Poetry Blog Digest 2024, Week 19

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 at Via Negativa or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack (where the posts might be truncated by some email providers).

This week: mothers and mothering, silence and mental noise, wonder and wreckage. Enjoy.

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Poetry Blog Digest 2024, Week 17

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive at Via Negativa or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack (where the posts might be truncated by some email providers).

This week: words with friends, a loving attendance on the world, histories of brokenness and violence, lithium wasps, the Mouth of Hell volcano, and much more. Enjoy.

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Poetry Blog Digest 2024, Week 8

Poetry Blogging Network

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

This week: active hope, the anti-ship of Theseus, knocking the brain off its pedestal, smutty Persephone poems, slow stitching, and much more. Enjoy.

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Poetry Blog Digest 2024, Week 6

Poetry Blogging Network

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

This week: love and chocolate, the return of light, bringing scarecrows to life, the cost of beauty, and much more. Enjoy,

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Poetry Blog Digest 2024, Week 3

Poetry Blogging Network

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

This week, inclement weather kept many poets inside, blogging furiously. Some common themes include the winter itself; great poets and poems; and songs as poetry and vice versa. Enjoy and share.

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Poetry Blog Digest 2024, Week 1

Poetry Blogging Network

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

The first digest of 2024 is a day late, but hopefully not a dollar short. (And yes, I know that expression dates me. I am an old.) Ten inches of snow fell and then were partly washed away again as I compiled this post today, which is quite Janus-faced: half looking back and half looking forward, half summarizing and half summoning. Let’s begin.

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Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 42

Poetry Blogging Network

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


A mouth becomes a stone.
A child cannot stop shaking.
Bombs fall on hospitals, schools,
Churches, mosques, homes.
Numbed, frozen, bulldozed.
The images haunt my sleep.
Over and again, what
should I do? What could
I do?

Bells ring in, what exactly?
Ring for, what exactly?

Bob Mee, WE HAVE NO IDEA, NONE AT ALL

i’m not coming out
of this poem
i am staying here
forever
and
ever

once i did
once upon a time
never
again

there were wars
and babies crying
and dying

ok
in here it is raining
but it is cosy warm rain

Jim Young, sunny boy

Trees are shedding their summer hair.
What a tiny comb was used for grooming –
tufts pile on the sidewalk, bright and seething.

Where were we when we lost our crickets?
Softly, softly they left us without a sound,
darkness falls hard on hard ground, the cushion

they made gone, no love or jangle to soften
obsession, cool nights, bombs, part of the ear’s fabric. 
You can never put the shriek back in the throat of the cricket. 

Jill Pearlman, Back to Hard Ground

who taught our darkest river to drink from the sea

who put silence inside shadow inside seed

how many who are dreamed want only to sleep

Grant Hackett [no title]

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

For me, the hammering and chiseling of revision is writing—the source of the initial gesture is from somewhere beyond regular consciousness. I often experience poetry, both reading and writing it, as something very embodied—it begins with a tingling at the base of my skull and ends with a sometimes pleasurable, sometimes sheer feeling of exhaustion when the poem is finished with me. One of my friends joked that I have “poetry ASMR,” which I love, but I’m hesitant to give the place where poetry comes from a name. I don’t really think in terms of books or projects because of feels like each poem is its own animal. If shaping a poem is one of seeing what each line might have to say to each other, shaping a book has been one of seeing what different poems might have to say to one another. […]

What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?

I’ve made a nightly ritual of reading one poem by Dickinson and one by Rilke. Dickinson surpasses Shakespeare in possessing the greatest wit in the history of the English language, and something about her synapse-snapping speed of thought and formal mastery juxtaposed with the occasionally ostentatious, more often profound mysticism of Rilke in his castle keeps me in touch with the simultaneous wide specturm and discrete nature(s) of poetry. I likewise seem to return to Ashbery, Merrill, Schuyler, The Tang Dynasty poets (Li Bai, Du Fu, and co.), Blake, Terrance Hayes, Don Paterson, Richard Siken, Anthony Madrid, Hafez, CAConrad, Ariana Reines, Sylvia Plath, Eduardo C. Corral, The Odyssey, and the poems of my friends and mentors back home in the orbit of Canada, which I can’t bring myself to list out of fear of missing someone whose work I love. I like to think my desire to feel the world and the word in these various ways informs both my poems and thinking. 

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Nathan Mader

I hear the sweet voice of a young woman
making love. “Oh!” she says, “Oh!”

The birch trees tremble with sparrows. Yellow
leaves and seed husks flicker to the ground.

Sharon Brogan, Neighborhood Mid-October

In this poem, I am accepting how it is as I say ‘let it have me’ and acknowledge I want to ‘keep it here.’ It sounds unusual, but actually I am aware of what is happening and know that at the moment there is no cure. I now turn the dark into a real person, quite sinister and let it feed on my body: ‘my body is a table so now it can feed.’ I want to keep the curtains closed to literally keep the dark in the room and get rid of colour: ‘I don’t need the glare’ and again, am perfectly happy about this.

Drop-in by Julie Stevens (Nigel Kent)

The iceberg is back.
It looms out of its coat.
It shivers its keys onto the
silver tray, and drifts toward
the table for what seems like
a thousand years.

Jon Stone, Untitled iceberg poem

Each night,
darkness settles more deeply into itself and fans

open its card deck of prophecies. My hand used
to move quickly, almost involuntarily, toward choice.

Now I understand that toward the end, it is good
to take time, to tend the slow simmer of soup.

Luisa A. Igloria, Fall

Yes, I paused in the hunt for ripe raspberries this morning to listen to what must have been a catbird running through its repertoire, yes, I note a neighbor’s lilacs confusedly in bloom, noted the neighbor apparently reconciled with the wife and dog walking together. But what have I missed?

Whatever it is must be what x is equal to. And I must keep looking. It may be the next thing I need to make the poems or essays sharper, more exact, or at least, a clearer equation through which to regard x. The unknown, possibly unanswerable: life and its puzzling questions.

Marilyn McCabe, How do you solve a problem; or, More on Paying Attention

Yesterday my daughter stepped outside to play with the four-year-old boy who lives next door. As she was leaving, I heard the boy ask my daughter what her mother’s name is.

My daughter replied, “My mom’s name is Becky. But sometimes people call her Rebecca…Because she’s a writer.”

I laughed, of course. Yes, that is I! Rebecca of the Pen!

Becky Tuch, Do editors pay attention to a writer’s name?

October is my month, my favourite month. Autumn in full swing, brazen colours and spice. Wet and slowing down. I bake, I cook, I begin to build a nest to hibernate in. It’s also our autumn school holiday, so I’ve actually been able to do all those things which is more difficult when I’m working.

October is also #scotstober month. Scotstober is a challenge to learn and use a new Scots word every day. Here’s the Twitter post for this year.  I love it, some are familiar to me, and some are new. I have done various takes on the challenge, sometimes finding poems that use the word, other times writing my own few lines. This year I’m doing the latter and creating a poem using some of the words. I can’t keep up with all 31 words, but it’s Day 22 and I have most of a poem written. 

As with most of my Scots poems, I prefer to use words I’ve heard in context or am comfortable with. Some words in the Scotstober challenge are older and not used much, so they don’t feel right in my poems. So as I’m bringing this together as a poem, I’m changing some words to suit me. I’m grateful for the inspiration Scotstober brings. […]

Day 6 ettle – to try, to strive

ahm ettlin tae no sing thi same thrain,
but thi rain an its pebbly sklyter
drouns oot mah will

Gerry Stewart, Autumn’s Brewing – Scotstober 2023 and When the Readers Don’t Get A Poem

A lively and intriguing title for a poem sequence by our guest poet Lydia Harris. Her work has featured here before (March 2019). This sequence is from her new collection Objects for Private Devotion, beautifully produced by Pindrop Press, published last year. Lydia lives in the Orkney island of Westray. Many of the poem sequences in her new book focus on local culture, people, nature, objects – such as the prayer nut which provides the cover image.

The sequence about the fieldfare is inspired by the great Serbian poet Vasco Popa. The Blackbird’s Field is also a sequence, from Popa’s Collected Poems, close on 400 pages – drawing on folk tale, surrealist fable, personal anecdote, and tribal myth. […]

Lament

I’ve lost my folk,
my night ships,
my dear blood,
thick then thin,
night bird, stray bird.

Tongue

A whip of liver-coloured flesh
sheathed in the coffin of his beak.

Fokkina McDonnell, Fieldfare, blown off course, early spring

I have mentioned before that there is a kind of pressure to – not only survive cancer – but to somehow turn it into something people call a “blessing”: a catalyst for a better life. This isn’t new to me. CSA and a bipolar diagnosis carry with them the same kind of pressure to excel: to reach a point where you say that your adversities were a “blessing” that made you who you are. That is a lot of pressure. You can’t say that and be average. Not only is the bad luck yours to deal with, it is yours to justify by way of being “better than” in some way.

Health – mental or physical – shouldn’t a competitive sport. Resilience so admired as to give us secular saints for a capitalist economy. I have to remind myself of that. It doesn’t have to be a means to an end: just a means to enjoy each day on its own terms. Have we always been such a performative species? Is it just me that sees it this way? It very well could be just me.

But there are a surprising number of cancer survivor gurus/coaches/teachers who will guide you through the process to find your better story. It is an entire industry. And it is so very seductive.

But I am not going to see this time of my life as a blessing. I do hope that I am learning things, but I have always hoped that I was continually learning to be a better person.

You know, if anything, maybe I am learning that all this effort at “improvement” is unnecessary: that maybe the clearest view is from a point of average.

Mundane even.

Invisible.

Ren Powell, I Failed at Chemo

The weekly ritual of bathing, of cleansing before church on Sunday which the son duly follows. However, he self-harms using his father’s razor. The reasoning is given in religious terms, the release of blood a sacrifice to atone for undefined and unspecified sins. Whatever those sins or perceived sins were, they seem to have triggered depression. A later poem in the same section, “The Stone In My Shoe” describes the stone as, “suicide never lets me go./I walk with its stone in my shoe”. The drugs listed in the poem are anti-depressants. It’s also a “language of this limbo.” Later, “The Idiot’s Guide to Suicide” lists unsolicited and unhelpful advice, such as “It’s just a bad mood.” “get a grip”, “keep a happy diary”, “You need to try Yoga” or “Be kind to yourself.” All things that never should be said to someone in the grip of depression.

Next section, “the universe”, a poem called “The Crab” is about avoiding saying aloud the word whose astrology sign the crab represents. The word cancer was treated as taboo as if saying it could make it contagious. Treatment leaves the sufferer,

“I’m now scared, scarred, and unable to pee.
They cut away cells, cells, and dignity
and, still, I cannot say its name.”

Emma Lee, “Red Rite Hand” Adrian Harte (in case of emergency press) – book review

The drag I was feeling when it came to writing appears to have abated and maybe it’s all because I have been consuming more than creating for a couple weeks..horror films and the Poe series and Frankenstein through dance. If these things have enduring value centuries later, maybe not all is lost in a sea of feeling unseen and unheard in the moment, a struggle all artists and writers feel at some point. 

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 12/21/2023

Ten poems, read by 14 young poets, dazzled the packed Perspektiven Raum with brilliance and bravery. 14-year-old Grela Rabi’s as yet untitled poem that begins, “am boden kleben sie fest,“ was selected by our panel of three judges to win the 500 CHF gift certificate to Wenaweser Fahrradcentrum in Schaan. Congratulations Grela! The 500 CHF donation to the climate-themed charity of their choice, was split between the classes from ISR and Liechtenstein Gymnasium. The ISR classes chose to donate to “the bees in Liechtenstein.”  All participants received a book of poetry (from previous Word to Action participants) and a potted plant to take home. Class teachers received books on composing poetry. […]

My reflection is this: the poems were moving in different ways. It was interesting to see that the poems were different based on age group. The youngest were sad but optimistic about the future and used fantastical imagery to get the point across. Some were totally realistic about the trouble the planet is in. And the rest were a bit alarmed and made a call to action. This last category seemed to move the judges the most. At Word to Action we know that poetry physically changes those who hear it; it can move us to take action.

Cathy Wittmeyer, WTA Blog 15 Oct 23 Contest Results

Poetry can be so healing precisely because it springs from that deepest place of reckoning with what it means to be human — the place we seek with the intellect but touch with the intuition. And down there in the depths, we don’t much differ from one another, sharing the same basic longings, the same basic fears. Clifton reflects:

Poetry can heal. Because it comes from a heart, it can speak to another heart.

[…]

Somebody asked me why is it that I want to heal the world. I want to heal Lucille Clifton! And fortunately, I am very human just like all the other ones, all the other humans.

With an eye to what it means to be a poet, she adds a sentiment equally true of any creative endeavor:

I didn’t graduate from college, which isn’t necessary to be a poet. It is only necessary to be interested in humans and to be in touch with yourself as a human.

Complement with Clifton’s classic “won’t you celebrate with me” — a living testament to this poetry of personhood turned art — and her spare, stunning ode to the common ground of being, then revisit Wendell Berry on how to be a poet and a complete human being and Anne Gilchrist — Whitman’s most beloved friend — on inner wholeness and the key to a flourishing soul.

Maria Popova, How to Be a Living Poem: Lucille Clifton on the Balance of Intellect and Intuition in Creative Work and the Healing Power of Connection

Sometimes I feel like all religion is a search for order in the world. Maryann Corbett’s recent collection of poetryThe O in the Air, offers order to a disorderly world; or rather points out the order within the seemingly meaningless details of life.

I started reading Corbett’s poetry with her collection Credo for the Checkout Line in Winter and made my way through all of her work last summer. Less familiar with formal poetry, I was mesmerized by the meters of her work– the surprising yet inevitable conclusions of her poems. A free verse poet myself, I felt like someone who only sings folk songs listening to someone singing opera and totally nailing it. […]

A Tennessee girl raised in the Bible belt, I kept drawing together the marriage of her Catholicism and formal sensibilities; liturgy, rhythm, and tradition are deeply connected to the spiritual in her book. Whereas in the country churches I was shuffled to growing up, we were more likely to have an impromptu testimony or sing verse four just ONE more time—and here I am, a free verse poet. Church traditions and poetry traditions can learn from each other, I believe, and I found myself learning much from yet another inspiring collection of poems by Maryann Corbett.

