Poetry Blog Digest 2022, 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, a true miscellany, with few unifying themes. I was excited to see a couple of my favorite bloggers re-emerge from hiatus, and the regulars didn’t disappoint, either. Enjoy. And best of luck to everyone planning on writing a poem a day throughout April—just four days away!


Today the island exploded with yellow the daffodils have been here but the forsythia arrived overnight. There is too much now to say and so I dip my crushed left great toe in to test. There is too much to say that has gone unsaid and so here I am dipping my toe in the ocean here I am saying hello! Hello! Are you there?

*

Panic diary 1

Mushrooms hold their spongy heads as I pass
there goes weeper in her boots and mask
my heart explodes (again) milk shivers in my arms
spring lamb spills her body a blood container
shivering in the grass it is so wet and beautiful
when a woman and a man slow dance to no music
tomorrow is Bach’s birthday one breathes revolution
the slow version dancing alone in my kitchen in bare feet

Rebecca Loudon, Equinox

I spent the winter hibernating.

Not literally, of course, and not completely; I kept getting up and going to work and talking to friends and such. But still, it was a season of purposeful, chosen dormancy. Covid’s omicron strain made it easier than it might otherwise have been because it provided an acceptable (in my circles) reason to go quiet.

Katherine May identifies several different kinds of wintering and ways of entering in to such a season of life; mine has been a wintering of transition, of having “temporarily fallen between two worlds.” I am both retired and not-retired. I am in a process of leaving behind the self I have been for most of my adult life (mother, educator, creative dabbler) and welcoming another whose labels are mostly unknown.

My life has not felt this open in more than 40 years. It would be nice to have the body I had the last time I was in such circumstances, but I’m facing a malleable future with considerably more knowledge and less fear than I had then. I feel more existential threat than I have at any other time, but for now I’ve got a sturdy shelter, economic stability, reasonably good health, and love. I have choices. I am fortunate.

So, what did I do while away?

I read poetry and historical fiction and memoir and self-help. I organized cupboards and put reading chairs in the kitchen and bought a new dining table that sits in front of our big living room window. I wrote poems and memoir exercises and lesson plans and an essay. I took naps on the couch and on the bed, in the middle of sunny days, and against a backdrop of late afternoon rain. I made chicken soup from the whole bird and pizza dough from yeast and flour and beer, and breakfast cookies sweetened with chunks of dark chocolate. I bought a houseplant, and pillar candles for the pedestal holders my grandfather carved at the beginning of his retirement more than 40 years ago. We’ve placed them on the new table. I bought and returned three sweatshirts because none of them was right. I worked a really hard puzzle. I watched TV. I went to the doctor and dentist and physical therapist. I sat outside one day in February’s false spring sun and closed my eyes.

And I began ice skating. (again)

I decided to take a break from blogging and enter into a period of purposeful dormancy because I sensed that I needed some quiet and some space so that things could emerge. What things? I didn’t know, and “things” was as precise a word I wanted when I began. I thought the time underground would bring clarity around writing, perhaps give me some direction in what I want to do or work on. I began working through Julia Cameron’s program for creative recovery and was open to where it might take me. I never expected it to take me to an ice rink.

Rita Ott Ramstad, On wintering

So here I am running the lanes looking for
all the things I would have shared with you:

the planting of young laurels along the hedgerow
on St Vincent’s Lane, the way the moss

has grown sparsely on one side of the stone bridge
but thickly on the other, and how someone

has laid a plank across the stream to cross
from bank to bank. I think I understand now

that grief remains with us. And I never had to say,
Don’t go, please stay, because you never left me.

Mam, the wood anemones are like stars
carpeting the woods. Soon, the bluebells.

Lynne Rees, Poem ~ Never

Here I am at my desk in my bedroom, working on my Zoom class with my Modernity students.

Tomorrow all the Daughters of Charity are in retreat, praying and preparing for March 25, the feast of the Annunciation, when we make our vows again.

With the recent health problems which will not go away, but which are in tenuous check right now, I worry that though I will make it to March 25, I might not make it until the end of the month and our college reunion, or to Easter on April 17, or to see the full flowering of my garden this summer.

But all I can do is try to hold the illness in abeyance by resting and avoiding any food or drink that might inflame my radiated bladder.   So it goes.

Anne Higgins, What is all this juice and all this joy?

on a quiet street
in Luang Prabang
the unexploded ordnance centre —
a grandmother covers
a little girl’s eyes […]

folding a world map
war zone collapsing into war zone
someone will die
from something that will fall
from someone else’s sky

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Margin Notes

I’m sitting under fluorescent lights, half-awake and digesting a lemon-poppy muffin. Are poppy seeds the opiate of breakfast? I’m scanning the wires on a slow Monday for anything that rises to the level of news. There ain’t much. There may be a million stories in the naked city, but up here in the fully-clothed suburbs excitement is thin on the ground. I listen to the first bars of a jangly song from 1990. It sounds like many of the the jangly songs from 1990, with a singer more or less hitting the intended pitches and the guitarist carrying the weight. I can see through the studio’s Venetian blinds that the sun is up. We’re so far from Venice, in every meaningful way. A friend said the war in Ukraine is the international conflict version of a white woman being kidnapped. I google “Yemen” and try to catch up.

Jason Crane, Hum

pale chair
in the arms of dawn
flowers wait

Jim Young [no title]

When my daughter lived in Asheville NC about 12 years ago, I noticed the rain, as well as flourishing vines, and lichen, on so many of the trees. She said that the Blue Mountains in that area are a temperate rain forest, but the humidity bothered her less than here in eastern PA because of the higher altitude: Asheville’s at about 3000 feet elevation. In the last 8 years or so, I’ve noticed the same tree-clinging lichen in my region–a new development. I have lived here over 30 years and had never seen it before. Another thing I notice is how much more vigorous the vining plants, many of them non-native, have become and how rapidly they shoot up into the overstory, choking off the tops of tulip poplars and oaks and pulling down the trunks of dead ash trees. The growing season has lengthened a bit, which is worrying from an environmental perspective even if it means I may eventually be able to grow camellias and figs.

And I can’t deny finding some of the milder weather pleasant, especially the sounds of tree frogs filling the nights earlier in the year. They soothe me at the end of day. Yet these crucial amphibians are very much at risk as the world warms. I may have little choice about whether we can return to cooler, damper summers, but I can make choices about how I live in the world and about what matters. It bears keeping in mind as I work the soil for another season in my garden.

Ann E. Michael, Weather weirding

Rectangular hole.
Pile of earth
draped in astroturf:

like a challah
shyly enfolded
while we bless

candles and wine,
like a Torah
covered for modesty.

This pine box
is a cradle
for an empty shell.

Rachel Barenblat, Graveside

I wasn’t sure if I was ready to delve into fiction again because poetry has been the most healing writing for me with grief. Poetry allows me to examine events and my feelings about them in a structured, beautiful, in-depth way. It’s something that I really needed, especially in the first few months of this year (I typically write 2 poems a month—I wrote more like 5 a month in January/February).

But there’s also an expansive absorption in writing fiction.

I dreaded entering back into the novel because I thought I’d find such a hopeless mess there that I’d never untangle it. Instead it’s been more like street-sweeping, tidying up, trimming hedges (moving whole blocks to whole other blocks, but not as much as I’d expected). My biggest challenge has actually been getting TOO into it—there’s something about editing and writing fiction that sucks me in completely, where it is all I want to do! As much as I love poetry, I can give it 15 dedicated minutes and be done—fiction could eat up my whole day if I have a whole day available.

Renee Emerson, Fiction Brain vs. Poetry Brain

Last night I dreamed that Frank Loyd Wright posted right turn only signs all over town, so everyone was going in circles.

It was one of those situations where a little bit of leftist thinking would’ve gotten the traffic flowing more smoothly.

Upon waking, I made sure grace had all the wax cleared from its ears before asking for any small mercies.

After all, it only takes a slight loss of sibilance to make ‘exist’ sound like ‘exit.’

Now I’m gonna inquire about borrowing a shovel to dig down deep into the earth,

discover that wishbone singing brighter than any tuning fork—

just the thing to melody any lingering miseries down off the ledge of another Monday morning.

Rich Ferguson, A Little Bit of Leftist Thinking in a Right Turn Only Town

I’d been undertaking self-care this past week, though I don’t love that term. I was following the black dog into the shadows because if you can’t beat ‘em join ‘em. I was reading the Dhammapada, Pema Chodron, the usuals. I’d been reading Rilke. I had driven a friend home one evening and we were talking in the car in the dark about a similar loss that we’d each suffered. Hers more recent and mine quite far in the past. I wanted to offer something comforting and I wanted to say that time healed. And time does something, but it struck me that this past week was the 30th anniversary of my loss, and it was hitting me hard! and that time is trickier and wilier than all that. Because of the way that losses and griefs and disappointments will accumulate and compound and because of the way that our understanding of any of those large moments in life is an intricate and changing architecture. The loss, the finding out, for me, was suddenly raw again when for years it hadn’t been at all, and it felt like yesterday, however cliché that sounds, that I answered the early morning phone call, and then dressed and went to my university class in 18th century literature with the kind professor looking at me sidelong from time to time as he lectured, knowing, I felt, that something wasn’t quite right. In short, this experience made me realize and not for the first time that I know absolutely nothing. Who am I to offer consolation for grief when I scarcely know what to do with my own? And isn’t it interesting how all of those contradictions and minor and major griefs of the pandemic have acted upon the usual grief cycles. (And when I say interesting I mean damn it’s a bitch). My current theory has something to do with the darkness healing more than time does, but I suppose they’re working in tandem.

As an aside, because of the kindness of this particular professor, I took a LOT of classes in 18th century literature. Like, a weird number of them. I just trusted that prof.

Shawna Lemay, A Certain Devastation

We are as fish caught in a cloudy
aquarium waiting for algae scrapers,
water siphons, lime and bleach cleaners—

Our Lady of the virtual lament, electronic
embrace, mediated job interview, meeting,
or funeral— In some part of the world

pink blossoms have opened to spring
and in another, a pink wave of protesters
fills actual streets. Our Lady of ICUs

and statistics. Our Lady of terrible risks.
Our Lady of wars and climate injustice
in the throb of an ongoing epidemic.

Luisa A. Igloria, Novena for the Pandemic

We want so badly for our experiences to be explained as simple cause-and-effect events. Because anything else would be irrational. Untrue. Unnecessary pain. Anything else would be the work of a shadow-weaving woman making a weighted blanket from the loose atmospheres of dreams and memories.

But I keep her close, like a lover I know will hurt me. It’s my fault. Holding onto the destructive stories like talismans. The devil you know.

I have a metal ruler in one of the drawers in the studio. It is jagged on both long edges. I am not sure why, and I am not sure how I came to have this ruler in a drawer. in the studio. I catch my fingers on it every time I open the drawer. And yet I haven’t moved it. I haven’t gotten rid of it. (What would I do with it? Where would I send it?) I mean, I bought it after all. I put it there. It must be there for a reason.

Maybe I am misinterpreting the phrase “trust yourself”? Maybe I am misplacing my trust. Maybe everyone (I’m sure of it) feels this way when the season changes and death is everywhere, making room – clearing room – for the sprawl of strange offspring. Another round of the unknown. Mystery eggs.

I’ve learned that more than moths and butterflies emerge from cocoons. It seems nothing that I learn makes for good small talk. And I am beginning to understand that that doesn’t matter at all.

Ren Powell, Contextualizing Anxiety

One meaning of the term storification is the imposing of a story structure onto raw historical facts – being selective and even changing the order of events. One story would be that the older self meets the young self. Perhaps the young self wouldn’t recognise the older one who’d tell him not to worry, it’ll all be wonderful in the end, like a dream. Or perhaps the older one merely recalls the freedom of his earlier life, the not knowing what will happen next. Maybe he’ll re-introduce some of those features into his life now that retirement’s looming. Perhaps when he returns to the group he’s known for a week or so he’ll surprise them, break out of the role he’s too easily slipped into.

Tim Love, Rabat revisited

the muse calls me from my bed
to sit in the dark and write out my dream
in wide spaced words on blank white paper

it’s 4:30 am no car goes past outside
then wobbling in the tail end of the storm
a man weaves along the road

no lights on his bike I note
and from the way he steers
no exact idea of where to go

he executes a sudden turn right
and when I look up again
I take in the emptiness of the night

Paul Tobin, THE EMPTINESS OF THE NIGHT

When we were five years old, my friend Kim and I created a secret realm. It was ruled by a fearsome Queen named Calavina. To escape her evil magic we’d ride a rocking horse wildly, then fling ourselves into hiding places where we whispered desperate warnings to each other. Even when we weren’t playing, we honored that noble toy horse with a royal cape (a small blanket) draped over its back. We kept Calavina’s queendom alive for several years. Then one day we tried to enter her world of adventure and peril but found we were only acting. The enchantment had lifted.

Although the imaginary realms of my childhood weren’t very complex, some children create elaborate domains featuring backstories, unique customs, and made-up words where they propel characters through all sorts of dramatic events.

That’s true of 9 year old Cameron. Under his bed is another dimension.

The world he created rests on a sheet of cardboard cut from a refrigerator box. Some days Cameron spends hours playing with it. The ocean is aluminum foil raised in permanently cresting waves, inhabited by an exotic array of marine creatures made from clay. Forests filled with bright trees and plants are constructed from painted cotton balls, balsa, toothpicks, and wrapping paper.

Dotted between the Seuss-like trees are tiny shelters, each a different shape. This world is populated by creatures made out of beads, pipe cleaners, and fabric. They’re named Implas and their dramas keep Cameron busy. His mother says she has to remind herself that Cameron is the one changing it all the time, that his creation isn’t really growing.

Laura Grace Weldon, Worldplay Creates The Future

I finished that book while the plane was still on the tarmac in Atlanta.  What would I do during the 90 minute flight to Ft. Lauderdale?

Stare at the moon, that’s what.  Was it significantly different staring at the moon from a height of 30,000 feet?  Not really.  It didn’t make the difference that a telescope would make, for example.  But I saw the sky turn reddish purple and then golden and then the huge mostly full disc of the moon emerged, not quite full, but not a half moon either.  I could see the land below, the glittering lights, the dark splotches.  I could see some long lines of clouds that looked more like surf, but I was sure they were not.

An added bonus:  for much of the flight, the cabin lights were dimmed, so the view was even more compelling.  Not having a book to read didn’t bother me at all.

I realize that most of my fellow fliers weren’t as lucky as I was–in addition to having a window seat with a view, I was in that 1 exit row seat that didn’t have a seat in front of it, so I could stretch my legs.  At one point, I looked over to see if my rowmate wanted to look out the window.  At the beginning of the flight, he had been pecking on his phone so intently that the flight attendant said, “Sir?  Did you hear a word I said about your duties and this exit row seat?”  After the lights went out, he fell asleep.  I hogged the window, guilt-free!

I wanted to tell everyone to look out the window, to tell them what an amazing celestial show they were missing by sleeping or staring into their phones/tablets.  I’m willing to be arrested for many activities, but reminding my fellow travelers to look out the window is not one of them, so I stayed quiet.

Last night, I was the quiet mystic, staring out the window at the moon, not the prophet, shouting at people to renounce their false gods and realize how we can find God in nature.  Last night, I was the woman wishing I had a camera that could capture that beauty and realizing that sometimes (often), it’s best to just let beauty wash over us as we fly by night.  

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Flying by Night

Not at Philly’s AWP this week, still avoiding crowds due to the covid-19 thing and the immune-suppressed thing. But I did try to spend the week paying attention to things that fed the spirit and inspired. When spring finally appears in our area, we get these rare sunny days when everything is in bloom and people smile and say hello to each other.

So I went for a walk through a bunch of plum trees in bloom, which smell amazing, and the petals fell down in the breeze. There are also cherry blossoms, and the daffodils have started to open, and so I spent time in the garden, trimming back maples overgrowth, giving the new apple and cherry trees more space and more mulch, and weeding and planting a new pink container “cutting” garden with things I haven’t grown before – snapdragons, carnations, cupcake cosmos, celosia, godetia. Tulip and star magnolia trees are starting to open as well. The air smells like spring, even in the rain.

The news remains grim. My social media feed is full of book signings and panels, friends who are traveling to beautiful places, or people raising money for Ukraine refugees showing pictures of destruction and bombings – it’s enough to give someone emotional whiplash. It’s hard to stay oriented, much less focus on writing or submitting poetry. The spring flowers and deer visitors (we also had a bobcat walk through again) are good reminders that there is still beauty and wildness around us. I miss seeing friends at AWP – my social life has been mostly phone calls for two years – but at least Seattle gave us some warmer, sunnier days so that we could stop and appreciate the beauty of where we are now.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Not at AWP Post: A Seattle Writer Walks through Plum Blossoms, Japanese Gardens, and an Art Gallery

On this World Poetry Day, 2022 I wanted to mention that the wonderful Modern Poetry in Translation magazine has made its 2017 issue featuring contemporary poetry and essays from Russian and Ukrainian poets available free to read online – here’s the link to the issue on MPT’s website.

Published in 2017, here’s the opening paragraph from Sasha Dugdale’s editorial:

“This, my last, issue of MPT features poems of conflict and protest from Russia and Ukraine. The conflict in the Donbas region of Ukraine is politically intricate, and at the same time it is diabolically simple. In 2014 Russia covertly invaded an area of Ukraine with an ethnically and linguistically Russian population after illegally annexing Crimea. A fierce war broke out, with daily casualties and atrocities, and even now it smoulders on in the area. Propaganda and false truths draw a veil over the war and its many casualties and victims, and serve at the same time to heap grievance upon grievance; to ensure that peace will remain provisional and uneasy.”

And here’s one extract from ‘Home Is Still Possible There…’ by Kateryna Kalytko, translated by Olena Jennings and Oksana Lutsyshyna:

“Home is still possible there, where they hang laundry out to dry,
and the bed sheets smell of wind and plum blossoms.
It is the season of the first intimacy
to be consummated, never to be repeated.
Every leaf emerges as a green blade
and the cries of life take over the night and find a rhythm.”

Do dip in to the issue, I was so glad to be able to return to it and read it in light of what is happening now, to help me better understand something of the history and politics of Russia and Ukraine.

Josephine Corcoran, Ukrainian and Russian Poetry at MPT magazine

Moving on to the poems themselves, one of Helena Nelson’s greatest attributes is her knack for observation. Not just watching people and then portraying them, but the capacity to pick up on the nuances and undercurrents that play crucial roles in social and human relations. One such example is the closing couplet to ‘Back’:

…She is back. He is glad. And the bed is glad
and a pot of coffee is almost ready.

The ‘he’ and ‘she’ of this extract are the Philpotts, of course, the protagonists of this book. Their relationship, a second marriage in middle age, is evoked via snapshots such as these lines in which emotion is conveyed indirectly through the active role of objects such as the bed and the pot.

In technical terms, meanwhile, this couplet is fascinating. For instance, the penultimate line features three anapests before a iamb kicks in, drawing the elements together and offering a musical reassurance that’s mirrored by semantic warmth.

And what about the punctuation? At first glance, it might seem artificial or unusual. Two three-word sentences without conjunctions are then followed by a longer, unexpected sentence that goes against convention, not just by starting with a conjunction but also by refusing to place a comma midway through (at the end of that penultimate line). However, this punctuation is actually riffing on our expectations, surprising us and then turning inevitable, guiding us through the couplet’s delicate cadences.

As the clichéd rhetorical question goes, which came first, the chicken and the egg? In this case, however, we’re referring to the poet and the editor. Is Helena Nelson such a scrupulous editor because of her highly tuned understanding of the importance of the tension between sentence and line or has her poetic skill-set been further developed by her work as an editor?

Deep down, of course, the important thing remains that her awareness of syntactic and semantic cause and effect, already keenly felt in her first full collection, Starlight on Water (The Rialto, 2003), has only increased over the years. In fact, one of the aesthetic pleasures in reading this book is derived through observing an expert at work, admiring her control of sentence and line, learning from it.

Matthew Stewart, Nuances and undercurrents, Helena Nelson’s Pearls

Hayden Saunier:  I’m fascinated by how poetry manuscripts develop. In Self-Portrait with a Million Dollars was there a central idea or proposition or moment that these poems gathered themselves around? A series of explorations that you return to again and again?

Patricia Clark: These poems that became a manuscript that came to be named Self-Portrait with a Million Dollars are not poems of a project, or an agenda. I can’t work that way—with an aim at a project defined ahead of time. I want to write out of my obsessions and, over time, see what results. What are the threads that unite these poems? Feasts, pleasures, and the falling away, the inevitable loss of such pleasures. The longing for connection with others, with ourselves, and with the world. The elegiac thread of loss, lost moments and chances, and also lost loves and selves, missed connections. The awfulness of flux. We want stability—but stasis is a horror—and we get only fragments, of course. Robert Frost’s description of a poem, each one as “a momentary stay against confusion.” Brief, yes, but such great moments and fragments! […]

Hayden:  “Feasting, Then” opens the first section with a call to attention to the small marvels and gifts surrounding us in the natural world. “And the Trees Did Nothing” is a poem that confronts our romantic notions about that natural world as the human one literally collides with it—there’s an icy jolt of “knowledge.” These are two examples, but all through the book, your attention and your language focus our eyes and ears on vivid, resonant details of both worlds. How did you develop this keenness of observation?

Patricia:
Thanks for the compliment on “keenness of observation.” I’ll say right off, it has taken me years. And I’m still not really satisfied. How does one describe what one sees: whether a sky or a tree? Impossible. The real sight still escapes one, I think. What I am up to, I believe, is trying to tell the truth about something I see in the physical world. When I get stuck in the poem, I return to that, over and over. What was there? What else was there? Was that everything? And don’t make it too beautiful? what was on the ground? Some trash? some dog poop? Let the “divine details” (Nabokov’s words) speak. And they will and the poet can step out of the way. And back to another poet, William Carlos Williams—”No ideas but in things.” I have no “idea” what a poem is up to—I want to let the details speak and tell the story, tell the moment. If I can do that well, I’ve done my job, I believe. And it’s not easy, even then. If I get the “small” picture right, the big picture of the poem (its meaning, its thoughts and movement) should take care of itself.

Diane Lockward, Terrapin Books Interview Series: Hayden Saunier Interviews Patricia Clark

What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?

Every job I’ve ever worked has necessitated a writer. Most writing does not look like writing. Keeping logs, taking minutes, composing emails, organizing meetings, talking to people, creating to do lists, saving meeting notes. I’ve been a writer working at Wendy’s, in a homeless shelter, as an executive assistant, shelving books in a library, or even scrapbooking with my mom. Writing is the work of gathering, of finding an order for things. Sometimes it makes it on paper. I think a lot of people are writers and they don’t really know it – especially working people. Writing is more often than not something a person volunteers to do. But it happens everywhere. Someone has to be willing. I guess the job of a writer is to keep doing that work, to keep recording for the benefit of the group, to keep giving people new visions of reality to think about, to keep reminding people of what happened. […]

What is the best piece of advice you’ve heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?

Several years ago, when I was thinking about starting to write after a long hiatus, I asked a possibly unfair question to a friend, What do people need from me, as a writer, right now? She really surprised me by saying, People need the same things you need. They need to know how you healed.  And I think that’s an interesting place to start from.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Abby Hagler

The starting point for me when I think about my own relationship to craft is the first exercise June Jordan gave in the first poetry workshop I ever took. We were, she said, to reproduce in a poem of our own the precise scansion and rhyme scheme of a nursery rhyme. We didn’t have to use the same rhymes, just the same rhyme scheme, and we were only allowed to use off-rhymes if the nursery rhyme did as well. We were also not to allow ourselves even a single extra syllable in a line. I don’t remember which nursery rhyme I chose, but I can still see the green cover of the notebook in which I struggled for a good two or three hours to craft the lines that would meet those requirements and the deep satisfaction I felt when I succeeded.

Later, when I read Professor Jordan’s poem “Getting Down to Get Over”—she was never just “June” to me—I began to understand what it mean for a poem to be composed, in the musical sense of that term. What I noticed first was the way she used nursery rhyme-like rhythms in different parts of the second section:

she works when she works
in the laundry in jail
in the school house in jail
in the office in jail

Then at the end of that strophe:

drinkin’ wine when it’s time
when the long week is done
but she works when she works
in the laundry in jail
she works when she works

The rhythmic structure of that entire poem is worth studying, and I studied it carefully. I scanned some sections, tried to imitate others, and that process transformed the way I looked at the work of two other poets who are in some ways so radically different from each other and from Jordan that connecting them as I am going to do here would seem counterintuitive at best: e. e. cummings and John Donne. (And yet there are also ways that cummings wouldn’t have written as he did if Donne had not written, but that’s for another post perhaps.)

Richard Jeffrey Newman, The John Wisniewski Interview Continued: What Writers Have Influenced Your Work?

The library was closing in five minutes. I went to the new poetry acquisitions and quickly perused, grabbed a book whose cover had caught my eye when I first saw it advertised and then a book by a name I keep hearing here and there but whose work I had not read, and checked out under the stern eye of the library desk workers eager to chase the last of us out so they could go home on this day of unseasonably nice weather.

And I struck some gold nuggets with that grab-and-go. Both books have something to teach me about letting go of my careful and guarded poetry voice, about being reckless on the page, about being vivid and strange, about something true that’s told in blood, in guts, in the gasp of incompleteness.

Jake Skeet’s Eyes Bottle Dark with a Mouthful of Flowers is full of horseweed and barbed wire, bleak with bottle caps and smoke and the dead, the ruined, words sometimes scattered across the white field of page like shards of glass. […]

Tracy Fuad’s book of poetry about:blank is some deadly serious play. It’s funny and funny/not funny and funny-peculiar. I have no idea what’s going on. But I’m engaged.

Marilyn McCabe, You only got a broken wing; or, On Reading Skeet and Fuad

As I work on another time travel story, I find myself thinking deeply about what it would mean for the present to change the past. This is the kind of thing I ponder in my best thinking places — where running water or wind is involved. That’s why I dictate more and more poetry and prose on my phone. I think well in the shower, washing dishes, or walking my dog.

Today I found myself thinking about what the world and literature and women’s lives would be like if history had erased Jane Austen and her books. Suppose someone from the future could time travel to dissuade her from writing – or even to kill her? I write in the genre of women’s fiction, and I often wonder about our predecessors, the female authors who carved out a path for many of us to follow in writing our stories and poems. What if one of the towering figures in the history of women authors suddenly had never existed?

Rachel Dacus, Which authors would you erase from history?

Rejections hurt. But they are inevitable if you want to get your writing published and read beyond your immediate circle of friends and family. No matter how carefully you research your market, select the poems that you think are a best fit for a publisher/magazine, you will still get rejections. Mostly they are not a reflection of your work but simply that the editor couldn’t fit your work in their next publishing window: they’d already had 14 cat poems and yours was the 15th or they had 3 slots for collections, two of which went to poets they’d already published and yours was only just edged out by a brilliant debut or the editor’s best friend (if you’re into conspiracy theories).

It’s also demotivating and demoralising to learn that getting one poem/book/collection published does not make you immune to rejections. It’s a foot in the door and reassurance that your work is publishable, but one success doesn’t guarantee the next.

The best way of coping with them is to see writing and publishing as two separate activities. Writing is what makes you a writer, not publication. It’s hard to hear, but writers are not entitled to be published. You’ve written something, edited it, polished it, put it aside and read it again, but you are not entitled to get it published. Publication is not the end stop of writing. Not all writing journeys can end in publication. Sometimes the journey is about the lessons learnt, skills gained, characters created and developed and craft practised and all these need to be and should be celebrated. They are still achievements, even if the poem or collection was not published.

Emma Lee, Rejections and Successes

a whizzy line
sucks up ink
retrograde progress

Madonna of Glastonbury
with all that chaos
peace and war and art

I boiled a book
a brown book
mapping the overload

Ama Bolton, ABCD March 2022

Past blue herons wading among reeds. 

Across the broken bits of stalk in the harvested wheat fields. 

Through cities of stone and steel. 

Past people with their hearts on their sleeves. 

Step by step, mile by mile, you make your way to the fire. 

What will you do when you get there? 

Friend, you won’t truly know until you start to burn. 

James Lee Jobe, You are going on a long journey, to the fire.

Sometimes, I like to remind myself that the world which seems like it might just fracture at any minute goes on. I look back through my old poetry notebooks for poems written “on this day” but that never saw the light. Like this one from this day in 2019, before I could have ever imagined what this day in this year would have looked like. And even though it probably isn’t a hopeful poem (and certainly isn’t a finished poem), it does give me hope.

Release

I suppose you want
to hear about flight
and blood. Let me

tell you about stone.
By mid-winter, the world
is graywacke. Every-

thing splinters against
its solidity. The wind
comes with its blunt

nose, but can only find
purchase in the alder
branches. I have no

songs about the tedium
of hunger. I pull each
foot out of darkness.

My voice is not shaped
for your kind of beauty,
but in a month or two

when thaw releases
form, turn over
these stones. Find

what has been
grinding all these years.

Not toward you at all.
Toward the sea. The sea.

Erin Coughlin Hollowell, The Wobble

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, 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: dreams and dreamlessness, new books and completed manuscripts, the war, the Worm Moon, the equinox, and more. Enjoy.


My mother once had a dream soon after her mother’s death. My grandmother is calling from an unknown place to let my mother know she is okay. She asks her to describe the place she is in. All my grandmother is able to answer is: a large building, grey, grey. Moments after, a man disconnects the phone after reminding her sternly that she had been instructed not to call anyone. 

If someone asked me today to describe the place I am in, I would answer the same thing: a large building, grey, grey. The earth seems post mortem. 

Someone asks an old woman standing under a lamppost what is sadness? She answers: dreaming of Kalashnikovs made of flowers. 

Saudamini Deo, What is sadness?

