Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 25

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 U.S. Supreme Court ending women’s reproductive rights, with justices hinting that other civil rights could also be up for reexamination, shocked many bloggers into silence, I think: What’s to say that hasn’t already been said countless times before, and feels especially futile now? Outrage is not always conducive to creativity, but sometimes maybe creativity needs to take a back seat. So hats off to those poets who were able to find words in response to Friday’s ruling, as well as to those who’ve managed generally to keep on keeping on, despite everything.


The sea is good medicine after a heart attack. This is how you do it, heart. Listen to this unceasing rhythm.

Flowing in, pouring out. Pushing and pulling. Kissing the shore, then dancing away.

Rachel Barenblat, Rhythm

It’s difficult to write about anything other than what’s happening here in what used to be the United states it’s difficult to think about anything else really now at what very well may be the end times so I will write here that I live in a free state so far and if you need to come here for a medical procedure you can stay here I can’t do much but I can be part of the vast pipeline that is forming right now an underground army of women who can help who believe that women are not second class citizens or chattel many of us old enough to remember when abortion was still illegal the patriarchy is gathering strength and speed even now that permit free open carry gun laws have been passed in NY and women’s rights are being stripped away and one church is trying to rule us all

It’s difficult to write of anything else right now so I will work on the poem I’ve been working on for weeks and keep reading and keep baking bread and go to my garden and glare at the cool ground where my tomato seedlings complain about the god awful cold spring the rain and lack of sun I’ve begun driving after a very long period of just never wanting to get behind the wheel again I think my not wanting to drive (or read for that matter) might have been new iterations of my bi-polar disease who knows it seems to evolve all the time my stupid brain and its little fires

Rebecca Loudon, Pig and farm report

I’ve known since childhood that to many people, I’m not a full person, but I can’t pinpoint the moment I grasped it. Sexual assaults in college and high school were strong messages that my body didn’t belong to me. In a middle school class debate, a teacher required me to argue AGAINST the Equal Rights Amendment–this would have been around 1980–and I found some noxious stuff as I researched the arguments, but I already recognized the kind of woman-loathing being spewed by those writers under the guise of reasonableness. (Side note: is it really a good idea to ask a middle schooler to argue in front of her class against her own personhood?) Still further back, my father saved my first short story, written in early elementary school, about an abusive father who kills his wife and one of his daughters, while the other escapes to tell the tale. It was apparently written in protest because I asked to watch a TV special about domestic violence and my mother wouldn’t let me. I was proving that I already knew the world was terrible. My father, who sometimes hurt us in a casual way, thought my story was funny. My mother was not of the same opinion.

Lesley Wheeler, Electing another trajectory

I am always a little shocked each time I remember this fact that it wasn’t until the year I was born–1974–that women could own their own credit cards.  That women actually could be distinct financial beings independent of men. I grew up in what felt like a feminist world–maybe not one that was as progressive as I’d like–and still moribund in so many 3rd Generation issues like media portrayals, slut shaming, unequal pay & opportunities, diet culture, marriage and family expectations–but one that at the very least guaranteed women fundamental rights to their own bodies, and to like vote. Numerous times, we were promised that the ERA was just over the horizon, but it never really was, and today cements that firmly.  

This morning, I saw my boyfriend off, climbed back into bed and opened Instagram to suddenly discover we had regressed nearly 50 years in not only feminism but human rights. I used to have a lot more compassion for conservatives. Or at least the pro-life conservatives.  Since Roe v. Wade was in the books, and in my understanding of it mostly gleaned from fashion magazines as a youth, was that those rights should be assured and I would definitely feel safer, as a woman, as someone who would eventually have sex, would eventually be making those sort of possible choices that they would exist. I would occasionally glimpse pro-life propaganda in the 80s–a billboard somewhere, a bunch of people with signs on the corner of a catholic church we passed frequently.  As a woman in my 20’s and 30’s I would have been more tolerant of the abortion issue as an issue–convinced that the while my own bodily autonomy was important to me, I could see why people would be concerned about fetuses if they were really into preserving something that was (they believed anyway) alive. You could say I could see both sides of the issue.

Except they weren’t.–these people were usually also pro-death penalty and pro-guns. These same people would balk at restrictive measures when things like school shootings happened. Were it about the children, about babies, they surely would not make it so easy for people to just randomly pick them off one by one once they were out of the uterus.  It took me longer than most to realize it was about CONTROL–over women, their lives, their bodies. 

Kristy Bowen, let’s not do the time warp again

So the doubleness of things, of words.
What does civil mean now

its cudgled emptiness
breakdown in definition 

enough to incandesce
in brother war

civil disobedience
loses its pact of politeness.

If it’s civil to leave newborns in a drop box

why not drop at her house – 
one, ten, a hundred?

Let the possessed with bionic eyes
remain apart, on a sun-struck table

to burn themselves out.

Jill Pearlman, Civil Burn

The bee balm I planted this past April is in full bloom, and the bees take greedy delight in it. The flowers are right next to a stone retaining wall, and when it’s shady, I love to sit there and watch the multitudes gyrating among the blossoms. It’s meditative and restorative as outside time suspends and I enter the bees’ eternal present.

There have been cataclysmic disruptions in the U.S. that have shaken many of us, if not most of us, to our core. It’s been hard to grapple with the demise of women’s reproductive and bodily rights as I also am healing from depression.

One of my sisters, a journalist, went to observe a protest in Atlanta, but I do not have energy to participate in these demonstrations. I’ve got to focus on restoring my nervous system, and gardening is one way I’ve been able to do that.

Christine Swint, Bee Balm Delights as I Heal

When I was about 12 years old, I found John Christopher’s YA Tripods books in the library. In this series, the humans on Earth have reverted to an agricultural, village-based society dominated by aliens who stalk the planet as giant “tripods,” three-legged metal vehicles in which the domineering hierarchy scans the population to make certain there are no outliers plotting to overthrow them. The aliens use technology to place a “cap” hard-wired into people’s heads when they are 12 or 13, and there’s a ritual ceremony surrounding it. The cap keeps humans docile and obedient to the overlords and contains a tracking technology so the aliens can locate where people are going, making sure there are no gatherings that might lead to revolution.

I found this idea terrifying. Somebody is in my brain, tracking my movement, forming my opinions, making my decisions, removing my imagination. It seemed like the worst thing that could happen to a 12-year-old.

I loved the books but had nightmares for years. And now, as one often feels when reading an older apocalyptic-fiction or sci-fi tale, I recognize a prescience in Christopher’s ideas. Instead of aliens implanting tech into our brains, we humans have found ways to implant ideas and sway the populace through entertainment and communication device use without wiring up the gray matter. Clearly, people can influence other people, “change their minds,” without actually entering the brain itself…though earbuds get awfully close to that vital organ. The cell phone/smartphone/tablet/watch (Google glasses, anyone?) seems a voluntary purchase to its users, but I’m old enough and observant enough to recognize a societal game-changer when I see one, and this has been coming for decades. The smart phone with its millions of possible apps has also become more necessary over the years, less of an entertainment purchase and more of a social need. I found this out when traveling by plane last week. I also discovered how pathetic my app-IQ is and that I barely know how to use my phone for anything but pictures, calls, and text messages. And yet it can follow me around, track my interests and movements, show me consumer items to tempt me to part with my money. Yo! Get outta my head!

Ann E. Michael, In which she is briefly a curmudgeon

I woke up from a dream in which I got to spend time with my paternal grandparents. Oh, how good it was to see them again–to hear my grandfather’s laugh and see his smile. My grandmother told me things she never told me when alive, about herself as a young woman. The grandfather in my dream died in 2004, and it had been so long since I’ve seen him in my sleep. I can’t remember the last time my other grandfather, who died in 1981, visited my dreams. In just a few years, I will be as old as he was the last time I saw him alive.

People who tell us that our dead will always be with us are wrong, I thought, as I opened my eyes in a house none of my grandparents got to see.

My grandparents are receding from me; they don’t occupy the space in my thoughts and feelings they did even just a year or two ago. Perhaps that’s because I’m no longer the woman I was when we last saw each other in this world, and because the world we lived in together no longer exists.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Last Sunday

Maybe if someone presses their face against
a glassy sky and screams, so much, so loud,

the glass will shatter and all that is hidden
behind the absolute blue will rush out, deluge

after deluge, sweeping me with it, no longer
sky, no longer glass, no longer night or day,

just a unified mass, a weeping singularity that
cannot stand the pain, so much, so loud. We

were not supposed to be like this. How does
one heart hold a sky full of grief? Where will it

go when it breaks, that sky full of grief? I watch
another cloud mass move in. It has been raining

for eleven days straight. The monsoon is a lover
who will not be denied. How many hearts, how

many skies, how much of crying makes a deluge?
How many rainy days makes a sky full of grief?

Rajani Radhakrishnan, So much, So loud

When did the dictator’s son

start combing his hair 

into that small, 

slicked-back, one-length 

pompadour in the same style 

as his father?

His mother and sisters

can talk of nothing 

but how happy they are

to be restored to power.

There is no canvas 

or mural on which 

their likenesses could be 

restored to anything 

but their own imagined 

glory. No length of fabric

to bandage the smell of goat 

piss out of the air, or lighten

the color of blood money, 

blood diamonds. 

Luisa A. Igloria, A Palimpsest (13)

I’ve done a lot of sorting which reminds me of how much I’ve written never sees anyone’s eyes but mine. So in that spirit, since time is short and I have grading to do let me close with a poem that I wrote last week after walking the labyrinth.

I walk the labyrinth
careful to avoid
the fire ant mounds that line
the paths. I step over velvet
pods dropped from ancient magnolias.
A dog runs across the seminary
grounds. The sun begins
the morning tasks of sweeping away the shadows.
All creation yearns for insight.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Week in Review–with a poem!

I have a new chapbook out, inside the current issue of Poetry East! I found many copies packed in a box on my doorstep yesterday when I got home from an afternoon rehearsal. It had rained all morning, and I was canvassing for a county board candidate in the rain, but the sun had come out, and there was a lovely breeze, and the day was gorgeous. A lovely surprise then to find my Postcards to the World delivered! This is an assemblage of my chalkboard poems, literally written in chalk on a green chalkboard and posted on Instagram and Facebook at various times for comfort, commiseration, or cheer during the pandemic. Richard Jones, poet and editor, after enjoying my tiny poems over time, approached me about publishing them all together in Poetry East, where he, too, was seeking comfort and cheer. The last issue was “The Optimist,” a rare thing these days, right? Sigh… 

Kathleen Kirk, Postcards to the World

Flowers are
all about

sex,
the old monk

said. Think
about that,

the beauty
of it.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (232)

Ugh. I hate the liftoff of this post: that ugly “we,” that my friend Jarrett so rightly identifies as “the white male we.”  A warning flag for me now, that says: probably drifting into posture and pose, and away from real engagement. So back up a little bit.

The most challenging thing to me about watching John Vervaeke’s lectures and dialogues is his insistence on public thought. Extended consciousness. What we computer science types call distributed processing. People are wiser when they are problem-solving collectively. This runs smack into all my prejudices and sense of self. I have always, like a good little American, prided myself on going my own way and doing it all myself. And I recognize this now as stupidity (not to mention a trait that makes me a docile, easily manipulatable political subject): but God it’s a hard habit to break. I even imagine having a real conversation in real time and I blanch. That’s reinforced by my difficulty hearing, sure: but it predates it. 

My plan has always been to work out my salvation (or enlightenment, or spiritual growth, or even just ameliorated suffering) on my own. That’s good insofar as I take responsibility for it: I don’t expect anyone else to walk my path for me. Nobody’s going to save me. I do it myself or I don’t do it at all. So that’s good. But then I’ve never really been tempted to just submit to priestcraft: I’m a stubborn son of a bitch. The really problem with working out my own salvation — being “spiritual, not religious” — is that it simply imports and replicates the disasters of Puritanism. One of the main things I need to get free of is the notion that I’m an isolated individual consciousness locked inside my skull, peering out of the grimy windows of my eyes at an alien world. That’s not what I am. I’m an intensely social mammal, a product of my world and my time, and to do much thinking — and in particular to do much transformative thinking — I need to get the hell out of my head. Transformation doesn’t happen in there. The conditions are too controlled: the habits are too strong. I need, if not a church, then some close analogue.

Dale Favier, First Confession

eaten by carpet moths
zigzagging from the sky
I lost the thread

it’s bewildering
in different houses with our G&Ts
a light in a window

Ama Bolton, ABCD June 2022

On Saturday I gave a short speech on behalf of my ex-husband and myself. Our son was finally able to enjoy an elegant wedding after two years of Covid kicking the can down the road.

My son has always hated it when I code-switch. He said he grew up thinking Norwegian words were legitimate English words because I tend to use the best word. What else to do but to code-switch in the speech? Kjærlighet means more to me than the word love. Most likely because it isn’t my native tongue. Love is overused, misused, and abused. What do we love? French fries and argyle socks (maybe not). I have never heard the world kjærlighet used in such a way. If it is a matter of my ignorance of the Norwegian vernacular, that’s all right. Language is private and public, subjective and contextual. Someone will always correct us when we think we have found the perfect expression.

I have to admit though, I like the Danish pronunciation better, with its abrupt K at the beginning – like a “catch”. Then the j there, quiet but like a hook. And the suffix “het” makes it a phenomenon. The Danish language is tough. I like that such a word has a toughness to it. A strength that comes from the gut.

You don’t “fall into” kjærlighet. It is something that arises. It is a different word than “to love”: å elske. To fall in love is to be forelsket. Kjærlighet is more than a feeling.

As I was writing the speech, I kept thinking about how it felt to have E. on my hip when he was small. How I’d lift him by one arm and he’d swing in like a little monkey, wrapping his legs around my waist. It is such an intense physical memory it brings tears to my eyes. It manifests a very different kind of kjærlighet. But still, a phenomenon that arises as an atmosphere and permeates the years. Still.

On Saturday night at the reception, on several occasions, my E. now taller than me would wrap his arm around my waist to comfort me. Include me.

There is a poem here that I will write. But for now –

I can’t find the word I want. It isn’t bittersweet. There is no bitterness here. Some language must have a word for this. I am not the first parent to be overwhelmed by an atmosphere that has somehow accumulated years of experiences, emotions, ambitions, hopes, disappointments, and failures. Short-comings and (undeserved) pride.

Ren Powell, Milestones and Omens

moonset over the pines
the lone buoy
lists to the north

Jason Crane, Pontoosuc Lake Haiku

Another coping mechanism of mine during stress is reading, and I had a wonderful new book to enjoy this week, pictured to the left. My literary cat Sylvia poses with Karyna McGlynn‘s new book from Sarabande, 50 Things Kate Bush Taught Me About the Multiverse, which is a fun, flinty, 90s-nostalgic Kate Bush love letter with terrific titles like “I Wake Up in the Underworld of My Own Dirty Purse,” which starts:

My stage name is Persephone./ I perform nightly for a smattering/ of ill-informed Tic Tacs.

And oh, any girl who went through an all-male barrage of poetry professors when they were young will immediately understand and identify with “How to Stop Raping the Muse,” with lines like

in workshop suggested/ my poems had Teeth but no Tenderness…my lines were called sharks and shameless/ hussies.

Anyway, get this book from Sarabande, terrific for a summer night read with a little rose. And maybe a cat and a typewriter. Will this solve all of our problems? No, but it will take your mind off of them for a little while.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, America Goes Backwards 50 Years, Karyna McGlynn’s Terrific New Book, and Spending Time with Flowers When You Want to Burn It All Down

“The Telling” holds a mirror up to family relationships, the good, the bad and the ugly of them, and the stories they generate. Can we trust stories handed down from previous generations? Who gets to tell these stories and does who is telling influence the listener’s reactions? Whose voices are dismissed, unheard? Are children’s voices more or less valid than adults’ voices? What happens when a child’s perspective differs from an adult’s? This is particularly pertinent in “Crash Site”, where the mother is a crashed plane,

“We never did find that black box
so it was always unclear exactly what had happened,
and each survivor told a different story.
But the wreckage was there for all to see –
seats and belongings scattered far and wide,
things broken open,
life jackets snagged on jagged branches.

Though our mother’s windows
had popped out with the pressure,
she sometimes talked affectionately about the plummet,
but swore she could remember nothing
of our other life, before take-off.
Our first memory was the screaming of metal
and the silence which came after.”

The missing black box seems to have been given the role of providing the truth since every survivor has a different version of what happened. However, the black box merely records facts, it doesn’t tell a story so, if it had been found, each survivor is at risk of interpreting those facts to fit their own story. So perhaps the answer lies in there not being one story but an almagam of many stories, which will never satisfy the original players. The mother’s affection for the plummet, is an illustration of how we can still feel connected to people who hurt us either because the hurt was rare and unintentional or because social conditioning keeps even dysfunctional families together.

Emma Lee, “The Telling” Julia Webb (Nine Arches Press) – book review

Each poem is composed out of that assemblage of small pieces, small moments of thought, into something larger, in the same way her poems assemble together to form groupings and manuscripts of larger structures of critical examination, reporting on the movements and minutae of living, social interaction, politics, perception, finances and the weather. Seen as a singular unit, her published books to date, one might say, are about everything: examining and questioning our perceptions of the world, turning around and over ideas akin to the domestic lyrics of Robert Creeley, offering what appear to be quick, short takes that shift how we might encounter or experience the familiar. She writes the spaces between words, between stanzas, sectioning poems in such a way that one might wonder how her work might read in a different order of sections and poems, if there might be something different articulated if the ending of one poem, say, was simply switched out for another. In many ways, Armantrout’s poems aren’t what exist on the page, but what connections the mind makes when assembling each section of what she has crafted. Her poems offer shifts in perception and cadence, composed with pinpoint accuracy. As the end of the poem “Instruction” reads: “The child in her crib / turns her head restlessly, / says, ‘aaah, aaah’ / like an engine left running.”

rob mclennan, Rae Armantrout, Finalists

I finished this book [Joshua Mehigan, Accepting The Disaster] a couple of weeks ago now. I’m pretty sure it was either a mention by Matthew Stewart or Ben Wilkinson online that led me to the book, but either way I got to it, and I raced though it. It’s a deceptively easy read that doesn’t make for easy thinking. The long title poem is a tour de force in my opinion, and his work has made me want to go back to look at how to engage with rhyme again. I stopped writing end rhymes because it felt obvious as a route, but I realise it was also a kind of laziness. I stopped when I was (and it feels weird saying this) attempting to get to grips with meter and form, so rhyme was an added complication. Good rhymes are fucking hard work…perhaps they should be, but Mehigan seems to handle them deftly. They never feel forced…and he doesn’t use them all of the time.

Mat Riches, Optimistic Disasters

[T]here is an art to self-promotion and part of it is timing. I’m still learning the ropes, it’s knowing what to say, where to say it and when and how often to say it. I don’t want to flog my stuff to death, but I do want it out there. Hopefully, people are interested and will check out what I’ve linked or added. 

I headed off on a holiday to Scotland just as iamb poetry launched Wave Ten with three of my poems last week and I’ve been so caught up with my trip, a health scare and worries about one of my kids that I haven’t been promoted myself or iamb. But here it is and it’s not going anywhere, so check it out.

Fifteen poets with three poems each, in text and recordings. I’m included with such bright lights as Penelope Shuttle, Annick Yerem, Elizabeth Castillo and eleven other amazing writers. 

Please take the time to listen to my work as well as the other poets’. The editor Mark Antony Owen has worked tirelessly, fighting with the tech and the texts to put together another great production and I’m pleased to be a small part of it.

Gerry Stewart, I am an iambapoet

[Pearl Pirie]: What is underway or forthcoming? 

[Allison Armstrong]: I have five glosas forthcoming in Bonemilk Volume 2 (Gutslut Press). This is one of the rare times when all of the pieces in a multi-piece submission have been accepted, so I’m pretty excited about that. I’m slowly chipping away at my Femme Glosa Project, polishing and sorting out layout. I’ve got a chapbook on sub, and the beginnings of a microchap in the works.

PP: That all sounds exciting. What’s the Femme Glosa Project?

AA: So, a Glosa is a type of formal poetry that takes 4 sequential lines from a pre-existing poem by a different poet and builds a 40-line, 4-stanza poem around them, using each line in sequence (backwards or forwards) as a line in one of the stanzas. Traditionally, that line is the 10th of each stanza, but other placements are fine too, as long as the lines appear at the same point in each stanza.The idea is to have your glosa be a response to, or exist in conversation with, the original poem that you pulled those four lines from.

