’m sure I heard it mentioned in a podcast recently (possibly Craig Finn interviewing Maggie Smith) about how interesting it is to read the mag version versus the final version of a poem. I’ve sort of stopped submitting for a while to keep the versions under wraps, and to hopefully have some back that haven’t been published before—although your move to the various mags that still have poems—either longlisted, or unreplied to yet.

Mat Riches, Toting Up The Velocities

The latest in my series of winter charcoal drawings of upstate and central New York is this one, of a pair of old trees in a field – probably apple trees, I’m thinking. They touch something in me; perhaps it’s the way they are still growing in spite of losing limbs and, in the case of one, practically its entire original trunk. Maybe it’s because they look like a pair. But it’s also because finding old trees like this feels typical of such a place, where people have been farming for a long time. Perhaps there was once a homestead nearby. I like the way these trees, with their individual personalities, stand in the foreground, set off by the indistinct woods in the little gully behind the hills; it makes me want to walk there, climb up the hill behind, see if there’s a stream.

Beth Adams, Old Apple Trees

I could have been quaint
and asked a stranger about those drooping
white blossoms, pointed leaves and slender stems,
flowers upside down, dripping like milk.

Instead I tasked my phone and asked
a stranger stranger, who gave me fifteen
fast photos of the flower before my eyes.
Snowdrops.

Jill Pearlman, Hey, Stranger Stranger

Jean Cocteau wrote that “A great literary masterpiece is simply a dictionary in disorder.” But a work of literature doesn’t use all the words of the dictionary. Is it possible that by looking at the parts of the dictionary that were not used, you could reconstruct the literary work? The work is both the words that were used and the words that were not used.

Or to put it another way, everything that Gertrude Stein’s dog doesn’t know isn’t Gertrude Stein and so by knowing what the dog doesn’t know, you could figure out who Gertrude Stein is. By knowing something about the hole, you know something about the donut. More and more, I’m figuring out who I am by figuring out who I’m not. 

It’s a kind of dead reckoning, a system of navigation that doesn’t rely on absolute position but on. figuring out where to go and where you are by measuring the distance and direction from where you’ve been. 

Who I am is both inside and outside my life. In my life. Around my life. Through my life. During. Despite. Because of. What is the apt preposition?

Gary Barwin, THREE SIDES TO EVERYTHING

Time braided into breath. Chiseled and stacked into monuments marking the span of human existence.

Time sublime, time unwind. Time a psalm, time a qualm.

All borders beyond breath, any lands we may discover in an eternity beyond us, let them be no less real because we cannot touch or name them at this time.

Time the bountiful, time bereft. Time desirable, time so desolate.

Perhaps there exists rest within breath—a majesty that dwells in the spaces between inhales and exhales.

Rich Ferguson, Breathology

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 8

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week, an especially convivial edition, I think, as bloggers muse about things that tie us together—”kinscapes”, epistolary poems, sharing poems with family members, etc. Lots of changes seem to be afoot, and poets are adapting in interesting ways. Books and writing philosophies are hashed over, as usual, and poems are shared, some rare and bleeding, some thoroughly cooked. Enjoy.


When I opened Vol. 1 of the journals, I found a bookmark from Grasmere with an illustration of Grasmere church and the headstone of William and Mary Wordsworth. I love finding bookmarks in second hand books. They feel like way-markers, signposts. Someone was here before me. Someone was reading this book, someone was imagining Dorothy Wordsworth, as I would be, as Polly Atkins had when she’d written her book. All these different versions of Dorothy have existed in the minds of the people who have read her journals, and the journals have linked us, this particular book is linking me to the previous owner, and to Polly Atkin and to Dorothy herself. I imagine Dorothy now, writing the journal, the scrit-scrat of her pen, the sound of the rain outside the window and me here, now, the rain outside my window and the unknown other reader, the book marker. It is like being a part of a silent book club.

Wendy Pratt, The Forty Four Year Book Club

This current desk, now a dozen years beneath my fingertips, is entirely straightforward: black wood and solid with three sides, no drawer. I’ve slipped smaller shelving beneath for files, outgoing correspondence, comic books and other items to be close-at-hand. A plastic milk crate on its side to my left, to hold letters, postcards, scraps and other detritus. My lamp and Lego figures atop, along with a cow-shaped Holstein award retrieved from the top of my father’s desk as we dismantled the house, an award presented him in 1954, most likely as part of his 4-H club membership. A stack of trade comics underneath to the right, just by a tin garbage can I’ve had since before I can recall, set in my homestead bedroom before I landed, thus becoming one of my touchstones. It is strange, the things we decide to carry with us as we go. Sometimes we get to choose, and other times, less so.

I can’t remember the last time I cleared off this particular desk, although I might have attempted a fraction of such last year, when the new printer landed. It took a whole day, and the box of books set aside still sits where it lay. Papers and manuscripts and books and journals and chapbooks replenish like lichen, or morning glory. I marvel at the outcrop. I hack at the runners.

rob mclennan, the state of my desk

The effects of shared experience and sharing experiences are complex. We find another sort of sharing in the poem Tobi’s tales. [Marie Isabel] Matthews-Schlinzig describes the daily routines shared with a pet dog. The relationship between owner and dog is described as a ‘togetherness’. It is one of constant accommodation: ‘We walk, discovering: you stop, I stop, and/ vice versa. We dance, wait for each other.’  In the image of the dance, there is a suggestion of an accord, a harmonious, productive relationship: their routines are enlivening, vitalising: ‘each time we step out, it remakes us’, even though they experience together both the ‘wondrous’ and the ‘frightful’. In doing so the poet reminds us of the strength we can derive from sharing experiences, from being connected, from experiencing a sense of togetherness, not only with other human beings, but with animals, and even with the natural world itself.

In a world in which new technologies increasingly undermine the social fabric of society and drive us towards isolation, kinscapes reminds us of the importance of togetherness, of the fact that we are not alone, that fulfilment lies in our relationships with others and the world around us. It consists of striking contemporary poems, layered in meaning that reward re-reading. Matthews-Schlinzig is a truly impressive talent.

Nigel Kent, Review of ‘kinscapes’ by Marie Isabel Matthews-Schlinzig

In this collection, [Sarah A.] Chavez adds to her series of “Dear Carole” poems that have become their own body of work within her larger body of work (which can be found across her full-length collections Hands That Break & Scar (Sundress Publications, 2017) and All Day, Talking (dancing girl press, 2014)). The poems of like everything else we loved are elegiac epistolary poems, poems that celebrate and hold space for the grief and love the speaker in them feels for Carole, and doing so through the direct address of a letter. Yet, it’s the poetic sensibility on display in these poems — a sensibility able to honor a lost loved one in a way that is intimate as well as accessible — that marks the accomplishment and gift they are to the elegiac and epistolary traditions.

The poem from which the image above comes from, for example, is entitled “Dear Carole, Dermatologists Call the Body a ‘Trunk’,” a title that in its word choice and phrasing invites us into the realm of gossip and daily life. There’s an urgency to this address, a sense of having found something out that only one other person will understand, accompanied by the need to share it. One feels you are overhearing two kindred spirits alive together through the fact of the poem.

While the epistolary form necessarily marks it as a one-sided conversation, the voice in this and other poems in the series takes its time meditating and speaking to Carole in empathetic, blunt, and candid ways. The result is a voice whose honesty is animate and grows before the reader. In this way, poetry creates a space of connection, of relating, of inside jokes and acknowledged flaws, and ultimately of mattering.

José Angel Araguz, microreview: like everything else we loved by sarah a. chavez

At the diner, a former Bard student of mine introduces herself to D; she’s waiting tables, tells me apologetically she’s still trying to figure out what and who she is or will be. I note that she already is; is doing fine, creative, smart, a good writer, and radiant: look at you, I tell her truthfully, you’re glowing. She smiles, embarrassed and pleased: she was shut down when I had her in class, guarded and dim. Her light is strong now, she needed some time to heal: I think about that through the hikes, how we need time to heal when trauma comes, how we guard and preserve ourselves as we must and this all takes time; glaciation, melt to lake, the shaping of landscapes and mythic story that shapes the inner lives, that places landmarks for lost walkers.

JJS, Geographies

Certain regular readers of Rogue Strands have complimented me on the number of poetry blogs I manage to follow (or insinuated that I’ve got far too much time on my hands!), but I continue to make new discoveries of excellent, long-running poetry blogs that have previously slipped under my radar.

This is at once annoying and terrific. Annoying because it makes me feel useless. Terrific because each discovery provides me with the chance to devour a whole back catalogue of interesting posts.

One such case is Edmund Prestwich’s poetry blog (follow this link to read it), which is packed with in-depth reviews that get down to the nitty-gritty of books such as Hannah Lowe’s The Kids, Maurice Riordan’s Shoulder Tap and Gerard Woodward’s The Vulture, alongside nuanced analysis of poetry from the past, especially from the 20th Century. All in all, it’s a treasure trove of points of departure for poetic discussion and debate. Thoroughly recommended and it’s going straight on my Poetry Blogs List. I can only apologise for not having found it earlier…!

Matthew Stewart, Edmund Prestwich’s poetry blog

Last night my friend Kim took me out for my birthday. We lay on the floor of a local yoga studio for a sound healing. Pillows, yoga mats, gongs, maybe rain sticks, singing bowls, a thunderstorm. At some point my hands began to dance. At times I thought I might be in a science fiction movie. We had little pillowed eye masks so the sense of hearing would be enhanced. It was actually really loud, and I hope my ears survive. But I think we both got sort of healed! Feeling loose and competent today. Even got my tax organizer filled out!

I had lunch with my folks, and took them some of my poems for a mini-poetry reading afterwards. My mom has been asking about my poems, so I took a batch of recently accepted ones. (When I got home, it was time to approve a proof of one of these, making it a Random Coinciday in the blog!) They read the typescript afterwards. Mom liked them a lot. Dad fell asleep but also liked them intermittently when he woke up. “They’re very spare and mature,” he said. I sure hope so!

Kathleen Kirk, Sound Healing

My first AWP event is Thursday’s signing at the book fair at the BOA booth at 3:30 PM, which has its own little official graphic. I hope to see you there, because I’ll be running around like a madwoman the rest of the conference. I am nervous and excited about meeting my BOA publishing people for the first time, too. I hope I make a good impression! Someone asked me, has having a big publisher (well, relatively big, for poetry) changed your life as a poet? I would say, I’m working harder than usual so I can take advantage of things like better distribution and more marketing support. But I’ll know more once the book launches officially in May. I’m so nervous! […]

Made the trip downtown this week to spend some time with my little brother, where we stopped to have coffee in the lobby of the hip hotel Citizen, gave him a copy of my book and spent some time high up getting pictures on a cold windy night with the Space Needle. I realized there is still a lot of downtown I don’t explore on a regular basis (hello strip club across from a Sephora!) and that the Convention Center has been totally redone since the last AWP Seattle so I’ll have to relearn some of the layout. Also figuring out cool hotel bars/coffee shops in walking distance to the Convention Center is important. So even though we got blown around a bit (I almost fell over the wind was so strong! I felt like Mary Poppins!) it was great to traverse the streets on foot pre-AWP. Plus, my brother is always fun to hang out with, and I was so excited to share my book with him.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Countdown to AWP! Six Tips for Surviving AWP Seattle! Also, Flare, Corona’s World Tour Begins, Surprise Snow, Bird Visitors, and a Visit with my Brother

I said this out loud the other day off the cuff, in the context of taking classes/workshops, and it felt profoundly true: I’m at a stage in my writing where I don’t know what I need. I don’t know what I don’t know. This is a dangerous stage (and I do believe it’s a stage)(all the world’s a stage)(so to speak)(i.e., this too shall pass) — it invites hubris, because I feel like I know so much already, and it indicates a blindness: I can’t see my bad habits and weaknesses.

I don’t know what to engage in because I don’t know what will be most helpful because, really, I don’t know what my poems aren’t doing that they COULD be doing. (I mean, getting published, for one thing…) I just sense that I could be working at another level.

My instinct is to hold still for a while. Write on. Read away. But make no sudden moves. I feel like something needs to happen, but I don’t know what.

Marilyn McCabe, I know ain’t no sunshine; or, On Writing and Development

A Punch in the Gut of a Star / Un Cop de Puny Al Ventre d’Una Estrella is a bilingual collaborative work by the great Anne Waldman and Emma Gomis, a writer whose work is new to me. The book opens with a pair of introductory texts in which the poets demonstrate rather than explain how they arrived at the work. These introductions discuss the language in, as opposed to of, dreams and the viability of using dream and telepathy as modes of collaboration under the conditions of Covid lockdown, with special emphasis on liminal hypnagogic states.

What follows is a longish poem in alternating English and Catalan sections, with the English translated into Catalan and Catalan into English as footnotes (with some lacunae, intentional or otherwise). The languages are further disambiguated by using bold font for the Catalan and its English transpositions. […]

The result is a complex interweaving of not two but four voices, a kind of dream fugue of language with Waldman-in-English-and-Catalan and Gomis-in-Catalan-and-English expounding theme and countertheme. as when, for example, across facing pages 24 and 25 ‘poc a poc, la paraula es desfà’ (‘little by little, the word undoes itself’) is transmuted into ‘We said green we said enough’ (‘vam dir verd vam dir prou’). Both poets are pushing up against the boundaries of language, its ability to function in a radically, if temporarily, altered world, a kind of plague dreamtime.

Billy Mills, Recent Reading February 2023: A Review

Deadly nightshade gives a sense of lightness, of flying, as its
poison takes hold. The trick, they say, is to eat just enough.
I remember when the police confiscated our typewriters.
They stacked them in trucks like rescued dogs or cats.
Whose job was it to analyse what had been written?
Did they enjoy screening the imprints on the ribbons?

A scientist says a hundred species become extinct every day.
Or was it two hundred? Details stumble clumsily off in
search of a more ordered mind. On the TV an image:
beehives in a clearing in woods, a beekeeper like a ghost
in the early light. I switch over. Gary Cooper walks alone
as someone softly sings Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling.

Bob Mee, HIGH WINDOW

What I remember: Inside the library and all the way to the auditorium, security guards and tall men in suits lined the corridors. At a poetry reading? The evening’s playbill, handed to us by beaming librarians, announced that the Irish Consul was going to be introducing Boland. The entire event had the feel of an official state dinner—but without the food and drink.