The advice in my planner this morning, as I sat down at my desk with the window open, listening to the birdsong in the garden, was ‘Become less connected to the outcome and more committed to the work‘ attributed to Iman Europe. Strangely, this is something I had already been thinking about this week. I feel that stepping back a little from what was a frantic work schedule has given me the space and time to grow into my own writing. Seeing the advice in the planner felt very much like one of those fate moments in which a path that you are following is confirmed to be the right direction by something or someone stepping in to your life at just the right time. Chris and I have both been suffering with Covid this week. Not seriously, but enough to force me to spend time in bed reading rather than working. I’ve been reading Tanya Shadrick’s The Cure for Sleep and recognising parts of myself in it. Not in the parts about the journey through motherhood, though I would hope that if Matilda had lived I would have found my own way though it and grown as a person, but rather the later life revelation of the creative impulse, the casting off of what was expected in order to be something else, the falling off the cliff-of-reality sensation of death, being near death and the unrelenting truth that life is so short, not a day must be wasted somehow juxtaposed alongside the need to find a way of living slowly. I have been forced by the virus to live slowly this week, doing the bare minimum of work and then retreating to bed, propped up with pillows and surrounded by tissues and tea and books while the seagulls drifted past and the birds sang in the garden. It reminded me how much I am in need of this peace-time, and what it does for my own writing. I am a better writer when I slow down and embrace the process, rather than reaching for the end of the project.

Wendy Pratt, Permission to Rest, Read and Grow as a Writer

My third pandemic-era birthday. How am I feeling? I’m not exactly sure; I’ll admit to feeling an unease about moving in through my fifties (although: aging is far preferable to death; remember, that my long-running plan includes an eventual passing at the age of one hundred and five). And, given my fiftieth was scheduled two days after the original pandemic lockdown, I decided some time ago that I would remain in my forties until this whole period passes (it only seems fair), to only enter my fifties once this is over. To enter my fifties, as one might say, “already in-progress.” We are home, we are home, we are forever home. Staycation day #732, by my count, although Christine has begun the occasional day in the lab over the past couple of weeks (including today). The children remain in their e-learning, at least until the end of the school year. […]

My third annual                       isolation birthday. A rehearsal
of inarticulate space,

a glass, reflects. This breath by breath. Half-century, plus. A hand
between palms.

rob mclennan, today is my fifty-second birthday;

We’ve had a colder March than usual, and it’s been gray and rainy, but in fact, spring is springing around us, despite war and pandemic and other apocalypses. Jonquils and hyacinths are up, and the early plum and cherry blossoms are starting to appear. I’ve heard more birdsong; my garden, mostly still asleep, is showing signs that it is actually a garden. And how is it the Spring Equinox already? […]

I’m trying to review a poetry book for the first time in a while – Dana Levin’s Now Do You Know Where You Are, from Copper Canyon. Exercising those reviewer muscles again. The book has made me cry three times. It’s also one of those books you really need to pay attention to and read the notes at the end of the book. It’s not a book you can skim easily and that also might make it more rewarding.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Despite Everything, Spring and Solstice; Choosing an Author Photo Every Decade; and Reviews and Reading Reports

the red wind from the Sahara
had blown a fine sand as far as Blackpool
depositing it all over the paintwork of the cars
parked in the street of our boarding house

I traced my finger in wonder
through the thin rust red layer
on car after car
entranced that I was making contact
with somewhere so impossibly distant

now I know that happened once in a while
back when the weather could be trusted

Paul Tobin, WHEN THE WEATHER COULD BE TRUSTED

In these dreadful times of international crisis, it’s unsurprising that several people I’ve talked to lately have reported that they’ve been having really out-there dreams, worthy almost of the psychedelic effects in Ken Russell’s Altered States, whose star, William Hurt died yesterday. My elder son told me about a dream he had of giant vampiric lobsters. I’ve been having vivid dreams, too, exacerbated by some virulent bug which has made me achy, heady and snotty since Saturday. This morning, I woke up, strangely, with the tune and words of ‘Lunatic and Fire Pistol’, the closing song of Julian Cope’s first solo album World Shut Your Mouth (1984), spinning around my head.

Matthew Paul, On dreams, Julian Cope and John Greening

A dream during the afternoon nap. I followed a winding trail of switchbacks, going up a mountainside. It seemed like hours, and I was tired, worn out. Eventually, I scrambled through some brush and I came out onto a diving board, impossibly high up, maybe fifty feet or more from the pool of water. I was now exhausted, and almost out of breath from my asthma, but I knew I was supposed to jump. I could see a friend below, in the water, waving at me to come on. and I did. I hit the water feet first, far too hard and very fast, and though the water was deep I went straight to the bottom, and curled up on my side, and laid there with my eyes closed. How long could I stay down? I should kick off from the concrete bottom for the surface before my breath gives out. Maybe it was already too late. I opened my eyes and I was awake, in my own bed. Why did I have such a dream? Why was I climbing up? And knowing the danger, why did I jump instead of turning back? And most of all, this – how can I so easily close my eyes in one world and open them again in another? 

James Lee Jobe, A dream during the afternoon nap.

Every day on Twitter I share coffee with a woman named Yaroslava. She writes about her daily life in war-torn Ukraine, calling her diary #WarCoffee. She hopes that through the details of her disrupted life she can connect with us around the world. Yaroslava invites comments, photos of our lives, and conversation. It’s become a lively, supportive community. Join in – follow @strategywoman on Twitter.

Yaroslava wants to affirm our unity as one world. It’s an amazing account via the basics of her life—coffee, work, and the sounds of sirens, other people snoring, and families sharing small spaces.

Rachel Dacus, To Bravery – Writers in War

Wouldn’t you rather the wind wielded
its sharpest knives or that nothing but the sun
detonated its carbon into the atmosphere

Wouldn’t you rather have ordinary
death rather than terror tunnel
through the world

Have only rain and mud
mushrooms and butterflies
stir up graves in cemeteries

Luisa A. Igloria, Poem with Disregarded Sign

Today I need to get started on my Psalm of Lament for one of my seminary classes.  Here is the assignment, which is a really cool way to help us understand the assignment:

This assignment has 2 parts (Please post as ONE document): 1) Write your own lament, either individual or communal, following the structure of the lament psalm as discussed in the videos, assigned readings, and power points. There is no specified length for your lament. 2) In one paragraph, discuss why you would or would not preach from an angry lament in your ministry setting. Due Sunday, March 20 by 11:59 p.m. No attachments please. Cut and paste a previously written Word document with both parts in it.

I’ve been thinking about the assignment for days, but I feel a bit of hesitancy.  My main hesitancy is that there are so many possible laments:  climate change (it’s 70 degrees warmer than normal in Antarctica, an event which would have been declared as impossible, until it happened–see this story in The Washington Post), the pandemic, the invasion of Ukraine, various refugee crises, so many of my friends moving away, and that’s just the immediate list.

There are advantages to each one, and disadvantages too.  Part of me imagines that all of my classmates will be writing about Ukraine, so part of me wants to do something different.  But Putin is such an easy subject for a Psalm of lament–too easy?  And does climate change have an obvious enough villain?  Could my Psalm of lament ask for a planetary reset?  That’s probably not a good idea for humans, depending on how far back we go. 

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Writing a Psalm of Lament

Maria Prymachenko has stopped
making pictures.

In Kyiv, her yellows and blues
fall from the eyes
of two-headed chickens.

The shelling makes even
her eared beasts to lie down.

Things no longer go well
here. The villain speaks with
his claw of iron,
hobbling the painter’s hand.

Her canvases aflame,
the arsonist moves west,
ash just another mark
on the foreheads of soldiers.

Maureen E. Doallas, How Spring Comes in Ukraine (Poem)

We saw the big old, recently full moon last night, looking like a huge cheese wheel in the sky! Turns out, it’s the Worm Moon, according to the almanac. And it’s not really named for the earthworms that are emerging here as it turns spring, but some beetle larvae that start coming out of tree bark about now. (Read all about it here, in the Old Farmer’s Almanac!) I am happy to see the sunshine on this first day of spring, especially after a gloomy, cold day of rain. I woke up sad and heavy with dismay, my brain scattered with tasks and difficult conversations. The week ahead looms risky, with a medical procedure for my dad on Wednesday, various meetings I prepared for in advance, so I wouldn’t forget, and which I fear, nonetheless, I might forget or feel unprepared for. Is this all part of the atmosphere when spring comes? I think maybe yes. And/or that continuing suspension of time that I felt/feel during the pandemic? Is it a natural part of the aging process? I do, relentlessly, write everything down now in list form, so I can check it off—but it’s not just the satisfaction of checking things off, getting things done, it’s also the need to remember to do the things at all. Is it not all memory rooted? Is some motivation gone, some desire? Has that been lost in the mist? In the dark gray clouds that obscured the big old cheese moon last night before it hung there so yellow and weighty in the sky? I did not see the worm…turn.

Kathleen Kirk, Big Old Cheese Moon

And my father?
Cigar smoke lingers
like priestly incense.

If I can
hear his voice,
remember his laugh

he’s still here
though I can’t clasp
his hand anymore.

We remember Shabbat.
We remember our dead.
The fire does not go out.

Rachel Barenblat, Perpetual fire

It’s a lull time for me; before the real bursting forth of Spring in the garden, though each morning I see a little more green pushing out of the mulch.

Our Mallards are back, too. Two couples so far, two nests under the azaleas. Sister Patricia insists in erecting ugly orange cones on the sidewalk near each nest, though previous experience says that the ducks don’t mind out walking by.  I ignore the cones. […]

In four weeks, it will be Easter.

In the meantime, on the world stage, Russia continues to bomb Ukraine. The Ukrainians continue to suffer, and the rest of the world continues to pray and worry.

Maybe a nuclear war will come between now and Easter.

Meanwhile, the rabbits are cavorting under the full moon.

Anne Higgins, how much was mine to keep

Today marks nineteen years of continuous blogging here, and I find myself at a loss for words. Partly because it doesn’t even make sense to me that I’ve done this for that long; partly because Cassandra — like nearly everyone else — failed to predict the tragedy unfolding in the Ukraine with its huge ramifications for the world’s political future; and partly because — also like nearly everyone else — I am weary, and unable to package things up into any sort of comforting explanation or pretty picture, either for myself, or for public consumption.

But that’s all right. There are times in all of our lives when we simply have to let go of and be still, finding consolation and strength in the simplest things: a raindrop hanging on a branch; a cat playing with a ribbon; the clouds traversing the sky; damp earth emerging from the snow.

Beth Adams, 19 Years

First off, I’m excited to share that my new poetry collection, Rotura, is officially out from Black Lawrence Press. Copies can be ordered here.

I want to thank everyone who has supported me throughout the years, either by pre-ordering this latest book or has simply read a poem of mine and held space for it. This poetry thing is amazing and I’m grateful to be able to share it with so many communities and individuals. Abrazos to each of you!

I also want to thank Diane Goettel for believing in this book and for the wonderful phone call last May. We were in the middle of being forced to move (long story, oof), and hearing that the manuscript had resonated with her meant a lot amid the chaos. Thank you as well to everyone at BLP who continues to be wonderful to work with!

José Angel Araguz, Rotura released + virtual event info

Another milestone passed. The MS is off to the printer on Monday.

Today I did the last of many proof-reads, and effectively signed off on the manuscript of my new collection. We’ve scratched our heads over how to persuade Word to make prosepoems symmetrical and now it’s up to the printer. It’s all out of my hands, and I’m at the stage of staring at the text and wondering what it’s all about. It’s the stage painters know, which has gone beyond the stage of finishing a painting you’re already tired of, but has to be finished, because…well, it does. The stage of looking at what you’ve made and not quite recognising it as yours. Not exactly regretting it, but wishing it had said what it was meant to, and then accepting that ‘meaning’ is largely out of your hands once you start something, because it makes up its rules as it goes along until how it ends is inevitable, regardless of what you intended.

I suspect that what this collection is mainly about is puzzlement, written by someone on the outside, looking in, listening to a language he recognises but doesn’t quite understand, like your reflection in a train window that may just be your alter ego, looking in, wondering about you. Or like looking at a painting and wondering about the mystery that’s looking back. Or looking at moments in your own childhood and wondering if they were actually yours. No wonder that every now and again I’ll settle for looking at a bit of landscape that’s simply what it is and lets you walk about in it.

John Foggin, Pressed for time: more teasers and trailers

Small actions bring sustenance and/or joy to others. But in the pressure of everyday life, it’s possible to overlook our interconnectedness and difficult to find time to consider the purposes behind our actions.

Through “Unfurling” Alison Lock has created a series of meditative poems, exploring how giving ourselves space to press reset and re-focus our attention on what sustains us offers new inspirations and sources of creativity during a time of imposed external restrictions. Each has a prayer-like quality asking us to question and re-frame our lives to create space to consider our actions and their effect on the world around us.

Emma Lee, “Unfurling” Alison Lock (Palewell Press) – book review

Once upon a recent walk, I picked up from a Free Little Library a fragile, yellowing paperback entitled “American Verse from the Colonial Days to the Present.” Until recently, I haven’t been able to actually read it due to the glasses situation being so out of whack and the book’s print being so tiny and faded, but alas! I have finally been able to peruse some of the amazing work in the book and I have been discovering a lot of poets that I knew little to nothing about, Sidney Lanier being the one I shall discuss here, and specifically, his poem “The Marshes of Glynn.” Why everyone on the planet is not intimately familiar with “The Marshes of Glynn” is a crime and a tragedy. It’s a jaw-dropping, epic poem of pure genius and I can’t believe this is the first I’ve heard of it.

Sidney Lanier was born in 1842 in Macon, Georgia. He was as equally fond of music as poetry, and enormously talented at both. Unfortunately, his life was cut short at the age of 39 due to a long battle with tuberculosis, which he contracted after being captured and imprisoned during the Civil War. However, he left behind a significant body of work, including his most famous poem, “The Marshes of Glynn.” It’s a work of spiritually and passion, a love letter to nature, and, I believe, quite possibly an inspiration to some of Walt Whitman’s later work.

Reading “The Marshes of Glynn,” it is apparent that Lanier was musician in his soul. “Marshes” reads like a symphony, with long, sweeping passages that reach dramatic heights, then slowly ratchet down until climbing back up again into grand, crashing crescendos. Lanier uses repetition and pacing in the same way that a musician does, slowing and speeding the work to reflect his deep emotions tied to the marshes—feelings of ecstasy and joy, the soothing of despair, and a deep, boundary-less connection to nature.

Kristen McHenry, Poem Review: The Marshes of Glynn by Sidney Lanier

The following is the seventh in a series of brief interviews in which one Terrapin poet interviews another Terrapin poet, one whose book was affected by the Pandemic. The purpose of these interviews is to draw some attention to these books which missed out on book launches and in-person readings. Ann Fisher-Wirth talks with Christine Stewart-Nuñez about book organization, marriage to another creative person, motherhood and poetry, and being a state Poet Laureate.

Ann Fisher-Wirth: In one poem toward the end of The Poet & the Architect, “Map and Meaning,” you write of the difficulty of learning to make “one’s own map” rather than relying on the maps created by others, and you say that the map you eventually created “marked the spirals of stops along my path.” The book itself is structured into four “Rings,” and each section page that announces a new ring has a little drawing of a spiral. So I’d like to invite you to tell us about spirals. What do they signify to you, both in organizing this book and—perhaps—in organizing the “map” of your life?

Christine Stewart-Nuñez: I’m so glad you asked about the spiral! It’s long been a symbol I’ve used. I kept some of my writing from grade school, and spirals abound in the margins of that saved work. Even now, I use the symbol to show “insight” when I’m annotating the margins of a text. In The Poet & The Architect, besides existing as an image in some of the poems, it also serves as an organizational strategy. The spiral helped me conceptualize how poems could return to earlier themes, picking up images introduced in those poems and broadening or expanding them. I decided to start each ring with the most intimate poems and move outward from there. For example, the first poems are short and set both spatially and temporally before the meeting of the poet and the architect. Next the poems move outward from the intimacy of new coupledom to establishing a family and experiencing life together. “Credo,” which employs syllabic lines based on fractal integers, gathers fractal images from life, nature, and architecture, and ends the book with an invocation of time and space in a much broader context. I think ultimately the spiral captures my sense of time—moving forward yet reaching back to a central core. For example, “Credo” ends by connecting the birth of my son Xavier, the death of my sister Theresa, and divine light.

Diane Lockward, Terrapin Books Interview Series: Ann Fisher-Wirth Interviews Christine Stewart-Nuñez

A bunch of years ago, BFF Jill Crammond introduced me to Emergency Brake by Ruth Madievsky, and I was hooked immediately. I wrote about the collection in 2020, digging into some of what the book and its poems do and calling Madievsky’s use of language “next-level playful.” Her poems bust at the seams with wild imagery and imaginative phrasing.

Turn after turn, her lines surprise me as a reader. And as a poet? I find myself fawning over the work with the highest-of-all poet compliments: “I wish I’d written that!” A review of Emergency Brake in Prairie Schooner calls Madievsky’s poems “bracing yet raucous, vicious yet whimsical,” and a Waxwing review says, “Madievsky creates episodes of surprising disjunctive association and beauty.”

While some of this talent is likely natural to “metaphor maker par excellence” Madievsky (Jill is similarly gifted, btw!), I do believe that learning to trust our own strangeness in our writing is a skill we can develop. So let’s practice! Using some Madievsky poems I really love, I’ve crafted three poetry prompts to get us started.

Carolee Bennett, 3 poetry prompts inspired by poems from ruth madievsky

It’s been a long time since I attended a convention, concert, or any large event. Thanks to covid, longer than usual. This year, I’m braving the Association of Writers & Writing Programs’ annual conference–in person, next week–since it’s being held near me, in Philadelphia, this time. Never one for large crowds or rooms full of strangers, given my natural inclination to internalize or curl up in a corner with a book, I have nevertheless attended AWP in the past and have found it supplies me with creative energy in the form of writers I need to read, intellectual ideas I want to explore, and reasons to keep writing. […]

Meanwhile, the month of March does its typical lunge and feint, volt, and passe arriere as it heads toward springtime…I never know what to expect, weather-wise. Today: mild and almost 70 F. I’m hoping we get a string of 50-degree days that permit some garden preparation. But then again, that’s always what I hope for in March.

Ann E. Michael, Conventional

It’s been a packed week, but also kind of a splendid one. I feel more connected to literary people again–and more conscious of how much the first pandemic year, especially, disconnected us.

I returned from a good conference last Sunday to visit with the wonderful poet January Gill O’Neil, who talked to my class the next day and gave a terrific public reading. We had some good conversations not only about poetry itself but ambition, publishing, and publicity. Then on Thursday I spoke on a panel at the Virginia Festival of the Book in Charlottesville with Cliff Garstang and Sharon Harrigan. The theme was “Uncertainty in Literary Fiction,” and after the logistics of parking and an on-site Covid test, I thoroughly enjoyed the conversation–AND signing a pile of copies of Unbecoming for strangers, which hasn’t happened much in the last two years. Afterward I had dinner with Jan Beatty, long a poetry-crush of mine, and the next day I drove back to C’ville to see old friend Sara Robinson read from her latest collection with Hiram Larew. The loss of my mother last year made me more aware that our opportunities to support each other are not endless. Afterward Chris and I dined on a restaurant patio, enjoying the near-spring balminess.

Those were all highs. I felt like a writer again, reintegrating that part of myself with being a teacher and advisee and committee leader (sigh) and tired secret striver. Now I’m getting my head and my bags together for the AWP convention, this year in Philadelphia, which can be a great gathering but also a challenging one, logistically and sometimes emotionally. I’m participating in more events than I remember doing in the misty past.

Lesley Wheeler, Differently to #AWP22

During a poetry walk led by Steve Ely for our local arts’ week last Sunday morning, I produced the photo haiku above. It’s a while since I participated in this sort of poetry event and it was good to see some familiar faces again, and to hear Steve’s take on the local landscape. However, listening to poetry on the walk, and then at a reading the following evening, made me realise how far away from that sort of poetry I’d moved (given that I almost exclusively read and write haiku now). This is not a complaint, simply an observation. I enjoy words in a different way these days: they need to be less involved with the imagination and more connected to things, more in touch with the surroundings. And I need to feel that connection too. Walking helps. I do it daily, and would probably do more and go further if work/ life didn’t get in the way. I’ve been reading Santoka recently. I admire his dedication to the act of walking, of going forward, following the philosophy of ‘step by step, you arrive’. He spent years on the road; I’m lucky if I spend an hour and a half walking in any one given day. He bedded down in rented rooms of varying degrees of discomfort, whereas I can return to the comfort of my own home.

Julie Mellor, low water

What if, as has happened to me, you’ve read a poem, and you think, wow, that’s brilliant (or some more literary response than that) and then you find out the poet is really not the great person you hoped they’d be (or worse). Yes, people you may not like can actually write poems that you do like. Except now you know what the poet’s like, it’s ruined the poem for you (probably an exaggeration). I’m not suggesting this article on Larkin would have that effect. Whether you like or dislike Larkin’s poems or the man, such as you know anything about him from what you’ve read – and don’t forget biographies (and autobiographies) are selective/subjective too – this new ‘fact’ is, at the very least, likely to prove a distraction when reading the poems. Is that a good thing? 

You will gather I don’t have the answers to these questions. I don’t think anyone has. It’s up to the individual, probably, to decide. But therein lies the difficulty – because people will often write or talk as if their view is right, rather than a suggestion, and also give you information that you didn’t necessarily want (because it’s impossible to completely block out this information – sorry). And, clearly, all of this can affect not just how you read a poem, but how you write one too.  

Sue Ibrahim, How do you read a poem?

This is a really fascinating and excellent response by Sue Ibrahim to some of the questions raised by that article about Larkin I posted about, and it’s something that I’ve been thinking about a lot for a couple of days, mainly because I’m planning for my first readings in a long, long time.

I generally say a few words in introduction to each poem, but it is very hard to hit the right balance, I think. I’m very wary of leading the listener to approach a poem in a particular way, or giving them too much background information, but there are some where I think you need to give the listener/reader a way in.

I once saw a relatively well-known UK poet read (a writer whose work I like a lot), and their introductions started to become explicit instructions for understanding the poems, which rather ruined them for me. It was down, I think, to nervousness as much as anything else, but it’s something to be avoided. Similarly, I haven’t read a great deal about the lives of poets, or at least not until long after I’ve read their work.

Matt Merritt, How we read and listen

My days usually start now with freelance writerly things in the first few hours and editing/design work in the afternoons. While I’ve sold art & design & book things online for years, this whole getting paid to write thing is a delight and something I’ve never felt, so it’s extra exciting that I get to do it. That I can do it. That someone actually, you know, wants to give me money for doing something that almost feels like breathing. Something I want to do anyway. That is entirely new. Somewhere there is a lesson here for writers about valuing your work and the things you are able to do that not everyone else, at least non-writers, can.

Kristy Bowen, writers and value

All of my work the past few years is integrated with a kind of field-guide observational relationship with nature. From wasps to telomeres. My approach to nature isn’t Romantic, rather a method to “ground” the lyric expression in a larger context. 

I want to flip the metaphor relationship of the lyric poem: human experience is the vehicle, and what we consider the “natural world” is the tenor. It is an attempt to move away from an anthropocentric view. 

*

What is horrific is natural. Nature is horrific. Yes, there is the deer in the grove. And there is the blacklegged tick on the neck of the deer in the grove. And in the gut of that tick, the Borrelia burgdorferi move through the tick’s body.

There is a reason designers look to the tiny elements of the natural world when creating their monsters.

Ren Powell, Brooding on (Art) Forms

I’m writing to you from in the company of the black dog. This is fine. In the words of Simon and Garfunkel, “I have my books and my poetry to protect me.” A lot of it comes from pure old grief, and we know these days, that grieving takes many forms, comes from a lot of places, and that loss compounds loss. The hierarchy of grief is such that the black dog cares not which rung. My griefs, I know, are relatively small, and the collective grief of the world is large. Still, I invite it in. […]

Things I’m thinking about this morning: the architecture of the soul, photography and witness, Rilke’s line, “you must change your life,” Larkin’s “what will survive of us is love,” Lispector’s “each of us is responsible for the world,” Zagajewski’s “try to praise the mutilated world,” Cixous’s “whoever says: I am alone breaks the solitude and affirms it by this act of speech,” Dufy’s “some days, although we cannot pray, a prayer utters itself,” Pessoa’s “to be great, be whole: don’t exaggerate or leave out any part of you.” I could go on. The line at the center of my novel Rumi and the Red Handbag, is “what are you going through?” and I’m thinking a lot about that one too.

In John O’Donohue’s book Beauty, he reminds us of the words by Pascal: “In difficult times you should always carry something beautiful in your mind.”

Shawna Lemay, On Practice, Poetry, and On Always Carrying Something Beautiful in Your Mind

Meanwhile, on the other side of eternity, death is thumbing through the latest clothing catalog; it’s getting tired of wearing black.

As for the rest of us, the price of living keeps going up each day while the value of human life declines.

Such is the mathematics of humanity, always an odd number in the bunch where things don’t divide up evenly.

All the more reason for a Noah’s ark of the heart—two of everything divine.

Rich Ferguson, Humanity’s Mathematics

How differently we might respond to TS Eliot’s groundbreaking poem if he had stayed with his first title, ‘He do the police in different voices.’ And how different our experience would have been if Ezra Pound hadn’t encouraged Eliot to thin the first draft by almost half. Twenty seven writers have been meeting regularly on zoom to unravel Eliot’s notoriously ‘difficult’ poem and prepare a day of readings and discussion for the centenary of its publication in 1922. Sue Boyle traces their challenging journey and talks about the exciting multi-media performance piece which has evolved from their collaborative work.Sue Boyle

As one of those twenty seven writers, I have been immersed in Eliot’s poem and in our responses to it for months. Much of my recent writing relates to it, directly or indirectly.

The calypso singers are still laughing but the fishermen have thrown down their flowers

And in the captain’s tower
are the poets still at war
Eliot and Pound
turning a line around
deleting a stanza here
adding a fragment there
fine-tuning the sound 
while the great ship goes down?

Ama Bolton, The Waste Land Revisited

“Truth is not born nor is it to be found inside the head of an individual person, it is born between people collectively searching for truth, in the process of their dialogic interaction.”  Mikhail Bakhtin, Russian literary critic and philosopher 

Today, as crocus are pushing up their thorny heads and shells of war continue fall, I want to raise the flag of Mikhail Bakhtin. Bakhtin and his theory of multiple voices to the rescue!  Bakhtin as Chief Negotiator at the table!  Bakhtin with not one ear but several ears to hear. 

Bakhtin, who knows that the space of dialog is fragile and is annihilated in the rush to annihilate an opponent. Bakhtin, who suggests bringing a humanity to words rather than make a fetish of them.

In quiet moment, whether it is precious pause in an argument or blank space between text, an incipient melody will begin to form in my head.  I start to translate it with my fleshy voice.  Others will pick up a bar, a thread, will hum, together within the hour we will have created a song.   National anthem: Bakhtin!

Jill Pearlman, Standing with Bakhtin

Sometimes you only have to
say a line and that’s enough,
the old monk told the poet.

Tom Montag, TEN OLD MONK POEMS (59)

is the dreamlessness inside me visible :: to those who will never be

Grant Hackett [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 10

Poetry Blogging Network

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

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


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

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

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

Rajani Radhakrishnan, They said

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

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

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

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

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

Ren Powell, What We Take Into Account

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

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

Beth Adams, Day by Day

Palm trees in El Paso
are haloed in snow

rarer in mid-March
than the Russian tanks

bombarding a Mariupol shoe
factory, the psychiatric

hospital, a maternity ward,
apartments emptying to

missiles. A hotel sauna,
a subway — deep space

underground — targeted
humanitarian corridors

hemmed with smoking autos,
plastic bags and rolling

luggage left behind.

Maureen Doallas, Late Winter (Poem)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matt Merritt, I’m back (again)

s l o w l y
lowering the volume
thick snow

Jason Crane, haiku: 10 March 2022

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

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

Shawna Lemay, Even an Angel Needs Rest

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

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

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

Rachel Barenblat, Marvin Wolfe Barenblat z”l

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

Ann E. Michael, Synthesis

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

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

Dale Favier, Sweet and Low

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

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

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

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

Courtney LeBlanc, AWP 2022

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

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

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

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

Gerry Stewart, A Way to Help Ukraine: Poetry Anthology

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

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

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

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

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Food Pantry Portents

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

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

Luisa A. Igloria, War Stories

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

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

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

Matthew Stewart, Writing out of who we are

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

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

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

Carolee Bennett, “luckily for margaret”

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

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

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

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

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

James Lee Jobe, the inescapable ‘I’ poems

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

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

Lesley Wheeler, Fairy monster godmother gets the chair

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

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

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

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

Michael S. Begnal, On Kerouac’s Centennial

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

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

If my nerves were sturdier,

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

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

if I didn’t like to kick off my boots

and the Ultimate Fight weren’t your morning caffeine,

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

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

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

Jill Pearlman, Armageddon Blues

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kristy Bowen, hermit life and abroad

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

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

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

Paul Tobin, A VAST CITY INSIDE YOUR HEAD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rich Ferguson, On the War of the Week Channel

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

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

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

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

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

Scot Slaby, Wagging news doggerel

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

Ama Bolton, Lines from my Twitter feed #2

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

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

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

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

Laura Grace Weldon, Peace In Action

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

Tom Montag, TEN OLD MONK POEMS (57)

baffled
along the long groynes
the sea’s roar

Jim Young [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, 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 found poets, like almost everyone else, glued to the news as Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine. But there were still books to read and write, writing problems to ponder, and causes for celebration, however muted. And spring might or might not be just around the corner.


When I say it’s a sunny day, what I mean is it’s raining frogs.

When I say it’s quiet outside, what I mean is, isn’t that the sound of Nero’s fiddle?

When I say everything will be OK, what I mean is, it looks like history is practicing its blindfolded, knife-throwing trick again.