I find glosas to be particularly reflective of the ways queer femmes riff on, respond to, promote, and encourage each other so, in the case of my Femme Glosa Project, each of the poems I’ve glossed (60-ish) has been written by another queer femme. Some are poets I know personally, many are poets whose work has shaped my own, some are new-to-me poets whose work I chose just because I happen to like that particular poem when I found it in a magazine or an anthology.

In a number of cases I’ve actively chosen to gloss a glosa that a particular femme poet has written on the work of yet another femme poet, specifically to draw attention to the idea of “femme lineage” and how its reflected in our poetry.

Here’s an example of a glosa: https://longconmag.com/issue-1/allison-armstrong/

Pearl Pirie, Checking In: phafours poet: Allison Armstrong

So, yes, still life. The possibilities. What if this is the order of things that speaks of beauty with the most clarity? What if this composition is the one that creates a necessary feeling of calm in the viewer? What if this is the one you love? What if by arranging this here and that there, a particular layer of the universe rhymes and resonates? If we can get this right, what else can we get right?

I hold out hope, is all. I’m getting better every day.

Shawna Lemay, All the Information is Already There

morning cherries
visiting birds are shitting
on a pink Buddha 

Jim Young [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 24

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 musing about downtime and leisure time, outsiders and Ozymandias, collaborating with photographers, the life history of hermit crab, and more. Enjoy.


My friend, John Rae, husband of my godmother Anne, has died. John collaborated with me on the book of this blog, sending me line drawings through the post during 2020 when we were in lockdown. The drawings were, and are, a source of joy. […]

I thought of other friendships that have come to an end, whether through death or separation. I felt sad. Nearly 50 years after first setting off for Norwich (see, I Arrive In Norwich) I finally went into the cathedral, experienced evensong. The music, the company of other Lizes, the stained glass – all these became a still point in my turning world. 

John was a skillful artist, architect and teacher. A humane man – much loved. After our book was published, I received notes through the post from many people asking to buy a copy. The majority of these were friends of John and Anne’s. All spoke of long friendships, with affection and admiration. 

With death comes ending, as well as a continuation of thought and feelings. My thoughts and feelings have, this past few months, been circling around ideas for next poems. I’ve written little down, but I must get onto this in order to grow a little more. I also need to work out how to put up a curtain pole so that the curtains I bought in Norwich hang straight. 

So without either a bang or a whimper, I end this blog here. 

I Am Read.

I Thank You.

Fin

Liz Lefroy, I Sense An Ending

fragrance in a time of sadness 
petrichor says the emerging sun as
all steams right with the world again
the scent of a rambling rose

Jim Young, a vignette

One thing I’ve been thinking about quite a bit the past few months working on my own is the concept of leisure. What is it? Is it important? What legally constitutes leisure activities and what does not? Do hobbies count? Maybe, but what if your hobbies are in some way like a job? It’s especially wrought and all wound up if you are an artist, since so much of your way of being in the world is a kind of work..you are never NOT being an artist, even if it’s just thinking like one?

Kristy Bowen, all work and maybe more work

Jan always makes each issue [of Finished Creatures] look and feel glorious. Getting a copy in the post is always a joy. The envelopes they come in are lovely things with a string tie on the back. The addresses are handwritten, and if you’re getting a contributor’s copy then your page is bookmarked for you.

I’ve already mentioned that there was some back and forth on my poem that went in the mag. Jan was very helpful and very understanding, and while I’m happy with the version we ended up with, the poem is one that I’ve worked on and tweaked since it was accepted.

So it was a bit strange to be reading the published version on Wednesday evening as part of the online launch. It’s obviously a bit weird to be reading in a “room” full of the kinds of poets in this mag. I mean look at this lot…sadly not every one could make it.

I was disappointed not to hear Arji Manuelpillai read any of his poems as one of his is after mine in the mag, but I did get to hear Alex Josephy read hers, and that’s the one that precedes mine. I also got to hear Rebecca Gethin, Amlan Goswami, Hilary Hares, Joanna Inham, Simon Madrell, Caleb Parkin, Sarah Salway,Penelope Shuttle, Paul Stephenson and Elżbieta Wójcik-Leese read. I was in a break out group with Anthony Mair and Julian Bishop, but sadly we didn’t get to hear their poems —FYI both are excellent.

A couple of the poets that couldn’t make it also had their work read out, one of which was me reading James McDermott‘s excellent ‘Wild Flowers’. I prefaced it by suggesting using the names of flowers in poems is cheating as it’s guaranteed to sound great, but I love this poem. There’s a lot going on in there around belonging and survival.

Mat Riches, **Slaps Forehead**Remembers about Finished Creatures #6

Today, I enter the pebbled shallows of a man-made lake.
My footsteps tear through the reflection of pine trees,
Warp their curve upwards with hill’s rise, their sun-bright
Branches greening the water’s mirrored darkness.

Christine Swint, Memoir as a Body of Water

I read a book of poems, book of short stories, and finally finished a novel that had sat on my coffee table with a bookmark halfway through it for maybe…a year? It was finally the right time to finish it. But my favorite reading lately has been The Book of Eels, nonfiction about…yes, eels. Fascinating creatures, about which we finally know a few things, but which remain mysterious. They are all born in the Sargasso Sea and then swim/drift elsewhere.

I have also been writing–a variety of things, including a script I got to see performed last night at the History Makers Gala, honoring 4 wonderful people in our community! My poetry feels on standby, but I do remember writing some, sending some out, and storing some in the weird, dusty drawers of my mind. Sometimes, when I am waiting for something to come out, everything feels on hold for a while. I just checked the mail. It isn’t here yet, but it’s still very, very hot out there. The poor mail carrier!

Kathleen Kirk, Down Time

This syllable
means death in Hebrew
but let’s prolong
hope’s steady drip.

A tor rises
from the hillside:
aspiring only
to keep existing.

Listen to the trill
of cricket opera
as my little boat
glides on.

Rachel Barenblat, Lake

Out there boats patrol the coast on the lookout for misunderstandings.

Out there the remains of failure are found, or so it is announced.

Out there an armoured military truck smashes into a car. The invaders cover everything like fog.

In here what can I tell you? This is the factory of the mind, of the poem, of the portrait.

In here I thought I could leave but the battle for the bridge over the ocean was too intense.

In here are hundreds, thousands, millions of languages.

Out there someone is saying No really, I insist.

Bob Mee, OUT THERE, IN HERE

Finding your own community when you are an outsider is hard and made harder by not being close to the usual networks of support in the extended family, neighbours you grew up with, being able to rely on a childhood friend during a mid-life crisis. Moving on and reinventing yourself often means cutting off your roots and learning to sustain the plant you’ve become in shallower soil while others regard you as a weed, something grown outside the formal lines of the original flower bed, leaving you unsure as to whether you’re going to be left alone or cut down to size. Both the individual poem and collection explore that theme of how to maintain or keep in touch with the culture you belong to while settling. It questions how far compromises can go and whether those compromises are worth it. From the specific lens of Portuguese-Americans, it asks universal questions about the status of those regarded as outsiders.

Emma Lee, “Through a Grainy Landscape” Millicent Borges Accardi (New Meridian Arts) – book review

Percy Shelley’s ‘Ozymandias’ is not exactly a neglected poem. It was an option in my GCSE anthology fifteen years ago. For all I know, it still is. It’s tempting to approach the poem as a kind of relic, like those ‘two vast and trunkless legs of stone’ standing in the desert, a monument that won’t really speak to us.

But Ozymandias does, literally, speak. Reading the poem again after several years away from it (and, more recently, several months of looking around ancient ruins) the first thing that struck me was the number of different voices involved. The poem is a kind of Russian doll, reported speech enclosed within reported speech enclosed within reported speech: Ozymandias on the plinth, the traveller and the narrator.

It all happens very quickly. And not just the grand sweep of history: two words into the second line, someone new is already speaking. Do you pause at ‘said’, or carry straight on? It makes the poem surprisingly difficult to read: you can’t recite it ponderously like some people imagine this kind of poem needs reciting. The play of tone and phrase within the sheer square block of the poem and its metre give ‘Ozymandias’ a kind of glassy, artificial quality, like the sort of stone you might make a statue out of.

Jeremy Wikeley, ‘Ozymandias’ (Percy Bysshe Shelley)

How do you get from
nowhere to nothing?
You follow directions,
the old monk said.

Tom Montag, TEN OLD MONK POEMS (71)

a brief morning rain
dances on the van
I follow my breath

Jason Crane, haiku: 16 June 2022

Last night was our experimentation with silence so we left the worship service in silence, except for the thunder that had been rumbling for hours. As I stared at the icon on my computer, I noticed that my west facing window was full of a strange light. I knew I could look at images of icons at any hour, but I wouldn’t ever again have this exact sunset with the light diffused by the gray clouds. I watched the sky for half an hour, but just something I do not do very often.

I didn’t even try to capture the light with my camera. I decided to use our experiment with silence as a prompt to be fully present to the light of the sunset, to the darkening sky, and to the presence of God.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Praying with Icons

Turning in the final copy of the book, as many writers will tell you, is stressful and involves a certain amount of “letting go”—you know, you can hold on to the book making tiny or large changes forever, and often making the book worse because of anxiety. A little like my garden—you can desperately edit, weed, fertilize, and at some point you will just make the garden worse with all your worrying. You have to appreciate the parts that are working, that are flourishing, like peonies, as much as you regret letting go of your four-year old rosemary. A good thing about turning in your book is that you can start working on your next book—I already have two manuscripts in progress going, still shaping them and writing new poems for them. I am hoping for the launch of Flare, Corona to be post-apocalypse—I mean, post-pandemic—and for next time this year to be peaceful, healthy, happy, with normal-ish weather and getting together with friends and family. I’m hoping.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Gardening in the Rain and a Plethora of Birds, Turning in the Final Copy of Flare Corona to BOA, and Favorite Father Poems

The thing about Offcumdens is that a) it has the courage to work in the same territory as [Ted] Hughes and [Fay] Godwin and b) it rather wonderfully provides the reader with an appendix of detailed commentaries, in which Bob and Emma write about their involvement in particular poems. There’s one telling moment when Bob, writing about the poem Walking away, says

“Emma is called upon to be very patient while we’re out walking together. I see something in the landscape that I think will make for a good photograph, and go running off to find the right spot……I often see shapes and textures in the patterns of the clouds, imagining how they are going to look in black and white…”

Emma’s comment is that 

“It can get very cold waiting for Bob to take photos…this was in March with frost on the ground and a bitter wind”

I really like the sense of the to-and-fro of the collaboration in which sometimes the image will generate the poems, and at other times the photographer will work to respond to or illustrate the poem.

As Philip Gross writes in his endorsement on the back cover: “Each double page is a conversation” That’s it, exactly!

John Foggin, My kind of poetry: Emma Storr’s and Bob Hamilton’s “Offcumdens”

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

I was living with a photographer for whom English is a second language and Korean the first. But it was even more complicated than that, he’s a photographer! There’s a line by the poet Rob Schlegel – “language is not my first language.” We had to find a way to communicate if we were going to stay together. You can fall in love with a lot of people but if you want to spend your life with someone you have to develop a language together. What was a necessity in my life became the necessary conditions of my work.

Collaboration is not a picnic. As I say this I remember that Young and I made a movie about a man and a woman having a picnic with a donkey – with an actual donkey. The donkey messed up every shot we planned, though we also planned the donkey’s messing up into the shooting script. When I say “collaboration is not a picnic” I mean it’s not a unity, it’s not a perfect marriage, and if it’s going to be interesting it can’t stay play or process forever. Collaboration surfaces misunderstandings and ruptures, it reminds one always of the distances one cannot travel. It can’t hide a power struggle even if it converts that into the making of something.

The appeal is that it’s real. Forrest Gander’s book Twice Aliveuses the word “combinatory” to describe this intuition, that one’s perceived aloneness is at least in part an illusion. I am not sure whether we are truly alone or truly collaborative beings. I do not know the nature of the great web of things, the way we might be connected to animals and plants and the earth, but I know I am involved with the question, sleeping or waking, paying attention to it or not.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Katie Peterson

the words go back to change what the words once were
my DNA the same as another giant tortoise found in 1906

wild and precious life intertwined
I will be a fantastic giant tortoise in my next life, too

Gary Barwin, fantastic giant tortoise

We cannot bring about a more regenerative and compassionate future using the same language that got us here– the kind churned out by advertisers, pundits, and politicians. Poetry calls us to make big world-restoring decisions by listening to voices wilder and wiser than our own. What does sea ice say? How about honeybees, gray whales, storm clouds, bonobos, leatherback turtles? What do our ancestors, leading all the way back to the First Mother, have to tell us? What do the smallest children want us to know? The oldest people? Poetry doesn’t offer answers, it simply helps to tune our capacity to see, hear, and be. That’s a start.

Laura Grace Weldon, Finding Solace In Poetry

In between booster shots, orthopedists, and ordinary life tasks, I’m seeking a daily and weekly balance between literary chores and literary delights. I continue to query bookstores, podcasts, and the like, hoping to get more “eyeballs on books”–what a smart former student, now in marketing, says is the most important task for authors. That emailing and calling isn’t much fun, though, except in the rare moments when you make a real connection. I’m making sure I spend part of each weekday, too, focusing on poems themselves. I’m deep in revisions of the next poetry ms, trying to transform each poem, as well as the whole, as into powerful things.

I discovered in the process that I’ve only drafted 4 poems in 2022 so far. Normally there would be at least a dozen. On the bright side: I typically toss out at least half of my drafts, but these 4 all seem to be keepers. It’s an interesting shift; I wonder if it will be a trend in my writing life.

Lesley Wheeler, Eyeballs on books & minds between covers

Last fall, I was asked to deliver a keynote to open the 2021 Fraser Valley Literary Festival. I spoke about my mother’s dementia, and moments of social dislocation (Pandemic, anyone?) and how poetry can see us through. I was really pleased with the talk and hoped it might find a way to live on in print. It was a blessing, then, when a few months later the League of Canadian Poets asked if I could write them an essay for their Poetry Month series “On Intimacy.” The essay that resulted expanded on my lecture, and you can read it here: “Why? And Why Now?: On Poetry and Companionship.”

Rob Taylor, Four Essays

I remember the days of abalone ceilings, the yolk
of my belly nestled in porcelain ribs, nights
when we met the Pylochelidae in secret,
to whirl across the sodden dune,
showing off our spiral cloches.
We danced to forget that our shelters
would again abandon us.

Kristen McHenry, Poem of the Month: Hermit Crab’s Lament

What I didn’t know then
and what I know now
can be summed up by the same

question: aren’t we all
born of some catastrophe
authored by other bodies?

What did we have
to lose but our early
sense of self.

Luisa A. Igloria, A Palimpsest (8)

once again, i find myself awake in this bed—

this ambien labyrinth, this insomnia museum 3:13 a.m. bus stop to sudden wide-awakeness, all-night waffle house of tossing and turning, this zoo of doom, crusher of circadian rhythms, hippie commune of sleep apnea, truck-stop along the highway to hell, war zone of snores, tram ride to slam time, snotwad of snoozelessness, scheme of rusted bedsprings, 9-1-1 crank caller, off switch to sleep onset, enigma of pin cushions, bloated corpse of corporal punishment, this boxspring lobotomy, dante’s inferno with a pillowtop—

this bed, this bed, this head, this dread, this way station between sun and moon that won’t let me sleep…

Rich Ferguson, this bed

I remember the half light of the pantry, 
where I stole packets of cocoa powder 
from people who had been only kind to me,
and would have given them to me if I had asked.

If I had asked? Who knows how to ask? The wind
comes up suddenly from the darkened beach.
It was a weary long time, before I would think to ask.
A life of erratic tacking, whose only through-line

was a desperate desire 
to disappear as I was and to appear as I was not.

Dale Favier, Half Light

PP: What’s life’s focus these days, literary or otherwise?

AE: Managing my diabetes through changes in diet and exercise. I’m writing a poem series about diabetes. As a writer, I am forever curious and need to understand the history, etymology, science and culture in about just about everything I get involved in, I can’t help looking things up in order to learn. My brain doesn’t seem to be built for science, even though I’m fascinated by it, so I’ve been trying to learn more and understand the underpinnings of diabetes, the connection between blood sugar levels to food, exercise and sleep. This leads me down a rabbit hole of wonder and it excites me.  I might as well write about it.

A few days after the diagnosis, I began a blog: the Sexy Diabetic and from there I ended up starting to write poems. I have always written as a form of catharsis, connection, whimsy and exploration. Life and literary pursuits are usually not separate for me.

Pearl Pirie, Checking In: phafours poet: Amanda Earl

At the readings I gave when the book first came out in 2006, I made a point of including “Melissa’s Story” and “Bill’s Story” in my set pretty frequently. Reproductive rights had been a major issue in the 2004 presidential election, and I wanted to do my part to keep the issue front and center in whatever way I could. I wrote the poems after reading Back Rooms: Voices from the Illegal Abortion Era, edited by Ellen Messer and Kathryn E. May. “Melissa’s Story” is spoken by a woman who pays a doctor for an illegal abortion. “Bill’s Story” is spoken by a man some non-specified but significant number of years after his pregnant girlfriend was sent against her will, and against what the teen couple wanted for themselves, to what used to be called a home for unwed mothers, where she was forced to put the child they conceived up for adoption.

In practical terms at least, we are no doubt farther away from men having to live Bill’s experience than we are from women having to live Melissa’s. Given the particular form of Christian morality that is driving the anti-abortion movement, however, it would be naïve to think some version of homes for unwed mothers could never make a comeback. It was, and is, important to me to give voice to Bill’s experience because it represents a rarely acknowledged stake that those of us who can’t get pregnant have in reproductive autonomy.

Richard Jeffrey Newman, Three Poems Of Mine That Should Never Have Become As Relevant As They Are Now

let’s make it easier

I’ll write a poem about you
you write one about me

there are so many words
to describe
someone else’s life

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Anatomy of a poem

Death or glory
under the lights,
the sun, the stars,
we the mutualists,
the diggers and
the levellers
are bound in
a cargo net
of love that fills
the heart and stops
the breath. There’s
a joy you simply
cannot buy
in the moment
pledged towards
the shared self.

Dick Jones, MUTUAL AID

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 23

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 some sadness and outrage in the poetry blogs but on the whole the mood felt celebratory. As Jill Pearlman writes, “These are dark times, / Open the window, the sun shines today for 15 hours 10 minutes.” Opening windows is kind of what we’re all about, I think. Anyway, enjoy!


This morning, I woke up with a vague fear of abandoning my poet self. I thought about how I would feel 20 years in the future, if I stopped writing poetry, stopped submitting poetry. And then I wondered what led to this early morning quasi-panic.

I feel like I haven’t been writing poetry, but that’s not strictly true. In April, I did a lot with poetry for my seminary class project.  I’ve been continuing to experiment with my collection of abandoned yet evocative lines. I can’t write the way I once did because I have a broken wrist–or to be more accurate a wrist in a cast which limits my use of my dominant hand. 

I’ve had time periods before when I didn’t write. I’m thinking of the summer of 1996 where I wrote exactly one poem. That time was followed by a time of fertile poetry writing. […]

I think of other types of identity that are tearing the nation apart:  gender, sexual attraction, political affiliations. I think of religious identities that shape a person in deep and abiding ways. I don’t spend much time reflecting on these identities and what they mean to me. Is it strange that the writerly identity is the one that wakes me up at night with worries of losing it?

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Poet and Other Identities

As soon as we arrived at King’s Cross and I felt that unmistakable London vibe; a mix of voices and languages and styles and music and smells and street food, I felt invigorated. The exhibition itself was just incredible. I am so glad I got to see it. I’d been wanting to do a research trip to the [British Museum] for the new poetry collection, and the non fiction book, so it was great to be able to combine a little day out with that very necessary part of my creative practice, which is to be physically present around the things I’m writing about. I was awed. I felt connected to the people who I have been writing about in a way that is hard to describe. This object in particular (below) which was found just outside Scarborough, at a place that I have visited several times, a place that I have written about and whose people I have tried to imagine being near and being connected to, I found particularly moving. Its use is uncertain but most likely it was used as a lamp, or as a ritual offering bowl, the light passing through the carved holes. It is the first piece in the exhibition, displayed simply, elegantly, with a plain background allowing the piece to speak for itself. I feel like I know these people who lived near where I live, and to see object, held in their hands, see it all the way down in London, in this enormous museum with all those people looking at it, admiring it as the opening feature of such a beautifully curated exhibition made me emotional.