Renee Emerson, a review of The O in the Air by Maryann Corbett

On October 12th, I announced a $200 donation to the Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA) who will provide aid to displaced and fleeing families in Gaza. Today, and retroactively for purchases from 10/12 to date, I am going to forgo all income for the press and donate that money to Medical Aid for Palestinians. What this means is that the $3 I would normally keep from each sale will instead be donated. In addition, I am going to match that amount with a personal donation to the same org. In other words, each book purchased gives $6 to Gaza. […]

Additionally, I call on all of you who are able to donate money to one of the following organizations:

As an added incentive, if you email me (deadmallpress@gmail.com) a receipt for a donation of $20 or more to one of these orgs, I will send you all four of my own chapbooks for free (including shipping). Just be sure to include a mailing address as well. I know it’s not much, but it’s what I have to give.

R. M. Haines, New Fund-Raising for Palestine

Human animals are still animals. We have evolved over thousands of years to be incredibly sensitive to our environment. We have evolved to survive at all costs. Our beautiful big human brains can’t tell the difference between anxiety caused by something far away, and anxiety caused by something in the room. They are one and the same with the same flight or fight response. If we are feeding ourselves a constant diet of news, which is, invariably bad, terrible, frightening news, we are constantly keeping ourselves in a place in which we feel we have to be hyper aware of everything that is happening because at any moment we may need to act.

It is good to be informed. But there is a limit to what you can actually do to help, understand, prepare, protect. I feel like even saying this is a kind of failure, a sort of cowardly way of looking at any situation. But it is a realistic way of looking at the situation of the world being on fire. […]

I don’t know any single person that isn’t in pain from watching the world burn. But pain is a counterbalance to love and I don’t know any one person that isn’t feeling immense love and a fierce desire to protect and help their fellow people, fellow world citizens. To be alive and aware is an act of resistance. Help where you can, be kind where you can, but that includes yourself.

Wendy Pratt, Know this: Your life is Precious Too

When I run away to theology school,
I will turn off the news. I will submerge
myself in books from an earlier age.
I will abandon the controversies
of our current time to lose myself
in arcane arguments of past heresies.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Teaching Observations and Theology School

So there I was. Sunday morning, in a suitably poet-like dress ( I restrained myself from the Byron sleeves this time) the comfort of chunky boots and my jade pendant that goes with me to every scary situation. This was going to be the first time reading in real life. I shook ( just the one leg bizarrely) but my voice stayed steady, I managed to look up at my audience, pause where I wanted to pause and even breathe occasionally. In hindsight perhaps choosing to read a poem about one of my last conversations with my Dad added a layer of difficulty I didn’t need, but I’ve never been one to take the easy route. Unless I’m hill climbing. Then I’m scouting for it before I set foot on the path.

I felt lovely. Energised, and pleased to have spoken my poem as it needed to be spoken, with the added boost of praise from a poet I really admire. I’ve put off reading in public for a very long time and realise that it is something I desperately want to do – to hear the sounds of the language I have chosen, and to test out the impact or effect on those who are listening.

Kathryn Anna Marshall, Taking a step forward

I am overcome & rejuvenated by imbalance – complexity
it blocks out the constant nitter-natter, and is oddly calming

or watch a chipmunk pack its cheeks

Pearl Pirie, New chapbook: cento

4. Then there are poems about love and lust and coming of age, perhaps. As if all life is visceral even at its most tender. “O minute hand, teach me / how to hold a man the way thirst/ holds water…” – A little closer to the edge.
5. And then of course is the end that is possibly the beginning of the narrative, the whole narrative. The look within: “Ocean, don’t be afraid. / The end of the road is so far ahead/ it is already behind us.” – Someday I’ll love Ocean Vuong and “& so what— if my feathers / are burning. I / never asked for flight” – Devotion. These are the last two poems. As if the book is waiting for its sequel. Not to tell the reader more. But to tell the poet just a little bit more.
6. This is not a quick read because you will keep going back to read some poems. You can fill your senses with lines like “The way a field turns / its secrets / into peonies.” – Into the breach or “How / does anyone stop / regret / without cutting / off his hands?” – Seventh Circle of Earth or “I enter / my life / the way words / entered me— / by falling / through / the silence / of this wide / open mouth”. – Logophobia. You always leave the page wondering if it is about the past or the future, about beauty or violence, about a person or a people, and if the one is actually possible without the other.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Reading list update -17

Numbers. Begin with
one thousand four hundred

news-worthy names shared
world-wide. Not Beit Lahia’s.

There, leaflets, like birds,
still fall from the sky,

where the cries of dogs
become lullabies;

pots and pans, rockets.

Maureen E. Doallas, A Poet’s View (Poem)

Three or four years ago, I knew I wanted to write about the footballing heroes of my childhood, those lower-league footballers who triumphed and failed before my eyes, who evoked a sense of masculinity that was hugely different to today’s view of men, whose team generated a sense of belonging among the local fans. In short, I knew I wanted to write directly about Aldershot F.C. footballers of the 1980s, but indirectly about far more. However, I didn’t know how to go about putting such a group of poems together. And that was when I read Stanley Cook’s excellent poetry for the first time.

Cook wrote two separate pamphlets on the back of his time working as a schoolteacher, Form Photograph (Phoenix/Peterloo, 1971) and Staff Photograph (Peterloo Poets, 1972). In each case, he created a set of vignettes. The first batch, of course, were pupils, while the second were teachers. He generated these portraits of individuals within a specific context, building a wider picture of society through the implicit dialogues that were generated among the poems, accumulating his effects via verbal collage.

On reading Cook’s poems, I admired them immensely and suddenly realised I could adapt his technique to my footballers. And rather than using a photo, I was drawn to the team sheet that appeared on the back of every programme, and thus ‘Starting Eleven’, the second section in Whatever You Do, Just Don’t, started to take shape. Thank you, Stanley! I’d like to think you’d enjoy my poems too…

Matthew Stewart, From ‘Form Photograph’ to ‘Starting Eleven’

One of the things I’m working on now is an essay, ironically, on lyric essays, so I’ve been doing some research, reading some books of lyric essays. It’s weird for me, since I’ve been a journalist, a technical writer, an ad copywriter, a book reviewer, and a poet, but until the pandemic I didn’t write personal essays or lyric essays. Even though I’ve had some essays published I certainly don’t consider myself any kind of expert.

But on Facebook I put up a query and got some really interesting answers, from people who definitely are more qualified than me. And as a poet I’m attracted to the idea of an essay that isn’t necessarily: theme, point, point, conclusion. That allows for leaps, long parentheticals and ellipses – in short, essays that mimic poetry in a lot of ways.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A New Review of Flare in New Pages, Pumpkins and Typewriters, Halloween Mystery Parties and Thoughts on the Lyric Essay

I sometimes send stuff to US paper journals. I don’t know my way around very well, and depend on online ranking lists etc. As in the UK, US paper magazines are disappearing (e.g. Tin House and Glimmer Train – 2 of the top 5 in one list), and the online replacements don’t have the same impact. I think more of their journals are university based. And there’s the pay-to-submit issue.

I have trouble understanding currently fashionable US poetry, so it’s the short story market I focus on. There’s a wide range of journals. The most recent one that I was in paid me $20 for a piece of Flash and sent me (expensively, unexpectedly) a contributor’s copy, cover price $18. But it’s only 290th in one list I found, and in another list it’s categorised as Tier 4, Respected: usually small circulation, one or more “notable” prize mentions, sometimes payment.

Tim Love, Breaking into the US market

I first started thinking about this post not long after writing the last one…probably sometime around the Tuesday when I started reading the book from which the poem below is drawn from. The poem below reminded me of sitting in my garden a few days before…just sitting on the edge of my patio and staring into space. It had been a rough day at work—there have been a few of those of late, but the future is hopefully looking brighter—and while I was contemplating my naval opportunities (basically setting off to sea and not coming back, a wasp came sidling up to me like some sort of stripey spiv. A fucking wasp, in October!! I ask you…

The sight of the wasp had me at this time of year had me worried about global warming, but also had me harking back the summer when another one of the apocrita critters had stung me on the back of the neck. I was also nervous having also been bitten on the back of my leg by an ant while sitting in the same spot a couple of weeks ago. What have I done to upset the insects of my garden?

Mat Riches, Stripey Spivs

The concept of ambition in poetry, and how one defines that word in relation to poetry, is something I first encountered in Donald Hall’s 1988 book Poetry and Ambition–still in print from University of Michigan. I read this book of essays in 1991, in between changing diapers and coordinating naptimes for two children under the age of four. It was difficult to feel ambition about career at that time, and a career in poetry was ever a pipe dream; but the notion that a writer could feel ambitious about the work she might be doing in learning about and endeavoring to craft really good poems, even should she fail most of the time, felt encouraging to me. I recommend this book, as there’s also a good deal one can find to disagree with in it, and debate is useful for thinking.

Fast-forward to today (time does seem to move in fast-forward), and I find myself retired from a career on the fringes of academia, where I taught composition to students less-prepared for college and ran the writing center at a university. But I did not teach poetry or creative writing and was staff, not professorial/tenured; so the need to be career-ambitious through poetry was null. That suited my personality well. Maybe too well. Yet somehow I managed to get a reasonable amount of my work published (see the sidebar of this page) and to get several chapbooks and books into print (see the My Books tab here). I had my own form of ambition.

What now, I wonder? I have so much work to revise! Recently, I submitted an experimental, historically-based chapbook to a publisher, and I’m working on getting a new book of older work, though not as old as The Red Queen Hypothesis‘ poems, into print. Will I spend the next few years just catching up? Possibly. Is that “ambitious”? Nah, just means I wasn’t ambitious enough to get to it earlier!

Ann E. Michael, Once again, ambition

An AK-47 claiming he’s the delivery boy and a knock-kneed tuba tuned to the key of gloom.

Bad weather, lousy music, and World War III bearing a bouquet of bombs.

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and a clogged toilet doing a crappy Bob Dylan impression.

A half-dressed serial killer wanting to slip into something less comfortable.

Banging on my front door: droughts, diseases, and all the bad poems I’ve ever written coming back to haunt me.

Rich Ferguson, Banging On My Front Door

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 40

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive, subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader, or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack. This week found poets wrestling with war, illness, the deaths of loved ones, and publishers giving up the ghost, while also rejoicing at new poems, new books, old friends and autumn weather, among many other things. Enjoy.


My beloved doesn’t understand my enthusiasm for “putting the gardens to bed for winter.” It seems like boring, hard work. Yet I don’t clean everything up–I always leave cover for bees and other creatures that need leaf litter and old stems in order to winter over. However, taking down the stalks and cutting back the peonies (etc) feels satisfying to me. I work in the cooler weather and sense the difference in the air. I recognize the annuals are dying and the perennials are going dormant, the trees let go of their coloring leaves; walnuts, oaks, and hickories seem to fling their mast upon the earth with every gust of wind. There’s nothing sad or somber about the changing of seasons. Winter must arrive in order for spring to do its thing. I like to think of daffodils, muscari, and irises huddled quietly in soil and taking much-required rest before the warmth unthaws the earth. I feel the same.

Ann E. Michael, There & back again, with weeding

To not know; to think only about the usual mixed feelings of crossing back to “real life” after a holiday, with tender feet and breathing open pores.  To be one of the ravers in the Israeli desert dancing under the starry October sky.  To be an observant Jew dancing wildly over Sukkot-Shabbat-Simchat Torah, giving thanks over three holidays celebrating joy, joy, joy, going into otherness – not knowing about the bloody weekend.

I was counting the hours of those in blissful ignorance, having switched off their devices for another kind of communication as one holiday slid into another into another — before they’d have to rejoin those who knew. That sliver of innocence would not narrow and close in the usual way, with a shiver, a tremble as we cross back over the straits — as poet Yehuda Amichai writes, trying to soak it all up before the flute holes close.

From one kind of abyss to another.  Strewn with corpses draped like black flowers/on roads, on the tops of cars, in one’s hearts and arms.

Jill Pearlman, Beyond Belief

A song, a garden, a salvation. A goodness, a grace, a sky-blue smile.

A skeleton key that’ll unlock well-being’s fortune and not the grave.

Rich Ferguson, The Skeleton Key at Wellness and Vine

It’s over five months into chemotherapy treatments and, even though the drugs are less harsh than they were the first 3 months, it is taking a different kind of toll on me. I didn’t hit a wall, really, but have sunk slowly in terms of feeling enthusiastic about anything. I have forced myself these past 6 weeks to exercise for an hour and a half five days a week. But that is it. There’s nothing left after the walks, the runs, the hiit program and yoga.

There is nothing left with which to write even.

I am not sure I have ever done anything this difficult in my life. I am after-the-marathon-tired, but it’s not over yet. Sometimes I can’t even grasp why I’m doing this. And I know that sounds childish. But it has been difficult to keep in mind any kind of timeline or image of a future reality. When is this “over”? What will that look like?

Ren Powell, Understanding Fatigue

Today is National Poetry Day in the UK, and this year’s theme is ‘Refuge’.

On a global scale, the world is experiencing the highest levels of displacement ever recorded. On a more personal level, I have friends who have become refugees this year. And while the disastrous war in Ukraine or the horrors of migrants drowning in the Mediterranean may be prominent in the thoughts of many, they are just the tip of an iceberg which includes mass displacement in and from countries such as Congo, Afghanistan and so many others, due to war, natural disasters, famine and a host of other reasons. Even for those who have fled or claimed asylum under marginally less terrible conditions than some others, the emotional impact (at the very least) is shocking.

Carolyn Forché’s ‘The Boatman’, from her most recent and truly wonderful collection In the Lateness of the World, speaks in the voice of a taxi driver who is also a Syrian refugee. I find the juxtaposition of the incredible horror of what he’s endured to arrive in a (relatively, apparently) safe city, with his determination to “see that you arrive safely, my friend, I will get you there”, almost unbearable. Forché brilliantly conveys the contrasts between the warm taxi and the filthy, dangerous rubber boat, the hotel in Rome with its portraits of films stars and the dead child floating in the water. How surreal it is to hear someone in a calm environment quietly describe the inhumanity they endured to arrive there. And there is also an underlying sense that death is never far away. ‘The Boatman’, as a title and the self-description of “the boatman, driving a taxi at the end of the world”, makes me think of Charon, who took the souls of the dead across the river Styx. 

Clarissa Aykroyd, National Poetry Day: Refuge and Carolyn Forché’s ‘The Boatman’

There is an interesting phrase in Gordon Weiss’s 2011 book on the root causes and final days of Sri Lanka’s 26-year civil war, ‘The Cage’. Weiss describes the careful record keeping and desperate telephone calls of a small group of Tamil government doctors who were trapped along with thousands of civilians in the ‘siege zone’ as the Sri Lankan army finally closed in on the Tamil Tigers. These were, Weiss says, integral to “the compilation of memory” that subsequently provided evidence of atrocity that would otherwise have been obliterated entirely. “Instinctively (the doctors) understood better than most that the only gravestone that those who died would receive would be in the form of the ticks and marks on a hospital casualty form”, he writes, and “…(o)ften the UN would speak to the doctors from their radiotelephones, listening to their pleas for help and intervention while the dull sound of exploding shells crackled up the line…” (p276). 