When I say, listen to the world sing in the key of life, what I meant is, our earth is moaning a vertigo blues that sends our souls reeling.

When I say I do my best to look on the bright side of life, what I mean to say is, there are days when my inner child should be named Dostoyevsky.

Rich Ferguson, When the Truth Serum Hadn’t Completely Kicked In

We made friends with several Ukrainian folks when my husband worked there years ago. We keep in touch; ever since the seizure of Crimea in 2014, we have been worried despite our friends’ apparent unconcern. But life was normal. On Monday, Y. called to discuss a recent job offer; should she take the position with a big corporation? On Thursday, she called at 9 pm (pre-dawn in Kyiv) to say she could hear bombing over the city and was thinking of hiding in the woods near her suburban house.

Now, she’s trying to get to Poland.

What rattles me is the way this reminds me of September 11, 2001, when things were initially so mundane and typical and then…not.

Here’s a poem from a visit we made to Lavra-Kiev in more peaceful, warmer, sunnier times. May such times return to all of us, and soon: https://aboutplacejournal.org/issues/the-future-of-water/praise/ann-michael/

Ann E. Michael, What war does

Everything I’ve looked at since yesterday has been through
the idea of a fistful of seeds buried deep in a pocket

We too will lie down and wherever we are, bodies
could turn into flowers without need of permission

Names are so beautiful said in their first tongues
Everywhere, their sounds fill shelters and trains

They should be heard like bells or prayers,
outside in a square filled with sunlight and trees

Luisa A. Igloria, February

Those of you who are students of history could not be unaware of the parallels to WWI and WWII right now – the financial instability, the crazed dictator and his alliance with an equally sketchy country or two, the global pandemic and war stresses at the very same time, and the stubborn slowness of the US government’s response to both pandemic and war. You know Woodrow Wilson never even publicly addressed the 1918 flu, despite the deaths of one out of every ten Americans from it and he actively increased infection by shipping infected young soldiers around in too-close quarters? Did you know most Americans didn’t want to help Europe in WWII, despite so much evidence that Hitler was a monster and committing heinous crimes – and that we refused refugees’ applications to enter the US, especially of Jewish people, even Anne Frank? (True fact!)

And despite all of this alarming information, the birds are singing louder, the flowers are starting to show their willingness to bloom despite temperamental weather. I feel like I should be tougher, more resilient, like the flowers. My body betrays me – lying awake, uneasy dreams when I do finally get an hour or two of sleep – the fevers, dark circles, nails splitting and a nagging cough. My body knows things are really not okay, no matter what meditation apps I use, or deep breathing exercises I try, or cures of tea, soup, and vitamins.

In the unease of the end of February, let’s hope for a better spring – easing up of pandemic death rates, an end to Putin’s ambitious power grabs (and China’s eyeing of Taiwan in the background) that put the entire globe out of balance – a time when we can once again see our friends and family, that America defends its allies and welcomes refugees from despots. The hope that my doctors can help sort out the haywire immune system problems that keep me from living the life I want. If I can banish the discouragement brought on by plague, and war threats, the political strife in America – maybe I can write more poems. Even if the poems can’t bring peace and health to the planet, or even bring an end to my insomnia.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A Week of Insomnia, the Threat of Nuclear War and Ukraine Heartbreak, Spring Approaches but with Record Cold and Snow (plus bobkitten!)

If you want to start a world war,
do something stupid and keep doing it,
the old monk said.

Tom Montag, IN THE NEWS

There is a video on the news: Putin dressing down the head of his own foreign intelligence service. I don’t know that I have ever seen a man so terrified.

And I don’t know that I am not reading something into the video. I am not sure who would qualify as an “expert” in body language. And I would not claim that, but after teaching movement for stage (body language) for more than 20 years, I would say I have consciously observed enough to be justified going with my gut feeling here.

I wish I weren’t. I wish I could unsee the fear. Because now it is in my own body. Mirror neurons and all that.

Today I want to work on a particular poem sequence with erasure that is part of the wasp project. I feel guilty for turning back to such a personal subject matter.

And my body is completely confused. The mirror neurons set in motion. The image of Putin, leaning back, sighing, chuckling. It brings up memories of helplessness that my body can not sort, or shake off. The hide-under-the-desk drills, the step-father cleaning his gun…

Again, my doctor’s words (recklessly paraphrased): no matter the veracity of the details of the narrative, the emotions are real.

The neurons record. So maybe I can keep my head down in a small bubble of time and space and trust that my personal little project is still universal.

Then I can look up and take in what I can of the world here and now. Weaving, sewing myself in and out of the fabric of community?

That life isn’t an either/or of the individual and the community – it is a messy and very unregulated, self-deceiving geothermal pool. In the shadow of a volcano.

Ren Powell, In the Shadow of a Volcano

I sit with a flask of coffee on the edge of the wood where
the wounded tramp the by-ways, where
the left-behind pause at a milestone.
There are those who walk a thousand miles
from here to nowhere and back again.
The earth can take you into itself.
Pass down the hill, a prayer can’t hurt.
Stamp out the frost from your toes,
stamp out clumsy words, regretted.
Bitterness, perhaps. No, not really.
An echo: I’m not that hard to find.
I wish you would find me.
Nothing lasts for long, oh that old line.
An echo: a siren, an explosion. And another.

Bob Mee, FEBRUARY 24, 2022

–Periodically throughout the day yesterday, I looked at the brilliant blue sky with its beautiful cloud sculptures.  I thought of ICBMs and wondered where Russia has them pointed these days.  I can still sing all the words to Sting’s “Russians,” or at least the refrain.  Does Putin have children?  Can you imagine having Putin as your dad?

–My friend sent me this message:  “I wish I could come over and we could have tea and bake things and not be in wwIII”; I responded, “I can arrange tea and baking but there may only be 1 man who can help with the decision not to go towards WWIII–and I don’t think Putin shares our love of tea and baking.”  I spent the rest of the day thinking about tea and scones with Putin and remembering a different song composed by Sting, “Tea in the Sahara.”  

–My friend and I also shared an interesting exchange about women in previous world wars, plucky women in war rooms, and what would that look like today?

–I thought about electromagnetic pulses and all the ways our data can be destroyed.  I asked my spouse if we should take a screen shot of our bank balance page, print it out, and save it.  My spouse told me about the special nuclear weapon that Russia has that will do something to the stratosphere and wipe out humanity immediately.  I said, “So I’m hearing you say we don’t need to bother printing proof of our bank balance?”

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, On the First Day of a Land War in Europe

What is colder than sadness? What if that sharp bulbul cry is
not song, just wretched swearing at the sky? Awake so far

ahead of dawn, I have already bargained for a thing you
would call happiness with a thing you wouldn’t call god.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Awake

All I want on a Sunday morning is to
luxuriate in my laziness. I want to watch
old movies with the volume turned up loud,
the newspaper crackling as I shift my supine
body on the couch, the words of duplicitous
politicians and photos of narcissistic socialites
mashed under my ass.

I want to gaze out my window where heat
rises on the street like steam from a gumbo
pot while I lie, cool as a nectar cream snowball,
in my Maggie The Cat slip, painting my toenails
a color called Bad Influence.

Charlotte Hamrick, A Poem for Liz

Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, mixed marriage of the ardent.  Tolstoy the pacifist, the vegetarian, the disciplinarian who insisted that Levin (Anna K) thresh his fields.  Only fools would grab sabres, run to kill others, with great faith and grandeur, to save fellow Slavs.  In August, subvert nature and its harvest, let villages starve while sending villagers to fight long-distance wars? Dostoevsky livid, he wanted to take Constantinople.

Tools required: nimble minds.  Torah students must argue 70 interpretations, fully inhabiting each point of view.  After diving into the kinks, pits, ears, and flesh of each angle, they reject most.  But they hold the key. They have recovered unknown faces.

Jill Pearlman, Mixed Marriages

I forgot to tell you
this is not a film.

When the bodies of two men
were washed out on a shore.

When tanks rolled over
a school yard.

When borders opened
for some people.

When forty years
became four days.

When I stopped giving
promises to my son.

When the morning light
took me hostage.

Out of mercy.

Magda Kapa, Not a Film

When the USSR, which just existed for us  as a big pink blob on all the school maps, shattered into other colored, smaller blobs when I was a teenager, I remember noting it briefly and being a little relieved that all my childhood bedtime fretting was much less of a threat.  There were other threats, but they seemed less large and looming over the midwest. My high school AP Bio teacher, who was responsible for the environmental fervor that drove me toward studying marine bio and various snippets of wisdom (including why sex was pleasurable from an evolutionary stance, because otherwise we’d all rather nap and eat donuts,  which was a shocking revelation to a bunch of 11th Graders) off handedly one day talked about war and starvation and how any country (though he meant Russia) could be starving and wave their weapons around threatening the rest of the world unless we helped them. I had a couple years not fearing nuclear war, but there it was again..because the weapons didn’t just vanish. They were still tucked soundly in their silos, sleeping, getting faster and more powerful in the intervening 30 years. They’ve been there all along.

A couple years later, in college, I remember reading about how Emily Dickinson is notable for barely, in her work, in her letters, talking about the Civil War. Sure, Amherst was far from the Mason-Dixon line, but people usually say that she was disengaged from the world in isolation.  At the time, I thought, how sheltered and privileged.  The older I get, the more I understand the need for shelter sometimes for mental health. For turning away from things you do not have control of. Some people, mostly soft bellied Millennials and Z-ers are freaked out, rightfully so.  Many of the X-ers have danced this dance before and are no more worried or less than we were as children. The internet means it’s much more raw than the drone of the 6 o’clock news of our childhoods. Some say, there is always war somewhere. Someone is always in crisis, it’s just on a larger scale and with bigger weapons than usual. 

I float somewhere in between, my X-er shell uncrackable, but a tiny sense of panic underneath the ice..  The problem is my panic is all used up after two years of Covid, so I don’t think my energy reserves are big enough to truly freak out. Again, I am tired of living through history–through big things like wars and deadly pandemics and whatever other atrocities dominate the news. I just want some quiet. I’ve also been thinking about my nightly viewing of Reign, all those European countries just fighting over nothing and conquering things to conquer them. Men and their endless warmongering and male toxicity.  It might be time for a complete news hiatus. (which also means a social media hiatus, because things like Facebook are as troubling as the news for doomscrolling. ) 

Kristy Bowen, the poets, when we talk about war

what do you want now
you have everything in the world
pussy cat

Jim Young [no title]

Writing pals — I noticed how my tiny terrier is almost always curled up touching my foot or arm as I write. Do you have a furry, feathery, or finny writing companion? Mine is named Terry, and she’s almost always curled up next to my leg.

Creative people spend a lot of time alone. I think the silent, soothing presence of another being is a spur to imagination. It feels to me that I’m telling my stories to my dog as I type. I write on a laptop most often, on a couch or in bed. Yes, I’m one of those people who has to have her feet up to think!

Terry always has to be nearby, though sometimes she chooses an adjacent couch to mine. I find myself reaching over to give her a cuddle when I’ve finished a passage or a page of writing. As if to comfort us both that this story is progressing.

On Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, I see so many writers posting pictures of pets! And those photos give me inspiration and heart too. It’s as if we’re all in a large space, silent together, fingers tapping, pets breathing and circling or sleeping nearby. A community of beings who don’t need to speak while we’re — ironically — speaking.

Rachel Dacus, Dogs, cats, birds, and writers — a love story

I won’t try to play it cool and tell you I was happy but not surprised. Nope, I full-on screamed with unexpected joy! All day I had been prepping myself to cry and feel disappointed but instead tears of joy leaked out my eyes as I danced around the room and my dogs jumped around me in excitement. (They are sweet but simple dogs so if I’m excited, they’re excited without understanding why. Just one reason I love them so much!) I then called my husband at the office (I still work from home most of the time) and screamed in his ear. Then I called my sister and screamed in her ear. Basically, there was a lot of screaming and dancing in my house that afternoon.

Courtney LeBlanc, Screaming Again

After a tricky ten days, it was a real boost to hear that I had won First Prize in the ‘Wee Collection’ Challenge, set last November by Mark Davidson of the Hedgehog Poetry Press. This means that my sequence of seven interlinked sonnets will be published as a slim pamphlet. 

Watch this space!  

In other news, I very much enjoyed taking part in the ACW-Trellis online poetry day last Saturday. Participating poets came from England, Scotland, Ireland, France and Albania. I read ‘Dunwich in Winter’ from my 2021 collection, Driftwood by Starlight (The Seventh Quarry Press).

Caroline Gill, First Prize (Publication)

here is the field guide to being complete,
the instructions that have been so needed
for so very long.
touch the rocks,
touch the afterbirth of the calf,
call out across the crust of the icy fields.
monosyllabic,
sewn to the underbelly of trees.

James Lee Jobe, being taller than all of the short people in the world

If you’re human, odds are you’re finding it hard to concentrate right now.

It’s hard to settle in. (Understatement). Maybe we’re not supposed to settle in. I’m flitting from book to book, from Twitter to Instagram, from post to post, poem to poem. I don’t have answers; I’m looking for hope. I’m looking for wisdom. I don’t wish for consolation even, but evidence of deep thinking. Evidence of the human and the humane. […]

I said I was reading things but not wanting necessarily to be consoled. But I do admit that I generally read Charles Wright to be consoled. He sits in his backyard, his voice drawls soft and steady, but he tells it like it is:

“The world is dirty and dark.
Who thought that words were salvation?”

“We wait for the consolation of the commonplace,
the belt of light to buckle us in.
We wait for the counterpart,
the secretive music
That only we can hear, or we think that only we can hear.”

Shawna Lemay, It’s Hard to Concentrate Right Now

we unfold the sofa-bed
and curl up downstairs
visitors in our own home

the moon stares blindly
between the curtains
night holds its breath

I wake at 5.15
to a blackbird’s song
in the calm before dawn

at 7.25 a long sigh
passes through the sycamores
like a foreboding

Ama Bolton, Eunice

In the “back on” of my poetry life, I have 1) submitted some poems 2) researched and prepared some other submissions, and 3) looked again at a chapbook manuscript I will probably submit in March. Everything feels slow…but at exactly the right pace. Meanwhile, the poetry notebook continues to fill up with drafts, including a recent one based on a nightmare (morning mare) that I call “Scary America” in my mind (and in the notebook) but which I realize was premonitory, as in one day in advance of Putin’s actual attack on Ukraine, which had been looming darkly in my brain as well as the news. The dream was like a juxtaposition of the June 6 insurrection in the USA if it had continued into an overthrow of our government + the Russia/Ukraine situation. I feel further and weirdly connected, as my Life Sucks character Babs was of Ukrainian ancestry.

Kathleen Kirk, Back On

The gods will ask me
did I do right by what resides
in all the lavish desert—for the lizard’s eyesight,
for Coyote
who dissolves into the bush?
For the disgraced
night sky, mottled with a light that isn’t hers.

And I will say, it wasn’t love as I have known it.
Instead it was a falling in.
A disability of love.
I could do nothing
but paint the nothing I became.

Kristen McHenry, The Artist

Since my first full collection, The Knives of Villalejo, back in 2017, I’ve had perhaps my most fruitful period ever in terms of placing new poems in high-quality journals. In fact, I’ve published a total of 44 poems in outlets such as The Spectator, The New European, Stand, Acumen, Poetry Birmingham, Wild Court, etc, etc.

However, in that same period, absolutely everything I’ve submitted via Submittable has been rejected – a total of 31 batches of poems, all declined. Why? What might the reasons be?

Of course, one immediate reason may be that more people submit to journals via Submittable than via other means, while another suggestion might be that many of the most prestigious mags use Submittable. Oh, and an additional option is that younger editors tend to work with the platform, and my poems are less to their taste. Nevertheless, I do believe that I’ve accumulated a pretty decent and broad list of credits elsewhere (see above) during that same period.

What’s my point? What potential conclusions could be drawn? Well, I’d argue that the use of Submittable is extremely detrimental to the type of poetry I write. It favours work that catches a superficial eye rather than poems that layer their effects with subtlety. This isn’t to knock editors’ decisions, just a reflection on the way Submittable potentially skews their choices. Do you agree? If so, is the use of Submittable changing the poetry some people write and subsequently read? Is this a change for the better…?

Matthew Stewart, Poetry submissions via Submittable

That morning
Dad asked where you are
three times.
Each time I answered
I watched him lose you again.

Magnified and sanctified,
I whispered in Aramaic.
My horse’s ears twitched.
The mourning doves
murmured amen.

Rachel Barenblat, Trail

Effective music is not the words, it’s the intervals between the notes, how the notes are made: plunk or draw, hum or tatat. I’ve mentioned this before. Music has an emotional narrative made up of tension and relief, just as a story does, or a poem. I once tried to write a poem using just sounds to communicate an emotion. I don’t know if the poem worked, but it was a fun project.

And of course choice of words should be governed not only by meaning, significations, suggestions, but also sound, as we word-ers go about our poem-making. I think I do this intuitively, but it’s useful to be reminded.

Some words weigh more than others, sonically. “Indubitably” is going to do something different in so many ways than “yup.” (Now I want to write a poem that uses both…) I read a poem recently that was drunk on the short i sound of “if,” making use of something of its uncertainty, its effort toward something. There’s something certain about the landing in a word like “jump,” the satisfying ump signifying you’ve stuck the landing, versus “leap,” which even though ends in a p (as all falling things land) the eeee sound takes you out into the air, that silent a like your open mouth, your wide eyes. There’s a p coming, but how long, how far away? eeeee

Marilyn McCabe, Singin’ la la la; or, On Music and Poetry

lung wrecked in the wing back chair
my father was marooned in his house

he rewatched the programmes
he did not like the first time round

told me that there was a certain
safety in knowing what comes next

Paul Tobin, LUNG WRECKED

Of course, Ukraine has been on my mind lately, like it has been on everyone’s mind. Yesterday, someone on my Facebook feed posted a field recording of an old Ukrainian woman singing. I was very struck by the song and her haunting voice as well as by her powerful presence. However, the thing that struck me the most was her hands: strong, thick and always moving as she sang. They were very expressive: a life, emotions, age, strength. So, I made this video using two of my poems which I feel relate to loss, strength, war,  grief and love; I feel like they connect to a sense of what is happening now.

I used a close-up of this singer’s hands in this video as well as introducing other visual elements. The music is a remix that I did (adding various clarinets and saxophones plus a bunch of electronics) to a recording of a rehearsal which my sister-in-law Pam Campbell sent me of her singing with her group Tupan. 

Gary Barwin, A Singer’s Hands

I’m bothered by the abrupt shift from a protective warmth to the skin of a boat in icy seas, which morph into a harbour where the last ferry  pulses and slide like a birthday cake off the plated sea. Every one of the phrases rings true, but belong in different places in space and history. I can make connections with the typical folk-tale of a man who steals a female selkie’s skin, finds her naked on the sea shore, and compels her to become his wife, and how the wife will spend her time in captivity longing for the sea, her true home.  She may bear several children by her human husband, but once she discovers her skin, she will immediately return to the sea and abandon the children she loved. But then I have to connect that with what well may be an Orkney harbour, a CalMac ferry, the shimmering bodies, the skintight suit that may (or may not) be a diver’s wet suit. Everything is real and baffling. And everything is precisely placed, filmic. I love it. Just don’t ask me to explain it. I keep coming up with different answers.

John Foggin, My kind of poetry: Marion Oxley’s “In the taxidermist’s house”

The prose poems in We Are Hopelessly Small and Modern Birds are curiously built, with each stanza-block existing as a single breath, a single thought, composing a semi-ongoing narrative amid lyric bursts. Through a lyric of surreal narratives, Lefsyk’s poem offer a story that exists in a shimmering dream-state, shifting in and out of focus. “OCCASIONALLY,” she writes, to open a poem early on in the collection, “OUR APARTMENT COMPLEX floats out to sea. As it was, Kant and I had our noses somewhere in the distance. ‘Most likely there is no meaning in things,’ Kant says. ‘Or only in the ultimate logic of certain animal forms and avian noises.’ // For this reason my bones feel like the small broken bones of a very tiny goldfish.” Set in five sections with an opening salvo, a poem-as-dedication “for and after FEDERICO GARCİA LORCA,” her narrator speaks from a ward and of doctors, dentists, husbands and philosophers in poems composed out of a kind of easy-flowing, clear and liquid motion. As well, there is something interesting about the way she writes of the body and the self, the narrator writing from a perspective that verges on primal, seen through a surreal lens. “IF I WERE A WIFE and a mother I would be a wife and a mother.” she writes, mid-way through the collection. “All my children say: ‘Build me,’ but the son takes my pelvis and runs it through the supermarket. // I go into and out of this supermarket whenever I want.” After having gone through this collection, I’m genuinely curious to find out what she’s been working on since.

rob mclennan, Sara Lefsyk, We Are Hopelessly Small and Modern Birds

Heather Swan: David, your book, Years Beyond the River, is filled with such a wide array of specific language describing the plants and animals in the landscapes you inhabit. Did you cultivate this intimate knowing and capacity for naming these things as an adult or did you grow up knowing them? And what is the importance of that naming to you?

David Axelrod:
That’s a great question to begin with and the answer is yes and no, or more precisely it wasn’t and isn’t an either/or matter for me. My maternal grandfather was enchanted by living things and plant lore, and I was prone to grotesque cases of “poison ivory” as he used to say (he also enjoyed punning). It was he who taught me about the cooling effects of the crushed stalks of jewelweed, that is, spotted touch-me-not, which grew in abundance in the creek bottoms and along farm lanes. I recall him washing my legs with the crushed plant after I’d inadvertently walked through poison ivy in shorts, and for once I didn’t suffer the consequences of my blindness to things. I’d found an ally! He taught me to identify animal tracks, common birds, trees by leaf and bark, the stars, and stories of rare things I must never miss an opportunity to see should they ever return, such as the Ohio Buckeye or Halley’s Comet, which he saw as a child. We even planted a small forest together of birches and pine. I realized that only by knowing a name would I even be able to begin to perceive what is named. The animating anxiety there is being otherwise blind to what we can’t name. I’m reminded too of something Zbigniew Herbert wrote in his poem “Never About You”: “Don’t be surprised that we can’t describe the world / we just speak to things tenderly by name.” That tenderness is what I hope to convey when I name things in poems. It’s the tenderness my odd grandfather felt for life and wished to share with me.

Diane Lockward, Terrapin Book Interview Series: Heather Swan Interviews David Axelrod

It feels entirely selfish and strange to be thinking about anything other than Ukraine and Kyiv, and those incredible people taking up arms against Russia and how utterly 2022 is is to have a Ukrainian president who is famous for being an actor/comedian who played the president in a sit-com. What a time to be alive. I’m watching WW III beginning on TikTok and Twitter because this is the world we live in today, one of mass communication via social media apps. I genuinely think that while those platforms have and will be used to disinform they are also one of the greatest ways of informing people. I’ve just read that the hacking contingency Anonymous hacked Russian state TV and played either (depending on your source) the Ukraine national anthem or Rick Astley into Russian homes. I don’t know if that’s true, I desperately want it to be true.

And so I limp to the end of February literally not knowing what the future holds, but knowing this: the birds are building nests, the rooks are in the rookery that overhangs the road and are carrying twigs about, the snow drops are out, the daffodils are emerging. The corner of my garden which was horribly flooded by a burst pipe and completely dug out during the pandemic, the corner that just so happened to be my source of spring joy with its overflowing snowdrops has, this year, come back with even more snowdrops, as if the obliteration of the soil woke them up and made them work harder to be even more splendid. Spring is coming and I will be grasping it and enjoying it. I’m so ready for winter to be over.

Wendy Pratt, Heading into March like…

Before the ice cracks
there’s a sigh
like the last attempt
at holding things
together – the moment
before whatever is going
to happen, happens –
the slightest tremble
under the skin
invisible to the eye.

Lynne Rees, Poem ~ Walking on thin ice

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 5

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week saw poets saying goodbye to long-time jobs, grieving the dead, going for walks, collaborating on poetry videos, getting grouchy about new books or their own poems—or even the flow state in which they write, and much more. Enjoy!


It’s February 3, and I just went through the house, changing the calendars from January to February. We are snowed in. Last night’s rehearsal was cancelled, and perhaps tonight’s will be, too, which is really a preview performance, but, egad!–we have barely had a dress rehearsal. Anxiety balanced by yoga. I did not see any groundhogs in real life or on the news (because I wasn’t watching the news), but I did see what I thought was a large owl, hunkered down in the snow, scanning the yard for small prey. It transformed, via head movement, into a rabbit, a huge rabbit, just sitting out there in the snow, flicking its now visible ears.

Kathleen Kirk, No Groundhogs

All this desk work has meant I’ve been walking the dog later in the day and often catching only the last sliver of daylight. This is a good time of day to be walking – the air smells of earth and damp, grass and sheep, hedgerows filled with shouty sparrows preparing to roost. Sometimes the sun catches the tops of the beech trees as its setting, and the branches become rose gold in the light. The windows of the cottages are warm squares and the train, if I see it run through the village, is a gallery of empty seats, sleeping heads, newspapers, books and laptops slicing into the black. This winter we’ve been spoiled by some wonderful sunsets. I like to catch the sunset from a hill at the far end of the village, watch it slide down the valley, then turn and walk back as the dark encroaches, pulling the colour out of it all until the lane is silver, the hills charcoal, the village a brightness of lamps and warm living rooms.

The tax return this year was probably the worst I’ve had to submit in terms of complication and stress. […] Doing my accounts […] is a bit like travelling back in time, I can feel the anxiety and stress and weekend working leaching out of the numbers. It made me ill with stress, but also helped my business (my business being me, effectively) survive the pandemic. I lost work in lots of face to face areas and had to drive up business in the online areas and I’m proud to say that after seven years of being self employed and edging sideways towards making my living from creative writing with some tutoring and teaching, I earned the same in 2020/21 as I did when I left my job as a microbiologist. It was hard, hard work, but I have reached a bench mark that I set myself years ago, and that makes me happy. I’m still working out how to manage my time to give me more writing time, but it is happening. Small goals, small steps with an image of what the main goal is. I’m getting there. Sometimes I am so stuck in the stress I forget that the outside world exists. As soon as I’m out in the weather, though, it’s like I feel real, as if a papery version of me exists in my office, but the real me exists only outside in the dusk and the weather.

Wendy Pratt, Walking at Dusk

The ladder serves the myth
that elevation is a need. Because stars and gods
live in the sky. Because the higher you go, the

further it still is. You move seven squares forward,
dodging a venomous fang, not quite at the
lowest step. It has been raining for days. If

there was a sky, it has collapsed into the ground.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Paradox

It’s winter, nights are in the low teens, and the ground out here is covered with snow. I’m still hiking in the local woods most weekends. My class at Rosemont college is off to a good start–brilliant and insightful students. My monthly local workshop is still going strong after more than 10 years. We’re on zoom at the moment, but we all hope to be back in person soon, as soon as it’s safe.

The writing has been going well, and publishing hasn’t been too bad either. My book manuscript has been a finalist about 5 times so far. I’ve had new poems published by Greensboro Review, UCity Review, Cider Press Review, and some others. Later this year I’ve got poems coming out in Sand Hills Review, Kenyon Review, Louisiana Literature, and Verse Daily, with hopefully more to announce soon.

My 2020 book, Muddy Dragon on the Road to Heaven, received a very positive write-up in Broad City Review, which you can read here. If you’re interested in checking out the book, you can find it here.

Grant Clauser, 2022 Update

I stared into the sun.
The last thing I remember, tears

were simmering in my eyes and your name
had frozen on my tongue.

Karen Dennison, Poetry and science 9 – Leaving

I am elated to announce that Mother Mary Comes To Me: A Pop Culture Poetry Anthology has been selected as a 2022 Book All Georgians Should Read by Georgia Center for the Book. Karen Head and I worked for seven years to find a home for this project, so this honor is a testimony to perseverance and to the brilliant poets who contributed their work. And, of course, to Madville Publishing who loved the anthology and has made the whole publication process a pleasure. 

Collin Kelley, Anthology named 2022 Book All Georgians Should Read

I’d like to say a public thank you to Presence for sending me books to review from time to time, and for having faith in my haiku. Sometimes it feels like I’m working very much on the fringes (probably no bad thing). Lockdown enabled me to follow some new routes too, but that has also led to me feeling a bit out of the loop (again, that might not be a bad thing). Nevertheless, Presence has linked me to the haiku community and I really appreciate that sense of fellowship.

Another poetic community is The Poets Directory who have invited me to read at their ‘virtual stanza’ event. So:

Join us on Sunday February 13th at 19:00 for the December Poets’ Directory Live! Virtual Stanza event via Zoom. The event is part of the Poetry Society’s network of Stanza groups and brings poetry into your home every month. With readings from the excellent Chaucer Cameron, Julie Mellor, Damien Donnelly, Rory Waterman and Pascale Petit.

I have to say I’m in awe of the poets I’ll be supporting. Anyway, I’ll be taking a deep breath and hoping for the best! The free online event takes place on Sun 13th Feb at 7.00 – further details can be found here. Hope some of you can join us.

Julie Mellor, Reviews and readings …

A nightmare crossdresses in lullabies.

A hesitation builds dirigibles of yesness.

A quiet, quarantined heart manages a highway hum.

A fleeting second impersonates forever.

Rich Ferguson, Once Upon a Moment’s Noticings

How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to translation)? What do you see as the appeal?

Translation of poetry is on a continuum with writing it, even if, in a sense, it’s also unwriting (taking things apart). Having “translated” only a small number of poems, with only the most rudimentary knowledge of the language of the original (Russian), I can have little to add to what real translators think and do. Even the occasion of my first involvement with translation was a bit of happenstance: In 1989, Lyn Hejinian and Arkadii Dragomoshchenko paired five American poets, of whom I was one, with five Russian poets for a sort of experiment in translation. This was during Perestroika, so before the fall of the USSR, and the enthusiasm for communication across what was left of the iron curtain was high. The idea was to do it transpersonally, not just transtextually. So the ten of us met in Stockholm and Helsinki, and then Leningrad, to talk face to face and, with that dialogue as a kind of substrate, to read and translate each other’s work. “Translation,” on these terms, involved a great deal of talking, eating, drinking, smoking, reading, walking around, guessing, second guessing—being—all activities (except smoking) that figure into my own process. […]

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?