What we didn’t know at the time was that Boland’s father had been Ireland’s first Ambassador to Great Britain, and later, to the United Nations. That Eavan Boland’s classmate was Mary Robinson, President of Ireland. Perhaps this had something to do with the formality (and sellout crowd) of the event or perhaps Bostonians simply adore anything Irish. In either case, I remember feeling every bit the gate crasher.

However, none of this mattered when Eavan Boland took the stage. Actually, she commanded the stage from her military posture to her no nonsense approach to her poems. I believe she might have referred to herself in the third person. It was as if Eavan Boland was performing a lecture on Eavan Boland.

Susan Rich, Eavan Boland with Mixed Emotions

When I’m in a bad mood I wallow, I snipe, I growl, I see subterfuge where there is none. I say things I don’t mean and I know it when I say it but sometimes I can’t stop myself. Often, this happens on dreary days, overcast days, humid hot or humid wet days. Occasionally, I will be in a writing mood on days that are grey and that seems to keep the meanness in check. It’s only lately, after all these decades, that I realize I might have a kind of Seasonal Affective Disorder, except my moods change with weather instead of the season, so it’s Daily Weather Affective Disorder? Oh, I don’t have extreme highs and extreme lows. I do have some control over my emotions. I can, for instance, stop myself from posting a snarky tweet, or not say out loud what I’m thinking during a disagreement. But other times I just want to release control. I want to feel my feelings. The trick is not to hurt someone else when I do. […]

I went through a period of time, though, where I drank too much. I was aware enough at the time to know why I was drinking but I chose to do it anyway. It was an escape. I never drank to the point of losing all control or blacking out but alcohol affected my moods and my thought processes in a big way. I began to realize I was sick of it. Sick of how I felt when I drank, sick of feeling wiped out, foggy-headed, and just sad. So I quit. I haven’t had any alcohol now for years and I don’t miss it at all.

We are always and forever a work in progress, aren’t we? We are never done learning and growing and adapting. We are in a life-long school of ourselves.

Charlotte Hamrick, A School of Ourselves

My long patience
has run out. The Spring slash is burning, but no voice

comes from it. A beetle makes its slow desperate way
over the moss, while the shadows of birds and clouds
fill him with distress: O brother! We understand as much.

Dale Favier, Spring Slash

One of the secrets to being creative, and to creative thought is this: (which is really no secret): the more creative you are the more creative you are. So if you do one fun and creative thing in say, photography, then when you go back to the page to write something, it somehow seems to boost your ability there to think in new ways. […]

A lot of it comes down to play, and to turning things around, to see from another angle. To shift things. To pun and put together odd things. To juxtapose. When I took the photo of the rose in the coke bottle, I’d initially planned to drink the coke and then replace it with water. But then, it seemed like it would be more fun to put the rose into the coke. And then initially I put it on top of a book of women photographers, it then seemed interesting to put it on top of the book nature morte. I took the photo one day with the bud of the rose quite closed up. The outer petals were quite muted. And then I cracked open another coke a couple of days letter when the flower had opened. This is all fine, right? I find the photos amusing, if nothing else. But what happened next was that I came up with three new ideas for the book I’m writing. Coincidence? Maybe.

Shawna Lemay, Consider the Opposite

For me, a poem tends to begin in one of three ways: (1) An image. Something I see or encounter, or from my memories, that I find arresting, or compelling. Something that isn’t literally shiny (especially since the image doesn’t have to be visual although, for me, it oftentimes is), but feels “shiny” inside my brain and continues to linger or shimmer or hold space within my mind until it becomes a kind of a question to which a poem might respond, but not necessarily answer. (2) A line, or a snippet of a line. Something that has a sense of music or propulsion, and is also language that I don’t really quite understand. Once again, this creates a question to which a poem might respond, but not necessarily answer. (3) A strange and compelling fact, usually scientific, frequently zoological, that brings me delight. From one of these starting points, I look for patterns, or connections, and I usually start to collect other images, pieces of language, or sometimes additional facts—oftentimes the more disparate on the surface the better—and I start to clink them together and see if I can make them sing.

Lee Ann Roripaugh : part five (Thomas Whyte)

This late
in life, I am still always trying to resist
words like forlorn, with their long
centuries of loss behind them, their
habit of loosening whatever they
were attached to or bound. Bound as in
bond, as in a chemistry of atoms, their
orbitals and shells able to hold only
so much until the moment of breaking.

Luisa A. Igloria, On Fission

Years ago, when I volunteered in fundraising for WHYY in Philadelphia we used the letters OoB to indicate a business which was no longer there (so don’t try to call them for a donation). Sin Fronteras Journal is now OoB, out of business.

We lost most of our volunteers over the past two years, and found no new ones who might help us transition to digital publication. We wanted to do this because hard copies are more and more expensive and frequently are not in high enough demand to pay their way. We did not succeed.

I didn’t want to make the decision by myself to shut down the magazine, which had lasted 26 years, but in the end, I am the only one here, so down it must go.

The draft of our last issue, #26, is available for viewing at http://www.sinfronterasjournal.com.

Ellen Roberts Young, Sin Fronteras Journal Closes

This is a relatively small issue, as far as lit mags go. Personally, I appreciated the size. It’s easy to get overwhelmed when reading online magazines. There is so much to take in and without being able to make notes and engage with the content in a physical way, it can overwhelm. (Maybe I’m just getting old.) At any rate, I appreciated the simple and straightforward structure of this magazine, its visual elegance, clear and easy navigability and the editorial choice to provide quality over excess material.

There is also sex! Indeed, tucked into this elegant and quiet-seeming journal that evokes the cool air and open spaces of the Pacific Northwest, there is a section for erotic content.

Becky Tuch, Let’s Discuss! Pacifica Literary Review, issue 19.1

Speaking of stirs: like many others, I appreciated Becky Tuch’s recent investigation into publishers with whom I have entanglements. When I published my first book, Heathen, with C&R, the press was owned by Ryan Van Cleave and Chad Prevost, who treated me well. After the press was sold and the new owners, Andrew Sullivan and John Gosslee, were visiting my region, they reached out, we got together for coffee, and they invited me to submit any book mss I was working on (at the time, Poetry’s Possible Worlds, so it might have been 2015 or 2016). I didn’t submit the book to C&R. It wasn’t ready yet but I also felt uneasy about the interaction, not that I was able to put my finger on why. I’m not saying you should trust my instinct or my memory, but for whatever it’s worth, a random detail that made an impression: the editors seemed incredulous when they found out I wasn’t paid for serving as an AWP board member. I was surprised that they were surprised. While board members at nonprofits get some free meals and similar perks, it’s because they’re attending meetings, getting VIPs to the event on time, etc. They’re working hard as a gift to the organization, although like other professional service, being on the AWP board can make you and your writing a notch more visible, a kind of compensation that did weigh with me. Anyway, at that point John Gosslee invited me to submit to Fjords Review, then accepted and published two poems. Now I wonder with chagrin if my name in the magazine or on the press’ backlist could have made anyone feel safer submitting–whether I helped credential businesses that have done harm.

Poetry’s Possible Worlds is in part about my father’s long cons. There have been too many liars and gaslighters in my life, so I have deep sympathy for people who get sucked in. In this case, while there are still some authors defending C&R and I have no first-hand experience of any unprofessional behavior, I’ve now heard credible stories of scams and damage. A colleague I trust and admire, Brenna Womer, is quoted in Tuch’s piece; I’d previously seen her tweet about Gosslee’s abusive behavior, and I believe her completely. I had the vague sense, in fact, that he had stepped down from mastheads in the wake of multiple #MeToo allegations, and that even Andrew Sullivan had distanced himself from his collaborator. (One of Tuch’s key findings, though, is that Sullivan sometimes goes by Andrew Ibis. Even if that didn’t make me wonder about an ominous Thoth allusion, I’d find the name-switching problematic. Authors use pen names, but how would that serve an entrepreneur seeking work as an editor and agent?)

In short, while there’s some rhetorical twistiness in Tuch’s piece–asking questions to convey reportorial skepticism, then answering them with evidence that’s more suggestive than conclusive–I find the gist persuasive and am grateful for her research. It’s sad, though, that exposés can’t put scammers out of business without hurting the scammed. Personally, I’m just fine–it was a long time ago and I have other creds. Yet C&R, even under its current leadership, has published good books, and those authors don’t deserve a press boycott. I guess that’s why I’d rather blog about all this than tweet; I keep glimpsing a star of clear wrongdoing surrounded by a nebula of mess.

Lesley Wheeler, Sprains, scams, and spells

Today’s annotation isn’t a poem but a playlist. I love making playlists, though I still slip and call them “mixes.” I was a mixtape teenager—like, actual cassette tapes—and a mix CD college student. Mixes were Gen X social currency. We made them for our friends; we made them for crushes; we made them for our exes to make them want us back. And we put an incredible amount of thought into every song, every transition, and every detail, down to the handwritten and cut-to-fit-the-case liner notes.

My first iPod had a click wheel and was the size of a toaster, and I took it everywhere. I had (and still have!) an iTunes playlist called “Writing” that was full of music I listened to while working on poems: Mojave 3, REM, Gillian Welch, Low, Wilco, Elliott Smith, The Decemberists.  

These days, I stream music on my phone when I’m on the go, and I prefer vinyl on my stereo here at home. No matter where I am, I listen to music constantly. I listen in the kitchen while cooking. I balance my phone on the edge of the bathroom sink so I can listen in the shower. I wear AirPods while walking my dog or running errands in my neighborhood. And yes, I still listen to music while writing.

I’ve heard many writers say that they can’t listen to music while they work, or at least not music with lyrics. (In which case I recommend Dirty Three, Explosions in the Sky, and Godspeed You Black Emperor! I bet Sigus Ros, while not instrumental, would also fit the bill.) It doesn’t bother me to hear someone else’s words while I’m conjuring my own. When I’m writing, the songs become part of the weather; they help set the tone for the work.

Maggie Smith, Annotated Playlist

I was listening to the singer Connie Converse on Friday, and the last song on the album was called I Have Considered The Lilies. I was struck by the line in the chorus about “handing over my pencil and pen”. I’d certainly felt like doing that a few times in the last week, but I’m glad I’ve ploughed on. I think I now have the next draft of the book ready to go. I shall be sending it off shortly.

And the song also reminded me I’d not read the latest edition of Bad Lilies. I can’t share specific poems from what feels like quite a damp and slightly biblical issue (and given Connie describes the song as coming from a biblical text at the start this makes sense), but have a read…There is plenty to enjoy.

Finally, I was struck by this article this week. It discusses the time Marianne Moore was invite to name cars…Her suggestions weren’t used, but I think I’d rather drive the Dearborn Diamante instead of the Edsel.

Mat Riches, MATGPT, Considered Lilies and poets naming cars

I had a random thought float across my brain as I was spreading a quilt over the bed:  I wish that Kathleen Norris had a new book out.  And then I wondered if maybe she did–but instead of turning the computer back on, I went to my bookshelf and pulled out Dakota:  A Spiritual Geography, the first book of hers that I read and loved. […]

Here is a quote from the book, which talks about the Dakotas both as a physical location and something larger:  “Dakota is a painful reminder of human limits, just as cities and shopping malls are attempts to deny them” (p. 2).  As I write these words, I’m thinking that the season of Lent can also be a painful reminder of human limits.  Our Lenten disciplines can be a way of helping us think about the ways that we want to avoid thinking about these limits and perhaps a way of helping us embrace these limits.

As we eat our Shrove Tuesday pancakes or our Mardi Gras King Cakes, as we indulge and/or plan for how we will avoid indulging, let us plan for our Lenten disciplines.  Or maybe discipline is not the word for our current time–we’ve had an awful lot of discipline imposed on us for the past few years.  Maybe heightened attention would be better–or here’s something I like even better:  enrichment.

Let us plan our Lenten enrichments!

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Lenten Enrichments

There is no sign of the mountains, a
heavy smog hangs over all of Kathmandu,
as if the sky has drawn a curtain. Believe, it
says. Believe what you cannot see, still is. We
rise higher in a tiny aeroplane until we are
face to face with the mightiest of them all.
Sagarmatha. Chomolungma. Those who
cannot endure the climb, come to see it
like this. There is silence in the cabin. Even
the cameras are still.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Part 35

February 26th is just another day, another year–and at this point, my mother has very little sense of time. It is likely that my mother’s life-shifts are in the past, and the next shift (there’s no escaping it) will be death; but who can tell? My mother’s ninetieth feels like a huge shift in my life as her daughter, as an adult, as a mother to grown people, and as a writer in the world. Why this is so, I can’t say. It’s certainly something I’ll be reflecting on often in the coming years, and the reflections emerge in my writing. As I work on revising the poems I’ve drafted in the past 5 years, the topics of aging, mortality, aphasia, and memory keep showing up. Things I can consider myself fortunate, perhaps, to be preoccupied with, rather than being forced into confronting a natural disaster (Pakistan, Turkey, Syria, and others) or war (Ukraine, Syria, and other regions).

Here’s part of a poem I’ve been wrestling with lately.

… –I would untangle
my mother’s mind if I could be let access to its
recesses, but those stay hidden like the life in hedge
and meadow, in the woody undergrowth,
unknowns twisted together, impenetrable. …

How fortunate for me that my mother is not far away, is well-housed and safely cared-for, and has had a long, creative, fruitful life to celebrate this weekend. Nonetheless, the grief inheres. The hardest shift? I miss the person she has been all my life until recently. And yet: here she is. Herself, more impenetrable than ever. And loved.

Ann E. Michael, Life-shifts

I stumbled recently into a strange land of videos of women, mostly in their thirties, talking about their rejection of hustle culture, which is countered by the crazy morning routines and discussions of productiveness and goals and hustling by another set of women, usually in their twenties. Like on instagram, there is a lot of workout gear and yoga and juicing. Journaling and 6AM wakeups, and reading that Atomic Habits book everyone somehow has. The thirty-somethings live in idyllic places like France or some countryside somewhere, drink a lot of tea, read many novels, are usually married or partnered, and talk about “slow” living. They may make a living off youtube ads or selling art on etsy shops. One does something with astrology for money that I don’t think I understand.