There is a comparison to be made I think (albeit one that I have to be careful in making) between the heroically steady and precise record keeping of those doctors, and their real-time testimonies of witness, and the enormous job of compilation that the three editors of this first ever anthology of Sri Lankan and diasporic poetry have undertaken. The voices that they allow to emerge, rising as they do from both within layers of division inside Sri Lanka over the last 60 or 70 years, and from around the world as the diasporic community has grown over the same period, create a rich and varied psychological/political landscape which is as unique – and often as harrowing – as the experience of Sri Lankans over the period since independence from British colonial rule in 1948. It is hard not to read this project of anthologisation as one in which a compilation is taking place so that a shared cultural memory is not obliterated by the deliberate forgetfulness of the powerful global forces that shape history. 

Chris Edgoose, The life of their land 

This is an ugly game
of dominoes. There
is always one more.
Waiting to fall.
Ampersand.
Melomys & more.

Who should the bears
blame, as they
starve on melting ice,
on river banks,
who should the green
sea turtles blame,
or emperor penguins,
their babies much
too young to swim?

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Bramble Cay Melomys

Sukkot for me evokes both fragility (the sukkah begins falling apart as soon as it’s created; every life is a sukkah, fragile and fleeting; God knows I’ve sat with sorrow in the sukkah at times) and joy (Torah tells us to rejoice in our festivals; this is zman simchateinu, the season of our rejoicing; on Shemini Atzeret, the 8th day, God calls us to linger a little longer in joy.) These poems are somewhat in the mode of Texts to the Holy, though I leave it to you to decide who is speaking, and to whom. […]

I see how fragile everything is
around you, how tenuous
any peace. Reasons for sorrow
pile up like fallen leaves.
Feel my heart touching yours,
enfolding yours.
I’m here with you where you are
under this roof that lets in rain.

Rachel Barenblat, Rejoice / Fragile

I am so happy that I wrote a poem.  It’s been weeks of writing a few lines and then sputtering.  And in the spirit of appreciation for August Kristin who left me poem notes, let me write down an idea for another poem I had as I drove back from Lutheranch, back across Georgia on Sunday.

I thought about what and who had previously been on the land, about Harriet Tubman leading slaves to safety.  I thought about dark skies and scars and reading the stars, a map to freedom, stars that scar the black back of the sky.  I thought about all the people we cannot save, no matter how hard we try.  I thought about writing about Harriet Tubman when she’s old and cannot save people anymore, but is that valid?  I realized I don’t know much about Harriet Tubman when she’s old.  I thought about Harriet Tubman and the Stono River and her spywork during the Civil War.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Cassandra Colors Her Hair after the Apocalypse

Humour seems to me to be a useful and sometimes subtle tool to get over a message about the general state of the society that I find myself, however reluctantly, a part of. There are plenty of poems here that poke affectionate fun at people and their habits, at myself for the absurd elements of my own life – and often, because I read a lot of poetry and far too often poets want to be taken so very seriously, at poets. Sometimes something deeper and more serious lurks beneath the surface, but sometimes it’s justifiable as fun for fun’s sake.

Maybe the point in jabbering on about this is a reaction to a whole string of poems I’ve read recently, and comments in discussions, where the writers seem to inhabit a closed, incredibly self-indulgent, self-absorbed world, as if they are unaware of what’s happening outside.

This week’s prime example, was a bizarre and to my mind scarcely believable debate, carried out with a considerable amount of fury, as to what is, and what is not, a haiku. I found both bizarre and ridiculous that people were getting so worked up about it that they were resorting to insults.

The world is burning and people are being slaughtered, folks, and you’re worrying about this?!

Maybe the point here is a message – please let’s take ourselves a little less seriously and remind ourselves that we’re here to untangle the madness that comes with the responsibility of being human in whatever way seems appropriate at the time – and not to preoccupy ourselves with pedantry, particularly when it involves such a flimsy thing as a perceived poetic form.

Bob Mee, COME ON POETS, TAKE YOURSELVES A LITTLE LESS SERIOUSLY, PLEASE

waking up a thousand birds :: i have to be a perfect dawn

(first appeared in Roadrunner Haiku Journal in 2009)

Grant Hackett [no title]

Ok, you might say, so what do poems about Aldershot Town footballers of the 1980s have in common with poems about life in rural Spain, for instance? Well, quite a lot now you come to mention it.

The main nexus is the chafing of belonging and estrangement. In the commuter belt in South-West Surrey and North Hampshire, where most town centres look alike, have similar shops and chain restaurants, where people don’t put down anchors but move around to be closer to a new job, there’s no doubt that the second half of the 20th century saw a loss of community, of identity, which was pretty deeply felt by the time I was a kid in the area during the 1980s. In that respect, lower-league football had become a significant factor in generating or recovering communal identities. By supporting their local team, people belonged. And that was definitely what attracted me to Aldershot Town.

Not enough, of course, because I ended up leaving southern England for Extremadura, where I found a profound, established sense of identity in small towns such as Almendralejo and Villafranca de los Barros. In retrospect, that feeling of belonging was what made me stay, even though I would never quite be one of them, always a foreigner.

This dual perspective runs through Whatever You Do, Just Don’t and knits its sections together. By straddling two countries, two languages, two societies, I can’t 100% feel at home in either, but my perspectives on them both have acquired extra nuance, additional layers. In these poems, Sunday tapas and siestas in deepest Extremadura might even remind you of a nap after Roast Topside or Brisket in Knaphill or Croydon in 1979 or 1982…

Matthew Stewart, Four sections, one book

It would be impossible not to absolutely delight in the lyric gestures of Bennington, Vermont poet, essayist and erasure artist Mary Ruefle’s latest, a collection of short and shorter prose and prose poems simply titled The Book (Seattle WA/New York NY: Wave Books, 2023). Ruefle is the author of well over a dozen full-length titles, most recently Selected Poems (Wave Books, 2010), Madness, Rack, and Honey: Collected Lectures (Wave Books, 2012) [see my review of such here], Trances of the Blast (Wave Books, 2013) [see my review of such here] and Dunce (Wave Books, 2019) [see my review of such here], and this latest collection offer pieces that sit within a wide gradient, from prose poem to the very short story and everything in-between. There is something quite magical in the way her pieces exist within this collection, this “book,” offering the notion of genre as something wonderfully fluid. Within compact lines and wonderful flow, she offers intimate and lyric slivers of life and thinking, meditations on ordinariness that is never truly ordinary, or spectacular simply because of that ordinariness. The variations on her prose structures hold an enormity, packing nuance into every phrase. “That book sat on my various shelves for decades until I got around to it,” she writes, to open the piece “THE BOOK,” “and then it seemed to be written especially for me. I hope this provides some hope to the other unread books surrounding me who are wondering what will happen to them when I die.” There is such a joy within these sentences, these phrases, one that appreciates and explores with such a level of curiosity and wonder combined with a deep and abiding wisdom that it is it be envied.

rob mclennan, Mary Ruefle, The Book

There are a lot of options for adult skaters–testing, competitions, clubs, classes, private lessons, etc. There are different kinds of skating a person might focus on–freestyle (jumps and spins), dance (solo or paired), moves in the field. I’d thought about and dabbled in different ways of skating since first returning to the ice. Exploring was good and I’m glad I tried on different goals and ways of being a skater, but my lack of a clear focus contributed to my feelings of ennui. Then, a long thread in an online forum this August full of older skaters talking about life-altering skating injuries gave me serious pause about my attempts to return to jumping and spinning. Did I really want to risk my ability to do all kinds of things I now take for granted just so I could do a waltz jump that was likely never going to look or feel the way it did 45 years ago? A few weeks ago, while talking about possible goals with another skater, I said, “I think I’d rather do simple things beautifully than hard or risky things I can barely get through.” As soon as I heard myself, I knew I’d figured it out, my new skating manifesto:

Simple things, done beautifully.

I want to be a strong skater. I want to skate with speed. I want to skate without fear. I want to skate gracefully. I can do all of those things if I’m skating simply.

At my next lesson, I shared this way of thinking about it with my coach. “You often say you don’t want to nit-pick,” I told him, “but I think I want you to nit-pick. I don’t want to just execute a move. I want to master it.” He took me back to working on basics.

I then had one of the best lessons I’ve ever had. Focusing on moving beautifully broke through a block in understanding I’d had about doing crossovers, one of the simplest moves there is. I was able to do crossovers more powerfully than I had previously, and with less fear.

That felt so good, I started thinking about how it might be to do other simple things beautifully. I followed Kate Lebo’s process for making chicken pot pie, one night roasting a chicken and making gravy, and the next roasting vegetables (using herbs from our garden) and making pie crust. The third night I put all the parts together into a pie, and it was pretty amazing. Pot pie is one of the simplest dishes there is, and Lebo showed me how to make it beautifully. Now, I’m wondering how I might apply this way of thinking and being to everything–to my relationships, to work, to writing, to making a home.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Simple things, done beautifully

Simon Cutts is a poet, printer and publisher and the thread of continuity that runs through the legendary Coracle Press. The Small Press Model is a collection of more-or less short prose pieces, many of them occasional and previously published, some new, all of them concerned one way or another with the question of publication in all its various forms. Cutts’ overall approach, and the philosophy that lies behind Coracle, might be best summed up by the following quote from one of the last pieces in this book, a note on the work of artist Peter Downsbrough: ‘I am always amazed at the simplicity of devices in the construction of his work, the home-madeness that leads to such an abstraction and austerity of the finished work.’

That sense of the hand-made, the austere and simple is, I think, what characterises Cutts’ philosophy of publication; the idea of the published thing as an object fitted to its primary purpose and taking its place in a world of objects, is central to his practice (along with his various Coracle partners) and to this book.

The book also reminds us of his very inclusive definition of what constitutes publication. Yes, there are lots of books, but a Coracle Press publication can be a single page of printer (or blank) paper, a gatefold, a book, a catalogue, an exhibition, a building or the monumental resin on concrete publication of his A History of the Airfields of Lincolnshire that graces the cover of The Small Press Model.

Crucially, for Cutts, publication is a physical experience. This might mean a concern with the qualities of paper:

“I suddenly realised that I was interested in the transparency of sheets of paper and variable lines of coloured type.”

or, as an extension, the physical qualities of traditional print processes or the frequent examples of books and other physical objects being a continuum; again, A History of the Airfields of Lincolnshire is a good example, having started life as a book before becoming a monumental presence.

Billy Mills, The Small Press Model by Simon Cutts: A Review

There’s a strong preference for summer running through these poems. In the title poem, a childhood memory of a neighbour who had “drab furniture with crochet antimacassars” and who “only spoke the island Welsh,” yet was kind,

“In a hot summer that reverberated to the sound
of roller skates tearing up concrete
she took us in her shiny black Morris Minor,
speeding past farms and fields of potatoes,
to the candy floss paradise of Benllech
with its wide apron of sand and donkeys.
Me in my beloved yellow towelling hot pants,
while ‘Seasons in the Sun’ played
from everyone’s open door.”

Readers can almost hear the children playing on the beach, the splash of waves and the song blaring from open windows. Even the black is polished to a cheerful shine. In contrast, “Winter’s Breath” ends,

“Winter is a black and white country.
The old know this: it strips flesh
from trees, flowers, bones.”

Emma Lee, “Seasons in the Sun” Annest Gwilym (Gwasg Carreg Gwalch) – book review

Richard remarked on how ‘stuffy’ the poetry world can be. Over the years, Penteract Press has published many exceptional works, including The Book of Penteract anthology, Christian Bök’s The Kazimir Effect, your own collections Stray Arts (and Other Inventions) and Slate Petals (and Other Wordscapes), and Pedro Poitevin’s Nowhere at Home. It never ceases to astonish me that these publications – and indeed experimental poetry generally – appear to receive little or no attention from what one might call the ‘literary establishment’. What are your thoughts on this?

Anthony: The poetry world is run by a small number of cliques. But this shouldn’t be surprising: it’s true of literally every industry. It’s unfortunate that the styles favoured by these cliques are at odds with the poetry we wish to promote — but it is what it is.

We can remind ourselves that innovation and technical skill ultimately win out. The art that gets remembered tends to be outside the mainstream of its day, and mainstream artists rarely have any longevity.

That said, fame isn’t much use when you’re dead….

It’s also worth considering that even ‘popular’ poetic styles aren’t particularly popular. This lack of popularity makes it easier for non-mainstream poets to do their own thing — after all, we can see what we’re missing out on by remaining on the fringes, and the answer is: not a lot.

More coverage for Penteract, constraint, and visual poetry would be nice. However, from an aesthetic perspective, I’m quite happy to be outside mainstream circles. There’s little in the mainstream that inspires me, these days.

Marian Christie, ‘Everyone is invited’ – An Interview with Anthony Etherin of Penteract Press

This news hit a lot of people hard, myself included. My first response was shock. But we just read that magazine!, I thought, the way people sometimes respond after hearing terrible news about a person—But I just saw them!

A literary magazine is not a person, of course. But the closure of this particular journal means not only the loss of another vital home for beautiful and important contemporary writing, but the loss of jobs for the editors. I interviewed Lauren about a week ago, as part of our Lit Mag Reading Club discussion of Gettysburg Review. She was engaged, funny, and clearly passionate about this work.

If the magazine’s closing felt shocking to me, I cannot imagine how these editors feel. From what they’ve tweeted, it appears they were completely excluded from this decision.

It also appears the editors were given no warning that this was coming, and that there was no negotiation option made available to them. Nor, it seems, was there any effort to seek a buyer for the magazine. The college board met last week and presumably discussed this situation. The editors, from what I gather, were not part of that discussion.

Evidently too, the college president’s reasons for closing the magazine are not based on facts. According to the editors, he inflated the magazine’s budget when speaking with the faculty. He also hinted at layoffs which suggest a need for budget-cutting overall. Yet just last week, the college received a $10 million-dollar donation from a former English major. The editors are right to ask, where is that money going?

Another question, of course, is what can be done?

Several magazines have gone through threats of closure over the years, then pulled through. In spring of 2022 Conjunctions almost stopped publication, but then didn’t, after outcry and public pressure upon Bard College. In the Story Magazine newsletter from a few days ago, Editor Michael Nye recounted the way people rallied behind and ultimately saved Missouri Review.

The editors of Gettysburg Review are encouraging readers to reach out to the president and provost of Gettysburg College.

Becky Tuch, Can we save Gettysburg Review?