All of the above. Definitely every instance of culture I consume, plus human conversation—the sound of people talking—really anything that crosses my perceptual bow. Lately I’ve been interested in what John Rapko calls “proto-art”—what you might think of as “found” objects in nature (or culture), naïve works, things that were once thought “primitive” or were at one time thought important, now not. The attraction is the lack of finish or determined meaning—the fact that meaning can occur unintentionally or quasi-intentionally. That there can be an unadulterated, unfiltered perceptual reward in something that didn’t mean to be art. Perhaps a weird thing for someone who makes art to say.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Jean Day

why are children who will never bear a child :: the lullaby that i sing

Grant Hackett [no title]

Destiny
is rhyme
and spring

nine hells
three heavens

our
remains hard
and sweet sugar.

Ernesto Priego, 3. La calavera

I have begun to think of Higher Ed as a bad boyfriend, who breaks one’s heart again and again, and apologizes profusely and each time, one thinks it might be different. Not an abusive boyfriend, in that one’s face isn’t broken and it’s not bad enough that one knows to run away. There’s potential–one wants it all to be different. But the Higher Education bad boyfriend breaks one’s heart in so many ways.

Let me hasten to say that I feel fortunate in so many ways.  Since we spent much of 2021 thinking I would lose my job, we made alternate plans.  I am so grateful to Feb. 2021 Kristin who went ahead and applied for seminary and candidacy.  I am so grateful that we have sold the house.  I am so grateful that I have a vision of an alternate future.

While I will miss many of my colleagues, I am also grateful that someone else will have the task of leading the campus through the accreditation visit in 2 months.  I was not looking forward to many of the changes that were barreling towards us.

I will return to the campus today for a final time to box up books and load up the car.  When the HR person asked if I had any questions, I thought, I have so many questions.  But the one I asked was “I have more personal stuff in my office than I can get home today in my little car.  How do you want me to handle that?”

This morning, after a night of restless sleep, I woke up with a Meat Loaf lyric in my head:  “I want you, I need you, but there ain’t no way I’m ever gonna love you.” Thanks Higher Ed Bad Boyfriend! Now listening to Jimmy Buffett’s “Breathe In, Breathe Out, Move On.” That man doesn’t get enough credit for his skillful lyrics.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Play List for Job Loss: Higher Ed Bad Boyfriend Strikes Again

On Friday, people at work, as goodbye-for-nows were exchanged and tiny celebrations hatched, kept asking me how nice it must be going to be to have my time be my own.  I laughed, of course and said I’d probably be busier than ever, which is no doubt true, but it will feel different.  Especially since, for one, I have the freedom to set my own schedules and routines in a way I have not for, well, really since ever. College was something dictated by class schedules and play rehearsals. Grad school at DePaul had a little more free time when I wasn’t in classes, but was largely a time of full-time study and some writing. Since, I’ve been working full-time in addition to fitting all my more creative pursuits around it (and there was that crazy 4 year span where I was also getting my MFA.) My outside pursuits happened largely in the in-betweens and in odd hours either early or late in the day. My course was entirely dictated by work schedules, which is what will change. 

Over the weeks since I decided to leave, I’ve been thinking about how I want to structure my day, now that I am free to choose when and where to focus efforts.  There will be the freelance stuff…maybe 3 hours a day. The press/shop which will now get 4 hours daily which will be so much more generous than the previous 1-2 and weekends. (which means more on-schedule dgp releases, more time to clear the inbox, better marketing,  faster order turnaround, and new shop offerings.)  Daily writing, time my own writing and art projects, maybe 1-2 hours rather than hits and misses all week or manic sprints to finish on deadlines.  I’ll have the discretion of nights, when I can either do more work if I want or chill as needed.  Same with weekends (this is one thing I am looking forward to..a little more work/life balance…because I have never had it.)  I’ll also be working maybe 8-9 hours daily and not 11-12 so that will be great.  Also, no commuting, but much more ample time for walks. 

Kristy Bowen, of work and time

The present is still raucous

as vaudeville, or extravagant with drama:
clumsy actors stepping into wet cement,

falling on their knees; raising their eyes
to a tarpaulin sky as a calliope whistles

a carnival song, not quite drowning
the sounds of funerals and thunder.

Luisa A. Igloria, Soundtracks

I’m wrangling with a poem right now that was sparked by an interesting tidbit of science research. This is often how poems begin for me. I spun that out a bit and then tried to bring it back home, to me, to my life, and then spun it out again to include a “you.” I liked the movement of it. (Sidebar: I got a sciency poem rejected recently because it was too personal. I thought that was funny. I’m nothing if not a science experiment myself.) But in the end it felt sentimental, that is, there was a superficial emotionality to it that was unearned.

Was it in how the poem landed? Was it a question of language? Was it some problem inherent to the poem’s…what…journey or something, its heart or something?

A friend took a squint at it, rearranged it some, took out a line, made some suggestions. That helped smooth the sentimental edge but the poem still didn’t quite…what? It didn’t do whatever it is I want a poem to do: Transcend its details or ask an unanswerable question that needed to be asked or flip my thinking on its head or suddenly rearrange the world in a new way or…well…any of those magical things a poem can do.

It’s funny, isn’t it, what a poem can do, and how a poem can fail to do “It,” that poemy thing. Such a small figure, a poem, and how vast it can be. And how confounding.

Marilyn McCabe, Cruisin’ with a six; or, Anatomy of a Revision

If I pick up a new poetry book, I want to find images, language, meaning, that provokes me into sensing or knowing something I didn’t sense or know before I began. This is a fairly basic and generalised summary, yes, but it’s a fair test. I don’t mind a lot being asked of me – in fact, it can be thrilling to find yourself immersed in poetry or writing that challenges you on several levels. I’m happy reading experimental writing where you sense the poet isn’t even sure where the poem is going, or where some images connect easily and others are hard to pin down, or is doing something that at times is just plain mad. (See previous reviews of the work of Peter Finch and Michael Kriesel.) Part of the fun of reading poetry is having to work at it. I want to sense that a writer is really trying to work at their craft – and not just in a technical sense. More often than not I find the restraints of ‘form’ tiresome.

It’s also plain that not everyone can produce something extraordinary, even once in their lives – and even the best writers can and do release stuff that is sub-standard, that is published because of who they are, not how good it is. That happens in all areas of publishing: look at Bob Dylan’s Self Portrait album, for example, when as I understand it he had fallen out with his record company and just bashed something out that he knew very well was a long way short of what he could do. People still ran out to buy it. Me included. So, to a certain extent, if you want to go on reading poems, you have to allow for some forgiveness and tolerance.

However, I think the problem I found was that all six of the books I read felt similar. It felt as if they were all coming out of some kind of collective mindset, that ‘this is what poetry is and this is the way to write it’ as if they were a part of some kind of club where everyone knew what the limits and boundaries were and created collections that sat safely within them. It felt as if they had all read the same ‘How To Write Poetry’ manuals.

Bob Mee, I BOUGHT SIX POETRY BOOKS. NONE OF THEM INTERESTED ME.

I first met Dana Gioia at the West Chester Poetry Conference somewhere between 2008 and 2012. I was wearing a name tag that included where I lived at the time, Frederick, Maryland, a small city north of Washington, D.C., most famous for being the resting place of Francis Scott Key.

Immediately after we shook hands, Gioia launched into reciting “Barbara Frietchie” by John Greenleaf Whittier. It was a delightful connection to have made! I knew that Gioia had been head of the National Endowment for the Arts and had founded (with Michael Peich) the poetry conference I was attending. What I didn’t know was how his precise recitation in that slow baritone could at once captivate and soothe.

In high school when I first decided that the rest of my life would be this lifelong journey with writing, I cherished the book Letters to a Young Poet, given to me by my sophomore English teacher as a graduation present. I’ve carried that book with me everywhere I’ve lived and worked — from the east coast of U.S. to the upper Midwest to Shanghai, China and most recently here to Hong Kong. This is part of the reason I share Dana Gioia’s six-part series below. In the same vein as Letters to a Young Poet, Gioa’s new YouTube video series is a good place to start if you’re embarking on a writing life or simply beating yourself up for not writing as much as you would like. Unlike Letter to a young Poet, Gioia’s series provides practical wisdom on engaging (or reengaging) with a writing life given the busy demands of working full time.

Scot Slaby, If you want to help anyone start their writing journey, show them this

One of the best things about sharing creativity online is when other creative folks make something beautiful and new, arising out of / inspired by / in conversation with something that I created.

Like this right here, created by two longtime blogfriends:

The Gifts from Allan Hollander on Vimeo.

The audio recording is by Allan Hollander, and the animation is by Alison Kent.

The poem was originally published in my first book-length collection of poetry, 70 faces: Torah poems (Phoenicia, 2011). If you don’t have a copy, I hope you’ll consider picking one up wherever fine books are sold. 

Rachel Barenblat, The Gifts – video

Some years back my old high school friend Hilary McDaniels Douglas invited me to write some music for her aerial dance company Project in Motion, based in Las Cruces, New Mexico. She requested that I set a poem by Rilke and of course I couldn’t resist. I also included a poem whih appeared in my book Moon Baboon Canoe that I’d written and that felt appropriate. The overall theme of the piece was to be about water. 

Last night I began exploring a video clip of moving letters. (Full disclosure: I stole it off the Internet.) I transformed it: I layered it, expanded and contracted it, changed the colours and the movement and generally played around with it. It was riverine. It reminded me of the flowing letters in Justin Stephenson’s spectucular film about bpNichol, The Complete Works. 

I loved how the letters moved and replaced a poem that I’d stuck over top with an audiotrack of a funky distorted saxophone-based track that I’d made with a video of my hands moving. I realized that I’d need a much more flowing audio track and remembered the Rilke track that I’d made for Hilary. It was all about flowing, movement, and in my poem, it mentions hands. The whole thing worked so well together. I began transforming the video to be all about the Rilke track. I’m really thrilled with how it turned out. From a series of associations and accidents, this lovely thing that I stumbled on. [video link]

Gary Barwin, On Fishes: a video setting of a poem by RIlke and another guy

My uncles worked the Ship Canal
tugmen, exempt from The Call Up
free to drink each St Monday dry.
My mother was at war with them
the hostilities endless.
I could never fathom the reason
and she was not the kind to ask
even when I was grown and she frail
with aching hands of knotted oak.

Paul Tobin, DRINK ST MONDAY DRY

This morning I learned that 65 species of animals laugh. A few years ago I wrote Are You An Anthropocentrist? with examples of our fellow creatures making tools, doing math, demonstrating altruism, and so much more. Pretty sure laughter is just the iceberg edge of what we don’t yet recognize…

Laura Grace Weldon, Where I’m Finding Delight This Week

it’s about opening your mind
unbotting the furnace
raising the sluice gates
watching the leaves rush
down to the sea’s page
too fast to stop
too fast to review
emptying the lake
that never empties
screaming the silence
of devil may care
the never ending cataract
of clenched teeth in rictus

Jim Young, flow ~ now what’s to know

For those poets who aren’t on Instagram yet, or do not feel confident using it, I have to say, I was so grateful for this Instagram book review yesterday – and unlike some reviews, this generated sales – at least as well as I can measure on Amazon sales rank – right away! What a shock!

Thank you to TheBookshelfCafeNews for the shoutout and poets, go get on Instagram and let’s start talking about poetry books there. I am still getting used to the medium (sometimes I forget hashtags, and I’m still not confident in my ability to post “stories”) but think it is definitely worth being on there. There’s less of the negative vibe that can sometimes get overwhelming on Twitter, plus as many pictures of baby animals or cool art as you want to include in your feed. Yes, it’s still owned by evil overlord Facebook (or Meta) – but seems slightly less evil? Maybe this is because I only follow poets, Ina Garten, and a lot of red panda, fox, and zooborns accounts. Anyway, I encourage you all to give it a try. You can follow me there at @webbish6 – I mostly post pics of birds and flowers, the occasional selfie and poem – a lot like the blog, without all the words. Also, if you have helpful tips for others (and me) who are writers on Instagram, please leave them in the comments!

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Happy February, Inching Towards Spring, Hoping for a Better Month, A Nice Review on Instagram (and Thoughts on Instagram for Poets)

The world iced, every inch glistening in the sun.

Zigzag tracks of our house cat that has walked away.

Across the bay, a tanker moves at a glacier’s pace.  

V is talking — the garage door pasted shut,

my eye straying to those lights, frozen droplets

in the branches — champagne.  

If I didn’t have myself, where would I be? 

A moment deep and wide for drinking.

Jill Pearlman, driveway Olympics

I’ve been reading proofs for Poetry’s Possible Worlds, so this is a busy and stressful moment. I’m always mildly panicky at this stage, wondering what errors I’ve overlooked, but it’s about time to type up my list of necessary fixes and send it back to the designer. It makes me think of my mother’s advice on housework: just keep the counters and other eye-level spaces clean, nobody looks at the floor. What would the floor be, the bibliography? Sigh. Some reviewers, especially any scholars who may read the book, will TOTALLY call you out on a dirty floor.

Proofing this particular book makes me think of my mother in other ways. It’s about reading poetry during a time of crisis, especially focusing on my father’s implosion. I only realized late in the game that it’s also very much about my mother, and not only because she was the one who discovered his string of affairs and called quits on the marriage. She was the person who gave me piles of books as well as the habit of reading for pleasure, consolation, education, and imagining future and alternate lives. Poetry was always in the mix, too, often long poems like Tennyson’s Idylls of the King. I read Chaucer in the Penguin translation as a middle-schooler, not knowing I should be intimidated. They were just stories.

Lesley Wheeler, Pretending the house is clean

When winter is over,
then we will grieve.

Wait for the rains of spring,
the buds on the tree branches.

James Lee Jobe, hold it all in for now

My friend Jon Appleton died on Sunday evening at the age of 83.

Yesterday afternoon, a brilliant blue day, we drove to Mont St-Bruno and took a long walk around the Lac Seigneurial; it was the right thing to do. I may write more about this eventually, but for now, I’ll let Tomas Tranströmer speak for me. Jon loved Sweden and poetry, and although he also spent a lot of time in warm places, such as California, Hawaii, Tonga, southern France, I always think of him in the north: Vermont, Sweden, Moscow. One of my most vivid memories of him is from a visit to us in Montreal some years ago, when there was an absolutely huge blizzard, one of the heaviest and stormiest I can remember. Being Vermonters at heart, none of us wanted to stay in, so we bundled up and decided to go out and see if we could find a restaurant that was still open. I can still see Jon, wearing his Russian fur hat, cavorting in the snow-filled street and laughing with delight: “This is aMAZing!”

He was a person who lived life as fully as possible, and who for many of his students and friends was — as this poem says – “a half-open door leading to a room for everyone.” Like Tranströmer, Jon suffered a stroke toward the end of his life. It affected his speech, which he gradually recovered, but he wasn’t able to continue composing music. During our last visit to him, he showed us the art studio in his retirement complex, where he said he was enjoying doing some painting. And even in the last two weeks he was writing with great pleasure about a new recording being done by Yoshiko Kline of some of his piano works, and working with an editor on the final draft of his autobiography. The creative spark never went out, and the best way I can remember and honor him, and what he gave me, is to try to do the same.

Beth Adams, The Consolation of Snow

I didn’t know that my cousin’s favorite food was pierogis. My aunt Darlene is making a batch of them to take to the dinner after the graveside service. “She won’t get to eat any, but it’s the last time I can make them for her, so I’m doing it.” I remember my aunt Violet’s cabbage rolls (they are one of my specialties). But if I ever had pierogis, I don’t remember. So, I told my aunt I’d make them, too. She told me how she makes them — in great detail —  and then said, “You can find a recipe on-line.”

I thought of that poem by Grace Paley, “The Poet’s Occasional Alternative,” about making a pie instead of writing a poem.

Bethany Reid, Pierogis

I have definitely entered a new phase of life. Where people I love, from 25 to 70 are grappling with mortality. And there are people, too, whom I do not love, but featured in a few revenge fantasies. I’m seeing how poorly written my fantasies are, how unrelated they are to real emotions. Thin storylines with hollow characters.

The wonderful – literally wonder-filled – thing about this is that I see how unfinished I am. It’s like I have opened the door to a new world. Moved from black and white to color, from a sunset projected onto flat walls, through the doorway to the “real world” which is too big to take in, and too immediate to ignore.

I want to hold someone’s hand, get my feet wet, and listen.

I read the chat messages in a quiet moment. I pay attention to the few songbirds that have overwintered near the lake. I almost wrote, “lonely songbirds”. I figure if I can learn to stop projecting, I can better see the world as it is: its brooding, its illness, death, and its love.

Ren Powell, Existential Helplessness

One last line opens,
the old monk said,
and one last line closes.
It works either way.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (126)

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 3

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: redefining productivity, being formless, emulating crows, stealing Jesus’ wallet, beginning with the stone in the shoe, writing like you believe your voice is worth hearing, painting the chaos, joining a drum circle, feeling the winter blues, building synagogues in Minecraft, learning Japanese, celebrating William Stafford, and more.


snow drifts, thick
and slow past
the window

each day
the death count
rises

i am glad to be old
to not witness
what is coming

Sharon Brogan, even in sleep

Time is of the essence: not a premise to justify acceleration and a headless chicken rush towards mindless ‘productivity’, but one to frame a culture of thoughtfulness and generosity. A form of active resistance to the commoditisation of everything we hold dear, not as a draining effort or a daily grind, but through reflective thought and meditation. Better things must result from careful consideration; the ongoing, permanently panicked emergency-response mode of the 24/7 switched-on mode only leads to collective burn-out and shortcircuits any important projects’ goals. This is more a mission statement than a new-year resolution; an ambition more than a promise. To make more space where there is little; to re-own the time perpetually robbed from us.

A type of via negativa for personal and professional life (because it remains important to separate them, particularly in fields such as higher education, or the arts), where that which we don’t do leads to positive, productive outcomes. To define ourselves also for what we decide not to do, rather than for all the things we do, or for doing all the things. This would mean re-defining “productive”, and, importantly, resisting auto-exploitation. Auto-exploitation is never purely individual- overperforming hyperachievers do also create more labour for others who are likely to be in less privileged circumstances, and who are already overwhelmed within their own exploitative conditions of production. Less can be more, much more, in a different sense to usual quantification. A different way of being with ourselves and the Other would require to stop turning ourselves and the Other into means to ends. We need to start from our own positions.

Ernesto Priego, Switch It Off and On Again

My student is researching wolves for a role I wrote for him. He tells me that wolves howl as a form of grieving. I don’t know where he read this, or if it is true, or how we could ever know if it is true. It does make sense to me. The sound tugs up a fear for us because we recognize the vulnerability inherent (probably a prerequisite) in grief.

Loss. Aloneness. It is all a matter of perception, really. The recognition of our disconnection. Nothing is really lost. Except perhaps the illusion of having had. What do we ever have/own/possess? We experience, and cannot possess experiences. We can’t even possess the memory of experiences, because memories are also impermanent: morphing and reassembling, like metal shavings following a magnet.

I am formless at the moment. Even memories of my former selves are formless. I’ll run now and something within me will howl at the moon. Something in me will change shape, pulled by the earth’s magnetic field. Every cell in motion, rearranging, experiencing the morning before dawn.

Ren Powell, Butterfly Goo and Moonlight

Because dawn comes as I write 
and in the stillness before the first bird 
there is a restlessness, and the trees rock, and trail their fingers
over the fence tops; and the last bit of moon 
is eaten up by cloud.

Dale Favier, Because The Tuning

Outside the crows are cawing, cutting up a ruckus amongst the magnolia branches. Squirrels are on the ground eating peanuts, laughing at the crows in squirrel-talk , chitchitchit = hahaha!

Crow flap their large black wings, fanning the flames of outrage to each other, Can you believe this shit? Caw!

Crows leave nothing on the table. They take the dishes, forks, strawberry jam and biscuits and throw it all up in the air, clatterclatterclatter = listen to me!

Were that we all were like the crows. Letting it all out, leaving nothing inside to fester and mold.

Charlotte Hamrick, Morning Meditation: Crows

It’s been a strange week here in the UK. The pantomime that is our political system appears to be thoroughly broken. The government seems to be totally incapable of doing what they tell us we must do. Perhaps it is due to that sense of entitlement public schools appear to imbue these second raters with. Some Catalan friends of mine were saying how funny the actions of our crime minister and his troupe of clowns are. I had to reply that they do not have to live with the madness that their actions generate.

A poem about stealing Jesus’ wallet. It arrived nearly fully formed.

lifting Jesus’ wallet you confessed
was easier than you ever imagined
the real mystery was locating it amid those flowing robes

you continued by describing the contents:
four crisp ten shilling notes
a religious medal of St John the Baptist
a return tram ticket to Barrio Alto
various coins of different denominations and epochs
all too perfect to be kosher

I began to wonder if He
had let you steal it so
you would have something to worry about in the night

Paul Tobin, SOMETHING TO WORRY ABOUT IN THE NIGHT

“Poets dwell on death,” some fool will say.
Because they are blind.
And so the evening passes,
And one by one or two by two the people leave,
And so return to their own eternities,
To the depths of their own being.
Finally it is just you and your death.
And neither of you speak.
The silence is magnificent.
And then, with a tired sigh,
Your death stands up and walks toward you.

James Lee Jobe, The Grand, Wide Evening of You and Your Death.

Back in October, when I decided to play a bit with some short fiction writing, I told myself not to worry about poems. I was, after all, between projects, having wrapped up the collapsologies manuscript with the grimoire poems.  I toyed with a couple new things that are still on the horizon, but I wanted a shift.  I also wanted to figure out my life and writing poems wasn’t on my top list of things to be worried about in the grand scheme of things.  I gave myself permission to sit October out on my daily writing.  Then November. By December, I had taken on some freelance writing, which I was trying to squeeze around my regular obligations to see if I liked it, so my mornings, what time there was (it’s harder for me to get up early-ish in winter) was devoted to the drafting and research necessary for that.  I actually extended my poem vacation through early February, when I would then be working on my own and my schedule (and concentration) much kinder.

I wasn’t going to write poems, but then Monday night, somewhere between washing the dinner dishes and going to bed, I had a first line and just went for it.  For one, it was unexpected to be writing at all, especially in the evening, when my brain is usually on low battery power.  Granted, I’d been home all day for MLK day and mostly just folding chaps. Also, odd when specifically I said I would not be writing poems, and yet, there I was. I went back in once before bed and tweaked some things, but haven’t looked at it to see if it’s any good since. It may be the start of something, though it may also just be a snippet of a dead end, but as I wrote it, I realized how much I missed it.  This is, of course, after whining all summer and into fall about whether or not poetry felt worth it, or whether anyone was even reading, or why I kept doing it, even thought the effort / compensation  ratio is kind of dismal.  That maybe I should focus on writing for paying markets. Or who the hell was reading any of this anyway?  I always long to be one of those writers for whom process is all important, audience be damned, but I actually want readers, however they get there. As someone who, in the fall, was adjusting financial income streams, poetry seemed a  poor place to fixate my efforts. Especially now, when I should be seeking out things that actually allow me to, you know, pay rent.

And yet, like the ex that occasionally shows up at 3am, there she was. A poem.  Maybe not a good one, but still.  I think I’ll keep her. 

Kristy Bowen, poeting in winter

I love drab birds and in winter I love the trees, sugar frosted.
Coffee and milk. Moss in the forest, the cool shady spots where it grows.
Morning light. Pink-apricot rose petals.
Daughter’s smile. So many poems.
Leather sandals. Pale blue sky. Suitcases. Home.
The chair in my garden where I can sit and no one can see me.
Daydreaming and night dreaming —

and poem dreaming.

Shawna Lemay, I Love, I Hope; I Hope, I love

So this is a bit spooky. All week I had in mind these marvellous final words from Lucille Clifton’s poem of grief and acceptance ‘The Death of Fred Clifton’. They’ve been going round my head for a while now. Last year I came close to using them as an epigram for the collection I was working on. They gave me the wild idea (it’s January, grey and cold and I am still grieving) to do a riff reminding myself of the things I love, both in poetry and the real world, and the overlap between them, just, well, because.

And then Shawna Lemay goes and pretty much writes the blog post I wanted to write. Which isn’t just fine, it’s great, because Shawna is the best and one of the main reasons I keep going. But just to add to the love and the hope, if I may, for a moment, here are some of the things, as in things that I love and need to have near me just now:

blethering on the phone with Josephine Corocoran about all the poets she is reading and I am not reading and who is accepting and not accepting our poems and how to keep going in spite of all of this

the Frank O’Hara book Shimi gave me for Christmas which inexplicably I did not own and have been gobbling up ever since a bit like when I first fell in love with him 123 years ago

the very tender poems of love, memory and grief in Adam Zagajewski’s last book, Asymmetry, beautifully translated by Clare Cavanagh

Anthony Wilson, The things themselves

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

Nursery rhymes would be the accurate answer, and my immersion in the Yorùbá culture that included ewì, poems that were mostly orally delivered. As I learned to read by myself, an early anthology of delightfully-illustrated poems fascinated me. I do not remember the title, but it included such poems as Wole Soyinka’s “Telephone Conversation” and Christopher Okigbo’s “For He Was A Shrub Among The Poplars.” In my first three years of secondary school, one of my favorite subjects was literature-in-English, in which Mrs. Ukpokolo helped us dissect poems and find their internal life. Studying the anatomy of poetry this way, especially  the poems in West African Verse, an Anthology edited by Donatus Nwoga, gave me a poetic framework I still draw on today.

3 – How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?

I tend to feel my way around new projects. I do not start off knowing what a project is about. But because there are “eras” in my thought life, I tend to ruminate on particular topics for months at a time, while my mind grapples with paradoxes or things I do not understand. The poems that I write in these periods tend to be equation proofs that help me know what my questions are, and give me some answers, which raise further questions, and so on. The shape (and using another mathematical analogy, the slope) of the initial poems help me intuit the direction of the project. This tends to take 3 to 5 months. I then pause and try to structure my thoughts, outline as much as I can, and continue with a firmer idea of what my current exploration is.

4 – Where does a poem usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a “book” from the very beginning?

It begins with the stone in the shoe. The stubborn notion. Or the poignant phrase that drops in my mind. I don’t know how my brain draws associations that become the often-arresting realizations and images many of my poems present themselves with, but I have learned to respect them, and put them in my Notes app. Sometimes, I can develop these phrases into a stanza or an entire poem (if I have thought about it for long enough), but more frequently, I accumulate several fragments that help me sketch out a poem. I then take some time to build it out. I don’t often start off writing a book. I tend to discover after a while that what I am writing is a book. This is easier when older manuscripts are “complete,” and the new poems stay afloat till I can decide what to do with them.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Tolu Oloruntoba

David Cooke’s poetry might be rooted in anecdote, but those roots are simply his point of departure for words that reach up towards the light. In this respect, his new collection, Sicilian Elephants (Two Rivers Press, 2021), builds on his previous work.

Many of these poems, all written from the perspective of a U.K. resident, were probably crafted prior to the consequences of the fateful referendum. However, their openness to Europe now grants them a fresh impetus in the context of Brexit. At first glance, excellent poems about gardening and DIY might seem geographically limited and limiting. In fact, the opposite is true.

Matthew Stewart, A reflection on who we are, David Cooke’s Sicilian Elephants

Just a quick note to let you know that the new issue of Constellations: A Journal of Poetry and Fiction arrived in my mail today. A loooonnng time ago — in my writing group — I shared a poem called “The Rule of Three” about an encounter I had with a student/veteran (some of you may remember). It’s one example of how I always learned as much or more from my students than they ever did from me.

No, it’s not on-line, but I may be persuaded to share it with you. Constellations is now open for submissions.

Also — drum roll, please — my poem “Even in Winter, You Must Marry It,” will go live January 19 at Cordella.org. Look for it under “Field Notes,” or click on the poem’s title (above).

I first learned about Cordella when I was searching on-line for poems by the late Jeanne Lohmann. If you’re unfamiliar with her work, follow this link to read a sampling. It’s an honor to have my poem published at the same site.

At this rich on-line venue, you’ll also find Cordella’s newest issue: Kith & Kin.

Bethany Reid, Poems, poems, poems

We read words but we also hear silence. This is what I love about poetry, those two things at work. The word works with and against the word next to it, and above and below it, but also with the silence laced through the poem by punctuation and breaks, and sometimes the imposition of        

Ha! See what I did there? I’m not saying anything new, of course. And there’s much more to be said and that has been said on rhythm, on how words rub up against each other to create emotion. I just felt moved to share again my wonder about this stuff. How we bundles of chemical equations and biological impulses have this crazy thing called emotion that is conjured up out of relations: one note to another, one word to another, one silence to another, you to me.

Marilyn McCabe, Looking at the river, thinking of the sea; or, On Poems and Blank Space

“Extended Release,” now in Guernica, is one of those poems that came to me in a rush, the kind that writers sometimes refer to as a gift, in that it arrives in near-final shape. I jotted in a dim living room during my mother’s last weeks, when she was in and out of hospitals and nursing homes as we sought a diagnosis and, we hoped, a cure. I had been taking care of her in the house she shared with my brother when she suddenly couldn’t hold a spoon steady. I called the home nursing service; they said to call an ambulance. My mother’s reproach when she saw the EMTs–“Oh, Les, what have you done”–will haunt me forever, I’m sure, as well as the difficulty of negotiating treatment for her pain. I think she trusted me to be ruthlessly kind, if you know what I mean, and she was disappointed that I didn’t catch on that she could have slipped away without fuss that night. Days later, I would be the person who discovered her death, and I have a gut feeling she waited to let go until I was on watch because she thought I could take it. She always told me women were stronger than men and seemed to think I could endure anything the world would throw at me. I guess I have, so far–not that I’ve had the hardest life by a long shot, but I’ve kept plowing along. Maybe that’s just what I need to believe, that she thought I was strong.