Maybe it’s a decade-of-life thing, and I’m not sure where I stand as a woman in her forties on this equation or if it matters where I stand at all. Truly, I can see both sides, but also tend to roll my eyes at people who talk about rejecting hustle who seem to be enjoying a financially stable existence that doesn’t depend on whether they hustle or not (likely family money or a working spouse). It reminded me of a recent article about a woman who was encouraged to step away from hustling but feared the ground she’d lose if she did as a writer and whether or not she’d be able to pay her rent or eat and I related so hard. There isn’t really a safety net sometimes, so all you have is hustle. I also have a similar eyeroll for discussions of minimalism, which are easy to have if you have the cushioning to replace the things you threw out if you need them later.

But also I think the hustle I’ve always done, even when working for somewhere else. There was a sense of stability (well not much) but I needed to hustle, to cram in as much as I could, do as much as I could. And in many ways this is still true. Because I don’t have that stability anymore, I hustle quite a lot to make sure I have pillars of income to keep things afloat should any of them fail. I want to keep things humming along with the press because it feels like important work, so I wind up hustling there. I need to hustle with my own writing and art because these are the things I am most passionate about and feel I should spend my time doing. It’s not about awards and publications so much as it is about putting work out and being creatively productive as an artist and writer. This is the most valuable way–the most content way–I can think of being in the world. I want it, and only parts of it even seem like work. I’m not sure that deciding all I was going to do was drink tea and read novels, tempting as that is, would make me quite as happy as making things, doing things. Maybe the key is finding balance.

Kristy Bowen, hustle and slowness

A turkey vulture glides above his head. He raises one hand

to shield his eyes, captures the image with his thumb.
Rousseau to Voltaire: “I hate you … But I hate you as a man

better fitted to love you, had you so willed.”
There’s a purple finch on the wire under the water tower,

balanced in that way birds can and humans aspire to.
He imagines the feeling of falling, or feels it, truly –

his chest tightening at the thought.
When he looks again the finch is gone.

Jason Crane, POEM: Jean-Jacques And The Finch

In the hallway just outside the preschool, pictures of past synagogue presidents. First names: Jacob, Jacob, Louis, Max, Adolph, Jacob, Adolf, Max, Moses, Adolph, Samuel, Sam, Aaron, Joe, Joseph, Moses, Leo, Adam. At a certain point, the name Adolf falls out of fashion. 

At another point, Hitler’s moustache and my grandfather’s traded places. Did they pass in the street and one jumped off the upper lip of the other? Did the Führer sneeze during a salute and my grandfather, hiding in an alley, sneezed at the exact same time and so the trade was made? Such mysteries can never be known. Eventually, my grandfather and the new moustache emigrated to South Africa. My grandfather’s original moustache hid beneath Berlin on Hitler’s lip, then was blown away with the rest of Hitler’s face as the Allies entered the city and Hitler shot Eva Braun and then himself.

The idea that a growth of hair could have a name is strange but also telling. Van Dyck, Fu Manchu, Charlie Chaplin. Did my grandfather initially adopt the look because he was emulating the Little Tramp, Oliver Hardy, a truncated Groucho Marx? Pratfalling his way out of history, somehow escaping what he knew was soon to occur?

Gary Barwin, HITLER’S MOUSTACHE, MY GRANDFATHER’S LIP

which sounds are most remembered by rain

which language speaks through seed

whose love is snow on a black woolen sleeve

Grant Hackett [no title]

The weather has not improved. No good news coming in my inbox. But still, I seem to have a new perspective on things. I feel something much smaller than ambition, but there are gears turning again, propelling me forward with a sense of identity.

I think I remember being this.

I hear buzzing from a mason wasp’s pot. It resonates in my chest. In a good way – because moving outward from here is a field-full of purple heather, and beyond that the woods where the songbirds are about to return.

Ren Powell, On the Cusp

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 7

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This edition features poets responding to Valentine’s Day—how can they not?!—interwoven with reflections on their own poems and appreciations of others’. This past week also saw a good example of the power of poetry blogging: Becky Tuch, former editor of The Review Review, used her Substack to expose some shady goings-on in the US po-biz, which I’ve included a link to below, along with a reaction from regular digest contributor Kristin Berkey-Abbott. Always good to see that kind of thing. At any rate, enjoy the digest.


Someone in a workshop recently wondered aloud if she wrote just to try to figure out if she exists. I sort of get and sort of don’t get what she means. I exist in my own mind. Loudly. I share a household with my husband and know we exist, sometimes irritatingly, for each other. Beyond that? Some days it does seem a bit unclear. What does Schrodinger’s cat think of it all? If he got in that box and Schrodinger didn’t know it…well…

“Less clumpy” than they’d thought, said the scientists, poetically, of the universe. Their models had predicted something more cold-butter-on-cold-bread, I guess, than what they’re finding as they map the universe. More ooze.

Marilyn McCabe, I’ve come to talk with you again; or, On Creation

It’s 6:30 PM and I confess this day has gone from euphoric joy to deep sadness. After this, the remainder of my evening plans will likely be scuttled in exchange for going to bed. I’m not tired, and I don’t expect to sleep – I just don’t have the desire to face anything else tonight. 

I confess I need to write about 5 new poems with some emphasis on night for my manuscript.

Michael Allyn Wells, Confession Tuesday – Joy and Sadness Issue

“Go to Aleppo!” my father-in-law exhorted us, on many occasions. It was his favorite among all the ancient cities, and he wanted us to see its beauty, which he described to us in detail, eyes closed, rhapsodizing. He and his two sons had gone to Damascus in 2000: a nostalgic final trip for the 90-year-old father and a bonding and learning journey for the sons, the elder of whom had been born there. My husband, the younger son by 11 years, came home and immediately wanted to us plan a trip to go back together, to both Damascus and Aleppo. And we did just that, sending our passports to the Syrian embassy for the requisite visas. But shortly before we were supposed to leave, the political situation became very unstable, and we decided — most unfortunately, in hindsight — to postpone. As we all know, our entire world, and the Middle East in particular, changed irreparably after that, so we never made it to the city Mounir had loved and which no longer exists; what he remembered will never be seen again.

Beth Adams, Aleppo

The earth
is so alive, murmuring apology
each time it takes or ruins,

each time it coughs up
rivers of mud. And so, in grief,
the woman gathers her skirts

and walks into the wood.
They speak of her as if
it was she who took

the last light from that
home; as if she could know
how to make the moon

stop pilfering the silver
in a poor box.

Luisa A. Igloria, Cloven

The first thing I’ve been thinking about is compassion and weariness and how it’s really hard to keep flexing our compassion muscles when we’re bone tired. I mean, I am. The insomnia is back. I keep thinking of my man Bruce, and his:

I get up in the evenin’
And I ain’t got nothin’ to say
I come home in the mornin’
I go to bed feelin’ the same way
I ain’t nothin’ but tired
Man, I’m just tired and bored with myself
Hey there, baby, I could use just a little help

You can’t start a fire
You can’t start a fire without a spark

When I have compassion fatigue, interestingly (at least to me), this is also when my creativity sags, too. Maybe a lot of us are weary of each other, though. That’s fair, right? It’s been a long haul through some trying times. I understand why people are tired of me.

Shawna Lemay, Creativity, Compassion, Conflict

I’ve been thinking of C. K. Williams’ poems recently, with their incredible formal inventions.  The first book I read of his was With Ignorance, published in 1977.  From its unusual shape to the poems inside, it was something new in the poetry universe.  It’s almost square, not rectangular, and the poems inside use long lines that go all the way across that wide page, with the longest turning over to the next line, and indented to indicate that. The poems themselves are long, two, three, or four pages.  But as soon as I started to read it was clear that that just as the lines weren’t prose, they also weren’t like any other long poetry lines I knew: Whitman’s and Ginsberg’s, for example.  In Williams’ poems, sentence cadences were rich and audible.  The scenes and characters were vivid.  And yet it was poetry, not prose.  It was like coming across a new plant species, or undiscovered butterfly.

Sharon Bryan, C. K. Williams

words can never capture nothing
but the space around it
bordering on nothing
shines

even when the butterfly lands
on the dog’s nose
it sleeps on

Jim Young, all about nothing

[T]his past week, I was contacted by a source (who wishes to remain anonymous). The source shared with me pages of documents, websites, testimonials from writers and social media posts, all of which put PANK Magazine into a larger and important context. I spent the week investigating, and can confirm that my source’s information checks out. I will now do my best to share these insights with you. […]

Are all the entities named above complicit in some kind of concerted scheme being orchestrated by a few powerful and well-connected individuals? No. Of course not. At The Review Review back in the day, I hosted ads for both C & R Press and Fjords Review. If no one is talking about any of this, how could anyone have any idea what is going on? 

And what is “this” exactly? Is there truly such a scheme taking place?

What really is going on?

The only way to find out is to start asking questions. Which is just what I have come here to do.

Becky Tuch, Showcase Magazine, Ephemera, C & R Press, Steel Toe Books, Fjords Review, PANK Magazine, American Poetry Journal…oh my?

In some ways, I’m very lucky.  If my poetry career never enlarges further, I’ll be fine.  I don’t have tenure decisions riding on my poetry publications.  I haven’t signed a book deal with publishers who are hoping I’ll write the same thing which brought fame and fortune before.  Trust me, if I knew what to write to bring fame and fortune, I’d have written it already, and I’d be working on that follow up.

I’m also lucky in that I’m not desperate, which means I’m less likely to fall victim to predators that are out there.  I read this piece which made me think about my younger years, and how I might have taken the bait offered by certain types of scammers.  Apparently there are people out there who buy small publishers and then use that platform to prey on writers.  I feel lucky to have avoided that mess.  It also seems like a strange kind of con.  Of course, I used to say the same thing about the real estate market.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Publication and Its Predators

I’m 46 today! (Gen X Aquarius here.) If you’d like to send a little birthday love and care, I hope you’ll consider preordering my next book, You Could Make This Place Beautiful, which will be out April 11. If you preorder now, you might just snag a signed, limited-edition print of “Bride.” I love the idea of offering perks to folks who are kind enough to buy the book ahead of time.

Self-promotion is hard, but I believe in this book and invested so much of myself in it, so yes, I want you to read it, give it as a gift, suggest it for your book club, teach it in your writing classes, request it from your local library. One of the big ideas in the memoir is betting on yourself. I am.

Maggie Smith, Behind-the-Scenes Look: “Bride”

I have it on good authority that “there ain’t no noun that can’t be verbed” so I’m valentining today. Why? Because I’ve found that waiting for a noun to drop through the letterbox is a poor way to approach love. 

The way I’m going to valentine my day is to go to work by train, and to notice all that’s beautiful and wondrous: a frosty sunrise, a conversation with a colleague who’s full of enthusiasm, the repairs to the keys ‘O’ and ‘R’ carried out on my laptop, new sheets of card. I will reflect on the many blessings of love I have in my life, one of which is for mushroom risotto which I’ll cook for myself this evening when I get back to my warm home. As I stir the onions in oil, I’ll remember the times I’ve done this on a stove each evening of the brilliant camping trips I’ve shared with my longest-serving friend. Our next adventure begins in 3 months, 13 days, 15 hours and 57 minutes’ time.

Liz Lefroy, I Valentine This Day

Every night
I tuck my teen in bed

and close his door, humming
the lullaby you used to sing.

Most kids of his generation
don’t know “A Bushel

and a Peck.” 1950:
you were glamorous,

flirting with the bugler
you would later marry.

Rachel Barenblat, Music, music, music

The title makes my student giggle. She’s transfixed by how the song’s chunka-chunka guitar and thunderous drum opening bottoms out to a hush during the verse.

As Kurt Cobain sings, I tell my student, “He was a great songwriter. A great singer.”

My student notices my use of “was” and offers a curious look.

“Sadly,” I say. “He committed suicide. I wish he were still here. He would’ve written so many more great songs.”

My student agrees, then we continue watching the video, mesmerized as Cobain intones, “Hello, hello, hello, how low…”

During this quiet part, I tell my student, “Wait for it. Things are gonna get loud.” My student’s eyes widen in anticipation.

The song’s tension continues building. “Hello, hello, hello, how low…”

Again, I tell her, “Wait for it…”

When the raucous chorus finally avalanches us, my student and I are beaming like we’ve got bells in our blood.

Rich Ferguson, Queen of the Audio Ball

As you’ll probably realise from reading this poem, it is not about the act of self-harming. It is about being friends with somebody who self-harms. I wrote it to help myself try to understand how I felt about two girls in an online poetry community I had joined. One of the girls previously had self-harmed, and the other was self-harming. I tried to be supportive, and they were mostly very cheerful girls. I remember one time though how the one who was self-harming at the time, had been absent for a day, and related the next day how she had been taken to the Emergency Room to have her cuts stitched up.

There was a great distance separating myself and these girls. I was in the UK and one of them lived in Texas; the other lived in California but previously lived in the same city in Texas. The year was 2002 when I first joined the poetry community. It was a very small group, but this was the pretty early days of the internet, so there was no Facebook. There was quite a difference, relatively speaking, between us as well — I would have been twenty nine years old, and they were fourteen and fifteen years old (the older one was the one who had stopped self-harming). Needless to say, I knew nothing about what self-harming involved, so I was learning as I heard about it.

I’m not going to do a line-by-line or stanza-by-stanza commentary on this poem. It is very much a flow of emotion that came from trying to understand the act of self-harming, and how I could best support them. Around sixteen years later, when I met another person who became a good friend and also was self-harming, I felt I understood better how to be a supportive friend without being out of my depth.

Giles L. Turnbull, Poetry at the Bleeding Edge

As the boundaries between the body of the speaker and the elements of the landscape – which the former initially observes and then moves through while changing form – became increasingly blurred, I realized the poem needed to flow differently: in prose interspersed with dashes that set phrases apart while also keeping them connected and supporting the fluidity of the text.

The shape of the poem on the page – with its first and last two words set apart from the rest (a justified block text) emerged towards the end of the creative process; it puts emphasis on the parallels between ‘a stranger’ and ‘a kin’ and indicates the latter to be an understanding of the self which results from the distinct processes described in the remainder of the poem.

Of all the different challenges I faced when creating this piece and despite choosing the format myself, the latter remains the feature of this poem that still puzzles me a little when I think about it. It felt right at the time of writing, and still does, but I cannot fully explain why.

Drop in by Marie Isabel Matthews-Schlinzig (Nigel Kent)

“The truth is like poetry. And most people f**king hate poetry.”  The Big Short

An entirely minor political poem of mine from almost five years ago is beginning to sound more predictive than sarcastic. Any sort of “Final Economy-Boosting Solution” is not the future I want to see.