Because the exhibition was so well organised I was able to linger around the artefacts and look at them from every direction, getting up close to the backs of them to see the way they were worked. One day I dream of having access and permission to engage with and look at things like the Star Carr headdresses (picture of one above) with no glass between myself and the object. Perhaps on a future project this might be arranged. But the next best thing is this elegantly put together exhibition that allows space and time to look at the objects owned by our ancestors.

There is something quite beautiful about writing the poems for the new collection. I am feeling, with these last series and sets of poems about ancestry that I am somehow drawing the collection together, like a string being pulled taut through the eyelets of a cloth bag.

Wendy Pratt, To London and the World of Stonehenge exhibition

Since the end of the semester, I have been trying to settle myself  into a routine of reading and writing and creating. Last night, I attended poet Michael Czarnecki’s weekly poetry sessions.  This session, Michael read a selection of his spontaneous poems and the opening of his lyrical memoir; then opened the reading to an open mic.  The poets and friends who attend these weekly sessions are some of my favorite people. Their poetry is stunning: lyrical narratives that embrace, history, mythology, identity, travel, cultures . . . I get goosebumps listening to each and every one.

I am so grateful to this community.

Since [the] end of May, I have been writing every day.  Have a fistful of poems now, a few 100 word stories, too. I think beginning each day with the intent to accomplish: gardening, writing, drawing, walking, daydreaming will restore my soul that has been banged up in the last 100 days.

M. J. Iuppa, June 2022: 100 Days of Healing

As a pastoral caregiver I know that both laughter and tears are normal in a hospital. (Not just in a hospital; always! But emotions are heightened at times like these.) Sometimes I could lift up and let the current carry me. Sometimes I sank to the bottom and crashed into the riverbed rocks. 

On erev Shavuot I joined, via Zoom, the festival service I had planned to co-lead. I sang Hallel very quietly. I may never forget singing לֹא הַמֵּתִים יְהַלְלוּ־יָהּ וְלֹ֗א כּל־יֹרְדֵי דוּמָה (“The dead do not praise You, nor all those who go down into silence,” Ps. 115:16) attached to a heparin drip and cardiac monitors.

Now I am home, learning about MINOCA (myocardial infarction with non-obstructive coronary arteries), and preparing to seek out diagnosticians who might be able to weave my strokes 15 years ago, my shortness of breath, and this heart attack into a coherent narrative with a clear action plan.

After my strokes, I saw specialist after specialist in Boston. Eventually I leaned into not-knowing, into taking Mystery as a spiritual teacher. But now that I’ve added a heart attack to the mix, I’m hoping anew for a grand unifying theory. For now, I remain in the not-knowing, with gratitude to be alive.

Rachel Barenblat, Heart

Where death is, I am not: where I am, death is not,
said Epicurus. But still the cognitive theorists aver
that an autopoietic system
cares for itself. Willy nilly. Say when.

Love comes late and untidy
bold and crumpled, crooked and strong:
it’s a tune now hummed under my breath: it needs
no voice.

Dale Favier, Deaf

How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?

I think my first book, Punchline, which came out in 2012, gave me a sense of relief. Not validation necessarily, but I think it freed me to write when I wanted, rather than write as if life depended on it.  My newest book, The Forgotten World, is my third, and by far my most personal book, and my book most rooted in the real world, rather than any sort of metaphysical space. Being the Executive Editor of Atmosphere Press, which is not tied to the academic calendar, gave me the opportunity to explore the world more fully, and that exploration made for a book set in places, rather than in the one place of the abstract. […]

Where does a poem or work of prose 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?

I’ve done both, and for The Forgotten World it became clear along the way that I was writing a travel book and a book about the intellectual struggle of being American while not in America, and respecting cultures that have been mistreated by people who look like me. Once I realized that that was the subject matter I felt compelled to write, I just had to spend the years it took to go the places I needed to go to learn. This book is a product of years of feet-on-the-ground research in a way my others weren’t. […]

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?

[…] I think one of the greatest roles of writing is to make the writer a more satisfied and content person. People often look to the value of a writer in relation to a reader, but I think the contrary view of what the writing does for the writer is more interesting. If all these writers weren’t writing, would they be less fulfilled individuals? Of course, the role of the reader is where this question would usually go, but as someone who helps writers every day with Atmosphere Press, it’s the satisfaction that writing can bring an individual that is at the forefront of my mind. Writing as art is a public service to the creator as much, if not more, than it is to the outside viewer of the creation.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Nick Courtright

waves
the familiar anonymity 
of these thoughts

Jim Young [no title]

The collection is broken into seven sections and currently has 100 poems. It may have a few more or a few less as I continue to play with the sequence and figure out what can stay or go. I was fretting over the length of the book, but since this is likely my last full-length collection, I decided what the hell. 

There are selections from all of my previously published collections and chapbooks, but it leans more heavily on published-but-uncollected poems and never-before-published ones. It feels right, but there is still quite a bit of tinkering to do. We’re still on track for an Autumn 2023 publication date. Stay tuned. 

Oh, and the new header of this site and that I’ve used on my social media is not the cover of the collection. That’s simply a fun little placeholder while the final artwork is completed. 

Back in the early part of the spring, I had a massive infection in the scar tissue around the incision area for my cancer. Apparently, something bit me right behind my ear (where I still have no feeling) and it set up cellulitis. A trip to urgent care, an injection, and a round of antibiotics eventually cleared it.

I just passed the one-year anniversary of both my surgery and moving into the new condo (which I think I’m finally getting used to) and I’ve got another MRI and CT scan coming up in a couple of weeks to see if the cancer has metastasized to other parts of my body. Fingers crossed. 

I’m absolutely thrilled that Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill” – my favorite song – has topped the charts around the world 37-years after its first release thanks to its use in crucial scenes from Stranger Things 4. A whole new generation is discovering Kate’s music and it has been absolutely wild to see so much news and hear the song everywhere. I’ve contributed a brand new essay about Kate for the 40th anniversary issue of her fanzine “HomeGround,” which will be out any day now.

Collin Kelley, A small update on my work, health, and Kate Bush

as if the houses
were to be drawn across
the loose earth on which
they stand and go down
as if the trees that shield us
were to shake once
and follow the houses
roots up and branches down
each the mirror of the other
as if the sky already broken open
were to fold and fold
and swallow itself like water does
as if we were to stand on nothing
watching the symphony up
to its last echoes and wonder
what now
what to do
whether to step back
or step forward
or like the houses trees
and sky itself just fold
and fold and swallow ourself
like water does

Dick Jones, Dog Latitudes §16

So, I set about making some visual collages, adding Spongebob (ShvomBob) into what seems like perfect Ashkenazi tropes. I was also thinking of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poetry. Why? Well, I’d listened to a couple podcasts about him (for example, the London Review of Books series about canonical poets.) I’ve also played with riffing off his poems, adding in internetspeak, colloquial language, and other contrasting tones. There’s a leaping electricity with playing with the contrast between his densely tactile hypercharged inscape-fueled language and other language which has its own world of associations. And so, I made the poem that appears below. It has a kind of Flarfy energy and, strangely, a bit of Celan-like sound to it. I also was intrigued to put the poem beside the image. It’s not quite an ekphastic poem — the poem doesn’t quite describe the image — but it does have a relation to it. That’s another kind of leaping.

Gary Barwin, All Shall Be Well with Spongebog Squarepant and Julian of Norwich.

Or the mouth keeps opening
in sleep, dreaming of bats
with indigo wings

opening and closing, closing
and opening with the uncertainty
of miniature parasols.

Luisa A. Igloria, A Palimpsest (4)

For a writer who has published over 30 books of poetry and prose in his native Germany, we have had too little of Durs Grünbein in English. Michael Hofmann‘s Ashes for Breakfast (Faber, 2005) introduced some of the earlier work and described Grünbein as possessed of melancholia, amplitude, a love of Brodsky, a love of the Classics, plus wide-ranging interests in medicine, neuroscience, contemporary art and metaphysics. John Ashbery praised Grünbein, identifying his subject as “this life, so useless, so rich” and the challenge to any translator is precisely this breadth and ambition. Happily, Karen Leeder is proving to be a really fine conduit for Grünbein’s work and here she triumphantly tackles his 2005 sequence of poems about the firebombing of his hometown, Dresden, by American and British planes in February 1945.

Porcelain is a sequence of 49 poems, 10 lines each, rhymed and grounded in Classical metre and given an air of Classical elegy by its subtitle, ‘Poem on the Downfall of My City’ (‘Poem vom Untergang meiner Stadt’). But if resolution, consolation or summing-up might be expected, this is, definitively, not what we get. The title, of course, refers to the Meissen pottery which, from the eighteenth century on, brought Dresden its great wealth and fame. But it is also a pun on the poet to whom the sequence is dedicated: Paul Celan. In Celan’s poem ‘Your eyes embraced’ there is an effort to swallow the ashes of genocide but they return to the throat as ‘Ash- / hiccups’, an image repeated in Grünbein’s opening poem: “It comes back like hiccups: elegy”. The sequence does indeed hiccup in the sense of its jerky shifts of tone, its multi-faceted images of Grunbein himself and in its close to choking articulation of the horrors of the Dresden bombing.

Martyn Crucefix, Ash-Hiccups: on ‘Porcelain’ (2005) by Durs Grünbein

Massive news for me: HappenStance Press will publish my second full collection in November 2023. I’m delighted/chuffed/overjoyed, etc, etc, to have the chance to work again with Helena Nelson, one of the best editors around.

What’s more, HappenStance books are gorgeous objects in themselves. Now to keep chipping away at my ms, only sixteen months to go…!

Matthew Stewart, My second full collection

I don’t take breaks from writing very often–hardly ever–I am a very diligent writer, since my time for writing is limited by the responsibilities of being a homeschooling mom of five kids, and my online adjuncting, and, and, and. There’s always something or other trying to nip away at any time I have for writing, so I typically hoard it pretty jealously and am loathe to give an inch of it.

However, writing 30 poems in 30 days plain wore me out! I ended up creating a chapbook out of it (which I just signed a contract for–hurrah!–and more info soon!), and I’m happy with the work I did, and the couple of poems I wrote in May.

I think I can get sort of bent on “output” and productivity as a poet though, and lose site of just letting myself sit, wonder, daydream. I need to refill with long walks and working in the yard and swimming in the neighborhood pool.

Renee Emerson, Summer Break

June that is succulent sin, the swell of mangoes,
the smell of wet mornings, the spell of every word
as it circles under a ceiling fan,
each word a world, finding an orbit, a speed,
each word with its own day and night
and horizon
and season for lovemaking.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Till the end of June

Had the pleasure of reading Melissa Studdard’s new book from Jackleg Press, Dear Selection Committee. This is a book of exuberant, joyful, and heck, sexy and fun poems set into the framework of applying for a very specialized kind of job. Some poems are heartbreaking, taking on contemporary tragedies. It’s an inspiring book, too, making me want to write for the first time in ages.

Here’s a short excerpt from “My Kind,” the opening poem: “I am my own kind. I’ll learn to play piano. Like Helene Grimaud, / I’ll see blue rising from the notes. I’ll be an amateur bird watcher,/ a volunteer firefighter, a gourmet chef, a great/ humanitarian. I’ll plant a prize-winning garden,/ grow a pot farm. My hair is on fire. I’m running/ out of time.” The cover art by Karynna McGlynn is also amazing.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Zoo Visits, Crowns, and Family Emergencies, Melissa Studdard’s Dear Selection Committee and Setting Boundaries in the Lit World

I wrote this poem in 2015. Seven years later the problem of children being killed by guns in America has only escalated. How much mental illness in fact begins with living in a country where it does not feel safe to go to the grocery store, first grade, 3rd grade, 4th grade, high school, college, a movie, a doctor’s office, your place of employment, a concert?

As poets we write about what we feel and witness. As poets we record-keep the actions of a culture. As poets we express in a few words the horror and beauty of this world. May the horror move you to action. May you find a way to preserve the beauty of this world, so that our children have the chance to bear witness to it.

Carey Taylor, Land of the Free and Dead

How come the preacher
is so good with a gun,
the old monk wondered.

Tom Montag, IN THE NEWS

These are dark times,
Open the window, the sun shines today for 15 hours 10 minutes.  

And windy, 
a piece of lettuce is blowing off my lunchplate.

Gesundheit, 
we say to the sneeze heard through the open window.

On my summer reading list is “In Defense of Ardor”
and intention to pronounce Zagajewski

Jill Pearlman, In Defense of Ardor

When I finally returned to a real, traditional classroom, I was reminded of what I did love about working in higher education, and why I returned, semester after semester, despite all of the other infuriating bullshit: sharing literature, talking about the craft of writing, connecting with my students. It was so much better than the asynchronous Blackboard discussion forums, where students and their instructor (*cough*) struggled to keep up, or even the synchronous Zoom classroom, where if I was lucky students would participate over the microphone, since almost no one participated with their cameras on.

So what I’m saying is that, well, it’s odd to be leaving for sabbatical after having just returned to some semblance of the before-times. (I had only one regular traditional class in the spring semester — everything else was some form of online teaching, due to student demand.) Of course, I’m still going to take sabbatical — I’d be a fool to walk away from this opportunity. And I’m hoping that when I return in spring 2023, more students will be turning away from the hellscape that is remote learning, and back in a classroom where we can make eye contact and speak to each other in the ways that humans were meant to communicate — face to face, person to person, focused brain to focused brain.

(That “focused brain” might be wishful thinking, for both my students and me.)

Sarah Kain Gutowski, See Ya, SuckYear 2021-2022; Hello, Half-Year Sabbatical. I’ve Been Waiting a Long Time to Meet You.

I walk another block past my grandpa’s
high school; I wore his graduation ring
on my pinkie for years,
marveling at his small hands.
My own hands are too big now.
It no longer fits.

Jason Crane, POEM: Hand-me-downs

I want to tell you that she was a good dog, as obituaries generally require us to speak well of the dead, but she was not, by most objective measures, a good dog. She paid attention to our words and wishes only when she wanted to, she was never reliably housebroken (not because she didn’t understand or couldn’t comply with the expectations, but because she really preferred, like the humans in her pack, to go inside), and she was notorious for getting her longtime companion, Rocky, all worked up over nothing. She was a fan of the grudge poop (middle of the hallway, where it couldn’t be missed), and she had no fucks to give about things we might have felt important that she did not.

Which just goes to show that you don’t have to be good to be loved–because love her we did, unconditionally and deeply. Sometimes we loved her more because she wasn’t “good,” and she had us laughing even as we scolded her (such as the time we caught her on the kitchen table, licking butter from the butter dish). She was funny, and strong-willed, and sassy. She did what she wanted. Lucky for us, one of the things she wanted all the time was to be as close to one of her humans as physically possible.

Aside from being with us, her favorite things were eating and taking a nap in a patch of sun. We could all learn a thing or two about living a happy life from her. (Take the nap. Eat with gusto. Love what you love without apology.)

Rita Ott Ramstad, Daisy May Ramstad, 2007-6/6/2022

It’s been a strange week, creatively speaking. The highlight of the Bearded Theory music festival, for me, was Patti Smith, especially when she read Ginsberg’s ‘Holy’ – I think I’m right in saying it’s the litany that comes at the end of Howl. Such a brave and committed thing to do, to recite that to a festival crowd who, let’s face it, aren’t there to hear poetry, although maybe these lines held some resonance:
‘Holy the groaning saxophone! Holy the bop apocalypse! Holy the jazzbands marijuana hipsters peace peyote pipes & drums!’
You’d think, spending last weekend at a festival, then having the week off work (half term) I’d be buzzing with ideas. However, as I said, it’s been strange, creatively speaking. I’ve jotted down about four haiku, one I like, the other three contrived and not really going anywhere. I’ve had a guitar lesson, but not given over enough time to practise. I’ve walked the dog, but dutifully, rather than enthusiastically. I know that’s how it goes sometimes. You just have to accept the peaks and troughs. And I know you can’t force a poem, although I do believe you can facilitate it. Writing this blog post, I’m trying to do that, because I realise it’s important to acknowledge success, especially when you think you’re hitting a fallow patch. So, I’ll leave you with this poem, which is one of three (I was amazed when they accepted three poems) recently published in the May edition of the British Haiku Society’s journal, Blithe Spirit:

dawn across the allotments
beads of coral spot
on last year’s pea sticks

Here’s hoping for further inspiration!

Julie Mellor, Tinywords etc

My colleagues in academic support–my university department–are still housed in the basement of the main classroom building. I miss them, and they envy the fact that I now have a window (and that it’s not freezing up here). But while I would never knock the value of a window after 15 years under the frost line, I’m happiest about having my work office located in my favorite building on campus: the library. Books make me comfortable. When I need a break from my computer screen or from meetings, I can take a deep breath and walk around the stacks in silence. It’s perfectly acceptable to be rather introverted in a library. And the people who surround me are as enthusiastic about books as I am.

I plan to take a short breather from blogging and work-related stuff to visit a far-away Best Beloved and am already plotting which paperbacks to pack for the tedious flights. I hope to avoid silverfish and viral stowaways. Wish me luck.

Meanwhile, embrace your inner bookworm!

Ann E. Michael, Thysanura

We mambo through rainbows laced along the Retiro
and two-step into the Garden of Earthly Delights,
where swallows burst through pink eggshells
and Adam plops down as though stupefied on the grass.
God, dressed in red velvet robes, stares at us
as he holds Eve’s wrist and takes her pulse.
We shed our clothes— drag queens expose
their statuesque torsos, and I reveal my pale potbelly,
my breasts like empty soup bowls. Here,
shame has drifted out to sea in a soap bubble.
Naked together, we are whippoorwills circling fountains
frothing with limonada, sangría, tinto de verano.
We are owls with pineapples on our heads,
symbolizing nothing, fizzing with delight.

Christine Swint, After the Pilgrimage, We Enter the Garden of Earthly Delights

The bad news is you will not become a marine biologist as planned. You’re too bad at math and too good at other things like words and books and that pretend play we call theater. Later, you will badly want to be a lawyer, a politician, or a psychiatrist. Then a teacher. You will read so much you never would have thought possible. The poems you wrote in your little blue diary with the lock, the ones you scribbled on pen pal stationery, they will become your own kind of gospel, and you will pick them up at intervals. In a year, you’ll typing a skinny poem on the electric typewriter you will buy in the next few weeks and sending out submissions. They will all be no’s, and you will get a lot of no’s in your life, so you’ll get used to it. College will be a lively time full of late night rehearsals and hours crouched in a cubicle in the library reading.

Kristy Bowen, letter to my 18 year old self

Chris James has a marvellous ability to create whole worlds in a few well-constructed lines. Each poem here carries with it subtle layers of experience and depth and ask questions that take it beyond whimsical fantasy. Some of the settings are stark, as in The Buddy Holly Fan Club of Damascus. We painted a pair of Buddy’s glasses on a twenty-foot portrait of Bashar-al-Assad./ Bombed out of our basement, we took to the hills… on every shattered tank, scratched True Love Ways.

Yes, there is a gentle humour in Sherlock of Aleppo but it’s another look at how in darkest times people have the capacity to invent escape routes, if only in the imagination. Their home is 221b Al Khandaq Street, a bombed out paint shop. Victor plays a violin with no strings. […]

As is usual in his work, there are characters here, endearing, sympathetic, sometimes psychologically strange. They do odd things – The Goldfish at the Opera begins: My grandmother took a goldfish to the opera; she let it swim in her handbag in a few inches of water. One of my favourites is Dorothy Wordsworth Is Sky-Diving: She emerges from a cloud,/at a hundred and twenty miles an hour./ In her black bonnet and shawl, she is/ a spider dropped from space. .. As she nears the ground, she’s a girl again/ in the house in Cockermouth, riding bannisters/ of sunlight, spilling down to the garden.

Bob Mee, THE STORM IN THE PIANO, New pamphlet by Christopher James

In twelve chapters, Lesley Wheeler discusses twelve poems. Her method is personal, though it’s also informed by her academic and poet cred. The reader feels immediately as though they are in good, capable, empathetic, poetic, and also nimble hands. The life of the writer is intertwined in the readings, and isn’t this the case for how most of us read poetry? If we spend a lifetime reading poetry, then our life is going to be brought to our reading a poem. I remember in poetry workshops back in my university days, where sometimes the entire critique or discussion of a poem would be about mechanics, when the subject of the poem was something incredibly heart wrenching. This was probably also at a time when “reader-response” was buried in favour of “critical theory” in the rest of the English department. I could never understand why we couldn’t have both…

In putting together this book, Wheeler says the process “helped me to consider what poetry is good for and how its magic operates.” I loved the discussion around “gut feelings” in the first chapter, where “gut feelings keep you whole and enrich your interactions with other people.” Wheeler says, “we should trust our guts about books, too.” All through Poetry’s Possible Worlds I felt as though I’d met a kindred spirit, someone who reads poetry in the same way that I do.