The balancing force to my regret was our exchange about what comes after pain. My mother was spiritually all over the map, sometimes describing her many reincarnations and other times saying, “When you’re dead, you’re dead.” But she really did talk, as I recount in the poem, about what people wear in heaven. We compared notes on what heaven might be like, for us, if it existed. That was one of the best conversations we had during those last difficult weeks. She seemed peaceful and curious. It was a gift to be there and mull over possibilities with her. People’s kind responses to this poem have been gifts, too. So many people have been through this with loved ones. I wonder if it’s any better when someone dies suddenly, without that month of pain and uncertainty. I suspect not.

Lesley Wheeler, Literary sources and afterlives

Working on my collection of poetry Church Ladies, I sometimes would read through poets who do similar work (persona poems from the perspective of women of faith…it is a little niche), and then that little nagging voice says “oh why even write this, This Poet does it better!”.

Let’s be totally honest: maybe they do.

However, they don’t do it the Same.

Unless you are straight-up plagiarizing them, you do have a unique voice that will come through on the topic, whether you want it to or not. I’m a believer that voice doesn’t have to be found so much as it needs to not be suppressed.

So when you are finding it difficult to write because So-and-So and their perfect iambic pentameter on the exact subject you write about in less than perfect somethingmeter, just stop it. Stop it! Turn off the social media, skip out on workshop (if you aren’t in a class that is), and just buckle down to work on your own stuff. Maybe take some time to read poets who have completely different obsessions from your own writing. Then write like you believe your voice is worth hearing too.

Renee Emerson, Tips for Writing Productivity: Eyes Forward!

Just an image:
an old man,
thinner, his
trousers loose,
belt tightened
as far as it goes.
An old man
in a check shirt
open at the neck,
one hand on
the door frame
the other raised
in a wave of
farewell.
Is he smiling?
It’s up to you.
The image began
as mine but
it’s yours now.

Bob Mee, IS HE SMILING?

sweaty plaid dad had a gadabout

Jason Crane, haiku: 20 January 2022

Sometimes you can’t
get far enough

away to see it,
the old monk said.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (111)

I propped my watercolor box on the chair near my knee, and started painting directly, laying down one color after another, as quickly as I could, to try to capture the energy and chaotic over-crowding of the scene before me. The terracotta pots and wooden table gave the picture a little bit of unification and structure, but basically there wasn’t any overall composition to be had. Nor were there strong shapes – just the big fleshy leaves of “Fang”. The geranium in the background, the butterfly-like triangles of the oxalis, the succulents, and the busy needles of the rosemary plant were all similar enough in size to compete with each other, but not stand out. I just kept at it, adding brushstrokes, dashes, lines, dots. Once all the color was on the page, I went back with a pen and sketched in some loose shapes and lines, and finally added the vertical window blinds in the background with watercolor.

The only solution, it had seemed, was just to go for the visual clutter. Feeling dubious, I posted the image on Instagram, with the slightly apologetic comment, “Once again, fascinated by the busyness of plants.” A little while later, my friend Michael Szpaskowski and I had this exchange:

Michael: “And that that ‘busyness’ becomes the compositional imperative here is great. Both truthful (I’m not saying that artistic truth is always of this nature of course) and very beautiful.”

Beth: “It is both the compositional imperative and its greatest obstacle. The urge is to bludgeon the busyness into some sort of submissive order, but that wouldn’t be true. So then what do you do?…I like aspects of it, but it still doesn’t entirely work for me. Tonight I was thinking maybe if I tried it from a high angle, the ovals of the tops of the pots would give a compositional rhythm that might unify the picture a little more. But not sure if I have the energy for another try!”

Michael: “Oh it is precisely its ‘awkwardness’ that I find so winning!”

This was a very helpful exchange, because when I studied the image again with his words in mind, I realized that it was actually OK not to have a strong and obvious composition or structure; instead there’s color and life dancing all over the image, and the loose horizontal and vertical lines do just enough work to hold everything within the frame.

Beth Adams, Making Sense Out of Chaos

the chaos is real
tangled inside and out
you try to iron it like a shirt
but it creases against skin
over every warp, every scar,
over the forgotten, the elapsed —
like the delusion of stretched blue sky
that turns as it comes closer,
into viscous cloud, into grimy light,
dead stars falling into unopened eyes:

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Chaos

What is it about January? You have to trust that living things are asleep and not dead. The garden is brown and damp. In January I examine any magnolia tree I come across, looking for buds: signs of life. Even though days are getting longer it happens so slowly. Generating every extra minute of daylight seems a huge effort for Gaia.

On the other hand, I was in the British Museum recently looking at the Parthenon marbles, and I was so struck with the energy and verve that still shines from these 2,500 year old carvings. Despite the difficult relationship between humankind and the natural world, I’m uplifted by the way that the creative energy of humans channelled into art can endure, and still have the power to amaze and inspire people hundreds, if not thousands of years into the future.

Here’s a bit of joy in a dark month: this evening is the online launch of Sarah Barnsley‘s excellent first collection, The Thoughts (Smith Doorstop). I’m a bit biased as Sarah is a good friend and a Telltale Press buddy – I’m proud to say we published her pamphlet The Fire Station in 2015. The Thoughts is compelling, and a bit of a page-turner (if poetry can be described that way); it’s formally inventive, sometimes a painful read and sometimes painfully funny. I’m so pleased to see Sarah’s name up in lights. She’s a fine poet and it’s so well deserved that she’s been picked up by Smith Doorstop. Buy, buy!

Robin Houghton, Nature sleeps. Thank goodness for art

I was delighted to get a surprise call this week from my long-time poetry mentor. Long story short, he encouraged me to start sending out work again, so the plan of publishing new works on this blog has now transformed into a plan to write and submit one new poem a month. I’ll still post a previously published poem once a month, but I’m going to save the new work for sending out. It feels like a strange journey to be embarking on again after all this time. I can’t pinpoint exactly why and when I stopped sending out submissions, but at some point, I just lost patience and got sick of the gatekeepers jealously guarding their insular little lit mags that are only read by a niche group of other poets, all bowing to each other in their exclusive mutual admiration circle. I want to write poetry for the people, man. Seriously though, I never had any patience for the snobbery and academic parochialism that pervades the poetry world. There is a reason why most non-poets are fearful and distrustful of poetry, or just plain find it incomprehensible. First off, the way it’s taught in school is awful. For people who do not naturally resonate with metaphorical language, bashing them over the head with a “gotcha” about the meaning of a poem is just cruel, not to mention unimaginative. And these weird little “schools” that proliferate for the sole purpose of encouraging incomprehensible poetry that only other academics can understand is the height of pretension if you ask me. The bottom line is that normal people want to read musical, ear-pleasing, relatable work that has a surprise or two thrown in. Maybe one day I’ll start the lit mag equivalent of those jumbo crossword puzzle books and call it “EZ Poetry.”

Kristen McHenry, EZ Poetry, Busted Bubble, a Vision of Vision

I’m struggling with
my clown ear

and on the other side

I’m also struggling
with my clown ear

Gary Barwin, Need to Know & Clown Ear

Last night, we went to a drum circle in the Arts Park.  They happen every month, but it’s on the night of the full moon, which means that if I’m in class, I can’t go.  If it’s rainy, I bail out.  Last night it was chilly, but that wasn’t a deterrent.

It was led by a group from Resurrection Drums, which was a pleasant surprise.  It helped to have leaders to get a rhythm going.  They also had drums, which they passed out to people who didn’t have one.

My spouse and I had brought a drum of our own and a shaker, so we didn’t need the drums.  I was happy to have the bits of instruction that they scattered throughout the night.  For someone who has listened to as much music as I have, as wide a variety of music, I am still staggeringly bad at picking out the beat, and I can be even worse at maintaining it.

What I love about a drum circle is that it doesn’t matter.  The stronger drummers carry the rest of us along.  All of the beats get incorporated into the larger experience.  It’s a metaphor for our larger lives, but I realize it more fully in a drum circle.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Full Moon Drumming

snowflakes
falling through
my open hands

Jim Young [no title]

My heart keeps breaking. A friend just died, not of Covid but of Parkinson’s, and though we knew it was coming, and he and his wife had time to prepare, it is still a shock and will be an ongoing sadness. Some of us mourners will read some of his poems at his memorial service later this month. You can donate to the William Morgan Poetry Award here.

Another friend feels “done.” It’s not quite despair but a kind of retreat into “winter blues.” He expresses himself here and encourages our response, in words or the wise use of our time.

My parents are tired of the brutal cold, though grateful for the recent sunshine, as am I. They are very old: as of January 15, the same age, 89, for about a month, till Dad turns 90 in March. They have lived miraculously healthy, productive, creative, lucky lives, right up until now. More gratitude! But the end of their lives has been shadowed by this pandemic, as you can imagine, since we are all under the same shadow. Like my friend Basel, above, feeling the winter blues, I am weary.

Meanwhile, I continue to rehearse Life Sucks, a sort of perfect play for our times, given its title, and we are in that stressful time moving toward production week and an opening in early February. I am in the “What was I thinking?” stage I encounter with every play, but all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well, no doubt.

Kathleen Kirk, My Heart Keeps Breaking

In my son’s Minecraft world
there is no pandemic.
No one spits at nurses
or lies about elections.
No one’s father has dementia.

My son thinks I’m playing
for his sake. I build
shul after shul, and in each
I pray for a world
where evil vanishes like smoke

like the mumbling zombies
who go up in flames
every time the blocky sun rises,
gilding the open hills
and endless oceans with light.

Rachel Barenblat, Tending

The one good thing about being sick all week is I caught up on my reading! Pale Horse, Pale Rider is Katherine Anne Porter’s semi-autobiographical account of living through the 1918 flu as a single journalist in Denver, when the hospitals were overcrowded and they couldn’t just order an ambulance as they were too busy. Her vivid hallucinations while sick for a month with the flu are unforgettable (she sees the nurse’s hands as ‘white tarantulas’), as is the ending. I also read Katherine Mansfield’s short story “Garden Party,” about an upper-class family organizing a party as their poorer neighbor falls down dead in front of their house. Again, feels so relevant.

To add to the cheer, I’m also reading Osamu Dazai’s No Longer Human with my little brother, and though it is bleak – written in 1948’s Japan, about an individual who suffers multiple childhood sex abuse traumas,  grows up to be a cartoonist, tries to commit suicide, is put in an insane asylum – my brother made the astute observation that it shares a lot with Kafka’s Metamorphosis. It’s been read historically as thinly-veiled autobiography, but I’d argue it’s more ambitious than that – it’s Dazai’s attempt to embody the suffering, corruption and dehumanization of Japan during the WW II years.  It’s the second-best selling book in Japan of all time, and you can see why – despite the bleak subject matter, Dazai’s writing is stunningly beautiful, even in translation (he writes with a different pronoun that the Japanese “Watashi” for “I,” except in the prologue and epilogue, but that can’t really be translated into English, which is a shame). If you want to discover Dazai but want something a little more upbeat, read his warm and funny collection of modernized fairy tales in Blue Bamboo. I’ve been teaching myself Japanese for almost a year now, and I’m sad that I’m still not fluent, but I am starting to pick up a little more on the slight variations of words – pronouns, seasons, puns. Some part of me wish I’d picked something easier, like Italian, but Japanese literature is kind of an obsession of mine, and I’d love to read these books in the original, eventually. Or at least be able to have a really simple conversation in Japanese.

The other accomplishment I’m proud of is that my NEA application is in and done. I mean, I did it with a fever and on a lot of cold medicine, so it may not be the best application I’ve ever done, but it is finished! I was in isolation while waiting for my PCR test (two of my doctors told me that I for sure had covid, based on my symptoms, so better safe than sorry) and the only thing that is good for is reading and getting grant applications done. Wishing you health and safety this week, but if you do get sick – either this nasty flu or covid – I hope you have a good window view, a stack of books, and someone to bring you unending soup and hot tea.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Signs of Spring, a Week of Illness – Covid or Flu?, Hummingbirds, Hawks, and Deer, and the NEA application

I wonder why there are far more books than time to read them.

Or if forgiveness can ever be given freely, or is it only offered on the installment plan.

I wonder if miracles ever need manicures or what happens to the many thoughts and feelings of those who pass away.

I wonder what weapons will look like in fifty years. Or our government, or how we’ll relate to one another.

I wonder what wonder will look like in fifty years.

Rich Ferguson, World of Wonder

Once I thought even a small garden
could multiply my hopes. I planted

bulbs in a plot. Citrus and persimmon, purple
streaked verbena. But never again the ridged

yellow of ginger flowers, never again
the ghosts of white-throated lilies declaring

their own thirst.

Luisa A. Igloria, Greenhouse

I have long thought of myself as an apprentice to light, which also means, I am an apprentice to darkness. Not opposites but a necessary union.

I suggest to students that in their poetry there must be joy in order for the sadness to have depth. There must be love in order for loss to have meaning. Shadow gives shape to light.

And so I remind myself.

I am an introvert, an introvert’s introvert. And yet to keep that solitude from being overwhelming, strategic forays into community. This week, it was a bright evening as one of the featured readers for a celebration of William Stafford held by the Lake Oswego Public Library and the Friends of William Stafford. For anyone feeling that poetry makes nothing happen, I suggest listening to the tenor of those lovely people reading poems by a beloved poet who has been gone almost thirty years.

And then wave after wave of sadness for the passing of Thich Nhat Hanh on Friday.

Erin Coughlin Hollowell, A Handhold

Not so fast, walker
on the winter beach

under a shrouded moon.
Desire far outstrips

your first unsteady steps.
No sight, no fixed points:

Recalibrate. A roar answers
your question before it’s asked.

Jill Pearlman, Le Noir (Winter Beach)

i beheld a bell breaking into light :: but what did the sleepers hear

Grant Hackett [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 51

Poetry Blogging Network

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


Shortest day of the year.
All the clocks are wrong.

Overhead is a dull seashell.
Clouds cover the sun.

I have to trust
what I can’t see.

And my heart —
a worried compass needle

yearning
for your light.

Rachel Barenblat, Solstice

The snow absorbs sound waves. But the magpie’s bellies chatter like shakers in an improvised concert. The front yard is filled with tension. A drama without narrative.

The magpies are quiet now.

Wait.

They will begin again. Like barren Shakers, they’ll gather and make something beautiful.

Then they’ll be gone. Again.

Just wait.

Ren Powell, Magpies and Snow

Of course, it wasn’t as if Santa actually existed. All rosy cheeked in Mrs Santa’s bed, he was always the sentimental love child of advertising campaigns and folktales. Didn’t stop his attempts at merriment with what he irritatingly called his “elf.” There’s a reason he could travel around the world so quickly. And then she’d begged him to do the inevitable and sell to Old Jeff Bezos, so she could gather the elves around her, the real elves, each with their small childlike brightness, and, dressed in the warm skins of reindeer, set out into the tundra, the real tundra, and find the winter sun.

Gary Barwin, Two stories about Mrs Santa

Since moving to Torquay four years ago I have not seen the sunrise on the shortest day, this has been partially due to bad weather. Traditionally I would drive to Avebury to celebrate the New Year, but these days it is too far. 

Having a beach hut on Meadfoot Beach is the next best thing. We went down and watched the sun hide behind the clouds. It was high tide and there was quite a swell.

Here’s to a better year ahead. Peace, love and unity to you all.

Paul Tobin, MEADFOOT 21.12.21

Oh no! I can see I haven’t posted for several weeks, has there really been nothing to talk about? Let me see…

First of all, nothing to do with poetry but my Covid experience was pretty mild in the end. So as far I’m concerned the jabs were worth it. Plus we’ve made it to Christmas without having to cancel a single concert, which is a result, and in fact I’ve just got back from a bout of rustic carol singing on the outside terrace of the fantastic Chaseley Trust. So a big yay for Christmas. […]

The newest episode of Planet Poetry is in the bag and coming out tomorrow. It’s a Christmas special featuring an interview with Di Slaney (Candlestick Press) and Sharon Black (Pindrop Press), both of them poets as well as publishers, talking about their writing and their publishing practice. Peter Kenny and I are proud of the fact that we are now 5 episodes into our second season – I think that makes us veterans in poetry podcasting terms! We’ve already got some brilliant guests lined up for 2022 so if you haven’t already, please do subscribe ‘wherever you get your podcasts’, as they say.

Robin Houghton, So this is Christmas, and what have I done?

No, this isn’t inspired by Johnny Mathis blaring out at all hours, but my Christmas Eve trip out into the Peaks. I caught the Hope Valley line from Sheffield and walked along to Brough, with the intention of finding the site of the Roman fort Navio, before taking an anti-clockwise route up Win Hill.

Navio, first established around 80 CE, was strategically important for the Romans because it was the next fortress across middle England from Templeborough, remnants of which now stand in Clifton Park, Rotherham, just down the road from where I am now. In his Roman Britain (1955), the first volume of ‘The Pelican History of England’ (sic), I.A. Richmond outlined its economic importance also: ‘Yet another exploitation is the lead ore from stream deposits found in the Roman fort at Navio (Brough on Noe), from which the district was in part policed.’ Lead was invaluable to the Romans as a source of silver by the process of cupellation, and no doubt a major reason why they hung around in this distant island for as long as they did.

There are all but the slightest traces of the fort on the site. Buxton Museum contains the artefacts recovered from it. It must’ve been a bleak place to be stationed, even with the view across the River Noe towards Lose Hill, and Mam Tor to the west. Auden’s couplet sonnet ‘Roman Wall Blues’, with its memorable opening, comes to mind:

Over the heather the wet wind blows,
I’ve lice in my tunic and a cold in my nose.

Matthew Paul, Return to Hope

How much heaven
can we stand?
Even the stars
don’t know,
the old monk says.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (89)

Yesterday was dark, as in dark all morning with rain and then just dark.  These days around the solstice are usually not just literally the darkest, but also heavy somehow in a way I never feel in other parts of the year. I slept very late, spent both days in my pajamas, working on various things through most of the weekend.  My past couple of weeks have been pretty busy, finishing up batches of chaps to get out before the holiday and  taking on more freelance copy work to get a feel for how well it will make going it alone should I decide to do it.  

Which is of course a lie because I have already mostly decided to do it, at least in my heart, if not having worked out all the logistics just yet.  I’ve been thinking about it probably since early  October, but only in the last few weeks has it become a safe enough and desirable endeavor to make happen. Once the decision was made, there was this rush of relief and happiness I don’t think I’ve felt in years, and that feeling alone is perhaps my answer. There are times when I don’t want to leave, but it’s gotten to the point where I can’t–for financial reasons, for burnout reasons–afford to stay. Not even figuring in potential increased shop offerings and income (which will happen when I’m not working 40+ hours a week elsewhere) the freelance work devotes half as many hours for twice the pay. And its actually kind of fun.  Or at least a sort of work-fun,  It gives me hope for days that can be half spent working on that stuff, half spent on the shop and the press. The ability to dial back and take on less if things get crazy. Not all day spent at the library and off hours, late nights weekends spent on other things, which is how it has always been since the beginning. 

I can’t even imagine having time to put into action all the projects and ideas I want to do without having to always work around the giant hulking beast of a full-time job that grants stability, but drains your energy. I don’t dare think it will be easy or without sacrifices (financially), but at this point, it hurts more not to try to make it happen. I keep telling myself this is what I’ve been preparing for all these years. Now I just need to take that step. 

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 12/19/2021

We are expecting 2-5 inches of snow over the Christmas weekend, then several days below freezing, so we might be stuck on our hill, which would make getting supplies tougher, so we are prepared to eat leftovers and after that, our supply of potatoes and pumpkin seeds. But I love seeing some snow.

But we did have a cherry tree with one branch blossoming, right on Christmas Eve; seems symbolic, like beauty’s triumph over death, life over winter , or something like that. We need anything that gives us hope these days.

The generosity and apparent ferocity of nature is always surprising. We should pay closer attention. [….]

Thank you to the Massachusetts Review who included my poem “Things I Forgot to Tell You About the End of the World” in their end-of-the-year Climate Issue. I feel lucky to be in such a great issue, and the fact that it’s the closing poem of the issue.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Happy Solstice/Christmas/Holidays, A Poem in the Climate Issue of Massachusetts Review, Poetry Book Recommendations from 2021, and Things to Remember About the Last Year

At a certain point one stops caring what makes sense and what doesn’t, going instead on animal knowledge of what is true, resonant if reasoning isn’t. In Greek, xάνω ελπίδα sounds permanent, rather than transient, as losing hope should, and απώλεια means both loss and waste. I do not mourn the death of Joan Didion, screamed into every nook and cranny, but neither do I say in public spare me, she was the original Karen; I prefer not to, this hue and cry, and my own savage wit so pointlessly sharp. Let people love who they love. Let them not. We have our reasons. I make a mixtape, though electronic, called sparklegothfolk: it goes on and on. Dead Can Dance. Cocteau Twins. Peter Murphy. Kate Bush. Wicker Man soundtrack, burning. The darkest people have the radiant love of harmonies, have you noted? Always in the barley and the fire.

Solstice, and the sky cracks open, just as it was too late.

JJS, Systrophe

christmas eve rain
the wood pigeons are preening
in the silver birch

Jim Young [no title]

I love the turning of the year toward light at the winter solstice. It makes up a bit for winter looming ahead. This year was tough for everybody, it seems; as Eric Tran said when he visited to give a poetry reading here, we spent the pandemic borrowing energy from the future, and now we have to pay it back. My mother died at the end of April and she’s very much on my mind as I perform seasonal rituals: recent stuff like sending her a zillion gifts at Christmas 2020 to distract her from going out and taking risks; old stuff like mixing up Christmas pudding to steam and flame it (we always did that as kids, although I riff on borrowed recipes and she just bought Crosse & Blackwell). I need to find a quiet moment to think about her.

I don’t know what that viking-druid I spotted on the trail yesterday portends. He’s looking toward the new year, but I’m mostly looking back. For a conference, I went on a binge of reading related to fairies and Faerie, old tales people keep making new. I discuss some of them here, in the annual “pleasures” column hosted by Aqueduct Press. They make me remember my mother, too, who was the teller of fairy stories in my house, as her Irish father was to her. He used to take her on walks to a Liverpool park in the 40s, where they’d put their sugar ration in a matchbox and leave it for the fairies. You have to propitiate them with sacrifice, or–what? It was always clear to me that Enid Blyton tales of brownies making “mischief” were euphemistic. Fairies are more dangerous than that. Thinking about all this sent me on a weird late night Google binge last week, asking questions about why sacrifice is so central to so many religions and legends. Google didn’t know, but I’d welcome your theories.

Lesley Wheeler, Weird tree-person looking east

So it will be a different Christmas, once again…we have a tree, and lights, and the smells of baking; there’s snow outside and warmth inside, but the holiday will be a quiet one. I’m sure we’ll check in with friends and family via zoom. My daily task is to keep my own spirits up, and to face the seemingly-interminable pandemic, and uncertainty about the future, with courage. It’s not easy for me, and takes conscious intention. Today before I got up I thought quite a bit about gratitude. Later I baked a complicated cake, made some five-pointed origami stars, wrote letters, took a long vigorous walk in the park, and still, I felt the presence of discouragement and anxiety in the background. The predictability of the solstice is ancient and steady, though — and I took comfort in that.

Beth Adams, Lights on at 1 pm: Winter Solstice

this blue-washed evening
lighthouse beams sweep the sky clean
again and again and again

Ama Bolton, Shortest day

My sister, Catherine, has always been Santa. She’s the kind of Santa who shops deals all year and stashes baubles away in the linen closet until it’s time to wrap them. She is a loyal adherent to the philosophy of more is more when it comes to gifting—she sent me a similar box that contained fifty presents for my fiftieth birthday–which is why I know there will be at least five presents for each of us, plus the dogs, inside that box. We can all reliably predict the contents. Among other, more unexpected things, there will be fleece pajama pants for each of us, chocolate bars for each of the kids. Chew toys for the dogs. For me, Walkers Shortbread cookies, the kind in the red and black plaid box, and for my husband, hot sauce. Always and forever, hot sauce.

For most of our family life, we’ve lived far away from loved ones, so holiday gatherings have usually meant just the four of us. We don’t like the traditional Christmas meals of ham or turkey. We don’t go to church. So, there is great comfort in the anticipation and surety that surrounds the Santa box. It signals, not unlike my mother-in-law’s (excellent, really!) fruitcake, the arrival of Christmas, connects us with family and continues one of the only real holiday traditions we have.

Sheila Squillante, Sister Santa

The outline of this lawn in the back garden remained unchanged throughout my childhood. Its corner – in the image, its apex – falls neatly behind the youngest boy’s head. Perhaps there is some composition here? I’d guess it was my father pressing the white button on the black plastic box of a Kodak camera. Taking such a picture was more the father’s job in those days. His clumsiness in framing the image ought not to be judged too harshly (these were still relatively early days for mass photography) but it stirs in me the thought that he was always a man more at home with objects than words or people. I wish he’d taken the picture again, a little lower, filling the chosen frame with his three children. Forty years later, setting the scene behind the large window in the image, sat around the dining table that (for fully 50 years) looked out onto the back garden, I wrote of him when forgetfulness and confusion troubled him more and more:

Past ninety and still no books to read
your knuckles rap the laid table

gestures beside a stumble of words
so much aware of their inadequacy

it hurts us both in different ways
since a man without language is no man

finding too late the absence of words
builds a prison you’re no longer able

to dominate objects as once you did
the world turns in your loosening grip

Martyn Crucefix, The Unlikely Wound Inflicted by a Photograph

It was only a matter
of time before security showed
then blue-lit us across town

to some kind of safety,
a ward I used to know
from before supplies ran out
and prices rocketed.
Of course, they vanished.

Ran, more like it.
There’s fear, and there’s fear,
if you catch me. Something
about papers, the border. Those eyes.
Her silence. The baby anything but.

Anthony Wilson, Call the Midwife

I would have been happy to spend the Christmas Eve service in silence and candles, just soaking in the beauty.  

But we had a service of readings and singing and a homily, and the Eucharist.  We had to pivot here, too, with soloists out because of sinus infections and COVID exposure.  I thought of all the weeks of drama about who would sing which song, and in the end, we had to switch some of the music.

I am not immune to the life lesson contained here: the ability to pivot, the beauty that is possible if we can let go of our preconceived notions of what the experience and the space should be.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Pivoting on Christmas Eve

In the thrift store before closing,
on Christmas Eve, a handful of people
thumb through trays of vintage
jewelry, crushed hats, shoes of worn
leather, hunting for a clasp, a bit
of rubbed velvet. Looking,
listening for signals of another act,
an encore. Not flourishes, though,
or any of the intricate caprices;
the single line of music delivers
the sharpest pang. Cantabile,
meaning songlike. Meaning
what wakes the deepest silences
before you even become aware.

Luisa A. Igloria, Beyond measure

And there’s something else. A gift which couldn’t be wrapped. And it’s this — that it’s possible to dance to Handel’s Messiah, and that joy when doing this is inevitable. After we’d opened our presents, we’d push back the  coffee table and prance around: And the Glory of the Lord. All We Like Sheep. His Yoke is Easy. Hallelujah! 

Here he is, wearing a coat made by Gabriel. Here he is. My beloved friend. Here he is – Graham, GKA, Gray: half fallen angel, half risen dervish. 

Liz Lefroy, I Unwrap Three Gifts

We’re in our bedroom. I’m standing behind them, arms around their waist. I ask whether there’s anything we could do to fix things, to be together. They smile sadly but don’t answer. That’s when I awake, my brain saving me from another crushing reply. Christmas slips the knife back in. I know it takes time, but hasn’t there been enough? I’m ready for the part where it hurts less. Mostly I just want them back so damn much and I want to stop wanting that.

the kettle is on
in someone else’s house
Christmas

Jason Crane, A Christmas haibun

Do I dream of you or you of me?
What is it we’re afraid of?
Mist brings back this and that.

Owls live here. House martins, bats.
The blue cobalt crust fungus.
Orchids are early this year.

A hare slips past a fallen ash.
A squirrel stops and stares.
Tell no-one. Let me stay.

Bob Mee, A POEM AS A NET

Mary knows George would never understand they live in a snow globe that gets taken out and shaken once a year. That the life he’s been longing to escape has a finite border, and for a moment, as he clutches Tommy to his chest and Janie plonks away at the piano, he knows it too. This place where it’s always Christmas Eve, where the difference between life and death is $8,000 dollars that always goes missing and returns tenfold, and Zuzu’s sinister flowers bloom in the wintertime. Quick! Ring a bell.

Collin Kelley, New Poetry Project: Poem 3 – “What Mary Bailey Saw”

It has been a while since I’ve seen a poetry title by American-Vietnamese poet Truong Tran, so I was intrigued to see his collaboration with San Francisco poet Damon Potter, 100 Words: Poems (Oakland CA: Omnidawn, 2021). The poems that make up 100 Words: Poems are very much composed via a collaborative call-and-response, as they each respond to the prompt of an individual word, set as each poem’s title. As the book asks: how does one see the other? Composed through one hundred words-as-prompts, the project is reminiscent, somewhat, of Kingston writer Diane Schoemperlen’s debut novel, In the Language of Love(1994), a book composed in one hundred chapters, each chapter prompted by and titled “based on one of the one hundred words in the Standard Word Association Test, which was used to measure sanity.”