I’ve been thinking a lot about this idea, which opens my book Keep Moving: Notes on Loss, Creativity, and Change: every ending is also a beginning, and we don’t necessarily know of what. A wise person once told me to start each day by asking this question: What else is possible?

Life constantly surprises me—sometimes in painful ways, sometimes in wonderful ways. Change is the only constant, isn’t it? During an interview the other day I was asked how I live so comfortably with ambiguity and ambivalence. My answer: I don’t! I don’t live comfortably with the unknowns, but I try not to struggle against them. I try to trust the ebb and flow. As Rilke wrote, “Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror. Just keep going. No feeling is final.” […]

Keep Moving has been a miracle in my life. Writing these notes-to-self each day helped me become more optimistic and open to change. And as I shared in my memoir, You Could Make This Place Beautiful, the advance for the book enabled me and my kids to stay in our house. Nothing stressed me out more, or woke me up in the middle of the night more, than the fear of losing our house in the divorce. I worried about having to uproot my kids from their neighborhood, move them away from their friends, and put them in a new school. I had no idea how I would manage to keep us here.

If you’ve been divorced or faced a major financial hurdle for another reason—medical bills, a job loss—you understand that frantic fear. Keep Moving is why I’m writing this to you from my office in the front room of my house, watching people walking by with strollers and dogs. It feels like a miracle to me.

Maggie Smith, On Surprise & Gratitude

Why is brief light so beautiful at such a time

of day? Sometimes I drive under a canopy
arching over certain avenues just to feel

immersed in that dapple, imagining
voices speaking from out of the leaves.

I see clusters of moth wings outlined with Damascus
steel, the glisten of hummingbirds teetering on slips

of vine. Even the blood inside the hard bronze
carapace of a horseshoe crab radiates fluorescence.

Luisa A. Igloria, Allowance (13)

This isn’t really a post about magic, it’s about the power of poetry, as an art form that depends almost exclusively on a hyper-aware use of language, for good or ill. […]

Canntaireachd is a verbalisation of pipe tunes, to be used when teaching a student new music. You sang it until you’d learned it, then got the fingering right on the chanter, and then you learned to play it on the pipes. Far from being random vocalisation, it is an elaborately coded highly technical language. Pipers would say it is more effective than staff notation, as it is written to convey not only pitch and rhythm, but dynamics and intensity, and I’m glad to say it’s still being taught. You can hear an example of it in Martin Bennett’s Chanter, given a surprising twist on his Grit album.

Elizabeth Rimmer, Hocus Pocus

i dread to tread the wounded ways
where he brought forth time’s voices
still the crack-lipped words tell and still
the moments dear to this man’s standing
still the morning
still the air
of thomas dare be there

upon reading a poem by RS Thomas

Jim Young, be thee there

It is one of the hardest things in life — discerning where we end and the rest of the world begins, negotiating the permeable boundary between self and other, all the while longing for its dissolution, longing to be set free from the prison of ourselves. That is why we cherish nature and art, those supreme instruments of unselfing, in Iris Murdoch’s lovely phrase; that is why happiness, as Willa Cather so perfectly defined it, is so often the feeling of being “dissolved into something complete and great.”

Because our sense of self is rooted in the body, it is through the body that we most readily and rapturously break the boundary in the ecstatic dissolution we call eros.

That is what former U.S. Poet Laureate Maxine Kumin (June 6, 1925–February 6, 2014) explores in her subtle and stunning 1970 poem “After Love,” found in her indispensable Selected Poems (public library).

Maria Popova, After Love: Maxine Kumin’s Stunning Poem About Eros as a Portal to Unselfing

This is a short poem that came to me in what felt like a very few minutes, on the third anniversary of my father’s death.  I had forgotten the date, but when my husband and daughter urged me to go out with them one Sunday, I had a strong sense I needed to stay at home.  Sitting on the decking, I suddenly remembered the significance of the day, 6th June, and sat very quietly connecting to the experience of being with my father as he lay dying. The poem came through to me at that point, just a light poured through him in his last eleven minutes.  I do remember having to look up the word for an alchemical container though! ‘An alembic’.

At the time of his dying I wanted to recite the mantra from the Buddhist Heart Sutra, ‘Gate, gate, paragate, parasamgate, bodhi svaha!but couldn’t remember the ‘samgateof the fourth word, so looked it up on my Mac.  The mantra, in Sanskrit, means ‘Gone, gone, gone beyond, gone utterly beyond, what an awakening, Amen!’.It interests me, perhaps as a psychotherapist, that the part of the word I couldn’t remember was the ‘utterly beyond’.  On my Mac I found the singer, Deva Premal’s version – so with her singing accompanying me, I sang it to my father. What happened next is brought to life in the poem.

Drop-in by Hélène Demetriades (Nigel Kent)

The image of Proust’s broken vase gave me a vehicle to think about how an object comes to be precious and meaningful. It also helped me find a metaphorical link between the museum exhibition and our human lives, which are a series of short-lived displays. Since my consideration of wonder has always been both critical and creative, I cherish these moments when the distinction between thinking about wonder as a critic and as a poet dissolves.

Maya C. Popa, Wonder Wednesday

I just picked up a book of poems I don’t get at all. So I suggested to myself that I pick three of these poems at random and try to write an imitation of them, just to see what I might learn along the way. Isn’t that a good idea, potentially? I mean, it would force me to settle into the rhythm of the poems, the syntaxes, what seems to be playing out with the nouns and verbs and images. When I say “imitation” I usually either do a word by word replacement of words I come up with off the top of my head, or, more commonly, I try to choose OPPOSITE words. Not all words have opposites of course, but I give it a shot. If a poem starts “After the moon rose…” I might write “Before the seed settled…” Get what I mean? It’s an interesting exercise.

Marilyn McCabe, Long list of priors; or, On Procrastination

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

Actually, I always wanted to be a writer, throughout my childhood. So when I went to university I studied literature and writing. But I was so disappointed and repelled by my graduate program in creative writing (at Concordia, FYI) that I sought escape from it and wanted to find other outlets. So I stumbled into the visual arts through the world of zines and DIY publishing and performance, and at the time, I found it so much more free than what I was encountering at grad school. I put aside writing and literature for basically a decade, to do performance and film and visual arts projects, and then finally came back to it in 2018. […]

Writing seems like one of the few tools that makes sharing or expressing an interior world possible. It’s a way of representing lived reality. And lived reality—actual lives—are so repressed all the time.

I also think that any use of language is at least a little bit magical, in the sense of the speech act, like the act of naming, or the act of promising. It’s a way to make spells. […]

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

I once heard John Giorno respond to the question of “How to make it as an artist” with the answer “You have to ruin your life,” and it comes to mind often. I think it’s true in the sense that your life will no longer make sense to most people (ie. ruined) but it will also be a lot better (ie. ruined in the romantic sense, of having a more full relationship to the forces of change).

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Amy Ching-Yan Lam (rob mclennan)

I think the majority of literary competition guidelines now include a statement on AI. Usually AI isn’t allowed, though the wording tends to be along the lines that they’ll delete the accepted online piece if AI use is subsequently discovered.

Cult. Magazine has an enlightened (or resigned?) attitude – “If AI tools were used to make your submission, please inform us how you used the tool and why”. The pieces are collaborations of sorts. They’ve benefitted from the work of others, but so have pieces that were workshop exercises, or pieces that are “after” another work.

Tim Love, Writing and AI

So you’re a writer of a certain age, who has written a certain number of books, and after, say, twenty years, you’re still not getting major attention for your work. Read: you are not winning the big money, big attention awards.

But think about this: the people that are winning the big awards are not winning by accident, and maybe not even because of their talent. Someone out there has done a PR campaign, gotten to have lunch with the right people in charge, went to the right schools, got the right mentors. And a LOT of that has to do with class and with money. No disrespect to people that win big, but if you look behind the curtains, you’ll notice that a LOT of them have a LOT of money. It costs something to put yourself out there in the best light—either money from your publisher, or your family, or from powerful mentors at powerful institutions. Does this mean, shocking intake of breath, literature is not always a meritocracy? I’m just going to suggest that those of you struggling with not getting a major award should realize that there are aspects of the world of grants, fellowships, prestige awards that are not going to be…completely in your control. I wish people would talk about this stuff a little bit more and be more honest about what it takes to really make it as a poet. For instance, Louise Gluck inherited a fortune from her father’s invention of the X-acto knife. Merwin inherited a ton of money, TS Eliot married it (and then put his wife in an institution so he could access that money faster). No shade on any of those poets (well, maybe a little at Eliot—what a jerk!), but they were able to be influential poets because they had talent but also because they had money.

Not to say every poet with money becomes influential, or every prizewinner has secret millions (but you’d be surprised how many do!) I wasn’t born with money, I didn’t marry into money, and I didn’t win the lottery, so I didn’t go to the fanciest schools and I’m still paying off student loans from my less-fancy schools. Does that mean I will live a writer’s life without recognition, awards, fellowships, etc? Not necessarily. I do know people who are just like me who have succeeded in making the “big time.” And Sylvia Plath won the Pulitzer…but not til many years after her death. So perhaps we all – writers, scientists, people in competitive fields like composing or physics – feel that we are being looked over, but continue with our work nonetheless. I remember my father, a robotics scientist, was always depressed a week or so after learning he didn’t win an NSF (the science equivalent of the NEA) grant. I later had a college roommate who was one of the people who screened NSF applications, who told me it was a depressing job because there were so many great applicants and she could only choose a very small number to win. I think about both those things a lot.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, October or August? More Pumpkin Farms, A Review of Lessons in Chemistry on Apple TV, Talking a Little about Prizes (and Why You Shouldn’t Feel Bad if You Don’t Win)

Setting some personal guidelines for how and which markets to send your work can be helpful to keep focus on your priorities—and sometimes breaking those rules is completely appropriate. Having some flexibility will make your submission strategy more fulfilling. For example, I often send new poems (which are always my ‘best’ poems at the moment) to top tier literary magazines and journals first, hoping I’ll hit the literary jackpot and be published by The New Yorker or Poetry. So far, no such luck, but I keep trying anyway. You never know when one of your pieces will be the perfect fit for a specific issue. Once I’ve had several rejections from those markets, I lower my sights a bit and start sending to more mid-tier markets. I also make exceptions from time to time; send a poem I wrote for a prompt to a themed call or send some poems to a university journal because I really like their aesthetic and what they’re up to. I definitely lean toward feminist lit mags and can’t help but to send them work, regardless of how new they are or how few followers they have on social media.

Trish Hopkinson, Do I need a strategy to submit to lit mags?

Let’s say you are what you consume. I want to become more clear-headed, astute, insightful, observant, persuasive, better at listening. If I read what is sloppy or loopy, maybe I read too indiscriminately and I squander my time.

Maybe I get frustrated easily. Maybe poetry isn’t the tool for what I want to be fed.

Each media has its strengths. Hum. Haw.  Hum. 10% of poetry, maybe 5% of it, knocks me back on my heels.

Maybe that is a good rate.

To honour the exploration, the edges, matters. What matters is everything not the notable and marketable golden hour that can have an elevator pitch towards one outcome. Poetry should explore, should sometimes fail, should leave gaps where new standards can emerge.

Poetry can create not only reflect. Poetry isn’t like hockey where you need equipment and support of an industry and stadium of audience. Poetry can be done collaboratively or as a whisper to and from self. Poetry isn’t mainstream capitalist. It’s jangled or can be. Not trying for offbeat or in hand.

Pearl Pirie, disability & writing

In other news, I was very lucky to have been mentioned in a post by my old mucker, Matthew Stewart. His second collection, Whatever You Do, Just Don’t is starting to turn up in the world and I’m enjoying seeing people enjoying it and savouring it. (Excellent review by Christopher James).

As Matthew himself notes, I’ve

“seen all the poems in Whatever You Do, Just Don’t at multiple stages in their development, and has given me feedback on every single one, from first draft to reassembly after Nell’s ritual dismembering of words, lines and stanza of numerous poems that we had thought finished. Just as I have for him, of course.”

And this is the crux of his post, it’s not about me, it’s not about him either. It’s about us, as writers (and fuck it, as people) having folks that are friends that support and help each other through encouragement, goading, provoking and supporting. He’s the first to tell me something is shit or good, as I am say something isn’t working.

What changes as a result of this is up to the recipient, but, the space is safe to say this stuff. It’s  likely true elsewhere, but I, for one, welcome the trust that comes from it.

I’m less happy that he has texted me to insult me about the Arsenal result by questioning the origins of my fandom, but y’know…it comes with the territory. I will say, however, that I’m honoured and looking forward to seeing the old sod again in the flesh in November. You should come along too on the 7th November. 7pm. The Devereux Pub.

Mat Riches, If you see Sidney Road, tell me

One night we woke up to hear Patsy Cline singing Walking After Midnight on mamma’s stereo and daddy’s old truck rumbling down the road like the Big Foot. We peeked around the kitchen door to see mamma slow dancing, her arms wrapped around herself, fried chicken and mashed taters slip-sliding down the wall like the tears falling down her cheeks. Maggie took her red rooster feather and plaited it in mamma’s long hair while I took Patsy off the stereo and put on James singing Give it up or turnit a loose. Then we Soul Train lined our mamma up up up into the starry, starry sky.

Charlotte Hamrick, A set of linked micros

I practice
letting go . . .
autumn morning

Bill Waters, Hopewell Valley Neighbors magazine: October ’23

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 35

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive, subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader, or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack. This week: the transition to autumn, Labor Day and the meaning of work, Sealey Challenge results, a book-burning, and more. Enjoy.


Interregnum. Summer has lost its grip, but Fall has not yet taken hold: cloudy, quiet, rainless days appear one by one and vanish. In the evening, Vega or Arcturus appear, dim and inarticulate, in the pools between the clouds, and vanish again, their messages undelivered. I am waiting, I suppose, for my two granddaughters to arrive — one in Colorado, and one here. A pause, while Fall considers its approach; a long indrawing of the tide.

It’s California weather, of course, not Oregon weather. My parents’ generation of Oregonians tended to move to California when they retired, and their bones got tired of the damp and chill: climate change has accomplished this move for my generation without the trouble of packing. At the moment — why not gathers such crumbs as fall? — I’m content to live in a dryer, warmer state. The September slant of the sun has always pleased me, and we get to see more of it, now. 

Dale Favier, Interregnum

The months inspire their own sort of synesthesia, don’t they? I can feel, taste, see, in flashes of associations, each one, its distinctive personality, color, shape. Still, September carries a particular presence. Wallace Stegner spoke of that “old September feeling, left over from school days, of summer passing, vacation nearly done, obligations gathering, books and football in the air…Another fall, another turned page: there was something of jubilee in that annual autumnal beginning, as if last year’s mistakes had been wiped clean by summer.” That may partially explain it—the month is forever colored by notebooks, pencils, early wake-ups, and autumnal routines after an indulgent, restorative summer.