Shawna Lemay, On Poetry’s Possible Worlds by Lesley Wheeler

Yesterday’s programme of words and music was a celebration not only of Eliot’s great work but also of the collaboration and friendship of twenty four writers and performers, some of whom had never met in person before. Faces remembered from on-screen boxes turned into three-dimensional human beings with extraordinary skills. We have been working on this for the best part of a year, mostly on Zoom. The five editors got together twice in a cafe in Bath to work on a script collated by Sue Boyle, who has inspired and guided the project from its beginnings. Some excellent writing had to be omitted due to the limited performance time. I don’t doubt that it will find its place in the world.

Ama Bolton, The Waste Land Revisited

Kory Wells: One of the first things to strike me about Design is how color infuses this collection. The epigraphs introduce white and green through the words of Frost and Lorca, and soon the reader is drenched in color: the yellow of a magnolia goldfinch, a hosta “blue as a lung,” turquoise storefronts, the gray-greens of dreams, a burgundy dress, and so on. You even have several poems with color in the title—“Green,” “Embarrassed by Orange,” and “The New Black”—the latter of which I want to talk more about later!

So I really want to know: Is color as important to Theresa Burns the person as a whole as it is to Theresa Burns the poet? For example, what colors are in your home? Do your rooms mostly share a palette, or do they differ wildly? Do you dress in bright colors?

Theresa Burns: I love your question about color! It is important to me, and I think it’s become more so as I’ve gotten older. It’s probably rooted both in my kids’ enthusiasms when they were young and also what excites me in the landscape.

When my daughter was a toddler and we asked what her favorite color was, she genuinely couldn’t decide. “I love all the colors,” she’d say, helplessly. (Though I think she’s now settled on yellow.) The older I get, the more I’m with her on this. Why do we need to choose? My son, when he was young, loved purple most, then orange. The poem “Embarrassed by Orange” is about him helping me get over my adult need to push color away, blunt it somehow; he gets me to share his unabashed joy in it.

Color has a huge psychological impact on me. If I’m feeling a little depressed or dulled, I run out to find some orange to bring into the house. Orange tulips, a bowl of tangerines. And everyone in my house knows that if they spot an American goldfinch at the feeder, I must be summoned immediately. So colors make their way into the book, too.

Diane Lockward, Terrapin Books Interview Series: Kory Wells Interviews Theresa Burns

We were the beginnings of a Monet
bursting to be an O’Keefe:
vivid, exuberant, grabbing forever
in fistfuls.

Charlotte Hamrick, As glasses were raised

Following up on last week’s post about Polish poet Wisława Szymborska, I want to talk about another Eastern European poet, Charles Simic, who was born in 1939 in what was then Yugoslavia.  I first read his poems in about 1970, when I was just beginning to write seriously, and his work opened doors in my mind that I didn’t even know were there.  That first excitement only deepened over time.  The tone reminds me some of Szymborska’s in its humor in the face of great tragedy.  But Simic’s work also summons up the magic of fairy tales–the impossible described very matter-of-factly.  In addition to his numerous books of poetry, he’s also published several that collect his essays and memoir fragments, which I find as compelling as his poems.  He won the Pulitzer prize in poetry for a collection of prose poems, The World Doesn’t End, which remind me of Joseph Cornell’s boxed assemblages.  Simic wrote an insightful book on Cornell’s work, and I think of Simic’s poems as similar to those boxes. 

Sharon Bryan, Charles Simic

[Pearl Pirie]: How did you get first find to haiku and haibun?

[Skylar Kay]: This is actually kind of a fun story! So the university where I did my undergrad, Mount Royal University, had these events where they would take old books that nobody took out from the library anymore, or books that were being replaced, and would sell them for a dollar. During my second year I stumbled across a copy of Basho’s travelogues. Looking back, the translations were not the best, but it still got me totally hooked! I was just so enthralled with just how much could be captured by such a short and seemingly simple form. I began to view haiku almost more as a philosophy than just a poetic form, and let it take over my life completely.

PP: Wow, that is a cool encounter. How did the form help shape the manuscript?

SK: As with many collections of haibun, Transcribing Moonlight follows a chronological progression through the seasons, through shifting lunar cycles. This was a perfect opportunity to use these poetic tropes to reflect and augment my own experience as a transgender woman, allowing my own phases of transition to kind of be swept up into the changes that one sees throughout the year. Beyond that, however, I felt that I needed more than just haiku. While I love the haiku form, and think it can capture a lot, there are quite a few instances of my life that I could not totally put into a handful of words. The longer length of haibun allowed me to provide a bit more detail and express myself more fully than I could have done otherwise. It took me a while to learn to write the prose, but I think it was a great experience!

Pearl Pirie, Mini-interview: Skylar Kay

I was feeling a little let down before traveling because it is so so hard to get big media attention for a book, and I’d been pitching furiously. Then I read descriptions of exhausting, demoralizing book tours by bestselling authors in Hell of a Book and Sea of Tranquility–just a random coincidence, I chose the books for other reasons–and was reminded that big-time writerly success has drawbacks. When your work becomes “product” that makes money for corporations, it’s both lucky AND a ton of work and pressure (and media training–yikes). The gift economy less famous authors participate in has plenty of problems, but it’s also kinder. Mott’s and Mandel’s fictional writers, in fact, throw away the brass ring they’d grabbed in favor of the human connection they need to survive this stupid world. I notice that Mott and Mandel are not themselves making this choice!–but it suggests that both remember their former small-press careers with nostalgia, maybe even a little regret.

Lesley Wheeler, Tendrils, connections, & kindness in publishing

This is how it starts, dictating on my phone. It was going to be a short story, maybe a novella. A little bit of fun with an imaginary person that I throw into an improbable situation. Maybe a problem, maybe a puzzle. One day I will write a murder mystery, if I can bear to live with the idea of a murder for a year. It always takes me a year to write a book. That’s a long time to live with your imaginary friends. But on the other hand, it’s lonely without them. When you send them off to be published.

Rachel Dacus, Starting a New Book — Why Did I Do It?

Goodbye to the broken heart. Goodbye to the heart that crossdresses as death;

the heart that chases ambulances, cheats at Monopoly, plagiarizes skywriting.

Goodbye to the heart of fools gold and busted pianos, book burning and unlearning.

Goodbye to the heart that beats a crooked path in the blood.

Hello to the heart that beats a truer, steadier song.

Rise and continually repeat yourself.

Rich Ferguson, Goodbye/Hello

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 22

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 wrestling with linguistic unease, Pentecost, the place of rage in poetry, an invented form of English, the language of science, British Sign Language, and other challenges. But how to keep writing when so much in the news is so grim? Read on for some ideas.


Someone I know was pondering a fancy floral table centerpiece she was designing. She showed me a photo of it and said she wasn’t really happy with it. It was a series of vases holding spring flowers, all sitting on a mirrored plank. It was colorful and lively but it did seem a bit over the top. I said that I wondered if the mirror was the problem. She said, “But my intention was to blend contemporary with traditional,” i.e., the mirror was contemporary and the lovely spring sprays traditional. And I thought of the many conversations about poetry in which something similar was said in the face of suggestion or critique: oh, but my intention was X, X = the very thing that seemed not be working. I’ve said it myself many times, and the conversation always gives me pause.

What should win: intention or what was actually created?

I realize my loyalty tends to be with what was actually created. The created thing has its own life, and I tend to think we creators should honor the inadvertent creation rather than try to haul it back into what we thought we intended. I value the misintentions and the subconsciousness of what was actually created, and mistrust the perhaps overthought earnestness of intention.

Marilyn McCabe, A mighty pretty sight; or, On Intention and Creativity

Any reviewer of Denise Riley who has read her 2000 book The Words of Selves, proceeds if not with caution, then with a definite sense of unease. There are two principal reasons for this. One is that Riley’s work is difficult; she is known as a poets’ poet for good reason – her poems contain a lot for those knowledgeable about poetry to get their teeth into, but on a first reading many can appear a little like crossword puzzles to be solved, codes to be broken. And this is intimidating – to review and misread her work would be to expose oneself as an inadequate reviewer. She knows this, and comments in The Words of Selves, specifically on the interpretation of literary references: “When reviewers interpret a poem, they may confidently misconstrue an allusion. Often they’ll think up the most ingeniously elaborate sources for something in the text that had a plainer association, a far less baroque connection, behind it.” (p.74) So there is the concern of making a fool of yourself by over-reading (something I’m sure I’ve been guilty of in this blog more than once); that’s the first reason. The second is that much space is given in The Words of Selves to questioning and problematising the lyric I, and Riley is skeptical, even scathing, of biographical ‘selves’ in contemporary poetry: “Poetry can be heard to stagger under a weight of self-portrayal…Today’s lyric form (is) frequently a vehicle for innocuous display and confessionals” (p.94) And yet, for Riley’s reviewer, the fact of her son’s tragic death and the fact that she has written in prose and poetry about this, leaves the poet’s biographical self very close to the surface, and (the reviewer might feel) liable to breach at any time. How then to know at what point the real Denise Riley steps back and an imagined subject takes over? As one of Riley’s great philosophical concerns is the means by which language creates the Self, the uncertainty that Lurex (Picador) creates in the reader around what is being said and by whom, is unlikely to be coincidental.  

And this sense of unease is not entirely out of place. Riley herself writes of the “linguistic unease” of the writer, and so there is some solidarity perhaps between these two unequal partners in the generation of a text’s meaning, the writer-poet and the reader-reviewer. If we can proceed together with a joint feeling of guilt and inadequacy, the job of searching for meaning might not seem so lonely. 

Chris Edgoose, Dark yet sparkly – Denise Riley, Lurex and ‘the flesh of words’

My life has been a wonder of surprise and intention. Not so unusual, right? We all experience unexpected events and make decisions. But wonder is hard to remember and easy to lose. I’m lucky—poetry requires wonder. I think my Poet Sisters would agree.

In 2016 I took an online class through The Loft in Minneapolis. That alone was strange because I’d lived 45 minutes away for five years and didn’t sign up until I moved 450 miles away. The instructor, poet Amie Whittemore, guided us to give kind and specific workshop critiques. She helped us build community. By the end of the class, several of us had formed a bond and decided to continue workshopping poems.

We recently celebrated our five-year anniversary as a group. I don’t remember who came up with Poet Sisters. It sounds like a gathering of oracles or perhaps muses. Sirens, even—calling one another to days of writing and reading poetry. Our structure is simple: share one poem a month for feedback via email. We’ve been able to meet in real life, once for a one-day workshop and another time at a writing retreat where we shared a cabin “up north” in Minnesota. We’ve had video-chats during the pandemic. Sometimes we share submission calls, poets and poems we love. We encourage craft and a belief in ourselves as writers. We cheer every acceptance and accolade. Since we’ve begun this journey together, one of us has become her state’s associate poet laureate, three have books in print or forthcoming, and another has a full collection ready to go.

Lynne Jensen Lampe, Sisterhood of the Raveling Poems

We practice separation. Disentangle the cold

waves. The wind pauses, faithless. I marinate days in nights filled with
brine. What happens when an unexpected transformation lets us in

on its secret? I read the poem again, sticking my voice on the words.
Love waits. Silent. ‘Leaving’ sounds the same in every language.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, One of them is real

Words have failed so profoundly that I’m out in the garden instead, or indoors cleaning my bathrooms or reading books. Books–always my solace when my own words fail.

My latest good read is David Crystal‘s 2004 The Stories of English, already out of date in its last chapter–a fact I’m sure he gleefully acknowledges. I adore his love of how language evolves and find his non-prescriptivist approach refreshing and necessary if we are to keep literacy and communication alive. This book gave me so much information, enriched the knowledge I already have about our language, and made me laugh, too. Granted, it is word-geek humor…but that’s how I roll.

And I needed a few laughs this past week or so. My heart aches; I am sore afflicted for more reasons than I care to explain at present, though the headline news certainly has much to do with my mood. Crystal’s book got me thinking about the course I teach (come fall) and how I’ve already toned down the prescriptiveness in order to convince my students they can write and can be successful with written communication; that they are not “wrong,” just that their audience for written work differs, in college, from high school and from text messaging and other forms of writing. Crystal says we who teach English need to get over the concern about split infinitives and pronoun antecedent agreement and focus on clarity and genuine expression. I have no argument with him there–but many people I know would quibble and complain. And the English lexicon offers us so many options for how to say we disagree!

Ann E. Michael, Words fail, & yet–

calm lake
holding a stone
forever

Jim Young [no title]

Today is one of the big three church holidays; today is Pentecost. For those of you who have no reference, Pentecost is the day that comes 50 days after Easter and 10 days after Jesus goes back up to Heaven (Ascension Day). We see a group of disciples still at loose ends, still in effect, hiding out, still unsure of what to do.

Then the Holy Spirit fills them with the sound of a great rushing wind, and they speak in languages they have no way of knowing. But others understand the languages–it’s one way the disciples argue that they’re not drunk. And then they go out to change the world–but that’s the subject for an entirely different post.

You may be saying, “Great. What does all that have to do with me?”

I see that Pentecost story as having similar features to the creative process that many of us experience. If you replace the religious language, maybe you’ll see what I mean.

Often I’ve felt stymied and at loose ends. I think back to times when I’ve known exactly what to do and where to go next. I find myself missing teachers and other mentors that I’ve had. I may wallow in feelings of abandonment–where has my muse gone? Why don’t I have any great mentors now? Have all my great ideas abandoned me? What if I never write a poem again?

And then, whoosh. Often I hit a time of inspiration. I get more ideas in any given morning than I can handle. I jot down notes for later. I send of packet after packet of submissions.

Some times, it feels downright scary, like something has taken possession of me. But it’s a good spirit, and so I try to enjoy the inspired times. I’ve been at this long enough that I know that these inspired times won’t last forever.

The good news: those inspired times will come back, as long as I keep showing up, keep waiting, stay alert.

That’s the message that many of us will be hearing in our churches today. And it’s a good message to remember as we do our creative work.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Pentecost for Poets and Other Creative Souls

Chaplets of roses grew threadbare
like linen; all night a bee drowsed as if stoned on the edge
of an ivory blanket. What else crept under carpets of clover
toward our trim hedges? Every night we went to bed
like apostrophes folded into each other. That is to say,
even in sleep our hands spasmed in terror or prayer.
Call it anything but casualty, accident, or fate
— none of us grown wiser for turning away.

Luisa A. Igloria, Collateral Damage

I have a poem, ‘Accommodation Strategy’, in the second issue, here, of Public Sector Poetry, which is a rather niche journal for people like me who work in the public sector and also happen to be poets. The events of the last two years have already rendered my poem’s content out of date, but it represents a certain point in time. It just goes to show that local government is rather more fluid and dynamic now than when I started it in an eon ago.

Matthew Paul, Public Sector Poetry

Now I’m no huge Eliot fan but I do dip into the Four Quartets every now and then. I’ve never got to grips with The Waste Land, but I’m a sucker for manuscripts that show different versions, crossings out etc. It’s like getting into the poet’s head. And this edition shows every page, with annotations from both Ezra Pound and Valerie Eliot. It’s extraordinary. And I’m now enjoying going back to the poem armed with more insight into its genesis.

Meanwhile our Planet Poetry guests continue to challenge (and delight) me – in the last episode I talked with the effervescent Caleb Parkin and his excellent book This Fruiting Body, and my most recent interview was with Fiona Sampson. I admit I was nervous, interviewing a poet with such a formidable CV (29 books for starters). But Fiona was delightful and fascinating. I’m not sure yet when the interview will ‘air’ but it’ll be worth listening, I guarantee.

Robin Houghton, Currently inspired by…

Yesterday, I woke up to a mild sunny cusp of June day and was greeted with already a dozen or so submissions waiting in my inbox of new things I can’t wait to read. Yes, it’s that time again, the open submissions window for the dgp chapbook series, and one that feels a little less overwhelming now that my inbox is less of a morass and there is a bit more time weekly to devote to the press operations (including hopefully being able to read things throughout the summer as they come in and not just in a mad dash in the fall.)  

Today, I devoted an entire day to cover design exploits on handful of books that are in layout stage and it was nice to be able to actually finish what I was intending to do without running off to do other things like work or errands.  While my weekend will be focused on my writing and the next couple days devoted to freelance work, I at least will return to editing work mid-next week not feeling quite as behind as before and a couple new things are almost ready to start printing.. Tuesdays are for author copy and order fulfillment and shipping things. While initially I was doing a bit off all things each day, I find I am more productive if I center my days in a certain kind of task, even if it takes the majority of the day.

My enjoyment of different parts of the process has increased, even rather staid unexciting things like copyediting and typesetting feel more focused and grounded now that life is a little less hectic and subject to daily chaos. Or if it’s chaos, it’s more definitely orderly and self-guided chaos. 

Kristy Bowen, dancing girl press notes | june 2022

PP: Your poems are dense and agile, pivoting yet holding together in leaps. Do they come together assembled from pieces or come out of a passionate stream-of-consciousness?

SW: They tend to come out in one fell swoop. But it’s messy! I edit very slowly and very particularly. Have you heard that quote? A poet will move a comma in the morning and a comma at night and say, Oh what a day’s work! My friend’s dad told me that. But sometimes there are new waves hiding behind commas, cracks in the rocks, pieces hiding behind other pieces.

PP: Do you have writing rituals that help you into the writing frame of mind or do you write in stolen moments?

SW: Definitely stolen moments for poetry. Middle of the night, subway rides, grocery stores. I want to try the writing desk routine life someday but that day has not come yet.

For editing or prose, I can sit at a desk or in bed and crank something out. But my poetry is much more chaotic. Like catching sight of a bird and having to drop everything to chase it before it’s gone.

Pearl Pirie, Mini-interview: Sanna Wani

I will just continue to spread out flat, letting all the knots work their way out of my body and mind: a pretty little map of thoughts, lyrical as loops of string caught in school glue.

School glue in an amber bottle with a rubber tip, that would open like an eye when pressed. Or a mouth. Or a seal’s nostril.

There was a smell that I can’t quite remember, no matter how hard I try to conjure it.

It is inexplicable what sticks in my memory and what doesn’t. Last night, trying to sleep I remembered when E. was small – three or four – and while his older brother pinned my legs, E. sat on my chest and leaned over my face, inhaling so that his nostrils pinched shut again and again, like some kind of amphibious, alien creature. I laughed until I peed my pants a little.

Isn’t that something? How a memory of uncontrollable, full-body laughter can make you cry?

That school glue I used in elementary school didn’t work well. Nothing ever stayed put. I’d get home and the string had come loose in spots and created its own patterns. I guess it was an early life lesson: everything unravels, falls apart, and reconfigures according to its own mysterious will.

Ren Powell, An Amphibious, Alien Creature

I travelled to London by train and as I approached Wellington, near Taunton in Somerset, I saw an abandoned factory with most of the glass missing from the windows. This set me thinking…

summer project

we broke all the glass
in all the windows

no one stopped us
it took time

but the sounds were so addictive
the crack and cascade of glass

eyeless in autumn
the snow went wherever it would

when summer came round again
there was nothing to show it had ever been there

Paul Tobin, EYELESS IN AUTUMN

I love reading poetry anthologies.

I know they aren’t everyone’s cup of tea–there is something to be said for reading a collection in one voice–but I feel like it’s like being in an MFA classroom again–all these different voices mingling together, bouncing off each other. I love that I find new-to-me poets in anthologies–I always keep a list of author names from the poems I loved best, then look up their collections to read next. I love how it takes a theme and looks at it prismatically, through many different perspectives and cultures.

One of my favorite anthologies is Joy, edited by Christian Wiman. I also enjoy The Child’s Anthology of Poems ed. by Elizabeth Sword (I use this book with my children, but it is good for anyone). Recently I’ve read some anthologies ed. by James Crews, Healing the Divide being the most recent.