Composed as a process of vulnerability and exchange, there is something curious in Tran and Potter’s shared poems, uncertain as to which poet wrote which section, a process more open and interesting to read through than had each section been credited. The point, I suppose, was entirely to bleed into uncertainty, and a closeness of reading. In terms of potential authorship, some sections appear rather straightforward, and others, less so. As they write as part of “perhaps an afterword or a new beginning,” a sequence set at the end of the collection: “i am documenting a way of getting to you. it is a map to be shared in the / hopes that one day should that day come that you can use it as a way to / get to me.” There is something quite compelling in the depth of this conversation, into the bare bones of being, speaking on elements of race and privilege, belonging and othering, difference and sameness, either perceived or actual, and how perception itself shapes our lived reality. Opening an endless sequence of questions, there aren’t answers per se, but the way in which each writer responds, both to the prompt and to each other, that provides the strength of this collection. It is the place where these two writers meet, in the space of the poem, of the page, that resounds.

rob mclennan, Daman Potter and Truong Tran, 100 Words: Poems

I’ve been once again trying to learn to play the piano, blessedly for the household, on a keyboard with headphones, as it’s a painful tune.

Plunk…plunk…plunkplunkkerplu…crap…plunk…plunk… You get the idea. I like learning, even as I sometimes beat on the keys like a chimp in my frustration. Like that’s going to help. One loses control sometimes.

It’s the trying, the practice, the let’s see how it’s going to go today. Nothing like being a beginner to keep the ego at bay. Bay? Nay, swamp.

There’s a freshness in my approach to this beast that is often missing from my approach to writing poetry.

I had an idea this morning and boop boop wrote a poem. I kind of liked it. But I distrusted how easily it came.

I don’t mistrust all easy things, but I know enough about my own process to have sneaking suspicion that I’ve written not out of the difficult place of questions but rather the often more-satisfying-in-the-moment place of knowing. I knew how to write that poem, and I knew what I was going to say. And there it is, grinning winningly at me.

I shake my head. Sorry, pal. You’re cute. You’re one-night-stand cute, sure. But I’m after the real thing, baby, the messy, what the hell am I doing, what’s going to happen next thing. And you ain’t it. Plunk plunk…plunk…plink…crap

Marilyn McCabe, An ordinary pain; or, On Writing and Knowing

Silence is never completely silent. Something somewhere moves, it might be birdsong, a distance car, the clank of a heating system, a breeze making leaves dance, even snow crunches underfoot. Not responding to someone’s question can be an answer. When not speaking, we are rarely still. We fidget, tap feet or fingers, fold arms, fiddle with clothing or hair, jangle jewellery, clothes can squeak or rattle, we hum, swallow, sniff, breathe. If you’re attuned to body language, you pick up someone’s mood and learn to anticipate their response.

When I read my poems to an audience I look for
a smile of recognition, the stillness of true listening,
a fidget of boredom, a clue into how I’m heard.

(“Tracking Sounds, Crossing Borders”)

When you can’t hear your own voice properly, you compensate. I’ve also started a sequence of poems following Rose Ayling-Ellis’s dances on BBC’s “Strictly Come Dancing” and how she manages to dance despite not being able to fully hear the music. It drew out all the compensatory measures I use without thinking about them. I pass as hearing and was nervous that I wasn’t “deaf enough” to qualify for Arachne Press’s anthology “What Meets the Eye”. I am delighted to be part of the anthology with my poem “Tracking Sounds, Crossing Borders”, even if I still don’t know where the border between hard of hearing and deaf lies.

Emma Lee, The Art of Anticipation

Sometimes my sadness is like a symphony that only I can hear.
The beans are done and the rice is done
And now I am slicing bell peppers so that we can dip them in hummus.
An editor told me recently that he doesn’t like poems that begin with ‘I.’
But I don’t really care what he likes.

James Lee Jobe, Poems that begin with ‘I’

So I keep returning to dormancy, and how that might work for a large mammal who cannot sleep underground for 12 or more weeks.

I’ve decided to take the winter off from things that make up too many of the hours I spend on my phone. I’m taking the social media apps (other than Messenger, which I use to communicate with folks) off my phone and I’m not going to write here again until Sunday, March 20th, the first day of spring. I’m not going completely off-line, but I intend to be much more intentional about being on. What I want is to clear some space and be purposeful about what I let into it. I think I need some arbitrary restrictions and some public declaration to make a necessary quiet happen.

I have been wary of writing that last paragraph because there are things I know I will miss, and because writing here has become a thing I count on for several different kinds of good things. I have been avoiding it because if I didn’t write it I could more easily change my mind about the whole thing. I was avoiding it because there’s some fear in this for me.

But I’m saying it and am going to do it because last week, when I went into Powell’s, a bookstore that covers an entire city block and was once one of my favorite places, I felt overwhelmed by the cacophony of voices shouting at me from the shelves. There is so much clamor in the world, and so often lately all I can hear is a grating din. I want to see if I can create a pocket of quiet within it, if I can make my way back to some part of that young girl who loved to make a grilled cheese sandwich and a bowl of canned chicken noodle soup and eat them slowly at her family’s kitchen table in the company of a book, able to hear nothing in her mind’s ear but the voice of one other person speaking to her. I don’t know if this experiment is as much about becoming some other kind of writer as it is about becoming a different kind of reader. All I know is that somehow, I’ve lost my way, and I want to find it again.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Dormancy

All human suffering reduced to a tickle in the back of the throat. Hearts worn on sleeves, both as a fashion statement, and to allow your love to get some fresh air. Play checkers with your freckles, Twister with your lips. Spend some time in the music world twilight zone—somewhere between “Lust for Life” and “There’s a Light That Never Goes Out”. Fold and refold your DNA into origamis of better tomorrows.

Rich Ferguson, Better Tomorrow Beatitudes

The winter rolls over the land
like a cold carpet.
It’s soothing that seasons
haven’t forgotten their job yet.
As the days get shorter
we shrink a bit more in them too:
less steps, less words, less thoughts.
Only desires are still growing.
How to forget those bonfires
we’ve lit ourselves behind us?
The dancing shadows we watch
are ours.

Magda Kapa, Low Light

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 48

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: holes and wholeness, blogging about not blogging, clearing a space for the ancestors, and much more. Enjoy.


You are digging a hole in the hard, dry ground. The work is slow. you struggle, and no matter how hard you work, the hole only barely grows. Just a little at a time. You sweat and curse. You are tired, and your back aches. The neighbors are gathering at the fence. Why are you digging? Are things alright? Do you need some help? After several hours the crowd is huge and the hole finally large enough for you to enter. You go down, closing the earth behind you like a door. Now it is quiet. The sounds of the people watching have been silenced. You can hear your own breath. Reaching out, you find that the earth is quite cool to the touch, and that the darkness is a blessing. 

James Lee Jobe, This work is slow.

Not to interrupt the darkness
we breathed slowly, exhaling
almost invisible smoke.
We had rolled cigarettes
with cold hands, shared fire.
Nothing happened for a while.
Then the stars started falling …

Magda Kapa, Voices

I’ve eased out of bed this morning and made the mistake of reading the news before sitting down to write. I guess our morning walk and then my run will be all about shaking it off. Jack Kornfield says “After the Ecstasy the Laundry”. But there is also the question of after the Compassion… what then? I suppose it is akin to the obligation we feel to hold on to grief. To “keep a space” for the pain. And there is the guilt we may have when we find ourselves laughing during a period of a new loss.

I remind myself of the obligation to acknowledge the wholeness of the world. I can put down the conceptional understanding of things happening halfway around the world, and I can appreciate the nuzzling of a dog’s snout insisting on breakfast, my husband’s footsteps approaching as he comes in to [sit] in the chair beside me, drinking his coffee while I write.

Heading out now for a run. I’ll be quiet turning near the edge of the lake. I’ll be listening for the ducks, who invariably laugh just before dawn.

Ren Powell, The Weight We Give Things

 I once wrote a poem where the first two lines were:

The wind blows Novemberly
to the finger-snap of season change…

( I forget the middle of the poem, but it ends with)

The creek,
a ribbon of tinsel
through the leaf-gone trees.

How sad is that that I can’t remember the rest of the poem, and can’t find it anywhere in my piles of paper?

Anne Higgins, A cold and sunny end of November

Perhaps you were born with this hand like an uneven fence. Clasping, your whistle was as uncanny as an owl. Or you made wings of your outstretched fingers. Bird that has almost but not entirely evaded the gun, a feather’s breadth from near certain death.

Gary Barwin, ABRAHAM JUDA “SHORT FINGER” FUKS

The cluster of yucca plants by my driveway has bloomed twice this year, each time many stems grow tall, bloom and fade and I cut them down.  Then this one stalk appeared, but something about the weather or the season prevented it from stretching above the leaves, so it bloomed surrounded by the plant’s green.

It’s a late bloomer, like me.  Most people who know me now have no idea how slow I was to learn to think for myself.  I got good grades and succeeded mostly by doing what I was told.

I began thinking of myself as a poet in my 20s, but it did not occur to me that there is a teachable craft to writing until I was able to join workshops – not classes – many years later.  (I don’t mean things like grammar, which are important to communicate; I’ve known those rules since childhood.)

Once you know the rules of a craft, it’s much more fun to learn how and when they can be broken.

It makes possible surprises like these well-shaped blooms surrounded by green.

Ellen Roberts Young, Late Bloomer

The fall issue of AWS landed in my mailbox today! At 25° my mailbox is usually always frozen shut, so it isn’t a grand unveil without a lighter and some lock de-icer. As a poetry editor I love seeing how work morphs from draft form in Submittable to layout to printed paper copy. The cover photo is titled Open Sky by Becky Strub. Mandy Ramsey’s art is scattered throughout the pages and writings celebrating the celestial. I do enjoy volunteering for AWS for all the good writing reasons and for supporting northern women writers throughout Alaska. If you have an interest in volunteering, drop me a line. We are in need of an organized person to keep our email sorted and our mailing list updated. And you, too, would get to work with an amazing group of volunteers who also life up this sweet, sweet journal.

Kersten Christianson, Alaska Women Speak

It does feel good to have completed it, to have proved to myself that I have been able to write a work of fiction of that length, when I had not thought it possible. Apart from non-fiction books, mostly written to order for money, I have concentrated on relatively short pieces of writing that come within the rough borders of poetry.

Beyond that sense of personal satisfaction, what is there? I doubt I’ll ever read it again but hopefully, over time, some will ask for it to be emailed to them and, again hopefully, they will find something to enjoy in it. (If anyone reading this wants to, you’re welcome to email meeswood@aol.com)

There is, of course, a substantial gap between the writing of the thing and the reading of it. Not just in time, but in the experience of those involved.

Already, when it’s hardly been read, I’m getting on with other stuff. ‘Real life’ things like rolling the land ready for winter, making sure the hens are ok inside their inner pens to conform with avian flu regulations, preparing for the arrival of new pigs. And going off as usual to watch our beloved West Bromwich Albion home and away.

As to writing, it’s been surprisingly difficult to switch from the mindset necessary to create something of length to writing short pieces again. I wrote only one poem in the 79 days afforded the novel. At the time that felt like a huge release of air. Now, though, it’s taking time to settle into it again and find links between thoughts and images. I’ve started and scrapped dozens of attempts.

Bob Mee, SO YOU FINISH YOUR NOVEL… WHAT THEN?

You may have never given a poetry book as a gift. Most people have never bought a poetry book for themselves either. Yet a wealth of excellent poetry awaits, with more books coming out every day, each one capable of creating new poetry lovers. When I give a poetry book, whether to a poetry lover or a doesn’t-really-read-poetry friend, I like to pair the book with a related present. Here are a few suggestions based on books I’ve read recently. (Many are anthologies, a great way to entice readers.) Let these ideas inspire your own ideas. And please share in the comments what gift you’ve paired with a book, or what you’d like to receive in tandem with a book.

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The Hungry Ear: Poems of Food and Drink edited by Kevin Young (indie link) is a nourishingly hearty 336 page anthology with works by Elizabeth Alexander, Tracy K. Smith, Martín Espada, and others. It’s also perfect to pair with food-related gifts. Consider gifting it with something flavorful, like locally roasted coffee or spiced nuts. Or really step it up with a legacy gift like these salt boxes made from trees milled and shaped by the crafter. If you have the time, you might instead gift it with something you’ve cooked or baked yourself.

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Maggie Smith’s Goldenrod (indie link) explores parenthood, nature, and memory with a uniquely sharp tenderness. Somehow I think a picture frame goes well with this gift, a way of honoring what’s dearest to your recipient.  

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Ohio’s current Poet of the Year, Quartez Harris, is driven by his work as a second-grade teacher as well as by his students’ experiences with gun violence, poverty, and racism. I’d pair We Made It To School Alive with a gift certificate, maybe one that allows the recipient to give toys, games, or books purchased from black-owned businesses like Kido, Little Likes Kids, Paper Play and Wonder, or Puzzle Huddle to a loved child or to donate them to an area daycare, school, or afterschool program.

Laura Grace Weldon, Paired Poetry Gift Ideas

It’s been a hell of a week, for reasons I’ll describe in some future post, when I’m not so desperate. For now: an essay of mine on a poem by Cynthia Hogue was just published by The Account. Called “Closure, Irresolution, and Cynthia Hogue’s ‘At Delphi,’” it interweaves meditations on a beautiful poem–contained in Hogue’s brilliant book about chronic pain, The Incognito Body–with narrative about a different kind of pain and crisis, involving harassment and bullying at work while I was serving a difficult term as department chair. Pain alienates you from other people and makes it difficult to speak at all. This essay appears many years after the incidents it describes. It’s gratifying, if maybe slightly alarming, to see it published and slowly receive responses, mostly from women who have experienced similar things. I struggled with how to portray my then-boss’s behavior without aggrandizement or melodrama–and then received brilliant edits from nonfiction editor Jennifer Hawe, very very gently pressing me to be more direct about the stakes. It’s useful, to the writer and often to readers, to be exact about the damage, insofar as that’s possible. My life wasn’t “ruined,” but I sustained a lot of harm, and no one involved will ever apologize or make amends. How to walk through and past it?

Poetry helps. See the poem “At Delphi” here (scroll down a bit). It’s also quoted in full in the essay. You’ll have different touchstone poems, ones that consoled you or gave you company at a bad time. This is one of mine.

Lesley Wheeler, Nowhere to go but through the ruins

before the house sale was agreed
buyers demanded the ghosts be removed
so contractors were appointed, a date set
an amount shaved off the price
and the workers arrived to divest the property
loading reluctant specters into sealed skips
then driving them away to wherever unwanted memories languish
that ambushing taste on the tongue
a face half glimpsed in the crowd
the 4am telephone that rings and rings and rings

Paul Tobin, RINGS AND RINGS AND RINGS

I’ve been writing a lot while I’ve been on the road. Hundreds of haiku and many longer poems. I got on the road after the end of the relationship I thought would last the rest of my life. All this time alone and all these words on the page have been essential to processing that loss and moving … forward? Moving, anyway.

Along with the decision to find a normal job and a stationary place to live, I’ve also decided that the past 25-plus years of living a very public life need to come to an end. I’ve been on the radio and on social media and on podcasts for nearly all of my 20s and 30s and 40s, and I’d like to slide into my 50s with quieter media. I’m going to keep making my current podcast, A Brief Chat, but I’m going to do it much in the style of this blog. I’ll keep putting things out there but not doing much to promote them. If people find their way to what I make, that’s great. If they don’t, that’s just fine, too. I described it to a friend as an attempt to live a quieter life. I think that’s what I mean. We’ll see what unfolds. I don’t have much practice at living out of the public eye. I keep thinking of good Tweets and Instagram photos as I move through each day. I’m hoping that urge will pass soon.

Jason Crane, Saying goodbye to van life

It would have been the perfect time to light the log burner, and I nearly did, except that I’ve got two massive holes in the upstairs chimney breast because a couple of weeks ago a jackdaw got trapped in the chimney. I was sat at my desk, in my office upstairs, when I heard the sound of scratching and frantic wing beats. It sounded like it was just behind the wall, like the house had developed its own heart, had grown something into itself. In the silence of the mid afternoon I listened to it scrabbling about and to the other jackdaws up above calling down to it. I feel like I have a relationship with the jackdaws. They’re a constant, a background to my work. I watch them arrive from their tree roosts on a morning to settle and squabble on the roof top, they nest in the chimneys during spring and summer and in the evenings one of my favourite sights is them returning to the trees, calling and cawing. Occasionally I will look up and see one leaning over the guttering to stare in at me. I watch them attempting to drive the seagulls away, having arguments with the local crows. One crow (is it the same one each time?) likes to creep up on the jackdaws and pull their tails. I watch them moving around the village, living their lives. They have their routine, I have mine. Occasionally I’ll throw food for them onto the shed roof, in the hope that the cat won’t get up there and go for them, because I think he would. He’s a bit of a bruiser. There wasn’t much I could do about the bird in the chimney, to start with. My first thought was to phone the RSPCA but they wouldn’t come out for it, and then I had to teach, so the day got away from me. I realised as I was teaching that I hadn’t heard it for a while and hoped it had managed to get out on its own. Earlier, when I’d gone outside to see what the other jackdaws were doing, I could see them calling down and even dropping bits of bread down to it. They’d been calling back and forth during the day, but then while I was on zoom there’d been nothing. Silence. By the time I’d finished teaching it was dark. The roof jackdaws had returned to their roosts. I switched my computer off. Sat silently for a minute. And then I heard it calling softly. I put my ear to the wall and listened, barely daring to breathe. I could hear it moving about, and then, again, that soft call. It was quite heartbreaking.

The next morning as soon as the sun was up, the jackdaw was moving about and its family were back, calling down to it. I realised they were making the same sort of calls that they make to chicks when it is fledging time, and I guess that makes sense. They were trying to fledge their friend from the chimney, encouraging it to fight against the bricks and twigs and get out into the air. I rang my dad for advice, and rang the Whitby wildlife centre, who were great. But the only real option was to tear a hole in the chimney breast to get to it. Lots of people kept telling me there was no option but to leave it to die, and I couldn’t understand that, or rather I could imagine understanding it, but couldn’t imagine myself doing that as, clearly, there was an option, it just meant making myself and my poor husband uncomfortable and destroying a part of the house. My dad came up with his tools (despairing of my lack of tools), and he knocked a massive hole in the chimney breast upstairs, and the chimney breast was full up of fallen nesting materials. So we started gently pulling it all out as fast as we could until we realised there was no bird in the chimney. The bird, it seemed, was on the other side, in the chimney breast that ran through the other bedroom. My dad had gone home at that point, and I was clearing up the mess. Initially I thought it might have gotten out by its own accord, but soon it became apparent that it was, in fact, still there and not in the chimney in my office, but the chimney in my bedroom. I live in an ex council house. I’d never thought about the amount of chimneys it has before. It has a lot. My dad came back, which was very good of him, (though I do think he likes knocking big holes in stuff, especially if he’s not doing the cleaning up), and we knocked another massive hole in the other side of the chimney and went through the same process of pulling stuff out and then, suddenly, there was the jackdaw, both matt and silk, claws and beak and eyes tight shut. It must have died just before we got to it. I had the chance to look at it up close. Female, I think, not as big as a male, its neck was ruffled, its feet were beautiful, slate clay and each toe ending in a serious hook of claw. It was not in great condition and I wonder now whether it hurt itself trying to get back out, whether it was poorly. I’d used gloves to handle it and disinfected them thoroughly. What strikes me most is how fragile it was, how strange it was to see this vital, clever, sociable creature so still, screwed up tight against what must have been terrifying banging and noise in its last minutes. It made me incredibly sad. But I did the best I could and feel happy about that. My husband is a very understanding person. He says he likes that I stick to my principles. I hid the worst of the chimney holes with bookcases. All pain can be alleviated with books, in my world.

Wendy Pratt, Jackdaws

I’ve been happily ensconced in two books of poetry recently, paging through randomly, reading steadily through from beginning to end, exploring back through. So much of the poetry I read I have nothing more than a vague reaction to, somewhere on the spectrum between hunh and hm. But these give me active pleasure and remind me why I love poetry.

One is Chris Dombrowski’s Ragged Anthem, which came out from Wayne State University Press in 2019. I learned of Dombrowski through friend David Graham’s poem-a-day emails, and I’m grateful. I chose Ragged Anthem of Dombrowski’s three or four collections randomly, and will be happy to dig into the other ones at some point. He writes out of his Montana or sometimes Michigan environment as a fisher, a guide, a father, a lover, a watcher bemused by the world. (Plus he’s buddies with one of my favorite singer/songwriters, Jeffrey Foucault, in a small-worldish sort of thing.) His poems, often long and lingering down the page, cast a spell woven of vivid descriptive detail and lyrical meditation, sometimes funny. […]

The other book is Jessica Cuello’s Liar, a tangle of punch-gut poems of the bewildering isolations of being a child. It’s just out from Barrow Street Press, chosen by Dorianne Laux as the prize winning entry.

Marilyn McCabe, Long Distance Calls; or, On Reading Dombrowski and Cuello

And much of what I’m feeling this week is rooted in my tiredness.

And I feel guilt about my tiredness.  It is World AIDS Day in the midst of a different plague, and I am deeply aware that my situation could be worse.  My tiredness is temporary.  It is the anniversary of the day that Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus.  

This act is often given credit for launching the Civil Rights Movement, but what many forget is that various communities had begun planning for the launch, even before they could see or know what it would look like.

In fact, for generations, people had prepared for just such a moment. They had gotten training in nonviolent resistance. They had come together in community in a variety of ways. They were prepared.

Those folks had reasons to be tired in a way that I do not.

So, in this age of a new pandemic and old injustice, let me get ready for the day.  There is work to be done, but first, a walk and some time for contemplation and prayer.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Tired and Weary

i wanted to post a poem by Burkard. been reading & thinking about his poems, him, again.

& i guess i’m thinking of Michael’s love for notebooks, the mess & flaw & goodness of them. writing without trying to make a publishable thing. i still need that. i continue to need that. and something outside of social media, too, as much as twitter has become a blog of sorts for me. but yes, outside of that, outside of publicness & retweets & likes & “hearts,” all that. a more private space. meditative.

& i guess i was afraid of posting on LJ again bc i’m nervous that it might just go under, go defunct, go away, gone, at any moment, i don’t know. should i be saving those posts? or should i practice letting them go? my wild ephemera? my internet scraps?

Chen Chen, from the archives :: How did I know an angel from denial? / It took me years. / It took me years.

This week has had a couple things dovetail very nicely into each other and it has me thinking about the purpose and approach of the things we make. On Tuesday, we had our panel discussion with Bad Art: Kitsch, Camp, & Craft artists, many of whom wander in installation pieces and non-traditional forms–ie the screenprinted underwear on the 2nd Floor, or the giant dog made out of recycled plastic bags.  It came up a couple of times: the idea of being able to watch how audiences interact with such installations and when presented with such work.  I was, at the same time, working on my first freelance lesson writing project–for which I had chosen installation art as the subject. (out of many different options in the arts and humanities.) But I spent a few hours doing some research and looking up good examples, and writing about the ways we experience installations, particularly outside gallery/museum settings. A friend talks often how she likes to make the sort of work that is part social experiment–to see what lathers, to witness how the viewer responds.  

As writers, it seems a very different thing.  I get super awkward when people start talking about my work and how they respond to it.  There’s a distance that the page allows between artist and audience.  When they creep too close, I just get weird. But we do still like to hear something make contact, just maybe from a distance.  A new dgp author told me this week that she had one of my older poems tacked to her wall and it made me so happy on a day that was feeling especially hopeless in terms of feeling like anyone actually reads what I write–anywhere…here, in poems, in books, on social media. But at readings, I usually tried to get away as quickly as I could after reading. When I used to do craft shows, people paging through my zines, my collages, my prints, similarly made me uncomfortable and I wanted to run away, even though I wanted them to look and buy of course.  I usually don’t go to the openings of the shows I’m in. When we used to do Library general shows and I kind of had to, I was especially skittish and spent a lot of time hiding in the bathroom and escaping downstairs with my plate of snacks.   And we all want to feel like their is an audience and interest in our work. Even at the panel this week, though I had my black velvet pieces in the show, I was more comfortable just being moderator than talking much about my practice.  

I guess, moreso, I love building worlds, but how and when you encounter them is up to you. 

Kristy Bowen, art, audience, and distance

It is impossible not to delight in the near two hundred pages of American poet John Yau’s latest, Genghis Chan on Drums (Oakland CA: Omnidawn, 2021), a book that follows nearly a dozen poetry collections across more than forty years, as well as numerous chapbooks, works of fiction, criticism, collaborations and monographs. This is the first of his titles I’ve gone through, and I’m immediately struck by the clarity of the direct statements in his poems, especially the ways in which Yau returns years’ worth of racist comments, microaggressions and injustices back in the most powerful ways possible. The poem “On Being Told that I Don’t Look and Act Chinese,” opens: “I am deeply grateful for your good opinion / I am honestly indignant / I am, I confess, a little discouraged / I am inclined to agree with you / I am incredulous / I am in a chastened mood / I am far more grieved than I can tell you / I am naturally overjoyed [.]” There is a confidence and a strength here, one he knows when and how to play, push or hold back, from a poet who clearly knows exactly what it is he’s doing, and what tools he’s working with.

Structured via nine sections of poems, plus a prose poem in prologue, and two poems in epilogue, Yau appears to be engaged in multiple conversations, including a section of poems in which he responds to the previous administration, including the former American President, responding to history and culture as it occurs. “There are no words to express / the horrible hour that happened,” he writes, to open “The President’s Third Telegram,” “Journalists, like all fear, should be / attacked while doing their jobs [.]” Weaving in elements of culture and current events, much of which touch upon larger issues of fearmongering and racist dog-whistles, Yau’s is a very human and considered lyric sense of fairness and justice, composing poems that push back against dangerous rhetoric, outdated or deliberately obscured language and racist ideas and ideologies. In his own way, Yau works to counter the ways in which language is weaponized against marginalized groups, attempting to renew human consideration by showcasing how inhuman and destructive language has become. “We regret that we are unable to correct the matter of your disappointment,” he writes, as part of “Choose Two of the Following,” “We quaff mugs of delight while recounting the details of your latest inconvenience [.]”

rob mclennan, John Yau, Genghis Chan on Drums

I have a new poem, ‘Here is Bernie Saunders in Mittens’ on The Friday Poem.
The piece is a bit different from my usual stuff, which generally, although not always, takes the form of a shortish lyric poem. I wrote it around the time of President Biden’s inauguration, when the image of Bernie Saunders became a viral meme. I was intrigued by how quickly the image was manipulated in a myriad of ways, and how responses to these internet memes were received and interpreted. The subsequent down-to-earth responses to the viral images from Saunders and the woman who made the mittens were in stark contrast to the madness around the election and the insurgency at the Capitol. I’m pleased the poem has found a home on the excellent TFP, with a lovely astute introduction from the editors. You can read the poem here.

Roy Marshall, New poems online

The radio
woke us up this morning with news
of another rising wave of contagion,
a winter of pestilence and affliction—
your dark attendants, your retinue
and signature. But tonight,
around a fire in a neighbor’s backyard,
we are invited by a shaman to make
of our bodies a field shook with lightning;
to clear a space for the ancestors to enter
with their gifts of remembrance and healing.
What we pass from hand to hand around
the circle: not just flower or stone, not twig
with its tip of glowing ember.
Loosen the heart, and the tongue
might follow. Loosen the fist and the hand,
and the towering pines lean a little more
away from our small houses on the ground.

Luisa A. Igloria, Dear rumor of recurrence,

The recent death of poet Robert Bly brought to mind his book Leaping Poetry; I have this edition of the famous little book, which I bought in Grand Rapids Michigan in 1978.

My dear friend Ariel Dawson recommended this book to me. I have read it many times–my copy’s pretty beat up. A 1975 book of his prose poems influenced my thinking about poetry’s many forms, too; I love my copy of The Morning Glory: Prose Poems. The thing I love about this book is its open-endedness, by which I mean that Bly embraces ambiguity in poems by suggesting readers–and writers–examine the gaps, the leaps, the surprises that encourage curiosity. Free associations into the unknown can lead to obscure and unreadable poetry; but they may also offer a way in to the unconscious, the emotive, the innate–what, in previous decades, was called the “primitive” and associated with non-Western religion and ritual song-poems. When I was first writing poetry more seriously–as a craft, an art–Bly’s little book helped me to reflect on what I was doing. It gave me new direction.

The Morning Glory poems moved me into researching what poems feel like on and off the page and how poets have used forms in different ways through thousands of years. Haibun, for example.

In subsequent years, I have read persuasive criticisms of Bly’s translations and of some of the concepts in Leaping Poetry; certainly there is much one can criticize concerning Bly–because he wrote so prolifically and took a certain joy, I think, in standing out. I made a point of going to his readings and presentations when I could, just to hear what his latest enthusiasms would be. (I must admit I never liked the way he read his own poems, but I often liked the poems themselves.) I am grateful for his work and have been recalling going to hear him and reading his poems over the years, discussing them with friends.

The book itself is an old, dear friend. I think it’s time to read it again. Each time anew.

Ann E. Michael, Robert Bly

I feel like my blog posts have been especially flimsy of late, which frustrates me, because there is actually a lot going on in my life, but I am not at liberty to discuss most of it. Just know that I am having numerous internal and external meltdowns and yet I am forced to blog about things like tiny popcorn and bad contact lens prescriptions because I can’t tell you what’s really going on. There are days when I just want to move to a hot, friendly Southern state and get a job as a friendly receptionist in a car dealership and live out the rest of my life in relative peace instead of struggling with the relentless and ever-increasing madness of working in an inner-city hospital during a pandemic. In addition, I’ve been experiencing the painful realization that I’m not some big, leader-y career woman. At heart, I’m just a friendly receptionist. I didn’t ask for advancement. I had advancement thrust onto me, and it turns out I’m not a fan. I don’t see what’s wrong with simply being competent at what you do and sticking with it, but apparently no one can leave well enough alone these days.

Kristen McHenry, Choke Me in the Shallow Waters

The helter skelter of others’ sweltering moods discolor our temperament from time to time.