Maya C. Popa, Poems about September

It’s the time of year for making still lifes, anyway, isn’t it? The flowers won’t last much longer. Bring some in, make a still life won’t you? Then make your way to the couch.

There’s a short poem I love to read at this time of year by the Italian writer Patrizia Cavalli (translated here by Gini Alhadeff):

“We’re all going to hell in a while.
But meanwhile
summer’s over.
So come on now, to the couch!
The couch! The couch!”

Shawna Lemay, A Whole Life in Every Day

Today is rainy and cool, and we tidied the house, I organized and put away my summer clothes, and we started to really prepare for fall. We bought the last doughnut peaches for cake and made barbequed chicken and cornbread with the last good corn. I lit a couple of pumpkin coffee candles. We paid attention to the cats, who felt they had been very neglected the last few days.

I did a few submissions this week in a bit of a daze, because submission windows can be short and demanding, even when life is chaos. I also tried to catch up a bit with my reading—even picking up a few new books to start (ambitious, I know, but fall seems like a good time to acquire new books—especially important when you’re spending a long time at the hospital with a needle in your arm).

As the seasons transition, a few of my friends noted the stress of the change, the return to different rhythms. In Seattle, we pretty much say goodbye to the sun and hello the “the long dark” of the next nine months. I’m hoping to catch a few good days to visit the pumpkin farms, to pick the Pink Lady apples from the tree in my front yard I planted at the beginning of the pandemic, and even a few figs from the fig tree I planted two years ago. Fruit from new trees is always a good sign—last year we got neither apples nor figs—so I hope my trees will stay healthy until next spring.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A Supermoon, a Surgery, and One Perfect Fall Day, Plus the Importance of Joy and Healing

Many of us think about Labor Day as the end of summer, and I’m old enough to remember when college classes started the Tuesday after Labor Day.  My mom does too; she said in her generation it was because college students had jobs at country clubs that would close after Labor Day.  In terms of weather, I’ve always lived in places where summer will stretch on through September and perhaps beyond.

Even though many of us will see today as simply a day off, it’s a good day to think about work, both the kind we do for pay and the kind we do out of love. And what about the work we feel compelled to do? I’m thinking of that kind of documenting of family history, of cultural history, of all that might be lost without our efforts.  I’m thinking of our creative work.  There’s so many more different kinds of work than just work for pay.

I’m thinking about our attitude towards work too.  I am glad to see that this article, published in 2016, about the theology of work is still online.  Here’s my favorite quote from it, with ideas informed by Christian monasticism:  “Taking Benedict’s approach would force us to reconsider how we think about our work. Instead of, ‘What work am I called to?’ we might ask, ‘How does the task before me contribute to or hinder my progress toward holiness?; Not ‘How does this work cooperate with material creation?’ but ‘How does this work contribute to the life of the community and to others’ material and spiritual well-being?’ Not ‘Am I doing what I love?’ but ‘What activity is so important that I should, without exception, drop my work in order to do it?’”

And here’s a Buddhist thought about work for your Labor Day, found in an interview with Bill Moyers and Jane Hirshfield who explains, “Teahouse practice means that you don’t explicitly talk about Zen. It refers to leading your life as if you were an old woman who has a teahouse by the side of the road. Nobody knows why they like to go there, they just feel good drinking her tea. She’s not known as a Buddhist teacher, she doesn’t say, “This is the Zen teahouse.” All she does is simply serve tea–but still, her decades of attentiveness are part of the way she does it. No one knows about her faithful attention to the practice, it’s just there, in the serving of the tea, and the way she cleans the counters and washes the cups” (Fooling with Words: A Celebration of Poets and Their Craft, page 112).

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Thinking about Labor on Labor Day

I’m fascinated by American poet and lawyer Mary Leader’s fifth full-length collection, The Distaff Side (Shearsman Books, 2022), a curious blend of a variety of threads: the needlepoint the women in her family held, dismissed as “women’s work”; her mother’s refusal to learn such a thing to focus on poetry, and publishing in numerous journals yet never seeing a collection into print; and her own engagement with these two distinct skills, articulating them both as attentive, precise crafts. “My mother couldn’t sew a lick.” she writes, to open the sequence “Toile [I],” offering her mother’s refusal to learn as something defiant across the length and breadth of women across her family, “But that was a boast to her.” As the following poem reads: “1950, 1955, / 1960. What girls and women got up to / with distaffs flax spindles standards / happles and agoubilles was not called ‘their art.’ Not remotely. Needlework / was no more ‘creative’ than / doing the dishes, and trust me, / doing the dishes was not marveled at, [.]” That particular poem ends: “And my / mother’s hobby morning after / morning after morning, every morning, / every morning, was reading and writing / poetry, smoking all the while.” There’s a defiance that Leader recounts in her narrative around her mother, and one of distinct pride, writing a woman who engaged with poetry. A few poems further in the sequence: “I have / the typescript of what, in my judgement, / should have been my mother’s first / published book, Whose Child? I have / here the cover letter she labored over.” I’m charmed by these skilled, sharp and precise poems on the complexities of the craft of poems and needlework both, stitched with careful, patient ease.

rob mclennan, Mary Leader, The Distaff Side

It seemed to me all around me was a message: “Work. Look.” I wrote that in my journal. That night I’d had a dream in which I was trying to develop an artistic goal for the immediate future, which morphed into me stating that I was going to memorize one song on the piano and play it for people, which morphed into me explaining excitedly how I was going to make scones to bring to their party, but the host approached me and said, “Please don’t bring them. We don’t like them.” And I woke devastated. When I finally shook off the devastation and entered the day, I was fascinated by how that urge to focus creatively ended up with that dream that no one liked what I was making. How powerful is rejection, how powerful the pull of external validation.

Marilyn McCabe, I have heard you call; or, On Creative Work and the Inner Voices

Brown campus now, all these child freshmen. I was 17 then. Walking around campus now, thinking all that freedom, to be the odd girl out, to suffer, to remember, to extinguish, to wear diaphanous skirts and lay clothes out on the green to sell, to revel in contradiction: the Brown Green. To read wandering the hallway of the dorm, as I did to anyone with ears: Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. To draw out: Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. To hear kids say about me today: she was from then, she didn’t know yet. The hell I didn’t! To walk into traffic talking and assume all cars will stop. To not see the cars. To be somewhat girl, somewhat boy. Somewhat woman, somewhat man. Roaming around in her head; putting logic on a vertiginous axis. To be double-sighted, to become someone else inside the same person, to surf time, to be here now.

Jill Pearlman, Age, Relatives, Lo-Lee-Ta

I learned, while teaching college freshmen the past few years, that many younger adults do not know how to write or even to read script. Many children never get the lessons in handwriting in the second through fourth grades the way I did. Instead, they learn keyboarding–a skill I got to in my junior year of high school but never really have mastered (yes, even now I use a self-developed version that’s sort of an advanced hunt-and-peck method). It’s hard to believe that reading script is a task that will be relegated to specialists in years to come, but I shouldn’t be surprised if that’s what happens. To many of my college age students, handwritten script in English is almost indistinguishable from the marks of ash borers. They don’t see the need for that particular skill. Handwriting is going the way of letter-writing.

Perhaps we live in a post-script world?

I have been thinking about the handwritten word recently because of a recent incident while visiting my mother. She received a small refund check from an insurer, and though she understood what it was and that she no longer uses her checking account–we siblings take care of that through power of attorney–she was confused about what to do with it. “Sign it, Mom,” I told her, offering her a pen. “We’ll deposit it for you.” I turned the check over and pointed to the line for signature on the back.

She wavered, pen in the air. “I don’t…I don’t,” she said (her aphasia has advanced past the point of expressing full sentences). It took me a moment to realize that she could not recall how to sign her name. I placed my hand around hers and helped her start with the capital B.

I didn’t cry, but the experience hasn’t left me alone. I suppose there may be a poem in this incident, but if so, it’s a sorrowful one.

Ann E. Michael, Script, postscript

Even now, at what we believe is near the end, my mother is
what kids today might describe as #fighting, A month in the hospital
and she’s rallied and flailed, flailed and rallied. Through intravenous
feeding, oxygen delivery, antibiotics, everything short of TPN. Who
is Patty? my cousin and the nurses ask. My mother has been calling
the names of the dead, names of the living, names of all the remembered
ghosts in her life. Perhaps more than death or dying, the ghost of our own
approaching absence is the most difficult piece of the puzzle. She still
knows the difference between the clothed and naked body, how the taste
and texture of water on the tongue disappears like a stolen jewel. Once,
she fashioned for me an ugly name in a second baptism meant to confuse
and repel the gods. She embroidered it on towels and the inside
of my collars as she mouthed it like a spell. Sometimes, I still start
at my shadow on the wall, blue and sick from being shorn from light.

Luisa A. Igloria, Talisman

Somewhere in time there’s a darkened room with just enough light to see a circle of grief. In the center of the circle is a woman in a hospital bed. Sharp angles under white sheets. Cool, pale flesh stretched over forehead, cheeks, chin. Weeks of a vigil fading into the past. A decision has been made, connections have been unconnected. It is silent in this room except for sighs and sobs. One of the grieved takes the woman’s hand and begins to sing a sweet hymn to accompany the woman from the room, from the earth. This is a moment that lives forever for those who loved this woman.

Charlotte Hamrick, Mood #2

whose skin has not awakened to green

whose heart is blind with eyes

where are there hands to bandage the sky

Grant Hackett [untitled]

One of the most menacing things about depression is its elasticity — its way of suddenly receding, swinging open a window of light, only to return just as suddenly with redoubled darkness, just when life has begun to feel livable again, even beautiful.

On September 16, 1962, a voice unspooled from the BBC airwaves carrying an emblem of that cruel elasticity.

Sylvia Plath (October 27, 1932–February 11, 1963) — who spent her life living with the darkness and making light of the barely bearable lightness of being, until she could no more — had composed the poem a year earlier, shortly after moving to a quiet market village in Devon. For the first time, she had a room of her own to write in. “My whole spirit has expanded immensely,” she wrote to her mother as she filled the house with “great peachy-colored gladiolas, hot red & orange & yellow zinnias” from the garden, that great living poem.

Within a month, in the fading autumn light, her spirit had begun contracting again in the grip of the familiar darkness. One night, unable to sleep, she tried a meditative writing exercise: to simply describe what she saw in the Gothic churchyard outside her window. That exercise became one of her finest poems and one of the most poignant portraits of depression in the history of literature.

Found in Plath’s indispensable Collected Poems (public library), it comes alive with uncommon poignancy in Patti Smith’s planetary voice — one of her regular poetry readings from her online journal.

Maria Popova, The Moon and the Yew Tree: Patti Smith Reads Sylvia Plath’s Haunting Portrait of Depression

old pond
old frog
waiting

Jason Crane, haiku: 30 August 2023

Today was a full press day (no freelance work) since there were quite a few things that needed final corrections before I start printing.  I have only dipped a toe into submissions, which wrapped up Thursday in a final flurry of activity, so will begin greater forays into reading next week likely. I still have a couple delayed books in the works, but am now working on the set I accepted for this year. Amazingly, since I planned to start those in August anyway, I am only a month behind schedule for 2023 accepted titles. This year’s inbox is a little unruly, since I was once again allowing sim subs after a few years of not. This means some things have been withdrawn in the time since they were sent b/c they found another home. Logistically it’s rougher to keep track, but I feel like I take a little too long in responses sometimes, esp. for things I am interested in–so it’s only fair they have other opportunities when I am slow. 

As for my work, I had a brief flurry of activity on new poems, but then told myself I should take a break and return when fall arrived officially, which I suppose it has now, at least according to the meteorological calendar if not the celestial one. Since I really need to be working on recording and editing the videos for villains right now, I may just hold off til the equinox to get back to daily poeming, completely reasonable, but I do get itchy if I go too long without writing much at all, so we’ll see. I won’t be submitting much in the immediate future, so am going to share snippets of the poems I’ve written this summer on Instagram, so keep an eye out there. 

The decor and lifestyle stuff is turning out many fall and spooky season offerings like this, this, and this.) A gig that I had initially turned down earlier in the summer b/c the pay-per-word count (writing literature study guides) actually came back with a poetry-specific offer that is shorter guides but still the same pay, so I will be doing a couple of those every month going forward. Since the AI poetry thing ghosted me and didn’t work out, and any poetry lessons for the online learning site I already write for are few and far between, it will be fun to write poetry-specific things again after a few months of other subjects like dance, history, and visual art. While denser and more time-intensive than the decor, food, and restaurant stuff, the researcher in me loves them nonetheless.

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 9/3/2023

You can link to my London Grip review of Katharine Towers’ superb chapbook by clicking here.

What I didn’t adequately suggest in the review itself was how beautifully the booklet is designed and produced by Philip Lancaster and the The Maker’s Press. Everything except the Tasting Notes is printed in a way that combines visual clarity with softness (the paper is a very pale ivory rather than white). The Tasting Notes are shaped as concrete poems and printed in a pale slightly greenish grey, which to me suggests the elusiveness and obliquity of attempts to describe nuances of flavour. It’s altogether a remarkable physical production.

Edmund Prestwich, Katharine Towers, let him bring a shrubbe – review

I had to double check myself re an idea I had about Simon Armitage’s Book of Matches (Faber & Faber 1993). So I Googled, and yes, I had remembered it correctly. The 30 fourteen-line poems/sonnets in the first section are each, supposedly, meant to be read in the time it takes for a match to burn. I guess the clue is in the opening stanza of the first poem:

“My party piece:
I strike, then from the moment when the matchstick
conjures up its light, to when the brightness moves
beyond its means, and dies, I say the story
of my life —”

Well, you just have to, don’t you?! My first match burnt out after a few lines and I realised the draft from my writing room door that opens onto the garden was to blame. My second attempt, different poem, had a second or two to spare. My third one had me squealing and blowing it out as the flame licked at my fingertips a couple of lines before the end.

But gimmicks apart, I like the poems in this collection. I like Armitage’s command of form and language, of rhythm and rhyme, and how none of those ever dominate the poems, only contribute to their music. What he has to say always transcends the engineering work. I feel he understands that the audience matters. He’s a poet that cares about his readers. The work can be both playful and serious. Serious but not solemn.