And yet…we are living in a time when influential people suggest, for real, that elders should sacrifice themselves–should die– for the sake of the economy. Those voices are getting louder and much more alarming.

Laura Grace Weldon, At What Price

My very part-time gig this school year is developing SEL (social-emotional learning) curriculum for the school I taught at last year, which Cane still teaches at full-time. He and I create the curriculum together and provide some supports for teachers to implement it. Our most recent lesson happened to fall on Tuesday, which was Valentine’s Day. Instead of doing a typical lesson, we planned a love poetry slam, which provided an opportunity to talk about a core SEL skill, social awareness. We got to talk about how not everyone loves VD, and how there are lots of different kinds of love and ways to love, in a way that was fun and built community. Our teachers were the contestants, and they delivered poems conveying a wide range of perspectives on both love and poetry. Some wrote original works, some used song lyrics, and two incorporated AI-written poems into their performances. It was sometimes funny, and sometimes touching, and always so, so good. And it was poetry! (I felt like a stealth English teacher.) Students were pretty much glued to the slammers, but I was glued to them. So many smiles and so much engagement. With poetry! At the end of the day, Cane said, “This was the best Valentine’s Day I can remember in a long, long time.” It really was.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Checking in

In a city somewhere the girl plays
an old love song for her husband.
It’s fine playing, Valentine’s Day, a gift.
He does not listen.
Outside in the reeds by the river
the future waits with all the tunes
she’ll ever need to remember.
She hides behind her flowing hair.

Bob Mee, THE DREAM OF THE PRIEST

These men made it into poems, though sometimes, I created a Frankenstein of their worst traits. My major characters in minor films book had a lot about the 10-year ordeal. As did dirty blonde, which I used as a way to ill-advisedly re-open communication between us 5 years later. The shipwrecks of lake michigan poems were about the delivery man / engineering grad who I turned into a physicist because it was sexier. There were also longer relationships that never quite made it into poems, or only in small details and situations. Emily D’s more slanted truth.  Some weren’t memorable enough to earn a mention at all.  These men merge together to prove a point, or just slip in anecdotally in a poem about something else entirely. Nothing is purely autobiographical. Nothing is not.

This was true even in good, long-lasting healthy relationships. I tried to write a book of love poems for my current partner of 8 years as a Valentine early on and even that, due to some strange circumstances outside the relationship, morphed into a book about men and women and the me-too conversations in society at large and navigating romantic relationships with men in general. I think the initial impetus and details of those poems came from that framework, but they wound up being about something else. As far as I know, he’s never read these poems, but knows the contents of them and that they exist. Some day we will have a laugh and I’ll show him. Outside of that, the better relationships, the sounder ones, have far less appearances in poems, but I think that’s just a condition of culture. 

Kristy Bowen, on exes and exorcisms

The weather is grim, friends. In recent weeks, the days have alternated from snow to rain, but often settling into a fine blend of sn-rain. Such is winter in the rainforest of Southeast Alaska. A few more minutes of daylight each week is the sole sign that spring is coming.

The continued indoor time has kept me hopping with pen and keyboard. Sheila-Na-Gig has held recently a series of poetry readings both in late January and through February to celebrate new publications! The time difference between there and here allowed me to partake in poet Simona Carini’s reading of her new collection of poetry, Survival Time. Such a bright gathering of work here, this is a book to add to the shelf.

Additionally, George Franklin’s new collection, Remote Cities, is soon to be released. I’m so eager to read this! And, there is a 20% discount on preorders if ordered by February 28th.

I’ve been quite motivated this winter to return to previous years’ efforts to write regularly and submit work weekly. Duotrope helps me achieve the latter.

Kersten Christianson, Winter Illuminations

What if we crank open the window, not afraid
of death noticing us, take in February
as it is – unshaven, mottled skin, built of
roots and armpits, calm and rough built
before the season of erotic grooming?

Jill Pearlman, Scrappy February

I’ve been working on something really special. Not long after meeting visual artist Donna Gordge, I discovered that we were making work in response to similar themes – grief and the loss of a parent. I suggested we exchange some work, and create new work out of that exchange. The outcome is SOLACE, an exhibition of art and poetry that opens at Mrs Harris Shop at 6pm on Saturday 18 February . SOLACE is a free Adelaide Fringe event.

Mrs Harris Shop is a suburban single room gallery that, yes, used to be a shop before supermarkets became the place we went to buy our groceries and these little shops disappeared. It’s a beautiful, light-filled space.

Donna’s work is on display (including a canopy made out of teabags!), and my seven poems are exhibited alongside. I copied out the poems using a fountain pen on rice paper and I’ll be doing some free readings over the duration of the exhibition.

Caroline Reid, SOLACE, art and poetry exhibition

In Dante’s Inferno, the poet is guided by Virgil on a journey through the nine circles of Hell, witnessing the punishment of souls in ways that are appropriate to the sins they committed in life – a process described as contrapasso,’to suffer the opposite’. Souls are trapped for eternity in a state of retribution specific to their own wrongdoing.

Contrapasso is the title of Alexandra Fössinger’s debut collection, in which poems circle around themes of incarceration, punishment and survival. Her motivation for writing, Fössinger explains, was ‘an attempt at survival after an entirely unexpected bereavement – the imprisonment of someone very dear to me.’  A quote from the Inferno introduces the first part of the collection, a sequence of oneiric poems that are laden with grief and loss.

Marian Christie, Review: Contrapasso by Alexandra Fössinger

The images capture what might lie behind the known. Known things can be categorised and mapped. Imagination that might sneak off on detours or revive memories triggered by senses isn’t categorisable or mappable. Here, smoke, which could be incense, is tempered with flowers then the imagination switches to the colour red, particularly fire which is fuelled by wood. By the end of the poem the travellers have forgotten their purpose and find no signs to get them back on track.

Emma Lee, “Plato is Better at Metaphor than I Am” E M Sherwood Foster (Yavanika Press) – book review

Back in December, I was delighted to be the guest poet on the Planet Poetry Podcast, hosted by Robin Houghton and Peter Kenny. Round about the same time, I began to notice more and more podcasts appearing in my newsfeed on social media, many of which had been running for some time but had slipped under my radar. And then there were comments from my mate Mat Riches about this and that interview or feature that he’d heard on this or that podcast.

And so I started to explore the scene, asking for recommendations on Twitter, realising that while I don’t have the joy of a commute, I do have hours batch-cooking in my kitchen without access to live radio in English – a perfect opportunity to work my way through a fair few poetry podcasts. I quickly found that not only is there a thriving scene, but it’s growing all the time.

Matthew Stewart, U.K. Poetry Podcasts – a list of resources

Constructed out of two extended long poems—the thirteen-page “Hibernia Mon Amour” and eighty-page “Field Guide”—the paired duo critique and examine resource extraction, and rightly savage a corporate ethos simultaneously bathed in blood and oil, and buried deep (as one’s head in the sand), where corporations might pretend that no critique might land. Across a continuous stream of language-lyric, [ryan] fitzpatrick writes of ecological devastation and depictions, planetary destruction, industry-promoted distractions and outright lies. […]

fitzpatrick’s work increasingly embraces an aesthetic core shared with what has long been considered a Kootenay School of Writing standard—a left-leaning worker-centred political and social engagement that begins with the immediate local, articulated through language accumulation, touchstones and disjointedness—comparable to the work of Jeff Derksen, Stephen Collis, Christine Leclerc, Dorothy Trujillo Lusk, Colin Smithand Rita Wong, among others. Whereas most of those poets I’ve listed (being in or around Vancouver, naturally; with the Winnipeg-centred exception of Colin Smith) centre their poetics on more western-specific examples—the trans-mountain pipeline, say—fitzpatrick responds to the specific concerns of his Alberta origins, emerging from a culture and climate that insists on enrichment through mineral extraction even to the point of potential self-annihilation.

rob mclennan, ryan fitzpatrick, Sunny Ways

I think that poetry is perhaps one of the most anti-capitalist of the art forms in that a poem is rarely generated for large sums of capital and poems rarely function as traditional commodities. And yet the circulation and exchange of poems/poetry continues, which to me affirms the necessity and value not only just of poetry per se, but of systems or currencies that exist outside of, or aren’t centered in, capital: language, incantation, song, breath, experiment, narrative or anti-narrative, image, line, communion, compassion, inspiration, creative play. I believe that poetry circles around a shared sense of ineffabilities, things felt or understood but unsayable and unsaid, that pulls us into a space of meaning, or meaning making, that reminds us not only of our ephemerality but also allows us to transcend the state of being mere meatsacks in the service of capital.

Lee Ann Roripaugh : part four (Thomas Whyte)

Spending time reading contemporary poetry books may be a contributing factor to my flurry of new drafts. In the past two weeks or so, I’ve enjoyed perusals of books by Ocean Vuong, Lynn Levin, Jaan Kaplinski, Cleveland Wall, Kim Addonizio. I’m also reading Ian Haight’s newer (unpublished) translations of some Nansorhon poems, a process accompanied by research into the precepts of Taoism and its heavenly denizens and hierarchies. I need some context if I’m going to get as much out of her Taoist poems as I’d like. Thanks to Ian’s research and translations, I did some study of this poet and her work ten years ago; but I focused more on her family situation and constraints and did not examine the most religiously-influenced poems.

One Taoist goddess whose realms and attributes intrigue me is the Queen of the West, also called Queen Mother of the West, or Xiwangmu 西王母. She’s the mythical source of the peach of immortality and was likely important to Nansorhon as a powerful, much-worshiped female deity. Indeed, she’s invoked in several of the Nansorhon poems.

Ann E. Michael, Reading poetry

From a sandy bank
up in the Garhwal mountains
I watched the Ganga ride a gradient —
whitewater in a feverish race to the plains.
Above the hills, an eagle circled slowly.
How lonely is a river running
through all this thriving abundance?
Mother of the earth.
Daughter of the sky.
Praise. Question. Providence.
Your being, your leaving —
between being and leaving

between us
between skin
between time —
I translate silence into
verbs the river understands.
Fish move in deliberate formation
soundless, efficient
splitting the water
not caring about the million thoughts
drowning around them.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Part 34

I love the way the final line of each stanza seems to dart back like a goldfish. I appreciate the restraint in only using the names of 4 different types of fish. I find I’m often drawn to character studies like this, especially where the protagonist gets a bit obsessive about something to the point of ignoring everything else around them. I’ve written a few myself, and so this was pure catnip when I came across it in the book. It sent me back to my own fish poems as well, but they were written from the creature’s point of view. The first stanza sent me back to my own first experience with fish, it was at a scout fair, I think, in the village of Tunstead. I saw someone win a goldfish on a tombola, I think, and then cycled the three miles home to convince my mum to take me to the pet shop in North Walsham (three more miles on) to buy some fish and a tank. I started with a bowl and stones, and little plastic diver, but soon went on to a tank in my room. A tank meant oxygenation kit and regular cleaning, but I loved those fish.

Mat Riches, Drifting Towards A Modest Shark

I’m learning to listen. And to trust that that – in my silence – things are settling into a deeper understanding: more wholly, and more secure with roots taking hold through the time it takes to connect to memory – to experience. I am taking time. Probably because I have to. None of this is by choice. I would much rather slide over everything as though it’s all part of a pop-quiz “close reading” to pin down the meaning of each interaction. But every non-sequitur in a conversation doesn’t need to be a Freudian puzzle or a Cassandrian prophecy. I don’t have to participate in the construction of a distance between moment and mind.

I no longer believe that if I can put words to it, I can handle it better. I can pack it into a carpet bag and carry it with me. Heavily pulling on one shoulder, then the other. I can give someone I love a “truth” wrapped in cellophane and ribbons, but it will always be symbolic: a kind of allusion that takes us both away from ourselves.

I mean, it’s not like we swim in the river then take it home with us, dragging it along like an enormous plastic bag with a single goldfish we want to keep in a bowl in the entrance hall – with blue marbles.

Ren Powell, Just Keep Swimming

I’ve been setting up book launches around town – one at a winery in Woodinville, one at Open Books, and now one at Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park, too. I even have a virtual reading in New York State set up. All this, and trying not to catch covid, or break anything, or have any health crises before all these events. We don’t control everything, but I’m trying to be careful and conscious. I’m also hoping the winter ends soon as we can see spring instead of snow. I can just hope for the best, and hope I might see some of you soon.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Getting Ready for AWP: New Glasses, New Hair, New Book, and Getting Used to Hugs Again

Outside my bedroom window it’s not quite dawn. Palm tree fronds are black against the lighter black of the birthing day. A lone car occasionally whooshes on the street reminding me of the whoosh of skates on ice. It’s a soothing yet active sound. An early morning sound before the constant growl of engines begins. I imagine these few people going to open their donut shop or to their shift at the hospital. A bird is singing. Why do we always think the bird is happy in its song? Maybe the bird is gathering its strength for a day of hunting for food, feeding its young. Skating through the day until she can rest again. Kind of like us.

Charlotte Hamrick, Morning Meditation: Skating

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 6

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week: rewilding the roof, a thread of wisdom, dreams, dead poets, quipu, AI, a golden age for poetry, and much more. Enjoy.


The pigeon’s toes as he carefully
steps over his own feet: the cock
of his head at the swish of a car:
the night-echo of 4 p.m.
when the light has (mostly) drained from the sky
and rinsed away the day’s greed,
(the day’s greed for now) to make
room for the evening’s: oh
my dear friend I miss you:

Dale Favier, Winter Afternoon

With the return to greater freedom in 2022, my visits to the rooftop began to decrease. In the spring, I tidied the space again, but by summer, when restrictions lifted, it started to feel like an eccentricity. It was harder to explain why I was climbing out of a window to meet the sun in a few square metres of space, when there’s a huge park, long cycle rides and friends’ gardens nearby. When the restaurant next door became busy again, I began to feel conspicuous sitting above the chattering guests in the courtyard, with my underwear out on the drier. […]

I haven’t given the garden much thought in the past few months, but today, when the fresh young sun beckoned, I decided to go out, to tidy up and think about this year’s planting. Looking through the window, I stopped myself before opening it up wide, noticing a blackbird gathering flat-roof moss. It was so bright-eyed, so glossy, so busy collecting what it needs for its new nest and brood that it came to me, there and then, that I will let my garden grow by itself this year. I’ll leave the moss and the leaves and the twigs of last autumn for the birds, the brave ones who visit the town centre, and their young. 