It’s like catching someone’s negativity as if it’s a nasty cold—

our sanguinity suffering sniffles, unable to shake the aches of another’s rage.

Low-grade fever and chills inherited from indifference.

Combative body language invoking unusual drowsiness or lack of appetite.

Political aggressions and conspiratorial digressions causing congestion.

Rich Ferguson, Aches of Another’s Rage

A poem which is a list of remembered former boyfriends turns out to be not exactly a joke at all, but the beginning of something which is both playful and seriously important. […]

I remember hearing her reading it for the first time at The Chemic in Leeds, I remember the way this phrase stopped me in my tracks and stayed with me ever since

.how we lay twice a week in each other’s beds
            like two unlit candles

and I remember also the impact of the growing seriousness of the poem’s long incantation, as though the poet were realising something for the first time, learning something essential, or, at least, knowing she had to find out what it meant. Over time I heard her read more and more of the poems at various venues, becoming also aware of the way she was understanding how they challenged her audience even as she challenged herself from the moment it all turned on that one phrase are you judging me yet?

John Foggin, My kind of poetry: Kim Moore’s “All the men I never married”

Well, I can’t tell you my big poetry news yet…but I will post it here (and on social media) tomorrow!

But in the meantime, thank you to Rogue Agent for publishing my poem “Enchantment” in their latest issue, which also has poems by friends Ronda Broatch and Jen Karetnick. It’s a very spooky fairy tale poem, which I thought worked well with this photo of winter apples – which always look so bleak and beautiful to me – and it’s also going to be in my upcoming book from Alternating Current Press, Fireproof.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, New Poem “Enchantment” Up on Rogue Agent, Winter Scenes and Surviving the Holiday During the 2nd Plague Year, and Big News Tomorrow!

So really, it’s thanks to sandwiches that I’m feeling more myself.

Also thanks to reading this by Adam Zagajewski in his essays, Slight Exaggeration, where he talks about how art shouldn’t remove itself from what is “painful, even ugly, that every quest for clarity, radiance, must proceed through full consciousness of what constrains us. This might be one definition of rapture: rapture means to forget pain, ugliness, suffering, to focus only on beauty. But purely rapturous works provoke only my opposition or indifference. Precisely the endless battle between heaviness, suffering, and illumination, elevation, forms art’s essence.”

You see, I had sort of pledged to meself that I would try to keep this space filled with more joy, more radiance, more goodness, and more uplift! And I still do pledge this very thing. But I also know that to come to something more artful, art-full, that it’s going to need to proceed through that “full consciousness of what constrains us.” Otherwise, it’s just gonna be fake anyway. There’s just no way you can live in this time, (or really any time ever) without experiencing the flip side in one way or another. As AZ recognizes, when we’re only ever fed joy or rapture, it is going to start feeling not so great. And I don’t think we need to belabour things, but just acknowledge the constraints, the black clouds/clods of whatever visiting despair, so that we can get back to the business of uplifting one another, back to joy, rapture, radiance, and yes, fun.

So yah, the black dog came, I fed it a sandwich. That appeased. And here we are.

Shawna Lemay, Sandwiches and Radiance

I don’t remember much of my ancient Greek, but a pandemic project has been to study some of the modern language. When we made our first trip to Greece, I was completely engrossed in sounding out all the Modern Greek signage; and at ancient archaeological sites, I would spend a lot of time looking at bits of inscriptions and was thrilled when I could actually understand a name or a word, but frustrated that I couldn’t communicate much at all. Now I do at least one lesson a day on Duolingo, often two. My first uninterrupted “streak” ended after 200 days or so when, somehow, I simply forgot; today will be day 320 of the next streak. As I wrote earlier in the pandemic, it’s a lazy and not terribly effective way to study a language if you really want to become fluent; I still believe you’ve got to put in the hard and boring work of memorizing conjugations and lists and grammatical rules, and I haven’t done much of that. But I know a lot more than I did when I started, even if I’ll still be tongue-tied if we ever make it to Greece again. I’d be a lot faster now at knowing what I was looking at in signage, be able to read a menu, ask some questions, be polite, but I’m not sure how much useful material I’ve actually learned, and very much doubt I’d understand much of what was said to me, at least at first.

What has kept me at it, I think, is this strange desire to be in the presence of those ancient letters every day and live in their world, which is not the world of Roman letters, is not at all English or French or German — though those languages all owe a great debt to Greek — but a set of symbols, descended from the alphabet of the seafaring Phoenicians, that have been used to write the Greek language since the 8th or 9th century B.C. That, alone, is incredible to me.

Obviously these letters have been used to represent a lot of things over the years, especially in mathematics and science. And now, we’ve got virus variants named for Greek letters, so that geographical places can avoid the stigma of attachment, and subsequent blame. I wasn’t too upset about Alpha, or Delta — both of which are overused letters in fraternity names, and therefore seemed like fair game — but Omicron? Omicron rather upset me. I like the word itself, and am very fond of the letter, which is so…round, simple, elemental. It’s one of the few letters of the Greek alphabet that remained entirely unchanged in the Roman, precisely because of that simplicity and the universal necessity of its sound.

I had better steel myself: we’re probably in for a slew of variants, and Greek variant names. For me, though, omicron will remain first and foremost a letter, a sound, and a form: the universal circle. Something beautiful, written by human hands, almost forever.

Beth Adams, In Defense of Omicron

So, there we were at the hardware store late on a Friday afternoon at the end of the long week after Thanksgiving, facing the same question we’d faced all those years ago when we were buying a stand for a tree for a different house and a different kind of holiday than the ones we now have.

Our choices? A cheap plastic stand for $19.99 and the most solid-looking, no-plastic, old-fashioned tree stand I’ve ever seen for $70.00. There were several left of the cheap ones, and only one expensive one. The box for the expensive one had “Lifetime” printed in large red letters on every side of it.

What is a lifetime? I wondered. How can we possibly we know what we’ll need for a lifetime?

I thought about how so many young families now talk about their desire for “a forever home,” a concept I don’t remember from my own early days of homeownership. Although I lived in one house from the ages of 4 to 18, I’ve lived in and owned five different homes in the past 30 years. I’ve been married three times. I really couldn’t tell you how many lifetimes I’ve lived. Even though Cane and I love the house we now live in, we know we could well be somewhere else ten years from now. Our holidays could (likely will) be different again, our health could be different, our financial situation could be different. We might not have the desire or capacity for the kind of tree that needs a heavy-duty stand. We know, in ways we couldn’t have known when we bought our last stand together, that ten years from now one or both of us could again be facing the tree question alone. Ten years, or months, or days from now, everything could be different.

So, what to do? How to spend our money? What future to bet on? I suppose that for many people, perhaps most young people, a tree stand is just a tree stand, and buying one is only another item on a long list of holiday to-dos, but sometimes, late on an early-December Friday afternoon in the aisle of a neighborhood hardware store, for a couple of more old-than-young people who know that loss and change are the warp and weft of every life, a tree stand can also be an embodiment of faith and hope and love.

We bought the good one.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Lifetime guarantee

That’s not the lunch bell —
it’s time for silence,

the old monk told
the visitors.

Tom Montag, TEN OLD MONK POEMS (44)

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 42

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, poets have been pondering questions of audience and language, questions of vocation and avocation, questions of travel, and more. Enjoy.


As the exhilaration of bringing forth a new book begins to settle, it presents the writer with another empty page. The writing has to being again and the poet, like a child, stares out at a freshly scrubbed world, learning anew, words and meanings, tasting phrases and metaphors, slowly, as if the morning is a foreign language, strange and tempting yet utterly incomprehensible.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, What happens next?

This morning I was thinking about books and time and the way we change as authors–not only in the style of our writing, the subject matter, our obsessions, but also how we approach the art form–the commerce (or lack-of)–the bizness of this thing called po. The poet who wrote the fever almanac, who compiled various versions, combined and recombined manuscripts.  Who sent it dutifully off to first book contests and handed over those shiny paypal funds. She wanted to gain some sort of entry so badly. Wanted legitimacy, whatever that meant. And doors opened,  not at all where she expected.  

But once inside (I say this as someone who probably only made it into the foyer of the poetry establishment, not the house proper) things weren’t all that different. Most people in her life barely knew she wrote–let alone a book. She still went to work and cleaned the cat boxes and cried on buses  The poet who writes books now, wants something else, but something almost just as elusive–an audience.  Sometimes, those two things go hand in hand.  One leads to the other–and sometimes it flows both ways. Sometimes, you get stuck between. 

I like to write now, not with an eye to the editors, the gatekeepers, the people who will grant permission to various hallways and rooms, but my perfect reader.  I like to think she likes the same things I do.  The weird and spooky and heartbreakingly beautiful.   Maybe she’s a poet, or maybe just some other creative soul in another discipline.  Her age doesn’t really matter.  She’s something between an old soul and a child of wonder. She lives mostly in her head, though sometimes, through reading, inside the heads of others. She wants everything and nothing, but mostly a lot of sleep. A cat (or several). Some coffee. She probably has a job–something bookish. Or arty.  A librarian or an English teacher.  She’s seen a lot of bad relationships but also some good. She has a couple friends or many in a loose sort of way. Many would say she’s quiet, but can be quite loud when she wants. 

As I think about my books, the ones I’ve written but have yet to publish.  The books I’ve yet to write that are no more than an idea.  A scent in the air. A change of wind.  I picture her, probably not in a bookstore, but opening an envelope in the foyer of her apartment building and slipping out a book–my book. Grazing her finger along the spine. Because she probably reads a lot, she won’t read it straightaway, but stack it neatly with others. 

Kristy Bowen, the reader

So almost everyone I know in real life is not only not a writer, but has little to no interest in poetry at all (Writer friends: this post doesn’t apply to you).

However, when I come out with a book, they feel compelled to try to read it because they are nice to me. I actually feel really awkward when my day-to-day people read my book though–even my day-to-day people I’m very close to and know more about me than I would ever write in my books.

Why is this?

I think it is because I feel like an everyday-person reading my poetry might misunderstand it or misinterpret it but think the poetry is more my authentic self than the self I share with them (which is much more authentic than my poetry–minus my unpublished collection of poems about Kit which is practically my blood on a page and possibly too raw to ever find itself in a full-length published book form).

I guess that I also think that they just won’t like it–and I’m not sad/upset/bothered at all that they won’t like it, I just expect most people to not like or “get” poetry. I could probably find a poem in each of my books that I think most of my friends and family would like, but I know for sure they won’t like the whole collection (this is maybe a question of accessibility to the everyday reader and not the specific Poetry reader?).

Anyway. If you are my sister or my friend from church or co-op or my next door neighbor or anyone I see for playdates and coffee, I’m not saying you can’t read my book, but it won’t hurt my feelings if you don’t.

Renee Emerson, why I don’t want you to read my book

In one of the lectures given while he was Oxford Professor of Poetry, on ‘clarity and obscurity’, the now Poet Laureate Simon Armitage recalled attending a poetry reading with a non-poet friend (all the lectures are available to listen to here).

After the reading, the friend asks Armitage about the mini-introductions the readers had given to their poems: why, his friend wants to know, don’t they put them in the books? In reply, Armitage reels off various defences – a book is a privileged space, that any one explanation might preclude other readings.

“I still think they should put them in the books,” his friend says. “Or in the poem.”

While he doesn’t go as far as advocating for written intros, Armitage goes on to describe how poems can be more or less generous with the information they offer, and suggests that the modern tendency to hold something back – those references which have a personal, or particular, but unexplained resonance – is an attempt by poets to recreate the kind of enigma which form previously provided.

Free verse is sometimes defended as a more inclusive way of writing, so it is curious that it often goes hand in hand with obfuscation, deliberate or otherwise. What, Armitage asks, if obscurity is just another ‘club membership by which the ignorant and uninformed are kept outside the door’?

Several of the examples of the poems Armitage discusses are ekphrastic poetry: responses to works of art. He shows how some contemporary examples require the reader to be familiar with niche works of art (allowing for the fact nicheness is relative). Other poems do not even reference the work they are responding to: only someone ‘in the know’ would know the poem is a response at all.

What, Armitage asks, is the thought process behind deciding not to give the reader this kind of information? And what does that say about our responsibilities as readers?

Jeremy Wikeley, Are we being educated here? [h/t: Mat Riches]

Upon reflection, the reason I feel I haven’t been doing creative work is that I am not generating many new poems right now. Some, but not many. But let’s re-think the process of revision: it’s a process of deciding upon the order poems should appear in a book, and which of the poems ought to be there to speak to one another, to resonate with one another (and with the imagined future reader). Hey, I am using my imagination here, and I am doing creative work. If all I ever do is generate new poems, those poems won’t have a chance to go out into the world and endeavor to speak to other humans.

Figuring out how to make that happen is the creative work of revising, editing, rethinking. Imagining the reader. Striking the tone of each individual poem to see whether it adds harmony, or works with a fugue-like trope, or changes the mood to minor, or unleashes a surprise. The book of poems can have an arc or act as a chorale or zigzag about to keep the reader on her toes.

The collection of poetry, when it is not yet a book, presents problems the writer and editor must solve. Problem-solving requires creative thinking–I tell my students this almost every time I see them in class!

Will the manuscripts find homes? That’s a different “problem.” Meanwhile, more new poems, more revisions, maybe more manuscripts ahead…while I await the first frost, while the leaves turn and fall. All part of the cycle.

Ann E. Michael, Collecting & creativity

I am happy writing what I consider to be poems, short or long, sometimes very long, primarily because they take me on a trip. I can let my mind go where it will, trusting in the process enough to bring out something that, hopefully, challenges and therefore interests me. And hopefully, anybody who reads it.

A novel, though… not a chance, I thought.

And so why have I written only one poem in the last couple of months – and am 77,000 words into a story that has, so far, maintained my interest – and that I badly want to complete. Perhaps it’s because I don’t know what I’m doing. By that I mean I began it with no plan, no plot, no idea how long it would be, where it would end, if I might like it or not. I had an image of twin boys raised in a wet landscape by dour, religious parents who led lives that were separate from others around them. One boy spoke, the other did not.

I gave the boy who spoke the temporary/working name Josef and wrote the first sentences as follows:

Josef, they said, you have to take care of your brother, you have to take him with you.

In those days, my name was Josef.

What, all the time?

Wherever you go.

I had no idea at all what would come next. I made a deliberate effort to write slowly, to settle into the world I was somehow creating. Where was it? I didn’t know. When was it? I wasn’t sure. When I stopped at the end of the first session it was because I didn’t know what to write next. And somehow, eight weeks on, it’s at the point where it feels it might end soon. How I don’t know – and don’t want to know. When it’s done I will allow myself to go back and edit. Until then I’ll go where it leads.

Will it work as a piece of writing? I don’t know, which is the fun of it. If it does, then a couple of bottles of red may be consumed. If not, then maybe a couple of bottles of red may still be consumed.

Bob Mee, ON NOT KNOWING WHERE A PIECE OF WRITING IS GOING

Write it fast,
the first draft,

and make up
the rest of it

later on,
the old monk told

the novelist.

Tom Montag, TEN OLD MONK POEMS (38)

[L]anguage is a golem, a superhero, a doula, the moon. Language is a kid dressed with astounding style and agency, a kind of fatherhood of the world. And motherhood. Language is a map, a legend, a rocket, a secret plan, a beloved city, an entire cosmos, a marvellous escape and a transformation.

Gary Barwin, Some words on Michael Chabon

on exploring Charles Causeley’s house

we might be buyers with money to burn
this could be a viewing

house all shipshape
bristol fashion

I am in the footsteps of a poet I don’t know
a most modest master

so I search for clues
open drawers look in wardrobes

but you cannot wear another’s words
purloin their inspiration

it doesn’t work like that

*

I think tomb robber is about right for how I felt. I was conscious of the fact that I was looking for inspiration in the very place where most of his ideas coalesced. It was a unique experience and thanks to Annie for organising the weekend.

Paul Tobin, PURLOIN THEIR INSPIRATION

the eternal search
other words for other things
wish coin in the fountain
his mind turning inward
from down in that well
the bucket brought up silver
but when the sun went in
down the bucket went again
perhaps what darkness offers
is the eternal state

Jim Young, reading r s thomas

I’ve reached that time in this thinking aloud post when I wonder what quite it is I’m trying to say. I think I’m just writing in this blog when it’s drizzly and drab outside, after not properly blogging at all for a while, without a proper plan. I hope that’s allowed. Perhaps I’m thinking that writing is a solitary, strange, not always chirpy business, mostly a means of receiving mildly disappointing news. Sometimes, I wonder what it is all about at all. But so many of us just keep on with it, don’t we, in spite of everything.

Josephine Corcoran, End of month, rainy Sunday blog

TRANSBORDA III Q-TV: the response of video art to the quarantine times is part of the Festival of Books and Movies – Alcobaça in Portugal, 1-21 November, 2021. Curated by Alberto Guerreiro, the event features a diverse international line-up of video artists. Amongst so many good friends and colleagues, I’m delighted that two of my videos are on the program: ISOLATION PROCEDURES and future perfect. I also have a component in the international collaborative project, Chant for a Pandemic by Dee Hood.

ISOLATION PROCEDURES was recorded during the 2020, mostly on location at Sleep’s Hill, Blackwood, and Belair, South Australia, where I live, under partial lockdown conditions. The audio samples are made from birds, frogs and voices in the immediate neighbourhood. The text samples advice from various government, business and community organisations. “WE ARE CLOSED UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE… MAINTAIN YOUR SOCIAL ISOLATION…” After the pandemic has passed, the lockdowns persist: this is the new normal…

In future perfect, we see and hear words stripped of their ornamentation, pared back to monosyllabic cores… Are these the roots of language? Or are they the skeletal remains of a lost form of communication? Who is trying to speak here? What exactly are we being told? Perhaps a coded message. More likely, a cry for help.

Ian Gibbins, TRANSBORDA III – Q-TV: the response of video art to the quarantine times

One year in Theater History, I stupidly stumbled into a discussion about the “facts” of theater history being theories. And that theories can change with new information – thus changing the “fact”. But I can’t get it out of my head that even though I know the hard sciences work this way as well, I want something to be a real – hard & true – fact. Not something made true by the loudest voice, or the most votes.

This fact today: from where I stand, the Hunting Moon is waning in the pale morning sky. The wind is blowing. Leonard is sleeping by my feet. I am yearning for all the vague atmosphere that the word village brings to mind. I want to live there.

And I want this person in my Facebook feed to be comforted somehow. By someone real. To be held – not in thoughts – but in body.

Ren Powell, Facebook is not a Village

It’s been a blustery week – the Pacific Northwest hit with “bomb cyclone” weather patterns – right now, I’m typing as my power is flickering on and off. We tried to make the best of the brief mornings and afternoons of slightly better weather whenever we could. […]

[W]e got a chance to visit with my poet friends (and Two Sylvias Press editors) Kelli Russell Agodon and Annette Spaulding-Convy, who came and met me at the ferry arrival area. We shared carrot apple ginger cupcakes in a gazebo overlooking the water and got caught up on writing news in the brisk outdoors. I also picked up a pack of the Two Sylvias Poet Tarot set. It was great seeing friends IN PERSON again. I forgot how great it is socializing in real life, especially with other writers!

Then we traveled on to see my little brother Mike and sister-in-law Loree at the new house they’re renting on the Hood Canal, stopping along the way at a local park to unpack a thermos of hot cider and snap a pic – only to see a sea lion fighting with seagulls right behind us. We had a good visit, sat out on their beautiful deck overlooking the Hood Canal, had a little dinner, then made the long trek back to Woodinville. Once again, great to see actual family in human form, instead of just over the phone or over a screen.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A Blustery Week, Ferry Foibles, Visiting Friends and Family Over the Water

I’m buried, overloaded, drowning in work, but how could I turn down an invitation by a fellow Singaporean to try some cheap and good Chinese food in a place that I knew nothing about? Spicy Village is an unassuming establishment on Forsyth Street, in Manhattan’s Chinatown, whose claim to fame is its da pan ji, or “spicy big tray chicken,” a dish from Xinjiang.

I did not do my research beforehand, so I did not know about the chef’s specialty. Instead, I had soup dumplings (delicious but small), spicy beef brisket hui mei, or handpulled wide noodle (chewy good), and fish balls stuffed with pork (yummy), as my friend and I chatted about the various business scandals that had broken out in Singapore, about FICA, about Singaporeans in NYC doing this and that, and about the trials of New York real estate.

As the evening went on, I was feeling strangely revived in that tiny, five-table restaurant, with eye-watering fluorescent lighting and a sullen waitress. It had something to do with the food, something to do with the company. When I peeked into the kitchen, and saw three cooks, two women and one man, pulling the dough in their hands into long strands of noodle and talking with great animation, the sight was mysteriously energizing.

Jee Leong Koh, Spicy Village

i’m earlobe to your earhart. i’m astroturf to your astrophysics.

jack o’ lantern to your geranium, chthonic to your tonic.

i’m bray to your brie. knurl to your nureyev. i’m squeegee to your tuileries, caw to your kalimba.

i’m dishcloth to your dish antenna. baywatch to your beethoven. i’m dog-tired to your catalyst.

i’m small time to your bigfoot.

Rich Ferguson, you say catechism, i say cataclysm

I still don’t know what I’m doing with my life, but at least I’m doing something. Which is a huge relief. I don’t think I knew just how much being dead in the water was distressing me, till I got a little way on the ship. Just to have a wake again, and the sea whispering under the planks. And maybe, after all it doesn’t matter so much what I’m doing: I’ll figure out what I’m doing partly by doing it.

At present, the most important thing would be either Python or the blog, I guess. The blog. I love writing and being read: but it may be that the blog is a dead end. Blog readership is falling off, for one thing; and for another, I am constrained by my past there, by the speaking voice and choice of topics my readers are used to. How many times can I run my stumbling toward enlightenment schtick? Okay, I’m overwhelmed by the intensity of beauty, and I can’t summon what it requires of me: what good does it do to say that over and over (and to exaggerate it)? My handful of readers loves it, but that doesn’t make it the right next thing to focus on. We have lingered in the chambers of the sea. Maybe the time has come to leave them.

Dale Favier, Getting Meta

Beady unblinking eyes, some red and some white, stare out from my phone charger, coffee maker, speakers, PC, printer, and elsewhere. The average U.S. home has about 40 electronic devices draining power, accounting for around 10 percent of one’s energy bill. Some call this leaking electricity or vampire energy.

Things I used to get done on a regular basis now seem to take forever. I never used to squeak right up against deadlines, beg out of regular obligations, fail to answer necessary texts, forget things like sympathy cards. Never, ever. But I have the last few years, excoriating myself all the while.

Adding up U.S. households, all this leaking energy totals the output of 26 power plants. This in a time when people in the U.S. use more electricity, per capita, than nearly anywhere else in the world. 

Sometimes I cancel a walk with a friend, a walk I’ve been looking forward to, because I just can’t muster up whatever it takes to get myself out of the house. Then I wonder what the heck is wrong with me when surely both my friend and I need the restorative pleasure of time in nature.

Laura Grace Weldon, Steadily Drained

The light on the window sums it up:
This is the year of drought in the city—

Days are endless as the land endures the heat.
Buildings bare sockets, hardly dent the glare
Of the sun harsh on stumps of shrubs, moving

Vehicles:
The river of lives dry and ache of thirst.

Uma Gowrishankar, The Maxim Drawn from Clearing-nut Tree

Word of the Day 18: ‘stour’. Stour has many meanings, but I’ve always heard it connected with dust and dirt. I was excited to learn that my mother-in-law called her vacuum a ‘stour sooker’ which was similar to the Norwegian I learned ‘støvsuger’. I think my MIL would have done well in Norway, with her Scots vocabulary, there’s so many words in common.

A short poem by William Soutar, who was best known for his bairn-rhymes. He was part of the Scottish Renaissance with Hugh MacDiarmid and had a short tragic life. His poems capture the fleeting beauty of life that passed his sick-bed’s window.

Nae Day Sae Dark

Nae day sae dark; nae wüd sae bare;
Nae grund sae stour wi’ stane;
But licht comes through; a sang is there;
A glint o’ grass is green.

Wha hasna thol’d his thorter’d hours
And kent, whan they were by,
The tenderness o’ life that fleurs
Rock-fast in misery?

Gerry Stewart, Scotstober: Days 17, 18, 19 and 20

Back in the 1990s, one of my first published poems appeared in Poetry Scotland. It was chosen by Sally Evans, a co-founder and editor of the magazine, who’s still a stalwart of the poetry scene in Scotland. In fact, I was delighted to meet her finally in person at StAnza 2019 and thank her for her encouragement all those years ago.

Since 2020, Poetry Scotland has been edited by Andy Jackson and Judy Taylor. They’ve kept its unusual format – an A4 broadsheet – while its aesthetic has also been maintained and tweaked to bring it bang up to date (see their website here). As a consequence, I’m delighted to have a new poem in their latest issue, nº102, which is out now. High-quality printed journals still have an important role to play in contemporary poetry, and I hope Poetry Scotland will be around for many years to come…!

Matthew Stewart, Poetry Scotland

[Rob Taylor]: Assuming the poems with place names as titles (like “Manitoba”) were written in those places, you traveled over half the planet in writing this book! At one point you mention that your browser has “thirty flight search tabs” and that you own “more bathing suits than underwear,” so I suspect travel has been central to your life and identity (you note at one point that travel “becomes my greatest escape”). 

[Cicely Belle Blain]: The ability to travel freely to so many places is definitely a huge privilege and something I understood to be a privilege from a very young age. My family made a concerted effort to provide us with the opportunity to travel, even at the sacrifice of other luxuries. I remember in ninth grade my teacher asked me why I didn’t choose geography as a subject to pursue and I replied that I felt like I already had front row seats to the best geographical education. I have always valued and appreciated my parents’ willingness to take risks—they’ve moved from the Netherlands to Italy to Kenya in the time I’ve lived in Canada.

RT: We’ve all had to live life differently since the onset of the pandemic, but I wonder if that isn’t particularly true for you, having lost your ability to travel. How has your time been during the pandemic? Has the requirement to stay in one place caused you to look at the world, or yourself, any differently?

CBB: Over the past year the value that travel holds has changed. It is no longer about exploration and fun and leisure, but about connecting or reconnecting with people, ancestors or culture. This has allowed me to view travel less from a Western perspective of ticking things off a bucket list and more as a sacred opportunity to find parts of me that are missing. I hope when the pandemic is over, I can dedicate my future travels to places like Gambia, Jamaica and other lands where my ancestry lies.

Rob Taylor, Achieving An Equilibrium: An Interview with Cicely Belle Blain

Why Palermo, a friend asked when I was making plans.  To gather the last strands of summer sun, like harvesters with a basket, I said, or something such.  Everything sings in the sun.  Instead, there has been some sun and much storm. The stone streets gleam slick and gray between the medieval buildings; the streets with arms extending out like a wet octopus. 

I might have said more interesting things: I love the mash-up of cultures, the never-finished project of culture building.  When I was 21 and dizzy with discovery, I said this was the first Arab country I’d been in.  Was it the pressure of colors — greens, pinks of fish, oranges, figs, the persimmon I ate everyday with fresh ricotta and semolina bread on a park bench?  Even locals here still talk of their Arab city — the gardens made urban market, sumptuous and overflowing in crowded alleys with fruits, fish, vegetables.  It’s a vision of possibility – a world of overflowing excess – that exists, and exists, no less, in the shadow of crumbling buildings!

The streams of cultivaters — Carthinigians, Phoenicians, Greeks, Arab, Normans, Italians, Cosa Nostra – are all still felt. Along with palm and orange trees, cats, graffiti, conversation, cars, garbage.  This fertile energy threatens to overflow at all moments, is always almost too much, pulls back with its own logic.  To know a thing, you put yourself in the middle. That’s the beauty of it. 

Jill Pearlman, Why Palermo

parked
beside a stream
of traffic

Jason Crane, haiku: 23 October 2021

And we came home with pockets packed with seeds
prickly chestnut hulls leaves and stones
a sliver of slate and the shell of a stripey snail
grains of Quantock soil under our nails
and the day was round and perfect as an egg
and contentment ran like a robin’s song in our veins

Ama Bolton, Desire Lines, continued

This pamphlet is subtitled “Dorothy Wordsworth’s Journals reimagined” and was published to coincide with the 250th anniversary of her birth. The journals are packed with description of the natural world and her thoughts and feelings, written over the period 1798 – 1803. Sarah Doyle calls these collage poems rather than found poems because, although the words are Wordsworth’s, the poet has reshaped the prose into poetry and added punctuation where necessary for sense. The original spellings have been kept rather than modernised. The language is far from prosaic. The first poem, “One only leaf,” is short enough to be quoted whole,

“upon the top of
a tree – the sole remaining
leaf – danced round and round

like a rag blown by
the wind.”

Emma Lee, “Something so wild and new in this feeling” Sarah Doyle (V. Press) – book review

I was very saddened to hear of the death of Brendan Kennelly this week. He had been a long-standing presence in my poetic universe, and was part of the constellation of poets collected in that life-changing anthology Poetry With an Edge which I devoured in the early nineties having decided to put poetry at the centre of my life. (If you are new to this blog, I have written about his poem ‘May the Silence Break’ here, and, more recently, ‘The Gift’ here.)

That final phrase belongs to his compatriot Seamus Heaney, who has also been in my thoughts recently, namely the austere quatrains and ‘inner émigré’ monlogues of his fourth collection, North. The line that’s been nagging away at me is from the poem ‘Fosterage’, part 5 of the ‘Singing School’ sequence. The poem is one of three that Heaney wrote in celebration of his friend and teaching colleague the short-story writer and novelist Michael McLaverty.

The poem contains a model of Heaney’s ability to make poetry out of everyday speech:

‘Listen. Go your own way.
Do your own work. Remember
Katherine Mansfield—I will tell
How the laundry basket squeaked … that note of exile.’

I first read it having just finished a big Katherine Mansfield phase, and was sure that the universe was trying to tell me something. The lines ‘Go your own way./ Do your own work’ in particular have been copied into more commonplace notebooks and quotebooks than I can remember.