Renee Emerson, anthologies

Winner of the 2019 Burnside Review Press Book Award, as selected by poet Darcie Dennigan, is California-born Massachusetts poet and research scientist Angelo Mao’s full-length debut, Abattoir (Portland OR: Burnside Review Press, 2021). Constructed as a suite of prose poems, lyric sentences, line-breaks and pauses, Mao’s is a music of exploration, speech, fragments and hesitations; a lyric that emerges from his parallel work in the sciences. “They have invented poems with algorithms.” He writes, as part of the untitled sequence that makes up the third section. “They can be done with objectivity.” Set in four numbered sections, the poems that make up Mao’s Abattoir are constructed through a lyric of inquiry, offering words weighed carefully against each other into observation, direct statement and narrative accumulation, theses that work themselves across the length and breath of the page, the lengths of the poems. “The first thing it does / Is do a full backflip,” he writes, to open the poem “Euthanasia,” “Does the acrobatic mouse / Which rapidly explores / The perimeter comes back / To where it started / To where it sensed / What makes its ribcage / Slope-shaped as when / Thumb touches fingertips [.]” This is a book of hypotheses, offering observations on beauty, banality and every corner of existence, as explored through the possibilities of the lyric.

rob mclennan, Angelo Mao, Abattoir

In May 2019, we spent three weeks in Sweden. While there we went on several boat trips in the Stockholm area and along the west coast. I took quite a bit of video footage with no particular project in mind. But when I returned home, it came together in this video A Captain’s… using audio samples recorded in an old windmill on the island of Ölund.

The text had been published a while back and uses an invented form of english that captures the sound and feel of old nautical terminology. It imagines a captain trying to justify his privileged, colonialist position, while facing the immense and unknown dangers of the ocean.

The title comes from Australian rhyming slang: “A Captain’s” = “A Captain Cook” = a look. Captain James Cook was the celebrated English explorer who claimed the eastern seaboard of Australia for the British Empire in 1770, almost totally ignoring its long-standing occupation by First Nations people.

Ian Gibbins, A Captain’s…

The language of science is often mysterious, especially to non-scientists, of course. But there’s also often a richness of imagery and sound that feels related to the poetic. A mouth feel that is satisfying. A rhythm that makes us notice and relish in its language. My friend, the film maker Terrance Odette, posted the title of an article noting that “poetry is everywhere.” Well, that’s a challenge I couldn’t resist. So I made a poem playing with the sounds of this title. I mean, sure, heteropoly acid negolytes could enhance the performance of aqueous redox flow batteries at low temperature. Obv! That’s what we’ve all suspected all this time, but isn’t it true that “Follow-through is a poor bedfellow for the beauty of this testimonial”? Right? We poets bring the truths.

Gary Barwin, Poor Bedfellows of Science

Dylan Thomas’ Do not go gentle into that good night has bothered me for many years.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

It bothered me more when, in my 30s I sat with my dying father. All my dad wanted in his last days was release from pain. Imagine the sheer tone-deaf selfishness of that injunction in his ears. All I can hear is a young man’s impotent rage against the loss of his father. It makes me wonder about rage and poetry. Among other things. […]

Rage makes you incoherent. Articulation is the tongue-tied’s fighting. The gift is to find the right channel. I thought I’d cool my head and calm myself down by reflecting on the the rage I feel about the apparently untouchable sense of entitlement that characterises the last ten years of the contemporary Tory Party in power, and then how more or less by accident, I found a way of channelling it. The answer for me lay in the Greek Myths, the stories of the Greek pantheon, and particularly the version created by Garfield and Blishen in The God beneath the Sea. 

John Foggin, All the rage

My touchstone here is something I learned in the 1980s, during my junior year at Stony Brook University, when I took my first poetry workshop ever with June Jordan. Both in class and in the individual conferences she had with me, Professor Jordan spoke about what poetry was in a way that touched deeply the part of me aching to tell the truth about my life. I do not remember her exact words, but these two quotes, from her introduction to June Jordan’s Poetry for the People: A Revolutionary Blueprint, capture the essence of what she said:

You cannot write lies and write good poetry.

Poetry is a political action undertaken for the sake of information, the faith, the exorcism, and the lyrical invention, that telling the truth makes possible. Poetry means taking control of the language of your life. Good poems can interdict a suicide, rescue a love affair, and build a revolution in which speaking and listening to somebody becomes the first and last purpose to every social encounter.

This does not mean, of course, that writing essays is not political, that essays cannot also be about discovering the potential in telling the truth, but it’s hard to imagine an essay rescuing a love affair or preventing a suicide, at least not in the way Jordan seems to be talking about here.

Richard Jeffrey Newman, Deciding whether something should be a poem or an essay

I’m writing these words in the dead of night when destiny is busy sharpening its knives, and the sirens are sleeping.

There is a place we can unname and unweight our burdens, a place we can dig down deep into the ash for those unspent remains of humanity.

In that space, certain syllables defy gravity. Defy bullets and burning.

Hope is one syllable that comes to mind. Dream, another.

Rich Ferguson, When Destiny Sharpens Its Knives

On the one hand, I’m wary of trying to be too focused: one of the things that makes a blog a blog, if it’s just you writing, is that’s it’s unplanned. On the other, the blank screen is as intimidating as the blank page. It helps to have a sense of what you’re trying to do.

Also: however personally fulfilling it might be, keeping all your options open tends to be a pretty inefficient way of finding readers, who tend to want to know what to expect.

On reflection, there are a couple of themes I keep coming back to.

The first is simple: personal responses to individual poems. These are what got me blogging to begin with. They continue to get more hits than anything else on here: so there’s a demand. The truth is they are somewhere between a response and an analysis, which may explain why people go back to them (they’ve Google-searched the poem).

But they are personal, too, if only because I’ve chosen to write about these poems. I increasingly think sharing your enthusiasm for individual poems is central to what this thing called poetry is, and probably the best way to keep the love of it alive (if you believe E. M. Forster, the only way). I enjoy them, too.

Jeremy Wikeley, Back to Basics

I walked into the middle of a Ted Hughes poem the other week. An early morning dog walk, like any other, except that suddenly I was looking at the most enormous fish, the fish of legend, the fish of myth, a fish I had met before but only in my mind’s eye. It was put there by Hughes’s own reading of the poem, from the flock wallpaper Faber and Faber cassette shared with Paul Muldoon. It’s also in my ancient copy of River, the original coffee table edition with photos of the Exe and Taw and Torridge.

But here it was in the flesh, on an ordinary Tuesday, the film of the words I had driven to, cooked and made coffee to, happening actually yards from where I stood in a Devon field not a mile from the city centre. The poem is clear: this is an October salmon, not mid-May. But I swear the fish was the same. It all came back, as we say, flooding. The fish is dressed by death in ‘clownish ceremonials, badges and decorations’, its ‘face a ghoul-mask, a dinosaur of senility’, its ‘whole body/ A fungoid anemone of canker’. As Seamus Heaney has said, to hell with overstating it! Sometimes that is what is required.

Other lines quickly joined them as I stared, daring to inch the phone out of my pocket for a surreptitious photo, lest I spook the moment. ‘Ravenous joy’ (‘The savage amazement of life,/ The salt mouthful of actual existence,/ With strength like light’) ghosting a dying fall (‘This was inscribed in his egg’). He was probably hatched in this very pool. Fundamental accuracy of statement (Pound), never weighed more.

Anthony Wilson, Lifesaving Lines: An October Salmon, by Ted Hughes

DL Williams’s “Interdimensional Traveller” explores dimensions, particularly the two dimensional world of poems on a page and the three dimensional world of sign language. There is a QR code link to the YouTube channel where the poems appear in BSL (eventually all of them will) and also QR codes with some of the poems that links to the individual poem. This is not done in a binary spirit, where sign language is put in competition with English, but as a translator and interpreter, building links between these dimensions. An early poem, “Bilingual Poet’s Dilemma”, will be as familiar to translators as to sign language interpreters,

“What’s beautiful in a Sign
is boring in a line;
what’s pretty in a line
is confusing in Sign,
and if the twain should meet,
wouldn’t that be a feat?
So tell me, please,
which language should I use?
Which one should I choose?”

British Sign Language is not English in signs, or Sign Supported English, but a language in its own right with grammar and sentence structures that differ from English. Sign language is not universal, each language has its own version. In languages, words rarely stand alone with the same meaning each time, but pick up meaning according to the context used. A word such as ‘beacon’ may mean light, warning or hope and an interpreter has to judge whether to only translate ‘beacon’ as light or whether one of the other meanings may be appropriate. A phrase in sign language that looks like an elegantly choreographed ballet for hands, can be rendered simplistic and boring on a page. A sentence that starts in the present tense and moves into the past tense to signify a memory, is tricky to render in BSL. These issues throw up dilemmas for interpreters. However, if you are bilingual and can move back and forth between languages, how would you choose one over the other? If decide to use the best language for the poem, how will an audience react if some of your poems are in BSL and others in English? How can you interpret for the part of the monolingual audience who need interpretations?

Emma Lee, “Interdimensional Traveller” DL Williams (Burning Eye) – book review

extracting birdsong from background noise

Jason Crane, haiku: 31 May 2022

I have to admit that I love all the written aspects of writing poetry, of publishing work, but I still fret at the idea of organized readings, even after all the opportunities I’ve had to do so. The idea of talking for 15 minutes still makes me balk initially until I resettle into the reality than time flies when I’m reading, really reading, my poetry. And usually, before I know it, I’ve cleared 15 and am headed into 20. The thing of it is though is overcoming that block, “Oh, I can’t do that,” and instead jump in. When it comes down to it, I’ve never had a negative experience in a reading, in fact it becomes one of those moments in which I’m truly present. There’s great beauty in that, but also in the look-around the room and seeing who is there to hear you read because they want to be there, be it friends, writing group, fellow writers, teachers past and recent, even someone you’re sweet on. There’s a sweetness to it all that can’t be replicated under other circumstances.

Kersten Christianson, Tidal Echoes 2022

Last week’s post on First Loves led to a wonderful discussion during Fridays at 4. This week I want to continue that feeling, but with a later poetry love of mine, the work of Polish poet Wisława Szymborska (Vee-ZHWA-vah Zhim-BOR-ska).  I can read her work only in translation, and the general agreement is that the best are those by Clare Cavanaugh and Stanislav Barańczak.  Their versions are the ones that appear below.

I was completely smitten the first time I saw these titles, and then the poems that followed: “Notes from a Nonexistent Himalayan Expedition,” “The Letters of the Dead,” “In Praise of Feeling Bad About Yourself,” “Cat in an Empty Apartment,” on and on.  What drew me?  The tone of voice, that speaks about mortality with matter-of-factness, even humor.  The moments she chooses to write about, from dramatic (“The Terrorist, He Waits,” ) to the minute, the daily (“The Silence of Plants,” “A Little Girl Tugs at the Tablecloth”).  That she writes about writing poetry, something not typical of American poetry (“In Fact Every Poem.” “To My Own Poem,” ‘The Poet’s Nightmare,” “Some People Like Poetry.”)  The surfaces are deceptively simple, the depths infinite.

Sharon Bryan, Wisława Symborska

I had a good conversation with a friend who just had a book come out. She has been doing a ton of readings—both in person and on Zoom—and was just two weeks into her book’s launch, but was feeling overwhelmed. When is enough enough?

My attitude towards this, when I talked about it in my book PR for Poets, is that no one will ever say “you’re doing enough” so you have to decide. If you love doing readings, or social media, or sending out postcards, do that. Poetry has a longer shelf life than most things, so don’t worry if in the first month you haven’t gotten to everything – interviews, podcasts, blog posts, readings, etc – all of it takes it out of you, especially in the third year of a pandemic and people are just starting to go to bookstores in person again. So be kind to yourself, set boundaries. Don’t say yes to everything. And try to celebrate the small wins.

As I am finishing up my final version of Flare, Corona for BOA Editions, a lot of anxieties have come up. Is this grammar okay? Why did I leave punctuation out of this part of the poem but not this other part? Have I forgotten people I need to thank (probably!) or acknowledgements for poems that might have slipped through the cracks? I really do need to turn it in to typesetting but there is so much you want to all of the sudden fix about your manuscript. Since this is my sixth poetry book, I can say yes, this is also a normal part of the process. I get very insecure about my book right before it goes out into the world. I loved the book so much while I labor-intensively (and money intensively) sent it out to publishers. I loved it when it was taken. But now, I see nothing but flaws.

I also got a few acceptances this week that would normally be big deals to me but it felt hard to celebrate with so much other bad stuff going on. The world feels very dark and dismal (and it’s not just the abnormally cold rain, though that hasn’t helped). If you are struggling, please reach out for support and take good care of yourself. Please remember you are making a difference in the world, even if sometimes it doesn’t feel that way. Maybe take a break from social media and news. A friend of mine reminded me to submit poems (which I hadn’t been) and give myself time to write (which I also hadn’t been doing much of). Put at least one positive thing on your calendar just for fun. Wishing you as good a week as possible.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Three New Poems in Bourgeon, How to Cope with a Rough Week, Talking Publicity Efforts and Finishing Up Manuscripts and Other Poetry Things

But magazine can also mean
a chamber for holding cartridges
to feed automatically

into a gun, which reminds me
of the article I don’t need
to re-read — the one where

a radiologist describes
the slim silver line sketched
by an ordinary bullet,

versus the way
one fired from an AR-15
ripples waves of flesh

like a cigarette boat
traveling through
a narrow canal

turning any part of us
into smashed overripe melon,
nothing left to repair.

Rachel Barenblat, Magazine

We are sad on the ground, but still, our messages need to get out, we writers, we artists, we citizens. I don’t know that we will change this world, but our messages matter, they exist and are relevant all the way into someone’s near future. (“Someone told me / of course my poems / won’t change the world. // I said yes of course / my poems / won’t change the world.” — Patrizia Cavalli

Your art isn’t the phone. Poetry isn’t a text message. “Don’t use the phone,” says Jack Kerouac, “People are never ready to answer. Use poetry.”

I’m currently reading Lesley Wheeler’s Poetry’s Possible Worlds, and loving it. (Will write a longer post on it next week if all goes my way). In it she says, “A poem makes a lousy telephone.” Instead, she says, “by reading a poem, you’re entering a transportation device. You interact with the text to get somewhere, but it has a mind of its own and will match its will to yours. Rather than efficiency, you choose a complex, unpredictable experience.”

The message is, Keep sending your messages. Your words are wings; your wings are words. We are living in complicated times. We are living in times where the language and rhetoric of disinformation, propaganda, anti-intellectualism, racism etc are overwhelming. In the recent past, I have thought to myself, what is needed is more nuance. And yes? but also, I was re-reading Rachel Blau Duplessis’s Blue Studio in which she asks, “Can one be rigorous and empathetic? Antisimplistic, but with clean lines? Can one illustrate opacity and confirm clarity at one and the same time? You’d better believe it.” Can we appeal to the larger crowd out there with a message of community still? With a message of doing right? I really don’t know.

Shawna Lemay, Of Messages and Messengers

The three children smiling in the photograph are buried in the kindergarten garden.
A woman tends her allotment to the sound of explosions and sirens.

An ant crosses the table in the garden where I write.

I walk to find peace.

Old bikes propped on bay windows in tiny, slabbed front gardens.

You are somewhere close to the border now.
Yesterday they bombed the tracks.

A pigeon stops singing the way pigeons do
as if they forget the point of the song.

Bob Mee, BLACK WATER

Dream fluff shadows a thousand
skin lathered summers,
whispering sea spray, waxing
ebb shine,
an urge of fingers in hair
and salt on tongues.
Oh summer, bare your dreams
on the wind,
Crush on me again

Charlotte Hamrick, Riptide

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 21

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, I tried something different: compiling the digest in a completely random fashion, without any effort to find common themes. I think it hangs together just about as well as usual! Go figure.


Many years back–let’s say decades–my friend David Dunn and I briefly became small press chapbook publishers. It was not an easy task at the time, and expensive; but I worked at a type shop and could get the type set for free and a discount on the printing. We dubbed our concern LiMbo bar&grill Books. It was decidedly a labor of love, but we published four chapbooks and two broadsides before packing it in. The name emerged from David’s postcards and letters to me, in which he’d sometimes begin “Greetings from the Limbo Bar & Grill.” We were poets in our early 20s, underemployed during a recession, without any network to universities or well-connected writers. It felt like limbo.

Forty years later, dear David is dead; I have had modest success as a published poet since then–not enough to move me past avocation status–and the entire globe spins in limbo as pandemic, climate crisis, war, and oligarchies combine to keep things as interesting and unsteady as ever they were. It feels like limbo.

Feels like limbo on the publication side, too. Because my poetry collection that was supposed to be in print by 2020 seems to be indefinitely on hold. Covid interfered, the contract never arrived, and I’m beginning to wonder whether my emails are ending up in the publisher’s SPAM filter. It’s not surprising that a small independent press–in most cases underfunded and understaffed–might lose track of, say, a manuscript or two during the hassles of the pandemic protocols and all that has wrought.

Or perhaps the press has decided not to publish my book after all. The oft-rejected writer who lives inside my head supposes that could be the case and mourns, assuming the worst.

Ann E. Michael, Limbo

In the “mom-and-me pandemic book club” news, we have started a new novel, Lorna Mott Comes Home, by Le Divorce‘s Diane Johnson, about a sixty-something formerly highly respected art historian who ends her second marriage and comes home from France to California. The passages about trying to promote her book in a post-internet world are particularly appealing – the frustration trying to get back in the game after being out of it for 20 years – her daughter writes her Amazon reviews and she goes to bookstores for signings and they can’t find her books. Her adult children and two ex-husbands are in various levels of crisis as well. I might have mentioned I’m fascinated by these newer books that seem to focus on women in academia (or post-academia) going through midlife crises – there are so many about men, so few about women! The last one I really loved was Lesley Wheeler’s Unbecoming. (If you have recommendations for others, please leave them in the comments!)

Speaking of Lesley, I finished a new book by Lesley Wheeler that’s a fascinating mix of poetry close reading, cultural criticism, and personal essay, called Poetry’s Possible Worlds. She navigates difficult subject matter – including the death of a parent and political turbulence – by reading contemporary poems and then connecting them to the wider world.

She talks about how each book of poetry opens up alternate possible worlds for us to inhabit, which can help us deal with life’s crises and foibles alike. Like poet-essayist Kelly Davio’s It’s Just Nerves, which combines personal essay, navigating a mysterious autoimmune illness, and pop culture representations of disability, it’s a thought-provoking collection that makes me want to try my hand at this kind of hybrid essay-criticism. Anyway, if want to curl up with a good poetry/criticism/personal essay hybrid book, pick this up. The last essay, about her writing process, was one of my favorites in terms of its descriptions of writing flow and how projects interact with each other.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A Somber Week, Reading Lesley Wheeler’s Poetry’s Possible Worlds and Diane Johnson, and a Visit to the Japanese Gardens

rest up
get well soon

how easily it is said
however sincere
it doesn’t help much

i lost my voice in the sea a while ago
felt very miserable
i found it later on the shoreline
it had been on an adventure

now it is back we’re on speaking terms

it hurts ~ then you laugh again

Jim Young, for beth ~ hope you are bether soon

I sat with my twelve year old on the deck, and listened as he chanted the first few lines of his Torah portion. His voice cracked once or twice. That’s been happening lately. All I could think about was the parents in Uvalde whose ten year olds won’t grow up to be twelve year olds with cracking voices. 

Shortly before we started Torah portion practice, I’d told him that there was another school shooting. I wanted him to hear it from me and not from a friend at school in the morning. I assured him that where we live is one of the safest places to be. He said, “I know, Mom,” and changed the subject.

I believe what I said to him. The place where we live is as safe a place as any I can think of. And yet I can’t promise him that an angry gunman won’t break into his school, or into our synagogue, or into the supermarket where his auntie shops with his Black cousins. I can’t promise safety. No one can.

Rachel Barenblat, Morning after

Finding the glowing pine
Is not enough. I need to travel
Down the winding road
To the decrepit cabin
Full of cobwebs, broken boards.
Even deeper, I need to go,
Below the foundation,
Down to the level of packed dirt,
Down to the damp, dark place
Where memories sleep in fits,
Pushing like roots in the soil.

Christine Swint, The Numinous Pine

This is a post that begins by saying, “trust me.” This is a post written from a place of pure love. This is a post about how an author can change your life, about how books matter, and about how writers are simultaneously magical and utterly real. It’s also a post that references a line from Jane Austen about how if I loved this book less, I could talk about it more. […]

The introduction to this collection is by Kazim Ali, and it’s perfect. It ends, “These novels are meant to be experienced, not just in language, but in their rhythms, in their interruptions and silences, in their structures and patterns and shapes of thought.” Ali finds in them “a music daily as life.” Ali notes, “they are themselves alive. And in them a reader comes to life.”