Lynne Rees, The Sealey Challenge – Simon Armitage

When August started I was on a fantasy novel kick.  Patricia Briggs, Megan Bannen, Neil Gaiman, and Andri Snaer Magnason, Kimberly Lemming and Sangu Mandanna. Sure, I could do those and continue poetry, right? I often alternate between poetry binges and novel binges but I could do parallel binges. Push more through the head, why not.

Sometimes pushing through the slog of hard-to-understand is good for stretch goals, to push past normal comfort. Part of Sealey Challenge is to read different and to share the love of what you uncover. Stretch is the theme. (I shared some of what I read as Poem of the Day at bluesky and instagram and in past posts here.)

So it’s September and I’m still standi— er, still sitting.

Reading causes writing sometimes so I wrote more novel scenes, and a chapbook. Was it more than normal? Not sure. I’ve done 50,000 words over the last 4 months in poetry, not counting scraps of paper and convenient but not in the right folder files.

Pearl Pirie, Sealey Challenge

I believe in the general theory that one should finish what one starts. However in my real, practical life, that’s a different story, as evidenced by a plethora of uncompleted crafting projects, poems started and never seen through to their final form, and books began but never finished. Today I shall provide you with a glimpse into some of these of unfinished titles, as well my justifications for putting them down early: […]

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

I complained about this book in a previous post, but at the time, I thought I could get past the atrocious degeneracy of its characters because the writing was so beautiful. It turns out I can’t. The beautiful language just isn’t enough to carry me through this one. I don’t care about any of the characters, and contrary to popular opinion, I don’t think that Daisy is some tragic pre-feminist figure. I think she’s a brat. I’ve never been able to figure how this book became such a literary darling, until a bit of shallow research informed me that it was an initial failure. Years after it came out, The Council on Books in Wartime distributed free copies en mass to soldiers serving overseas during World War 2, thus exploding its popularity.

Kristen McHenry, Book List of Shame

In my second published poetry book, I have a poem called “In the Left Breast”. I wrote it after I’d found a lump (turned out to be nothing). I was in my early 30s.

Thinking about this made me wonder if we are really ever unprepared for possibilities? There is another poem in that same collection that questions whether “imagination is a good thing.”

In my mind, it is all about staying flexible enough to adjust. Adjusting is a response to the world. Sometimes it’s positive. In the context of my world view, a positive attitude is not the same thing as a positive outcome of a response.

I don’t believe celebrating a possible future outcome manifests that outcome.

This morning I am thinking about singing. Last week I sang with the radio while I was driving. It had been a very long time since I was in that kind of space. I remember now that magic spells require chanting, or singing. That’s a kind of effort, too, so I will leave room for that in my world view.

Right speech. Right action.

Right diaphragmatic effort.

Ren Powell, After a Week Not Writing about It

My phase of reading nowt but historical novels is over (for now) as I get my poetry head back on in preparation for Season Four (gulp!) of Planet Poetry.

First up, I’ve been doing a deep dive into Leontia Flynn‘s brand new collection Taking Liberties (Cape). It’s wonderful work and I’m feeling quite energised by it (meaning: it’s inspired me to write something that may be a poem.) I’ll be interviewing Leontia on the pod, really looking forward to that.

Also on the ‘to be read’ pile is Caroline Bird‘s The Air Year (Carcanet) which picked up a whole ton of awards in 2020. I’ve not yet been hit by the ‘Bird Love Bomb’ that many others speak of, so I shall read it with keen anticipation.

I was a fangirl in my teenage years of Brian Patten, and I’m still hoping we can coax him onto the poddy. In the meantime I’ve been loving, loving his Selected Poems (Penguin 2007). Even lovelier is that having bought it second-hand, I discovered it’s a signed copy, ‘To Liz’ – the name I was given at birth. Spooky!

Robin Houghton, Current poetry reading and podcast prep

You mentioned on Instagram that After Curfew  was inspired by Rowan Beckett’s Hot Girl Haiku. Can you say more about that inspiration, and how it helped you write and shape your collection?

Rowan held an online launch party on Facebook for their book, Hot Girl Haiku, in May 2022. My friend, haiku poet Susan Burch, reminded me to attend. I’d never been to an online launch party. It was fun! Rowan had posts and videos set up on a schedule. One of the prompts was to write our own “hot girl haiku.” It brought me back to that time in early adolescence and young adulthood when I wanted so much to be a “hot girl” but I was more of a “geeky girl.” I wrote this in the comments:

face-first
in a stranger’s lap—
tequila shots

Joshua Gage, of Cuttlefish Books, wrote back that he’d like to hear more of that story. I said there wasn’t much to tell — I didn’t think I had too many “hot girl” moments. But it got me thinking, which led to writing the collection. 

On a related note, I read online that you wrote most of After Curfew in one sitting. Do you usually write in big spurts? How was creating this collection similar to or different from your usual process? 

I rarely write in big spurts! This was very different than my usual plodding along. I just felt inspired. It was like Rowan gave me permission to write about my past. 

What was your editing process like? Did you have to cut any haiku? Was there a point where you found yourself needing to add some to supplement the original poems? 

I wrote the poems quickly at first, jotting them down as they came to me. When it came time to order them, I wanted to tell a cohesive story: of first love, of loss, of moving on. When I realized that I really did have a collection, I wrote a few poems to fill gaps in the narrative, and I dropped a few that didn’t fit. Originally, I had a few tanka in there too.

In English-language haiku, poets are often instructed to focus on composing from the present moment. After Curfew is written in the present tense, but concerns the past. Did you make a conscious decision to keep the poems in the present tense? Or did that emerge organically during the writing process?

I think the present tense brings an immediacy to haiku — writing in past tense puts some distance between the reader and the poem. I’d like to say something profound about how I wanted the reader to share in my awkward moments, but the truth is, I was reliving my memories as I wrote them.

Allyson Whipple, Chapbook Interview: Julie Bloss Kelsey

Here are a couple of Annie [Bachini]’s haiku in the book which I especially like:

faint breeze rolling a scrunched paper bag

waiting room
the rhythmic squeaks
of the cleaner’s shoes

The one-liner is a concrete haiku of sorts, in that the bag is rolled horizontally with the text. What I especially like about it, though, are that the word ‘rolling’ is used transitively, rather than the much more common intransitively, and that the movement is engendered by a faint breeze. Yes, it’s a fairly straightforward ‘cause-and-effect’ poem, but it’s subtly done. The highlighting of an item of litter may or may not be seen as an incidental comment on today’s selfish society. And which reader wouldn’t enjoy the sound of that ‘scrunched’? The way in which the wind is interacting with a thrown-away item reminds me of that strangely captivating scene in American Beauty in which the camera follows a plastic bag through the air. The haiku is very neatly done.

The three-liner is equally fine, not least in how it makes art out of what, in lesser hands, could be a mundane observation. The waiting room might be at the doctor’s, dentist, train station or wherever – though probably one of the first two – but it’s the attentiveness of the second element of the poem which beautifully commands the reader’s attention. It’s an exemplar of how a well-chosen adjective can add so much: as well as providing visual and sonic balance, ‘rhythmic’ implies so much. The cleaner, it seems, is doing a thoroughly professional job, as perhaps they’ve been shown how to do. We might intuit, too, that the cleaner is taking pride in their work, but earns very considerably less than the professional in the consulting room. That it’s the shoes which the poet draws our eyes and ears towards makes this, for me, a real masterpiece.

The book, rather prosaically entitled Two Haiku Poets, is available from Iron here.

Matthew Paul, On the haiku of Annie Bachini

THE BOOK BURNING

was everything you’d expect it to be.
Self-righteous men, always men,
directing the children, laden
with armfuls of the banned, damned books.
Casting them into the inferno
with a wide eyed giddy intensity,
ecstatic in this act of vandalism
we are burning books!

and the air is full of charred letters.
Stray words set free
from carefully constructed sentences.
The ink knows as it sizzles,
that every book is a temporary alliance
of print and wood pulp and glue.
If the men had been more patient
eventually it would have returned to dust

Paul Tobin, STRAY WORDS SET FREE

I don’t think I have read a poet like Susan J. Bryant before, so it’s impossible to give readers a steer through comparisons to better known contemporary poets. The best I can offer you is to say that her work is clearly influenced by the formal satirists of the past for Elephants Unleashed is made up of biting poems in beautifully handled forms, such as villanelles, triolets, sonnets and ballads.

Nothing is safe from Bryant’s critical eye. The institutions of Church, Government, Education and Royalty are all subject to her cutting wit. Politicians are given a particularly rough ride. TONGUES SPIN AND WEAVE is typical in both theme and style. She writes: When syrup-dipped toxicity/ Disguises vile duplicity/ With evil veiled in virtue’s flower/ Your liberty they will devour./ Perceive, beguiled society-/ Tongues spin and weave.’ There’s something of a modern-day Pope here, both in sentiment and the music of the form, the rhymes working hard to give emphasis to the destructiveness and danger of politicians and those in power, who disguise their true intentions with feigned morality.

Nigel Kent, Review of ‘Elephants Unleashed’ by Susan Jarvis Bryant

It seems
AI is writing our poems
and books
and we can’t tell
the difference

All this is normalized
All this consumed
All day, all night

Our ruin is streamed
on all kinds
of devices

It seems
we can’t bring ourselves
to care

Rajani Radhakrishnan, What’s Going On?

[Months have gone by] and what have I been doing? Not writing. Sadly. I am beginning to wonder if I’m sliding into dementia. I have some of the symptoms: Lack of energy, isolation, loss of interest in things which used to interest me. Having trouble retrieving names of people and sometimes names of books or other objects. Then, again, in other ways I am fine and even perky. The garden absorbs my mornings and evenings. Watching British murder mysteries on my laps. I was completely alert and energized on a recent very long drive to Evansville INdiana. I am also somewhat addicted to watching short videos of horses , deer, birds, and babies on Instagram. I recently realized that as an only child of older parents, I was hardly ever around little babies, those under the age of two. I am fascinated by their faces, their eyes, the thinking that is obviously going on. Maybe this entry will break through my inertia.

Anne Higgins, Months have gone by

In early spring it’s wild ramps,
dark blades of onion-scented grass.

Then come the fairytale eggplants.
On the cusp of fall, tiny plums.

In winter I splurge on clementines
though citrus won’t grow here, at least

not yet. Sometimes I treat myself
to marzipan at Christmastime, though

almond trees are struggling.
We’re running out of groundwater.

How long until the memory of coffee beans
will be implausible as the days

when silvery cod were so plentiful
we walked across their backs to shore? 

Rachel Barenblat, Impulse buys

This morning the air felt crisp. There was a certain blueness to the sky that made me think of frosts. The fields were so dewy I got soaked walking the dog. This was the first day where it’s been too cold to wear shorts from the off. But by lunchtime the sun had burnt this faux autumn off and it was sunshine and warm air, except in the shade. It’s difficult to admit that the summer is nearly over, and I’ll miss my days of bare skin and sandals, but all things must pass, and there is so much to love about autumn. Now though, and for the next two or three weeks we are in the liminal place between seasons. It is a place of change. It is a place where we are not quite experiencing the riot of reds and oranges and crispy leaf walks of autumn, but not quite able to experience the BBQs and patio drinks, the golden evening walks and thick green foliage of summer either. And all the time we experience this change, we are physically and emotionally in change ourselves.

The catalyst for the turn towards autumn for me, and my feelings around it is always the migration of the geese. The geese now fly over my house in thick lines, long lines full of voice and each time I hear them my heart is taken somewhere wintry and still, and it stills me to hear them. In summer I felt vibrant and colourful, in autumn I will feel calm and aware and I want my days to reflect that. I shall change my practice and my focus to fully embrace the season, to be connected to the world around me, the natural world.

Wendy Pratt, Late Summer a Sensory Experience – The Colour of Summer

Although the mornings are sunny
the heavy rain that lasted half an hour around dawn
has left the grass wet.
Small oaks are springing up where I planted acorns last year.
Today I will dig up the next batch of potatoes.
Together we will pick blackberries.
I will look again at my fantasy football team.

Bob Mee, ONE OF THOSE ‘I DID THIS, I DID THAT’ RECORDS OF A WEEK

星月夜ホモ・サピエンスなにをしに 矢島渚男

hoshizukiyo homo sapiensu nani o shini

            starry night

            what are homo sapiens

            doing here

                                                Nagisao Yajima

from Haiku, a monthly haiku magazine, November 2022 Issue, Kabushiki Kaisha Kadokawa, Tokyo

Fay Aoyagi, Today’s Haiku (August 30, 2023)

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 32

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive, subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader, or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack. This week, summer was winding down for many, but the Sealey Challenge remains in full effect through the end of the month, so the blogs are full of enthusiasm for books mingled with wistfulness and/or relief. I found posts on challenging ourselves as writers, learning from children, learning from film, and much more. Enjoy.


This week I’ve been running the Dawn Chorus early morning writing group and have been struck by the silence, the on-the-cusp-of-autumn peace of the early mornings. Yesterday morning I watched a stretched sunrise the colour of rose-quartz, with a few lonely herring gulls drifting past quietly, their white bellies reflecting the pink of it. It reminded me that there is a place in the morning in which there is no business, no planning or prepping or rushing or fighting, or working. It made me want to engage with that peace, and peace of mind, more. After the weeks of constant cool rain the heat of summer has returned in dribs and drabs, some days warm, some days hot. But it doesn’t feel like the blaze of summer is returning. There are now straggled Vs of geese over the house. There is now the scent of smoke in the air and it feels like the season tipping forward. It feels like August is a month that exists on a balancing point between summer and autumn, but now the weight of the season has fallen towards the mulch, earthy change of autumn now.

Wendy Pratt, Late Summer – A Sensory Experience – The Taste of Summer

To quiet the mind, to plant carrots,
to wash the sheets more often.
To banish judgment and meet
each morning with a corpulent heart.
The joy is never in the execution
but in the crossing off, the banishment
of each righteous act, the sweet relief of
two hard lines, muffling the burden.

Kristen McHenry, List Poem

The new titles: poetry, literary essays, and a couple that booksellers may shelve under fiction (Bebe) and non-fiction: memoir (Take Two), but like a number of CBe titles they are not as clear-cut as that. I know that when I sit down at the table I do want the menu arranged in a way that helps me to choose – starters, mains, desserts; fish, meat, vegetarian – but sometimes it works to just say that one, because I want to be surprised. I may like it, I may not. If the latter, I really haven’t lost much. Maybe think of this table as one big sharing platter.

Charles Boyle, Table for 6

If you’re new to reading this Substack, you may not know that I often review new books of poetry for journals. I have the great pleasure of reviewing Sam Sax’s new book, Pig, which will be out from Scribner Poetry next month. Since the book is NOT yet released, I cannot share poems here, but I can say with confidence that this collection is well worth your time as a poetry reader and as a human animal trying to navigate the world. (This is the first type of re-reading. When I review a book of poems, I read it a minimum of five times, so this was my third pass at Sam’s, the reading where I start pulling quotes to support the thematic strands I want to talk about in a review.)