For everything, there is a season. A time to garden, and a time to refrain from gardening. The rooftop was loaned to me, for a while: an open secret. For the time that I needed it, I made of it a sanctuary. 

Liz Lefroy, I Rewild My Garden

It is good to remember how the other day I read something about everyone wanting out of their current life – and I thought: nah.

It is a reminder that things will settle again. Probably in the same old painful places, but settled, and the kind of thing you adjust for without too much effort.

Eventually.

I’ve rearranged the furniture in this little library. Put a vase of dried flowers on the little side table. They dried in the vase. 6 months – maybe more.

I can’t decide if they make me sad. Or if they just are. There is a story there that I won’t write.

Ren Powell, What You Attend To

Heaped grey boulders mimic a colony of seals.
Not long before love winters in my heart.
I need to tell you how it feels

to be together, yet growing apart.
Your craggy face seems so much older
clouded in a bluish hue. I brace myself to start

as you place a hand on my shoulder
but all I can say is It’s getting colder.

Fokkina McDonnell, Valentine’s Day

I find less to be said and more silence in my seventh decade. Or maybe it’s just that my vision of my life is much clearer and inclines me more often to gratitude, as well as to grief. Life is indeed a puff of wind, and whether we return, as I believe we do, it’s not with the same life. Still, a thread of wisdom is being woven in each experience, strand by strand strengthening the long and longer view. I have glimpses of where I may have been and where I’m heading. I feel lucky in a way that’s hard to describe. Though, you know, that’s what poets do. 

Rachel Dacus, Lunar New Year Poetry 2023

I’ve been thinking about smallness, so it was fascinating to read, this weekend, Jeannine Hall Gailey’s dazzling new poetry collection, Flare, Corona, a book that explores parallel crises on many scales, from the microscopic to the telescopic. I plan to teach it so I snagged an advance review copy, but it’s now available for pre-order from BOA editions.

It’s moving to read poetry about events in Jeannine’s life that I followed in real time, especially her diagnosis with cancer (they gave her six months) then re-diagnosis with multiple sclerosis–but it’s moving in a different way to see how she frames these experiences in relation to bigger catastrophes, somehow finding inspiration in it all. A poem that covers some of this territory, “Under a Blood Moon, I Get My Brain Scanned,” connects astronomical phenomena with lesions and neurons. Elsewhere, poems link solar flares with a familiar coronavirus, ahem. This comparative or metaphorical move is in the book’s DNA: omens of doom for humanity are widespread, but apocalypse can also be internal and local, especially when your cells are turning against you. Like a lot of other powerful writing, Flare, Corona oscillates between lenses, attentive both to tiny details and the big emotional stakes of facing how precarious life can be.

I’ve been in a mood of midlife reconsideration, and that’s here, too–see “April in Middle Age”–but while I’m several years older than Jeannine, she came to this angle of vision through a sense of mortality that has more near and acute sources.

Lesley Wheeler, Flares, small and celestial

Mice scurry in the dark. A lost gust
of wind sometimes wakes the
dust. An empty Pepsi bottle rolls between
benches. Life goes on while you wait.
The stretch of universe you hold tight
between your fingers, starts to slip. You
think the rumble of thunder is an
incoming train. You think you imagined
the rain. You wake up in your own
bed, wet and shivering, still waiting,
a bottle of pepsi, warm and flat,
sitting on your table.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Part 33

The other night in that delicious not-completely-asleep state called hypnagogia, I found myself walking up the long front steps of my childhood library. I felt happy anticipation as I carried a stack of books to return, knowing I could bring home a freshly enticing stack. I set the books on the returns side of the tall circulation desk, which was as high as my shoulders, so in this make-believe state I was a child again.

I asked the clerk at the desk what story I needed. (I never did this as a kid, I simply found my own books.) She silently lifted a finger and pointed me in the direction of my home away from home — the children’s section. I don’t remember, in real life, ever talking to the children’s librarian or even if there was one. But in my dream the children’s librarian indicated I should sit in one of the miniature chairs at a miniature table. She sat across from me. She wore a white blouse, tucked in, and half-glasses that slid partway down her nose. (Sorry for that stereotype. Or was it more archetype?)

I asked her what story I needed. She didn’t speak either. Instead she reached up to the crown of her head and unzipped. Inside her human costume she flickered through a series of curiously aware creatures, morphing right there in front of me into wildly colorful birds, softly furred mammals, mysterious deep sea beings, until everything settled into one living body. I could see she was showing me herself as a glossy gray seal with large inquisitive eyes. This seal being was beautifully and perfectly who she was, really.

Laura Grace Weldon, What Story Do You Need Right Now?

10:30AM: Toddler woke up too early, so has a melt down at the library, and we scurry home for an early lunch, and to finish the rest of our schoolwork.
11:30AM: I set my oldest up to make some cookies for an event tomorrow, put on the math video lesson for my 2nd grader because she’s struggling with a concept, check my oldest two kids work (I hover around and help them as they need it, but they are fairly independent). The toddler and 5 year old also watch the math video and my toddler falls asleep.
12:30PM: Lunch for me, quiet rest time for the others (which means reading, playing quietly, or listening to audio books). I usually set a timer for an hour to keep us on track, and I work on teaching my online classes, writing, blogging, etc.
1:30PM: Piano practice! I get the toddler up from nap, everyone out the door and to our piano teacher’s house. We stay an hour while the oldest two take piano lessons, and I get some time with my 2nd grader and her reading practice while the two youngest play.
2:00PM: Reading practice is done, and the three youngest are playing. I read a few poems from an anthology, then finish writing a poem I’ve been working on this week. I usually write a line or two a day, and rearrange stanzas, edit, as I go along. Today the poem felt finished, so I’ll type it up tonight (I always draft by hand–it’s very messy).

Renee Emerson, how a poem gets written (by a homeschooling mom of five)

Every February 11th for the past two decades at least, the same thing happens. At some point I suddenly realize that it’s the anniversary of Plath’s suicide, and every year, I am surprised that indeed another year has passed without her in the world that could have still had her in it had things worked out differently. Books that could have been written. Awards and accolades that could have been won (which she craved), More and better loves, more words, more paintings. Just more. While she may not have lived to be in her early 90s at this point, she would have had many more years in the world that would have loved and demanded her work.

Or I like to think it would have, but it’s also wrapped up in the complication that one of the reasons that Plath is so famous and so loved is that she did not live past 30. I always try to list the poets that were Plath’s contemporaries that had long careers–Mary Oliver, and Adrienne Rich. Or Linda Pastan, also born in 1932,  for example, whose recent passing was mourned by a number of poets I know who appreciated her work greatly.  They all did well. Went on to write more, love more, become mentors for younger poets, and thrive as teachers and writers. But outside of literary-specific world, they’re not quite the household name that Plath is among the normies. Part of it might have been the success of The Bell Jar, and her fame as a prose writer, but even that is complicated by her very famous death and the book’s related subject matter. 

I’ve no doubt we’d still be reading Plath if she’d lived, though I suspect the sad girl cult, of which I am a member, sometimes wouldn’t have made her a patron goddess (along with Taylor Swift and Tori Amos…lol..). Because I learned everything I knew of the lit world from reading Plath’s work and journals and letters when I was 19, she is still something at the heart of my own writing, even as my poems have changed and developed over more than two decades. It took me a little longer to fully appreciate the craft and skill of Ariel, which I grew to become enamored with (so much so that I wrote centos drawn from it with honey machine.) What happens on the other side of depression when you climb out of it and dust yourself off? Would her work have been as furious and full of blood if she’d calmly reached middle age? We’ll never know.

Kristy Bowen, feathery turnings

I believe I’ve read every book about Elizabeth Bishop’s life and work. At this point I know the narrative of her life as if it were my own: the death of her father, followed by her mother’s being sent to a psychiatric hospital (never to return), Bishop’s dislocation between sets of grandparents, her meeting Marianne Moore just after college, a trip to Brazil and intense allergic reaction to the fruit of a cashew. Her lifelong alcoholism; her many lovers — including the assistant secretary in the English department at the University of Washington—with whom Bishop moved to San Francisco with….and then disastrously to Brazil…but that’s another story.

Somewhere, in all that reading I came across this little known fact: Elizabeth Bishop always kept a compass in her pocket. (If you know where I read this please, let me know!) I found this fact revelatory. Bishop wrote about her love of binoculars and this seemed to offer a sense of continuity in the image I had formed of her: birdwatcher, traveler, watercolorist — and brilliant poet. I had tried writing about her before but this “little-known fact” somehow was the portal I needed.

If you are a poet, and if you love Bishop, there’s a good chance you are one; I offer this suggestion: find an obscure fact about a poet you admire and see if the object can open a doorway into a new poem for you.

Susan Rich, Elizabeth Bishop: A Couple of Facts and Some Fabulousness

The skeleton wasn’t in the closet. It was hanging in my father’s study. A human skeleton. There was also a shelf of fetuses suspended in liquid. Animal fetuses, though I thought they were human and that one was my elder brother, if he’d been born. I knew my mother had had a miscarriage before me. My father was a medical student and then a doctor. This wasn’t some macabre hobby. It was professional.

But I didn’t find these things strange or macabre. They seemed natural. Just part of my dad’s work, part—or parts—of all us.  It was the equivalent of listening to music and then seeing the instruments. Or listening to language and knowing it was made up of letters. Bodies as signs in the language of living. […]

Remember those anatomy illustrations in the encyclopedia made of layers of transparent pages? Turn a page, and the skin disappears. Turn another and the nerves are gone. Then arteries and veins. The heart. Lungs. Other organs. The last page was the bones alone. More naked than naked. It ain’t no sin to take off your skin and dance around in your bones. Then like playing a movie backwards, you could reclothe the body in itself, gift wrapping the self in its own skin. Then finally, close the encyclopedia and clothe the body, front and back, in encyclopedia pages. The book was a bed or a coffin for the naked body.

Gary Barwin, MEAT AND BONES

When I was working on You Could Make This Place Beautiful, and even before I began writing it in earnest, I read a wide variety of memoirs and essay collections. The genre I tend to read most often is (surprise!) poetry, but as I wrapped my head around this project and what it might look and feel like, I immersed myself in prose. As a poet, I’d been writing primarily along the left side of the page, so it was time to get comfortable with the righthand margin. So much page to explore! A vast frontier!

In all seriousness, it was a challenge for me, leaving my comfort zone and committing to a long, extended form. I’m a whittler as a poet; my poems tend to shrink as I revise, not grow. So as I thought about how to sustain and structure the book, I looked to poets’ memoirs as models. I wanted to see how other writers whose “home genre” was poetry contended with so much real estate.

The other big challenge was one of perspective and point of view—and, let’s face it, vulnerability. In poems, we have a speaker who is not to be mistaken for the poet. Even if I write, “I walked my dog” in a poem, the reader is not to assume that the “I” is me, Maggie Smith, the poet, or even that the dog is Phoebe, my incredibly cute and incredibly lazy Boston terrier. No, there’s at least some artistic distance between speaker and poet, even when we know that the experiences and details are semi-autobiographical.

Maggie Smith, A Pep Talk

For want of a clear
           enough opening in the sky, a comet 
remains a green-tailed rumor. What could
           you do about the whale that washed up
one day, its hump a dark, ridged thumbprint on
           the sable beach? A humpback’s song spans
seven octaves, nearly the entire range 
           of a piano—You dream of how it carries 
in the air: one bloom, one signature like prayer.

Luisa A. Igloria, Carry

This morning, while walking the elderly dog, I ran into a village friend, let’s call him Nial, though that isn’t his real name. Nial is in his 70s, maybe even older, and is wonderfully stoic and opinionated. He walks six miles a day with his collie dog while listening to audio books. We often stop and talk about the state of the country. There is usually swearing. Since he found out I’m a writer, and working on a big project, he usually starts any conversation with ‘how many words today?’ He’s like my writer’s Jiminy Cricket; my external conscience, reminding me to sit down and just write.

Today, no words. All this week, actually, no words. I don’t tell him, but I’m feeling a bit lost right now, a bit vulnerable. I’m still getting up to sit at my desk for the writing hour, still feeling my heart lift when I see a flock of jackdaws cross the orange-streaked sky, still placing my fingers on the keys. But not working on the book. I’m a bit washed out and need to reset my brain after spending January catching up on funding applications, catching up on the magazine, judging poetry competitions. I feel like I might never write again. I also had a few big rejections for poetry lately, work I thought was secure and homed, and now I’m sucked into a pit of imposter syndrome and feeling like I don’t really belong. Belonging, and that sense of not belonging is a big theme in my work. The big project is also sort of about not belonging. I’m finding it unusually difficult this week to lay my heart out on the slab.

I tell Nial that I’m still getting up but that funding applications have taken precedence. Without funding I don’t have the opportunity to spend chunks of time on writing. “I don’t understand it” he says, “I do in a way, because I’d like to write, but I’m no good at it. But I don’t understand why you do it.” Nial doesn’t read well, or write well, he’s got no formal education and left school at fourteen. One of the things we have in common is our working class background. He is fiercely intelligent and driven, and held very high positions in his work, has made huge differences in the charity sector too, he’s a man who sees what needs doing, and does it. He has done exceptionally well for himself. “Why do it, if you can’t make a decent living off it?” I pause for a minute then tell him it’s art, it’s a compulsion. “Ah, like an obsession” “yes, something like that”. Yes, something like that.

Wendy Pratt, Putting Your Heart into it

Had the opportunity to share one of Paul Hlava Ceballos’ poems at a reading this week. The poem, “Coronary Angiogram,”* is a fascinating prose poem whose turns of phrase move between two different languages of the heart: the medical and the personal.

There’s also a nod to history and craft in the second stanza:

“At a museum in Quito I saw knots tied along lines of hand-woven silk. Beautiful and multi-colored the Quipus hung, perhaps the coded names of Inkas killed by Spanish, perhaps an art form, or both,”

This image of actual knots and weaving mirrors the weaving of languages that drive the poem. The most stunning moment for me, however, is how the speaker leaves us witnessing another kind of crafted piece, a stanza composed of vertical lines and asterisks.