Writers, too, will come to life.

Shawna Lemay, The Scent of Light by Kristjana Gunnars

It was the intriguing title that made me want to read this beautiful collection in the first place. I love the way in which the Moon Daisy weaves her way through the pages. I admire the sense of balance between joy and wonder on the one hand, and concern and pain on the other. This judicious inclusion of this ‘light and shade’ seems fitting for a dappled woodland backdrop. There are, however, other habitats to explore and enjoy; the opening poem offers a coastal setting, while the kingfisher prefers the willows by the river and the fox prepares ‘to curl up tight nose to tail’ in an urban garden.

Like Jill, the author, I found myself very worried when I first heard that a significant number of ‘nature’ words (‘acorn’, ‘buttercup’ and ‘catkin’, to name but three) had been removed from the Oxford Junior Dictionary back in 2007. Many will be familiar with Robert Macfarlane’s book, The Lost Words (illustrated by Jackie Morris); the poignant reference to ‘last words’ in Jill’s final poem, ‘The Nightjar’, did not pass me by.

The Leaping Hare and the Moon Daisy will surely appeal to adults and children alike. The author’s subjects are most engaging; we marvel at the Moorhen in her ‘green stockinged feet’ and are introduced to the Dandelion with its ‘mustardy roar’. The collection can be enjoyed for these wonderful descriptions alone, but I sense most readers will allow themselves to be transported downstream on the metaphorical undercurrent of something a little deeper, something linked to the joys, sorrows and responsibilities that reflect our humanity. 

Caroline Gill, ‘The Leaping Hare and the Moon Daisy’, a Poetry Collection by Jill Stanton-Huxton

Sometimes I start a class with a book that takes me straight to the heart of wanting to write poetry: First Loves: Poets Introduce the Essential Poems that Captivated and Inspired Them, edited by Carmela Ciuraru (Scribners 2001). If you don’t already know it, I’d recommend the amazon page review for a sense of what it’s like. Ciuraru asked a wide range of contemporary poets to choose a poem that inspired them early on and say a few words about it. Every time I read around in the book I’m taken back to some of my own sources, and the same thing happens to students when they read it: a direct line opens to those original urges. The book is full of surprises: Robert Creeley chooses Alfred Noyes’s “The Highwayman” and Wanda Coleman picks Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky,” for example.

A number of experiences made me fall in love with words: my father asking “What’s black and white and red all over?” I was stumped. “A newspaper.” What? Oh! Read! That language could do that. Or my grandmother writing out “Mairzy doats and dozy doats and little lambsy divey” after she’d sung it. Later it was Poe’s “Annabel Lee” and—like Creeley—the galloping “Highwayman.” But it was Frost’s ability to see through tranquil surfaces to the depths below that resonated with something in me, from the opening of “My November Guest” (“My sorrow, when she’s here with me/ Thinks these dark days of autumn rain/ Are beautiful as days can be….”) to the horrifying “Out, Out—,” where a young boy is mortally wounded as he’s sawing lumber.

Sharon Bryan, First Loves Redux

My first book had come out the previous fall, when I was both at my sickest and my most romantically fraught.  I only remember it in bits—bright yellow fall trees, a downtown fire that closed down our campus, headaches and lingering lunch dates. I was already in my 30’s. I was older than almost everyone in my program. I had long before determined workshops were only useful when everyone actually shared some idea on what made a poem good, which was an impossibility. In many ways, I found the program to be a nice incendiary, spurring me to projects I might not have done otherwise (my archer avenue poems, for example, or actually finally finishing my Cornell poems for an ekphastic class.) The lit and craft classes were interesting, the workshops mostly tedious.

We all know the horror stories of the MFAers who walk out of graduation and never write another thing.  I worried over this, in that stretch right after I finished the program, when things felt too close, too tight, and I wrote very little. I would talk to other writers and get insanely anxious when they asked me about new projects, the dreadful “what are you writing now?” I did lots of other things–like move the press operation into the Fine Arts–start the web shop, sell vintage and paper goods, and soap–and all the while, tried to distract myself from the non-writing self that only churned out a poem every couple months, nary anything I really liked. I tend to be a prolific writer, before grad school, during grad school, and even now, but between 2007 and 2011 I probably wrote about 20 poems total. A couple things happened in 2011 that set me writing again, one being the process of writing the James Franco pieces that barely felt like poems at all.  The other was girl show finding a home at Black Lawrence. By the end of the year, it seemed possible that I might actually want to write more than I was. The next spring I finished what would become beautiful, sinister that had been languishing for a couple years. I also wrote what is one of my all-time favorite series, shipwrecks of lake michigan. The poems were back and I’ve been pretty steadily writing since–an output that has filled 9 other book mss. in a decade. It’s hard to believe sometimes that I have that many poems in me, let alone that I managed to get them successfully on the page and out into the world. 

Sometimes, when eyeing my student loan balance I have been chiseling away at in small ridiculous bits, I wonder if the degree was worth it.  If either grad degree was worth it.  I do feel some of the lesson content I’ve been writing is served well by my MA degree, but the yeilds of my MFA are a little more slippery.  I absolutely believe I could have written and published (and was doing so) without the degree.  Would I be writing the same poems? In the same style? Would I be as good? Maybe not..but then again, so many poets I know do just fine without advanced degrees.  I also know many really lackluster poets with a train of them.  Many say the time to work uhindered by other things is priceless, though doing it while also working full time cut into that experience and made it more unweildy and harrowing. On the other hand, I got a discount for working on campus, so maybe it was a trade.  The 29 year old me who enrolled wasn’t sure what I was looking for.skills? legitimacy? knowledge? She could scarce have told you any more than I can now. I got better by writing more, reading more, of course,  and for that, maybe I owe those few years of study and attention I may have not gotten otherwise. 

Kristy Bowen, 15 year itch | notes on the mfa

How it is
when it comes apart
is how it is,

the old monk told
the mechanic.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (213)

“Holy Things” comprises confessional poems about relics, other items held with reverence, and bodies with a self-deprecating sense of humour. The poems don’t go the circular route but get straight to the point. In “Goddamn”, a light bulb blows,

“You unscrew
the supernova.
Mind the black
hole webs.
They’re torture
in your hair.
There, now
don’t drop—

Goddamn.
Spores of
stardust
everywhere.
It’s a nightmare
trying to get
celestial crumbs
out of the
good rug.”

A simple task to replace the bulb spotlights other areas of neglect: the ceiling cobwebs, the dust falling from the fixture or lightshade, the mess on the rug that now needs cleaning. Might it have been better to have left the bulb alone? A familiar scene where an improvement in one area, makes others look shabby in comparison and suddenly you’re spring cleaning the entire house.

Emma Lee, “Holy Things” Jay Rafferty (The Broken Spine) – book review

Tonight, tired and worried about my father, I came into this room, which we seldom use, and stretched out on the couch. I did my Duolingo lesson and the Times mini crossword and Spelling Bee on the free phone app which always kicks me out after a certain point. Then I pulled a knitted afghan over myself, thinking I might take a little nap, accompanied by the contemplative robin that’s nesting in the light fixture just outside the terrace door…but my eyes kept opening and gazing across the room at the desk. After a few minutes I had gotten up, opened the top, and set to work sorting the incongruous things I found inside: a strange, heavy antique brass writing stand with two glass inkwells; bottles of disk cleaner for LP records; three old letter openers, an intricate silver one that looked Turkish and quite lethal, and two that are clearly African; a collection of DVDs; a Silva compass with a leather case; a collection of old brass drafting equipment and a velvet snap-top jewelry box filled with old Schaeffer and Parker graphite leads; a handwritten wiring map for my father’s cabinet of turntables, tape decks and DVD players. As I did this, slowly, the thought began to form: could I actually use this desk? Could I write something here? When all the surfaces and pigeonholes were empty, I removed the vases and candlesticks to the piano, and wiped the wood with a barely-damp cloth. My sketchbook and watercolor palette went on the left side, some pens on the right. Then I ascertained that, yes, there was an outlet on the wall in fairly close proximity, set my laptop, mousepad and mouse in the center of the open desk, noticing for the first time the reassuring dents and scratches in the old mahogany — and turned the computer on.

It felt like… a moment. Like introducing your close but perhaps slightly questionable young friend to a beloved elderly grandparent. But the hinges didn’t give way, the marquetry didn’t fall out: in fact, the wood felt warm and beckoning and somehow personal, and I began immediately to write.

Beth Adams, Desk, Domain

Having finished Ulysses, I’ve gained the confidence to read other books that have been tapping me on the shoulder for years. One such is Jung’s Memories, Dreams and Reflections, recommended to me by  Anne. It’s as if, having climbed Everest, I can consider K2 (though I’d like to make clear this is a metaphor – I have attempted neither, and if I did, I would need to be carried or air-lifted down at some point).

I’m currently dog-sitting a beautiful lurcher, and she and I take long walks together. Sometimes, on these walks, I listen to the birdsong in the woods, or the lambs bleating in the fields, and sometimes, I plug myself into my phone and listen to a book. And this is how I’ve read Jung. 

It’s not an easy read – though parts of it are. That would be my review if asked for a line for the back cover. 

As Jaffa was trotting about, this is what I heard the other morning, and it illustrates my summary: 

“I never think that I am the one who must see to it that cherries grow on stalks. I stand and behold, admiring what nature can do.” Carl Jung – Memories, Dreams and Reflections. 

When I heard this, I stopped and typed it into my phone to remember the wisdom.  

I called Jaffa to me, and she came up, looking hopeful. I read out Jung’s words to her and she looked at me with her deep, kind eyes, hoping for a more edible treat, or perhaps something on the interpretation of dreams, then trotted off, ears flopping gently with each step. She urinated on some bracken. 

Liz Lefroy, I Read Jung (With Dog)

and here we are
we two
you crazy free
me creeping across
the fallen leaves
a poacher sans
traps lifting only
the mushrooms picking
only the berries
breathing just the
loaded air and
its traffic of
loam and pine
pitch and the
musk of deer

Dick Jones, Dog Latitudes §17

I could tell you how many civilians
were killed today in Iraq or Afghanistan
or Gaza or Pakistan or Yemen
by us or by our allies or with our weapons
but what’s the use?
a new season of your favorite show
will start soon and you’ll plop down
on your couch with some popcorn
or a nice plate of nachos
and go back to sleep
in a few weeks you’ll have to
Google this date to figure out
what this poem is about
and in another few weeks after that
so will I

Jason Crane, (Re-post) POEM: this changes nothing

It was chilly, the day I wanted to be dead,
but the azaleas finally tipped with pink,
finally breaking through the long cold that now bled

tiny vivid spearpoints struggling thru blunted blades,
as if their shrieking magenta opened a chink
in the brick wall. The day I wanted to be dead,

I actually didn’t. Some neuro biochem’d,
gamed my brain, meds and pain that brought me to the brink,
flipped the switch, and broke through the long calm that now fled

from my eyes, while logical-me questioned, and said,
“This makes no sense. I don’t want this. Dammit, stop. Think.
Who loses, and who wins, if I want to be dead?”

PF Anderson, Villanelle (“the day I wanted to be dead”)

I feel like I’ve been rather ruthless, but we’re still going to end up with about 10 boxes of books. That’s about half of where we started. I’m trying to give myself credit for being willing to part with so many books. I’m trying not to think about the fact that in later years,  I’m likely to part with some of the ones that I’m keeping. I’d like to get better at buying books and letting them go right after I read them, but that may not happen.

As I’ve sorted books, I’ve thought about what’s happening, across the nation and the planet. I’ve thought about the power of words, and I’ve wondered if any of our words can make a difference. I’ve thought about these books that have been important enough to me to hang onto for years and decades. I’ve thought about books as solace and inspiration. I’ve wished that I could create the kind of works that people will hang onto for decades. And who knows? I still have decades of writing life left he read. Perhaps that will happen.

But even if it doesn’t, I am grateful for the solace of words, for the solace of words collected into books.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, The Solace of Books

In certain ways, this is a collection of poems composed around and on the very idea of silence (reminiscent, through that singular element, of Nicole Markotić’s debut novel). “My birth / mother found me decades later,” [Nancy] Lee offers, “only to lose her own mom. This was / a sign, she was sure of it. The gods made her a trade for silence.” Composed through great care and a deep attention, Hsin emerges as a work of grief and loss, discovery and searching, held as the notes produced across the journey as it unfolds, unfolding. “predictable /// if you know // from where / in the sequence ///// does a mother / want [.]” she offers, elsewhere in the first section. There are elements of this collection that echo some other titles that Brick has been producing lately, especially since the shift in editorial and ownership; an echo of other of their book-length poetry debuts that explore familial loss, identity and placement through the gathering of meditative and narrative lyric fragment, whether Andrea Actis’ Grey All Over (2021) [see my review of such here], or David Bradford’s Griffin Prize-shortlisted Dream of No One but Myself (2021) [see my review of such here]. “Nothing from nothing means nothing,” Lee writes, early on in the collection, “she hummed from the back- / seat of the Pontiac, swallowed in afternoon sun.” To open the collection, she offers a brief note for the sake of context to her title. The short note ends: “Body is history and Hsin holds silence in ways that both claim and keep it at bay.”

rob mclennan, Nanci Lee, Hsin

Yesterday, as I was troubleshooting on various book-related fronts, I started wondering if “troubleshooting” was another of the military metaphors that colonize my vocabulary (“front” is one). The original meaning of troubleshooting, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, was a pleasant surprise. Here’s the first usage in print: “1905, Strand Mag.: ‘A good looking young ‘trouble-shooter’—as a mender of telephone lines is called—had asked her to marry him.’” Whoa! It’s a COMMUNICATIONS metaphor!

There have been plenty of broken connections lately, so after an initial high, I’m struggling to focus on the good stuff. Appearing at the Gaithersburg Book Festival last weekend, for example, was lucky and lovely (it’s a pretty interesting festival, too, with a political flavor). Early readers have been generous–I so appreciate every thoughtful note. None of that, though, stopped my spirits crashing. Maybe that was inevitable after logistical hairiness and physical stress (the festival was outdoors with 95 degree temperatures, plus my Achilles tendinitis flared up). The turning point mood-wise was a paradoxical one. Seeing Poetry’s Possible Worlds amid the many, many books Politics & Prose was selling was great, but it also reminded me how many, many authors are trying to get attention for their book-babies. I do have a strong core of confidence that my book is a very good one. But it’s increasingly clear to me that while I’m working harder than ever to get word out, in addition to investing money in a publicist for the first time, Poetry’s Possible Worlds is unlikely to stand out in the mob. Placing “Brave Words” on the Poets & Writers website was a glorious win, but each successful connection has 10 failed attempts behind it–magazine pitches, event queries, and other efforts that mostly don’t even get replies. I keep throwing out filament, filament, filament (sorry, changing metaphors here to Whitman’s spider), but I suspect I need to rewire my hopes as well. After all, twenty years ago, I longed to reach any audience at all, feeling increasingly hopeless about ever publishing a creative book. Here I am, after so many successes, doing that tiresome thing: training my vision on the next line of mountains.

Troubleshooting Monday involved updating various websites, including improving the book’s Goodreads listing. I finally figured out how to get the cover to appear, yay!, but can’t seem fix the issue on Amazon, and it’s such a handsome cover. I can’t get it to appear on Bookshop.org at all. How much does each of those little efforts even matter? I don’t know. I managed to settle myself down, though, by putting up a couple of reviews for other indie books. Helping other writers feels better, sometimes, than trying to boost your own signal.

Lesley Wheeler, Filaments & telephone lines

We don’t reach strong conclusions about the poem’s meaning as a class. We are a diverse group. I like leaving them with some ambiguity. I want them to figure it out for themselves, to be able to sit with complex and contradictory truths. I know that me telling them what to think or insisting on a particular interpretation won’t meet my goals. They might say what they think I want to hear, but they’re going to think what they think, do what they want to do with their ideas.

As they are gathering their things and heading for the door at the end of class, the boy who shared his ideas about the birds says to me, “I liked class today.” He’s a student I have struggled to engage. We are very different people, he and I. He hasn’t done very well with me, and I know that most days he hasn’t liked my class.

“I’m glad,” I say. “I really appreciated your contributions to our discussion.”

“Thanks,” he says, with feeling, and he smiles at me. I smile back, also with feeling. We have such different views of the world he sometimes astounds me, but I will miss him when this school year ends in just a few short weeks. I am glad to have known him, and I think he might say the same about me. There are things in each of us that the other likes and respects. I want to believe that, anyway.

We have no way of knowing, right then, what the afternoon will bring. I don’t know that after I spend it grading my students’ reading logs–which will prompt me to think hard about purposes and how I might determine if they’ve been met–I will learn, while waiting for the copy machine after school, about the latest shooting in Texas. I don’t know that I will numbly run off copies of another poem for our next class, then go to my empty classroom and sit at my desk and wonder what I should feel and do. I don’t know that I will spend long minutes wondering about the nest I’ve built for us, with its twinkle lights stretched across the ceiling, and posters with art from around the world, and a cart full of window/mirror books, and chart paper with our lists of class norms. I don’t know that I will sit in that space, remembering the day in September we began building those norms as we discussed memes about gun control, or that I will leave memory as I tune into the sounds of students playing ping-pong in the foyer while they wait to be picked up, and that it will be the pock-pock-pock of those balls hitting the paddles that will be the thing that brings me to tears.

Rita Ott Ramstad, On the morning of the latest massacre of American schoolchildren

Someone said the word obliterate.
Meaning an erasure so hard,
Nothing remains.

As children we were told
not to whistle too loudly at clouds
so they wouldn’t come too close.

The world must have whistled
in a great chorus. Or that’s what
we might want to believe.

But wind and rain have
their own voice, their own
logic.

We are always trying to put
our unformed words
into their throats.

Luisa A. Igloria, Rain Writes, Wind Erases

When our pains become so great we can no longer bear them.

When our feelings seek release, when they move us to the ends of the earth,

our hearts desiring an Eden of our own making.

It’s then we create: sing, dance, paint, write, cry out.

Our expressions: beautiful cracks in the bell of a perfectly toned hallelujah.

Not so much a cousin to longing, but the pure longing itself.

Rich Ferguson, Cracks In the Bell

In the last month or so, the book I’ve most enjoyed reading is the excellent Everyman (selected) Poems of James Merrill, edited by his biographer, Langdon Hammer. The combination of his formalist brilliance and his hedonistic, but engaged, attitude to life is irresistible.

Here’s Merrill reading Elizabeth’s Bishop exemplary villanelle ‘One Art’ and a poem of his own which he dedicated to Bishop, ‘Developers at Crystal River’.

And here’s a short but fascinating interview with him from 1991, four years before his death, in which he discusses political poetry, his awareness of the luck he had in being born so rich, and the datedness of language.

Matthew Paul, James Merrill

The downside about Napowrimo: the writing hang over.

Though I think that my month of writing a poem a day was pretty productive — probably about half the poems are usable– I was wiped out this month and only wrote one poem.

I have a kind of plodding type of writing schedule though–I usually complete two poems a month. I guess like running sprints, shaking it up and writing thirty poems vs. my typical two, could help my creativity possibly.

But after all that poetry, I find my mind wandering to different things, different projects.

I’m currently working on a cross-stitch (because it’s good to work with your hands), starting to consider revising my sci-fi middle grade novel again, and in the beginning (obsessive) stages of getting a new project (an anthology?) off the ground.

I used to worry when my steady two-poems-per-month pace was interrupted–existential questions of “will I ever write again?” plagued me. However, after many years of writing, I’ve found that there are some seasons in life that breaks are needed and good. I tend to take a break over part of the summer and let my mind wander other fields.

Renee Emerson, Writing Hang-over

The poet was exasperated that his voice had become a metaphor;
he wanted to see the blood of his voice, its lard and flesh,
its lineage—to hear its chords vibrating
even if a single utterance would cost him his life.

In our language, he finds himself placing nouns before verbs,
tainted by the lyrical I, perhaps. He picks words
that had wilted until they turned to gold. Wiping away
the dust of the centuries, he plants them in small pots.
The poet thinks he can
heal the dumb, and revive the dead.

Meanwhile, in their language, he crosses mountains and oceans
leaving a talisman on every tree
to find his way back.

Mona Kareem, Four poems – tr: Sara Elkamel

I haven’t worked on the wasp project for two weeks now. It is in my head, but I have not put in the work. Today I will pick up some parchment for the flexagon poems, though. Tomorrow, I will make the paper for the corsets and hives.