Today’s re-read was of a collection I first encountered twelve years ago when I took a manuscript course with Daniel Khalastchi (a class that clarified the final version on my first book, A House of Many Windows, which was picked up the following year by Sundress). Daniel’s work in Manoleria (Tupelo Press, 2011) is another example of a writer’s work that is so different from my own that I want to learn from it. It is also not an easy book to read in terms of content. Its depictions of oppression physical suffering (with surreal vignettes full of body horror) are difficult and unnerving. But beneath the startling images lies a heart of hope, where “somewhere inside I hear calling a shepherd.”

Donna Vorreyer, Days 8 and 9: Two Kinds of Re-Reading

I might be absurdly late to the party, but my discovery of Dennis O’Driscoll’s poetry has been a joy over the past few months. 

On the back of that process, I sought out examples of his prose online, and stumbled on an excellent article by him from Poetry Ireland Review. It’s well worth a read in full (see link here) if you’ve got a few minutes free over the summer, but here’s a thought-provoking snippet as an initial taster…

“…Many of the techniques of poetry can be acquired and improved through practice and emulation. What cannot be taught, what must already be in place, is an individual perspective on the world. We want the poet’s own version of life, not a rehash of Dylan Thomas’s or Sylvia Plath’s world. The personal rhythms, obsessions, linguistic quirks which readers and reviewers may initially deprecate are the best foundations on which to build a poetic talent. The poems which the editor rejects may become your cornerstone…”

Matthew Stewart, Dennis O’Driscoll in Poetry Ireland Review

You are a prolific writer yourself, across several forms – including poetry, short stories, and novels – in both English and Shona. Does the fact that you are bilingual influence your writing, perhaps in subtle ways – for example imagery, sound effects, point of view?

Samantha [Rumbidzai Vazhure]Absolutely. I am a Karanga from Masvingo and most Shona-speakers will tell you how poetic, charming and dramatic the Karanga language is – full of humour, idioms and ideophones, metaphor, rhyme, etc. Karanga people are detail-oriented and when we tell a story, we call it kurondedzera, which loosely translated means “discourse at length”. As children, we wrote rondedzero (composition) in Shona class and my teachers expected to find the minutest detail in my work, because they too were Karanga. When accounting for any misdemeanours to anyone in authority, they expected the most granular details of what had taken place, including any pollen that may have been floating in the air when the incident happened. This background hugely influences my writing, particularly the concreteness of language in both my poetry and prose (this of course causes problems with editors sometimes, when they say some of my descriptions are superfluous, and I struggle to understand why they’d refuse the detail my teachers would have given me a merit badge for!).

Another important point is that musicianship and spirituality are cornerstones of the Karanga culture – you will find these elements peppered around my writing as well. I read Shona and English through to A-level. I think and dream in Karanga – a dialect of the Shona language, so even when I’m writing in English, that inherent Karanga flair will always show up in my work. That said, the reverse is also true, and I use some English words and concepts when I write in Shona, especially when I’m exploring themes that are foreign to the Shona culture, yet they have become a part of our lives due to migration and colonisation. 

The National Arts Council of Zimbabwe holds an annual awards ceremony to recognise outstanding achievements in the arts: the National Arts Merits Awards (NAMA). Last year several Carnelian Heart publications featured in the awards. Rudo Manyere’s collection ‘3:15 am and other stories’ made the shortlist, and two books won in their respective categories: David Chasumba’s  ‘The Madman on First Street and Other Short Stories’, and your poetry collection, ‘Starfish Blossoms’. This is an impressive achievement for a relatively unknown independent press! What does this recognition mean, both for Carnelian Heart and for you personally?

Samantha: As a publisher, the recognition was a huge honour and an affirmation that what I am doing at Carnelian Heart is bigger than myself. Some friends in the Zimbabwean literary circles had suggested the submissions as a way of increasing visibility for the press. I submitted all eight books by Zimbabwean authors published in 2022, and three of them were shortlisted for the awards. Interestingly, the visibility has attracted more writers wanting their works published, than readers who want to buy the books.   

For me personally, I had never been bothered by validation until my name was announced as a nominee for the award. I am usually happy to just write without being judged or compared to others. However, it felt great to know that my work had been read by a panel of respectable judges, some of whom are artists, and they thought it was outstanding. It was a truly humbling experience to receive the NAMA award, something I hope will aid the visibility of my past and future works. 

Marian Christie, Democratising literature – an interview with Samantha Rumbidzai Vazhure

Apart from a Welsh poem I memorised, while at Sandfields Comprehensive School for a recitation competition at the local Urdd (Mae Abertawe yn yr haul/ Yn cysgu’n dawel ger y lli./ Traeth o aur o gylch ei thread/ A Browyr wrth ei hystlys hi… – I came second), the only other poem I’ve memorised, successfully in its entirety, is Douglas Dunn’s, ‘The Kaleidsoscope’.

It was several years ago when I was running a couple of performance workshops at Simon Langton Grammar School, Canterbury with some of the 5th and 6th formers who were entering Poetry by Heart, an annual national poetry speaking competition. And there was no way I could stand in front of a group of young people offering advice on memorising and recitation if I couldn’t do it myself! Dunn’s poem is a sonnet, so only fourteen lines long and with a regular rhyme scheme and memorable imagery, which was a doddle to imprint onto my memory in comparison to some of the poems to choose from on the PBH list.

When I picked up the book again today, I couldn’t quite get through it without glancing at the page in a couple of places. But the overall shape of it was still there, hanging like a comfortable, old winter coat in the attic of my mind.

Lynne Rees, The Sealey Challenge

The idea of the Sealey Challenge is to read one poetry collection a day in the month of August. I love the ambition of this challenge but it’s too much of a stretch for a slow reader like me to be able to read so prolifically. However, I like more poems popping up through my social media timeline in August, as Sealey Challenge people share what they’re reading. I’ve needed to choose shortish poems from each book so that they can be easily read on Instagram which is where I’ve been sharing them. […]

One thing that has been very good about the Sealey Challenge (for me) is that it’s encouraged me to dip inside many poetry books and magazines and this has been helpful for my upcoming poetry workshops in Bradford on Avon at The Make Space. I’m so pleased that bookings are coming in – and there are still places available, if you’d like to join us on 5 and 12 September for writing exercises, prompts and feedback.

Josephine Corcoran, Three poems from books in my TBR pile

The Best Canadian Poetry 2023, edited by John Barton (Biblioasis, 2022) [Sealey #8]. As I mentioned on IG before, the opening essay’s depth and lucidity is worth the price of admission. It’s 25% essay, 40% end notes of bios and about the poems chosen in the poet’s own words, and afterbits so the poems themselves are an excruciatingly small reduction from the thousands of poems read. Standouts are Karl Jirgens’ poem on dementia and the multilingual exploration of Moni Brar. Looking forward to a book from her, and to Laurie D. Graham’s whose book I just got. A Wayman poem and a Bertrand Bickersteth poem into the mix demonstrates how his choices are to reflect range, not a uniform aesthetic.

Pearl Pirie, Sealey Challenge, Week 2

If you’ve been following any of my social media this month, you know that I’m thrilled to be in the company of Lenard D. Moore as part of the Cuttlefish Books 2023 Summer Book Launch. Lenard is a military veteran, executive chair of the North Carolina Haiku Society, founder and executive chair of the Carolina African American Writers Collective, and the author of several books.

Although Lenard and I only had the chance to meet briefly at HNA, I have long admired the depth, breadth, and skill of his haiku. His attention not just to the details of the present, but also to the stories of the past, reflects a sense of artistic discipline that’s worth emulating. In celebration of his forthcoming chapbook, A Million Shadows at Noon, I wanted to feature him here to learn more about his process with this new collection. […]

AW: What is the thematic focus of A Million Shadows at Noon? What compelled you to create this chapbook?

The thematic focus of A Million Shadows at Noon is brotherhood, family, love and unity. I was compelled to create this project, because I drew inspiration from such a significant historical event. It was so powerful to see so many Black men come together and march for important issues. By now, I hope you know that I am referring to the Million Man March, which will celebrate its thirtieth anniversary in 2025. I wanted to do something innovative with the haiku form or a haiku sequence, an extensive of my poetic risks with my book, Desert Storm. Perhaps, I need to write one more book-length poem, employing the haiku form. To that end, maybe there is a trilogy in the making. Let’s see what happens with my future work.

Allyson Whipple, Chapbook Interview: Lenard D. Moore

8 – Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?

Essential! Painful to the ego maybe, but essential. A good editor can see what you’re trying to accomplish and help you get there more efficiently. They can also call out your weaknesses that are hard to spot when you’ve looked at your manuscript a thousand times. One of my absolute favorite things about Four Way Books is the way they graciously and meticulously provide edits for our books. Two editors went through my manuscript to offer detailed feedback that I was free to accept or reject. The first note I got for Bianca was that I used the word “rage” way too many times throughout the manuscript. It deadened the effect and sometimes didn’t leave room for actual rage to simply exist without having to announce itself. I took out a bunch of rages and left a select few where necessary, but I absolutely loved that they caught this. Like I said earlier, I don’t trust my own writing, so I’m generally eager for feedback from editors I trust.

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

Marie Howe told a graduate workshop I took to “write as if everyone you love is dead.” Don’t think about other people’s reactions to your work. Just get it all down. Kimiko Hahn said the same to me years later at a Kundiman retreat. Don’t bring your fears to the table when you write. Write everything that comes to you. Then later, once it’s written, you can evaluate each piece and ask whether you’re comfortable with publishing it. Writing and publishing are two separate beasts. Don’t let the idea of publishing limit your writing.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Eugenia Leigh

Another thing I recognize: All this talk about seeking comfort in a different kind of wardrobe or sense of self is likely a sign that something new is making its way through me. I’ve learned over the years that these feelings of agitation precede a big change. Not metamorphosis, exactly, not in the caterpillar –> butterfly sense but a kind of walking through fire. There’s something of importance on the other side.

And so I’m trying to remind myself of instances when I’m already on the other side. […] In 2009, when I was still a baby poet, I took a leap (and an Amtrak) to attend a generative workshop [Denise] Duhamel led through Louder Arts in New York City. It was one of the first times I’d invested in myself as a poet, one of the first times I dared to believe I could be a poet and do the things poets do. Looking back, it’s a clear building block to everything that came after.

The training we do at the gym reminds us that challenging ourselves consistently is the key to all kinds of gains. This is, of course, also true in writing and submitting/publishing. We can age (and do). We can change our hair and clothes. We can be in our feelings. But what matters is that we show up. And dare to test our limits.

Carolee Bennett, don’t mind me. i’m just poking around.

“Sky” is from a series of poems in Good Bones that I call “nonnets,” as in not-quite-sonnets. They’re all fourteen lines long and, to my mind, have a turn in the last third of the poem, but they aren’t traditional sonnets. Each of these poems has as its epigraph a question my daughter asked me in the car when she was three or four years old: “What is the past?” “What is the future?” Or, in the case of this poem, “Why is the sky so tall and over everything?” (I have a theory that preschoolers hear the automatic car door locks click and know they have a captive audience. Time for existential questions on the way to CVS or the bank!)

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

It’s ridiculous that we need science to confirm the value of enthusiasm. This is the energy each child brings fresh to the world. What they’re able to explore and experience with the whole of themselves, magnified by the capacity for awe, remains with them. 

Dr. Hüther gives an example,

“Children living in the Amazon forests learn 120 different shades of green and can name them all, using 120 different terms. Potential of that kind is either used in practice or is little used. Children here can at best distinguish light green, green, and dark green. How far a potential is actually used depends on how important it is .. in a given culture…The result is that what was once a possibility, this potential, …if not used, will just wither away.”       

Enthusiasm goes a long way toward explaining why children and nature go together so well. Children are themselves magic — able to shape shift into a toad or hawk, to feel what it’s like to hop nearly hidden under leaves or to glide on the air’s invisible currents. While imagination is alive everywhere, it can’t help but flourish when surrounded by aliveness. The more natural an area, the more kids have a chance to have meaningful encounters with the life around them. In fact, kids play differently in a park with play structures compared to more natural areas like an overgrown field, a row of trees, or a small creek.

As Richard Louv details in Last Child in the Woods, kids confined to structured play areas have poorer balance and agility than those who play in unpaved areas. The social dynamic changes too. Older and physically larger kids dominate on playgrounds but in more natural areas, it’s the creative kids who act as leaders.

Laura Grace Weldon, Outdoor Play is Sensory Play

The carcass resembles nothing
the audience usually sees
whose meat arrives in cellophane
processed—slices, nuggets.
The children, especially,
have never watched the studious
and useful taking-apart
of a body, never witnessed
anything dead
but the flattened,
nearly unrecognizable bodies
of road-killed opossums.

No comparison, this 600-pound hog,
hooked and dangling, its interior
opened with jigsaw precision.
The man with the knife
is a revelation.
They stare fascinated
at the butcher’s truth
carving an exact history of
their breakfast bacon.

Ann E. Michael, How it’s done

This morning I fed and watered the hens and pigs, and for a while
sat on a chair in the pig pen as they ate and drank, rooted about.
Then they lay down in the shade and I went on sitting in the sun.
What was important? The hens, the pigs, me sitting, the chair itself.
(It was green, if you need to know. A gift a neighbour was throwing out.
It’s a good chair. Comfortable enough to sit in and watch pigs or just
to think in for a thousand years, two thousand, ignoring the phone.)
Meanwhile, you were busy blackberrying in your jeans and purple shirt.
And the straw hat you’ve had since before I knew you. Sometimes
you broke off from blackberrying to photograph a butterfly or moth.
Eventually, for lunch, we ate tomatoes with cucumber and a little bread,
over which we talked and I read a poem by Frank O’Hara that shocked me.

Bob Mee, WITH EVERY STEP WE ARRIVE SOMEWHERE

the road from angst to
poetry is a sharp backslash, the
pause at its end thickening to a
dot, a drowning exclamation, a
tired i, a failed connector: pain
takes time to disintegrate, regret
breaks up into molecules that
pollinate other minds, the last
of anger evaporates with a
hiss, cutting open the chest of
the sky, there, there at last,
finding the one missing poem.