At first, I was unsure what these represented. The typography here does resemble Quipus in a way, the notes and the threads. Upon listening to the poem at the link (highly encouraged), there’s an additional gift: the sound of windchimes.

José Angel Araguz, dispatch 021023

This Federal Trinity has its counterpart in the foundational trinity of Roger Williams, his early mentor Edward Coke and George Berkeley as the forces of law, generosity and idealism that lay behind the foundation of Rhode Island, the Ocean State (another recurring phrase throughout the book), although for me Berkeley, as a slave owner, makes a somewhat uncomfortable hero. Williams was granted the charter for that foundation from Charles II, whose birthday is the Restoration Day of the title, and, as it happens, that date, May 29, is also Rhode Island Statehood Day.

In addition, the famous Royal Oak episode from that king’s story lends into multiple oak/acorn references in the poem, and these in turn inform, by way of a kind of visual pun, the acorn/mandorla/almond iconography that clusters around Gould’s vision of love as well as chiming with a number of oak-built ships, such as the Constitution, that recur and are echoed in William’s use of canoes. The shape is a twinned catenary, the arc of history bending towards justice. These strands, and many others, all help shape a timescape in which, say, Penelope, Williams, Lincoln, JFK and Henry coexist in a timeless time as composite selves: ‘You, my beloved, are a plurality of yourself.

Billy Mills, Continental Shelf: Shorter Poems 1968-2020 and Restoration Day by Henry Gould: a Review

This is a timely collection as women’s rights are being rolled back and not just in America. Jane Rosenberg LaForge has created an empathetic collection that explores and questions attitudes towards women’s roles and the lack of control and autonomy women are granted even over their own bodies. Readers are left to speculate whether the aunt never became a teacher because she could no longer stand to be around children or because her chronic conditions, the consequence of not being able to access proper healthcare, prevented her. Either way, a life that had purpose became one without. And the consequences reached far beyond one woman.

Emma Lee, “My Aunt’s Abortion” Jane Rosenberg LaForge (BlazeVOX) – book review

Produced as a triptych of fragment-accumulations—“: sunup :,” “: day :” and “: dusk :”—San Francisco poet and editor Sarah Heady’s [see her ’12 or 20 questions’ interview here] latest poetry collection is the full-length Comfort (New York NY: Spuyten Duyvil, 2022), a collage/response work that plays off the language of a New England journal produced for farm housewives. As she writes to open her “NOTES” at the back of the collection:

Comfort magazine was published in Augusta, Maine between 1888 and 1942. Its tagline was “The Key to Happiness and Success in Over a Million Farm Homes.” Aimed at rural housewives, it began as a thinly-veiled vehicle for selling Oxien, a cure-all snake oil, with subscribers receiving discounts and bonus gifts for signing up their female friends—perhaps an early multi-level marketing scheme. At the same time, it provided a valuable source of virtual companionship for women who led isolated lives all across the United States. Much of the found language in this book comes from issues of Comfort published in the 1910s and 1920s.

The initial structure of the collection, as she notes as well, was influenced by Philadelphia poet Pattie McCarthy, specifically her marybones (Berkeley CA: Apogee Press, 2013) [see my review of such here]. To open her “ACKNOWLEDGMENTS,” Heady notes that: “Comfort would not exist without the work of Pattie McCarthy. I am indebted especially to her book Marybones, which directly inspired the form of this book’s prose blocks. Thank you for showing me new ways to work with found language and the historical record.” On her part, Heady collages elements from the archive and found language to weave together a boundless expansion of fragments and accumulations, pinpoints and sweeps of prose lyric. As with McCarthy, Heady writes around the marketing directed towards historical women, offering insight into the possibilities of the realities of their labour and lives, and the ways that they were depicted through this particular journal. The poems in Comfort articulate that divide through collage and collision of found and archival material, propelled through language and a staccato of disconnect that thread their way across the length and breadth of her book-length canvas. There is something interesting in how her exploration through a borrowed structure opens her lyric, allowing for the spaces between and amid her lyric to be as populated and powerful as the words she sets down. Blending concrete description and scattered collage, she writes of rural women and the weather; she writes of recipes and the wish for a new stove, all stretched taut across each distance like a drum.

rob mclennan, Sarah Heady, Comfort

It is marvelous how [Marguerite] Duras conjures up a poetic intensity from very simple situations. The paraphrasable plot is laughably simple, but the patterning of language and incident is masterly. There are intensifiers deployed—a limited time and place, the intoxication of alcohol, the murder of one’s lover, music, a storm—but all woven in so naturally that they seem to come from within the characters, rather than without. The man and the girl would find their way to the park bench one afternoon because they are who they are. The method is to bypass psychology to aim straight for the formal, and intense, emotion.

Jee Leong Koh, Four Novels by Marguerite Duras

I’m convinced that when we look back upon the current decade we will come to realise that it has been a golden age for poetry when a succession of impressively talented new poets were discovered by the editors of small poetry presses. Add to that list the name, Katy Mahon, a poet from Northern Ireland, who made her debut in 2022 with a pamphlet, Some Indescribable Cord (Dreich).  You only have to read the first poem in this small collection to be impressed. […]

Mahon acknowledges that it took her some time to realise that it is writing rather than music that provides the creative fulfilment she sought. In Shaping Words she describes herself as a sort of gardener of words: ‘I pluck them out// like seeds from a fattened grape/ and plant them on paper/ with blue-black ink, and watch// as they grow ripe, changing form/ against the darkening night.’  The image is a powerful one: it implies that writing is life-enhancing, sustaining, and fulfilling, but perhaps above all, it provides a sense of self-sufficiency, a means of cutting the chord and of emerging from ‘semi-darkness.’ Mahon came late to writing, but here is one reader that is delighted she has found her true vocation. Like a musical chord, her vibrant poems have a lasting resonance that continues to reverberate long after you have read them.

Nigel Kent, Review of ‘Some Indefinable Cord’ by Katy Mahon

How important is music to your poetry?

Very. I’ve loved and been involved with music almost all my life, from elementary school choir to musical theatre to singing contemporary music to singing in my present church choir for more than twenty years. The rigour of baroque music thrills me, as do the more raw rhythms of western Medieval music. But I also love the music of my own time. The three songwriters that have likely influenced me most as a poet are Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell, and Bruce Cockburn. All are musical geniuses and their lyrics can be immortally beautiful. Paul Simon in particular is brilliant at making poetry out of the patter of everyday speech.

Music lives in the body and in a poem in much the same way. It integrates us in a way nothing else seems to be able to.

Diane Tucker : part five (Thomas Whyte)

Let’s face it, writing can be hard. There will always be people who do not want to do the work of writing from the soul, brain, heart, emotion, experience, dread, you-name-it. Painting is hard, too. But people who don’t want to practice and experiment with visual art can use paint by numbers, clip art, or AI. There will always be a few folks who learn to play an instrument for the joy of it and for the challenge of continually learning new approaches to the process of music making; the rest of us can be audiences, if we like. People who write because they can’t not write? They won’t use bots unless they want to experiment with them: make perverse use of the programs, play with them to see what the human’s skills can do in concert with algorithms, bits, bytes, and data. I know artists who are already collaging with AI-generated art to create new, human-mediated visuals.

I recognize the fear factor here, but I don’t buy into it because I am so curious about what will happen next. I’m interested to see how changes will occur, which changes will make a difference and which ones will just vanish, and whether pedagogy will develop toward, away from, or parallel to AI developments in numerous spheres–to name just three of numerous possibilities. Change is exciting, but it’s also hard. I can’t say I am as excited about adapting my fall semester syllabus to reflect whatever the university decides to do in light of ChatGPT, but since I’ll have to adapt to a new “learning management system” anyway, I may as well accept that “a change is gonna come.”

Ann E. Michael, Automatic writing

marram grasses
the blown anonymity
of shifting dunes

Jim Young [no title]

It’s almost Valentine’s Day, which this year will fall on a snowy Tuesday. I am ready for spring, not more snow! Glenn got me some beautiful tulips and put together a little tableau with my new book. Wine, tulips, a good bookwhat more could I ask for on a winter’s day?

Speaking of which, I got an advanced copy of Rachel Zucker’s The Poetics of Wrongness, which is a series of essay/lectures about things that are wrongfor instance, even the idea of a lecture! It’s thought-provoking and enjoyable reading, especially if you’ve read some of Zucker’s other prose (or follow her podcast).

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Where I’ll Be at AWP, Almost Valentine’s, the Poetics of Wrongness, and Flare Corona Makes Its Way into the World – and a First Review

The week before my reading, I went to a Saturday afternoon fundraiser for Ukraine at Doncaster Ukrainian Centre Club, at which Ian, Sarah Wimbush (the organiser) and Joe Williams were the featured poets among an open mic session of most of the Read to Write regulars and other poets from further afield, beautifully MC’d by Mick Jenkinson. I’d recently read Sarah’s marvellous Bloodaxe collection, Shelling Peas with My Grandmother in the Gorgiolands, available here, having previously enjoyed and admired her pamphlet Bloodlines, so hearing her read from it was a delight. The whole afternoon was a pleasure. As ever with open mics, you never know quite what you’re going to get, but in this instance, the overall standard was refreshingly high.

Despite practising beforehand, I felt a bit ‘ring-rusty’ when I read at Balby, but the group were so warm and lovely that any nerves I had soon vanished. The questions were good ones and kept me firmly on my toes – they’re a very knowledgeable group. Up and down the UK, local groups are the lifeblood of poetry, especially for those who are just starting out, and might not have read or written poetry since they were at school. In this case, the group impressively encompasses writers at different points on their poetry journey. I hope to get along regularly to the group’s sessions once I have a bit more time, which I hope to have later this year.

Matthew Paul, On a reading for Read to Write

Last night, I attended the baptism of a newly born tear.

Its parents were joy and sorrow.

I press my ear to the clock, but cannot hear into the past or future, only the moment’s tickings.

All things magical, all things mournful.

If we are fortunate, everything comes to us in equal measure.

Rich Ferguson, Newtonian

Rubble, rumble, toil, trouble.  All week long, a poem wrestled with me, and I within it.  It held me tightly in its grip, everything onomapoetic with rubble.  Emotions far outweighed thought: I grabbed at words, poor human with a pen, hoping something might eventually be interpretable. 

Early Thursday morning, it released me.  It hatched me like a clean and happy chick.  You know the feeling, lying there dazzled and wondrous at nothing at all.  

In this post-ness, there is no big vision. The nuzzling of two green things inside a streak of sun: a chlorophyllic fingered leaf lays its consolation on a celery green couch.  Estranged family.  The live plant remembers that the cloth, the weave, flax, linen, may have been an ancestor.  The roll of a warmbody in bed on a cool morning. The squeal of a trumpet in a big band.  The bend of a head.  Tenderness in the gesture, an open field of peace.

Jill Pearlman, Rubble, Rumble, Toil, Trouble

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, 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. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week: digesting terrible news, labor vs. work, an ode to irritable bowel syndrome, Mandelbrot images, Scots poetry, ChatGPT poetry, and much more.

I feel I should say a few words about my decision to include Substack posts here, since I’ve just added the fourth feed from that platform to my roster. Although they wisely position themselves as a newsletter delivery service, they aren’t doing anything that you can’t do with WordPress, for example, or with any number of other home-brewed blog + newsletter delivery app combos; they’re just making it a hell of a lot simpler and more affordable. I also like the emphasis on making money for writers, though obviously I’m not going to include any posts that aren’t freely available. Critically—for my interest here—Substack blogs have RSS feeds, which means I can access them from the same Feedly dashboard I use for everything else.

If you do decide to start a Substack, please be sure to post about it at your old blog so I can find the link. (This may seem so obvious as to not need saying, but, well, I know poets. Self promotion is not always our first instinct.) Anyway, enjoy the digest.


I’ve been thinking how easy it is to write tragedy–and while necessary, how redundant: the cat plowed into her blanket fort beside us, purring; the first day of real snow unspoiled by rain and a thermos of cocoa; the secret languages and contexts lacking drama: those. Those deserve more poems.

JJS, Untrammeled: a sonnet

I meant this to be an upbeat blog post but it’s hard to feel upbeat and I want to be authentic in this blog. I was sick all week (hence the lack of selfies) and it was cold and foggy out, absolutely the kind of weather you don’t want to go out in. I had a strange harbinger—a beautiful juvenile red-winged blackbird at my feeder, which I thought was unusual (they don’t usually visit feeders). Then tonight I learned about the death of a poet/friend/editor of Menacing Hedge, Kelly Boyker Guillemette. She was also a Seattle poet, so it impacts this community that I live in. I was sad I didn’t get to tell her how much I appreciated her, or even get to have coffee with her, just to visit. This pandemic has been so isolating, I realize, that I’ve lost touch with friends I shouldn’t have.  

The news has been pretty relentlessly terrible, too. Outside today we had some sunshine, and I had been in bed, barely leaving the house even to get the mail this week with cold, miserable fog every day, so I took a short walk, but in the end, it was too cold to stay out long. I noticed how fallow everything was—all my usual walks, usually with some flowers or greenery even in winter, looked unusually barren. January is a hard month for many reasons. Anyway, readers, hug your friends and editors, tell them you appreciate them, buy them a coffee. 

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Sad news about a Seattle poet, Red-Winged Blackbirds and Superhero Poems, and Some Vision Boards and Kitten Pics to Cheer Us Up

Don’t say apple or flag or Thanks-
giving. This country is becoming

the loneliest country in the world. It is
the smell of floors bleached after a rain

of blood, the blind heat of hatred
strung like lights in dance halls,

incandescent as bullets boiled
in a crucible of darkness.

Luisa A. Igloria, The Loneliest Country in the World

In a dream around 7, I was eating the soles of a pair of black leather shoes, peeling off pieces. These delicate shoes, full of eyelets, usually sit in my closet. After my first rush of radiance, ecstatically led by someone offscreen, the dream began to think: disgust side by side with beauty: the shit. Appeal and revulsion, beautiful and the monstrous. Nestled in. And the hilarity of pragmatism: would I walk like a bird, scratching out a steady path with half the shoe gone. Missing pieces. Was I practicing for starvation in Leningrad? During the siege in the 40s, they scraped off glue from shoes and tables. Also, I was observing my oral French. Somehow that mattered. A traveler’s exile ends in language. Wrens meet at the branches of a bush beak to beak, nose to nose as if mistletoe. Pebbles on a gray slate play with their shadows, not a cat and mouse game, one will always prevail. The open emptiness of cobalt blue. Pop pop pop.