Last week on Instagram I saw something freakishly similar to what I am working on. It was well-executed, too. It has taken me a while to remind myself that there is nothing new under the sun and that the existence of something similar out there doesn’t discount the authenticity of what I am doing. I might keep my head down a while. I have a feeling if I go looking for it, I will find more similar work. And really, that is a good thing, right? It means there is something – if not universal – then relatable. Something that is a successful expression of human experience. So what?

Too often I am my own gatekeeper. That little voice. That bird with the sharp beak that keeps wounds open and blood flowing out of habit.

Not working is not humility. This assumption, belief, and self-deception that eventually I will turn out something stunningly, unequivocally unique is a kind of arrogance.

Ren Powell, Fear of Exposing Oneself

Book: Quiet Night Think: Poems & Essays  (a misFit book, ECW, 2022) by Gillian Sze. […]

During the remarkable period of early parenthood, Sze’s new maternal role urges her to contemplate her own origins, both familial and artistic. Comprised of six personal essays, poems, and a concluding long poem, Quiet Night Think takes its title from a direct translation of an eighth-century Chinese poem by Li Bai, the subject of the opening essay. Sze’s memory of reading Li Bai’s poem as a child marks the beginning of an unshakable encounter with poetry. What follows is an intimate anatomization of her particular entanglement with languages and cultures.

Sze invites readers to meditate with her on questions of emergence and transformation: What are you trying to be? Where does a word break off? What calls to us throughout the night? […]

PP: Your opening essays starts with all the paradoxes of translation, what is literally said, what is implied, what is embedded. It strikes me that poetry in the translation from life to words has some of the same challenges. In your work you mention letting work set until it has clarity and heft. Do you find that way in time alone or do you have a set of readers who help you see what is distilled enough?

GS: I think one of the best things to do with a draft is to forget about it and return to it afterwards. That little spell of amnesia allows me to, for a moment, pretend that the work isn’t even mine to begin with, and I can examine, edit, and revise it more effectively. Only when I feel like I have moved the work to a less vulnerable space do I seek out my trusted first readers.

Pearl Pirie, Mini-interview: Gillian Sze

Of all the ways to encounter loss, I picked the one in which it arrives as a stranger. A stranger who emerges from the bowels of a subway station, into the sunlight, as I hurtle down the steps into the darkness, directly in his path, looking away, refusing to meet his gaze, only a strong musky scent of an unborn morning , staining the air as we pass.

It returns sometimes, that fragrance, like a wind from a faraway place, come to moult its memory skin . Or like a pigeon that flew into a room that it doesn’t know how to escape, thrashing against the glass pane, screaming at the walls in low, gurgling sounds, rising and falling, rising and falling, trapped, afraid…alone.

On some nights, the stranger stops and calls my name. A name he should not know. A voice I should not recognize. A longing that should not be. For a morning, yet to come.

what should we call it,
the sky that does not know
it is the sky?

Rajani Radhakrishnan, A name he should not know

My next book, Look to the Crocus, will be published in 2023 by Shoestring Press!!!

I’ve been going through the editorial process poem by poem over the last few weeks, gradually ironing out the errors, tightening up poems, culling the weak. It’s been a wonderfully therapeutic process! 

It’s great to have such editorial support going through the manuscript from both publisher, John Lucas, and poet and editor, John Killick, who has been such an enthusiastic supporter of my work since he wrote a rather wonderful review of Madame Ecosse a few years back. 

The current format of the collection is a thematic division into 4 parts each with their own sub-title and each prefaced with a quote from Theodore Roethke. 

I’ve moved backwards and forwards on the idea of breaking up the manuscript into sections, and overall, I do have a preference for sections. I love the structural element of it – like chapters / seasons / weather systems. 

Also, I love introducing the sections with titles and quotes. Roethke has been such an important poet to me and I love having his words flow throughout my manuscript. 

Marion McCready, *Look to the Crocus*

I belong to a Facebook writing group called Every Damn Day Writers.  We set it up to encourage ourselves to write  every day. The practice of writing every day builds the habit of creating and of course pushes your manuscript forward. A daily schedule stirs the creative brain into action. It’s a magical key that unlocks the door — not only to a new room, but eventually a whole new book. So how do you establish a daily writing habit? Read on.

Writing Practiced

Writing practice is like ballet. Whatever talent you possess, it gets better with daily exercise. It’s impossible not to improve if you sit down to your work on a regular basis. Like meditation, the act of creating is vigorous. It’s intense and difficult, requiring great focus, making it hard to think of anything else.

It can be argued that writing is meditation. Though the body may be still for long minutes during this act, a lot is going on neurologically. Your sympathetic nervous system calms, the scientists report. And over a long period of exercising this function, the brain changes, studies have found. It moves toward the habit of sustained happiness.

Changing Your Brain to Enhance Creativity

Do you feel happier after a period of writing? I call it “writer’s glow”. It occurs to me even after a short bout of creating, say working out a one-page poem. The focus drops away the “monkey mind” habit of my brain to be distracted by passing thoughts. The space left afterward is clear and fresh, like a beautiful landscape. In fact, everything feels beautiful for a while writing.

The lucky thing is that this daily writing practice becomes easier the more you do it. It’s the power of habit, which works for good habits as well as bad ones because we’re all essentially addictive personalities. I choose to be addicted to writing because it makes me happy. And because of it, I have published four novels in four years.

Rachel Dacus, Writing Tips — The Practice of Writing Every Day

I was listening to a podcast recently with a guest who explained that after a terrible period of psychological distress, she decided that she needed a project in order to focus her mind on something besides her own emotional pain. She bought an enormous amount of yarn and spent the next six months steadily knitting a gigantic blanket, working on it every single day no matter what. At the end of the project, she felt a little better, but just as importantly, she learned the value of persistence and consistency, and her faith in her ability to heal herself was restored. I think that was a very wise thing for her to do for herself. As a culture, we seem to have abandoned the value of pushing through and persisting in the face of adversity. Fuddy-duddy concepts like patience, stoicism, and simply taking our minds off of our pain for a little while with something productive like work or creative pursuits is considered old-fashioned. The trendy way to cope with mental distress is to make TikTok videos and engage in pathological wallowing. I say this as someone who has wallowed in many bouts of psychological distress, especially when I was younger. I have since learned that emotional distress is often passing and that it’s okay to subsume it in work, physical activity or other distractions. Contrary to popular counseling wisdom, I believe that distraction is a very useful tool. In many cases, the distress simply resolves itself on its own due to not having been fed. As the Brits tend to say, sometimes you just need to get on with it. I’m also reminded that I still have a punch needle embroidery project to finish and I should get on with that.

Today would probably be a good day for it, as it is a pre-planned No-Leave Sunday, wherein I stay in pajamas all day, eschew make-up and don’t leave the house, not even to check the mail. I used to engage in No-Leave Sundays fairly regularly, but they have fallen by the wayside over the years for various reasons. I find No-Leave Sundays very restorative. I like to have what feels like an enormous expanse of unscheduled time in front of me in which to knock around, putter and waste. It helps my brain unravel from the work stress of having way too freaking much to do all of the time and never enough to time do all of it. It feels lavish and indulgent and a little transgressive.

Kristen McHenry, Coping by Crafting, No-Leave Sunday Revival, Litmus Test

In spite of myself, my resentment that they are rats with tails, that they lounge in my chaises longues and massage themselves in the rims of my flowered pots, I have been admiring squirrels.

Such looseness; such fearless sense of play.  One — followed by her playmate — in motion leaps to her sure death from the roof but catches a frail branch, hangs belly-up as the branch dip low with weight until she rights herself, scrapes the bark with her nails — and darts.

Lilies of the valley have dropped their sweet white flowers, confetti is scattered around the hawthorn tree, the Dionysian rally of spring is exhausting —

but there are the squirrels, defying reason.

Once they’re hanging from a thread, how do they will themselves back? 
Do these masters of risk appraise a car tire and decide— uh uh,  not this one, over and over? 

And don’t these tricksters know these are dark times?  That destructive forces are overwhelming us?

And yet they play, play, play.  Before our tired eyes, they play, as if their very survival depended on it. If I banished them from the garden, who would remind us to play?

Jill Pearlman, Lessons from My Backyard Enemies

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 18

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week: skylarks and stitchwort, politics and mental illness, pondering the use of the first person in poetry, American Mothers’ Day, and more. Enjoy!


For a year I have been thinking about getting back to fitness with each run I take but back is surely the wrong word to choose when ahead is where the gift of full recovery lies. And today the lane I am running along reminds me that neither word serves and it is only the now of the cow parsley, the fields of beans, the North Downs holding up a sun-bright sky that matters, this moment, this breath  

here now
stopping to listen
to the skylark’s song

Lynne Rees, Haibun ~ Words

Whatever the cause and whenever it began, I am grateful that in this week in which we are reaching, again, for Mary Oliver’s “Of the Empire,” I used my time to eat slow dinners with my family and care gently for our dying dog and meet my students with compassion and skate until my body broke a sweat and sit on our front porch in the early evening sun. I am grateful I had space to write these words for no one but you and me and to imagine going back in time and taking aside that struggling, striving woman I once was and telling her this:

You don’t have to earn your right to be here, to take up space on your little speck of the planet, for the blip of time that is yours. You have no more obligation to the world than a tulip or hummingbird or raindrop does. You, too, get to just be. Make your choices knowing that everything you have and do and love will pass. Everything. The best way to serve the world, probably, is to grow and be guided by a heart that is large, and soft, and full of kindness. That’s a project it will never be too late to start, but the sooner you can, the better. Maybe don’t be so slow with that one, yeah?

Rita Ott Ramstad, Slow Going

I came this way a day ago
and thought I heard a flock of angry geese
it was the screech of machinery
a tractor and plough

today harrows
have broken up the clods
and shattered stalks of maize
litter the furrows

white drifts of stitchwort
in the narrow field-margin
vetch and speedwell
buttercup and herb-robert

Ama Bolton, Sunday walk

You can leave your hometown but still feel a loss when it is wiped out by a tornado.

But these tears are for my grandmother’s America which seemed to be on a path towards a more compassionate culture. When I was in high school, my grandmother thought that the local segregated schools were appropriate, and she once dragged me out of a theater performance of Mahalia because we were the only white people in the audience. She wasn’t a forward-thinking woman. But by her 80s called to tell me about a “brilliant young man” she was going to vote for named Obama.

My grandmother went to church twice a week as long as I was alive. Well – until the pastor retired and a young guy took over and preached that it was the wife’s job to “obey”. That was the last time she or my grandfather went to church. She thought it was a weird glitch. She didn’t imagine it was a harbinger of something that… is here now.

I am glad she didn’t live to see this. This promise of death for the women who grew up the way she did. Hand to mouth. No bus fare to a safe clinic. No safety net of people who will help. Who care. My grandmother didn’t need to say that her friend could have been her. And knowing what I know now about my grandmother’s life, I wonder…

Ren Powell, Sorry for the Discursion

There are people who consider it their job to argue about politics. Fine. I let them. There are American-made celebrities who are so ripe with their own importance and wealth and the rushed necessity of using their “platform” (I dislike that term) that they simply must talk of such things. I am neither of those creatures and prefer to go on using what art I possess to make beauty and truth (though what I make is not devoid of thought and may be known, surely) and so add to the sum of what is good in the world. That is what you might label as my politics–to stand against evils and blight by working in my small, nearly anonymous way to add to that sum of truth and beauty.

Marly Youmans, On being asked for my politics

The schools in Helsinki are on strike, so the kids and I are at home. It feels strange to be in a union and on strike after 30 plus years of working freelance or low wage jobs. Schools in Finland only had the first 6-week lockdown due to Covid, but have stayed open since, so it feels weird to shut them for this. But necessary. 

I’m not sure how long the strike will last, a week at most at least to begin with. I can’t do school work and can’t do much of my research project beside go through literature, but I have so much I want to do, I need to read for my course tomorrow, plant potatoes and onions, tidy the garden after cutting down a tree, clean the house (ok, I don’t want to do that, but it needs doing) and write, of course. 

Vappu (May Day or Beltane) was cold as usual. We tried a picnic with our Scottish Society friends, but it was short-lived. […]

It has felt non-stop with worries these days. Climate change, Covid, Brexit, Ukraine and Finland wondering whether to join NATO and now the possible repeal of Roe vs Wade. I tend to keep away from the political here as it’s so overwhelming and I need a respite, but it feels like we’re sliding towards something dark and omnipresent that’s slowly consuming us.

I started a list poem about the time the Amazon and Australian fires were happening, a list of ‘I can’t breathe’ lines, each a body blow of breath-stopping events from across the world, from George Floyd to the streets of Bucha. It keeps growing, saddeningly. I see no signs of being able to stop writing it, but I need to speak up in my small way.

Gerry Stewart, May Days: On Strike, Out of Breath

PP: What do you consume that keeps play alive for you? What’s the secret to staying so alert?

GB: One of the things that keeps play alive, that helps me feel the possibility of exploration, of being open and also transcending my own self-imposed limitations is error. By making mistakes, but not trying too hard not to, and by being open to what they might suggest, I’m often shown another way to proceed, to consider something that I might not have. Another practice is collaboration. I continually collaborate with a wide range of writers and creative artists. Through this engagement, I can’t hold on to my preconceptions, or my ownership of work and processes, but instead have the opportunity to follow this new process, these other ways of conceiving of the work and the creative process. Of trusting the writing itself and the collaboration. I do try to work on craft and at getting better, to be able to do more things and do them better, but at the same time, I make a point of trying new approaches, of learning about other ways of writing and other approaches. I try to pay attention to what interesting writing is happening or has happened. I try to watch with three eyes and clap hands with one.

Pearl Pirie, Mini-interview: Gary Barwin

When this latest dark period struck, the intensity took me totally by surprise. I’d certainly had dark periods before; 2020, for example, saw the end of what I thought would be a lifelong relationship and the start of my life in a van. But this was something different. It was debilitating in a way I hadn’t experienced since the breakdown that put me on meds in the first place.

This period also coincided with National Poetry Writing Month, aka NaPoWriMo. I decided to participate. Over the years I’ve likened poetry and Buddhist practice, in that both help you see the world as it is. That can be great, but when the world is a pile of poop, writing a poem every day is less about observation and more about being slowly buried. Art can amplify the bad as well as the good. Looking back at most of the poems I wrote in April, I can see a terrifying darkness and despair. And I wonder whether writing a poem every day was less about processing and more about wallowing.

Somehow, for reasons I can’t even begin to name, that dark blanket lifted after two weeks, and I’m doing much, much better now. I’ve accepted the reality that I’ll have to live in my van until summer, when I can afford to rent an apartment. I’ve begun to adjust to my office job, and even to find comfort in the nice folks with whom I work and the access to a bathroom and a tea kettle and a paycheck. I can look ahead to a time when I’ve got my own place and feel more stable and secure.

This year’s NaPoWriMo gave me a lot to think about concerning the relationship between my writing and my state of mind. I’ll definitely exercise more caution if this happens again, and I’ll try to pay more attention to the interplay between art and emotion.

Jason Crane, The Art Of Despair

A post I wrote in September of 2018 titled, 10 Poems for Loss, Grief, Consolation has been consistently the top post here on Transactions with Beauty. It has always been popular, but in the last two years, as you can imagine, the stats on this post keep growing. In my intro to that post I said that I hope you had no need of the poems at present. But the thing is, we have almost all needed them, or at least, we have all experienced loss of some sort these past two years, we have grieved for not just our loved ones who have left us, but for so many things. So. Many. Things. We have needed consolation but I would wager that you have also consoled.

The second poem I included with my 2018 post was my own In Lieu of Flowers which can be found in my book The Flower Can Always Be Changing. (My publisher has copies if you need one). And that poem is everywhere — including on a list of poems about losing a loved one on Book Riot.

As of today’s date, the sobering news from CBC: “The World Health Organization is estimating that nearly 15 million people were killed either by the coronavirus or by its impact on overwhelmed health systems in the past two years, more than double the official death toll of six million.” It’s difficult to think in such big numbers, to feel. As the poet Wislawa Szymborska said in her poem “A Large Number,” “Four billion people on this earth, / but my imagination is still the same. / It’s bad with large numbers. / It’s still taken by particularity.” And many of us don’t need to use our imaginations, we know the particularities. We are familiar.

Shawna Lemay, 5 More Poems for Loss, Grief, Consolation

As if I sit, silent, fishing gear suspended over dry
earth, the ocean, far away, pushing against an

indifferent shore. While all the love has escaped
into the sky and become the sun, the sharp May

heat a reminder of what it could be like, closer,
higher, if we dared to leave the shade. I dream of

asking the questions that matter. Not looking for
answers.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, The conviction of jasmine

In 2018, at the 100th anniversary of World War I, the Great War, the war to end all wars, I immersed myself in lots of WWI reading and movie-viewing, sort of curating a WWI film festival for the library. So I was well aware of the famous carrier pigeon, Cher Ami, and how she saved the Lost Battalion. And also how she was misunderstood as a “he.” Hence, the male version of her French name. 

Kathleen Rooney develops all this so beautifully in Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey, also giving us a full look at the major who led his men into the Argonne Forest, following orders, and doing it brilliantly and efficiently, thus, accidentally, leading many of them to their deaths or maiming. Alas! Part of the charm of this book is that the chapters alternate in point of view, between the pigeon and the major. It was easy to believe in the way pigeons might “think,” how their homing instinct might work, and how consciousness continues–especially if you are taxidermied and live on in the Smithsonian Institution. 

So probably Cher Ami pre-disposed me to pick up Dr. Bird’s Advice to Sad Poets, to find out what a real pigeon/imaginary therapist might “say” to a depressed high school boy. Also, sometimes I am a sad poet myself. And I do love this book’s cover (see above; at hand is the movie cover). I am glad that the boy also gets a human therapist. I watched a lot of movies over the past few years, but only today did I realize that Dr. Bird was released as a movie in 2021. (You can watch it on Hulu. But I can’t.) I liked how the humor in this book ran gently under the depression and family dysfunction, and I loved Dr. Bird!

Here in real life, the sun has come out! I am clearing out gardens, looking at the pink and white bleeding heart and dark lilacs, and birdwatching. Coincidentally, my parents have actual nesting doves at their house!

Kathleen Kirk, A Coincidence of Pigeons

The other day, poet Matthew Stewart tweeted this, sparking off a very interesting discussion about the use of the first person in poetry, and the frequent assumption by readers (and Matthew was talking specifically about critics) that this is the poet themselves.

I don’t have a great deal to add to it, but I do find it odd that this assumption gets made with poetry by people who have no difficulty in accepting that a first person narrator in a novel is not necessarily the writer themselves.

That said, I wonder whether it’s also a question of degrees for poetry readers? If the poem is written in, say, the voice of a historical character, or an animal, the reader has no trouble knowing that the “I” is not the poet. Does the problem occur mainly when the “I” is not the poet, as such, but a character not that far away from them?

Matt Merritt, The first person in poetry

(after Billy Collins)

I think the poem speaks for itself. But for clarity:

When I say ‘I’,
I do not mean me.
Except when I do.
Or when I didn’t,
but it turned out
it was me anyway.

Oh, and whether ‘I’ is me or not
does not mean any of the things
in the poem actually happened,
or that if they did, that they happened to me,
or to anyone in particular.
Though they probably did.

So, for the record:
‘I’ may not be telling the truth
and this will be deliberate.
This may be for the purposes
of a greater truth,
or that I just don’t want you to know the truth.

Anyway, I think the poem should be clear now.

It’s called ‘Me’.