Anthony Wilson, Do your own work

When I come to write my memoirs

I shall hesitate over many things. Pens
for a start. Inks. Nibs. And paper. Lined or plain?
And a routine. A fixed time every day, like Trollope?
Stop after two hours, mid-sentence, regardless.
Or after two thousand words. Or as things dictate?
Middle of the night, esprit d’escalier. Perhaps
a dictaphone? Though transcription is a bore.
An amenuensis would be nice,
but who would you trust, and they’d want paying,
regular hours. Food and drink and board?
Who knows. Anyway, that’s out.
Notebooks, perhaps. But not Moleskines, in case
people notice, and ask if you’re a writer and then
tell you that they do a bit themselves
and wonder if you’d like to take a look,
and tell you how they’re fascinated
by Temperance, or the evolution of the urban bus.

John Foggin, Stocking fillers [10]. Kinda blue

I’m very pleased to see the newly-released full-length debut by Bronwen Tate, an American poet recently transplanted into Vancouver for the sake of a teaching gig at the University of British Columbia. After the publication of a handful of chapbooks over the past few years, including titles published by above/ground press, Dusie Press and Cannibal Books, comes the full-length The Silk The Moths Ignore (Riverside CA: Inlandia Books, 2021), winner of the 2019 Hillary Gravendyk Prize. Through her book-length suite, Tate speaks of children, echoes, stories; writing from the inside of a curiously-paired bubble of text and pregnancy, each of her narrative threads swirling up and around the other. “Any creature with the head of a man will face you differently. Bind the book of autumn,” she writes, to end the poem “NEWS KNOWN / SOONER ABROAD,” “ember-leafed difficulty. Pea coat in the closed, embarrassed, left diffidently. // Can a heartbeat quicken? Mismeasured, I bargained, unmeasured, immeasurable. // Any foreign city can be a mellifluous note. // The true sky was grey.” There is such an interesting and intense interiority to these poems, writing through the blended swirl surrounding pregnancy and mothering a toddler, and reading and thinking. Through Tate, the considerations of writing, thinking and pregnancy are singular, shaping lyric sentences that are attuned to the shifts within her own body. “I could not say I had a daughter. I had a syndrome,” she writes, as part of “THE BEAUTY OF BEINGS UNLIKE / THAT OF OBJECTS,” “missing chromosomes nature mostly culls. A colleague tells me she studies what for me was a sentence. // I had that, I answer. Lost it. Her.” And yet, these poems were not prompted by such shifts, but through an entirely different kind of shifting perspective, as she offers as part of her “ACKNOWLEDGMENTS”:

Many of these poems began with reading Proust in French, which I read well but not perfectly, in search of words I did not know and could not make a confident guess at. I used these words, my guesses based on context, strange collisions, their etymology, French dictionary references (sometimes only to the Proustian sentence in which I’d encountered them), and the guts of my beloved OED for drafting material. While much of what this process generated has been trimmed away in revisions, I’ve gratefully retained some plants, some syntax, some atmosphere, and many titles.

I am fascinated through the way she shapes her poems, whether prose poems or her prose-attuned lyrics, attentive to the shape of the sentence and the accumulation of phrases, and the deep music of her flows and shifts and pauses, breaks. “Now bathysphere,” she writes, as part of “SWEET TEA,” “I house a slow advance. Brain and bone.” Or, as she writes to open the prose poem “AN EMPTY MEASURE IN MUSIC”: “That the dead could linger. Measure to the first knuckle of my littlest finger. Hand-worked guipure, light wool for a shawl. My body a shroud, lost all, lost all. Flicker, spark, and softest fall. // I count the beats in stillness.” Through Tate, we experience a lyric where language and the body intersect, and meet; a confluence of words and cells, each offering their own set of simultaneous possibility. She presents both an abstract and deeply physical and straightforward narrative space, one that articulates how perspective adapts, shifts, stretches and reshapes, from the immediate of the body to what that represents, moving through and against the language of Proust, and such a generous and affirming song of being.

rob mclennan, Bronwen Tate, The Silk The Moths Ignore

–This week brought us the latest adaptation of Dune.  At the same time I was watching Bosom Buddies, I was reading Dune.  Do I remember the plot?  No, but I do remember my dad telling me to give it 100 pages before giving up on it.  I did, and I was hooked, and for years, 100 pages before giving up became my rule for reading.  My other Dune memory is 10th grade art class, where we had a teacher who just left us to our own devices with all the art supplies, and I drew a picture based on my reading.  One of my classmates told me it was derivative of Star Wars, although he wouldn’t have used the word “derivative.”  I can still see the hooded figure (bonus:  no need to draw a face!) and the swirling desert colors and the burnt orange of the sky.  Will I go see the movie?  Doubtful, but it does sound intriguing.

–Another book I read in early adolescence was The Diary of Anne Frank.  On Wednesday, I went out for my early morning walk at 5:50.  Slumped against the concrete column of a downtown building was a man, sleeping in an upright sitting position.  On one side, he had a mostly empty bottle of vodka, on the other a copy of The Diary of Anne Frank. I continue to think of him as a metaphor of the human condition, but I’m not quite sure what the metaphor is saying.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Echoes of Early Adolescence

Famine towns spring up,
the farther north one goes.

Flood towns cascade
farther south. The diorama

is a rediscovered art form.
Each boiled grain spared

from a meal affixes moss
to twigs. Once, we had

windows of scalloped shell.
Once, we had capes of bamboo

leaf. Every street corner had
a tiny bread-shrine whose lights

came on behind brown paper
curtains at the crack of dawn.

Luisa A. Igloria, What World

Friday means challah dough rising while I work. Today it also means red beans soaking for mashawa, a soup from Afghanistan. Later I’ll add quick-cooking yellow lentils, bright like the leaves carpeting the grass outside my kitchen window, and tiny moong beans in dull Army green. I wonder what color camouflage American troops wore in Afghanistan over the last twenty years. I know that trying a recipe from someplace doesn’t mean I understand anything about what it’s like to live there, or to flee from there, or to yearn for a there that maybe doesn’t exist anymore. No matter how many news stories I read, I can’t entirely bring the other side of the world into focus. At my work email address, I read and forward another email about resettling refugees. Outside my window the hills are dressed in autumnal tweed. Maple and oak and pine trees rustle. Central Asia couldn’t seem further away.

Rachel Barenblat, Soup

Moonlight, waxing toward full, sweet
Nightfall after an easy Indian Summer day.
My parakeet sings along to the jazz on the radio.
The darkness grows like a healthy child.

James Lee Jobe, the darkness grows

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 40

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week, the cast of the sea, the happy accident, living down the road from Wendell Berry, Lear’s shadow, the possessions of the dead, secreting a minuscule rainbow, spiders on skis, and more.


It’s a sunny day in a quaint Ohio town. I’ve taken up a position on the sidewalk under a blue tent. Most people going by avert their eyes.

I’m here because, nearly two years ago, I agreed to do a book signing at an independent bookshop so adorable it could easily serve as the setting for a novel. The pandemic postponed this signing so long that I’m sitting here with the title that came out before my most recent book.

Although I’ve had four books published, I’ve never done an individual bookstore event before. Readings, yes. Workshops, yes. Group signings like the annual fabulous Author Alley at Loganberry Books, yes. This is a fresh experience for me. Other writers have told me bookstore signings can be excruciating. Often the only people who stop by are those asking if there’s a public bathroom or where the horror section is located. Today I’ll discover what it’s like for myself. Except I’m not inside, I’m out on the sidewalk. The open-sided tent blocks the pavement, meaning passersby must walk under it. This forces them to decide whether to look or not look at the strange woman sitting a few hopeful feet away.

I brought a basket of wrapped chocolates, a pen, bookmarks, and a little poster noting that a portion of each book sale goes to support the work of Medina Raptor Center. I brought what I hope is enough curiosity about this experience to tamp down my ongoing urge to hide in the stacks of the bookstore behind me. I tell myself I will savor the face of every person going by. I will spend by two whole hours being fully present.

Laura Grace Weldon, Experiment In Savoring

looking out of the glass doors of the foyer
he thought the afternoon light had taken on the cast of the sea
the car park a washed out watercolour

he was silent all the way home

Paul Tobin, THE CAST OF THE SEA

I had made an effort. I had put on a jacket. I had prepared. The words of my first poetry mentor Stewart Henderson came back to me in the half-dark: ‘It doesn’t matter if you are only reading to your mother, a cat and two children, you still honour the text of your words and knock it out of the park.’ So I did.

I read and read and read about death, my-not-quite-my-own, and others’, what that does to you, your body, your mind, your capacity to live in the fullness of life having not-died even though sometimes you think you might have.

As it grew darker, another voice from the beginning-of-things came back to me, this time in the form of a poem: Brendan Kennelly’s magnicifent ‘The Gift’, specifically his line about ‘places that were badly-lit’.

About ten seconds before going on, the organiser had asked me if it was light enough to read by. I replied that it was. But by the time I was half-way through I felt as though I was lancing my words into the outer darkness, a strange sensation for a thing that was at once so grand and intimate. (This reminds me of certain books I have written, still available here and here.) I could not see a soul. I found the experience bizarrely comforting. The universe seemed to be saying: poetry has always been like this. You want to play at Wembley? Do something else.

Anthony Wilson, Badly-lit

I’ve been thinking about the happy accident, the thing that sometimes happens in creative work where two or three things come together in an unexpectedly useful way. I’ve been working on some videopoems, and I find the happy accident is one of the delights of making work in that genre.

When I put together a videopoem, I’m usually working with text I’ve already created, and then either creating my own visuals or using visuals someone else created. I usually record myself speaking my text in Garageband, dump it into iMovie, develop a library of potential images, and then start flinging them into the layout to see what I can make of it all.

And in this way, there’s always some unplanned and surprising moment or two — the text is saying something compelling just as an image appears that resonates with it. I find those moments and work outward from there. Then if I add another layer of sound, for example, more correspondences can happen…along with other more chaotic effects that have to be reined in.

Marilyn McCabe, Oye como va; or, On Creative Happenstance

I have often envied writers who have or have had a ‘shed’ at their disposal for writing, reading and contemplation, whether the structure has been a driftwood hut, a remote bothy or a garden gazebo. Dylan Thomas and the Reverend R.S. Hawker both had writing huts with coastal views. I would definitely opt for one of these.  

Of course, it isn’t only writers who have huts. The photograph below shows a hut on Romney Marsh in Kent, provided for the ‘lookers’, folk who were asked to care for huge flocks of sheep on behalf of the land owners, who considered the marsh an unhealthy place in which to live. 

Unlike the shepherds, who only minded a single flock, lookers were responsible for sheep belonging to more than one owner. The workers were based at their huts by day, and at lambing times found themselves camping out in them overnight. 

It seems ironic to me that the hut in the photo below, designed for these lookers, seems so devoid of windows.

Caroline Gill, National Poetry Day 2021, Theme of ‘Choice’

There’s nothing like asking for blurbs that reminds me that I am probably the least glamorous of poets.

Wendell Berry can isolate on his farm, and everything thinks it’s cool. No big readings or university gig or living in the big city or editing the big magazine? Just out in the fields? It’s cool. It’s romantic.

But what about the stay-at-home homeschooling mom of six? Why is changing diapers just less romantic than shoveling manure?

Take the author photo for example–Wendell Berry could do a nice right-in-front-of-a-barn photo.

If we are being completely honest here, I should probably be pictured in front of a sinkload of dirty dishes, or maybe sitting on the floor next to a pile of laundry.

Renee Emerson, why can’t I be cute like Wendell Berry?

Growing up, I wasn’t ever interested in poetry. I only learned about “dead poets” in middle school and early high school, so I gathered that poets were extinct, much like dinosaurs. Then I changed schools and I just so happened to end up in classes with one of Wendell Berry’s grandchildren. Turns out Wendell Berry even taught at the school! (One English class, every other week, if I remember correctly.) While I never had him in class, my brother did—for which I will always be envious.

Being in the same building as Wendell Berry, seeing him in the lobby waiting to take his grandkids home for the day…it really put poetry on the map for me, but I thought Wendell was an anomaly at the time. His farm, as it turned out, was just down the road from my family’s farm, so I viewed him more as a neighbor rather than a monumental figure. But in college, when I attended an English class with the prose poet David Shumate, that all changed. In his course, I was introduced to contemporary poetry. I noticed a poem by Wendell in the assigned anthology, which (I think, ashamedly) was the first time I ever read his poetry. Among Wendell were poets like Rita Dove, W.S. Merwin, Sharon Olds, Ted Kooser, Elizabeth Bishop, etc. There was poetry written, at that time, within the last few years! Not centuries ago. It was poetry that didn’t rhyme. Poetry that referenced cars, computers, cell phones…the technology of my modern experience. These poems spoke to me as no other poem had up until that point. As a result, I was finally able to look back at the poets I’d learned in high school, those poets of centuries ago, with appreciation. The rest, as they say, is history.

Daniel Lassel, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Daniel Lassell (rob mclennan)

When my parents moved to a senior-living campus about 10 years ago, one of the hardest aspects of downsizing was what to do with the books. My dad’s bookshelves were full of texts that he found meaningful, valuable, inspirational, informational, necessary; he loved to read. Choosing which books to give away and which to keep was agonizing for him. And then he faced the task again when he and my mother moved to a smaller, assisted-living apartment. That time, he donated many of his books to the facility’s library, so he could “visit” them if he needed them. There remained one large bookcase. Because you can’t live a happy life without books!

Then he died; and my mother, who also loved to read, developed such aphasia that she could no longer decipher sentences. Now, every time I visit, she gestures at the books and urges me to take some of them. It’s hard to explain the response I have to taking home my dad’s books–a mixture of tenderness and discomfort, nostalgia and pain. Sometimes I end up giving the books away, but usually I read them first. Because they are books and deserve to be read, somehow, just by virtue of existing. No–by virtue of their having been significant to my dad. That is why I feel compelled to read them.

Ann E. Michael, Being receptive

What happens to someone’s life –not the body or the soul but the million pieces one leaves in the world.   Where does it go?  Who does it belong to?  The saddest and most interesting things at thrift stores are the caches of random photos and ephemera, no doubt rescued from someone’s house.  These cabinet cards felt like that.  My aunt told me there were mine and to do with them what I would, but I could not bring myself to wreck them, so carefully scanned each one and tucked the originals away.  A few weeks ago I came across them straightening my studio area at home and was tempted to toss them again.  I did not. But then I wondered why not? Some day, when I am dead, because I have no children, someone will find them and throw them away. 

Stuff makes me anxious..even more personal stuff.  While the thought of someone one day packing up clothes and books for donation is less frightening, I think of my photo albums. My journals. Yearbooks from middle school and junior high. Several scrapbooks–writing related, theatre related. My folders full of poem drafts. Where does this go/  Who owns it when i am gone??  Who even wants it? Will those same victorian photos of people somehow distantly related to me wind up in the hand of another artist like me. A collector of odd random things. 

Which of course, brings us back to the project.  The letters (fictional) from one sister to another across time and distance. Somewhere I have a few odd letters from high school penpals.  Some notes from friends in the years before e-mail.  Letters sent from family when I was living in North Carolina and badly wanted mail. There were some love letters I once kept– From an ex who spent time incarcerated for the better part of a year and wrote often. (though I briefly and unwisely  revived this entanglement a couple years later, the letters I tossed in 2013.)  As e-mails and text became the prime ways to communicate, the paper trail has dwindled. Thankfully, no one will read my letters when they are gone.  As a writer who wonders how much of famous authors writings they actually would shiver to see published now, this is a big relief.  

Kristy Bowen, the things we leave behind

i folded the sheet of newspaper into a hat
the way my mother did when I was a child
if i made two more folds
it would have become a boat
but i stop at the hat and i place it on my head
once upon a time i did this to please my mother
so she would know that i learned from her
years later i wore the hat to make my children laugh
now my mother is gone and so are the children
in the silence of the house i wear the foolish hat
a hat made of folded newspaper.
no one sees
no one laughs
from outside
i hear the sound of a blue jay.
it is a lonely sound

James Lee Jobe, i wear the foolish hat

Calling my front yard a “lawn” is a bit of a stretch, because it’s mostly weeds. My main strategy has been to plant different ground cover that will reduce the need to mow, but I’ll still have to find a way to remove the leaves from the beds in November/December. I loathe leaf blowers, but at least I have an electric one that isn’t too loud.

My mom also gave me some tiny purple and green leafy plants that I identified as common bugle. In the spring it grows tiny purple flowers. I have some cultivated bugle whose leaves are shiny and lush, and it has grown into enormous clusters.

But since I’ve transplanted my mom’s shoots, I’ve seen tiny bugles dotting the neighborhood, growing like little wildflowers weeds do, freely and with abandon.

I suppose you could say my writing life is like the common bugle or a humble wildflower weed. I plant my little fragments of poetry that live in tattered notebooks until I take notice of them and marvel at a flash of color that deserves some cultivation.

Christine Swint, Gardening and Poetry

The month one of my daughters stopped
speaking to me I’d step out of the door after rain
and see a proliferation of spores across the yard:
jack-o-lanterns, burnt matches, false morels
issuing from deep in the earth where a chain
of changes is always fluctuating like tectonic
plates. I didn’t know how the slightest nudge
could tear a stalk from loam, a colony
from a shingle of bark; and yet they always
came back. I didn’t know how long
I could hold a grief like that.

Luisa A. Igloria, Spores

Lear.  …who is that can tell me who I am?

Fool.  Lear’s shadow.

Lear’s mistake is to try to lay down his burden. He thinks that he has earned a rest. Nobody earns a rest. We just go to our rest, when we are called. All that trying to lay your burden down ahead of time does, is deliver you to the mercy of hellkites, and take your true and loyal daughter away from you.  You may not understand it, but you are holding something together. It is not your job to second-guess the future. It is your job to pay attention to your nearest and dearest, and use whatever meager discernment the years may have given you.

Dale Favier, The Quiet and Dark of Winter

These are ways maps are drawn, routes
The city bus takes in the grooves of the brain
Filled with buckets of tar: everything real
Duplicates by dubious recurrence— déjà vu.

Uma Gowrishankar, Mitya

On the trail, I wrote another tiny poem, having brought clipboard, paper, and pencil along. On the road back, I noted the irony of the road sign: pictorial leaping deer + “next 2 miles.” My heart split, sending out the warning, Stay where you are! to the deer in the preserve, and wishing for Bill his last venison sausage. Alas, we did see a small deer dead by the side of the road.

Kathleen Kirk, Deer Blind

[…]
extra slices of bread after dinner
and soft butter in the dish

the infant asleep
in five minutes

asleep again in two
__________

I have an unpublished chapbook called m(other), and this is a poem in it that I think about a lot–I did this morning, when there was soft butter on the counter. Postpartum depression can make the smallest acts monumental, overwhelming–even something little like setting out butter, washing a dish, picking up a sock. I struggled mightily with any sense of self during my first postpartum experience–and this poem is a ledger of remembering some of the graces in life, despite a deep soul-body weariness.

Han VanderHart, a counting list : postpartum depression

I had hopes of working on a new poem during Shabbat, but my body had other plans. I spent most of Shabbat lying on a heating pad, remembering that when the sciatica flares up, poetry is hard to come by.

The world becomes very immediate. Past and future both recede. I’m firmly in the now of pressing into the heating pad in hopes that spasming muscles and pinched nerve will yield into release.

Rachel Barenblat, Stillness

Last weekend I ran along the shore and the air was still. But the sea was still churning from the storm that had passed through. Tall waves, dark and edged with a white so opaque I could imagine I was running through an oil painting.

Sometimes writing is like wading into a stream where others have left all the stories to flow together, to flow through your hands, around your waist and into new ribbons of currents of hot and cold shining with the tiny creatures that give the world life, that take the world’s life. There’s nothing to claim here. Not really. It all runs to the ocean.

I miss writing.

Ren Powell, The Opposite of Disassociation

School summer holidays are a dream come true. 6 weeks paid leave; the pay for a teaching assistant is miserably low, but all the same, time verses money – there’s no contest. Anyway, this summer I went back to the music shop where I bought my first instrument, booked a private appointment for an hour and ended up staying three, and came home with the most gorgeous, deep-toned instrument that should keep me going for a few years to come. I realise that I’m becoming a guitar geek but I can live with that. I’ll never be a great player but I can live with that too because like most things I get involved with, it’s the ‘doing’ that I enjoy most. And I still enjoy ‘doing’ poetry, but when you give your time to one thing, something else has to give. So recently, the new guitar has been taking up most of my time. I’ve not abandoned haiku, but having prioritised my interests, the blog has suffered a bit. So, this post is just to say that I’m still here, and I’m still writing, but I’m also enjoying the sound of my new guitar (and in case you were wondering what has happened to the old one, it’s now in a different tuning so I have some new tunes and techniques to learn).

And I’m still enjoying reading whatever Snapshot Press publishes (John Barlow is not only an accomplished haiku poet but an influential figure in UK publishing). I can highly recommend his book (below) and I’ll leave you with the title poem:

evening surf …
sandpipers waiting
for the seventh wave

Julie Mellor, Playing the acoustic

[Rob Taylor]: I’ve always felt like there are two types of poets: those who want to write and write and write until the moment the universe stops them, and those whose writing is a means toward reaching an eventual silence (even if they never fully arrive). Funnily, considering you’ve published eighteen books of poetry (in addition to plays, essays, translations…), I’ve long thought of you as the second type. Your poems are filled with words, but your longing for “the clearing” (in the breath you take from the lord), for the impossible “pure concept” of home (in A Ragged Pen), for religious peace (“The Church of Critical Mass”), and for Buson’s butterfly, all speak to a reaching beyond words, towards a silent place.

Would you say the path you’re walking is one toward (voluntary) silence? If so, has it been a smooth one? (I note that you write elsewhere “rising to speechlessness, that ladder of desire… how many times you’ve fallen.”) What role does poetry play, for you, in walking that path?

[Patrick Friesen]: I don’t have a clear answer for you here. I’m just walking the path, no goal in sight. Not aiming for silence or for more noise. Just moving along. There are points where I become “speechless,” whether because of events in my life or because I’ve reached some kind of impasse, or point of boredom, in my writing. This just happens quite naturally. Then, after a pause, it continues. Perhaps one of these days that pause will become permanent, but it’s not something I’m aiming for. I have a friend who wrote every day, published a lot, much more than I have, but he reached a point where he said he suddenly couldn’t write anymore. That was it. He thought he might write again, but it’s been a couple of years. How to explain that? In my life I arrive at times where I am silent, need to be silent, and sometimes I think this is the way it should be from then on. I have great admiration for those mystics who achieved silence. But how does that happen? Would I run out of words? Get tired of putting them on the page? Would the words feel so empty finally that silence already existed, only I had to recognize it? I’ll be vague here and say it’s a process of spirit.

Rob Taylor, One Foot In, One Foot Out: An Interview with Patrick Friesen

I’m a dedicated freewriter. I especially like that freewriting has roots in poet Jack Kerouac’s stream of consciousness, “spontaneous prose,” the Surrealist Movement’s “automatic writing,” and in Yeat’s “trance-writing.” (Check out this videopoem by Helena Postigo, “I Think of Dean Moriarity.”)

My first introduction to freewriting was in a college English class in 1980. At first, I simply hated it. I stopped often, stumbled, stared at the clock, felt awkward, and concluded that freewriting was a huge waste of time. However, I had to turn in my daily freewrites as part of my grade, so, in spite of my resentment, I kept at it.

It got easier, and eventually I saw the value of this exercise: getting unfiltered, unedited and unpredictable ideas onto a piece of paper as fast as possible, before your left brain can take over and squelch your spontaneity. 

Many, if not most, of my completed poems, essays, reviews and articles started as freewrites. Sometimes I’m not even aware that’s I’m doing; I might open my journal up to a blank page and start making lists of words, which become sentences and phrases.

Erica Goss, Generating New Poems from Freewrites

Pamela Hobart Carter’s new poetry book, Held Together with Tape and Glue is a collection of gentle meditations, mostly on ordinary topics.  Some of the poems are erasure poems, but I couldn’t tell which if I hadn’t read the acknowledgements in the front of the book.  There’s no flaunting of technique here, but the poems are very assured.

Consider the opening of “Relined”:

Look at the world
as if for the first time

Beside us
rivers
A sense of passage

to carry your self
into its next version.

Or “On the Word”:

Here we are.  On the page.  On the word.
On the dot or the hook or the serif.

Here we are.  In the big city. In this house.
In this room or the kitchen.  Here lies truth.

Truth lies, here on the sofa, with us,
with our feet are up, stocking-footed,

shoes tidily stowed in the closet
when we came in from clearing dead leaves.
. . .

One of the longer poems, this one ends: “How did we get so good at calendars and clocks, /still ignorant of true passage.”

One of my favorites is “Bed” which goes through the making of a bed in detail: tug the corners, match the sides, use your hand like an iron to flatten the sheet.  It ends “smooth/as. smooth/ the mind. /done said/done, and day/is readymade.” 

Ellen Roberts Young, Recommendation: Held Together with Tape and Glue by Pamela Hobart Carter

This Wednesday, 13th October, at 7.30pm British Summer Time, I’ll be one of the two guest readers (the other is Maggie Sawkins) at the launch of Greg Freeman’s collection, Marples Must Go!, published by Dempsey and Windle.

I admire Greg’s poetry very much, and admire him as someone who does a great deal of good for the poetry community. His poetic and geographical milieu is similar to mine – he grew up in a road where my dad and grandparents also lived for a few years, near Surbiton Lagoon, and he went to the secondary school opposite the one I went to, a few years apart!

I wrote an endorsement for Greg’s book, as follows:

“The sharp, entertaining poems in Marples Must Go! encompass a cornucopia of themes – first love, music, the newspaper trade, cycling, am-dram and holidays – but also the corruption, pigheadedness and racism of politicians, past and present, intent on ‘making mugs of us all’. In this richly enjoyable collection, Greg Freeman celebrates the best – and skewers the worst – of England.”

If you would like the Zoom link for the treading, please message Greg via Twitter – @gregfreempoet.

Matthew Paul, Reading this Wednesday

There was an article in the New York Times that had everyone buzzing, a mean-spirited article about writers being bad to each other. (If you want to read it, just google “bad art friend.” You’ll probably also get some hot takes on the article.)

But what I want to say is that in twenty years as a reviewer, volunteer, writer, editor, MFA student, and MFA instructor, I have experienced and witnessed so much kindness and generosity among writers. Maybe good art friends make for less scintillating reading, but I feel if you’re going to shine a light on a community in the art world, it should be on the wonderful, supportive, encouraging things they do for each other. I include artists and musicians in this because we all make so little money and work so hard but still what I’ve seen is artists helping each other, letting each other know about opportunities, writing blurbs, recommendations, giving each other advice…this, in my experience, has been more the norm than the opposite.

Are there mean, terrible, miserably-hearted people in the art world? Of course, like everywhere else. But I am so happy to say that most of the community supports each other. When a writer or artist gets sick, they send a care package or note; when they’re looking for work, people try to steer them towards open positions; when they’re feeling depressed about a rejection, they get encouragement; when they get good news, friends celebrate. Maybe I’m not cynical enough, or I’ve been surrounded by a lot of super-nice people by accident, but I think that good art friends are more the rule than bad art friends.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Book Announcement, Bad and Good Art Friends, a New Poem in Image, and a Rough Week (with Fall Colors!)

Something shimmers, the length of a necklace,
flecks of silver, of pink, of blue almost tinsel
on the lawn like living breathing Mylar
delicately held by every blade of grass.
What could be more humble than the slug?
A snail without home on its back.
Secreting a minuscule rainbow
to grease its wayward path.

Jill Pearlman, In the Beginning, the Slug

The spider spent most of the time just telling us to stop mucking about and just get on with it. And she— I think it’s a she—was absolutely correct. We’ve been putting these jobs off for a while, waiting for the right moment, etc and lo and behold that moment never came, or something else got in the way, but now the jobs are done and we can move on.

The same thing happened this week with a poem. I have actually written one and finished it for the first time since August. It’s not actually that long, but it’s felt like forever. However, amazingly, if you sit down and stop prevaricating, it’s weird, but the work gets done. I can’t say for definite the poem is my best yet, but it does feel like it’s a progression of some kind. If nothing else, I think the first draft started from a stronger place than some of the final drafts of older work. I will take that. And so, now the work begins on the next one.

National Poetry Day came and went again this week. As ever, I applaud the intentions of it. I’m never sure if it leads to much, but anything that makes some noise about poetry can’t be a bad thing. I note, for instance, there was nothing about it at my daughter’s school this week.

My concessions to it were the aforementioned poem being worked on. I don’t think the celebration was for that though. I also made vague allusions to the classics in an email for work where I referenced “Project Persephone”. This was a potential project name, but it was discarded as we a) felt there was a better option and b) felt that the referencing the borders between life and death was a bit much for a brand tracking project.

Mat Riches, Spiders on Skis….

Drum skins storm the air with thrumder.

Rhythm hymns of pulse and pattern, syncopation and sway.

When you caress a drum, soul does the speaking through fingers.

Leave your fears and defeats in alleyways, hop the train steaming towards liberation.

Sing your animals and angels, your mantras and malevolence as hands conjure spirits of new beat happenings.

Rich Ferguson, Drumspeak

falling down
the stone steps
a brook

Jason Crane, haiku: 6 October 2021

there is in my baptism a stone that i bathe

Grant Hackett [no title]

a poem written 
splashed on a pebble 
thrown in the sea

Jim Young [no title]

It is here always where I recall the imperative.
Where I re-learn the lesson of my divine
irrelevance. Where I receive full clemency, where there is
only fervor for my blemished soul, where there is room for nothing
but the grand helpless lungs of the sea, the sandpipers
free on the brine of its draft, all things found and all forgotten.

Kristen McHenry, A Poem!