Jill Pearlman, Blue, Gunshots, Eating Shoes

Even if you watch this country with the sound turned down, all the hate and hurt still bruise through.

So many derangements arranged in strange and familiar ways.

Intoxicated logic. Unmended melodies with not enough pills or winning streaks to take them to the finish line.

Even with the sound turned down, you can still hear a cry take hold in the throat and refuse to leave.

Rich Ferguson, A Gene for Tears

turning up Marquee Moon in the otherwise
quiet night of someone else’s house

wearing headphones because the world’s asleep
its madness closely contained in a thin layer
of clean-toned guitar riffs, slicing through

the flesh around the heart
no blood, so much blood

Jason Crane, POEM: for Tom Verlaine

whose sorrow heals as a wing

whose wound mourns the gun

when did my shadow first walk underground

Grant Hackett [no title]

Thursday was the first day of spring in the Hindu calendar, and I missed it. Saraswati is honored on that day, with lavender, saffron and turmeric. I wouldn’t have “celebrated”, but I would like to have known. There is something life-affirming in rituals, regardless of belief. There is something I envy.

A moment of envy can be an awesome thing. It is an admission – a recognition of desire. It’s humbling. It situates you clearly outside of the center of your own subjective concepts of meaning.

I just learned about the goddess Saraswati last month while talking to the theater director and artist Anupama Hoskere. (I am working on an article for Drama magazine, and will link later.) She explained the connection of education through the arts to the universal. She talked about means and desire, and about Dharma.

I am still letting all my thoughts bump up against each other. I don’t really want to put them down as sentences yet. Poetry, maybe. Poetry at the moment is an expanse of dark, open water.

Ren Powell, Calendars, Conductors, and 31 Dosas

You unwrinkle me on a table and try to understand the words but the ink is smudged into a language you cannot read. This is what you mean. The calligraphy of incomprehension. Meterless. Wordless. Endless.

A grave is a box. Death, a label. We must ultimately be nothing and everything and be labelled when we are not left to call. The herd of the dead in rows for the final migration.

This is what you mean. The inevitability of sameness. The primal stereotype. Beyond the pretence of resistance. The line. The blue river. The danger. The other side.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, The box. The other side.

I had been thinking of a poem possibility before last night.  In the wee small hours of the morning earlier this week, I had awakened to the sound of someone singing.  Sounds travel in strange ways in this building, so I’m not sure who was singing or why.  I’m fairly sure it was a human singing, not a recording.

This morning, I turned my attention to my prayer book, as I do every morning.  I use Phyllis Tickle’s The Divine Hours, which is rooted in the lectionary that comes to us from the ancient monastic tradition.  One of this morning’s passages leapt out at me:  “The Lord executes righteousness and judgment for all who are oppressed” (Psalm 103: 6).  

It’s not the first time that a passage seemed chosen for our particular day and time, and I do realize that the beauty of the Psalms rests in the broad scope of them, everything from mourning/lament to joy to anger and all the emotions in between.  

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, A Time, and a Psalm, for Lament

The hills
are dressed

for morning prayer
shoulders wrapped in wool.

Their winter tzitzit
are made of ice,

turn to tchelet
after the last snows.

Do our houses serve
as their tefillin?

We’re the tiny scrolls
tucked safe inside.

Rachel Barenblat, Minyan

Hurray! Spring is on its way! Well, the days are lengthening at least….It’s been a busy start to the year although I don’t seem to have got any poetry written. I’ve actually mostly been reading and researching a story which might turn into (whisper it) a novel – I know, I know, and me always saying I couldn’t write fiction. It may just be a nice break from poetry, something different and even energising, at least, that’s what Peter said when I mentioned it on the podcast. Whatever it is, I’m enjoying the process. If you see me please don’t ask ‘how’s the novel coming along?’ I’ll let you know when/if there’s anything to report!

Robin Houghton, Why I missed the TS Eliot readings, plus the good and the bad of January

It is a gladness to be able to call one’s daily work a labor of love, and to have that labor put food on the table the way any work does, dishwashing or dentistry. And yet such labors of diligence and devotion — the kind William Blake called “eternal work” — are somehow different, different and more vulnerable, for they enter the world in a singular spirit and are recompensed in a singular spirit, distinct from dentistry or dishwashing.

That spirit is the spirit of a gift — not the transaction of two commodities but the interchange of two mutual generosities, passing between people who share in the project of a life worth living.

Maria Popova, The Vital Difference Between Work and Labor: Lewis Hyde on Sustaining the Creative Spirit

Honestly, though, I’m finding the distinction a little fuzzy. How can it not be, when money is what we need to survive in our current world, and some labor is paid and some work is not? Yet it is clear to me that writing a blog–this kind of blog, at any rate–is clearly on the side of labor, and not work. It’s a labor I have been feeling ambivalent about.

What do I have to offer here? Do I have anything to say that anyone will benefit from hearing?

It’s a challenge to create a gift to the world when my instinct these days has been to retreat from it. Until now, I’ve had no choice about engaging with the world; continuing my existence required me to live deeply with it. Grading papers, planning lessons, submitting book purchase orders: These are all acts of work, and one can, I suppose, do the work of being a teacher or librarian without doing the labor of being an educator. But I never could, and laboring as an educator requires full immersion in the world. Now, I have a choice. Now, I finally have the resources I need to give myself to labor of whatever kind I might choose, and all I want to do is hunker down in my little shelter from the world.

I’d like to think it’s just a seasonal thing. Winter is a time of hibernation, of course. Or, perhaps, it’s a recovering from burnout thing. It feels like something more or different, though. The world feels increasingly foreign to me, and something with which I can’t keep up. Don’t necessarily want to keep up. In recent weeks, for example, I’ve been wondering what it will mean to be a writer–or any kind of artist–in a world with ChatGPT.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Labor enough

An acronym close to that computer firm.
There are dress codes at IBM, I have you know.
Irritable? Yes, often. I’ve been pissed off,
imagine bowels as a curled-up, snarling cobra.

Syndrome is, I believe, where spectators
gather to see retired pilots take off
in noisy small planes. Banking
is a dangerous manoeuvre.

Fokkina McDonnell, Ode of sorts…

In the season finale of the Culinary Saijiki podcast, I talked with Mark Scott of Naturalist Weekly, which was one of my favorite blogs of 2022. In the conversation, I had the idea of spending 2023 investigating the micro-seasons around me. I decided that since I wanted to find a way to write more consistently in this space, I would make that my project for 2023.

Of course, the first month of the year is nearly over, and I’ve yet to get started! In part that’s because I’m balancing a full-time job, finishing my Pilates training, and my other haiku endeavors. But there was another challenge: it became clear to me that the micro-seasons Mark describes in his blog would have been developed over many years of watching and observing. An awareness of micro-seasons would also require one to be intimately familiar with the flora and fauna of their locale.

Having lived in Missouri for just over six months, neither of these things are particularly ingrained in my consciousness.

Allyson Whipple, New Year, New Home

skies that make islands
of familiar trees
and cause us to imagine
great waters in between
near and far

and so probability
yields to dreaming
and there are wings

Dick Jones, islands

I love it when I find a poet I haven’t heard of before whose collection absorbs me and keeps dragging me with it through three or four readings. So it is with Alexandra Fossinger’s Contrapasso, which I bought a week or two ago.

She works with the in-betweens, the unexplained areas of experience, so it takes some work to get to its layers. I hadn’t read anything about Fossinger and didn’t notice the short biography at the back until after the second reading but it fits my initial reaction – She is mostly interested in the spaces between things, the tiny shifts in time, the overlooked, the unsaid. She’s Italian, from the South Tyrol near the border with Austria, lives in Germany and writes mostly in English. She’s done the usual round of magazines.

I don’t know the specific details behind the poems because she avoids telling us and concentrates instead on creating an atmosphere of increasing isolation. The drama is cumulative. It seems – and forgive me if you see it differently, or think I’m way out – that she is writing for a lover now estranged in time and distance, imprisoned somewhere, and so lost, except to memory and these poems, which seem to combine to form a message that deals with the experience of continuing to be fond of someone it is no longer possible to see or speak to, of where that experience can take a person over time.

In that so little is explicit, she is a demanding poet, but not obscure for obscurity’s sake. There is a real sense that she is trying hard to examine a particular experience of loss and come up with an appropriate way of communicating it. Yes, she could have been kinder by offering more easily understood facts, but it feels as if it’s the emotional experiences and not necessarily the physical facts that interest her.

Bob Mee, CONTRAPASSO – A COLLECTION BY ALEXANDRA FOSSINGER

As contemporary poets invent more and more forms for their poetry, it is perhaps surprising that the sonnet is undergoing something of a revival. Last year saw the publication of Hannah Lowe’s superb, award-winning The Kids , which demonstrated so well how this traditional form can be used for current content and now we have Paul Brookes’ Shakespearian sonnets in is latest collection, These Random Acts of Wildness (Glass Head Press, 2023) , which treat a range of enduring issues such as our experience of being alive and the nature of the natural environment.. His use of the form is as adept as Lowe’s, often concluding in memorable rhyming couplets, such as: ‘We collect the wild as ornamental/ Domesticate, put on a pedestal’; ‘My hard weight tames the uneven and wild/ makes it all proper, gentle meek and mild’; and ‘The wild dance of the swifts amongst the dead/ reminds us life goes on restless to be fed.’ The sonnet is clearly alive and well and has much to offer poets today.

Nigel Kent, Review of ‘These Random Acts of Wildness’

I was very pleased to hear of Chicago-born poet Jessica Laser’s latest, Planet Drill (New York NY: Futurepoem, 2022), recalling how struck I was by the work in her debut, Sergei Kuzmich from All Sides (Seattle WA: Letter Machine Editions, 2019) [see my review of such here]. The poems in Planet Drill are predominantly shorter, lyrically-compact first-person examinations, each line constructed as a kind of self-contained statement, set as a layering of poem-shaped brick-works. In certain ways, she constructs her poems around the shape of what otherwise couldn’t be seen without staffolding, allowing the poem to exist as the absence around which her poem draws. Listen to this stretch in the middle of the two-page poem “PLUMBER,” that reads: “I kept along my secret, plumbing / for keeps. State-employed, / I’m hungry, have glory, now money, / now sadness, now none, concern, / joy, fear, grief, / humility, anger, pride, peace, / I’m happy stricken, afflicted / with so deep a burning / of which ice is and can’t help.” There is a playfulness to her lyric of indirect direct statements, one that offers wry commentary and tongue-in-cheek swipes. “Nothing in pride but a flower.” she writes, to open “POEM WITH LIES,” “Nothing in a stare but glass life. / No fruit but a spore / and silent nectar. To remember / this is to bear all things. Life bears / no fruit but of too much color, stands / for taste where sun and taste ally.” Laser’s poems blur between surfaces and depth, moving in and out of focus at remarkable speed, and employing a precision that both illuminates and contorts. “A sad girl a sad alas is.” she writes, to open the poem “CRENELATIONS,” “Best to forfeit disposition. / All exposure. Best / Not to make / A judge love you, / Particularly / You.”

rob mclennan, Jessica Laser, Planet Drill

Carolyn Forché has a new collection of her own poetry, which is always cause for joy. She has compiled anthologies and written memoir and essays, but her poetry collections don’t appear frequently–five collections since 1975, averaging one poetry collection a decade. This is not a prolific output in terms of poetry collections compared with some of her peers, but her books are worth waiting for. I suspect that her poems, crafted with such memorable pacing and imagery, which unspool so purposefully–even mindfully, though that term is overused–must take time to consider, revise, or compose. I have to slow my breath just to take them in.

In the Lateness of the World lies on the book pile beside my bed at the moment, and I read about three to four poems at a time. Savoring them, thinking about their implications; despair and concern and grief, and deep love for the world we inhabit and the people who labor through the days. Forché, because of her “poetry of witness,” often gets called a political poet, mostly because she never shies away from confronting, and writing about, the injustices and damages inflicted on people and on the planet–and implicating the perpetrators. But she also avoids ideology. The perpetrators are not easily pegged in her work: all of us can be implicated, and all of us are affected, a network no single person or nation can untangle or resolve. Forché’s poems resonate with a complicated love and a recognition of how much work we must be willing to do.

Ann E. Michael, Admiration

This pamphlet features two longer sequences, starting with the title piece, and four shorter poems. In a nutshell, “Lilies on the Deathbed of Étain” explores the life of a woman in youth, age and death through a lens of motherhood. The poem doesn’t flow in in chronological order, it’s a series of recollections from differing perspectives. […]

The two longer sequences explore multiple voices on a common theme while the shorter poems are more focused. All demonstrate a love of language, both of meaning and sound, not just as single words but how sounds build patterns and add texture to the poems.

Emma Lee, “Lilies on the Deathbed of Étain and Other Poems” Oisín Breen (Beir Bua Press) – book review

Finished reading Deathbed Sext by Christopher Salerno, 2020, Two Sylvia’s Press.  This was a winner of TSP Chapbook competition. There are some remarkable lines in this poetry. It is rich with dissonance (something I love) throughout the book.  Personally, I felt its strength was in individual poems and not so much as a cohesive manuscript, but that was just my opinion. 

Michael Allyn Wells, January – Birthday – Fountain Pen

It occurred to me suddenly last week that next year, we are coming up on the 20th anniversary of the first dancing girl press chapbook. There is no way this could be at all possible, and yet, there it is. It also means that 20 years ago this fall, I was just starting my MFA program. While wicked alice existed prior to those years, the press is somewhat tied to that program, not really the poetry classes, where they all seemed slightly horrified I had the audacity to start a press (or at my audacity in general,) but a brief dip into the Fiction Writing program’s Small Press Publishing class where I created first a print annual of WA, then my own little chapbook project as a test runner for bigger things that fall. Granted, that class imagined far larger goals for starting a press than a tiny chapbook operation.  I remember my classmates coming in with grand schemes and even grander budgets, none of which quite lifted off the ground. My tiny little print annual flew..mostly because my expectations were small..a saddle stapler, some cardstock, some paper, a word file. I did it all for less than a $100 for both the annual and my little chap. This was proper to social media, prior even to this blog (I was still on xanga at the time.) And yet, people found their way to the website, the crude little initial version I had built on Angelfire  for like 10 bucks a month where I hosted other early sites (where it still lives, more or less, at least the landing page, which then gives way to the shop hosted elsewhere.) 