Sue Ibrahim, Introduction

I like writing
a poem that does

what it does
without me,

the old monk said.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (196)

Imagine this: A line of women poets stretching back, back through history, back through through layers of crinoline and taffeta and silk and underskirts and corsets and back, and back through kitchens and studies and libraries and maid’s quarters and milking sheds, back and back, all the way back to the oral traditions, to the women we can’t name, the anonymous women of history, their poems; their voices lost. This week I’ve been thinking a lot about those women, and the tail end of that link that is me, and how I sit here, how I am attached and connected to this line, how I sit alongside the other women poets that I know. Last night I met with my regular Fettling group. This is a group I set up a while ago. It’s a small group of just eight people, who meet every two weeks, and the purpose of the Fettling groups is to really focus on moving poems forward with group discussion, but also to find new ways to invigorate the way that attendees write, to find new ways of taking risks and pushing boundaries and comfort zones. Of all the groups, workshops and courses that I run, this is probably my favourite. Last night I brought along some wisdom from Eavan Boland. We discussed the ‘domestic poem’ and the revolutionary act of writing about interior life; how these mostly female spaces had been marginalised, de-valued, how poems about these places were perhaps devalued too, in the wider context of the poetry ‘community’, how that might, in turn, put women off writing the ‘domestic poem’ for fear of not being taken seriously. And then we took the radical act of writing a domestic poem, based on a painting by Eric Bowman. We talked about the term ‘poetess’ and the way that it’s purpose is to highlight the feminine of the poet, how it has become something of a criticism, or at the very least a condescending term that ‘others’ the woman poet, dividing her from the flock and herding her away. There is something to be said for this sort of contemplation, alongside being prompted to write, there is something necessary, at least for me, in accessing the thoughts of other poets in the development of my own self, in terms of becoming a poet. The wisdom of other poets is crucial to me, it connects me to the poets that have come before me and especially to the women poets and authors upon whose shoulders I am standing, precariously, and hoping that I am doing a good job. It was good to be in a group sharing this with other poets. There is something special about the way that a small group can meet on zoom, and open themselves up, how the intimacy of the safe space means that poems shared become as much about craft as they are an acknowledgement of the experience and process of creating the poem.

This morning I read this quote:

I like to think that the customs of friendship, as well as the loving esteem which are so visible in the communal life of women, will become evident in the practice and concept of the poetic tradition also. That women poets from generation to generation, will befriend one another. Eavan Boland

That’s what this is to me, this slow journey to myself. I am finding the connection to other writers and especially women writers and poets to be a kind of befriending. I feel welcomed into this long line of poets, this long line of women writers, and I am cherishing their wisdom.

Wendy Pratt, Women Asserting their Place in Poetry

Windsor, Ontario-based poet, editor, writer and critic Nicole Markotić’s latest full-length poetry title is After Beowulf (Toronto ON: Coach House Books, 2022), a book of simultaneous translation, transelation (as Moure coined it, via her 2001 Anansi title, Sheep’s Vigil by a Fervent Person) and reimagining of the classic Old English poem Beowulf (c. 700-1000 AD), rifling through a myriad of forms as a way through her own reading of an ancient poem imagined, interpreted and reimagined from Seamus Heaney’s translation to an episode of Star Trek: Voyageur. Reworking one of the earliest of epic poems through English and Danish traditions, there is a swagger to Markotić’s lyric, one propelled by both character and the language, writing a collage of sound and meaning, gymnastic in its application and collision. As is well-known, the old stories adapt themselves to our requirements, and update to meet and suit us [see also: my review of Helen Hajnoczky’s Frost & Pollen, which includes a reworking of The Green Knight], and Markotić works her assembling of language, lyric and permeations of English into a kind of Frankenstein’s Monster, stitching together scraps from a variety of prior adaptations, and a language-hybrid that blends contemporary banter with Old English. “Herewith trespasses / Grendel – no introduction – breaks into / the Introduction,” she writes, early on in the collection, “foul foundling, heaping with narrative potential / (contrast: that ‘one good king’ / repeating line, colossus-driven) / his celebmentia gains real estate / then fades to black, fades / into macabre backstory.”

rob mclennan, Nicole Markotić, After Beowulf

Marianne’s poem is published on the Tinywords website and it appealed to me because I love collecting bits of unusual paper (I have a carrier bag full upstairs). I’ve done a bit of collage, but always thought of it as separate to haiku. Having seen her work, I feel inspired to do something similar, although I’m well aware that there’s a huge amount of time gone into her piece – it’s not just the making, it’s the thinking behind it. These days I’m wary of setting myself up to do something I don’t have time to achieve! Still, her work will stay lodged in my head until the right time comes along.

Similarly with Bill Water’s work, I can see there’s a good deal of time spent not only on the crafting of the fairy doors, and the haiku that go with them, but also positioning them, finding the right space/ environment/ backdrop (call it what you will). Bill has many poems on public display and I like the generosity of that.
Both of these pieces seem to have a playfulness about them. ‘Playful’ is a word that is often applied to art, suggesting some sort of trick, or in joke, but I think in this instance, it’s in the creative process itself; the fun that was had in the making shines through.

Julie Mellor, thread of light

Although not back to how it was before the pandemic, I am increasingly venturing out in the world to attend poetry events and readings, as well as still going to online things. Trowbridge Stanza, the monthly poetry group I organise, is meeting in person again, although not monthly, as we previously did, but every other month (this might change in the autumn). I went to an interesting talk about The Wasteland at Bristol Library last month, part of Lyra Poetry Festival. It was so great to be out and about and to travel home while it’s still light. Spring brings such longed-for delights. I felt the same way last Wednesday in London for a launch of Kathy Pimlott’s debut collection the small manoeuvres (Verve Poetry Press). I’ve followed Kathy’s poetry for several years, bought both of her pamphlets from the Emma Press, and long-admired her precise, original, engaging poems. Her poem ‘As You Are 90, I Must Be 65‘ is published at And Other Poems and is one of those I nominated for the 2019 Forward Prize for Best Single Poem. It was just terrific to hear Kathy read, she has an assured and unshowy performance style that held everyone’s attention last week in the rather beautiful setting of the Phoenix Community Garden which is (amazingly) hidden within the heart of London’s West End.

I was also impressed by readings I heard at the online launch of books by Betty Doyle, Qudsia Akhtar, Erica Gillingham and Nicki Heinen (all Verve Poetry Press). Unfortunately Nicki couldn’t be there but Geraldine Clarkson read some of her poems, as well as poems of her own. My overwhelming feeling at this event was a feeling that poetry has upped its game since I was last at a reading (pre-pandemic). These are strong, strong poems. I was similarly dazzled at the launch of books by Anita Pati, Jemma Borg and Denise Saul (Pavilion Poetry Press). I will be surprised if at least one of these aforementioned poets isn’t on one or more of the big poetry prizes this year.

Josephine Corcoran, Out and About Again

I’ve written before on this blog about the excellence of Kathy Pimlott’s poetry – a review, here, of her first Emma Press pamphlet Goose Fair Night (2016). Kathy’s second pamphlet, Elastic Glue (2019), was just as good, and contained several poems concerning the gentrification of her neighbourhood of Covent Garden and Seven Dials in central London.

I was therefore delighted to be able to attend the launch, on Wednesday at the lovely setting of Phoenix Garden, of Kathy’s first full collection, The Small Manoeuvres, published by Verve Poetry Press and available to buy here. It was a very enjoyable evening, which included Kathy reading some of the fine poems in the book.

Like the two pamphlets, the poems in The Small Manoeuvres are full of Kathy’s clear-eyed perceptions, a palpable sense of social justice, deep respect for family, friendship (especially amongst women), history and memory, and finely-drawn character studies. They are, in the best way, very readable poems, without any irritating tricksy-bollock nonsense. For these reasons, Kathy is among my very favourite contemporary poets.

Matthew Paul, On Kathy Pimlott

Diabetes has not defined the speaker but it is part of who she is and managing it has forged the adult she has come to be. Her achievements have not come despite her diabetes but because of its successful management.

“Blood Sugar, Sex, Magic” is a contemplative journey from childhood to adulthood of life with type 1 diabetes. Sarah James has a compassionate ear, she never turns to self-pity even when being mocked or describing the sense of unfairness at being disabled: having plans go awry or letting people down because of her diabetes. It’s a journey through acceptance and learning to live with its consequences through powerful, thought-provoking poems.

Emma Lee, “Blood Sugar, Sex, Magic” Sarah James (Verve Press) – book review

In his recent book Singer Come from Afar, Kim Stafford suggests the difference between great poems and important poems has something to to with the occasion of their relevance. He says important poems “are utterances written as a local act of friendship or devotion, and given to a person, shared at an occasion, or performed in support of a cause.” Such a poem may later be considered a great poem, though more often would be relegated to the status of “an expendable artifact of the moment.” Framing poems as expendable artifacts does seem accurate in many regards. A page, that can be burned or shredded; an oral performance, uttered into time and lost thereafter; a digital event, that can be corrupted or invisibly archived in the “cloud”–those fragments and unfinished pieces we let languish and eventually discard. Perhaps important to us once, these poems are ephemera.

Stafford’s recent collection celebrates the local and the relevant, even the immediate, at the risk of not being lasting, whatever that may mean. Published in 2021, the book includes a selection of pandemic-related poems, many of which appeared on his Instagram feed @kimstaffordpoetry. Few of these poems are “great” in the literary sense, in my opinion, but that doesn’t mean they are not worthy of publication; this reader appreciates the urgency in the pandemic poems, the need to connect with others sharing the predicament of “social distancing.” We should not ignore the value of local, person-centered poems, narratives of the everyday. Not every human interaction requires epics, and really–the majority of contemporary poems address the small important events and metaphors that sometimes resonate with larger aims. My own work tends that way, so I’m not one to talk about greatness.

Besides, there are a couple of poems in Stafford’s book that will hold up well to literary explication, poems I have already enjoyed re-reading, such as “Chores of Inspiration” and “Do You Need Anything from the Mountain” with its lines “Bring me that skein of fire/that hangs in intimate eternity, after//the dark but before the thunder, when/the bounty of yearning in one cloud/reaches for another…”

I guess each of us has the capacity to evaluate what it is we consider important and what we consider great. I happen to like the bounty of yearning in Kim Stafford’s clouds.

Ann E. Michael, Important

ND Poet Laureate — 1995 until his death April 28, 2022

While much has been and will be said about this remarkable poet/writer, his ability to be intensely present will be his legacy for me – and a personal reminder to carry that forward in my life. He gave 100% of himself to the conversation or the moment. Like when he said to me, “Sit on this side. That’s my good ear and I want to hear everything you say.” In a world overrun with too many distractions, let’s agree to always give others our good ear and be intensely present.

Bonnie Larson Staiger, Honoring the Memory of Larry Woiwode

Out of the corner of my eye, and not on the syllabus, a small green book, left lying around under ash by Squirrel. I ask to borrow it, take it everywhere. Poems that take my breath away. Wishing I had done him and not Ted Hughes.Poems I have been waiting all my life to read, falling head over heels instantly, insanely. That vase. Somewhere becoming rain.

And now this. A wasted first year, a disappearing act in the second, playing catch-up in the third, just as I realise this might mean something. Mrs Dalloway. To the Lighthouse. Jacob’s Room.

Their greenness is a kind of grief. Oh yes. Like something almost being said. Chatting up Molly at the end of year drinks, Dutch courage mixed with fear, knowing it would come to nothing. Having wanted to say something for three years. Always in the row just behind. The almost cutting through me. Words at once true and kind. Greenness. Grief. A lesson in almost. And now the future.

Anthony Wilson, Lifesaving Lines: The Trees, by Philip Larkin

One thing that took my mind off of the abscess/root canal business was that my author questionnaire for BOA was due on my birthday, and then the finished draft of my manuscript of Flare, Corona was turned in a half-hour before my root canal a few days later. (I knew I wouldn’t be up to much the rest of that day, because they give me some anesthesia – Versed – for the root canal that doesn’t take away pain but does make your memories fuzzy and makes you very sleepy the rest of the 24-hour period. Also keeps you from flinching as much when they’re trying to drill your teeth.)

I’d been working on the book since its acceptance, so there wasn’t much left to do: shifted some poems around, updated the acknowledgements, added a couple of newer poems, and had my mom proofread for obvious grammar/spelling issues, and sent it off to my editor at BOA. Now I just have to wait for edits – exciting! You may think: “Jeannine, isn’t it awfully early to be thinking about your book which is slated for release in spring/summer 23?” But no, it’s really not! My next steps include finding good cover art and starting to collect blurbs!

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A Root Canal Birthday Week, Work on My Upcoming Book, and Talking about Timing and Poetry Submissions

got my voice back
it was there all the time
one has to be phlegmatic
and curtail your expectorations

the swim to cure my cold killed me
the swim to kill my cold cured me

acute coryza is such a violet word
don’t you think

Jim Young, cold comforts

I’m working on the premise of circa 25 poems will make it in. The current list is at 27, with four more backups. There is so much to do, each one will need its tyres kicking to make sure it’s as strong as it could be, even the more recent ones where I think my writing has improved.

They’ve all got to earn their place, so after (or is it before) the above there’s the process of seeing how they talk to each other. Do I want sections? It’s sort of loosely fallen into 3 sections so far, but are they something to be called out? It seems like overkill in a pamphlet to me, but who knows if that will change? Do I need a theme? No, I don’t think so as yet. Not least because that probably means more poems need to be written and at the current rate of knots I wouldn’t be ready for 3023, let alone next year. Also, as much as I love a themed collection, it can get a bit samey. I don’t have a theme as yet, so it would be forced.

I’ve just reviewed a debut pamphlet by someone where the work seems to either have been written circa 2008ish (at least when it was first published somewhere) or more recently during lockdown, etc (based on the themes of the poems). I can’t tell which poems fell between those dates, but it feels like an old-fashioned debut of the best poems you have available in the best order and that is just absolutely dandy with me.

There will be loads more prevarications, changes, questions, pacing up and down, heavy drinking (not essential, but I like it) and the like to come, but this feels like day one, a marker in the sand, etc.

Mat Riches, The work starts here…

What is it to be a “Southern” poet? Is it merely where you were born? Is it what you write about, or a style of writing?

Let’s say someone lives most of their life in California, and moves to Tennessee. How long before they can call themselves “Southern”?

With all of our moving, I feel a bit displaced as a writer. When I first began writing, I would solidly claim to be a Southern, mid-south poet, but now, when I type out my current address on a submission, I wonder what I can really claim.

How do you define regional poetry? By the poet being from there, currently living there, or writing about the place?

Renee Emerson, What makes a Southern writer “Southern”?

Somewhere around 2010, I taught a class in our four-week May term on writing poetry in forms. One project we did together: after reading more serious haiku and renku, my students had to staff a public booth and write haiku on commission in exchange for donations to the local foodbank. This involved interviewing clients about the messages they wished to send; composing custom haiku based on the interviews; and transcribing them on pretty postcards the clients could send to whomever they wished. To give my students practice in advance, I had them interview me about my mother, and I sent their haiku to her in time for Mother’s Day.

To my amazement, my mother wrote haiku back to my students (English 205). I spotted the sheet earlier this year but wasn’t in any frame of mind to reread them, so I resolved I would pull them out for Mother’s Day 2022. It feels uncanny to hear her voice in them now. She references my daughter dying her hair blue at thirteen; after returning to blondness for more than a decade, my twenty-five-year-old daughter has recently gone blue-haired again. The Lydia in the last verse was my daughter’s closest friend then (I have no idea about “handsome poopface.”) The “cheeky, cheeky boy” is my son Cam (twenty-one and still cheeky).

My mother was a reader, not a poet, other than on this occasion (as far as I know). I’m grateful to have this gift now and smiling as I remember how she upstaged me every Mother’s Day after my kids were born–phoning early to wish ME happy Mother’s Day before I managed to call her.

Lesley Wheeler, My mother’s haiku

We all came from mothers: we have something in common.
Our first act almost unspeakable 
hurtling towards bright lights, causing our Other shrieking pain.
Mothers let us off the hook — 
it wasn’t really our fault —
the pea-green stuff was cleared off, we sucked from the core of the earth,
nestled, smiled, were cutely dressed, learned the Hula hoop, read Nietszche, 
or learned to shoot, worked EMT 
or spent years shooting hoops, opened a laundry

How ridiculous the way life steps in to scatter one ur-motherhood story
it cannot be mastered
as every “birth plan” and over-imposition will veer off course

Let each birth be
or not  
as it wants 

Jill Pearlman, The Howl of Motherhood

Today is Mother’s Day, and I’m thinking about my mother-in-law who passed away this year on April 1, just a week after her 88th birthday.

She spent so many holidays and other visits at my house, and although I would not say she was like a second mother to me, she was a positive presence in my life, and she imparted her tidbits of elder wisdom to me and our family over the years.

At the end of yoga class yesterday my teacher wished us a happy Mother’s Day, and I responded that I wanted to wish her a special day, too, because even though she never gave birth to a child, she has nurtured me and many others over the years as her spiritual children.

I’ve tapered off the anti-depressants that I’ve been taking since my youngest son was three months old. For almost thirty years I’ve been on one kind of SSRI or another, all stemming from severe post partem depression and then ensuing trauma.

Maybe because I’m off the meds, a certain kind of pervasive sadness has returned. I’m trying to work my way through the fatigue and mild anxiety in the hopes that my body will re-learn to regulate itself and I can learn how to let these moods come and go without latching onto the idea that I need the SSRI to cope. Thirty years on these meds is a long time. I want to give my body a chance to heal on its own.

What helps me is going to yoga class with my beloved teachers, listening to guided meditations, and being outside under the wild waving trees who stand sentinel over my garden, these oaks and pines that quiver with nonjudgmental aliveness. And tea. Tea steeped in my MIL’s pot.

Christine Swint, Mother’s Day and the Blues

Thanks to “Range,” the book I reviewed in last week’s post, I recently made the astonishing discovery that in 18th century Venice, there was a famous orphanage called the Ospedale della Pietà (Orphanage of Pity) that became known for producing some of the world’s most accomplished female musicians. For some reason, I was captivated by the detail that outside of the orphanage, there was a stand of drawers. If a baby was small enough to fit into a drawer, it could be left there, and when the drawer was closed, a bell would go off and one of the nuns would come and collect the baby. Many of the babies left there were born of ladies of ill repute, but some were illegitimate children born to members of royal families. The story of how the orphanage developed their young musicians is fascinating, but not as interesting to me as pondering how many times a day that bell rang. I imagine early-morning misty Venetian skies, the mournful sound of the bell, and the mother scuttling furtively away, her figure hidden in a bonnet and voluminous skirt. There is a whole other story to be told there aside from the virtuoso musicians.

Kristen McHenry, Bells of Venice, Latent Strategist, Too Far In

Welcome to the Sunday edition of the pig and farm report. It is bloody cold out here on the island 41° this morning. My lilacs refuse to open my herb garden looks like the saddest bit of vegetable you find in the bottom of your refrigerator bin in autumn and forget about planting tomatoes those ruby beating hearts. Still it is unbearably beautiful when the sun shines and the rain makes my yard smell like the most intense lovely day you can imagine from camp in utter girlhood. Bunnies are still hopping about deer still play statue in the yard and the rhododendrons that grow everywhere in my yard carry on voracious and bright. Spring continues in spite of wool trousers cashmere sweaters heavy blankets and the propane fire blazing from dawn until bedtime not to mention snuggly cats. 

Today is difficult for me. The echo of mother precious mother that is everywhere today strikes my ear as vinegar my mother being the sort of person to prove that just because you can procreate doesn’t mean you should. I guess that’s all I have to say about it but those who know know and those who don’t carry on believing that we all had brilliant loving parents. I did go to the grocery this morning and the smell of flowers and guilt for sale at every cash register was palpable. I listened to John Lennon wailing on my car radio on the way home. Maybe all my dials really have flown off. 

That’s it for today. Look how beautiful my front yard is blazing in frozen sunlight.

Rebecca Loudon, Pig and farm report

Why her mouth always twists
every question into a story. Why the story
wants to pull out everything that is past.
Why the past can’t seem to figure out
it’s only a difference in the SIM card, if at all.
Why all the data in a chip cannot house the world.
One type of world wants to be touched, but never
tasted. Another is entirely made by a frenzy of moths.
Why the paper doll lost its hat, traveling in the mail.
She doesn’t know how to tell the mother
who made her that she will likely never arrive.
The other mother is more like her. She is faithful
to the one script still legible in her mind.

Luisa A. Igloria, The Causative

In this dream I gallop, trot, and prance. Yes, that’s right. Actual prancing. It feels good to be a fast horse. In another dream I was a moose, and in still another I was a dog. There may not be an exact explanation, but there is this – it always feels pretty good. Excellent. In this dream I am a fast horse, moving swiftly across a grassy prairie. The bright sunshine is warm and fine on my back, and when I awake I see the saddle and bridle waiting silently beside my bed.

James Lee Jobe, In my dream I have somehow become a fast horse.

Every morning, the sun manages to find our one good vein, and delivers its dose of roaming gold.

Radiant blood enriches the senses. Dharma oxygen feeds the foolish heart.

Call us dream addicts, jonesing for the promise of another day.

Joy’s ever-wandering junkies searching for that shimmer of clear calm beyond the bottle, bullet, or bad decision.

Lift our bones into the light, their carbon hopes shining.

This life, this love.

When we’re ash, glue us into the book of good intentions.

Rich Ferguson, Roaming Gold