Ann E. Michael, Part 59

Sometimes the past is pressed against the present, or another present is present. While traveling in Europe you feel it like a veil of wind on your skin.  You scratch the surface, the past rises up through the transparency of summer.  Sometimes you get at origins — Blue sky of Greece with a handmade white church.  Gray slate and zinc rooftops of Paris which started a dream you dip into and which will continue after you.  Previous city dwellers were seduced – are you there, Emma Bovary? –by a profusion of pinks and reds, silks and taffetas that inhabit the ground floor of a department store like Bon Marché.  Romantics swooned over a bunch of flowers pinned to a dress, a hat, to the swirl of a hem that swirls at recreated 19th century dance ball, where mesdames et messieurs dance in period costumes in the Luxembourg Gardens.  But simplicity: a bowl of eggs.  Wild cats.  The umber stones that came from the earth, were gathered by anonymous hands to make fences, return to the hillsides leaving sign that humans, and some gods were there. 

Jill Pearlman, The Past, Fellow Traveler

Caterpillar Suit” was inspired by the sculpture artist, Walter Oltmann. His sculpture is featured in the video alongside public-domain stills created by Latvian artist, Elina Krima.

This was my first video poem of 2020, and, in relation to the 2023 Phonotheque Poetry Film theme of Structures & Organisms, it explores what it means to shed a natural suit, as a caterpillar sheds itself to become larva then butterfly.

It relates to how we, as humans, are part of broader, natural ecosystem, all wearing the suits of natural instinct, moving through separations—especially in light of the global plight of children being cruelly separated from parents across international borders.

The poem also perhaps visually expresses the fear that we collectively gathered and recycled from history—a new-old fear for a new decade. It was also created just prior the pandemic, so it was an eerie foreboding of what was to come.

Lina Ramona Vitkauskas, Finalist! 2023 Poetic Phonotheque (Denmark)

I was making up some poetry postcard graphics for Instagram this morning and a path out of the current quagmire of poems appeared. Maybe not so much of a path, but an untangling of branches, a clearing through the trees.  I had been stuck, with about a dozen poems in the hopper that were loosely thematically related, but I was unsure of where to go with them. Or maybe more where they were trying to take me.  Not one to blindly follow along (the Taurus in me), I froze up and refused to work on them or even really think about them. Instead, I devoted time to making more collages.

The irony of course, is that those collages, at least some of them, may have offered up my solution, though I scarcely knew it when I was making them, coming off the heels of the Persephone collages and fiddling with extra images I had saved in a folder. The wild things series, which felt really random and just for kicks when I made them, may be something I can use to guide the focus of this particular text series and help propel me toward actually finishing them.

Kristy Bowen, of poems and pictures

It has honestly been a while since I have been “charmed” by a film. Someone (knowing I have been spending far too much time parked in front of the television screen these past months) recommended I watch The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (2018). The trailer was disappointing, I have to admit. I reluctantly started the film anyway. Besides providing me with a little romantic (comfortably predictable) escape, it also nudged me as a writer.

Beginning something new, something no one is waiting for, is difficult. So many formulas out there for how to get started – not a few of them asking: who are you writing for? And they almost always come with the caveat, “don’t wait for inspiration”. (Spoiler here:) In the film, the writer puts her romantic and professional life on hold to write the story that she needs to tell, knowing it won’t be published. I love that the film doesn’t give this part of the story a happy ending, wherein her intentions and her integrity are rewarded with permission to publish her book after all.

She’ll write something new.

I remember then I have an unpublishable novel somewhere on an external hard drive. It was worth writing. It was even worth paying an excellent consultant for feedback. It is not worth revisiting with an eye towards publication. It was never my story to tell. But that’s not to say I didn’t grow as a writer, or grow in terms of my ability to foster new, compassionate perspectives while working on it. It was a valuable practice.

I’ll write something new.

Ren Powell, Beginning Something New

The poets are writing about August:
a loam-like smell lining the air, and salt-
musk from every encircling body of water.
Friends come to pick the not-yet-last harvest
of figs from our tree, and as we reach up to twist
the deep purple orbs off the stems, I think
again of how each one is an inflorescence,
a walled garden with a narrow passage
through the ostiole small as a needle’s eye.

Luisa A. Igloria, To Flowering

Can I pull it off or will it just seem trite?  We shall see.  Even if I can’t pull it off, I’m happy that poems seem to be coming more quickly now.  For much of the past year, I’ve had a line here or there, and some days, I was able to create a poem, line by line, strand by strand.  In some ways, it was exciting to work that way, not knowing where the poem was headed, and being intrigued as I went along.  The work offered genuine surprises and discoveries, if I stuck with it long enough.

Yesterday felt like a process that is more familiar, when the poem comes to me more fully formed in terms of the idea and direction.  That process, too, can offer discoveries, but it’s different.  The discoveries and directions don’t feel quite as surprising, although they are delightful.

Should I should finish the Cassandra volunteering at summer camp before starting on this one?  Have I ever had 2 Cassandra poems in process at the same time?

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Cassandra Colors Her Hair

This is my 300th blog post. Many thanks to all the blog’s followers, also for your likes and lovely comments. They are much appreciated. I’m taking a break from weekly blogging: I need to ‘fill the well’ – take myself out to find poems and art on the streets of The Hague, get inspired and fired up again. I’m celebrating the 300th post in the company of Cecile Bol – our August guest poet.

Cecile is also the organiser of the Poetry Society’s Groningen Stanza. When I moved back to The Netherlands , I was fortunate that their meetings were on Zoom due to the lockdown. It was great to meet Cecile and other members of the Stanza in person earlier this year. The hotel where I stayed is just a few houses down from the literary café De Graanrepubliek where they meet.

Fokkina McDonnell, paper crown

One of the pleasures of writing regular blog reviews is that you discover the output of new writers, whom you might otherwise have missed. That is the case with The Vessel of the Now by Ink. This refreshingly original pamphlet of brief poems published by Back Room Poetry (2023) is one that is sure to engage the reader and leave him or her reflecting long after (s)he has put it down.

I believe it is no coincidence that these poems first appeared as tweets, for this small collection has much to say about the use of Twitter (recently rebranded as ‘X’). The reference to it as a ‘vessel’ recalls the idiom, ‘Empty vessels make the most noise’, implying that this social media vehicle draws attention to the inane, the pointless and the worthless. It made me think of tweeted photographs of meals cooked, shoes just purchased, flowers bought etc. Who cares? As the poet writes, the Vessel of the Now ‘provides shelter/ and stage’. It provides an uncritical platform for self- promotion: ‘The Vessel of the Now/ is a date book page with one line,/ all of which is devoted to you.’ In one sense this makes Twitter ‘a great equalizer’ a democratizer, and yet underpinning the collection is the implication that all this is insignificant, inconsequential: it doesn’t really matter. Ink writes: ‘However large, you are/ only one fraction of the Now.’ Whatever is posted, no matter how frequently the output of Twitter is so large it will fail to make a lasting impact: ‘The Vessel of the Now never remembers/ what you’ve said.’

This collection then acts as a reflection on the nature of social media, but I believe it is more than that. In his ‘Drop-In’ Ink concludes by saying the collection can be as ‘shallow or as deep as you want it to be.’ When reading the poems, I constantly returned to them as I felt there were bigger ideas underpinning them.

Nigel Kent, Review of ‘The Vessel of the Now’ by Ink

Is it the curse of a proofreader? Book of poems I’ve been hearing about. Author with some buzz, good publisher. Nice looking volume, tidy, interesting cover, nice typeface. First poem I encounter: Regular comma use then suddenly phoosh no commas, then regular comma use again. In one poem.

Okay, so I have to figure out whether there was method to this madness. Yes, okay, I can see that maybe this segment, which is sort of a list or litany, could be read breathlessly, could be a mash-up of sorts. Or was it an error? No, I think it was intentional. Right?

And now I’m on alert. Now with every poem some proofreaderly third eye is scanning for trouble. Nope, next one, regular comma use. Next one, fine. Next one, no punctuation at all, which is fine. But do you see how my whole reading experience has now been altered? And oops, here we go, another poem with a list-y section that has no commas but then the commas come back.

This makes me stop and think, all right, but for all the wrong reasons. It shouldn’t be the poem’s punctuation that makes me sit up and take notice, it should be a million other things about the poem. Unfortunately, now that I’ve finished this collection, the only thing that has stayed with me is the comma thing. Damn that third eye.

Marilyn McCabe, The nature of my game; or, On the Curse of the Proofreader’s Eye

But back to Greg[ory Leadbetter]’s poem. The notes to this poem stress that the interval of the title refers to musical sense of interval and “the difference in pitch between two tones.” I love that it seems to start with a sense of striving— the attempt at silence has failed, and for all its notes (no pun intended) about silence it is noise that interjects the most, from the “roaring world” going unmuzzled by a voice, a “singing nerve” throbbing in our ears, a buzzing gnat. I also love that it ends with a sense that we have to keep striving, to keep working at something lonely. It’s almost a Sisyphean task as “The closer you come to silence, the further it recedes.”, but we’ll get there. Dear god, I’m veering into self-help speech. Sorry.

However, what leaps out at me in this is the centre of the poem..

I found a place where cars and planes
were silent too, the air stilled
to standing water clear enough
to drink, and all my body drank.

The idea here of a calm and quiet place that feeds the whole body. As with restorative silence of home last week, I want to go to the place Greg identifies here and drink deeply, even if it is only possible in my own head. Even if such a place only really exists in our heads.

Mat Riches, Mind the gaps…

This has been the path of my summer: many paths, branching in obscure ways, as I pivot among projects and allow myself to take restorative breaks from work, too. I’m reading a lot for work and pleasure (and will post mini-reviews of some of my #sealeychallenge readings soon-ish). I’m also hanging with my son a lot; he’s home for just 9 days more before moving to NYC to start his math PhD program. We’ve been playing Wingspan, and he’s got the best head for games I’ve ever seen: if it’s a solvable game, he solves it swiftly, and if there’s a lot of chance involved, he makes the most strategic possible use of his luck. He’s won every game so far, but I intend to beat him once before he leaves. A poet should have SOME kind of an advantage where birds are concerned, right?!

All is quiet in my publishing life, although I never mentioned here that Verse Daily featured a poem of mine in July. Appropriately enough, it’s about trying to tilt the odds in your favor (and very much a channeling of the frustration we all feel sometimes when passed over for the prom queen tiara). The egregiously long title is “It Is Advantageous to Place on the Table a [Hollow Figurine] of Apollo, with Bibliomancy.”

Lesley Wheeler, Stars in my eyes, birds in my belfry

No matter what kind of summer you have, it feels an impossible prompt to write well to. I can remember summers that slipped by like dreams, days upon days of the same old wonderful same old, and others full of flat tedium; how to pluck any kind of narrative out of a span of days with no conflict, no rising action, no turning point?

Of course there have been a few summers with big, memorable events (big travel, big purchases, big life changes)–but those, too, are hard to write about. How to capture what a big event really was, what it really meant?

Early on in our Louisiana adventure this summer, I realized I could not write about it while living it. There were practical problems–no easy internet or time–but it was more about knowing I needed time to process the experience. From the very beginning, my summer was an “all of the above” kind of thing: big travel, big purchases, long days that quickly became a new same old, same old comprised of tedium, joy, pain, boredom, and wonder. I have not worked so many full, hard hours in such a long time, while also living through so many hours in which I felt like I was just killing time.

I was having big, tangly thoughts and feelings about all kinds of profound things–aging, mortality, the meaning of life, family, our country and the ramifications of its history, existential crises of various kinds–and I knew I wasn’t ready to share any of them in any public kind of way.

I didn’t trust my impressions to be lasting truth, and I didn’t trust my conclusions to hold water. Not when I was so exhausted and disoriented and mind-meltingly hot. (Good God, but the heat was relentless.) Not when I knew there were things I just couldn’t know in such a short time (and might never be able to know).

Rita Ott Ramstad, What I did on my summer vacation

I wish this week (and the last) could have been about gardening and writing, but instead it was about fighting to stay alive, with infusions of nausea meds and antibiotics and saline—not ideal. At 50 I find I have more fight in me to stick around than I did even a few years ago, when I was (incorrectly) diagnosed with terminal liver cancer (tumors still around but not dead yet.) Back then I thought, I’ve had a good life, I’ve accomplished enough—this time around I thought, I’ve still got so much to do! Maybe that has to do with the new book manuscript I’ve been working on, the new friends I’ve been making, the chances I’ve been taking, the steps I’ve been making to embrace life even as the pandemic has a minisurge and I fight to stave off even fairly normal germs. I am not ready to go yet. Writing seems like one way of making a survival stance, doesn’t it, a way to holding on, of marking down your name, of saying you were here. I’ve written eight books – six poetry, two non-fiction, and I’m not done yet. Will any of them survive a hundred years, or even outlive me? I’m not sure yet. Sorry for the more morbid bit of thought here—I tried to keep the tone light during my PR for Poets talk earlier today, but these kinds of thoughts kept slipping into my mind. Why, after all, do we promote our books? Yes, to honor the work, to honor the publisher’s work, but also, because we hope to leave something that lasts.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, More Hospital Visits (and Bobcat Visits), a PR for Poets Talk with Kelli Agodon, Glenn Graduates, and More

Rain taps on the roof like quiet hands.
So much softer than clods thudding
on a plain pine box.

Once everyone is gone
they take away the green tent
open on all sides, the worst chuppah.

The words wash away, but
I’ll never forget
who rolled up his sleeves to finish shoveling.

Rachel Barenblat, After the funeral

A few days ago, I headed out to a local park where my brilliant poet friend, Lorenz Mazon Dumuk, was hosting Glowing with the Moon, a summer open mic series that invites poets, musicians, performers, and other creative souls to come out and share their work. It’s one of my favorite open mics, mostly because Lorenz creates such a warm, welcoming, and fun space.

When I arrived, however, it was just Lorenz and me, so we sat on the park bench and spent two hours chatting about what was going on in our lives, what kind of creative work we were doing, and our current trajectory. We talked about how we approach our poetry and other kinds of writing. We talked about poetry that bullies, forcing the reader or listener down a path and leaving no space for anything outside the focus of the words themselves. We laughed about poop in poetry, both as a subject and as an analogy for writing, how a writer might find themselves blocked up and need some fiber-full reading to help loosen things up. We talked about poetry with spirit and poetry grounded in the flesh and bone reality of grass and stone and wind and bone. And we celebrated the fact that we both have new poetry books coming out sometime within the next year.

Then we read poems to each other, each giving something that we’d written recently, and we found ourselves delightedly jealous of each other’s unique way of approaching words. And as the Earth cartwheeled backwards, hiding the Sun behind trees and horizon, with the peach light splashing upon the dappled clouds, I was so grateful for this small moment of creative community — two poets sharing a joy of words and the world.

Andrea Blythe, Returning to Creative Communities