The success of course, depended on the smallness. Keeping things manageable financially, with each book paying for the next. This is still the model that works, with other funds coming through from the shop goods in general. It’s a lot more solvent and in the red than when I rented the studio space, but it’s still very much a micropress. Occasionally, I entertain the idea of full-length offerings, which are do-able as my own self-publishing endeavors attest, but I still love the handmade factor, the smallness factor, of publishing chapbooks. It’s still a low-overhead endeavor, which makes it possible to continue even in times when many other presses and publishers went under. (Ie even if traffic is low and the economy shit, books can still make their way into the world, even if I am paying out of pocket myself.)

I also like that not much investment means that I can afford to take chances on authors who might be publishing their first work but aren’t going to be big sellers, at least not right away. Or strange little weird books no one but me may love. Or books by authors who release a lot of work, but because their fans are split across so many new projects, they might not sell well initially (I sometimes am this author, I know what it’s like)  There is a pleasure in being small, but also really free. 

Kristy Bowen, dancing girl press notes | january 2023

There was a lovely range of ages in my first workshop, a few younger siblings joined in, as well as parents, grandparents and carers. We talked about pattern, repetition, shape and rhyme in poetry, and how that might be represented visually. We also learned that George Crabbe wrote long narrative poems, predominantly in the form of rhyming couplets, and I showed the group some of my own visual poems, where I’ve used the same flower at the end of each line to represent a rhyme, and more recent poems using photocopies of fallen leaves.

Then the group spent time with George Crabbe’s herbarium, carefully handling specimens (all kept under clear protective covering to preserve them) and selecting the ones they wanted to work with. Hannah, from Trowbridge Museum, photocopied the chosen specimens, then the participants set to work, cutting and pasting photocopies of flowers, or drawing and colouring them, or making 3D models of flowers and a garden landscape, or a combination of all of this. One workshop member had a go at writing rhyming couplets in the style of George Crabbe. We talked about how Crabbe included common wildflowers in his collection and the group was very knowledgeable about the insect-enabling, pollinating benefits of flowers and plants, incorporating bees, butterflies and other insects into their creative work, a few samples below! [Click through for the photo documentation.]

Josephine Corcoran, Flowers, visual poetry and George Crabbe’s herbarium in a workshop at Trowbridge Museum

Thank you Matthew Paul for reminding me about The Iron Book of British Haiku. You can read his very detailed and engaging post about this book here – a real insider’s account of how this book came together. I’ve featured the poem on the back cover (above) [“Morning sneeze / the guitar in the corner / resonates” —Dee Evetts] as a gentle reminder to myself to get back to the guitar! It’s been a marathon month of blogging, and it’s really helped me focus on the poetry, but I’m well aware that it has also taken up some of the time I would normally have spent practising the guitar. My aim was to post every day in January, and we’re almost at the end of the month, so February should be, by rights, a month where I pick up the guitar every day. Let’s see how that pans out!

Julie Mellor, the guitar in the corner …

It’s Saturday morning and I’m doing everything except writing although my mind keeps going back to writing. I’m watching a documentary right now called “Laurel Canyon” on Prime but in the back of my mind I’m restructuring a creative nonfiction piece I’ve been working on for a while. […]

The main thing that impressed me was the mystique of Laurel Canyon itself, as a community, at that moment in time. I felt like I was watching a lost world that will never be again, a world more personal than the one we live in today. People trusted each other, didn’t lock their doors, wandered in and out of each others homes. Their lifestyle was free, innocent, expansive. It seemed it was a community that shared, without envy and competition. It’s hard to believe in our current world that this ever existed.

The landscape itself was verdant, moody, primitive, even dangerous in the way beauty often is. I can imagine being bewitched, living there at that time in such a richly creative, beautiful, and nurturing environment. It oozed creativity that came through in the old home movies and photographs. It really cast a spell on me for several hours. I can relate to how music and art is inspired by being immersed in the natural world, how the peace of it empties the mind of chaos, replaces it with wonder and a calm that allows creative ideas to grow.

Charlotte Hamrick, Creative Communities

The second poem for this week comes from Fergus Allen and his first collection, The Brown Parrots of Provedencia. I think I’ve mentioned his work before, and may have shared a poem, but if it’s taken me two years to get to Katie’s book, it’s taken me about 25 to get to this one. I’ve had this since my days working at Bertrams and have hauled it with me wherever I go, but if I have read it it didn’t land with me, or perhaps I didn’t have the tools to comprehend it, but now I”ve started it I am enjoying it. It looks like my three Fergus Allen books made it to the TBR pile a couple of years ago too, so I really am getting down into the sub-strata there. I’ve now discovered that a) he’s dead b) there are two more books I don’t have of his c) Brown Parrots came out when he was 70 (wither the definition of an emerging or developing poet argument) and d) this is an interesting interview with him.

Mat Riches, Attitudes, Anteaters, Brown Parrots, and early kicks offs for the Eliots

I’m so delighted to be included in the most recent issue of Eemis Stane, a primarily Scots language publication. The team is just brilliant and so helpful with getting the Scots in my poems jist richt. I’m still learning, so it’s been great to work with them and to be included, though Scots for me is a learned language, rather than a native tongue. The scope of the magazine is amazing and global even though it’s focussed on a minority language, from a sample of Catalan translations of a Scots novel to a whole collection of great Scots poems and a review of a book of Scots translations of Chinese poets. I feel like I’m a small part of a new vitalising movement. 

Gerry Stewart, The Keeking Light

I’ve excited to announce that my next collection of poetry, Her Whole Bright Life, winner of the Jack McCarthy Book Prize and forthcoming from Write Bloody, is now available for pre-order! Books will ship in April, order today!

***

Her Whole Bright Life is a collection of poems that weave together the trauma and exhaustion of a life lived with disordered eating and the loss and grief of the death of the poet’s father. Love and hunger intertwine and become inseparable as the poet grapples to find, and listen, to both. With a distinct and feminist voice, this collection delves into a life now lived without a beloved parent, while trying to survive a pandemic, and battling demons that have lived inside her for most of her life. With both fierceness and tenderness, we see a woman trying to find her place within her own body and within an ever-changing world. This collection of poems is both an elegy and an anthem – praising both those who’ve been lost and those who remain.

Courtney LeBlanc, New Book Available for Pre-Order

I am amazed to see that I have yet another review of my new chapbook (The Commonplace Misfortunes of Everyday Plants)! I think this is a testament to the hustle of my wonderful editor at Belle Point, Casie Dodd (thank you if you are reading!).

Erijo Edward writes, “The book is a moving masterpiece that allows for the author to mourn, for the reader to see through the most trying period of her life and also appreciate the essence of what life is, for it is in moving on and finding the will to survive we coexist with the planet and once again appreciate the beauty of nature and life in itself.”

Masterpiece?!?! I am really flattered!

Renee Emerson, The Commonplace Misfortunes, reviewed in The Poetry Question

I was thrilled to receive an acceptance this week for some poems I submitted to an upcoming anthology. I haven’t submitted work in a very long time, and I had forgotten the rush of good feeling it gives me to be granted a “yes” on my work: Someone thinks I’m worthy! Someone likes what I wrote! Approval is a powerful drug, and it’s been a while since I’ve gotten a good dose of it. Most of the time these days I go around seething to myself, “If you want to tell me about all of ways I’ve disappointed you, you’ll have to get in line behind everyone else.” So being given the Nod of Worthiness felt pretty darn good.

Kristen McHenry, Emotional Wins Hot Streak

One of the joys of social media (and there are plenty of aspects of them that are less than joyful) is that occasionally a notification pops up from an unexpected source and when you check it out there is something really worthwhile to be found. This happened the other day – via Instagram. Someone called Matt McGettrick had tagged me. I don’t know Matt, but he is a student on the BA course in TV and Radio Production at the University of Salford.

Matt’s instapost said he had recently created a soundscape based on a poem I published in 1990, in my first book from Enitharmon Press, called Beneath Tremendous Rain. It’s unlikely that the poem was found in that book itself, but I remember it was selected more than 10 years later by Sean Street to appear in an anthology called Radio Waves: poems celebrating the wireless (Entharmon, 2004). There, I was happily rubbing shoulders with the likes of Auden, Brecht, MacNeice, Heaney and Carol Ann Duffy. Sean – whose is a poet, broadcaster and recently retired Professor of Radio at Bournemouth University – had divided the anthology up into sections variously titled, Music Radio, Talk Radio, Weather, Listeners and Signals. My piece was in the section called ‘In the Car’.

Martyn Crucefix, ‘Air-Waves’: poem as audio soundscape

The thing I found fascinating about Mandelbrot images, was the way you can zoom in and in and in, and the same patterns emerge at every level of detail. That was the effect I wanted to portray in this poem. To my mind, a thesaurus behaves like that; you can look one word up and then find its synonyms, and then proceed to synonyms of those synonyms. As the poem imparts, spiralling and sprawling, spawning a myriad thesaurus points, and genociding a kaleidoscope of others.

Giving the name Julia to one of these fractal sets felt very anthropomorphic.

Giles L. Turnbull, Patterns Amid the Poems

it’s the fag isn’t it
chomped in the blown corner
making way for the mouthed words
exhaled frown yet to crease that young brow
where the fish words garner thoughts
that glow and fade
drop like blown ash
his mind as far away as the fields
in the tobacco shop on st helen’s road

Jim Young, dylan thomas in a chair with a fag

In the bright frosty days when rain paused I remembered how sparrows spring clean as nesting time approaches – sweep sticks and feathers from hiding places in the eaves. Foxes are mating and calling. Something of that fever got to me in the last couple of weeks. I’ve spent hours online rooting through names on my mother’s side of the family.

There are few narratives attached to these names, other than the streets they lived in, the churchyard they’re buried in (masses of them in the same one) and occupations on census forms – agricultural labourer, laundress, unpaid domestic duties. Interrupting these, a house painter, groom, a charcoal burner, gardener. Unsurprising handholds in the story that kept mum’s family in the New Forest for generations, mainly around one village. For a while they lived in Silver Street, which the New Forest Explorers’ Guide reckons is a corruption of Silva, meaning road to the woods. Whether or not that’s true, I’ll take the beauty in that name as truth. Just as I was delighted to find a female ancestor called Martha Candy.

Jackie Wills, The forest ancestors again

I hear of two so search for the third
as death always comes in threes
this is a hard and fast law
my mother steered our family by such stars
bad things can happen any time
tea leaves held clues
and she interrogated every cup for omens
but none were as accurate as
Coop Indian Prince Assam

Paul Tobin, TEA LEAVES HELD CLUES

The photos in this post were taken in Rome in November. And it was such an interval of pure play. At first I was disappointed that the carousel was draped in the protective tarp. But it started to seem a bit symbolic. The messages and words written on the plastic in the dust. Someone had torn away a bit of the plastic so you could see in a little but largely the carousel animals were a murky blur. The fun part was obscured. Still, the decorative top was a visual feast. I can’t tell you how many photos I took of this and Rob off to the side patiently just letting me do my thing. At the time I couldn’t even say what drew me to this but I was COMPELLED. Now it makes sense to me but I knew enough to just go with it and enjoy the play. To just delight. I remember taking some pains to line up the angels on the carousel with the angel on top of the Castel Sant’Angelo, and the bird perched on the lamppost. […]

As most creative people know, when you’re just playing around, goofing about, that’s often when neat stuff happens. You’re open to it, it’s open to you. Who knows. In the next two frames, a couple of birds began to play. You could tell they were riffing off of each other, taking turns perching on the horse. Delightful, yes?

It helps, anyway, is what I’ve found, to just go and play at something (in my case photography). Then when you come back to the day job or whatever work you have to do, it’s easier to find that comedic distance.

Shawna Lemay, Participate Joyfully

Like many people, I’ve been experimenting with using AI tools to write. In one way or another, AI has been part of my writing practice for decades. I begin using Ray Kurzweil’s “Poet’s Assistant” ages and ages ago after hearing Christopher Dewdney speaking about it. You could feed it a corpus of a poet’s work (I liked Blake’s) and then add another corpus (I’d feed it old manuscripts of mine) and then you could get it to generate entire poems, or, even better, to complete sentences. I found it particularly interesting to prompt it with words or phrases that confounded it. “Underwear” isn’t in the Blake poems, for example.

I’ve often used Google Translate, and an N+7 generator, running next through them multiple times and generally trying to exploit the strange corners of the software.

Lately, I’ve been exploring ChatGPT and GPT-3. With any AI, the trick is to figure out how to give it productive prompts which cause it to respond in interesting ways and hopefully generate something of use. I’m not a purist–I’m happy to take output and edit it. The first example below (and set to music in the video above) The Ocean was created without any significant editing — a couple of tiny nips and tucks. The second piece, The Leaves was more substantially edited and I merged two different GPT-3 prompts and results together. I love the idea that you give a prompt to an AI and then the result is kind of like a prompt back to you.

Gary Barwin, The Ocean, The Leaves and AI

How many times
do two words go

bump-bump
before it means

something,
the old monk asked.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (389)

How does a poem begin?

Sometimes with a ghost, sometimes with a joke. Although before that, before the immediate inciting incident, there is a slow and steady accumulation of fragments: overheard phrases, unbidden ideas, resonant texts, facts that scream to be made into metaphors. I spend my time moving through the world and collecting these little fragments, jotting them down in notebooks, suspending them from the rafters of my brain where they can sway and sing together.

And then, the inciting incident: A hypothetical question about eating your clone, for example. That gives the fragments something to coalesce around. It gives them a shared premise. It illuminates their similarities, heightens their differences. They all begin casting light and shadow on one another, melting into one another, gesturing toward other fragments, morphing into strange new entities with many faces. It’s all quite chaotic. 

So what you need to do, then, is find that line or phrase to anchor them – like binding a spirit to a cursed object.

Matthew Kosinski : part five (Thomas Whyte)

but when I stop and listen

I realise I am not
the only interruption ~

a passing train, the cries
of children in the yard

of a school half a mile away
and then in the next moment

the peals of the school bell
calling us all to order

and I am a child
in another schoolyard

in another landscape
bouncing on my heels

turning towards this future
I have yet to imagine.

Lynne Rees, Poem ~ It is so still today